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January 2018, vol 13 no 4

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Scott Wiggerman

People Like Us

He wasn’t my grandmother’s first husband or my mother’s father, but we called him Papa. It wasn’t his use of the word nigger that was out of the ordinary in 1950s Chicago. Even his other slurs were not uncommon, but he was crass enough to use them even on the way to Sunday mass or a Knights of Columbus gathering.

Blackie –
both his Old-World cousin
and his dalmation

Papa was an equal opportunity bigot. Watching Liberace and Gorgeous George on a black-and-white television with him, I heard terms like fruitcake, pansy, faggot, and limp-wristed swish, always pronounced with a lisp and a flick of the wrist. Though I was too young to know about sex, these words made my stomach tighten. I identified with them even then, long before my teens, when such terms were directed my way, and even longer before I reclaimed the word queer.

stained wife-beater
stretched across the belly
his myopia