A reader writes: “I was hoping I could get your opinion on this issue. I recently read a diatribe by a cisgender gay man stating that those who identify as girlfags are being disrespectful to cisgender gays and lesbians, as well as gay transmen.
“I agree that the term does sound pejorative, and it would be better if a new term was coined. But I believe that it is a legitimate identity. What do you think?”
I had never heard of this term before, so I had to look it up. On Urban Dictionary, “girlfag” is defined as: “A woman who is very attracted to gay/bi/trans men. She may (or may not) also feel she is (fully or partly) a ‘gay man in a woman’s body.’ Girlfags identify primarily as queer, and are often attracted to more types of people than just gay/bi/trans men.”
I think every identity is legitimate. I also think that reclamation of negative or harmful language can be beneficial in certain circumstances. However, I have three criteria for reclaiming pejorative language, and I feel that all of these criteria need to be met before a word or words can be reclaimed:
1. The people reclaiming the language must be aware of the history of the language – the word or words to be reclaimed – and how that language was used against people in the past (and still today). What is the origin of the language? How did it come into general use and how did it come to be used against a group of people? What were and are the ramifications of that use? The people reclaiming the language need to be fully aware of this and make a conscious decision to reclaim the language based on their thorough knowledge of the past.
2. The people reclaiming the language must be aware of how using this language today emotionally (and possibly physically) impacts those living people who have had this language used against them in the past. People reclaiming language should have complete awareness of how their use of this language affects those around them, and they must make a conscious decision to use this language knowing this potentially negative impact.
3. The people reclaiming the language must be members of the group against which the language was used in the past.
In my opinion, if a group of people – or even an individual – meets these three criteria, they can reclaim the language. So people deciding to use certain terms to define their identity need to ask themselves if the terms they choose are appropriate for them to reclaim and if there are other descriptors that might better suit them.
I know that I will get disagreement on this. That’s fine. That’s what makes a lively discussion.
Readers, what do you think?