some words i just can’t reclaim

Every once in a while, my happy little alternative viewpoint hits its limits. It makes me feel downright conservative at times, but what can I say? I’m a stickler for things like accuracy in language and good spelling and grammar. No, I’m not as much of a nitpick as some; if I were, this blog wouldn’t sound nearly as conversational as it does, and y’all’d be stuck reading perfectly correct but utterly bland sentences with no quirky personality at all. 

As it stands, then, some of my views on the acceptability of certain terms are based more in questions of accuracy than in questions of political correctness. I’m not talking about dictionary accuracy necessarily; I’m talking about the ways in which words are commonly used. So while I’m all for taking words that are accurate but used pejoratively – such as, say, “queer” – and reclaiming them in their still-accurate but neutral or complementary use, I’m not such a fan of some other related practices.

Queer. Queer is a lovely word. It uses the letter “Q” in such a charming fashion. It means things like “odd” or “strange,” words which have always struck me as denoting things mysterious and intriguing and quirky and cool. I like queer. I am queer. Queer suits me just fine – I am odd and strange, at least if you compare my sexuality to the mainstream ideal, and that’s a good thing in my books. If others want to hurl it out open car windows at me along with a beer bottle, well, that’s awfully rude of them. But it doesn’t make me any less queer or feel any less happy with the term. The degree of insult inherent in the use of the word “queer” is proportional to the degree of desire the person on the receiving end of it wants to be, or be perceived as, normal. I don’t the least bit care about normalcy so the word has no power to hurt my feelings. Yes: queer is good. And it is accurate.

Not so much for certain other words. The word “slut,” for example, which some people have made valiant efforts to reclaim. Me? I just can’t get behind it. Slut is, first of all, an inherently sexist term. It’s applied in vastly disproportionate fashion to women and girls; this is evidenced in the use of the term “male slut” when “slut” needs to be qualified by a gender other than the one it’s assumed to be referencing. A simple Google search suffices to prove my point: 52,100 hits for “male slut” and only 16,400 for “female slut.” To me, this is a clear indication that sluts are presumed female until explained otherwise. (The term “slut” on its own gets nearly 57 million hits.)

“Slut” also carries with it a connotation of indiscriminate sexual availability. It’s used as a pejorative term for people who’ll pretty much do anything with anyone, who aren’t picky, who don’t have much self-esteem so they’ll let anyone use ‘em for pleasure. It’s an unfortunate reality that such people exist – that there are women, and some men, out there who really truly believe they’re not worth much unless someone’s groping them or sticking a hard cock in one of their orifices, and so will abase themselves to get that sort of attention from as many people as possible. Sluts are the ones who get used and tossed aside. They really are out there. Lots of ‘em. It’s a terrible state of affairs and I would love to give those people a shake and tell them they deserve way better.

I am not a slut. No matter how much Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy would like me, as a non-monogamous person, to reclaim the term “slut” and wear it proudly as they do in the title of their famed book, I just can’t love that word. Why? Because it’s not accurate. I am extremely discriminating in my sexual tastes. I deserve nothing but the best. I am willing, and fully able, to be single and celibate for long periods of time if partners of sufficient quality are not available. I do not want mediocre sex. I want top-of-the-line gourmet sex and I will not lower my standards to make anyone else happy. I’m not against one-night stands, but unless they’re with highly exceptional people or in situations where the chemistry is excruciatingly mind-blowingly strong, the chances of such adventures being truly satisfying are minimal, so my pursuit of them is correspondingly minimal.

I am also not a body to be used for another’s pleasure. I can provide pleasure in buckets, for sure, but I do so by my own agency and at my own choice, not because I’m expected to as the owner of a female body. I do not take all comers, and I do not get used and tossed aside; if I get sexual with someone at all, generally they want to come back for more. The only thing that makes me remotely resemble a slut is a mere technicality – I have sex with multiple partners. But the common ground ends there. And I am not willing to take up the use of a term that would equate my carefully chosen and highly valued sexual relationships with the indiscriminate rutting of desperate people who are fucking to fill up an emotional void inside themselves. There are sluts out there, and I’m not one of them, so that word is not for me.

Here’s another word, and one that’s perhaps even more loaded: “slave.”

Now, I don’t follow a path of submission in my kink life, but I am honoured by the presence in my world of people who do. One of those people is proud to be considered my property, and another is on the way to holding that status in my world. They both serve me, and do so with exquisite care and attention to detail. In turn, I take up authority in their worlds, and hold the role of chief decision-maker in a number of very significant areas of their lives. Their service and their submission to me are gifts of the highest quality, and I do not take them lightly.

Are they my slaves? No. A slave is someone who has been stolen or purchased and then coerced, whether by brute force or the power of terrible circumstance, to serve a master they may or may not respect. There is no honour there, no generosity, and above all no choice. Slavery is a cruel institution that’s been visited on people all over the world, and the hallmark of slavery is that it is completely non-consensual.

Sure, we can bring in the race card – and it is true that there’s a long and bloody history of slavery in many countries, where countless people, almost always people of colour, were subjected to horrendous abuses at the hands of colonizers, usually white. I don’t discount the validity of that argument. But unlike some people, I’m arguing against the term “slave” not for political reasons, but again for reasons of accuracy. My bois have chosen to be in this sort of relationship with me. They choose it actively, and with great desire and great enthusiasm. They regularly come to me with ideas and suggestions for how to reinforce our dynamic. I may be an owner, but I am an owner of treasured property, property that has agency and input and that takes great satisfaction in their position. These people are not slaves. They may be owned but they are absolutely free. I have no claim on them beyond that which they give me. If they want to leave, there is no penalty; they can simply walk away. If I want to keep them around, it’s my job to hold up my end of the bargain and be a responsible and caring owner.

Of course there are lots of people in the BDSM world who use the term “slave” in ways that hold a completely different meaning than the standard one. In no way do I want to tell these people that they don’t have a right to use the word exactly as they please. But I feel we need to be clear on what’s happening here. This is not a case of reclaiming a controversial word. This is a case of redefining one, which is a completely different project. Nobody in the BDSM world, at least not that I’ve ever encountered, purports to do slavery in ways that resemble the true, coerced slavery of past generations of African slaves in the USA, for example. No, BDSM slavery is entirely different. In many cases it looks a whole lot like what I do with Boi M and Boi L.

People can redefine words all they want, and I won’t dispute their right to their choices. But as for me, I’m not really all that enthusiastic about taking terms that carry a strong negative charge and using them in completely new ways. We kinksters have a bad enough time as it is trying to convince the outside world that what we do is not abusive or coercive – why the heck would we take a term that connotes exactly those things, and then get all huffy when people misunderstand us? Why insist that the word be redefined, instead of using or coming up with one that already means what it should? No thanks. I’d rather express myself accurately in the first place, and tell people that my bois are in a state of consensual servitude to me, with varying degrees of ownership on my part. They are not my slaves, and I don’t want them to be.

I very much understand that language is permeable, that words have multiple meanings, and that human beings are endlessly creative in coming up with new ways of expressing and conveying messages through vocabulary. One might percieve the perspective I’m taking as being overly rigid or hopelessly mired in linguistic traditionalism. I would posit, though, that what I’m doing is actually a far more radical act. I am suggesting that instead of stubbornly trying to apply new meanings to words that already have plenty of meaning in their original sense, and meaning we don’t want them to have, that we should come up with entirely new ones ourselves, or use ones that already exist but do convey the appropriate meaning.

Instead of slavery, how about consensual erotic servitude? Hey, we could even get really hip and go for acronyms: CES, which could be further abbreviated to CS if the relationship isn’t of the erotic sort. Hey, the world of alternative sexuality already has tons of those, so it’s familiar currency – BDSM itself, for starters, not to mention its component parts BD, D/s, and SM. And don’t forget M/s, AB/DL, TPE, 24/7, DD, TS, TG, TV, GLBTIQQ, SSC, RACK and CBT. As for “slut,” well, if I had to describe my approach to things, I’d simply say I’m non-monogamous, or if someone really wanted to hear something less generic, perhaps I’d say I’m a sex-positive ethical hedonist who enjoys multiple relationships, some of them loving, some of them just for fun. Really, the way I do my sex life can’t be summed up in a single word, so I’m not going to try.

In the end, people will do exactly as they please, as well they should. I’m not advocating for the community to frown on terms like “slut” and “slave”; if those words feel right to the people using them, more power to ‘em. I think I’m simply stating that while some folks may stand behind a particular usage, not everyone will, and mine is just one (nitpicky language professional’s) way of choosing against the words that don’t quite fit and adopting ones that do.

17 Responses

  1. I don’t quite follow why you’re uncomfortable with “slave” but comfortable with “owner”/”owning” – I can appreciate “servant” (I think!) but the logic of “owning” someone while trying to maintain the idea that they have full agency doesn’t quite follow, for me. Can you explain?

  2. Well, though the comparison isn’t quite right on a number of levels, it might help to think about a traditional monogamous marriage. In the marriage vows, the couple basically signs over ownership of certain things to one another. “I will forsake all others,” for example, effectively means “you own my sexual attentions.”

    You could also think about certain sorts of employment contracts that sign over ownership of a person’s time or skills, or give an employer rights over the choices the employee makes, such as the colour of their hair, the sorts of clothing they can wear, what they do in hours outside their work time (i.e. behaviour that goes against the company’s principles is grounds for termination), and so forth. In these instances, the ownership of those elements lasts as long as the contract does, and by mutual agreement – no coercion involved, and full agency on the part of the people who enter into it.

    In most cases, the contract can also be broken by one party or another, sometimes with a penalty, sometimes not. In the case of slavery (as traditionally understood), there is no contract and there are penalties for leaving. But ownership does not imply slavery. Of course you’ll rarely find the word “owner” in a work or marriage contract, but you will find the word “rights” (in the former at least). I don’t particularly care about matching my language to that of an employment or marriage contract because what we’re doing is neither of those things, so I’m free to use the word that’s most accurate.

    I have no illusions about my ownership being permanent or unbreakable, but that’s what it is. It is ownership by ongoing verbal contract involving the full agency of all parties, and it covers a number of rights that are pretty extensive. In Boi M’s case, it’s full ownership; in Boi L’s case it’s partial, and we keep finding interesting things to add to the list of what’s mine. A recent addition was vacation time, for example – I now have nine days of her leave time to do with as I wish. In both cases, we take great pleasure in finding out what ownership really means, how far it goes, and places where it can be reinforced or played out in ways that bring enjoyment to all concerned. Rather than being employment or marriage contracts, ours are contracts of pleasure; the whole point is that we enjoy what we’re doing and it feels right to us.

    If I, as an owner, were to start using my bois in ways that were damaging to them, or disrespectful, or that failed to take into account their well-being, they would probably break our contract, as well they should.

    As for the terminology, I’m not an employer or a marriage partner. I suppose you could say that I am a “person who holds extensive rights over the choices of my partners” but that’s awfully clunky. Owner works for us and is as accurate as anything else. It’s also true that I am their dominant, their partner and their friend, but in this context, owner is the word that most fully expresses the nature of what we are to each other.

    Does that help?

  3. I like the arguments you make against using the word “slave.” I used to be really uncomfortable with its use, but my partner and I use the word because it’s so elemental and has a lot of erotic power (for him).

  4. Some interesting thoughts there. I’ve also had reservations about the word “slut” as it refers to non-monogamy, as it seems to disregard the connotation of promiscuity. As you indicated, having multiple partners doesn’t necessarily mean being indiscriminant. At the same time, I’m not sure that “slut” necessarily suggests a lack of self-esteem. One can be sexually indiscriminant through an empowered choice: engaging in recreational one-night-stands for the simple pleasure of enjoying the touch of another’s body, for instance. Of course, the label wouldn’t apply to you either way, but I could see someone appropriating it who took pride in their promiscuity as a source of erotic pleasure.

    I haven’t yet taken the term “slave” in any of my D/s relationships, though I might. For me, it’s something of a romantic metaphor. Shakespeare often uses this term to express the “head over heals” powerlessness of falling in love, as in Sonnet 57: “Being your slave, what should I do but tend / upon the hours and times of your desire?”, or in The Tempest: “The very instant I saw you, did my heart fly to your service; there resides, to make me slave to it…”. For me, being inspired to service is like slavery in that it feels like I have no option, though rationally I know I do.

    I work with an international development agency and often deal with issues of modern day human trafficking and economic slavery, so I even surprise myself that I’m comfortable with the distinction. It probably helps that redefinition of the term as “consensual servitude” has been around for quite a few decades, so it has seem to have lost much of its negative stigma in some circles. Historical slavery does seem to inform some of the protocols associated withc current-day D/s owner-and-slave relationships, the best example being the use of a collar. Are you as uncomfortable appropriating the symbol of the collar as you are with the term “slave”?
    :)

    Gregg

  5. Hmmmm. I’ve had similar thoughts about “slut.” But I don’t mind if others want to use it and I can see a happy version of it, where the person does have high self-worth and self-esteem but they just want and get lots of sex with lots of different partners. That’s just not me. I have very niche tastes and I’m fussy. So while I don’t use it–too much bad history in my case and it’s not accurate–I am very comfortable with others reclaiming it and using it.

    An academic aside: Reminds me of debates between some utilitarians. Some think the best world over all is the world with the most good. That’s the total view. So for any good, no matter how small, more is better. Others think that what we ought to aim at is not the greatest amount (after all you could get that by having many many people at pretty low levels of happiness) but rather than highest average. They’re average utilitarians. (Problems there too but that’s too far afield.)

    Back to sex: Sounds like your view, re: sex, is more like the highest average view. New experiences, new partners have a pretty high bar to meet. Sluts, happy “more is always better” folks, set the bar lower. But i think that can still be healthy and okay. Just not me. Or you.

    I can’t comment on the slave language. It’s always made me uneasy but I don’t feel I have enough experience in the community, in that world to comment.

    But another term that I’m uncomfortable reclaiming, for me, though I applaud the efforts of others to do so, is “fat.” I see many other women. who others might call “fat”, as large, strong, muscular, and powerful. So I’m kind of the same way about “fat” as I am about “slut.” Glad it’s being reclaimed but it’s not a one size fits all term. Not at all non-monogamous people are sluts (though we may all be called that) and not all large women are fat (again, though others may call us that.) We should reclaim language that fits, that works for us, that’s accurate. I think you’re completely right about that.

  6. I think that my slave would have issues with people not liking the term in BDSM. Yes, we use the term in a different light, as it’s consensual slavery, but we still use the term.

    Then again, I’m also far from mainstream in the lifestyle world, as I call myself a Gorean…

    I also tend to like the term slut, but that’s mainly for the bedroom.

  7. Devastating – Aha! You bring up an excellent point: the erotic charge of language. I’m not above using some words, including “slut” and “slave,” in specific contexts for their erotic charge. But that’s not quite the same thing as using them as everyday identifiers.

    In any case, I definitely support the idea that people are free to use words as they please. Certainly I know many people in the BDSM world who quite happily use the term “slave” and I should make it clear that this doesn’t offend me in the least. In fact I’ve found a lot of useful information in books and workshops directed at self-defined slaves, so it’s hardly a word I shy away from. But every time I’ve thought about adopting it for my relationships, there’s a piece of my guts that says “no, that’s just not right for you,” and it keeps coming down to that accuracy thing. I think it’s of prime importance for people to use words in ways that fit for them, so if that fits for you and yours, I wouldn’t dream of taking issue with it.

    Gregg – My goodness, Shakespeare quotes. I like you already! :) Thanks for your thoughtful response.

    As for your question about collars – first let me be clear that I am not at all uncomfortable with the term “slave.” I just think it’s inaccurate as a descriptor of my relationships. If I were uncomfortable with it on principle, I’d probably be against others’ use of it, and I’m not. It totally works for some people, including many people I respect and admire. I think the accuracy issue creates predictable comprehension problems when we use it in dealing with the vanilla world, but that’s up to each person to address as they see fit.

    When it comes to the use of collars, there’s no discomfort either, and there’s no question of accuracy because collars are not words and they have been used to symbolize all manner of things throughout history. I do use a collar with one of my bois, but I’ve never studied the ways in which slavery was enforced, so I can’t say I’ve drawn any particular inspiration from there. (I know in some cultures it’s been shackles, and others arm bracelets, and others bodily markings or items of clothing…)

    If anything the symbolism that collars often convey specifically within the BDSM world is where it comes from for me, but even that is highly variable, and in truth for me it’s more of a physical thing. Letting a person touch your throat opens you to a fairly primal sort of vulnerability – think of dogs exposing their throat to the leader of the pack. The use of a collar is a physical reminder of that emotional experience for my boi. For many people there’s no symbolism at all to collars (think Goth kids) and for many there’s symbolism that doesn’t work for me (think pet role-play). Like a necklace or a ring, a collar means what a person decides it means, and that’s as it should be.

    Sam – You make a great point about people who reclaim “slut” in a way that works for their sexuality. Thanks for the nuance you bring to the question. You’re right, that someone who lives their sexuality with a “more is merrier” ethic rather than an “I hate myself” one may be well placed to reclaim that term. Still doesn’t fit for me, but I like the idea that it could for some and not be a negative thing.

    As for “fat” – that’s an interesting one. As a not-fat person I feel limited in my ability to come at this one from a personal standpoint, but I do know a number of people who claim it quite proudly, so I figure this is another one of those cases where it’s important for people to do as they please and identify themselves in ways that feel right and accurate to them.

    Travis – Wow! A real live Gorean! Never met one of you before. Nice to have you here! With regard to your comment about “slave,” please see the beginning of my response to Devastating, above.

    Thanks, everyone, for the excellent comments. It makes me happy to see conversation happening. :)

  8. On Alternatives and Language…

    I’d like to riff off Andrea for a minute, if you don’t mind. She’s written a couple…

  9. I’ve been identifying as a “slut” for exactly the sort of reasons Gregg and Sam mentioned – I enjoy the thrill of pursuing and exploring new partners and find one-off flings to be part of a complete breakfast of relationships (though I’m not completely indiscriminant – the bar is just high enough for mutual respect, STD sanity, and fun). Wanting/not wanting casual sex seems to me like a fairly basic dimension of variation in human temperament, along the lines of introversion/extroversion (though the social implications are rather narrower). It has certainly been a locus of misunderstanding in my relationships with non-sluts, so I really want some catchy jargon.

    There’s no way to pick a simple word for “more is better” that doesn’t need to be reclaimed – we live in a culture where the desire for casual sex is routinely condemned (or assumed to be some sort of psychological problem – six of one, half dozen of the other), usually in a gendered way. You could make up a totally new word for people who enjoy casual sex, and within three years you’d be seeing that word in your spam box leading to some seriously misogynistic porn sites. Promiscuity itself needs to be reclaimed!

  10. Exactly so. We’ve all been called sluts or thought to have been sluts and so I am happy to have others reclaim it even if it’s not a label that fits me so well. I do have friends who use it playfully, who it seems to suit, and I hope–though my hopes aren’t very high–that there will be a time where young women who like sex won’t hear that word slung at them, or if they do won’t feel its sting as harshly as I did. I should also say that the label doesn’t fit NOW but there might have been more open exploratory stages of my life, when I was finding out what I liked and who I liked it with, when it was a better fit. About “fat” as a label. I certainly celebrate the efforts of friends in the fat positive movement to reclaim the term, especially those who work to celebrate the sexuality of women and men of a wide range of sizes. I’m thinking here of the Fat Femme Mafia and some of the women in the Scandelles. All I meant to say is that it’s not always accurate (given how demanding our standards of normal are) and we need a more nuanced language for larger bodies.

  11. Penny – Thanks for your comment! Very well said indeed. As a sex-positive gal, I’m all for people reclaiming promiscuity. I think the distinction, perhaps, is that the project of reclaiming promiscuity is not the same project as that of reclaiming (defending? promoting?) the larger concept of non-monogamy. Of course they’re intimately related and will share a lot of the same battlegrounds, but we encounter problems in strategy and language when we conflate the two.

    Sam – I agree with you, and I’ll raise you one as well. I think we need more nuanced language and understandings about all sorts of bodies. Larger bodies can be all sorts of things, from morbidly obese to powerfully muscular. Smaller bodies too – I had a fascinating conversation with a very small-bodied friend of mine not long ago who’s appalled at the way people think she must eat really healthy and exercise a lot. In fact she does neither, she’s just super skinny, and bemoans her correspondingly tiny cup size; her partners tend to be much larger than she, and she witnesses first-hand how the reverse assumptions are applied to them, in many cases with equal inaccuracy. Smaller can of course be anything from dangerously anorexic to hyper-athletic. Really, assuming anything about someone’s lifestyle, eating habits, athleticism, sexuality or worth as a person based on their bodies is a pretty rotten practice.

  12. q/Q is my favorite letter and I get a tiny shocking thrill whenever it appears in the contrails of my ink pen or mechanical pencil. This alone is reason enough for me to use the word queer as often as I can. I quite agree that queer is both accurate and pleasing.

    One difference among reclaimed and claimed words is their initial meaning. Queer, gay, faggot, and dyke all had common and nonperjorative meanings long before they were co-opted as verbal weapons by bigots and haters. (Aside: Perhaps I’ll take my bicycle to Offa’s Dyke while I’m in the UK. And “queer” was first recorded in Scottish in 1508. Three cheers each for Wales and Scotland!). But slut was always perjorative (and aimed at women), to the best of my understanding. I suspect that “slave” was originally a neutral word, but I don’t know, not being a linguist.

    To be technical, a word like “queer” can thus literally be reclaimed, just like a wetland, and used in its original (nonperjorative) way to describe activities and states that are indeed odd and strange in the context of social norms. It’s hard to argue with the OED. I’ve tried and I’ve lost. But using “slut” in a nonperjorative and positive way is giving it novel meaning and fighting against centuries of definitional inertia. In that sense, using slut in a positive way is more radical than reclaiming queer, and it’s not technically a reclamation at all. Gay, faggot, and dyke have each been flipped once from their original meanings, and now once again from their imposed perjorative connotations.

    Well anyway, I favor queer because I like how it looks, I like how it sounds, and I like how it feels in the hand. It’s interesting to consider the evolution of culture (here, language) for a change (I normally consider biological evolution). It’s also interesting to consider the reclaiming of historical figures in cultural contexts: one of my current fascinations is the bizarre and queer (!) intersection of Richard and Pat Nixon with Chou En-Lai, and Mao Tse-Tung in 1972. Anybody interested might enjoy listening to John Adams’s (1987) kick-ass post-minimalist opera “Nixon in China”. Okay. Back to the salt mines!!! What a great conversation. I’ve enjoyed reading all the comments to this post.

  13. It’s my understanding that “Boi” comes from Old Guard leather, which in turn borrowed the term “Boy” used to refer to African Americans in the earlier half of the 20th century. If I’m right on that, “Boi” and “slave” share a lot of cultural charge.

    Of course, I haven’t bothered to check my facts since I’m going to be late for a meeting, but do you draw the term from somewhere else? Or if I did peg it, how does that influence the way you view the term?

  14. Hi Joscelin! Nice to have you here too. :) I’m fascinated, that’s actually the first time I’ve ever heard that particular progression of logic for the term “boi.” You’re definitely on to something, thank you so much for bringing this up. However my own experience of it is completely different. Both of my bois called themselves “boi” way before I ever came along and added the “my,” and it had nothing to with slavery or submission at all; it’s mainly about gender as a starting point.

    Boi has been popping up in the queer community more and more in the past decade, and the people who use it have a range of takes on what it means, but the common elements often seem to be

    1) A recognition of female-bodiedness – hence the “i” instead of the standard “y” at the end, much like some trans gals like the word “gyrl”; it’s a tweaking of the spelling to indicate something slightly different than what you’d expect from the usual word. Of course this doesn’t translate so well in spoken language *sigh*. That’s when you start hearing people say things like “boi with an I” when describing others. We make things so complicated sometimes…
    2) a masculine gender identity (whether that means the person considers themselves to be trans or not – for example my bois are one of each).
    3) a certain youthfulness or playfulness, i.e. this is not the same thing as “guy” or “man.” Bobby Noble talks a lot about “boy” culture (boy bands, the valueing of masculine youthful appearance and attitude) and its impact on or adoption by queer culture in his book “Sons of the Movement,” very intriguing. He posits that in some ways this might be a re-envisioning of masculinity, as in, a way of adopting the innocent, energetic, playful connotations of masculinity while dropping the macho overbearing ones. That resonates for a lot of the people I know who use the term; trans or not, they are strongly masculine but aren’t interested in being MEN per se. But of course that too is variable.

    That’s where it ends for a lot of people; the term is widely used among totally non-kinky people, and in fact Boi M started using it well before he ever thought of himself as a submissive. I have facilitated at least two or three informal group conversations in the last couple of years in which I’ve asked the people around me to tell me what “boi” means to them and I was amused to note that even the kinky ones have brought up kink last or not at all.

    Then we get into kink, and all of a sudden the reference to “boi” as a descendant of “boy” as an appellation for a slave makes a lot more sense, and the cultural charge could quite easily be similar to that of “slave.”

    At the same time, I think there are also a lot of contexts where “boy” has been used to indicate an inferior status for someone regardless of race, mainly from an elder to a younger, particularly a child, servant, apprentice or assistant. Also it’s regularly used to indicate literal children – recently I told someone I had two bois back at home, and she asked me how old they were! In her case she was asking precisely because she’s kinky and wasn’t sure if I meant children or submissives, so the ages made it clear. But it definitely made me laugh to note how confusing that could be, even more so for a non-kinky person.

    I think if I were to say “come here, boi!” a lot it might feel like it had overtones resembling the slave usage of the term, but imperious isn’t really my style so I rarely use the term *at* my bois, rather I use it (as they do) when describing or referring to them. All of this to say that there is definitely a possibility of cultural charge in the term, but because there are so many other usages for it and it is the one chosen by my bois themselves, I feel comfortable with it nonetheless. These things are always about a personal judgment call about what feels right, after all!

  15. I like the word slut for similar reasons as Penny Royale. I was a female-ID’d slut for a while, now I’m attempting life as a male-ID’d slut : ) I enjoy the nasty connotation of it, but that’s in large part due to my very specific kinks, that I won’t go into here.

    Interesting conversation with an office mate who is trying very hard to understand me: “So Jacky, while you’re in transition, and as promiscuous as before, are you a slut or a stud?” My reply: “I guess I’m a slud.”

  16. Stumbled across your blog – really admire your writing! Thought I’d add a point… I’m not sure if you’re aware of the etymology/history of ‘slut': it was originally a term for an untidy woman (like slattern, which you still hear occassionally, at least in the UK), and tangentially the lowest kitchen maids in Renaissance/Restoration era would be referred to as such.

    We can conjecture that it is from this that the sexual side came in, either with the connotations of bad behaviour that come with being messy/untidy/dirty, but also there is a sense in which the use of the term in relation to lowly women gradually fazed into their, ahem, other activities…

    People still use the term ‘sluttish behaviour’ to describe being messy, so it doesn’t have to be a sex-abuse term. But I do think it is interesting that it has always been a pejorative term for specifically women.

    That’s my twopennyworth :)

  17. Hello, Oxford Seamstress! Nice to have you here! Fellow word geeks are always welcome. Yes, I was at least somewhat aware of the term’s history, but thank you so much for summarizing it here. I think the current usage of “sluttish” in the UK is quite different than it is here – the only contexts where I’ve seen it used to mean “messy” have been European. Interesting the way the meanings of words morph over time and over geography. But regardless, it is indeed interesting that it’s been a term for women specifically. To me that means that men who “reclaim” the term (and I do know a few) likely don’t have nearly as much baggage to unpack around it than women who do the same. Not a bad thing – just a different significance. Anyway, thanks so much for your twopennyworth! ;)

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