Dude, You’re a Fag

July 9, 2007 at 9:25 am 6 comments

That’s the slur that UC Berkeley sociologist C.J. Pascoe heard quite often as she researched her new book of the same title on masculinity and sexuality in high school. Boys used the word “fag” not necessarily to describe another boy as having same-sex sexual desires, but the word was thrown at other boys who were considered feminine and not fitting in with rigid notions of what a boy should act like.

Boys participated in a fag discourse to ensure that others saw them as masculine by renouncing any fag-like behavior or same-sex desire. They did this by imitating fags and calling other boys fags. Boys imitated fags by lisping, mincing and pretending to sexually desire men, drawing laughs from male audiences who howled at these imitations

Its been more than a few years since I have been in high school, but this seems about right. Boys are taught as they grow up a narrow code of masculinity that proscribes acceptable ways for boys and men to act, think and feel. Anything that smacks of “acting like a girl” is considered suspect and a sign of weakness. Pascoe also found that the boys she studied differentiated between “gay” and “fag.”

For these boys gay men could still be masculine, whereas a fag could never be masculine. Thus the term “gay” functioned as a generic insult meaning “stupid” or “lame” whereas “fag” invoked a very specific gendered slur, directed at other boys. For these boys a fag was a failed, feminine man who, in all likelihood, was also gay.

Pascoe goes on to describe how this intimidation of boys considered weaker or less masculine becomes a kind of name calling ritual that is as much about denying homosexuality as it is about not appearing feminine. You would think that as boys grow older and become men that they would out grow this social anxiety around proclaiming the masculinity by targeting men and boys that are seen as not “acting like men.” And, you would be wrong.

We can see evidence of this in the ongoing national debate around allowing openly gay soldiers to serve in the military, Tim Hardaway’s “I hate gays” comments and the recent Snickers commercial in which two men accidently kiss and have to immediately take action that restores their fragile sense of masculinity like ripping out their own chest hair. On a more personal level, notice how some men will not sit next to their male friends in a movie theater or on the subway. They leave a seat between them so as not to appear to be too physically close to other men.

Its been said before that homophobia and sexism are intertwined and Pascoe’s study would seem to be more proof that that is the case. By challenging sexism, we challenge homophobia. And, by challenging both we give boys the opportunity to grow into the men they truly are rather than the men they think they should be.

Read an article by Pascoe describing her work here.


Entry filed under: Advocacy, Health, LGBT, Men, Politics, Pop Culture.

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Christopher  |  July 9, 2007 at 11:52 am

    Excellent piece. Thanks for posting this informative information.

    Despite all our strives, we still have a long way to go in this country, as homophobia is still epidemic.

  • 2. bloggernista  |  July 9, 2007 at 5:46 pm

    And I think that as we challenge homophobia more and more we are going to find out just how deeply heterosexist beliefs are ingrained even in those who claim to be our allies.

  • 3. JollyRoger  |  July 9, 2007 at 8:34 pm

    I was in high school in the 1970s, and I was a ne’er do well.

    One of the football heroes called me gay on an almost constant basis. Since I had already done a nice 5 days of suspension for a scrap with another football hero, my choices were somewhat limited; my dad would not have appreciated an expulsion.

    I got tired of it, and then while watching “Soap” one night, the answer came to me; agree with him, and act like I was attracted to Mr. Football. I only had to do it once, and the football hero steered a wide berth of me from then on.

    I thought picking at someone because of who they loved was bullshit then, and I think it’s bullshit now. Thanks to Chimpy/Rove ’04, it’s become all the rage in Jesusistan and parts beyond to be openly bigoted again. When will we start worrying about how we conduct OURSELVES in this life, and stop trying to persecute others for THEIR ways?

    About 6 years after I got out of high school, I ran into Mr. Football again. By that time, I was married, had a couple of towheaded little boys, and was running a warehouse in a plastics factory. Mr. Football says “Jolly! How you been, man!”

    I looked at him, and said “Football, I didn’t like you when we were in high school, and I don’t like you now. Go fuck yourself.”

    I’m quite sure he’s a Chimpleton at this stage in his life. He fit the mold.

  • 4. Thor  |  March 15, 2008 at 10:22 pm

    So how do i not be a fag?!? i already knew this but how do i stop looking/acting like a fag??? i dont think of myself as a gay or anything, i dont like guys, i like gurls but im calld a f&$^ing fag!

  • 5. Thor  |  March 15, 2008 at 10:25 pm

    im not even in high school yet, and i dont think i can stand it much longer!

  • 6. name  |  June 4, 2008 at 7:36 pm

    just dont be a fag.


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