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Dealing with "faggot" put-downs

Mon 30 May 2005 In: Ask Our Expert View at Wayback View at NDHA

I'm a delivery guy who often finds myself in really homophobic environments, like mechanics, etc. Some of these places I go to regularly so people there sort of know me, but not really well. Every second word is 'faggot' or 'homo' around these guys. It makes me really uncomfortable, but I don't know what to do or say about it beause I know its not the same as racist jokes or insults. Do I just grin and bear it or is there some other solution? - Gareth, Waikato Jacquie comments: A homophobic environment is usually only that if you make it so with your own paranoia. Most of the mechanics I know, excluding the gay ones, are usually too busy talking about women and their supposed conquests, or their precious cars. It seems to me that you are not comfortable with yourself and could possibly be a little paranoid. I'm not sure what you mean by it's not the same as racist jokes or insults? I think if this is happening that these guys have sprung you and are taking the piss, so there's nothing else to do but some drastic action. One day do their deliveries in "DRAG." I'll bet you don't have any more trouble with them. -Jacquie Guest advisor Carol Bartlett comments: Unfortunately we live in a society where the only form of sanctioned prejudice is prejudice against queer folk. Even the most red-necked think twice about telling (in public anyway) racist and sexist jokes. For the majority in our society these jokes are no longer acceptable. Even the Winston Peters of this world no longer call Pacific Island people "Coconuts" or female partners "The Little Woman". They would be ridiculed or worse. (Remember the reaction to Paul Holmes' " cheeky darkie" comment?) All my sense of social justice says you should confront the idiots who use such derogatory terms but only you can decide if it is safe to risk outing yourself in that setting. - Carol Guest advisor Jay Bennie comments: A put down is a put down, regardless of whether it's based on race, sexuality, gender, religion or any other aspect of a person's being. That's non-negotiable. Ok? Put-downs are mostly used to put a person down and/or make the person flinging the insult feel superior. They generally pick on a perceived weakness. Put-downs can also be used to reinforce the in-group, a kind of tribal thing. A insult from one supposedly red-blooded Tamahere-type to another that he's a poof is a backhanded way of shoreing up both men's confidence in each others' masculinity. So those who are less sure of themselves feel excluded and hurt. Sadly, the perpetrators get locked into a limited and brutish image of themselves and their mates. And any genuinely homophobic attitudes get reinforced. What to do? Perhaps remind yourself what neanderthal wankers they are and learn to let their language and attitudes slide off you like the proverbial water off a duck's back. Or you could be more confrontational by letting them know you're one of the poofters they think so little of and take it from there. They might be redeemable into decent people eventually, especially if they're unthinking rather than deeply homophobic. And if you want to get technical, all employers are obliged to provide a safe and comfortable environment for their employees. You might ask your employer to address the issue as he or she is the one sending you into this unpleasant environment. Would he or she expect a female delivery person to be comfortable if the mechanics in question were impugning women all the time? -Jay Greg, an Auckland reader comments: I've often had names and labels thrown at me, but I just don't catch them when they are thrown, I let them fall and hit the ground. On the same not I rang my ex-wife the other day, my 18 year old son answered, grunted when he heard my voice and as the phone hit the ground yelled through the house, "Mum, the faggot's on the phone". I just let the comment fall like the phone did. My friends and I laugh about it now... - 30th May 2005


First published: Monday, 30th May 2005 - 12:00pm

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