The other F-word

""That's so gay.""


It's a common phrase used every day by middle school, high school and college-age students when they are describing something or someone stupid or dumb. 


But there is one phrase that constantly flows out men's mouths, moreso than women.


""Dude, you're a faggot."" 


I once stood a good 15 feet behind a group of men, all sporting the infamous faux-hawk and boasting their fraternity letters on low, V-neck muscle tees. I was shocked at how often the words ""fag"" and ""faggot"" spilled out of their mouths. The group continued on their way, unaware of just how ignorant they sounded to an outsider.


Or, they just didn't care.


I continue to hear ""bros"" telling other bros, ""Dude, you're such a faggot"" on a regular basis.


But, calling another ""bro"" a faggot in a fraternity house full of 100 men, chances are someone will be offended. Some statistics estimate that one in 10 people are homosexual. 


I know it's hard to swallow, ""bro,"" but based on the statistics, there could very well be 10 of your ""bros"" having real-life ""bromances"" without anyone knowing it.


But groups of faux-hawk fraternity men aren't the only ones using fag fluently in their vocabulary.


On any given occasion, most guys consistently use the word as an insult when joking around with each other. Fag talk has become central to men's joking relationships. Joking cements relationships among men and helps manage anxiety and discomfort. Men actually connect with each other and manage the anxiety in these relationships through joking.


It's clear to me that the word fag is more fluid in men's vocabularies compared to women's. It's rare to hear a woman tell another woman ""you're such a fag"" for not skipping class and taking a trip to Forever 21 with the rest of the crew.


So, why do men use the word fag as an insult more than women?


It all begins in grade school.


Feminist scholars of masculinity have documented the centrality of homophobic insults and attitudes, especially in school settings. They argue that homophobic teasing often characterizes masculinity in adolescence and early adulthood.


C. J. Pascoe, author of ""Dude, You're a Fag,"" dedicated 18 months of field work in a racially diverse, working class high school and explored the dynamics behind masculinity among high school boys.


During Pascoe's study she found that girls did not use the word fag as part of their regular lexicon. During the 18 months at River High School, she recorded girls uttering ""fag"" only three times.


Boys, on the other hand, used ""fag"" as a noun that denoted effeminate males or objects. They used ""gay"" and ""fag"" interchangeably when they referred to other boys, but ""fag"" didn't have the gender-neutral attributes that ""gay"" frequently invoked.


The use of the word ""fag"" is so fluid in school settings when we are young that it becomes a disciplinary mechanism used by boys in middle and high school.


It's almost as if boys cannot help shouting it out on a regular basis.


To demonstrate just one of the many instances from Pascoe's field notes: Two boys walked out of the locker room, and one yelled, ""F—ing faggot!"" at no one in particular. None of the other students paid any sort of attention since this sort of thing happened so frequently.


Similar spontaneous yelling of some variation of the word ""fag"" happened repeatedly among boys throughout the school. This is what Pascoe calls the ""fag talk.""


It's almost as if boys toss the ""fag"" label at each other in a verbal game of hot potato, each careful to deflect the insult quickly by hurling it toward someone else.


Simply put, the word is a sexualized insult men use. The word ""fag"" is an identity boys constantly struggle to avoid in grade school.


It has become such a common degradation in grade school that boys police their behaviors and go to great lengths to avoid being called a ""fag"" or ""faggot.""


It looks as though not much has changed since my grade school days. Ten years past middle school and a solid eight and a half since freshman year of high school, students continue to use ""gay"" as a synonym for unfavorable, as in ""that's so gay"" or ""you're a faggot"" as a defense mechanism.


The words ""gay"" and ""fag"" have been instilled in our brains as a part of our everyday vocabulary when describing something or someone we dislike.


Since we are no longer ignorant 12-year-olds, freshmen in high school trying to impress the cool upper-classmen or boys avoiding getting beat up in the locker room, we should start conditioning one another not to use ""gay"" or ""fag"" as synonyms for stupid or dumb.


I realize the phrase is so common that when most people say it, they're not even aware of the fact that they're making a derogatory comment about a group of people. 


But any 22-year-old college student should expand their vocabulary, think a bit more before they speak and stop sounding ignorant.




­— Tiffany Kimmell is a senior majoring in journalism. She can be reached at

letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.


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