Monday, December 27, 2010

Smear the Queer: When Tradition Needs to be Changed

Why are some elementary school administrators in Utah upset about a backyard sign facing the school playground that reads, “Stop Gay Suicide. Tell the Truth. Gays are Born Gay?" They believe the sign is “adult content” for one thing. They associate the word “gay” with sex (but not the words “Mommy” and “Daddy”). Some parents and school officials believe that bringing up anti-gay name-calling and bullying is just part of the “Homosexual Agenda” to turn all kids gay. Others believe that the word “suicide” is inappropriate for elementary school students to know about. Never mind that children, some in elementary school, do commit suicide because they are targeted by anti-gay bullying.

Some folks in this Utah community are also upset that Mr. Ridley, the guy with the backyard signs, also wants the school to stop allowing children on the playground to play Smear the Queer. In other words, it’s ok to for children to play Smear the Queer, but not ok for them to see the words “gay” and “suicide” while they play Smear the Queer. Apparently school officials are not even concerning themselves with his complaint about Smear the Queer.

Remember Smear the Queer from your childhood? I remember playing it in my backyard with all the neighborhood guys only we called it Maul the Man with Ball. I don’t know why we were so enlightened, but it was the same game. In case you missed it, the gist of the game is that one child has the ball, often a football, and everyone else chases him down (it’s most often played by boys) and everyone piles on top of the queer. He can toss the ball to someone else and the mob turns on that queer and so on. There are variations. One used in some physical education classes is that, instead of chasing and piling on the queer, everyone else has balls which they throw at the queer with the football, kind of like stoning.

What do you suppose is the disconnect between being upset about school children seeing the words “gay” and “suicide,” but not having a problem with them playing Smear the Queer during PE class or recess? Some people believe that children do not understand the negative association between “queer” and gay people. Other people believe that, because Smear the Queer has a long tradition as a harmless childhood game, it is political correctness run amok to banish it from schools.

Because a children’s playground game has a long tradition, does that make it harmless? Do young children understand the meaning of “queer” when it is used as a putdown for gay and lesbian people? Even if school officials decide that the game is not associated with anti-gay sentiment, what about the educational value of the game? It makes you wonder why some PE teachers can’t think of better, more educational games to play. It also makes you wonder who is supervising the playground during recess when Smear the Queer is being played.

I admit that when I was in elementary school (and junior high too) I loved violent dodgeball and chase games like Maul the Man with the Ball or something our PE teacher called Artillery Ball or Bombardment where the objective was to hit as many of your classmates on the other team with a volleyball as you could before they ran to the safety of the “home base” on the opposite gym wall. The game was wild, chaotic and fast. If you were a good dodger, thrower and physically aggressive, the game was fun. If you weren’t, not so much and too bad for you. Your only hope was to either intentionally get hit early and therefore eliminated from the game or to hide behind the bleachers until class was over. Kids in my class did both. I’m betting they still hate PE class and, listen up Phys Ed teachers, are not inclined to support daily physical education for their children.

So, to my way of thinking, there are two strikes against Smear the Queer. One, it is not a game that is educationally justified either in a PE class or on the school playground. Two, the symbolism and underlying text of the name, Smear the Queer, is chilling in the context of anti-gay bullying in schools and suicide among young people because of anti-gay bullying. Elementary school children today DO know what “queer” means. They hear anti-gay epithets every day and, when teachers or coaches let it go or allow games called Smear the Queer, children learn that it’s ok. Go ahead, Smear the Queer.

Another thing, can you imagine school administrators allowing children to play games with equally offensive names like, “Get the Het” or “Trigger the N-----“ or “Bop the Wop” or “Stew the Jew”? Why is Smear the Queer ok? I say it’s time for the third strike against Smear the Queer. Let’s get it out of the schools altogether along with anti-gay bullying and name-calling.


Zackery said...

Pretty effective piece of writing, much thanks for your article.
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Anonymous said...

Smear the queer has nothing to do with gay people. In fact, Im sure they would never play such a game. So, leave well enough alone and let kids be kids and have fun. Although Im sure if you had it your way, you'd ban P.E. and fun altogether said...

I think that they deserve a little respect at least and they to reach an good agreement.

Website Optimization said...

Great post!

Jeez said...

Are you aware that "queer" has multiple meanings?
In this case, it obviously means "a person who is different from the group". Or, are you claiming the game is played by children who attempt to tackle one child who pretends to be gay, and then the tackler switches roles with the previous "queer" and pretends to be gay himself? Or are you just trying to ban the word "queer" altogether, even when not used to reference homosexuality?
You're actually doing damage to the LBGT community by trying to apply a homophobic slur to a harmless children's game.

Zendruid D. said...

Actually, this is precisely the point. "Queer" was originally used as an epithet against gay people who were considered, "strange", "odd", and "different" than so called "normal" heterosexual people. It's easier to discriminate and abuse someone less-than-human, so to dehumanize them and call them "queer" creates a dehumanizing atmosphere where abuse is more palatable and encouraged.

To continue this along to the game, the point of the game is to separate out someone who's different (the ball carrier) and for everyone else to gang up and physically assault them.

Growing up in my neighborhood, this was not a game, it was a method of attack. Once the "queer" was "smeared", suddenly nobody wanted to play anymore. The victim was never allowed to retaliate.

Also you're hosting a straw man argument. Ask any elementary or middle school aged kid what the definition of "queer" is and you'll get the epithet. The word is not used otherwise in modern society, so the original use is all but lost.

Try telling a black person (who's probably kicking your ass at the time) that the word "nigger" originally meant "slow, awkward, or stupid" and originally had nothing to do with a person's skin color.

Language and words, especially their meanings and uses, most definitely change and evolve. If you feel you must persist in your argument, first read Chaucer and get back to me how the English language is static.

Anonymous said...

The game isn't the problem, people. You can change the name to appease the PC crowd, so they can go on to the next thing they want to cry about. But the game: nobody gets smeared unless they pick up the ball. It's a voluntary action. It's a fun game. Find something else to destroy to make yourself feel good about having done something you consider constructive.

Try to keep some perspective before you completely take all the fun out of being a kid.

Chuck Junk said...

When we played, I didn't have any idea what "queer" meant, but the guy who got "smeared" was generally one of the bigger, bolder, more athletic kids--it was a point of pride to run and hold onto that ball and not toss it away until one was literally forced to the ground. We all wanted to be the queer. It's a shame that the name of the game has gained negative connotations--but maybe, instead of vilifying a mostly innocent childhood activity, the game could be part of an effort to scrub the pejorative context of the word and reclaim it. Frankly, in this age of coddled children, I'm just surprised folks aren't outraged that kids still play contact sports outside the strict supervision of self-important volunteer parent coaches in highly organized weekend leagues.

Anonymous said...

This contridicts itself every other sentance...

mike s said...

When I was a boy I loved playing this game: Smear the Queer.

I knew I was gay and liked boys since I was in the 3rd or 4th grade. I was also aware of the varied meanings of the word queer but was not certain exactly which meaning was intended in the name of the game. I somewhat leaned towards queer meaning "different" or "unusual" and therefore distantly might mean "gay".

Smear the Queer. The chance to have 6 to 15 boys trying to "get me" was something I found interesting.

Then I found out my older brothers friends all played basically the same game called Tag the Fag. Oh my. I was all about that game. No uncertainty there. Tag the Fag. I'm the Fag, now Tag me. Tag me good and hard too because I'm a little quirt compared to you high school kids and oh how terrible it would look if an 11th grader couldn't tackle a 6th grader!

I understood the system. I worked it.

Fortunately my life is full of stories like this where somehow "victimization" or discrimination or hate or just bad stuff did not "happen to me" in situations or circumstances where I hear much about other gays being a victim. I didn't need those boys to approve of me and I couldn't care less then or now if they do or did.

Not really a big point to press here, just a little lol at my own experience with this topic.

Chris Bennett said...

What I find amusing is they write out every slang term but the N-word so if they are all supposedly equally offensive shouldn't they have censored them all?

stacy4422 said...

none of this has anything to do with gay people at all,this is really just about destroying American tradition however we can destroy it it must be destroyed we have t do this from within we have to get rid of this country's tradition totally strip it so that nothing means nothing to anyone in this country then only then can we take over and make this a great communist country. White people's tradition like Christmas and Thanksgiving and all that must be destroyed at any cost. The Norman Rockwell must be destroyed so we can all live a communist life. All white people should be moved off this planet the terrible terrible white people does not matter what your opinion is if you're awake you should all just kill yourself. Is that what you mean? I think so

stacy4422 said...

Oh by the way white people that hate white people make me sick

stacy4422 said...

And in Africa they play this game its called smear the white guy and you never see white people complain about it at all

Anonymous said...

Leave kids alone. I'd read the riot act to somebody if I saw them trying to "correct" a kid playing smear the queer, I don't care if they did know what queer met and were calling each other every name in the book. They are freaking kids, let them have at least a few years of freedom before you start trying to control their every thought and force your will on them.

Michael B said...

I grew up in the 70's and Smear The Queer was the term for backyard football kids play - nobody really knew or cared - about any meanings - so to its hard to believe a school would have this game - strange didn't have it back then at school - we played all traditional games- a school using this term in today's age is stupid and I hate the word stupid.. but it makes no sense on the other hand simpler times - and nobody really got hurt or offended - now though oh boy - little johnny will be the next term we quit using.... you can't say little Johnny it's demeaning ... just saying