'A F*ggot's Guide to Etymology': Interview with Mikey May

by Matthew Magill

"I used the word liberally in order to scare away straight people"

Mikey May is an accomplished slam poet who has now released their poetry zine A Faggot’s Guide to Etymology.


From effete to queer, Mikey goes on a journey through history to reimagine slurs that every member of the LGBTQ+ community has sadly heard at least once in their time. In regard to this, he explains that the title of the work refers to “anyone who feels a connection to the words explored within. This connection may be one of pride, shame, rage, reclamation, rejection…”. After helping Mikey with the edits to his work, we celebrated with a few questions on what brought him to this radical project.


What inspired you to write poetry about quite a niche topic as the etymology of queer slurs?


Well firstly, I love etymology – it’s a love that I share with my partner and we’re always keen to tell each other the new word histories that we’ve learned.


I was first inspired to write the poem effete upon learning that it means ‘worn out from childbirth’.


As both a queer man and a trans man it struck me as an eye-opening example of how we ascribe attributes such as femininity, weakness, and infertility to the class I’ve referred to as ‘faggots’ throughout the zine – those considered deviant from sexual and gendered norms. From there I kept thinking of more words with similar connotations and wondering where they came from and how they came to refer to faggots.


What goal or endpoint do you see when trying to reclaim slurs, if any?


I think the goal of reclaiming slurs has always been to defang them to some extent, but also to turn their bite against the people who wield them – and against those whose queer/transphobia is more covert.


I joke in the introduction to the zine that I used the word ‘faggot’ liberally within it in order to “scare away straight people”. I actually hope that cisgender, heterosexual readers can get a lot out of this zine, but they’ll have to be open to the deliberate discomforting of sexual and gendered power structures which is inherent to the reclamation of these words.


How has this been in comparison with other projects?


Most of my previous poetry experience has been in the realm of performance poetry, and while I’ve looked at the politics and history of language in my work before, I’d never come at it from such a purely etymological angle.


It was fun to be able to combine my nerdy fascination with word history together with page poetry to create something new.

Mikey May

Now that the zine has launched, do you have any plans for another in the future?


Absolutely! I’ve been in the process of writing a zine with some friends based off Taylor Swift’s latest album, Folklore, and that should hopefully be finished and put out into the world soon.


I also have some plans in the works for other linguistics-themed poetry zines.


What is your favourite thing that you have learned from researching this topic?


My favourite thing I’ve learned was definitely reading the autobiographies of George Henry, Jan Gay and Alfred Gross when researching the poem gay.


They were all such fascinating people living through a pivotal moment in the representation of LGBTQ+ people in medical and sociological research. Going forwards, I’m very interested to research the ways in which queer men and other LGBTQ+ people use ‘she’ to refer to people (usually those who don’t primarily identify with that pronoun) and even to inanimate objects. Watching the Boys in The Band remake made me realise just how long that phenomenon has been around for.


Name your price for a copy of Mikey’s work here

Matthew Magill is the poetry editor of the Radical Art Review


The Radical Art Review is a non-profit cooperative platform fuelled purely by people power for those who think art holds the potential for social transformation. We publish the thoughts, philosophies, and stories of all who dare to dissent. We seek to inform, to empower, and to dream collectively of a better tomorrow.

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  © The Radical Art Review 2020