Dear Person Who Called Me a Faggot:

I'm writing this to help you understand. Partially, to understand why I laughed in your face when you called me a faggot (you did seem a bit surprised) but more importantly to help you understand why that word isn't yours to use.

To be clear, I laughed because I am a faggot: you coming for me based on that aspect of who I am is funny. It's funny because I already know who and what I am, but it's even funnier because I'm proud of it (perhaps you noticed that rainbow choker I was wearing.) It's funny because I make no effort to hide it; in fact, sometimes I even "shove it in people's faces" or "flaunt it" or whatever other phrase irrational conservatives use to describe a queer person living authentically. It's funny because I'm well aware that I don't conform to traditional gender norms, and as a result, the only way it could be any more obvious that I'm gay is if I literally walked around with a dick in my mouth 24/7. 1 And while I'm not necessarily averse to that idea conceptually, logistically it would make performing certain everyday activities rather challenging.

But that word you used — faggot — lost its power to hurt me years ago, much to the chagrin of bigots like you who would wield it as a weapon. Like it or not, it's my word now – I own every bit of power it has because I quietly and slowly stole it away from people just like you.

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You lost power over that word when you used it around me before I was out, maybe because you didn't yet realize I was a faggot, but more likely because you did, and your use of that word was an encoded message telling me to shut the hell up about who I was.

You lost power over that word when you used it to express disapproval after you'd decided – even as I remained trapped in the closet – that I was "acting" in a way that telegraphed the fact that I was a faggot. By the way, that wasn't acting – that was just me being me.

You lost power over that word when you continued to use it after I finally did come out as a faggot – when I made the conscious and very difficult decision to live authentically despite the hate speech, the bullying, the physical violence, and the potential for even greater harm.

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You lost power over that word when it temporarily ripped my family apart, and when I was [thankfully, relatively briefly] homeless, largely owing to the fact that I was a faggot.

You lost even more power over that word when I realized that any effort on my part to pass as anything but a faggot was going to be about as successful Albert's attempt to walk like John Wayne in the movie The Birdcage.

You lost the most power over that word when I was embraced by a welcoming support system of other faggots and dykes, trannies, queens and queers, and every other stripe of gender fuckers who taught me the beautiful, revolutionary act of reclaiming formerly hateful words as part of a private but proud lexicon that helps bind together a chosen (and often more real) family.

And then suddenly, you lost all power over that word the day I finally went beyond resigned acceptance and fully embraced being a faggot, slowly but surely beginning to love the last part of myself I'd secretly hated for so many years.

So, If I'm so cool with the word – if after a few drinks at the bar I start casually self-referencing as a faggot – why this letter? Well, primarily because it's my word to use, not yours. Sure, you have a Constitutional right to it, and I'm the last person to advocate for censorship, but ethically you know better. And if you don't, let me explain.

It's not yours because – as you might have gathered from reading this – my journey of self-acceptance was long, arduous, and frequently painful. It didn't happen overnight and it wasn't easy: in short, I earned that word back the hard way, as did every one of my people who use it alongside me. You did nothing to earn the honor of using it, and while I'll try not to hold it against you that you were born straight, that circumstance certainly doesn't privilege you to use a word my community bought with literal blood, sweat, tears and — in some cases — their very lives.

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It's also not yours because not all of us have completed the journey of acceptance, and honestly, I'm not entirely sure most of us ever really do. It is a process. I love who I am, and I wouldn't trade being gay for anything in the world, but I still find myself having to occasionally mute a negative inner dialogue that's the result of 36 years of being told by you that I'm a flawed, sinful, abomination. But here's the thing: I refuse to stand on the sidelines and let you do that to another generation. I will fucking come for you and I will do anything and everything I can to take the power to seed self-doubt out of your hateful hands.

Lastly, it's not yours because reclamation isn't for everyone. There are gay men walking this earth for whom that was the last word they heard before brutal attacks; they have every right to never hear that word uttered hatefully again. For them, reclaiming the word isn't the answer – hell, it may not even be an option given the visceral reaction it evokes owing to their experiences of extreme hate at your hands. And most sadly, there are gay men who are no longer walking this earth because their lives were taken from them – by churches, by hateful parents, by right wing conservatives, and by common bullies like you. Maybe they didn't pull the trigger, but by perpetuating the same message you tried to send by calling me a faggot earlier – that I'm less than human, an "other" unworthy of existence – that blood is still on their hands

I understand this letter may be harsh, and that what I say next may seem incongruent, but I want to extend an olive branch. I look at you, and I see a person who very likely has heard some epithets of their own. The voice of your people has been marginalized too – maybe even more than that of a white, cis gay man like me. And while I refuse to apologize for "only" being gay, it doesn't mean I don't recognize and empathize with the struggles of you and yours. I want you to remember that the rules of this game weren't written by you, by me, or by either of our communities. None of us win if we perpetuate that shit, so let's put this behind us and work on ensuring it gets better for all.

Peace,

- Tina

1 For your edification, not all gender non-conforming people are gay, but I know it's the default assumption, and in my case it's quite true: I am very, very gay.