Derogatory Language Policing Masculinity

Blue language is commonplace; it can even be a sign of honesty. But there’s a difference between swearing and using homophobic, sexist or bigoted language. These are not your average swear words. They are designed to degrade their target. Even worse, they are built on a presumed, shared, cultural assumption about the deficiency of the person or group you are degrading. Let’s look at the Kevin Pillar incident that took place in Atlanta last week. It was the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia when Toronto Blue Jay Kevin Pillar was quick-pitched to by Atlanta pitcher Jason Motte. Pillar didn’t like the tactic and called Motte a faggot.

Let that sink in for a second.

It’s cringeworthy, right? It feels wrong. The ‘F’ takes on a hissing, malignant tone; the hard ‘G’ rings in your ears; the final, unvocalized ‘T’ hangs in the air like a taunt.

There has been an admirable response since the incident in some Toronto outlets. Scott Stinson at The National Post called for a suspension, swiftly. The Star was reflective about the gap between sports and LGBTQ rights. But the most telling words came from Pillar himself. After a heartfelt apology, Pillar noted to the National Post that “I guess if you’re in that moment and … I don’t know, the subconscious has a way of working sometimes and hopefully this is the last of it”.

Even Kevin Pillar isn’t sure where the slur came from, or how it entered his vocabulary.

If we unpack the situation, it might become a little more clear. Pillar didn’t like Motte’s quick-pitch tactic. It’s a legitimate tactic when there are no runners on base; throw the ball quickly, before the batter is really set and throw him off his rhythm. Again — a legitimate tactic. But Pillar’s use of the slur demonstrated two things at the same time.


First: for Pillar in that moment, likening Motte with a gay man means associating him with weakness and cowardice. It was precisely what Pillar intended to insinuate; that Motte was a lesser man for quick pitching him; that if Motte wasn’t a “fa — ot” then he would have squared up to Pillar and pitch to him deliberately. This is the subconscious association that Pillar refers to: gay men are not “real men”. Whatever that means.

The second thing to consider: This incident cleared the benches. Not, mind you, because the Atlanta Braves were standing up against homophobia, but rather because they were prepared to physically defend the heteromasculinity of their pitcher.

Pillar is right to hope that “this is the last of it”, but it’s clearly not. As long as being accused of being gay is an offense, as long as men are prepared to not only hurl it as an insult, but to feel the need to defend themselves from the accusation, it’s not over. Pillar is wearing this — rightly so. But it’s not a Kevin Pillar problem. Nor is it a Blue Jays problem. It’s a masculinity problem — specifically, it is what happens when our definition of masculinity become so constrictive that to live outside of that definition is an insult and a threat to the very idea and concept of manhood.

That’s what this incident is about; calling on men to give one and other the space to define what being a man looks and feels like for them. So many men bravely challenge that restrictive definition of what it means to be a man. So many athletes are aware that they can role-model healthy masculinity for the young men and women who look up to them. That’s why we launched the Men of Quality campaign with the Toronto Maple Leafs. It’s why at White Ribbon we take a supportive and constructive approach to building a community of thoughtful and engaged men.

Originally published at White Ribbon.

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