By Marianne Moore
I’ve had a personally interesting relationship with language, especially when it comes to labels. I’ve never much minded what I’ve been called in reference to my disability (“cripple” is a common and unapologetic word under this roof), but when someone called my brother and I “handicapped” with more than a hint of ire, I wasn’t displeased to see this person… handled. Still, there are words I should never say; I’m a white cis-gendered male, and while I have no shame for this, I also have no wish to hurt others with lives and experiences other than mine.
However, I would like to briefly discuss a term for which someone with my sexual preference has often been called: fairy. Outside of reclamation, the term is used derogatorily towards any men who are attracted to other men. Before this, it was used derogatorily towards men who were homosexual. Before this, it was used simply to refer to those supernatural beings of magic and wonder (there is a further linguistic history, but this will do for our purpose). The first known use of the word ‘fairy’ as a slur occurred in 1895; what prompted the use of a term once innocent and childlike as a slur against one’s fellow man, I do not know. However, this is where Moore’s point seems to lie.
A goose is tough with a strong heart, but a fool is termed as such. Vultures are clean and opportunistic, but we associate them with death and vulgarity. And loons are exquisitely beautiful, but are shorthand for those we call crazy and mentally bereft. There is nothing hidden in this poem: Moore straightforward states the disassociation between these beautiful birds and the names we’ve stolen for a slur. I grant, the term ‘loon’ as shorthand for ‘lunatic’ is probably more happenstance than intent, but the vulture and the goose has been hard done by for the sake of… witticism?
Again, I can’t say I’m ever too bothered by what is said, more how it is said. If someone called me a ‘faggoty handi sheep shagger’ as a joke, I’d either laugh or respond in kind jest. But if someone called me a ‘bi disabled kiwi’ with malice, I would take the intended offence. Moore never mentions in this poem how we should react, but my response is more of consideration than alteration. We often throw words around, willy-nilly, with no thought of their intent, so no thought of their consequence. I think it’s healthy to step back now and again, just to ponder on what we say and how we say it. Likewise, we should make sure to consider what we hear and how it’s intended. There is nothing inherently wrong with being a goose, a vulture, or a loon; just make sure you’re never being a fool, a foul thing, or a distressful lunatic.