“Fag,” “Stalker,” “Sicko,” “Brute,” “Creep”: On Labeling and the Psychic Effects of Public Revilement in and out of Court

Posted on January 23, 2014


One of my favorite puzzles when I was a boy directed the solver to figure out what was different between almost identical pictures. I think it appeared in Highlights for Children. I have a collection of Highlights someplace, because I meant to write for kids and used to study and practice children’s writing daily, but I haven’t looked at them in years.

I’m reminded of this, because, as you might have discerned, one among the epithets in this post’s title is distinct from the others: fag.

When I was growing up, I knew a very simple boy who was singled out at an early age—nine or thereabouts—and routinely ridiculed by the “cool” boys at school. Some girls occasionally joined in, too, albeit half-heartedly, to curry favor with boys they wanted to like them. “Fag!” or “Faggot!” was a favored insult among schoolboys. No other had anything close to its heft as a term of contempt to pierce a man-child to the bone.

The boy I’m recalling happened to be Polish, and Polack was a competing term of derision that might have conveniently been used to hurt him. It didn’t rouse nearly as much pack frenzy, though. His name started with F, besides, so its pairing with fag was poetic kismet. “Fag!” followed this boy from grade to grade like a toxic echo. It was how he was greeted, and he would sometimes mince, affect limp wrists, and swipe at the other boys, because it amused them and won him attention and the closest thing to membership he could hope for.

The boy wasn’t gay; he was just easy meat to sate the bloodlust of cruel kids.

The last time I saw him was when I was a young adult. He was panhandling outside of a drugstore for diaper money. He’d apparently gotten a girl pregnant right out of high school to prove his virility. The abuses to which he’d been relentlessly subjected determined the arc of his life.

I relate this story in the context of restraining order abuse to highlight the grave effects of public humiliation and revilement. Labeling of this sort isn’t just tormenting and alienating but destructive. It corrupts the mind, silently and sinuously. It confounds ambitions, erodes trust, and hobbles lives.

Victims of false allegations made on restraining orders may be labeled “stalker,” “batterer,” “sicko,” “sexual harasser,” “child-abuser,” “whore,” or even “rapist”—publicly and permanently—by accusers whose sole motive is to brutalize. And agents of these victims’ own government(s) arbitrarily authorize this bullying and may baselessly and basely participate in it, compounding the injury exponentially.

I’ve been contacted by people who’ve either been explicitly or implicitly branded with one or several of these labels. Falsely and maliciously. I’ve been branded with more than one myself, and these epithets have been repeatedly used with and among people I don’t even know. For many years. Even at one of my former places of work. And there’s f* all I can do about it, legally.

Labels like these, even when perceived as false by judges, aren’t scrupulously scrubbed away. Resisting them, furthermore, simply invites the application of more of the same. Judges’ turning a blind eye to them, what’s more than that, authorizes their continuously being used with impunity, as the boys in the story I shared used the word fag. Victims of false allegations report being in therapy, being on meds for psychological disturbances like depression and insomnia, leaving or losing jobs—sometimes serially—and entertaining homicidal thoughts and even acting on suicidal ones.

No standard of proof is applied to labels scribbled or check-marked on restraining orders, which to malicious accusers are the documentary equivalents of toilet stalls begging for graffiti.

That the courts may only enable bullying, taunting, and humiliation is no defense, nor is “policy.” Adding muscle to malice is hardly blameless. Anyone occupying a position of public trust who abets this kind of brutality, actively or passively, knowingly or carelessly, should be removed, whether a judge, a police officer, or other government official, agent, or employee.

This hateful misconduct is bad enough when it originates on the playground.

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