A Bundle of Sticks

Oops, I did it again! Kobe Bryant draws fire from gay groups for use of a sexual slur.

In a moment of anger, NBA superstar Kobe Bryant called referee Bennie Adams a "fucking faggot." Now, Bryant was not talking to a gay person (that we know of) and, perhaps, he was not attempting to demean homosexuals by using the term.  But he was, indeed, attempting to demean the referee by calling him a derogatory term meant to describe homosexual acts.  This is revealing (and of concern to gay rights activists) because, generally speaking, one does not use the term faggot as an insult if one has any respect for homosexuals.

Almost immediately, a debate about Bryant's use of the slur began on a message board.  Most of the gay men who participated--especially those who were gay men of color--defended Bryant, indicating that the word faggot wasn't really a slur because gay people use it when referring to one another, and because the word, as they see it, does not carry the same history of degradation, oppression, and stigma as a slur like "nigger."

Some of the gay participants indicated that, in fact, they liked to be called faggots, particularly when engaged in sexual acts. (We can talk about reappropriating oppressive symbols as a revolutionary act, but I personally do not believe much of what is occurring on this message board has anything to do with political power plays or fights for freedom, but lots to do with Stockholm syndrome.)  Others indicated that some gays deserve the derogatory label (and this, according to them, has everything to do with one's level of femininity).  Besides, some of the gay folks said, Kobe Bryant is physically attractive, so the insult, coming from him, should be tolerated.

Only with great violence and willful deceit can the word faggot be divorced from its homophobia.  That anyone could belittle or ignore that the word carries its own terrible history of persecution and destruction is, if nothing else, indicative of the profound failure of our educational, social, political and cultural institutions at best, and the loss of our common humanity at worst.  Another implication made clear in this discussion--that is, if the comments represent what these individuals actually believe and feel and are not simply attempts at being comedic or antagonistic--is how effectively homophobia has rendered some queer minds to dust.  Sadly, the disintegration is obvious to everyone except the afflicted. 

In the end, Bryant, himself, is simply a product--albeit, a well-paid and influential one--of the homophobic society in which he resides.  He can only use that term so broadly, casually, loosely, and reflexively because the whole of society encourages the very same.  And he can only get away with it because we allow it--which raises the question:

How much longer are we going to allow it?

UPDATE: Kobe Bryant apologized, but his statement indicates that he somewhat missed the point. The NBA fines Bryant $100,000.