I Have Used “Those” Words.
Society, peoples, and individuals evolve and/or change over time, when hearts and minds are open. Perspectives shift, and as a result, so do actions, especially when the lived experiences of others is considered with sincere desire to understand.
In the mere few years since writing this piece, many things have changed about the following topic, and my handling and presentation of same. When first written I considered the use of the slurs in the piece below to be in an “academic” context. I chose not to hide the actual words, as I perceived such actions to be a dodge of my responsibility and ownership of aspects of my past.
But just as my position from my high school days up until the writing of this piece changed my mind on what is and is not appropriate, so has the time since I published this piece and now. While I personally can still detect an academic argument in favor of my previous position as displayed here, I understand and accept that the most affected communities do not consider even academic use of certain words, as pure examples, acceptable. And because it is the affected communities and their feelings on the matters discussed that must remain the priority, I have opted to alter the following piece by hiding the words in question. This despite the fact that in the original version, I did not.
These are the only alterations, however, and I do not wish to merely memory hole the piece,
-Ty Unglebower, December 18, 2021
I’ll not open such an important topic with poetry. I will state the purpose of this post right away.
I have, in my life, both uttered and used the following words at some point: “N*****. “F**.” “Bitch.” As well as several other words that amount to the same thing as these.
Note the distinction between “uttered” and “used.” Uttered simply means that my mouth and voice have formed the words audibly for any number of reasons. I continue to utter such words within the context of conversation about their usage, their effects. I don’t believe in a verbal or academic silence when it comes to such words, vulgar as they may be, because we skip the horror and the ugliness of their existence when we resort, for the sake of politeness, to sentence constructs such as, “Upon exiting her vehicle, the assailant screamed ‘the n-word’ at her.” Nor, the assailant did not. The assailant screamed “n*****” at her, as that sort of thing must remain out in the open, in the light, if we are to combat it. You will hear me say the actual words in these cases.
You will also hear me utter them when I rhetorically embody the voice of an enemy society. That is to say you might hear me used the words, in certain contexts to once again bring a thought out into the open. “To idiots like him, they are just f***, and have no rights.”
Yet during these dark, polarizing and increasingly dangerous hateful times, I have not written this post to share my utterances of these words. I write tonight about my use of them. For there was a time when I did use some of these words, mostly within my high school years.
I offer no excuses for the use of these words, but merely some explanations by way of confession, lest I, ally to minorities and opposition to lackadaisical use by WASPs of some historically damaging language, appear to present myself as having an unblemished past.
Believe it or not, even in the deepest, most immature and angry times in my youth, wherein I would use some of these words I still, still made no true distinction between the rights of myself, and the target of my language. This of course is not relevant when it comes to such words, but I’m delving into the thought processes I possessed then, not now.
To begin with, in the majority of cases I didn’t address anyone personally. Merely referred to them at home, in their absence, by the term. I was for several years harassed, almost exclusively by certain African-Americans with whom I went to school, in two different locations. They, by virtue of their cruelty, were the n******. A black person could either be a n*****, or they could not be, but I, in my mind, was coming up against the former almost all of the time.
The word to me then, in my rashness, was indicative of a chosen behavior, which I, in the anonymity of my home or among a very few people not connected with them used as a label. The concept of the word being a universal, historical branding used by whites as a method by which to dehumanize an entire race was all academic to me at that point—more theory than fact. Plus, as it was the only way, in my mind, to be as vile to my aggressors as they were being to me, I felt a certain liberation in the use of the word, even just at home.
This passed, eventually, though my use of the word did not yet. Later high school days, and very early college I would use it satirically only, even around a few African-American friends who didn’t seem to care, and even used it themselves in that manner. I no longer thought a black person could opt into or out of being a n*****. None of them actually were one, regardless of how much of an asshole any of them could be.
To be honest, I’d prefer if even African-Americans were to stop using it in that context. But what then was a justification to use it in play, (and what to some people I know still is a justification to do so) is no longer so for the same reasons I stated above, about the brand the word carries with it when spoken by a white person. I must disagree with the notion that it’s “okay” for black people to use it, but as an adult I accept that it’s that community’s issue to deal with, not my own. I of course no longer use it satirically.
I never had any particular run-ins with homosexuals, even though I used “f**” during around the same time. As difficult as it may be to believe, I still didn’t wish that minority any particular harm, as it were, when I used the word. Frankly I didn’t make much use of it until high school, when other around me in my group used it as a sort of catch all for a weak man. To me at the time, much like the n*****/African-American connection, a man could be gay, and not be a f** as it were. A fag was a flamboyant male, the stereotypical pre-Will and Grace TV gay. That to me was at the time annoying. But as it was nothing more than obnoxious to me, I figured using the word “f**” was for the most part not an affront.
As for it’s secondary usage, that of a weak man, it was such a common use of it at the time, with my classmates that I dare say I carelessly used it to mean that more often than I used it to mean an effeminate homosexual male; I had never met any so called effeminate homosexual males in person at that point. Even the famous ones, for reasons I didn’t quite understand at the time, or now, were not all “f***.” Richard Simmons, fag. Elton John, merely gay. Doesn’t make much sense, but neither does this type of mindset. Basically by the start of college, that use of it was done.
Lingering a bit later was the use of the word “gay” to mean “lame.”
“Bitch.” Over the course of my life probably the one I have used the most. Truth be told I sometimes still use this one. I work at it, though this is the one I heard more often than any of the others in the family vernacular growing up. It doesn’t make it right, but in our household, a “bitch” was a mean woman. Not an outspoken woman, or a woman boss, or a powerful woman. It was just, if she is a woman, and she isn’t a nice person, she’s a bitch. (Just as if a guy is not a nice person, he’s an asshole. A woman being an asshole just seemed like a linguistic oddity, just as a male-bitch would be.) Due to this larger distinction, this one has been the most difficult to break.
So, that is my past. I have both uttered and used some of the most divisive English words there are, and others. “N*****” and “F**” have been eliminated from authentic use in my speaking. On rare occasion I do have to sometimes swallow use of “gay.” “Bitch” is hanging on longer than I would like to admit.
I used those words. I justified them, insisted on my right to use them. And then….I changed my mind.
I’m an obstinate pain-in-the-ass on the Spectrum, and an Unglebower. If I can change my mind about such things, plenty of other people can to.