I’ve always enjoyed taking the power of slurs away from homophobes and transphobes by turning around and using them myself. I think that is why I embraced the use of “queer” so quickly. Very early in the nineties I participated in several Queer Nation protests/events sometimes the protests were a joint ACT-UP/Queer Nation protest. Queer Nation stood in stark contrast of the more assimilation minded LGBTQ community based organizations like The Human Right Campaign. I loved the in your face slogans chanted at protests. Queer Nation chants included “Two, Four, Six, Eight! How Do You Know Your Kids Are Straight?” as well as “Out of the Closets and Into the Streets,” and the widely imitated “We’re Here! We’re Queer! Get Used To It!
When doing HIV/STD street outreach in areas frequented by gay men and gay youth, and at a point in time when I identified as a gay man, I would frequently shout back “that’s Mr Faggot to you.” That slogan even appeared on buttons and shirts.
Then there was the slur fairy or if you prefer old English faerie. As I have mentioned that particular slur was adopted by a group called The Radical Faeries. Who are The Radical Faeries? Margot Adler in her 2006 book Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshipers and Other Pagans in America (Revised ed.) captured the essence of the group in this description:
“We are the equivalent of Shamans in modern culture,” said Peter Soderberg, during an interview at the 1985 Pagan Spirit Gathering. “Many gay men want to be middle-class Americans. They want to be respected as human beings and they want their sexuality to be ignored. But radical faeries are willing to live on the edge. We feel there is power in our sexuality. You know there is a power there because our culture is so afraid of us.”
You can see how this has an appeal for someone exploring their gender identity, particularly their gender expansive approach to presenting themselves and their view that faeries stood between the genders and sexualites. Harry Hay, the person in the photo on the left, was one of the founders of the Faeries. Harry was influenced by two spirit traditions, in Indigenous American culture and spirituality, in forming his belief that faeries had a unique role in society as a group set apart from the gender and sexualities of the cisgender and heterosexual mainstream. I always say that, for me, The Radical Faeries were my bridge from viewing myself as gay man, then queer, and from there to my current identity as an Agender/Trans Femme individual.
The slur that I have not personally adopted but I’ve seen others embrace is “sissy.” Unfortunately this is used by guys who like to be humiliated for being sissy, a fetish I don’t understand. I’m about beeing empowered not humiliated. So I prefer a use like the one seen on shirts in the eighties and nineties referencing a television sitcom from the seventies called “Family Affair.” There were two children and a teenage girl featured and their names were, Buffy, Jody and Sissy. The shirt displayed those three names with a prominent check mark ✅ after Sissy.
The obvious connection with these slurs and trans identity and gender expression is that they all reference perceived effeminate behavior in boys and men.
Which brings us to perhaps my favorite slur after fairy. That is the beautiful flower known as pansy. The use of it as a slur seems to have developed in the 1920s as a sort of association between effeminate men who frequently dressed in colorful clothes and the delicate beauty of the flower known as the pansy. It wasn’t always looked down on. One legislator tried to make it our national flower. I particularly liked this description from a web page discussing the derivation of pansy as a slur:
“Perhaps one of the oddest examples can be found in an original story penned by Doris Palmer of Louisville that was printed in the Louisville Courier-Journal in 1908 (Feb. 9, 1908, p. 22). “Panio,” the protagonist, is a little boy who was “not like the other children; they laughed at his queer fancies, mocked him so that the boy…left the boisterous children and went to the woods to find comfort in the wild flowers.” He eventually stumbles upon a meadow where he discovers an unusual flower. Later he wins a prize for naming it the “pansy” and lives happily ever after with his mother and a flower garden filled with his beloved blossoms.
Most notable here is the author’s use of “queer”: perhaps an early indication of how the meaning of that word was also changing. It’s telling that Panio was a mama’s boy who never married.”
I identify with that character. Panio was a lot like me. I turned to mother nature as a respite from an uncomfortable relationship with my father and what I now believe was spiritual/emotional abuse. So that’s why I love the word pansy and gladly embrace it. Here’s my little tribute…
I’m A Pansy, You’re A Pansy,
They’re A Pansy, We’re All Pansies.,
Wouldn’t You Like To Be A Pansy Too?
Parody of Vintage Dr. Pepper Jingle.
I know you’re singing it in your head now aren’t you? Notice the use of a singular they in, “they’re a pansy.”
Alternative lyrics by me, Fairy JeriBear
Here’s the graphic: