I had a brief exchange with someone today over the use of the internet meme “<object|adjective>fag”, in which it was basically asserted that it was homophobic of me to use it.
To the offended party, first let me say if you’re actually a homosexual and felt offended, I’m deeply sorry. It wasn’t my intention. If you’re not (and I think this is the case), in my mind it’s just another example of people taking offense to something that doesn’t affect them personally.
Assuming for the moment that I meant offense by the term, or even that I simply implied homosexuality with the term (it should be noted that in the typical use of the meme, describing someone as homosexual would involve calling them a “fagfag” or a “gayfag”, and that this is not redundant), and you’re not… are you offended that I implied you were, or are you offended that I made the assertion without knowing either way?
It doesn’t matter, because I’m not the least bit homophobic, or racist for that matter. My feelings on both subjects are exactly the same: we need to spend far less time than we do thinking about things which are irrelevant, namely, that which makes us different. Race, skin-pigment, and of course sexual preference are no more related to intelligence, morals or any other social measurement than the color of your hair or how long your middle finger is in relation to your index finger.
Hate is a stupid feeling, particularly when rooted in something a person can do nothing about such as skin pigment or sexual preference. It’s the refuge of neanderthal types, ignorant people who have no place in society. In a sense, memes like “ps3fag” serve to help defuse the negative connotations associated with the word – when most internet-savvy people hear the word “ps3fag”, they automatically start thinking of someone who plays a PS3, or perhaps a PS3 fanboy. Unless the person hearing the term is a complete idiot, they very rarely associate it with a homosexual who plays a PS3, and certainly not someone who became a homosexual from having played a PS3.
In a similar sense with “gamers” copping a bad rap recently in the media because a huge percentage of them have used the phrase “that’s so gay” to describe something unfavorable. It’s a meme… an idea that grew organically by exploding in popularity through imitation.
When a World of Warcraft gamer hears that Blizzard are planning on showing other players their real name and exclaims “that’s so gay”, they’re merely expressing displeasure. They’re not insinuating that having your real name exposed on the internet without your express consent is akin to a tender embrace between two consenting male adults. The usages of the words are about as related as the phrase “dark forces stand ready” is related to people of sub-saharan african descent – which is to say, not at all, unless you happen to be at a Klan meeting.
There is of course the small chance that some folks will feel empowered by the use of such terms (referencing a metafilter post RE: the Blizzard fiasco), because they actually do feel the same way and think you do too. But honestly, there’s really no changing these people. They think the way they do because they’re too stupid to think otherwise, so for that reason a racist will always be a racist and a homophobe will always be a homophobe even if they’re in a sea of opposing opinion, and nothing will ever change that. Using the term “newfag” is no more encouraging to the homophobe than breathing next to someone is encouraging them to breathe.
Is it crass? Sure, but no more so than saying any given off-color word of your choice (ask the late George Carlin for a list of them), nor is it any more crass than making a blond joke (in fact probably less-so, because blond jokes are typically targeted at people who are in-fact blond).
Of course I’m not trying to say that such words should enter the lexicon of polite conversation in these definitions, but it should be noted that gaming circles, social networking, and other places aren’t typically places for “polite conversation” anyway. I certainly wouldn’t go up to my grandmother at a family reunion and refer to her as an “oldfag”, but that’s not to say that I wouldn’t address a friend older than I who’s huffing and puffing while we’re out playing Paintball as such.
In the context of gaming (and social networking, given that I’m married and not cruising for members of any sex) – it’s simply none of my business who you like to physically express desire for, so none of my comments should be taken as assumptions of such.
If you’re a homosexual, try not to take offense when a gamer exclaims “that’s so gay”. By using the term in a negative sense they’re not necessarily implying that being gay is a negative thing any more than being happy would be a negative thing. There are exceptions, of course, but they don’t deserve your attention, much less your outrage.