“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty says in “Through the Looking-Glass,” “… it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”
This children’s tale was one of my favorite childhood books, but I hadn’t thought of it lately. Until Alec Baldwin’s recent homophobic Twitter outburst brought the Lewis Carroll classic’s playful musings on meaning to mind. Unfortunately, there was nothing light-hearted about Baldwin’s tirade, his apology or his attempt to subvert the meaning of his anti-gay slurs.
Even if you live on Mars, you’ve heard that on June 28, Daily Mail reporter George Stark reported (wrongly) that Baldwin’s wife Tweeted about recipes during actor James Gandolfini’s funeral. Not surprisingly, Baldwin was mad as hell at Stark. Many of us might well have empathized with Baldwin, the often charming, talented actor, who has worked for marriage equality, if his rage hadn’t been unleashed in a virulent, stream of homophobic Tweets.
Among the nuggets of hate in Baldwin’s rant: “I’m gonna find you, George Stark, you toxic little queen, and I’m gonna fuck…you…up.”
And “I’d put my foot up your fucking ass, George Stark, but I’m sure you’d dig it too much.”
Baldwin apologized to GLAAD for his homophobic language, writing, “My ill-advised attack on George Stark…had absolutely nothing to do with issues of anyone’s sexual orientation. As someone who fights against homophobia, I apologize … I would not advocate violence against someone for being gay.”
GLAAD accepted Baldwin’s apology. GLAAD vice president of communications Rich Ferraro said, “Alec Baldwin is making it clear that the intent behind his tweets does not excuse his language, especially at a time when there were 11 incidents of violence against gay men in New York City just last month.”
I’m all for forgiveness if someone’s sincerely repenting his or her actions. Yet, despite, Baldwin’s support for same-sex marriage, I wonder if he’s truly owned up to the homophobia in his Tweets. Here’s where Humpty Dumpty’s snarky take on meaning comes in. After his apology, Baldwin told Gothamist that calling Stark a “toxic queen” hadn’t been an anti-gay slur. “It doesn’t have to be a … homophobic connotation,” he said, “To me those are people who think the rules don’t apply to them.”
No “homophobic connotation,” Mr. Baldwin? Especially in the midst of a rant where you’ve threatened to stick your foot up a man’s behind? I’d say you and Humpty Dumpty are on the same page – you’d like words to mean what you say they mean.
Though I’m skeptical about his sincerity, I don’t want to pile on Baldwin (who’s already getting flack). Despite my intense dislike of repeating anti-gay slurs, I’m dredging up his creepy Tweets because homophobic language is so pervasive. Baldwin’s slurs are the tip of an infinitely huge iceberg. It’s like when you see one roach, you know there are a zillion more crawling around, unseen. When you hear one homophobic epithet, you know there are untold others – some lurking in the shadows – others basking in the daylight.
Diversity rules in the use of homophobic epithets. People from religious leaders to reality TV show contestants toss out anti-gay language. Recently, the Blade reported that a Roman Catholic Cardinal in Santo Domingo referred to president Obama’s nominee to be the next ambassador to the Dominican Republic as a “faggot.” On July 3, some of the contestants on the CBS reality show “Big Brother,” made racist and homophobic remarks about other housemates.
Today alone, the slur “faggot” has been Tweeted more than 31,000 times; the phrase “so gay” has been sent through the Twitterverse more than 7,000 times, according to the website NoHomophobes.com, which tracks the use of homophobic slurs on Twitter.
Epithets aren’t just annoying verbal wallpaper. Hateful words can contribute to suicide or incite violence. Straight or LGBT, let’s work to stop the hurt. Let’s speak out against homophobic language.
Kathi Wolfe is a writer and poet. She is a regular contributor to the Blade.
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