Neutral men are the Devil’s allies. (Edwin Hubbel Chapin)

H. Brennan, Contributor

As an English teacher, words are important to me. The language we use everyday is important- we can communicate so much (and so little) through it. However, words themselves also have a history and by consequence a power- be it an adjective like, ‘pretty’ or ‘fat’, or a label like ‘feminist’ or ‘heterosexual’.


Considering the effect that words can have, we often throw them around without even thinking about it. We hope that they land with our intended meaning, or perhaps for some of us, we never consider their effect at all. Digital communication and modern media has certainly shown us that our words can cost. Dearly. Their value is often determined by how well we know their history, and sometimes by the power they can have over the intended audience. I spend every day teaching this very thing.


Certain words or phrases have unfortunately followed me.These words ringing in my ears have haunted all the school corridors I have walked, both as a student, and a teacher.


‘That’s so gay’…. ‘HOMO’…’You’re such a gayboy’…’Lezzer’…


They are always used in the same taunting tone, for the same effect- an insult. It seems it is the highest form of insult that a young teenager can muster. Is it that they lack creativity, imagination or is it just in fact, they lack sensitivity and understanding of the effects and power of their words? Worse still, maybe they fully understand the effects of their words and they are using them for this very reason? 

It is more than just unfortunate that the power and history of these words have been used as insults, rather than as a celebration. They have been used to single-out, separate, isolate and castigate.


It would be easy for me to say that I have always understood and known the value of words and labels and how these can help (as well as damage) a person’s sense of self. I would love to be able to write that I have always shown this understanding. However, that would be hypocritical. I cannot sit here and suggest reasons as to why people perhaps use these words in the way they do, or pass assumptions about the LGBTQ+ community and tell you how we can do better, and then not admit to my own failings as an ally. 


At the risk of a teacher cliché; I too was once a teenager, who valued ‘fitting in’ more than anything. When one of my best school friends did not fit the perceived notion of what masculinity was in early-noughties rural catholic Ireland; taunts of ‘gayboy’ or ‘Lezzie Dessie’ followed him like a bad smell down the corridor. To my shame, never once, while I stood or walked with him, did I turn around and challenge any of these remarks in their tone, or shout back, or even pelt their ignorant prejudice with bullets of informed or enlightened knowledge. 


I lulled myself (and my friend) into the misguided notion that by not reacting and that ‘walking away- being the bigger person’ and more horrifyingly, not ‘giving them the power to see your emotions’ was being supportive. It was an easy response for me. Especially as a heterosexual or a heternormative girl. Not only was I denying his identity and his challenge to the stereotypical masuline notion of hiding emotions, but I was also showing no understanding or empathy to what my friend was experiencing. It appears my Irish Catholic background was catching up with me and I was very good at brushing things under the carpet.


Thankfully, I have changed (I hope!), and Ireland has progressed, somewhat, since those days; it was one of the first countries in the world to grant gay marriage rights, but there is a still a long way to go. Those people who passed those remarks are of prime voting age- my age right now- and it’s a reminder that while you can have policies and laws, words on paper don’t count for much, unless they are upheld by those that follow them.

To my brave, old school friend, who still has the grace of forgiveness, I apologise again. And I have since vowed that everyday; I will speak up rather than walk away. 

So, no matter how tired, or scared I am in challenging a person’s bias or prejudice of BLM or LGBTQ+, it is nothing to what the communities have to endure on a daily basis. This heterosexual and heternormative feminist will challenge you on your eye roll, your tone of voice, use of words and your silly response of ‘we are too politically correct these days’. We are not. I am ensuring that your use of language is inclusive of our multifaceted, rainbow coloured world, as the words you speak have power; to change your thoughts, your actions and then the world.