Labels matter; words matter

by Bruce Hartley,
Life Issues Columnist

My dear mother Phyllis is my angel. She has stood by me since I came out to her four years ago at age 50.

Over the past four years, I have watched her embrace me and others in the LGBT+ community. This action is a true blessing since she comes from a conservative Baptist home.

However, I caught myself labeling my wonderful mom with a term I am not sure is respectful or flattering.

We have all heard the different labels and stereotypes for heterosexual women who hang out with gay men as platonic friends. I have done some research on terms for people like my awesome mom. I hope you find this interesting as we navigate this world of labels in 2018.

“Hagism” is a very strange and unflattering label attached to women who hang out with LGBT+ people, particularly gay men. I would never call my kind, smart, strong mother such a negative label. Over the last few months, I have started educating her on terms/labels which lead me to investigate this topic further.

The term “f*g hag” is derogatory for several reasons. Mainly due to the use of the “f” word our community despises. It’s also condescending, disrespectful and degrading. However, some gay men use it to describe their best girlfriends.

In the film Fame (1980), f-hag was used to describe the character Doris in her relationship with her gay friend, Montgomery. Comedian Margaret Cho has written and regularly talks in her stand-up routines about being a f*g hag.

Other words used to describe our allies include Fruit Fly, Queen Bee, Homo Honey, Fruit Loop, Goldilocks, Flame Dame, Fairy Princess, Tori (in honor of Tori Spelling and Tori Amos) and Fairy Godmother.

The reboot of television show Will and Grace seems to label female characters Grace and Karen with these potentially offensive terms.

Where I love this television show and find it fun and provocative, it exposes a new generation to different perspectives on the LGBT+ world. I hope we use the show for humor and do not use it as a textbook for how we should label or treat each other.

A recent survey found for the first time in four years, Americans are less accepting of LGBT+ people. A setback some activists say is stunning but not unexpected after a turbulent 2017.

According to some surveys, about fifty percent of heterosexuals said they were “very” or “somewhat” comfortable around LGBT+ people in certain scenarios. This information supports my firm belief all LGBT+ people must think about how we treat and label our allies. We need our allies to support us.

We must rethink potentially offensive labels/terms we use for our friends and family. We need our allies to help us reverse the setback for tolerance and acceptance of LGBT+ people.

For my wonderful mother, I am using a term I borrow from fellow Oklahoman Sara Cunningham, author of How We Sleep at Night. She labels herself as a “Momma Bear” and manages the group Free Mom Hugs. My mom has read Sarah’s book and felt inspired by her example.

Join me in taking a moment to think about the terms/labels you use for those who love and support you. We must lift each other up and words matter. Find terms/labels positive for everyone.

To my mom, Phyllis. Thank you for being my Momma Bear. Bill and I are your boys.

Copyright The Gayly – March 10, 2018 @ 1 p.m. CST.