I remember my classmates and I freely and frequently speaking this word in elementary school. We used it on the playground. We used it in the classroom. We used it in front of our teachers. Hell, sometimes even our teachers would utter this epithet.
Nobody thought it was that bad of a word. But it could occasionally incite an angry exchange or even a fistfight. It was used to playfully or maliciously put someone down–especially other males. It often peppered the badinage and persiflage of our masculine repartee.
I continued to use the F-word after entering adulthood. But I found myself feeling less and less comfortable with it. When other adults used it, they seemed to color it with a tinge of hatred and contempt. I guess I didn’t share their level of contempt.
One day I used the F-word while speaking with someone whom I held in great esteem. He responded with a long silence. I felt puzzled and a little embarrassed. I knew he didn’t live that kind of lifestyle. He wasn’t one of “them”. So why the silent treatment?
But he knew others who lived that way. And as I opened my eyes and mind, I realized I did too. And these were folks who were like anybody else, except for that lifestyle. Most of them were honest, considerate and, like all of us, they were smart in their own way. And their “lifestyle” usually wasn’t much different from the rest of us.
So I stopped using the F-word. I don’t like the banning of words. My mind bristles when people try to tell me what I cannot say. I think that’s natural. We all love freedom of speech. But there are some words that have been used for generations to fuel hatred and justify violence.
You may have already guessed that the F-word I’m referring to is not the four-letter one. Hell no. I love that fucking word. It adds color, character, and emphasis to our language, and enjoys special status in the cockles of my heart. No, this particular F-word is either three or six letters long. At one time it referred to firewood and cigarette butts. But nowadays it’s an unambiguous hate-language word, and reflects bigotry and ignorance.
Those who have used this word have unwittingly or wittingly fueled the hatred that has contributed to the violent deaths of many innocents. Matthew Shepard met such a demise in Wyoming in 1998, at the age of 21. He’d been pistol-whipped, tortured, and tied to a barbed wire fence.
And just last year, on November 1st, gay rights activist George Zander was beaten to death in Palm Springs, California. That’s only a few miles from where I live, for God’s sake. He was the victim of an alleged hate crime. Local news reports describe him as having been a wonderful, well-liked human being. He was even honored posthumously with a star on Palm Springs’ famous Walk of Stars.
And then there was the Orlando nightclub shooting this last Sunday. Dozens of other wonderful, well-liked human beings perished at the hands of a man who hated their sexual orientation. I suspect this man both heard and used the F-word many times in his life. When he heard others casually flinging this term around, did it make violence seem okay for him? How could it not?
So for me, the F-word is out of my vocabulary. I want to avoid contributing to the violent deaths of innocent people.
Because that would just be too fucked up.