I don’t remember the first time somebody called me a faggot
I was used to it by the time I was in 6th grade, which for you non-Americans means 11 years old. I’m 58 now, but I’ve never forgotten what it’s like to be branded that way. I stopped playing baseball, a sport I loved in school, because taunts of “faggot” destroyed the pleasure I took in the game.
I’ve never muttered “faggot” to myself to express frustration. Not once in my life. Why?
As a gay man, I directly experience the slur’s explosive emotional power. I’m surprised I would need to explain to anyone how deeply rooted it is in homophobia, sexism, and toxic masculinity.
Some people don’t get it, so let’s talk about it.
Golfer Justin Thomas caught on open mic muttering ‘faggot’
Thomas, 27, the number-three ranked golfer in the world, was competing in the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii on Saturday when he missed a putt and was heard muttering “faggot” in apparent frustration as he walked off the green.
Thomas spoke with the Golf Channel not long after and apologized:
It’s inexcusable. First off, I just apologize. I’m an adult. I’m a grown man, there’s absolutely no reason for me to say anything like that. It’s terrible. I’m extremely embarrassed. It’s not who I am, it’s not the kind of person that I am or anything that I do.
Unfortunately, I did it and I have to own up to it and I’m very apologetic.
While Thomas’s apparently sincere apology is a nice first step, he doesn’t go nearly far enough to repair the damage he caused. Only action can counter homophobia.
Reaction to Thomas’s homophobic slur has been troubling
“Lack of reaction” may be a more apt descriptor of world commentary. Most media reporting and professional discussion since Saturday’s faggot bomb have been muted or apathetic.
1. ) The PGA offers only mild comment
In a statement to Golf Digest on Saturday, the PGA Tour said, “As he expressed after his round, we agree that Justin’s comment was unacceptable.” That’s it, that’s all, nothing further from the PGA.
Given the gravity of Thomas’s offense, what’s actually unacceptable is the Tour’s apathetic statement. Thomas modeled and normalized homophobia on a world stage; a stern rebuke coupled with meaningful professional sanction is the least the PGA should do.
The Tour’s apathy mirrors their mishandling last year when golfer Scott Piercy took to Instagram to level a homophobic slur at presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg.
“We were made aware of Scott’s post and are disappointed in the lack of judgement used,” a PGA Tour spokesperson told Golf Digest in an anodyne statement. According to Out Sports, the Tour imposed no significant professional consequences. They are unlikely to do so in Thomas’s case.
Golfer Scott Piercy 'apologizes' for anti-gay Pete Buttigieg post
One day after sharing a homophobic meme about openly gay former presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg withdrawing from…
2. ) World media barely reported the story
While social media reacted to Thomas’s faggot bomb, traditional news media barely reported it, and when they did, as in CBS’s story here and NPR’s story here, reporting was sketchy and muted, not coming close to reflecting the gravity of the situation.
NBC commentators covering the tournament live reacted with apathy as well, though they made clear they heard the slur. One commentator seemed to almost laugh it off.
Given the crisis gripping Washington DC, it’s not surprising that a sports story would have to fight for attention, but it doesn’t appear as if mainstream journalists even tried to hold Thomas to account. I don’t follow golf, so if I didn’t read LGBTQ Nation every day, I never would have known he uttered an explosive gay slur on international television.
3.) Golf fans react overwhelmingly to deny the homophobia of the slur
Despite lack of general media coverage, golf fans noticed the incident, and their reactions have been disturbing. On this Twitter thread, like in many others, golf fans push back hard against the idea that using “faggot” to express anger or frustration is inappropriate or worthy of serious professional consequences.
The following comments are representative:
- “Every golfer understands his frustrations and has said much worse than this. I guarantee 99% of people “offended” by this don’t golf nor watch it, but seizing an opportunity to shame a good man like the vultures they are. He apologized, let it go.”
- “Wait… he’s on a golf green, no people, persons, theys, thems, there’s, that’s, hers,hims, she’s, shems or hims around… so he’s clearly not directing this statement at an individual, merely a moment in time that frustrated him.”
- “God damn people are too soft these days. None of you would last 10 seconds in a Call of Duty lobby.”
- “The guy is talking to himself in a private moment. No one around. This cancel culture and being so easily offended needs to end.”
- “So he’s clearly not directing this statement at an individual, merely a moment in time that frustrated him. What are we doing here, let this man f@cking golf.”
- “Your just as bad as anyone else on here chastising him for saying a word when I was growing up had an entirely different meaning. But in todays snowflake world everyone is offended by something. He was mad at a golf ball and said the FT word, OMG.”
- “How many times I’ve been called a breeder I couldn’t even count. Lifelong progressive, blm supporter, proud to stand for lgbt rights, but I’m also reasonable. This didn’t hurt anyone, nor was it meant to.”
Homophobic slurs are toxic even when directed at nobody
Two Twitter users cut to the bone of the issue. I endorse their comments and add my own.
- “All these straight people saying he doesn’t need to apologize. . . The slur has been so normalized amongst them that they think they own it.”
- “That argument [that the slur was not personal] may work to soothe your homophobia, but it does not work for rational peeps. Every adult in America knows what the F-word stands for. For him to link it to FAILURE speaks to his well-learned homophobia.”
Muttering “faggot” because you are angry or frustrated is toxic. It teaches straight/cis kids that minority sexual orientations are worthy of emotional scorn and are linked to failure. It teaches LGBTQ kids — even when the slur is not directed at them personally — that they AS PEOPLE are worthy of scorn.
Muttering “faggot” because you are angry or frustrated teaches other adults that they’re in good company doing the same, that they’re fine teaching kids the same. Just look at the homophobia and transphobia engendered by comments about the situation.
Notice how folks are leaping to mock transgender people and pronouns?
To the PGA Tour:
You demonstrate a troubling history of tolerating homophobia, anti-gay slurs, and other toxic behavior. Your lack of significant concern or appropriate reaction is teaching people that such behavior is not important. You are making homophobia and transphobia worse, not better. It’s time for you to get serious and take a stand.
To Justin Thomas:
I hear your apology, but let’s talk specifics. Despite your words to the contrary, using a homophobic slur when you’re frustrated IS who you are. It’s on video. I’m not saying that makes you a monster, nor am I saying I don’t believe your apology was sincere. I’m glad you apologized, and I thank you.
But your apology doesn’t go far enough. You have not acknowledged the harm you’ve caused, and you’ve done nothing to heal any wounds.
You’ve modeled homophobia to the world, and your fans heard you loud and clear. They’re defending the use of “faggot” as a legitimate expression of frustration.
What are you going to do about that? What concrete actions can you take to combat homophobia? How can you help kids like the 11-year-old me who quit sports because of taunts that included the word you used?
I’m told you’re a really nice guy, so I hope you think hard about that. I hope all of us do. We all have work to do, because only action can counter homophobia.
James Finn is a former Air Force intelligence analyst, long-time LGBTQ activist, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, an essayist occasionally published in queer news outlets, and an “agented” novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.