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The Faggot Problem on Twitter

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"I know I sound like a faggot but I wish I got more questions on ask.fm..." said an anonymous Twitter user.

This banal statement is emblematic of the widespread mainstream appropriation of the term 'faggot'. A quick search on Twitter pulls up an unending list of people using the term as a slur outside of its original context as a homophobic insult. The term has been adopted as a synonym to idiot and other generic insults. Whilst this has desensitised the word's meaning, the undertones of homophobic hate still linger unpleasantly.

Appropriating 'faggot' for mainstream use has a subtly dangerous effect on society as it reaffirms the idea that it is socially acceptable to hate gay people. Twitter is everyman's pedestal and this is both its blessing and its curse as the popular micro-blogging site gives rise to delightful epigrams alongside the basest vitriolic filth.
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Faggot, like many words, is in a state of continual flux and has adopted many meanings over time. English citizens will be familiar with meat faggots: lumps of pork offal and herbs. The slur's origins as an insult are rather obscure as faggot's pure definition is a bundle of sticks. Faggot draws its roots from a number of languages such as the Old Italian 'faggoto'. A bundle of sticks does not automatically draw connotations of homosexuality. Instead, the reference is drawn from the elderly women who made a meagre living in the 19th century gathering and subsequently selling firewood. The slur links men to the effeminate nature of these widows at the bottom of the social ladder. This definition can also imply that the victim is the carrier of awkward baggage and is therefore a metaphor for homosexuality. It is interesting to note that fascism, a concept often polarised with homosexuality, draws its roots from the same image as faggot.
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There has been much debate in the LGB community as to whether to embrace the terms faggot and dyke or whether to maintain a distance from them. In a Huffington Post debate on the reclamation issue, Randall Jenson, Executive Director of SocialScope Productions and creator of documentary series 50Faggots said:

"We are faggots. We are dykes. We are trannies. One of the most important things we can do is stop thinking of these as disgraceful and start thinking about how these words can encompass queer identities."

The debate between LGB groups will rumble on but to outside observers it can appear confusing. Jenson's point about definition within in-groups of the LGB community is a salient one however, an uneducated observer who hears the word 'faggot' or 'fag' will simply think of the homophobic slur. What the LGB community can agree on is that 'faggot' continues to be used as a slur by people who do not identify as LGB. Heterosexual people cannot successfully appropriate the term as it is an identity that is alien to them and therefore they have no ownership over the word.

Twitter demonstrates the illegitimate usage of 'faggot' to the highest degree as it has become the latest go-to insult for the non-picky purveyor of slander. Stonewall, the LGB charity, have conducted research into the appropriation of homosexual terms as insults. Louise Kelly, a representative of the organisation, said: "We work with schools across the country to challenge homophobia and the use of homophobic language; including the use of the word 'gay' as a derogative." Stonewall commissioned April Guasp to conduct their School Report in 2012 on homophobic experiences in Britain's schools. They found that 96% of gay pupils surveyed heard homophobic remarks such as 'poof' or 'lezza' used in schools. 99% had reported hearing phrases such as 'you're so gay' used in schools. Perhaps these statistics are unsurprising but what really highlights the issue at hand is the findings that 53% of gay pupils experience verbal homophobic bullying and 23% experience cyber-bullying. These are tremendously high figures when applied to the relative terms of a classroom. Ben Summerskill, Chief Executive of Stonewall, bluntly outlines why verbal, physical and cyber homophobic abuse must be combated when he states that: "Over two in five gay pupils who experience homophobic bullying attempt or think about taking their own life as a direct consequence."
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It would be reductive to blame Twitter for the large outpouring of homophobic slurs that spew forth hourly. They are only a platform to real people's thoughts and this is where the problem needs to be addressed. Stonewall's School Report finishes with 10 recommendations for schools in an attempt to combat homophobic abuse. Number one on their list states the simple but important rationale that schools must explicitly declare that homophobic bullying is wrong. Education is the most potent weapon in the fight against homophobia as children must learn that homophobic bullying is not to be tolerated. With that, children can return to learning and expanding their horizons. After all, a mind with clarity and celerity is unlikely to appropriate 'faggot' when they are searching for an insulting term. Next time, why not take a leaf out of PG Wodehouse's book and call someone a 'newt-nuzzling blister'?