No Homophobes Language Counter Is Disturbing, Mesmerizing

Hansen’s Team Pick:

For the past hour, I’ve been staring off and on at the counter and twitter feed on the No Homophobes website. It just keeps updating with hundreds and hundreds of statistics and tweets with the words “faggot,” “no homo,” “so gay,” and “dyke.” It’s strangely mesmerizing and disturbing at the same time.

The website was created by The Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services (iSMSS) at the University of Alberta. No Homophobia’s info explains that the website was designed as “a social mirror to show the prevalence of casual homophobia in our society.” Words like “faggot,” alienate and isolate LGBTQ youth, and thus the website was created in order to make a stand against using homophobia and transphobic language in our daily lives, the same way we no longer tolerate racist and sexist language.

The website also has a running feed of tweets with the homophobic words. All of the tweets shown are public and sometimes it’s pretty astonishing and disturbing what people are willing to say in the open. They also have a graph showing word usage throughout time.

There was a definite spike in early September that coincides with A-Camp. Coincidence?

No Homophobes does a really wonderful job of raising awareness because not only does it communicate how negative the homophobic word usage is, it shows us how prevalent it is. Seriously? The word “faggot” was used nearly 30,000 in one day on twitter alone, and two million times on the website’s graph. This doesn’t count school hallways, dorm rooms, or text messages. If nothing else, the sheer shock of the immense volume of this language should make people think twice about their language use.

But what about the inclusion of “dyke” on this counter? Is it justified to be here on the same page with these words? Is dyke appropriate to use within our community or about our community, and where is the line that makes it inappropriate to say?

Gabrielle said, “I feel very conflicted about …the use of the word dyke because I primarily identify as a dyke and a lot of the activism I do is around taking that specific word back, and to see it listed as an insult kind of feels like a setback in a lot of ways.”

I tested it out and it works really fast. TECHNOLOGY, YOU GUYS. I also didn’t get the hashtag right but shh, I just want to feel special.

Fonseca, Laneia, and I all agreed that we use the word dyke in a non-negative reference to lesbians and ourselves. What about the Dyke March I participated in this summer? The word dyke was used around 4,000 times on Thursday, and I doubt all of those times were lesbians using the word positively, although Fonseca has a bet going that around 60% were dykes themselves.

On the other hand, the people of Twitter are still using dyke negatively. While watching the feed, I found negative usage of the word dyke primarily by young women, with tweets including,”lol dyke,” “yeah I play softball doesn’t mean I’m a dyke,” and “I remember in like 6th grade I used to skate and dress like a dyke. lulsz.” Lulsz, indeed.

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Hansen is the DIY & Food Editor of Autostraddle.com and likes to spend most days making and cooking and writing. She is an MFA candidate in Creative Writing at Colorado State University in her free time.

Hansen has written 186 articles for us.

26 Comments

  1. Thumb up 0

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    This is really disturbing/mesmerizing. Does it filter for “reclaimed” uses of these words and phrases (i.e. like what Gabrielle said)? I poked around on the site for a minute but couldn’t tell. It would be interesting to know what percentage of tweeters are using language positively vs. derogatorily.

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      I’ve been watching it for a few days now, and it doesn’t seem like it filters. I think if the tweet on the bottom right hand corner had said, “We need a Pride festival so gay people like me have a place to go and have fun”, the program would still tag the “so gay” as negative. Not to mention it counted the “nohomophobes” tag as an offensive “no homo”!

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          And weren’t faggots bundled sticks of kindling? I grew up only knowing that definition, which caused a lot of confusion later in life. Idk I read a lot of books that used that definition. Probably where the British cigarette “fag” came from…

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    They do have some filtering for the word Dyke, such that references to Van Dyke are not counted by the system, but it would be hard to filter out positive references by any computer system since how do you filter intent??

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    Personally, I use the word dyke in a proud way, attempting to reclaim it and make it a positive thing. It would be interesting if somehow nohomophobes.com could filter the context of the word in their count to see how many others are doing the same.

    And that spike of the word in September is crazy! I’m not on twitter so I don’t really know at all but I BET it tootally came from people talking about A-camp.

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    While I was watching, a Spanish tweet came up referring to “Universo Gay”, which is apparently some sort of Spanish AfterElton. Clearly the system isn’t perfect… that being said, the vast majority seem to be assholes using it in an explicitly homophobia meaning. This is why I get so mad when people are “but language can change~” no. shut up.

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    It’s a really interesting project, so thanks so much for writing about it. Yes, I think it’s problematic to say it’s somehow dealing with transphobic language when it’s really not monitoring specifically trans-related language (although, growing up, even though I inwardly identified as trans, I was frequently called ‘faggot’ so…)

    The idea about ‘reclaimed’ speech is extremely complex since, IMO, reclaimed speech can only be reclaimed by the group which is specifically negatively impacted by it. A gay cis person or ally using the terms “tranny or shemale” is, from my standpoint, not reclaiming the term but rather, assuming a liberty and familiarity with a community they aren’t really a part of (and, on a more contentious level, I feel the same way about trans masculine spectrum people using those terms in a public or grouping way). So how can a search engine possibly know what is reclaimed and when is someone being an appropriative jerk.

    I also think the terms “faggot” and (yes) “queer” have very specific and weighty “fag bashing/murder” histories which don’t equate with the word “dyke” —a word which can and has been used as hate speech (especially among teens) but doesn’t have anywhere near the level of violence connected to it. I do wish that anyone announcing they’re reclaiming any of these terms realize there are people who have been attacked, spit on and even murdered while hearing such speech and that using these terms (no matter how empowering you might think it is) can be very traumatizing and triggering to people who’ve actually experienced attacks using them or had lovers/family who were killed to the screams of them.

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      Your post was truly beautifully stated. Thank you so much for communicating so eloquently what I’ve failed so many times to articulate about the history of and implicit violence in the terms “faggot”* and n***ER.”

      I emphasize the “-ER” in the word above because I find that there’s still a shocking and, frankly, deeply disappointing lack of understanding between the reclaimed term ending in -ga and the different, vile word communicating and encompassing literally centuries of blood and rape while making implicit the threat of similar violence.

      * I spell the word faggot without using asterisks because I am genderqueer and have been called faggot by my queer and gay male friends for over 20 years.

      I have also got a long scar on my scalp from a bottle thrown at me while someone shouted, “Fuck you, you fucking faggot dyke bitch!” When I have been attacked verbally or physically, I have almost always been called faggot AND dyke in the same barrage of hate splutter. I am not particularly masculine in appearance, though I am MOC, and I’ve given much thought to this phenomenon. I’ve yet to arrive at any satisfactory understanding.

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    I think that dyke, like fag, is ok if YOU are queer. It’s one of those words that is really loaded with negativity and which we absolutely have the right to reclaim, but that when a straight person uses it (even in a positive context) then all that baggage is coming back.

    (trigger warning: rape)

    I actually was once nearly-raped by a man who told me that I shouldn’t call myself a dyke because it was a negative, bad word. I agree that it’s not ok for people who aren’t queer women to just use it as they please and I whole-heartedly understand if people choose not to use it because it’s triggering or because they don’t like it. At the same time, people telling me that I can’t reclaim words like “queer” reminds me too much of this incident to be comfortable; I think I get to define myself on my own terms and proudly own the fact that yes, I’m queer, a dyke, and whatever insults people might feel like hurling at me.

    That said, I was kind of worried that people who, like me, use “so gay!” as a positive thing and who are reclaiming those words would be counted, but then I realised that even then the numbers probably still aren’t far off from the actual amount of people who use those words are slurs.

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      Yeah, I totally agree — I think the point of the counter is to give you a sense of the huge numbers involved, and because of that I don’t think I’d be super upset if something I tweeted, meaning it to be positive, were captured by the counter and put on the graph. (I use the term “so gay” kind of a lot, mostly in a sense of like “Omg that flannel shirt on Emily in PLL today was so gay, i love it/her”). Also, from a practical perspective, the way it is able to work so fast is by not filtering much at all.
      As for the positive/negative connotation of words, I don’t personally use the work dyke much at all, definitely not for myself but also not for other people/groups (I think but could be totally wrong that this may be a generational thing to some extent? Most lesbians I know who use dyke as their primary term of self-identification are like 30+) but I do like queer especially as a reclaimed word, and I feel like there is a lot of power in reclaiming. BUT I think the point of this counter is that, for something to BE reclaimed, it had to be shitty in the first place. You know? And, sadly, most people who are using these words on twitter still mean them in the worst way.

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    I love the word “dyke”! I call myself one all the time, and my close friends call me one in an affectionate way, I’ve never had it said in a negative way to me, which is probably why I’m so positive about it, but there’s something about it that I really like. I know it’s supposed to be a derogatory word and everything, but I don’t see it that way… should I stop saying it? I don’t really want to, but if so many people have a problem with it maybe I should?

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    I’m not going to lie… I really don’t like the word “dyke”. It’s a word that was used against me a lot in my youth. I get why people use it, and I don’t mind if people use it for themselves, but I feel very uncomfortable when someone uses it to refer to me (even if it’s done so in a reclaiming kind of way).

    Not sure what to do about that, though.

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    I watched the feed scroll down for about five minutes until I felt like I was going to throw up. “No Homo” has always been a phrase that bothered me, but more in an annoyed, frustrated way, than a personally insulted way. And the word faggot has rarely be directed at me, and I don’t hear it much in my usual spaces. But seeing people tweeting these things at such a huge volume felt personal, violent, and very, very upsetting.

    I love the word dyke. Kate’s articulation of what it means to her in her piece about being a queer survivor felt honest and accurate for me. But it’s my word. Queer is my word. These are my words because they make me feel safe, powerful. Faggot feels like it belittles everything I am in this world. Faggot feels like I don’t matter. Faggot feels like invisibility and hatred. In my little Smith College bubble it’s nice to pretend that these things don’t touch me. But they do – because this is my community and my space that is questioned when people use that language.

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