Can I Use Queer Slang If I’m Not Queer?

On apologizing to someone you slighted, whether you can throw shade or not, and how much of a dick you are for not answering all those texts.

A photograph of the writer.

SCAACHI KOUL was born and raised in Calgary, Alberta. Her writing has appeared in The New Yorker, BuzzFeed NewsThe HairpinThe Globe and Mail and J...

"Back rolls???" (Still from "RuPaul's Drag Race")

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A lot of things were sad about yesterday. I can’t bring myself to get into everything that was sad yesterday, but just about everyone knows what made yesterday sad.

Among those many things, though, was an off-hand comment my coworker made after news of the shooting in Ottawa broke: “Please don’t be brown, please don’t be brown.” We’re both South Asian visible minorities, so just about every time someone goes into a crowded area with a gun, it’s a silent prayer we make. If this guy looks like us, we are in even more trouble. Things had already gone bad by that point, so the least we could ask was that it not be someone that makes the national discourse veer into a ditch.

And the instinct wasn’t wrong. In the first hour of its live coverage of the shooting, Global brought on a talking head that was already prattling on about the what-ifs of the shooter. What if he’s a jihadist? Well, then he’s ready to die on the Hill, so our officers will have to be ready for total abandon in fighting him. Plenty of outlets were ready to treat this as if fiery meteors were hailing down on our nation’s capitol. “TERROR IN CANADA,” said CityNews’s graphic, hyping panic before information. And then there is your average idiot ready to condemn an entire swath of people because it’s easier than staying calm and waiting for answers.

I don’t have any advice to give here because I don’t know what happened or what this all means. I’d argue that few actually do, even though plenty are willing to give their opinions on exactly what institution or subsection of people is to blame for this. (Usually immigration; usually brown people. Thank God Geraldo is here to remind us that the Great White North is a constant threat to the U.S. of A. while also providing some incoherent gargling about Mexican immigrants.

You can’t always legislate or protect from or explain sick. Sometimes it’s just sick.

The idea that Canada has lost its innocence is a fallacy: the threat of violence has always existed here, and we’ve suffered its destructive forces before. What scares me now, among other things, is the need to apply a hot take to the situation. Sometimes, you do not have to take a take—not at all, or at least not immediately. No one has ever thought, at rest in their musty hospice bed, “You know, I’ve had a pretty good life, but I wish I had jumped to conclusions on the Internet more.”

What we have before us so far aren’t answers so much as flashes of information—notes telling an incomplete story about mental health and ideology and rage. This only becomes a war against us if we insist on taking one person’s actions and imprinting them on an entire subsection of people. As far as we know, this was the work of a single sick and angry person with a gun that committed a terribly violent act under the banner of a terribly violent movement. It doesn’t have to be about Islam, or about Muslim immigrants, or about how we as a country are too unsuspicious or naïve. In Ottawa, people got back to work today, focused on the victim, Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, the hero, sergeant-at-arms Kevin Vickers, and the fact that the shooter had been staying at a local homeless shelter, resistant to help. You can’t always legislate or protect from or explain sick. Sometimes it’s just sick.

But look, we’re here now, together, so let’s have some laughs about a few silly little problems before returning to the real world. I think we deserve it.

A couple years ago, I was in a really bad place. I was super destructive and negative and really awful to my friends, and to one friend in particular. I made our entire friendship about me and my problems, I belittled her as a way to make myself feel better, and I basically made her chase me for my approval, which I never entirely gave. Then, to make things worse, I completely lost it on her one day, told her I hated her, that I never wanted to talk to her again, and that she was the reason for all my anxiety. I don’t even know why I did it anymore, but I hate that I did. It’s been a long time since it happened, and she and I don’t cross paths (we live in different cities), but I feel a lot of guilt over what I did. I don’t think we were the most compatible friends, but she didn’t deserve what I did. I want to reach out to her but from what I hear, she’s still really upset with me and doesn’t want to talk to me. (I sent her a text a few months ago to wish her a Merry Christmas but she didn’t respond.) Should I bother trying to get in touch to apologize or do I just need to live with what I did?
—Bad Ex-Friend

Well, that was dumb of you, wasn’t it?

Have you ever heard that old expression, “Be careful of who you step on while going up the ladder since they’ll be there on your way down?” Well, that should be doubly true for your friends. While some people are prone to stepping on the hands and feet of their coworkers, the structure still demands some sense of decorum. You’re far more likely to be cruel to your friends because they either give you the rope or because you’re in a bad place or you’re just a colossal asshole. In this case, it sounds like you are the perfect storm of all three.

The good news is that you are not a perma-asshole, and instead just have a tendency towards being an asshole, and can at least recognize that you owe this person an apology.


Texting a friend whose existence you tried to annihilate is not a sufficient enough re-introduction into her life. Think about it this way: you were mean, you had emotional problems, and you walked away. She owes you nothing, and if you want her forgiveness, the onus is on you to make amends. An errant, “Hey, I know we’re not talking for reasons I’d rather not get into but have a great winter solstice!” is a weak and selfish way to get back into her good graces. If I got a text from anyone who slighted me in the past that said something that vague and unfeeling, I’d probably smash my phone into a million pieces and then mail it to the sender with the note, “Eat a bag of armpit-farts, stink-mitt.”

You need to beg—literally, beg—in the most pathetic, self-effacing way possible. Explain how this is all your fault and you were a horrible person to her and you know that you owe her a lot and that you do not expect her to forgive you, but you hope she will, because you are very sorry.

If I got a text from anyone who slighted me in the past that said something that vague and unfeeling, I’d probably smash my phone into a million pieces and then mail it to the sender with the note, “Eat a bag of armpit-farts, stink-mitt.”

It’s likely she doesn’t want to accept a sudden phone call from you, so send an email instead. If a text is the literal only way, then fine, do it that way, but whatever the method of contact, be prepared to not hear back from her. Sometimes the best way to forgive someone is to erase him or her entirely, and considering how much time has passed, she may have erased you long ago.

Apologize to her, forgive yourself even if she doesn’t, and learn your lesson.


I am a straight woman. Is it okay for me to use gay slang? I keep reading all these pieces online about the right way to use the term “shade” and it’s making me wonder if I’m even allowed to say these things at all. Like, is this cultural appropriation? I feel like it would be insane for me to affect a stereotypical accent of a group I don’t belong to, so is this sort of the same thing? (Also, I weirdly enjoy using these words. Is that bad? What do I do??)

— The Shade Of It All

First of all, in the example you cite, it doesn’t sound like you’re talking about gay slang, but rather, drag slang. I don’t know how you’re using these terms, but I know that whatever you’re saying becomes 10,000 percent more obnoxious if you don’t know what you’re talking about. They become offensive when you use them while affecting any variation on a limp wrist and lisping diction. So before you do anything else, do not do that.

If you’re going to say these things, you should at least know what they mean and where they come from. You are not allowed to talk about “throwing shade” if you have not watched Paris is Burning. You cannot talk about “walking children in nature” if you are not watching RuPaul’s Drag Race. You cannot talk about drag culture if you don’t know who Divine is. (I can hear it, somewhere in the ether, someone is just now Googling Divine and realizing, “Wait, Hairspray is from the ‘80s??” and an angel with a beat face has its wings clipped.)

Cultural appropriation is a slippery slope, sure. But if you must use the terms for whatever reason, learn their origins and their proper uses—particularly if you get called out for using them, which you might. (Do you know the difference between kiki and kaikai? Know the difference before you embarrass yourself.)

I can hear it, somewhere in the ether, someone is just now Googling Divine and realizing, “Wait, Hairspray is from the ‘80s??” and an angel with a beat face has its wings clipped.

Oh, and do not under any circumstances call anyone a “faggot.” I know there are plenty of queer people who use it, but my general rule is that there are some limits to free expression and that is one of them. I’m sure you can get away with calling someone “fishy” or finishing every sentence with a prolonged “yaaaaaaaaas” followed by two snaps, but you will not get away with everything.

Here’s a good rule of thumb: err closer to Latrice Royale’s wise and witty camp, and further from Laganja Estranja’s truly obnoxious guttural undulations. If I ever catch you hollering “OKURRRRRRRRRR,” I will beat you to death with one of Lady Bunny’s wigs.

It’s not “weird” that you like talking like this: queen culture is interesting and fun and campy and clever. There’s nothing particularly wrong with using some of their words in small doses, so long as you know what you’re saying and you aren’t overdoing it.

Just leave the heavy lifting to the professionals, hunty.


I am terrible at texting people back. Friends, family, professional acquaintances, doesn't matter—if I'm occupied when I receive a text message, I'll set it aside until later, and almost always forget about it. At first, I was trying to act out of an intentional politeness—to not interrupt the dinner/meeting/task at hand by pulling my phone out—but now it feels like I've gone too far in the other direction, to the point that probably 80 percent of my correspondence begins with me apologizing for my tardiness/forgetfulness/whatever.

The thing is, I don't actually feel bad. There are times when I'm at work when I have people trying to get in touch over Gchat, Facebook, Twitter, email, text—and, okay, I realize how obnoxious this sounds, "Oh, the horror, I have people in my life who want to talk to me," but still, it feels like a bombardment, like it's all part of the same wall of noise regardless of how varied the senders might be, and I want to treat all of these attempts to chat with the same sort of blanket dismissal. The friends I've come to cherish most are the ones that don't bother me during the day, and who don't get pissy when I don't respond immediately.

My question is, basically, how much of an asshole am I?
— Silent Mode

There is a long answer and a short answer to this, and because I like the sound of my own nails click-clacking at a keyboard, I will start with the long answer. (Click clack click clack.)

If you actually want to keep in touch with these friends, then you’re going to have to set time away to see and talk to them. My friends hate that I do this, but there is nothing I appreciate more than being able to plan a social outing two weeks in advance. It takes away the guilt I have over avoiding their tweets, Facebook PMs, emails, Jabbers, Slack notifications, texts, iMessages, Gchat notifications, and rocks hurtling through my windows. (I am very popular! I am more popular than you! Look at how popular!!!) So maybe every few days, take a second and catalog to whom you need to respond—if you want to see them—and then set aside time for a drink or a coffee. Making room to actually answer these requests to see your smug face might actually make the deluge of correspondences less unmanageable. You will see light at the end of this tunnel.

Human beings, unlike the short-beaked echidna, are not solitary creatures.

Being a grownup sometimes means saying goodbye to frivolous relationships; the older you get, the less willing you are to hang out with someone just for the sake of hanging out. That is fine. But at least try to see the few people who are important to you. It can also mean tolerating or at least being polite to people that you do not totally want to talk to. Tough break, cookie, but we all have to do it.

But, if you really don’t care, then who cares? Screw these people and huddle up inside your home and do not speak to anyone. You always have a choice, and the only time you might regret it is if you, at some point, need a shoulder to cry on or help from an old buddy or simple company because human beings, unlike the short-beaked echidna, are not solitary creatures.

As for the short answer, on a scale of 1 to 10, you’re about a five. (Click clack click clack.)

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A photograph of the writer.

SCAACHI KOUL was born and raised in Calgary, Alberta. Her writing has appeared in The New Yorker, BuzzFeed NewsThe HairpinThe Globe and Mail and Jezebel. She is the author of One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter.