There are a lot of queer terms that end up passing through our fabulous lexicon. Straight folks tip toe around the line by making sure to include every letter in LGBTAQIWHTORLY (it’s okay to go out on a limb, straight people, we won’t snap at you, we’ll politely correct you if we’re offended) while some queers throw around “faggot” like a hot potato. I’ve been told it’s a “term of endearment”.
Right… But, I don’t buy it.
And I think most people, straight and queer, will agree that some words are probably almost always okay, and some words are never ever okay. This discussion goes deeper than just the zeitgeist involved with these words–some people think it’s always okay to use any words they want since they are the agent of their speech. IE: the words mean what I intend them to mean. I sympathize with this supposed independent view of cultural exchange, but I bet if you called someone like this a bigot they’d be pissed, and you would lol at the irony.
The fact is, a speaker may have entire agency over their intentions but that means jack once it reaches the words of the listener, who has plenty of agency in determining what the words mean. (Overarching culture is probably the biggest agent, which helps mediate this exchange by providing cues to words, emotions, inflections, etc.)
So how do we draw the line. I need to make an argument that saying “straight-acting” isn’t okay, and this is against the backdrop of faggot. Faggot doesn’t work because there’s no getting around it. It will always be insulting. It is the creme of the crop of LGBT insults. If you’re wondering how to refer to “those people”, don’t go to faggot.
But when we refer to a gay man as “straight acting”, what does that mean? It means we’ve continued to defined heteronormativity as a pillar of success and it’s almost always a good thing to be “straight acting”. It means, essentially, that a gay man has been able to trick you. They’ve been able to subvert their sexuality to participate in the culture of success like everyone else, unlike those twinks.
And it assumes that there’s such a thing as “gay acting”. If we’re going to be offended by a gay stereotype, we have to own up to being offended by people describing anyone as straight acting. People are who they are, and the norm is not determined by heterosexuals–it’s determined by the most people who are the most alike. And maybe, sometimes, sexuality might play into it. Most of the time, it probably doesn’t. The fact is, the sooner we get rid of the ideas and phrases surrounding the phrase straight acting, the easier it’ll be for folks to come out of the closet.
So, be a little more conscious the next time you decide to describe your gay friends. Because, while you might say “straight acting” as a PC term for “normal”, it’s not. It’s offensive, and let’s be honest, we’re all pretty abnormal.