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Sweet. Not such a bad thing.


Precious sweetness.

That’s what a girl I knew in college called guys she suspected were gay – and even some who openly identified themselves as gay. It was definitely pejorative.

The adjective sweet, fell into the category with  light in his loafers. Not exactly hostile – not in the sense that faggot and queer were hostile – but definitely a put down. In my experience, it was usually used to describe a guy for whom no overt hatred was felt, but, because of his gayness, was considered somewhat “less than.” It was dismissive.

And it hurt.

All my life before coming out, as I wrestled with how to present myself to the world, adjectives like sweet were among the things I feared most. Faggot didn’t really bother me. I knew I wasn’t that. I fucked girls, not boys. I got married (twice!) and fathered two children. I certainly wasn’t a faggot! No problem there.

But I worried a lot about sweet – meaning effeminate, not manly, not serious, of little consequence. The fear of adjectives like sweet burned me like acid.

But that was then. These days, I’m out and I’m comfortable with it, and sweet – in reference to a man – has taken on a new, and quite positive, meaning.

Oddly, I first noticed this change before I was out. One day, I heard myself use it to describe my sons, both of whom are straight. They were teenagers at the time, and were everything boys of that age typically are – noisy, rambunctious, sometimes rough, sometimes smelly, occasionally sullen and/or combative. But underneath all that BS there was a core of fundamental goodness that never entirely disappeared. I described it as sweetness, as I still do, because it reminded me of when they were little, how direct and truthful they were, and how open and generous they were with their affection. They were adorable – and sweet. And, now that they have both made it to adulthood, they are again.

After coming out, I noticed that two of my new gay friends used sweetie as a friendly form of address, as in, Hi, Sweetie! How ya doing? I loved it when they called me that, and almost without realizing it, began to use the term myself. I began to notice friends, and eventually myself, describing good men – kind, fair, likeable, gentle, affectionate men – as sweet.

It all has to do with the power of words, and the power of truth. When we use words in truth, and we are true to ourselves, the power of words to damage and divide us is tamed. Many of us – out, still coming out, still in hiding – have let ourselves be hurt by words. I’ve got no more time for that.

As a man who loves men, I’m happy to call my friends sweet, because that’s what they are – in the true sense of the word.  And, I’m glad to be called sweet by another man. Delighted, actually. Who knows where it might lead?

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Kristy permalink
    10/31/2011 7:53 AM

    Yes, and speaking of the power of words, the “f word” is a little too powerful for me, Sweetie.


    • 10/31/2011 8:58 AM

      Oh dear! I never want to offend. Well, maybe that’s a bit absolute … Let’s say I almost never want to offend. Anyway, not you, one of my faithful readers.

      I went back and forth on whether to use the F-word and finally decided to use it because it’s the word I used inside my head – trying for macho, I guess. Hope that makes sense on your end.

  2. Patrick M permalink
    10/31/2011 8:40 AM

    Well, what I always liked most about you was that bit of a not-too-sweet edge, unlike that revolting cupcake photo, Cupcake: a little lemon in the old co-cola, seville orange marmalade, dark chocolate frosting….

    • 10/31/2011 9:01 AM

      I appreciate your appreciation of my edge such as it is.

      And for the record, I never liked cupcakes, even as a child, and I still don’t like them. If nothing else they are difficult to eat, and as you imply, usually way too sweet. I’ll take a small bite of black-dark chocolate anytime.

  3. permalink
    10/31/2011 9:04 AM

    Great post! When I moved to the South, years ago, I was offended when waitresses would call me “Sweetie”. I still am! Twenty years later I’m still tempted to say “I’m not your Darlin’, please don’t call me that.” For me, a condescending attitude can be attached to any word and it fuffles my feathers!

    • 10/31/2011 9:53 AM

      Glad you liked it. And thanks for leaving a comment. I love it when people do.

      Re Sweetie, cultural context is an interesting thing. Having grown up in Atlanta, and especially having an aunt who called me Sweetie until the day she died, I’m generally not offended when a waitress calls me that. Unless there’s a definite tone of sarcasm, I’m going with all the Sweeties I can get – these days, from boys as well as girls.

      I grazed a bit in your blog this morning and I liked it, having found seveal points of agreement in just a few minutes. More careful reading will have to come later today. Since you enjoy having yourself a good diatribe now and then, you might enjoy my twice-a-month (when I’m keeping up) rants in the Marketini blog ( Cocktail recipes are a bonus.

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