The first time a boy called me a dyke, I'd just turned 15. I didn't know the word in a sexual sense, so I didn't totally understand what he meant. But I knew I wasn't being complimented.
I could tell by the tone of his voice, the sneer on his face, and the way he nudged his buddy as he formed the word on his lips that “dyke” wasn't simply another insensitive teenager's assessment of my appearance, but a broader judgment — and it was rendered with unmistakable disgust. That one word was more negatively charged than any of the names I'd been called before.
“Fat” and “ugly” stung me — always. But “dyke” seared. It felt as if the word came not from the mouth of small, stupid boy who sucked his opinion and bravado that day from a pint of Colt 45, but from the end of a sharp and glowing-red poker that now had chunks of my heart or lungs hanging from it. Like the word, the pain was new, and with it came a feeling of isolation I hadn't known before. I didn't only feel victimized and violated; I felt annihilated.
That experience taught me plenty. I not only learned that the delivery of words is just as important as the words themselves, but also that intuition and common sense are just as valuable as a good vocabulary. I've relied on my common sense and gut a lot since that day because I, like plenty of other queers, eventually discovered that my sexuality is far more problematic for others than it is for me, and that those who are troubled by it are often artful in expressing their disgust and, sometimes later, in denying it.
So I followed the stories behind the four quotes above, and the public reactions to them, with more than passing interest — and with my common sense on high alert.
Like every lesbian who has been on the receiving end of a malicious outburst, I was happy to learn that Boston talk radio station WRKO fired host John DePetro after he called Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Grace Ross a “fat lesbian” on air on Nov. 2. His words were intentionally vicious, proving that schoolyard bullies never die; they just get older and taller.
DePetro's firing was a no-brainer to station operators, who knew that his tongue was a lighted fuse. According to the Boston Herald, “In July, DePetro was suspended for two days and ordered to apologize on the air after he called former Massachusetts Turnpike chief Matt Amorello ‘Fag Matt' on his show.” After that suspension, DePetro was warned that “any further comments of this kind would be dealt with in a severe way.” To the benefit of WRKO's queer listeners, the station kept its word.