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Friday, January 19, 2007

Unacceptable In Any Context or Circumstance

by CLINTON FEIN

Isaiah Washington doesn’t read much.

Nor do members of GLAAD, executives at ABC, gossip bloggers or a billion other people running around with knotted knickers.

Yes, it’s an ugly word when tossed as a hateful epithet. And although the word faggot has been around since around 1250 or so, referring to a bundle of sticks, twigs, or branches bound together and used as fuel, and as late (or early) as 1915 was used as a contemptuous word for a female (by Americans, of course), its still a word that is unequivocally acceptable in some contexts and under certain circumstances.

Although not according to star of the ABC hit show Grey’s Anatomy, Isaiah Washington.

A brouhaha of gargantuan proportions has enveloped Hollywood after the Grey’s Anatomy star, speaking to reporters at the Golden Globes, reopened a wound he had made back in October last year when he referred to T.R. Knight as a faggot.

His transgression, this time, was denying the original accusation -- that he had referred to Knight as a faggot in a heated on-set altercation with co-star Patrick Dempsey -- by once again uttering the forbidden word. “No, I did not call T.R. a faggot,” Washington told reporters. ”Never happened, never happened.”

Problem though, was that following the October altercation, Washington had issued an apology to Knight for his derogatory slur, suggesting he was either unlikely coerced into apologizing for something he did not say, or has an atrocious memory.

His remarks at Sunday’s ceremony, however, ignited like a bundle of sticks, twigs, or branches bound together and used as fuel – dare I say – a faggot!

Grey’s Anatomy star, Katherine Heigl, immediately came to Knight’s defense, suggesting in no uncertain terms that Washington just shut up. On Tuesday, Knight appeared on the Ellen Degeneres show, clarifying the original incident, which forced him to come out as a gay man, and referring to Washington’s remarks Sunday. “He referred to me as a faggot. Everyone heard it.”

It got worse. On Wednesday, GLAAD, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, demanded that Washington apologize, and the influential gossip columnist, Perez Hilton, began a boycott of ABC, Disney and all related properties, refusing to write about any of their talent, unless they fired Washington.

By Thursday, ABC and Washington were in high-octane damage control mode, issuing statements and apologies quicker than you could sneer “sugartits” to female police officer.

“We are greatly dismayed that Mr. Washington chose to use such inappropriate language at the Golden Globes, language that he himself deemed ’unfortunate’ in his previous public apology,” ABC said in its statement. “His actions are unacceptable and are being addressed.”

Washington, clearly an out-of-control idiot, taking a page from all-too-obvious Mel Gibson playbook, apologized yet again. Feel the sincerity.

“I apologize to T.R., my colleagues, the fans of the show and especially the lesbian and gay community for using a word that is unacceptable in any context or circumstance. I marred what should have been a perfect night for everyone who works on ’Grey’s Anatomy.’ I can neither defend nor explain my behavior. I can also no longer deny to myself that there are issues I obviously need to examine within my own soul, and I’ve asked for help.”

And what might that help look like? You guessed it. A “meeting” with the gay and lesbian community to “to apologize in person and to talk about what I can do to heal the wounds I’ve opened.”

We can only pray that Washington, who is black, doesn’t deem the rich, white, high-drama, hysterical queens at GLAAD as representative of the gay and lesbian community.

You may recall, meetings aren’t particularly effective in dealing with hate, especially when confused with speech and expression, and GLAAD’s efforts in the past have yielded little. They attempted a town hall meeting with Eminem over the homophobia in his lyrics, which he smartly rejected, and then angered Elton John by scolding him after he agreed to sing a duet with Eminem.

The smartest suggestion of all came from none other than the singer John Mayer, who suggested that ABC “produce an episode of Grey's Anatomy in which Mr. Washington's character, Dr. Burke comes out to his friends and colleagues as a gay man!!! What better way for an actor to get to the roots of his discrimination than by portraying the very the subject of his own ire for the remainder of his contract? That'll learn ya!”

Like Jesse Jackson’s attempts to ban use of the word nigger, efforts to punish Isaiah Washington for using the word faggot seem ridiculously misguided.

His denial of having uttered it is what’s offensive, not his use of it in the context of the denial. Had he said, I am really sorry I called T.R. a faggot, as opposed to I didn’t call T.R a faggot, would his comment have been so explosive?

The big question, if ABC was to follow John Mayer’s advice, is whether Washington’s character would have to endure being called a faggot. Offering a real and meaningful demonstration of the hurt the word can cause when brandished as a weapon.

Somehow, I doubt it.

 
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