fairy -- gay man?

audiolaik

Senior Member
Polish
Hi,

I was watching the film M*A*S*H, and I heard one guy call himself "a fairy". Of course, the context excluded the possibility of referring to magic powers, so I looked it up to find out it is an offensive term for a gay man.

Questions: Is the word in common use? Is it an example of American English? Does it really sound abusive?

Thank you.

A&AJnr
 
  • Winstanley808

    Banned
    English - U.S.
    M*A*S*H is an old movie set during the Korean War, which ended in 1953.

    Do not use this f-word for anything, under any circumstances. If you use it for a gay man you will prove to everyone for all time that you are a vicious bigot who should be (or should have been) summarily executed in the most painful way possible. If you use it for anything else, you have a good chance of being misunderstood as a vicious bigot who should be (or should have been) summarily executed in the most painful way possible.

    Remember, everything you post on the Internet will be used against you, if not now, soon enough.
     

    audiolaik

    Senior Member
    Polish
    It is just a language question. :(

    I have no intention of offending anyone. I need to show some excerpts from this very film to my students, and they will ask me what "fairy" means in this context. Then their next question will be if it is still used, and if it sounds really offensive. It is an old film, so they might think the word sounds obsolete. We all know that some words lose their high level of offensiveness, and now they sound funny or humorous.
     
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    DonnyB

    Sixties Mod
    English UK Southern Standard English
    I have no intention of offending anyone. I need to show some excerpts from this very film to my students, and they will ask me what "fairy" means in this context. Then their next question will be if it is still used, and if it sounds really offensive. It is an old film, so they might think the word sounds obsolete. We all know that some words lose their high level of offensiveness, and now they sound funny or humorous.
    In BE, it's known as a slang term for a male homosexual and it's considered offensive. It's certainly not obsolete but I would struggle to envisage a context in which its use would generally be found to be funny or humorous (although it's been many years since I last watched M*A*S*H). I haven't seen it quoted in press reports of anti-gay abuse, but I wouldn't personally rate it as requiring the use of asterisks to mask it.

    To summarize, it's just one of a number of abusive insulting epithets which tolerant people don't use nowadays.
     

    audiolaik

    Senior Member
    Polish
    If the film in question had been burnt a long time ago, I would not be here asking my questions.:) It is a language forum for learners of English. Anyway, thank you for broadening my horizons. ;)

    If only the National Organization for Decent Literature still existed....:D
     

    audiolaik

    Senior Member
    Polish
    Are you absolutely sure one of the characters referred to himself as a fairy?
    Can you post the complete sentence?
    Yes, I am fairly sure. I would have to watch it again. I have been trying to find the script, but to no avail.

    PS Thank you, DonnyB, for you language-oriented answer.
     

    audiolaik

    Senior Member
    Polish
    I have just found the right scene:

    "I am a fairy. A victim of latent homosexuality. I've turned into a fairy."

    The script you quote does not contain the sentences, but the film does.


    I am not clever enough to make it up myself.:)

    "Capt. Walter Koskiusko "Painless Pole" Waldowski[edit]
    If a man isn't a man anymore . . . what's he got left that he should be living for?
    I'm a fairy. A victim of latent homosexuality. I've turned into a fairy.
    [During football game] All right bud, your fucking head is coming right off!" source
     
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    DonnyB

    Sixties Mod
    English UK Southern Standard English
    Also, searching the script, I found this extract towards the end:

    [Hawkeye asks why two medical officers are being sought, and the dialogue goes...]
    SECOND MEDICAL CORPS SERGEANT
    They're supposed to hold short-arm inspection.
    DUKE
    You can't be serious, man.
    SECOND MEDICAL CORPS SERGEANT
    Why not?
    DUKE
    The reason they're being shipped home is they're the two biggest fairies in the Far East Command.
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    This may or may not be relevant. You may be able to tell from the context.

    At the time M*A*S*H was written, the army did not (knowingly) accept homosexuals. One thing people did to escape military service was to claim to be homosexuals even when they weren't. Possibly this is happening here.
     

    panjandrum

    Occasional Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Ah, right, it's quite unambiguous then :)
    'Fairy' was a reasonably common term used in BE for male homosexuals at around the time of the Korean conflict. It was a convenient term for use in the double entendre bawdy comedy of various TV sitcoms in the 60s and later. I would not be at all surprised to hear it used in offensive conversation today.
    Having said that, a number of terms that would be highly offensive if used by someone outside the group concerned are a great deal less offensive if used by one of the group.
     

    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    Is the character who fakes being gay in order to get shipped home? My memory of MASH is pretty distant, but I seem to recall there was one such character. Since you could not be a "known homosexual" in the armed forces until very recently, he was trying to get out of the army.

    In modern days the word fairy might occasionally be used with reference to a gay man, and the context woudl tell us whether is was meant as abusive or jokey. I have heard gay pals use it about people so I think it still has bit of currency, but I agree with the advice that you should not use it.

    I dont know how serious the rest of Winstanley's post was meant to be, I thought he was joking, but still, avoiding it is good advice.
     

    aloofsocialite

    Senior Member
    English - USA (California)
    Greetings audiolaik, :)

    Around here the term "fairy" is still used, but it's not anywhere near as common as some of the other alternatives. You still hear it slung at people, and it's still offensive, although, as with other epithets, it is sometimes used by the intended target as a form of self-identification. So, it's not, strictly, a black-and-white issue.
     

    audiolaik

    Senior Member
    Polish
    Since my extensive post has just been removed, all I can say is that the whole conversation revolves around the character's failure in bed. He is lying in bed, depressed, and he arrives at the conclusion that he must be a fairy, because it has never happened to him before. He has been reading about it a lot, and it must be the reason for his failure. And it was not Klinger. The Wiki source I provided specifies who the person was.
     
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    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    Questions:
    Is the word in common use? Not in modern BE, but it is still used.
    Is it an example of American English? Not specifically, it was common enough in BE
    Does it really sound abusive?
    a. I wouldn't say that it necessarily sounds "abusive", that depends on context. Rather "potentially offensive" when it is used to refer to homosexuals. It also depends on who is listening. If somebody says "He's a bit of a fairy isn't he?" it's possible that "he" would be unhappy if he heard it, but if "he" didn't hear it, who is to be upset? On the other hand, if somebody starts kicking the head of a man lying on the ground and calls him "a bloody fairy" while doing so, it's both grossly offensive and extremely abusive.
    b. Not if it is used to refer to little girls dressed up to go to a party.
     

    aloofsocialite

    Senior Member
    English - USA (California)
    Context is everything. The picture Andygc paints of a man being kicked in the head is a violent depiction of how violent the word can be, even if on a day-to-day basis it's lost some of its oomph as an insult used on the street. I think the body language, tone, setting, etc. largely determine the degree of offensiveness. If someone were to mutter that as they passed me on the street I might raise an eyebrow, but not think much of it, otherwise. It's going to impact people differently, I suppose.
     

    pob14

    Senior Member
    American English
    1) Yes, "fairy" means "homosexual" in this context. As audiolaik said, Painless had trouble maintaining an erection, and became suicidal because he thought he was turning gay. Later, a willing female disabuses him of that idea.

    2) Klinger was not in the movie; he was a character from later seasons of the TV show. Also, Klinger pretended to be a transvestite, not a homosexual.

    3) The term "fairy" was replaced by other slurs before people became more sensitive to such insults, so it is not currently used much, even by those who don't care about insulting people.
     

    Parla

    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    < Comment removed at poster's request. Cagey, moderator. >

    Audiolaik, it was a commonly used word for a gay man decades ago, but it's no longer used in the US, except by people who deliberately want to offend someone.
     
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    aloofsocialite

    Senior Member
    English - USA (California)
    Greetings Parla! One question:

    Audiolaik, it was a commonly used word for a gay man decades ago, but it's no longer used in the US, except by people who deliberately want to offend someone.
    ...meaning that it was used before with the same derogatory exception and wasn't meant to offend? Sorry, that makes it seem like it's still used, and by the same people as before: those who want to offend. Maybe I'm misinterpreting what you've said, and if that's the case, my apologies. :)
     
    While I think we can agree per our personal experiences that certain derogatory expressions sound out of date and not-so-commonly used these days, I think most derogatory comments about minority groups have long lives indeed and can pop up in any current usage at any given time.
     
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    aloofsocialite

    Senior Member
    English - USA (California)
    Agreed. :) From my own perspective, it's less common, but I still hear it employed against men who are suspected to be gay. Its impact, I think, is closely tied to each intended target's emotional association with the word. For me, its simple written form is less cutting than some of the other options, but that's obviously, just me. There is, in fact, a group of mostly gay-identifying men who call themselves the Radical Faeries. I think that's an example of a historically derogatory epithet that's been taken up by the very folks it was intended to harm.
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    Observations based on the usual Gut Stuff:
    (a) Fairy = 'homosexual man' takes me back ...
    (b) ... to about 1975, which was the last time I remember hearing it used seriously ~ by my brother. He was 14 at the time; I was a winsome chit of 11 ...
    (c) ... in fact, my mind's ear can only hear young boys using it of other young boys ~ when used seriously, this is ~ ...
    (d) ... I suspect (this is all based on Gut Stuff still) that if anyone does still use it seriously, it's primarily straight boys/men of other straight boys/men (who are likely to be offended by it, if it happens not to be true), but that it tends to be more a slur on a chap's courage/masculinity rather than his sexuality, more or less equivalent to AmE wuss, which isn't yet naturalized in this country. I might even use it myself like that occasionally ...
    (e) ... however if I wanted to insult or even merely offend:rolleyes: a fellow fairyfellow I reckon I'd have to come up with something much meatier than a mere flimsy fairy. I can't (seriously) imagine any British gay man being offended by it ~ unless they were deliberately setting out to be offended. Of all the terms available, I'd say it's very easily one of the very least offensive in BrE. I find it 'quaint' and 'strangely charming':D
    (f) I think I had another point but have forgotten it.
     

    panjandrum

    Occasional Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I realise that Calgary is way up there across the border, but they have an annual festival:
    Fairy Tales Presentation Society: Home
    Fairy Tales Presentation Society is a not-for-profit, charitable organization located in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. We celebrate local and national queer artists and share diverse stories based in film.

    I think that speaks for itself.
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    I think that speaks for itself.
    Oh yes it's very much one of those People in glass houses are free to throw stones at one another words.

    (Audi: I capitalized Gut Stuff because, lazy sod that I am, it stands in as Research for me. I believe both are Important:))
     

    audiolaik

    Senior Member
    Polish
    Ewie, shame on you for using such impolite words when referring to yourself. :)

    Panj, I think the example you have just provided proves that the word in question is not a taboo one.
     
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