Friday, August 20, 2010

Letter: Can I call you "whore"?

Dear Grace,

I noticed you use the term "whore" to refer to yourself. So I find myself wanting to use the term, but I wonder if I'm prohibited. Much like Dr. Laura caused a public out roar by using the "N" word in her radio show.

Can "whore" be used as a term of endearment by someone who isn't one? On this season's True Blood, Lafayette has started calling his cousin, Tara, "Hookah", but he does it in a way the conveys his deep love and respect for her. Maybe he gets away with it because he's black and can use words a middle aged white guy can't.


Dear S.,

Speaking only for myself, I wouldn't like it one little bit if you called me a whore. While I would know you weren't trying to insult me, it would strike me as clumsy and tasteless.

My sex-worker friends and I don't call each other "whore." I know there are circles of friends in which that is totally cool, and that is fine by me. Friendships have their own cultures. If you are in a circle where it is cool to call each other "whore", you will know it. But if you have to ask, the answer is probably not only no, but fuck no.

See, whore, like nigger, is not a factual description. It is not a term of endearment. It is, in point of fact, an insult, loaded with layers of hostility and hegemonic oppression. When I invoke that word, I am dealing in some way with my ambivalence about the role and towards myself in the role. This is a minefield into which you would be a fool to tiptoe.

You cannot know where my head is at when I say the word "whore." You have no context for knowing. You don't know what it feels like to perform a sex act for money, or what it feels like to be insulted by daylight for the same things for which you are sought out at night, what it feels like to be handcuffed on the hood of a police car for doing work you choose and do well and which harms no one, what it feels like to be on the receiving end of a culture's desire and self-loathing and ambivalence around its sexuality. You don't know what it's like to be a whore. Maybe you think you can imagine, but you don't know it in your bones.

From time to time a subculture may choose to take in a word that has been used as a tool of alienation and oppression, a word that expresses not only "otherness" but the wrongness and dirtiness of that otherness. We may adopt it to claim it's power, play with it and bat it around to rob it of its sting, alchemize it through our experience into a term of inclusion and acceptance. But once we have done this, we can't help thinking of the word as ours. When you say it, it means something different, because you are speaking a different language.

Unfair? Sorry.

I know it's probably meant in a friendly spirit. You want me to know that you don't see me as different, or that you feel like the difference is casual enough to kid around about. But we are different. And maybe I'm the one to whom the difference isn't casual.

Sometimes the most genuine show of friendship is to admit what you don't know about someone, show them respect, and give them some space. See, for camaraderie to work, you have to be someone's comrade. And if you were really my comrade, you would already know that I don't like to be called "whore."

Love and Friendship,