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I think I have a cold. That oughtn’t be interesting news at all except I never get sick. Ever. Well, rarely. I suppose it is the consolation prize from God for… You know, everything else. So now I have a head that feels as if it is expanding, a glob of something that can’t decide whether to go down my throat or not, and a drippy right nostril. Only the right one. So if I’m cranky and inarticulate today, that’s why.
We’re going to talk about words today. Sound exciting? Well, we’ll try to make it as exciting as we can. First, let me express my love for the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team. I am a hockey fan, and you ought to be too. It’s a fantastic sport. And when you do become a fan, wrap your fandom around a quality team, like Philly. Or Montreal, right Marjorie? Just do me a favor; if you’re a Boston, New Jersey, or NY Rangers fan, let’s just agree to not talk hockey. But I am a Flyers’ fan. A ton of history with that team makes them fascinating, considering they are an expansion team and not an original six. The Flyers’ fans are just like any Philadelphia fan. Insanely passionate about wins and loses, respect, hard work. Eagles’ fans get the press, but I think Flyers’ fans take the rowdy to the utmost.
Why am I talking about the Flyers? Because something pissed me off and I’m going to talk about it now. No, it has nothing to do with modification, but go with me anyway. First, some context.
If you’re a hockey fan, then you know about a cat named Sean Avery. If you’re a Flyers’ fan, you know about a cunt named Sean Avery. He’s an enforcer, a cat whose skill is on the mid to shallow end of the talent pool. His job is to stir the pot, to go after guys, to protect his skill guys. It’s a role in hockey that is a bit unique from other sports. You hit our skill guy, we send our enforcer to crush your skill guy. It keeps the peace, and lets the players police themselves. It’s a system I can get after. In the dead ball era of baseball, teams would have pitchers who would come in to enforce, to drill a guy in the head with a pitch and get thrown out of the game. You don’t see a lot of that any more. Hockey, however, still has these self policing, on ice enforcers. Every team has them, and they are a useful commodity. Sean Avery is one of those guys who you know will come blind side you and take the ten minute game misconduct. It puts your head on a swivel, and keeps your tension high. That’s when you make mistakes. Psychological advantages.
Now to the story. A young cat on the Flyers whose name doesn’t matter took a run at a Rangers’ player. Boarded the shit out of him, got a five minute major penalty, a scrum ensued with Sean Avery in the middle of it. Keeping in mind that this was a televised preseason game, during the broadcast and clearly through the television, viewers could hear during the scrum Sean Avery threatening to go after and “kill” one of our skill players. Fine. No big. That’s hockey. The scrum settles, the game continues. Later in the period, a young right winger for Philadelphia named Wayne Simmonds gets into a tough guy shouting match with Sean Avery, most likely precipitated by Avery’s threat earlier in the period. With the referee restraining Simmonds (and Avery safely on his bench), Simmonds was accused of using what was later described as a “homophobic slur.” I assume it was ‘fag’ or ‘faggot’ or something of that nature. He definitely used the word ‘pussy’ though. That was clear. And awesome. Order is restored, the game continued, no more incidents manifested during the remaining two periods.
In the locker room, Simmonds was asked about the slur, which he denies saying. His response was a ‘heat of the moment’ type of thing. Hours later, who’s on the phone and in the papers making a statement? GLAAD.
This is where I kind of got pissed. GLAAD is demanding an apology from Simmonds for the alleged comment, as well as a statement of apology from the Philadelphia Flyers’ organization, calling Simmonds behavior “homophobic.” This is what we’re going to talk about today. Took me long enough to get there.
GLAAD (the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) is one of those organizations that reads all the news papers, watches every second of TV and reads every billboard bordering rt. 76 and I-95 to make sure that everyone is playing nice and fair with gays and lesbians. (www.glaad.org) They even have their own media awards to give out to those who are reflecting a positive view of the community. On the whole, their existence is a good thing, despite my disdain for interest groups. I don’t have to qualify to you cats and kittens that I have a lot of gay and lesbian friends who, realizing it or not, see the benefits of the work of GLAAD every day.
Just like any interest group, GLAAD is a fine thing until it does something stupid, and getting involved in the Avery/Simmonds word battle is something stupid. Why? Because there was nothing “homophobic” about the alleged slur that Simmonds tossed Avery’s way. Well, A. Robert, if he called him a fag, how is that not homophobic? I’ll tell you.
Assuming that is what Simmonds said, there is nothing homophobic about it. It’s an ill chosen word because of the watch dogs in our society. It is a word with concretely negative connotation. But it is not a commentary on the homosexual community, nor is it a degrading of the behavior of homosexuals. It’s a word that was intended to be hurtful and to incite incident. The sexual partner choices of those across the nation and world don’t enter into it at all. Homophobic is a more dangerous word than what was allegedly said. Homophobic is not two athletes trying to escalate an argument into a fistfight in order to gain an advantage in a contest. Homophobic is not patronizing gay owned businesses because they are gay owned. Homophobic is having ignorant opinions and assumptions about the gay community. Homophobic is hatred and ignorance toward the gay community. This wasn’t that. This was a hockey player saying something that another hockey player wouldn’t like.
Before you get on my ass about it, I’m not saying that people should run around saying fag. But a larger part of me thinks that a person ought to run around saying anything he wants. We are afforded that opportunity, and there are no laws against bad judgement. Saying fag to a gay person is hate. Saying fag to someone as hurtful speech is not hate. I would like to believe that GLAAD is more in the business of dispelling hate and cultural and sociological myth than it is in the business of policing what is said on the field of play in sport. Does saying fag perpetuate a social consciousness of negative connotation toward the gay community? It can, yes. But it is also a word that has manifested is secondary definition as an inflammatory remark toward someone without consideration for sexual orientation. Besides which, though the fag word is a pretty hardcore example, there are so many interest groups comprised of people who co-opt words in order to empower them with a positive interpretation of that group. These hateful people use the word nigger, so we’ll use it toward ourselves to prove that the word has little power. How is that a design to remove the word from the social lexicon? We’re here, we’re queer. How do you get a pass on the innocuous use of the queer word, but those who are not a part of the community are banned from using it? I have many queer friends. Is that hurtful or descriptive? But a gay person using that word to describe his friends is OK? that doesn’t sound like equality to me; it sounds like entitlement and special rules, which is in no way equality.
We in our community do it too, don’t we. We in whatever community do it. You’re a freak. But if an unmodified, 75 year old woman in line at the bookstore calls you a freak with hurtful connotation and context, that changes things. Context and connotation. Two very important things. Simmonds wasn’t saying hurtful things to provide hateful commentary on a community. He was trying to get an asshole to punch him so he can have a psychological advantage in a sporting event. Very, very different. Besides, I think what happens on the field of play in sports ought to stay there. Are you honestly going to look me in the modded mug and tell me that after a sack the big ol’ pile of football players on top of one another is a pleasant and friendly mass of humanity? Doubtful. Winning isn’t about being friendly or PC. It’s about advantage, and some times that advantage comes in calling some one a no-no word.
As a quick asterisk, Wayne Simmonds, a black hockey player by the way (did I forget to mention that?) was taking a penalty shot three days earlier in London, Ontario when a fan threw a banana on the ice. Do we need to even contrast the differences between these two events here? Do we even need to go into which is born from hate and which is born from competitive passion? I didn’t think so.
I don’t endorse using words to hurt people in the context of that other person’s race or sexual orientation. If someone hates gays and calls him a fag, that’s probably out of bounds. But what’s important is the context. The word is never going to disappear, and it would stand to reason to me that GLAAD has much more effective work to do down other avenues than to demand apologies from hockey players. Still, I’m a little sick and cranky so this rant probably made no sense. Or I’m some kind of -ist. Stay beautiful, kids.
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