Denis Farr, of GayGamer among other outlets made a guest post on Kotaku a few months back, entitled “This Gaymer’s Story” about the use of the f-bomb (faggot) in gaming culture, and to a lesser extent, the use of the word gay as a derogatory word. The post generated quite a lot of buzz, and this week, Denis wrote a follow up describing his experience from writing the last article.
Based on reading the comments and posting, I wanted to give a more consolidating response to what I am seeing on the forums. I might even through some semiotics into the mix, just for good measure. There are a few different arguments I want to respond to–the f-bomb doesn’t directly relate to gays anymore, stop being so sensitive there’s nothing wrong with the word, and it’s not bad because Britain uses it differently.
Granted, these statements are all pretty similar, but they keep being presented again and again as if, by repetition, it will make them more true (truth: it doesn’t.). The first is the f-bomb doesn’t relate to gay males anymore, but rather it’s use has grown to be a more generic meaning of something being bad, incompetent, things like that. Some comments argue that when they use the f-bomb, they aren’t thinking about gay males, therefore it doesn’t relate to gay males anymore, but just generally something bad. Luckily, all three of the arguments above can be debunked by a little semiotics.
This is incorrect. Like I posted on the forums, we need to go into a little bit of a semiotics lesson. Saussure states that communication happens through signs (words, sounds, etc). These signs are made up of a signifier (the word or the sign) and the signified – the concept. In this view, the word or sound is just a vessel for carrying meaning, and the signifier is completely arbitrary, meaning that the word itself has no inherent meaning. The only meaning it has is that which is attributed to it by the signified concept.
So at first blush, it would seem that this argument only serves to support the “f-bomb no longer means gay” argument. However, the cultural meaning also comes into play here. While in Britain the f-bomb can mean cigarette, or pile of sticks, in the U.S., the meaning has been negative in contemporary settings–always referring to gay males in a negative capacity. In fact, even in Britain the word has a variety of negative meanings, sometimes meaning a particularly difficult woman, or a young boy who is subservient to an older male, or death by burning (Dictionary.com). Wikipedia even says that the word is primarily negative even in Britain, while not necessarily meaning homosexual (Wikipedia).
But again, we are coming from a perspective of American culture, where the negative meaning finds it’s roots in referring to the homosexual male. When someone calls another person a f-bomb negatively, they are inherently referring to the social agreed upon negative meaning — in this case, the gay male. Why, you ask? Well, there are no other negative roots for the word within American culture–the ONLY use/root of the word is negative, referring to the gay male. There’s no place else to get the negative connotations within American culture.
While someone might use the f-bomb without meaning a gay male, the negative use of the word invokes the correlation to the gay male. Whether someone means gay male or not, the only way to negotiate a negative meaning of the world in contemporary American culture is to use the word as a referent to the gay male. Because we are coming from a primary American culture point of view, the British meanings of the word doesn’t really apply here–the signified of the British word is different the signified of the American word. That is to say, while they have the same signifier (the word itself), and we know that signifiers have no inherent meaning, the words are, for intent, different words entirely.
As for the argument that gay males shouldn’t be so sensitive to the word – like I said in the comments, if it’s really just someone being too sensitive, call your mother the f-bomb, and see how that goes. Or call your boss the f-bomb, or your teacher/professor. Really, if we are just being too sensitive, then you should be able to use the word in this situations and have them understand that it’s not really an offensive word, it’s just a general term for negativity.
Please, be sure to let me know how that goes for you.