Why casual homophobia can be a serious problem, and pondering what the way forward might be for gaming sites and communities.
So, while chatting to some friends the other day, a rather interesting article was linked in my direction. It concerns, of all things, the actions of a British soccer team, which had recently sacked one of its players for a homophobic Tweet. Neat. But...
Why is this even relevant?
I was talking to them – lamenting, more accurately – about the state of the online gaming community, and what appears to be a rather entrenched feeling that sexism, racism, and homophobia is A-okay, and that if you’re offended by being called a fag it’s ‘just your fault’. My lamentations were due to the increasing feeling that even in our own Atomic community, there’s a degree of similar behaviour that is considered the norm, and that's at times incredibly hurtful. That I’d gone home and played some BF3 to relax, and managed to luck onto a server full of people defending homophobic slurs... well, that didn’t help either.
So here it is – I’m a queer gamer, one who comes from a community of similar left-of-center types. This is me trying to come to terms with the whole issue, focusing on the homophobic behaviour that impacts me, personally, the most. It is ferociously complex, and you will find people arguing over the same thing pretty much all over the internet. I’m not even sure there is an objective right or wrong (well, actually, I am), and I’m certainly not sure that I can change any minds; but, subjectively, I certainly know how I feel when I’m around this kind of behaviour. That, right there, is probably the best place to start working out what the issue is, and how it might be addressed.
Fag’s only offensive if you let it be – fag!
Faggot. Gay. Ghey. Fag.
Since the early days of Counter Strike, back when it was still a mod for Half Life, ‘gay’ has been a classic gamer pejorative. If someone’s hacking, their actions will be called gay; if you’re annoying someone, you could be called a fag. Basically, if it’s bad and unpopular... that’s so gay.
I’m not sure of the roots of this, but I suspect it started popping up at about the same time that the term camping did. Camping sprung from snipers hiding in the tent on one of the very first Counter Strike maps; they would stay there all game, happily pwning; thus anyone sticking in one spot to snipe others became a camper in a more general sense. Considering that both terms – gay and camping – came into usage at much the same time, it’s not too long a bow to pull that once the act of camping became bad, it also became gay, for obvious reasons.
Where it came from, though, is pretty irrelevant, however. It’s the intent behind the usage, and how it’s often defended, that I’m more interested in talking about.
Let’s consider the latter. Whenever someone brings up gay as a slur, and someone takes offense on the basis of homophobia, there’s always a cadre of people leaping to its defense. These statements can be pretty varied, but it basically boils down to two beliefs: first, that if you take offense at the term, it’s your own fault, and secondly, that it’s actually got nothing to do with sexuality, because it’s a bundle of wood, ZOMG, get over it, etc.
There’s a lot that can be said about ‘choosing to be offended’, and I have often received advice that I should probably not take things so seriously. But at the end of the day, if someone uses gay or fag or whatever in such a way as to express irritation and anger, such as ‘Fuck off you gay AWP whore’, then let’s be honest – that is meant to be offensive. It is said in anger, in a way that is meant to provoke a response. They’re not offering it up as an ambiguous statement open to interpretation. They’re saying that the object of their derision is, well, just that – worthy of derision. If I, for instance, call someone a ‘puerile mouth-breather’ I’m certainly not intending to leave the matter of the meaning up to the target of my disregard. I’m using those terms because I know they have a certain power over others.
So why is a sexual orientation that most users of the term, or their targets, don’t even share the insult of choice? Why is 'gay!' the first thing that a lot of people in gaming circles reach for when they need a good name to call someone? It’s simple, really, and it has nothing to do with sticks or kindling; it’s a powerful slur because in the minds of the straight male gamers who coined the term, being gay is just about the worst thing they could think of.
That’s what I hear whenever the term is used, and not just used at me, personally. Just hearing it triggers a response. It reminds me that in a lot of ways LGBT people – that’s Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, for the uninitiated – are still without a whole raft of basic rights; it reminds me of all the bullying that I or my friends have ever suffered, of the very real threat (and sometimes use) of violence that a lot of us live under. I'm not choosing to take offense – I'm being reminded that my sexuality is offensive. That may not be the intention of some random dude who I’ve just head-shotted, but the reality is the same nonetheless.