July 04, 2006

Avoiding the other F-word

The editorial in the 6/29/06 Bay Area Reporter (a San Francisco weekly "serving the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender communities since 1971"), "Ozzie and the 'fags'" begins:

If we see the phrases "a derogatory term used to describe someone's sexual orientation" or "a slur associated with homosexuality" in place of the direct quote "fag" one more time, we're going to scream. Those are the phrases most mainstream media outlets have used repeatedly for the last several days when reporting on the latest verbal tirade of Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen [on 6/20/06]. Guillen disagreed with comments made in a column by Chicago Sun-Times writer Jay Mariotti and called him a "fag." Plain and simple.

Actually, Guillen managed a double-F, or fortissimo, performance -- he called Mariotti a "fucking fag" -- with an S intro, "What a piece of shit he is, fucking fag".

(Well, that's how the F part of his performance was reported by Sal Marinello on the Blogscritics site, one of the very few to venture to print any version of fuck at all in the coverage of the Guillen affair.  I'd guess that Guillen said "fuckin' fag", but that could be hard to check.)

It's a sign of my profound lack of interest in the sports world and my keen attention to the gay world that this news came to me more than a week after the event, in the BAR.  By then, googling on <"Ozzie Guillen" "Jay Mariotti"> was pulling up over 73,000 webhits, most of them about this incident.  And by then, Guillen had "apologized", after a fashion -- according to an Associated Press story,

"I shouldn't have mentioned the name that was mentioned, but I'm not going to back off of Jay," Guillen said, using another profanity to describe Mariotti.

and had been disciplined by baseball commissioner Bud Selig, with a fine and an order to attend sensitivity training.  For several days, Guillen continued to explain that he had nothing against homosexuals, and he even plans to go to the Gay Games in Chicago, and he doesn't speak English well and in his native Venezuela that word isn't a slur (fag is a word of Venezuelan Spanish?  who knew?  or is he saying that maricón isn't a slur in Venezuela?  that, too, would be news to me), and anyway "I wasn't calling people that.  I was calling him that."  The BAR's editorial cartoon, by Paul Berge, nicely skewers Guillen's self-defense:

I've been asked to apologize for calling a newspaper columnist a blankety-blank three-letter F-word.

If I hurt anybody with what I called him, I apologize.  But I wasn't talking about those people.  I was talking strictly about that columnist.

I have nothing against those people!  I was just saying that I don't like the guy, so he must be one of them!

[in thought balloon] ...And the league thinks I need sensitivity training!  Hah!

Various sports columnists -- Gene Wojciechowski and Mark Kreidler on ESPN.com, for instance --  deplored Guillen's language, but (unlike the major news bureaus) used the word fag, as did Mariotti in his own Chicago Sun-Times columns, though Mariotti kept his distance from fuck; from his 6/25 column:

I keep wondering how many other managers and coaches would have been fired for describing someone as "a [bleeping] fag.''

The BAR editorial continues:

So we have two issues: Guillen's homophobic comment, and the decision by most newspapers to clean up the quote. The problem with the former likely won't be solved by sensitivity training -- Guillen remains a hothead, in our opinion, and seems resistant to change, according to comments made by family members in news accounts about his latest tirade. That's too bad, because as our readers know, homophobia in professional sports remains a major league problem, and rather than fight learning about new things, Guillen should embrace change.

But the other issue also is important. Media outlets should print "fag" if that's what someone says. For many years, the word has been viewed widely as an antigay slur, and people should be held accountable for their comments. If they want to continue to be homophobic, that's their right, but let us see it in print and hear it on the air. Letter-writer John Sulikowski called Editor and Publisher, a trade publication, to task for cleaning up Guillen's comments: "Typical gutless journalism," he wrote.

The paper is (covertly) making a distinction here between two classes of "bad words": taboo words, like fuck, which are offensive in polite society regardless of the intentions of people who use them (the offense comes with the word); and slurs, like fag, which are offensive because they can be used as insults (the offense comes with the way the word is used).  Slurs can have non-offensive uses, in in-group talk, by reclamation, as signs of trust and intimacy, and so on.  I myself am on record (in the 6/03 issue of Out) as having no problem being called or calling myself a fag or faggot, in certain contexts.  And non-slurs can be used as insults; if Guillen had called Mariotti a gay or a homosexual, rather than a fag, he wouldn't have won any politeness prizes, since in this context the attribution of homosexuality, however neutrally expressed, expresses contempt, and so counts as an insult.  Guillen, being a foul-mouthed asshole ("asshole" is Marinello's characterization of him), just ratcheted things up one notch.

But the BAR takes things one step further: people who use slurs as insults, it maintains (and I'm inclined to agree), should have the ugliness of their attitudes exposed, not politely and protectively covered up.  I am not less offended when the AP reports that Guillen uttered "a derogatory term that is often used to describe someone's sexual orientation" (that's 12 words, 25 syllables, folks) than I am by Mariotti's report that Guillen said "fag".  (In fact, the direct version is much more informative than the fag-avoiding version.  After all, Guillen had so many other choices of derogatory terms to use: faggot, cocksucker, fairy, queer, homo, pansy, and fruit, at least.)  The BAR's position here is a lot like the position taken by the Guardian, the Economist, and the New Yorker (among other publications) on the serious taboo words, that they should be used only in quotations, and then only for good reason, and in those circumstances should be printed as-is and not avoided.  As for Guillen, we should let him condemn himself out of his own mouth.

[Note: following almost all of my sources, including the White Sox site, I give the man's name as Guillen rather than Guillén.]

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Posted by Arnold Zwicky at July 4, 2006 03:26 PM