I think I need to give up my favorite swear word
My favorite expletive is fuck. It just has a certain heft to it, and I have to admit, I use it often — as a comment when something goes wrong, or as a declaration of amazement — fuuucck, that was cool! I had a pretty clean mouth for the first 30 or so years of my life but when I started to really uncover my authentic self, I discovered someone who actually quite likes to swear.
Fuck you is somehow a really satisfying thing to say to people who are pissing me off, although quite often I only say it in my head and not to their face. But when I do, I feel like I’ve really made a strong and clear statement.
A part of me understands that I’m using a term for sex, something that I believe to be fun and enjoyable, in a pejorative way. But because I got comfortable with that word before I ever really thought about it, I rationalize that it’s somehow transcended the original meaning. It hasn’t. Still, I go on using it anyhow in that context — at least for now.
I draw the line at saying fucked though, meaning that something unpleasant was done to me against my will. You will never hear me say, “I got fucked on that deal,” or anything remotely like that because it more clearly conjures up rape, something that I don’t speak about glibly. In fact, it kind of makes me squirm when I hear someone else do it.
A male friend of mine once commented that he’d been “fucked sideways with a railroad spike” as a way to describe a bad situation at work and it made me really uncomfortable. How did violent rape imagery become a nonchalant part of everyday speech?
The truth of the matter is, sexual domination has long been a part of what is considered masculine by patriarchal standards. In a dominance-based hierarchy, (which is what patriarchy actually is, not just a historical power imbalance between men and women), people are conditioned to take abuse from those with more power in the pecking order or pyramid of power. In turn, they get to dole out abuse to those below them in the hierarchy.
Until the past 50 years or so, men did have overt power and privilege over women and sexual domination was a given. Marital rape was not a crime in all 50 US states until 1993 and rape continues to be a common tool of war. In other words, people of lesser power are people who get fucked, whether they want it or not. People with more power do the fucking and in this context, fucking always involves penetration. The one doing the penetration is the one with the power.
So unless you are doing the penetrating/fucking you are either a woman or you’re like one, something that is a weaker and more inferior thing to be. The same goes for sucking. “You suck” is short for “you suck dick,” and it’s just another way of saying, you aren’t a real man — you are despicable like a woman, forced to debase herself by putting a penis in her mouth.
Nevermind that sucking is an act that is enjoyable to many who do it as a part of a mutually pleasurable sexual experience. That whole concept was never considered when these terms evolved. Instead, men do things to women and others who are weaker. Another male friend told me that he was in college before he realized that sex was something that people do to pleasure each other and not something that men do to women, so it’s not like this is an archaic concept that no-one still adheres to.
When someone says that something is gay, meaning it’s lame or weird, it’s more of the same sentiment. Gay people do not have sex in ways that meet with heteronormative standards, where the man is the doer, taking what he wants from the weaker and more passive woman — how weird!
There’s an old aphorism that everything is about sex, except for sex, which is about power. This sentiment is what is showing up, in largely unconscious and unintentional ways, in our everyday speech. People who may or may not really mean to perpetuate outdated patriarchal notions about power and sex are doing it anyhow, without even realizing it.
Which is why I think I’m going to have to give up using my favorite expletive. I love sex. Not just how good it feels, but how fun, and positive, and connecting it is. I love how it makes me feel close to my partners and I don’t want to carelessly disparage that by using words and phrases that are not in alignment with those sentiments.
Words do matter. They carry a lot of weight and power. In the creation myths of most cultures, the world is either spoken or sung into existence. Magic spells are done with powerful words, not say, interpretive dance. I already don’t use suck to mean something bad, and wouldn’t dream of using gay to mean lame. But, if I want to continue to be an intentional and sex-positive person, I think I’m going to have to stop using all coital words in pejorative contexts. Otherwise, I’m just perpetuating unpleasant connections between something good and the violent misuse of it.
James Finn, thanks for the inspiration!