On Certain Derogatory Words I Don’t Use

Long ago, I personally stopped using the nasty “c” word, a label for a certain part of female anatomy. Going as far back as my adolescence, the context of usage of it in American culture left me especially turned off to the term. I respect women’s personal choice around reclaiming the word if they wish. Author Eve Ensler made an eloquent case for doing just that in her wonderful book THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES. But, as a (biologically assigned and mostly identifying as) male ally of women and feminism, I have no use for it. For me, this is parallel to how white people really need not have any use for the “n” word, even though some Black people rightfully choose to say that descriptor amongst themselves.

In parallel to my feelings around the “c” and “n” words, as a gay man I have no interest in reclaiming the words “fag” or “faggot,” though many of my queer brethren and sistren do and say it freely amongst themselves. These terms are especially unpleasant in sound (as is the “c” word) in addition to being associated with my years of hearing them said directly to me with such a meanness, particularly in middle school and high school. I am happy to leave them behind out of my personal lexicon. People who know me respect this and do not use these epithets around me, even in jest, except, on occasion, in quotes to make a point or to quote someone else (again, to make some point, such as how difficult or ignorant the quoted person is). I appreciate their respect of me and my wishes.

I understand how some may judge me as being “overly sensitive” for having such strong boundaries around a small handful of words. My response to this is that I finally reached a shameless acceptance of the reality that I am indeed very sensitive, including around the above-discussed terms. I feel no need or wish to desensitize myself to them. My sensitivity is a part of who I naturally am and has led me to some wonderful insights and experiences in life, not the least being the profession I chose for myself (psychotherapist). I think many people could benefit from developing more sensitivity, which is another way of saying that empathy and compassion are important for everyone to cultivate in themselves and for others.

2 thoughts on “On Certain Derogatory Words I Don’t Use

  1. Thanks for this thoughtful reflection. I’m with you on never using the c word. In my lexicon it is among a handful of words I find deeply offensive (along with the n word and the f words for gay among a few others). While I also respect groups’ reclamation for their own empowerment of formerly derogatory words used against and/or about them, I still squirm with profound discomfort when I hear them, even though I have done that with “queer” for myself (though “queer” was never (I think) as extreme in its hatefulness as many of the other terms. I don’t know how many generations it takes for words to lose their charge or fully shift from their original denotations and/or connotations, but it has certainly not happened yet with any of these!

    Language is so much more emotionally layered than most people pay conscious attention to, and people can get very judgy about it. Profanity is a good example of this–so many of us who object to its overuse are accused of being over-sensitive or “f-king uptight.” I’m one of the accused. Though I appreciate and use a well-placed f-bomb for emphasis, I find nearly intolerable its common use as noun, verb, adjective, adverb, gerund, & etc. in one continuous utterance.

    Other words, like the epithets you mention, are far more emotionally charged and complicated because nobody’s arguing about who can and can’t use them and why. And you’re up a creek if you’re a hip female who objects to the c word–because if you hate it and refuse to use it, then you’re accused caving to the male hegemony, but if it makes you cringe and you use it anyway, then you’re just caving to a different sort of power. So all I can say to you is kudos for refusing all of them and embracing your sensitivity.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you. As always, like your other responses to my posts, your reply here is both thoughtful and interesting. I learned long ago to embrace my sensitivity and stop trying to be someone that I’m not and was never meant to be (insensitive).


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