“Please don’t use that word, I hate it!” yelled my Mom as I playfully told her I was her little fag. I felt shame, fear, and enormously unsafe. What was confusing for me was that this is how I felt when someone used the word against me.
After being married to a woman for four years I finally summoned the courage to come out. It was the scariest, yet most powerful moment of my life. What I didn’t fathom was the additional courage I’d need to embrace by calling myself a fag. After all, it was a part of me.
Like many closeted gay men, my internalized homophobia was alive and well. I spent years making sure no one discovered who I was. I told the funniest gay jokes, laughed at gays with my fellow football players, and did everything I could to deflect from the world who I really was.
It broke my heart when those that loved me suddenly walked out of restaurants I walked into, just because I had come out.
Best friends never saw me again. One told me he physically became sick when he learned I was gay. At the time I’m sure some part of me made sense of the pain by simply thinking, “Of course they hate me, I’m a fag.”
Coming out was a breeze compared to finding comfort in proclaiming to myself and the world, at times, that yes I was a fag. I was about to take a deep dive into a world filled with immense hatred, most of it self hatred.
It took a full year to have a conversation with my former wife after coming out to her. I remember asking, attempting to be funny and brave, whether or not her Mom (my Mother in law) knew I was a fag.
She stopped me abruptly and said, “Yes she knew you were gay, but absolutely didn’t consider you a fag.” Needless to say I was stunned.
Gay was ok, being a fag was not. Huh?
I took great pride in moving through the world as an out gay man. What I didn’t realize was the energy I expended making sure no one saw what I thought was my faggy self. Those parts of me I felt were feminine, sensitive, emotional, compassionate, truthful, deeply caring or anything connected to being truly vulnerable in a heteronormative world.
Years passed feeling this pang of inauthenticity. Yet the cover-up felt so evident and the feeling of paralysis so normal. I had no idea what to do, so of course I did nothing.
It wasn’t until I experienced being pushed and shoved, called a fag, and felt my life in danger did the light begin to turn on.
Amidst all the fear the word fag evoked, I could see how I exacerbated it. Every time I denied being a fag, pretending I wasn’t or suggesting, “She was, not me!” I died inside and the energy of those tossing the word at me became stronger.
What if I embraced the word?
What if I simply said, “Yup, I’m a fag.” If I stopped resisting, would the world stop persisting?
A number of months before my Mom died, in 2006, I walked over to her to say good-bye when it was time to go home. Her grip on my hand was unusually tight. She pulled me close and said, “I love you. You’re my little fag.”