In Defense of Tyler, the Creator and His Overuse of the Word “Faggot.”
An open letter to Queerty writer Matthew Tharrett
Allow me to begin by stating that I am biased toward Tyler, the Creator and the word in question, “faggot.” I love Tyler, not only for his music but also for his ingenuity, bravery, and outlook on issues from academia to Millenials. I also identify as gay, so the word faggot has a special place in my heart. My boyfriend and I affectionately call each other faggot as a means of teasing one another. I realize that this is probably not very common within the gay community, but we enjoy it just the same. You see, we call each other faggot because we find it to be funny. The word faggot, for us at least, does not carry a connotation of hate and malice, it carries one of love, affection, and good-spirited, jokingly name-calling. The reason it does this for us is because we have reappropriated the word to mean these things for us. Now, if we are ever called a faggot out of malice, it is often met with, “Oh, honey, it’s so cute that you tried to hurt my feelings.”
I realize that this all sounds a bit out-of-place, and trust me, it is. However, in alignment with what Tyler, the Creator is attempting to do, we are trying to take the word back from these people with hate in their hearts. As an adolescent child living in Noble, Oklahoma, I was in constant contact with these types of people. For my entire life I was constantly bombarded by words of hate from the people who thought I was weird because I was different. It’s the same story that a majority of the other gay youth face on a daily basis. I was lucky enough to have never been physically attacked by these people, but the verbal damage was enough to drive me to attempt suicide once and bring on years of anxiety and depression that I am still battling to this day. Tyler is able to identify with these same types of scenarios, as is evidence by his lyrics, especially in a song entitled, “Pigs,” from his newest album Wolf. The lyrics include:
“Geek, fag, stupid loser find a rope to hang…
Cause none of the cool kids would let me join a team
Depressions on the stalk again
My best friend’s an inhaler because it will not let me cough
Whenever I am losing oxygen, bully hand around my neck
Cause he felt disrespected when I decided to talk again…
Gather all the bullies, crush them motherfuckers
Odd Future hooligans causing up a ruckus…”
Tyler identifies with these bullying victims, because just like myself and a vast majority of other youth, we were bullied relentlessly, and some of us to the point where we either took our own lives or the lives of others. Tyler realized that words have power. Words can do just as much harm as physical violence, and sometimes even more. Just like my boyfriend and I and our weird tradition of calling each other faggots, we learned that when you use the words that hurt the most in your own vernacular, the words begin to lose meaning. They just become another word and nothing more. The words lose their power over you, and you can begin to reclaim your footing in your own life without worrying about those words coming back to hurt you.
As Tyler has mentioned in some of his other lyrics, he is not a homophobe. In his song, “Rusty,” featuring, as you mentioned, “the incredibly relaxed gentlemen to his left, a person I am told is called ‘Earl Sweatshirt,’” and Domo Genesis, he says:
“Look at that article that says my subject matter is wrong
Saying I hate gays even though Frank [Ocean] is on 10 of my songs.”
Frank Ocean, as I’m sure you know from his selfie-posting the company you work for ran a few weeks back, identifies as bi-sexual. Frank, along with Syd tha Kyd, are both members of the Odd Future collective that identify as queer. Not to mention, they are also Tyler’s best friends. He is not trying to tell people that they are not allowed to be offended by the word faggot, but rather he is suggesting that they not let it offend them because of his mission. He, as a one man army, can not take the power away from the word, he can merely lead an army of people all trying to accomplish the same goal. It would be ludicrous to say, “You are not allowed to get offended when I say ‘faggot’!” and I’m not sure why you think that is what he is suggesting. He is simply suggesting that the people on the receiving end of the homophobic slur choose to not get offended by it, because then it stops the intentions of the one calling you a faggot dead in their tracks.
I am curious as to what your stance on this matter would’ve been if he identified as queer in some regard. Does the word “faggot” play along with the same rules as the word “nigger?” African-Americans are exclusively allowed to use that term, so are homosexuals exclusively allowed to use the word faggot? In both accounts, when the words are used by people who do not fall into their respective categories that would allow them the right to use the word, it is meant with malice. Tyler’s mission is to change just that. He is quoted as saying that he does not get offended by the word, “nigger,” because he does not allow it to offend him, and because he uses it in his own vernacular, daily. The same thing goes with me and the word, “faggot.” Obviously, neither of these words are positive words, as you said in your article. The goal is not to make these words positive, but to make them not negative, and instead give them a neutral ground to stand on, where it can neither hurt someone nor brighten their day.
Obviously, the dream is that no one would ever use these words, and that everyone would just love everyone and the world would be full of love and cherry-flavored sodas, however, that will never be the case. There will always be someone who is trying to hurt you in whatever way they can. Yes, this word has a history behind it, what with LGBT-identifying people being called a faggot right before their life is taken by someone else’s hand, but that just makes this mission of Tyler’s all the more important. If the word is “deadened,” so to speak, then it will no longer be able to be used as a slur because the word will have no power to do so. The idea that Tyler, the Creator is trying to perpetuate is that if you do not let them hurt you, they will not be able to do so. Just as he says in the introduction to his sophomore album, “Goblin”:
“Oh, that’s a triple three six, isn’t he a devil worshipper
Cause I’m too fucking ignorant to do some research?…
(Bastard was good though) What you think I record it for?
To have a bunch of critics call my shit a bunch of horrorcore?…
That’s bull of the sheet, but they want to critique
Everything that we, Wolf Gang, has ever released
But they don’t get it, cause it’s not made for him
The nigga that’s in the mirror rapping, it’s made for him…”
He is speaking to people like you, Matthew. People who are too quickly to get offended and not realize that maybe he has his own reasons for doing what he does. Even though he does not identify as queer and thusly is “not allowed to use the word faggot” does not mean that he has not been called a faggot, maliciously, in his past. It is difficult to tell is someone is gay or not, unless they are out, so everyone has the potential to be picked on for being gay, even if they are not; because of this, I believe that anyone, yes, anyone has the right to try and “reclaim” the word faggot in an effort to help the gay community, which is what he is trying to do. You have your opinions and I have mine. This is what makes us more evolved than the primates, and it is a good thing that we can disagree and talk about our differences. However, I feel that you have no place in telling anyone what they can or cannot say, just as Tyler has no place is “telling people what words they can or cannot be offended by,” as you claim. I believe that what Tyler is doing is good, because his intentions are good and it is a cause that I align with. I’m sorry that you do not, but before you jump up on your soapbox next time, I implore you to do some research on your topic before you call for his head. Thank you for reading.
- Ryan Harris