VOICES: To understand why the ‘F-word’ is an ugly slur, you need to understand its violent origin

Note from Community Impact Editor Amelia Robinson: Evan Millward, an anchor and reporter at WCPO-TV in Cincinnati, wrote this column after hearing then-Cincinnati Reds and Fox Sports Ohio broadcaster Thom Brennaman use a gay slur on a live mic during a Aug. 19 Reds’ game. This version was been edited for length for the Sunday, Aug. 30 edition of the Dayton Daily News’ Ideas and Voices page. The full commentary is linked below. This newspaper is not printing the slur in question. Local gay men shared their opinions on the topic in columns linked below.

Hot mics have a funny way of revealing things we want kept private. To Cincinnati and sports Twitter’s credit, reaction was swift, and Reds announcer Thom Brennaman’s comment was almost universally condemned.

Almost. Plenty of people don’t get it.

Credit: WCPO-TV

Credit: WCPO-TV

Tom has had a 30-plus-year career, they say. His father is a Cincinnati icon. We grew up with the Brennamans, and they grew up with us. It was one mistake. It was a slip.

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Let me be clear: Dropping the f-bomb when you stub your toe is a slip. Using the F-word is a choice.

As a gay man, I want to know why. As a journalist, I always want to know more. We heard only a split second of the statement. I have so many questions.

I need to point out the position of privilege I stand in. I came out surrounded by supportive friends ― almost champions, really. My parents never kicked me out, cut me off or told me anything other than that they loved me.

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I can’t say the same for some of my friends. Or certainly some of the LGBTQ+ people I’ve met since.

According to research done by the Family Acceptance Project and cited by the Trevor Project, LGBTQ+ youth who are rejected by their families are “8.4 times more likely to report having attempted suicide, 5.9 times more likely to report high levels of depression, 3.4 times more likely to use illegal drugs and 3.4 times more likely to report having engaged in unprotected sexual intercourse, compared to peers from families that reported no levels of family rejection.”

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A negative reaction to a young person accepting themselves sets them up for failure across the board. Drug use, depression, suicide.

To understand why it’s such an ugly slur, you need to understand its violent origin. A search turns up plenty of information and pictures of piles of twigs. A bundle of sticks. By the mid-16th century, those bundles of sticks were used to burn heretics. Or, as NPR found, to “fry a f----t.”

Later, it would be used to degrade women. And that’s how it morphs, in the 1800s and 1900s, into a way to emasculate a non-heteronormative man. Meant to put a guy down for being weak.

We often call it “just” locker room talk. Ask Kobe Bryant. Or Joakim Noah. Except it doesn’t stay in a locker room. It’s not as innocent as that phrase sounds. The brutality hasn’t gone anywhere, centuries later.

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The word has been used in hate crimes against gay — or seemingly gay — men and our trans brothers and sisters for years. It’s plastered on placards — “God Hates F--s” — to intimidate outside funerals and Pride events. Weaponized by pseudo-religious zealots.

Plenty of people try to reclaim the word. It’s natural.

But if you ask almost any gay man, they can tell you at least one time someone said it or yelled it at them aggressively. We all have at least one ― usually many ― instances burned into our memory.

For me, it happened a few years ago on 12th Street in Over-the-Rhine near downtown Cincinnati. I was walking with friends. It was late. We were slow getting through a crosswalk as the light changed. The woman in the car at the light opened her window, leaned out and yelled something about how we needed to “get moving, f----ts.”

ExploreVOICES: Here’s a better punishment for those who hurl that ’other’ f-word

I remember this moment less for the slur hurled in our direction and more for my reaction to it. The woman started to drive off and I whipped around and kicked the back of her car. It was a blind rage. It had been so long since someone had said that, and my response was something that could have gotten me hurt ― or worse. Not my finest moment. I’m not proud of it. A friend told me to let it go. It happens. We later laughed it off.

But being quiet can’t be the answer. Not anymore. We’re way past that.

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