Friday, June 29, 2007

The Fag Discourse

Inside Higher Education has an article about a recent study on the ubiquity of the fag patois in High Schools, and how it also applies to Universities. C.J. Pascoe calls it the ''fag discourse'' which is probably a better term. She writes:

''Exhibiting stupidity, emotions, or incompetence, caring too much about clothing, touching another guy, or dancing were all things which could render a boy vulnerable to the fag epithet. In this sense what I call a fag discourse is not just about homophobia, it is about a particularly gendered homophobia as these renouncements of the fag are as much about repudiating femininity as they are about denying same-sex desire.''

Actually, I've never seen ''exhibiting stupidity'' get someone labelled ''fag''; much the opposite. But I think she gets at something interesting about the fag patois- often it hasn't got much to do with actual homosexuality. Most students I've encountered are strongly for gay rights, and simultaneously really freaked out by anything that seems ''gay'' to them. Which often includes such things as dressing well or having an affinity for art.

This brings us to the somewhat unsurprising part of Pascoe's argument. She notes that the fag discourse is prevalent on campus, especially in fraternities, but much to the detriment of the lives of our homosexual students. However, I'd say that it's pretty unlikely that we can stop kids from calling each other fags, provided they don't do it in our classes. I'm sure as hell not going to take on the task of following around frat boys and trying to wash their mouths out with soap! Part of the reason that they do it is because Mom and Dad find it obnoxious and they're 19, so the dorky University instructor is probably even less likely to get them to quit. Besides, most of them grow out of it. In most cases, I think it's as much as cause for concern as their tendency to find flatulence hysterical. Not everyone outgrows that though.

Something that Pascoe doesn't mention, but which I already have, is the stranger fact that certain humanities are taken as ''faggy'' by young people. One of my best students was talking to me once after recitation about the paintings I had shown, and threw me for a loop with the comment: ''I actually liked the Art History class I took. I know it sounds queer, but I actually like art!'' I tried not to laugh and explained that a lot of people like art. But, we often encounter this strange idea that reading poetry, or studying art, or being emotionally receptive to many of the things that we study in the humanities is somehow ''gay'', in the sense of indicating homosexuality. Much to the detriment of the soul I believe.

It's the same with other arts as well. There is a popular connection between certain pop divas and homosexuality I find. As if one leads directly to the other! ''I tell you, Bill, I've always been attracted to women. But, then I was thinking about it, and I really like Madonna's music. That made me think that I might like having sex with another man.''

All of this simply leads people to limit themselves from pleasures that might enrich their lives. Including ''same sex desire'' of course, but gradually extending to all things which are contemplative instead of active. Masculinity as a shrinking cage. Not only is this somehow tragic; it's also ''gay'', in the sense of being stupid.


The Pagan Temple said...

Maybe the reaction is more intense either in some people who have an attraction for the arts, though they aren't gay, as well as those who can't comprehend the arts.

The first group feels conflicted due to the myth that is implied as fact-"only gays gravitate to the arts, non-gays don't".

The second group just feels inadequate in some way.

That was a great closing.

Rufus said...

Thank you very much. It's funny- I love Audrey Hepburn movies, and a friend of mine once said to me 'You know, actually a lot of gay men love Audrey Hepburn movies.' To which I responded 'Yes, that's true. I think the difference is that, if I had the chance to, I would fuck Audrey Hepburn again and again.' I was considering using that for the closing but figured I'd save it.

gregvw said...

Oh hell yeah. I would have worn her as a hat.

Rufus said...

Now, see, I've heard people use this line and not really ever understood what it means. Perhaps if you could draw a picture of this and scan it and send it to me.

gregvw said...

Are you asking for porn?

Seriously though, I have just stolen this line from "City Slickers" because it seems to set the high water mark for absurdly unusual sexual positions.

Rufus said...

I've just been hearing that line for some time now and had no idea what sexual act it could refer to. I don't want porn; I just want closure.

CJ said...

Hi Rufus,

Great blog - thanks so much for mentioning my Higher Ed piece.

You make an interesting point about "stupidity" as a trigger for the "fag" epithet. I think you are highlighting an important point - that being nerdy or smart is *also* a trigger. Of course all this goes to show how hard it is to escape the insult - being too dumb or too smart (or at least giving others the impression that you are) puts a boy at risk of receiving the label.

Just my 2 cents.

And I have no idea about the hat thing...

Rufus said...

That's pretty fascinating. Do you think it's gotten worse in recent years? I'm remembering back when I was in high school, almost 20 years ago, and it seemed like you heard the slurs less often somehow. Considering the gains that gays have made since then it might make sense that the backlash would increase. Certainly, I've gotten the sense that, in recent years, 'masculinity' is extremely circumscribed in real life and the media.

It's really an interesting topic.

CJ said...

Honestly, I don't remember hearing it that much in high school. But then again, I wasn't a guy, so it might not have registered on my harassment radar. I think it does have something to do with increasing visibility for gay men and increasing gains for women such that calling a guy a "girl" or some variation thereof isn't as accepted or as powerful.

That said, two of my high school class mates did beat a guy they thought was gay into a vegetative state.

Rufus said...

Ugh. That's ghastly.

It occurs to me that I was called everything but 'fag' in High School. I'm not entirely sure why because I've had people tell me that they assumed I'm gay.

But in our school, back in the 80s, it was almost as if gays were some sort of mythical creature- it was sort of assumed that almost nobody really was gay, so the slurs had a certain power. It was also a real hell for those friends of ours that identified as gay.

I imagine that, as gays have become more visible as real live people, there are many more 'markers' for homosexuality in the popular imagination. All of this is, of course, to the detriment of the lives of young men, and young women for that matter. But, of course, it would also be much worse to go back.

Wow, I look forward to reading your book!