Saturday I participated in the Nashville AIDS walk, which starts at Riverfront park, loops around LP Field where the Tennessee Titans play, and ends where it starts. On the last leg of the 5k walk, a man, who appeared to be in his twenties, ran by our group and called us faggots.
I’m forty-eight years old. I’ve lived with my partner (we can’t get married in Tennessee yet, or he would be my husband) for thirteen years. My “partner” and I have raised four children. Because we’ve lead a somewhat isolated suburban life, we may have been isolate from hate speech. This was the first time I have been called a faggot.
My “partner” and I are members of a group of queer nuns called The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. We were with that group, dressed in outlandish (but tasteful) outfits and wearing clown makeup, when the man, presumably out for his morning exercise, ran past and called us faggots.
When we’re out as Sisters, we get a lot of attention. People want to get pictures made with us. We move about ten feet, and then we stop and pose for the camera. People also want to know who we are and what we’re doing. I usually respond with something like this:
We’re clown nuns. We raise money for local organizations. We’re all about safer sex, so you if you need a condom you can always get one from a Sister. We dress up like this so anyone we meet will feel comfortable with who they are because, if I can look like all this craziness, anyone else can be exactly who they are and feel good about themselves. Mostly, we like to have fun!
When the runner came by, I had shared that brief bit of information about who we are with many curious people. In addition to condoms, I keep stick-on hearts in my purse to give away. Kids love to get stickers, and I’ve learned that intoxicated adults in bars do, too. My name, when I’m dressed up as a Sister, is Ann Wenita Morelove. I am the valentine nun. That morning, I ran out of heart stickers because I gave so many away to children, teens, and adults. The contrast was jarring when it happened. More love versus more hate. Or perhaps more fear; I can only guess at the runner’s motive for calling us faggots.
Merriam-Webster simply defines faggot as “a male homosexual usually used disparagingly”. Its origin is from a “contemptuous word for a woman or child.” That makes sense. Use of the word faggot is meant to feminize a man, to strip him of his masculinity.
There’s quite a bit of irony, or something, going on here since I there I was, on a public Nashville street, wearing a maxi dress from Ross, and I had spent an hour and a half putting on makeup. I was a feminized man alright, so I had become a faggot, intentionally. At least partially so. I don’t get the contemptuous or disparaging part of the word. As a matter of fact, I think I looked damn fine. I was especially happy with my eyebrows. It’s the first time I have successfully drawn them on in over a year of doing this and been happy with the results. At any rate, before I could even think, when the runner shouted, “Faggots!”, I yelled back an affirming, “Yes!”
It turns out that affirmation was right on target. I realize that now that I’ve had time to reflect upon the meaning of the word.
There’s more irony, or something, going on here in that a crowd of people can come together on a beautiful day in early October and walk or run for a life-affirming, life-giving, life-loving cause, while others would rather speak contemptuous and disparaging words of hate or fear.
Perhaps the most irony, or something, going on here is that the runner had naturally amazing eyebrows. I noticed them with one quick glance when he ran past and called me a faggot. I bet he didn’t even notice mine.