"We don't mean it."
In one of my classes, we recently put on a production that was all about words. Why people react to them, which ones have power, how their meanings can be changed. It was a very powerful piece. We began by chanting the familiar line, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me," and then turning to face the audience, throwing hurtful words at them--fag, bitch, freak, nigger, spic, pussy, failure, douche. I am reasonably confident that the members of our audience appreciated the performance, and are going to be more careful with the words they use. Now, my problem is this: How do I get the rest of the world to understand?
There's a kid who I have to deal with for a measly two hours a week who annoys the hell out of me. The first time he caught my particular attention was when we were forced to work on a project together with my friend Hannah. We disagreed on a name for a character we were writing, so finally, after five minutes of pointless arguing, Hannah I suggested we just use "John Smith," heavy on the sarcasm. Alex's immediate response was, "That's so gay."
Hannah and I both took offense to that, and told him that he shouldn't use "gay" as an insult, just as we had told him yesterday that he shouldn't call something retarded. He reacted the same way he had the other day. "Well, I have more of a right to be offended than you, so--"
"NO, you don't!" we both interrupted, rightfully exasperated. Alex thinks he is bisexual. Personally, I am unconvinced. He makes sexual remarks to all the girls in class, and none of the guys. He goes around calling things "gay." During the Day of Silence, he gave up halfway and his first words were "Fuck this, it's so stupid." He thinks kids are stupid for not coming out, because his life has never been better.
Option 1: Alex is bisexual, and just has no sympathy for other homo/trans/bisexual kids who struggle to be accepted. He is a bit of an ass.
Option 2: Alex is just saying he is bisexual because he wants more attention. He is a huge ass.
Either way, he uses offensive words casually and with no discretion. He doesn't care to ask if Hannah and I were gay, or if we know someone who is retarded. The words have degenerated into insults.
Less than half an hour ago, I was again reminded that most people just don't care. This time, I was at my softball game. The team we were playing against wore pretty short shorts. No big deal, right? 95% of the girls in my school wore shorts that length in the summer, and most of the team had longer compression shorts underneath anyway. Belle, one of the girls on my team, immediately declared that they were sluts. Then Lauren--who is usually pretty nice--said, "When we're on base, we should just say 'Hey, there aren't any guys here so who are you trying to impress?'"
Then, our team's first out occured because of a technicality. Our runner, Kristina, was too late getting back to the base when the pitcher was ready to throw. Lots of girls were annoyed, because it wasn't a very common rule, but it was a rule. Kristina was pissed off. She stormed back to the dugout, calling the umpire a "fucking homo," and then wondered why I was so upset at her language. Later on, Belle tried to motivate us as we were losing by saying, "Come on guys, you're playing so retarded."
I briefly considered telling her about the mentally-challenged softball players I had played with the previous season; we had to go into the field with them to keep them from getting hit in case they didn't see the ball, or keep them from wandering off during the middle of the game. Even so, they all had better attitudes than our team. They didn't call the other team names when they lost. Instead, I went to the coach. They had already asked me twice why I was freaking out so bad, so obviously I didn't affect them. The coach promised to send out an e-mail to all the girls later.
I resolved to leave it at that, but at the end of the game, I couldn't. We lost by two runs, and the team met in center field for a post-game pep talk. Two of them actually started yelling at the other team to get longer shorts. I will admit that I acted more like an adult than a fellow player, but I couldn't help it. I do not want our team to be labeled bitches just because of those few girls. Lauren said, "It's just softball. We don't really mean it."
I am saying this to you now--if you don't mean something, don't say it. Please, please, please, think about the words you are using. Because that phrase is wrongs. "Sticks and stones may break bones," but I can't remember all the bruises I got in third grade--all I remember was crying in the bathroom because my best friend called me a bitch. We've developed thick skin, and insults aren't considered wrong anymore, but they are. Calling someone a slut, a retard, or a fag may not hurt them directly, but it hurts the person next to you, whose only thought is "What if he says that to me?"
Your words can say just as much as your actions.