I can have the f-word

Brian Thornton

Michael Richards learned a lesson yesterday that too many other celebrities’ actions should have taught him: Racial and other derogatory epithets are simply unacceptable unless you happen to belong to that minority group.

Richards, who played Kramer on “Seinfeld,” launched into a tirade that included repeated uses of the n-word at the Laugh Factory in West Hollywood Friday night. Three days later, the owner of the club had called a press conference to denounce Richards’ performance. But tensions were still high — attendees at the media event were shouting down comedian Paul Rodriguez, who was present Friday night and spoke about the incident.

Some non-minorities still don’t get it. If you’re not black, you can’t use the n-word. That’s just the deal. No matter how many hip-hop stars drop the offensive bomb in lyrics and how many times actors in films such as Crash say that dangerous word, if you’re not black, it’s hands off. Period.

As a gay man who uses the word “fag” in private company, I understand how some people might be confused. In fact, “fag” is a part of my Web site name, which is why I got this e-mail last year:

Here’s the dilemma: Is the f-bomb (fag) regarded the same way as the n-word? As in, people in that select group can say it, but not outsiders? Because when I use it (in private) I am talking about people that I know are straight but piss me off. I love my gay friends and would never want to call them fag, but sometimes I do want to call my straight friends fag because they are just acting like a fag and that is the best word I can use to describe it. Am I wrong here?

My answer: Yes, you’re wrong. And you might even be a terrible person.

I say “fag.” I say “dyke.” I say them a lot — but not in mixed company. And just because I have permission — even though I’ve broken a taboo barrier, letting the cat out of the bag, just like black people who use the n-word — you don’t get that permission.

I get the gold key to the f-word because I’ve lived it. I’ve stood in line in the Hub and heard another student refer to his roommate as a “stupid fag.” I’ve sat out front of a bar as a car full of men drove by screaming, “Fags!” I’ve received e-mails telling me I’m going to hell for my sexuality.

That’s why I can use the word. And it’s why you can’t, no matter how cool and liberal you are. No matter how many gay friends you have.

But guess what? You may have seen my picture at the top of this column. I’m white. So, while I may be a minority in one sense, I know one thing for certain: Nobody gave me permission to use the n-word.

And I’m just fine with that.

Brian Thornton is a graduate journalism student and Forum editor for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].