Fairytale or a nightmare to walk in another’s shoes
I am not a “faggot”. I have no earthly idea what it is like to be a gay, bi or trans man or woman in this world. I have no idea what it must have been like to knock on doors before the marriage equality referendum and asking strangers to please allow me to marry my love.
I also have no idea what it must have been like to live in a country, supposedly my home, where I was not just wrong, but deemed to have done something illegal simply because of who I loved.
But I do know something, I absolutely and utterly love hearing Kirsty McColl’s raspy, but melodic voice, announcing that it’s Christmas to me, with the words: “The boys of the NYPD choir were singing ‘Galway Bay’ and the bells were ringing out for Christmas Day.”
I have never once considered the use of the term “faggot” in Fairytale of New York, until this week. My lack of consideration is what people mean when they say “privilege.” I move through the world as a straight white woman — personally protected from things such as homophobia and racism.
So when I heard the furore this week about censoring out the term “faggot” from this beloved Christmas song, I was not too exercised. My lack of excitement is because I have little interest in engaging in social media wars that will bring about little change.
So much of our debate today centres around privileged people being offended by marginalised people’s offence.
This week there was more outrage from those who were offended by gay people taking offence to the term “faggot”. This sense of fragility and discomfort manifests in accusations of “political correctness gone mad”.
But moving away from that particular boxing ring, it can be useful to see how actual gay people feel about it all.
Colm O’Gorman, executive director of Amnesty International Ireland, while acknowledging that he did not “love the gusto” with which people sing out the word “faggot”, ultimately agreed with Shane McGowan’s position.
“Not all characters in songs and stories are angels or even decent and respectable, sometimes characters in songs and stories have to be evil or nasty in order to tell the story effectively,” the singer-songwriter said.
Comic Oliver Callan also commented on the matter, saying: “I don’t think anyone in the history of unkindness has ever used the song as an inspiration to be homophobic.”
Meanwhile, theatre director Oonagh Murphy gave her experience of hearing the word shouted and sung in bars at this time of year.
“Yep, just another queer person here to tell you that when you gleefully shout ‘faggot’ even if it is one of our favourite Christmas songs, it feels oppressive. Thanks for listening and caring,” she said.
And while this national conversation might be harmless titalation to some, and upsetting to others, for one man it means dollars in the bank account. Fairytale of New York is estimated, by the Performing Rights Society in Britain, to earn €462,139 in royalties annually.
Regardless, it is often useful to walk around in someone else’s shoes for a while to understand their experience.
Stills from the video for ‘Fairytale of New York’, featuring Shane MacGowan and Kirsty MacColl.