I was in 7th grade when Eminem released “The Marshall Mathers LP.”
Within a week it sold nearly 2 million copies, making it the second fastest-selling album ever at the time. It was everywhere, including my portable CD player, where it remained in steady rotation for the rest of the year.
To say it was a controversial album would be an understatement. Among the various groups that protested its release was the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, which quite reasonably took issue with its frequent use of derogatory and anti-gay language, particularly the repeated use of the F-slur in lyrics like “hate f**s? The answer’s yes.”
The album seeped into my habits, and like most boys of my generation, I used the F-slur relentlessly and called anything I didn’t like “gay,” regardless of the context. If I had to defend my use of those words — which I never did, because it was broadly accepted — I would have done so the same way Eminem did: I used them to describe people or things that I thought sucked; it had nothing to do with anyone’s sexual preference.
I didn’t hate gay people, I would’ve said, and besides I didn’t know any. Looking back now, I’m not sure that’s true. I probably did know some gay people, but based on how I talked and acted at the time, they had every reason to hide it from me. I would’ve mercilessly teased anyone who was openly gay, because they would’ve been an easy target.
I currently teach 7th grade, the same age I was when anti-gay sentiments and language became normalized for me. Though Eminem hasn’t been relevant for a long time, those ways of speaking and thinking about LGBTQ+ people are every bit as commonplace now as they were 20 years ago…