Wednesday, June 21, 2006

White Sox' Ozzie Guillen: Word "fag" not homophobic in Venezuela

Sports columnist Greg Couch of the Chicago Sun-Times has taken Chicago White Sox' manager Ozzie Guillen to task for calling another Sun-Times columnist a fag.

Talking to a group of 20 reporters before a game on Tuesday, Guillen let it fly against sports columnist Jay Mariotti: "What a piece of shit he is, fucking fag."

Aparently, last year in New York Guillen also called someone else a fag and a child molester equating the two - according to the column.

When Couch called the Venezuelan-born baseball player after the game to tell him that he'd be writing a column on the issue, Guillen told Couch that he was not a homophobic man, that he had gay friends and was even planning to go to the Gay Games in Chicago (he also told him he loved Madonna and the WNBA). He also said that calling someone a 'fag' in Venezuela had a different connotation than in the United States and that he'd meant to say that Mariotti was "not man enough to meet me and talk about [things before writing].''

Aparently in the past, of altercations he has had with other players, Guillen also claimed that in Venezuela "We take care of [stuff] by hitting people.''

In his column, Couch asks for a suspension and an apology:
The issue is that Guillen said the wrong thing, and he does it often and it never sticks to him. That's just Ozzie, we hear. And the Sox tend to chuckle about this stuff, as if we can just forgive him. Why? Because English is his second language?

Guillen is not dumb. Let's not insult him. He knows what he's saying, and he certainly knows that it's not acceptable. He has been in this country for a quarter of a century.

This isn't about Guillen's language or his culture. He has lived in this culture long enough to know. It's Guillen.

It was hurtful.
Question is, is Guillen right? Do the words "maricón" or "marica," "fag" or "faggot," mean a different thing in Venezuela? Does it matter that he's lived in the United States for more than 25 years? I know that people who come from Medellin, where I was born, use the word "marica" for everything, sometimes as a term of endearment (as in "Hey, marica, what's up" or "Marica! We just lost the world cup!"). It shocks some people when they first hear it but, in that context, the word has lost the homophobic intent. But equating gays with pedophiles, that probably points out where Guillen's true intent lies and it sounds to me as if he does need to apologize, even if he likes Madonna.

UPDATE (Comments made by Guillen before tonight's game as reported by the Chicago Sun-Times and the AP):
I shouldn't have mentioned the name that was mentioned, but I'm not going to back off of Jay. The word I used, I should have used something different. A lot of people's feelings were hurt and I didn't mean it that way. Jay, I think I made this guy a lot of money and he's famous. If not for Ozzie Guillen, no one would have heard of him. If I hurt anybody with what I called him, I apologize.

I've been here for 20 years, but people have to know that I grew up in a different country. That's not an excuse. I called the guy that name, but, no, that's the way I grew up, that's the way I've learned that language.

I don't have an excuse to say that, I have been here enough to know you can use so many words in the States. That's not an excuse, but I wasn't calling people that. I was calling him that.


Bernie said...

Are you suggesting then that if we use certain words often enough in different contexts, they lose their original meaning? That's the argument so many folks use when they claim that use of the "N" word no longer has the same effect. Frankly, I don't buy that one and I'm having difficulty believing Ozzie here.

Andrés Duque said...

Not necessarily. "Marica" and "maricon" are still used, even in Medellin, as defamatory insults. But, in certain contexts, the same words are also as a term of endearment between straight people - as well as gay people. I don't necessarily know what to compare it to in US-culture. Not even younger generations in the US using the word 'gay' to denote something that is tired or not popular enough because, in that isntance, it still carries the notion that 'gay' is 'less than' (not so when "Howdy marica!" is used between pals in Medellin).

I've followed usage of defamatory language in Latino sports before, particularly in boxing, and have heard Guillen's argument be made by others before: That 'marica' or 'fag' is meant to point out how weak a person is and not necessarily intended a homophobic remark.

I do think that part of their intent IS questioning another man's masculinity, the ultimate insult in some Latin American countries, but that does not mean that the intent is any less homophobic. It actually makes i worse! And, yes, Guillen comes off looking pretty much guilty as charged.

Anonymous said...

Andy Humm had an item in a recent issue of Gay City News about the BBC ruling that a recent incident where a presenter called something "gay" on the air was not offensive because it was used to mean "lame" or "rubbish" rather than necessarily homosexual. Young people use the word a lot in that way but I have mixed feelings about it. I realize some use it a way that is almost acceptable among their peers but I think it in fact covers up a real societal discomfort if not outright homophobia.

Language evolves in mysterious ways and in ways that we often can't control or legislate. It wasn't that long ago that gay meant something else completely. That said, I don't think marica/maricon has any real distance from the negativity associated with gays. Those are still fighting words, certainly in the Caribbean. Questioning someone's masculinity is right up there with insulting someone's mama, and both are used as deliberate provocations.

Andrés Duque said...

Which brings up another point:

Spaniards use some phrases that would shock just about anyone ("Me cago en la hostia!" is an example - or "I'll shit on the host" as in the wafer given during communion) and they certainly not shy about the use of the word maricon either so that sometimes gays in Spain taks certain things in stride when it looks to me as extremely offensive or homophobic.

And between difrerent Latin American and Caribbean countries, usage of these terms elicit different levels of surprise, outrage or disgust. It seems to me that the more homophobic or "machista" the culture is, the more violent the reaction is at being called "marica" or "maricon," which would certainly seem to be the case in some of the Spanish-language Caribbean islands.

There ARE cultural differences in how these terms are used and interpreted. On the whole though, the intent is still homophobic.

Anonymous said...

I teach a local university and I hear the male students calling each other "maricon" a lot. It can be like: "Hey, maricon, you didn't show up for the game last night!" or "Wassup, maricon?" It has nothing to do with sexual identity. I guess they think it's cool to call each other "maricon" now. Who woulda thought!!!

Anonymous said...

I forgot to say that I am writing from Puerto Rico about the university experience above.

Anonymous said...

In addition, the word "maricon" in PR can also be used to describe a person who has done something bad or treacherous to you. EX: "Ah, Juan is a maricon. He did not return my money." Once again, no sexual identity is involved in this comment. I think this is the meaning behind Guillen's commments.

Steven Mackin said...

I wonder if there is an Oscar de la Hoya in professional baseball to help defend the homos. hehe...

I'd do this guy, btw.