Taking the power out of words

Words hurt.

I love Violet Online. I read her posts. They’re insightful and well worth the effort. Follow her – you won’t regret it.

Today, her post was about being called a whore. It made me think about the power that some words have to hurt us, to make us feel ashamed, to put us in a box with a label so that others can gawk. Schizo! Nigger! Gay! Wanker! Pussy!

The old saying that “words will never hurt me” (sticks and stones) couldn’t be less true.

When I was growing up, the word gay was the worst insult. Sometimes it meant homosexual. Sometimes it was thrown at boys for any sign of weakness. Regularly it was thrown at a male friend of mine. It hurt him, made him cry. I saw him cry a lot. He didn’t like sports. He didn’t try to get inside every girl’s pants. He was the sort of person you could talk to.

We met up again more recently when he was in town. We went to Costa. He had black tea with too much sugar. I told him it wasn’t good for him and he talked about his boyfriend. They’re a gay couple. They own the word. It no longer hurts.

I said the word “gay” in our conversation and he didn’t cry once. But if he had called me a whore, I would have never talked to him again.

Whore: a promiscuous or immoral woman. A woman who engages in sexual acts for money.

I sleep around. I make no secret of that fact. I take as many precautions as I can, but promiscuous would certainly fit. I also write stories about sex and hope to make a profit from turning my readers on. I’m not actually sucking you off or fingering you, but it’s definitely a sexual act for money. It would also be considered immoral by a lot of people.

The point is, words do hurt, but in the end they’re only nouns, verbs, adjectives. My friend is gay. I’m lesbian. Sometimes. Sometimes not. And that’s OK. Those words aren’t insults any more.

I’m also a whore.

Let’s own the word, make it ours. Then maybe, just maybe, it could go the same way as “gay”.

8 thoughts on “Taking the power out of words

  1. You’re very nice to follow up on Violet Online’s post with this one. It’s so true that words can hurt badly — and they can stick with you for a long time. I’m sure lots of people can still remember insults they received as teenagers. And I’m glad your friend has owned the word “gay.” That in his lifetime, the word has gone from an insult to a description of him. My gay friends certainly own the word, and they use gay as a tease. As in saying “that’s so gay!” to each other (and straight friends) when something is done that’s considered over-the-top gay. I much prefer that teasing to using “gay” as an insult.

    • Absolutely right – probably partly the intention behind the word makes a difference to how it’s perceived.

      I remember a story I learnt (probably at high school). William the Conqueror (Battle of Hastings, 1066 – I paid some attention) was called “William the Bastard” before he conquered England. It was a description referring to his parentage. Probably it was also an insult. Was he hurt by it? Did he cry? We’ll probably never know. But perhaps he owned the word too:

      “Yes, I’m the bastard that’s going to kill your king. You want some too?”

      The word wouldn’t have much power against him after a statement like that.

      • Great story about William the Conqueror. Maybe being called Bastard put a chip on his shoulder and inspired him to want to show everybody wrong. And he won a new name for himself. Thanks for passing along the history lesson!

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