Part of why I write is because I think words are important. They are similar to songs in that the right one in the right place at the right time can absolutely change your life. Words are not meaningless or forgettable, no matter what Depeche Mode might claim.
By Jaime Lees
I was writing a preview for Elton John's latest tour. And while I was doing research, I was reminded of a word that makes me absolutely crazy.
I swear, in nearly every single article I read about Elton John, the writer calls him "flamboyant." Clearly, the dude is flamboyant. In fact, he might be the flamboyant-est. But to call him flamboyant (especially when that word is put into quotes) usually reads less like an accurate description of his stage show and more like a "wink-wink" comment on his sexuality.
Maybe you think I'm exaggerating, but I'll be damned if I can find more than a few articles (ever) about Elton John that don't use that word. A Google search of "Elton John" + "flamboyant" turns out almost 1 million results -- and that just reflects the items searchable since the Internet became a thing. He had a career, and an untold amount of press, for 20 to 30 years prior to regular Web documentation.
Because it is applied almost exclusively to homosexuals, "flamboyant" is one of those words that rides the line of being offensive. Like many other words in this complicated language, it carries a subtle meaning far deeper than its dictionary definition. How much weight a word carries usually depends on the context. And in the context of Elton John or any other homosexual, "flamboyant" is a dangerous word. It's a literary limp wrist.
When articles say that he is flamboyant (or "fierce" or "fabulous"), it frequently comes across as cheap writer shorthand for "I did mention that this guy is a queer, right?" Though he is, proudly, all of these things, these words subtly perpetuate stereotypes and it both bores and angers me to constantly see them in print.
Normally, I'm not really down for too much political correctness. (I'll choose humor over good taste any day, trust that.) But the fight for gay acceptance and equal rights is ongoing and important -- and I think it's something that we should all be supporting. But if you want to outright call Elton John a faggot, that's fine with me. Do it. Then I'll know that you're a hateful ass and that I shouldn't value any of your writing or opinions. But don't hide your discriminatory bullshit behind barely concealed innuendo.
Comments on Elton John's sexuality in most music articles seems unnecessary. When I was writing about him last week it was a struggle to cram such a long and successful career into such a short piece. The majority of brief articles about his music need not mention his sexuality at all; it's just not the place for it to be brought up. Unless the article is a big biographical piece, it's frequently frivolous information.
Elton John is more than just a musician, though. He is a cultural icon, and details about his personal life are of interest to readers. But if a writer is going to mention that he's gay (because it somehow seems important to the story), to do so without also mentioning that he's also a long-time gay-rights activist is irresponsible. John was one of the first "out" cultural icons, and he received mountains of criticism because of it. He was also an early advocate for those with HIV/AIDS -- making him an international hero to LGBTQ audiences and beyond. Words like "flamboyant" cheapen his brave stance.
For what it's worth, Sir Elton doesn't seem to mind the word. But it's possible that he just uses it in the same tradition that other marginalized groups do when attempting to reclaim words that were formally meant as offensive. (Feminists owning the word "bitch," for example.)
Maybe you think I'm being an overly sensitive tool here. Maybe you think that as a (mostly) straight woman I should just STFU, and it's none of my business. Maybe you think I'm imagining this problem and having a fit over some shit that doesn't even matter and that nobody else has ever noticed. And maybe it's stupid to complain about something like this when there are other problems in the world and all. But like I said, words are important, and how we use them should be questioned and re-questioned always.
In any case, describing Elton John as "flamboyant" might not always be intentionally rude, but it is played out, and I'm sick of reading it, especially when there is so much else to say. At best, using "flamboyant" is lazy and predictable writing. The man has had more than 50 Top 40 hits -- maybe you should accidentally mention that instead. So, writers, use your thesauri. And readers, call bullshit on your writers. As a reader, I do it all the time.