Growing up, “faggot” was the one word I never wanted to be called. I could stand sissy, punk and even homo. But “faggot” felt like a scarlet letter I would never be able to remove once someone pinned it on me. As a black, still-figuring-it-out queer kid at a conservative Texas middle school, I quickly surmised this social truth: being a fag meant being a punchline and a punching bag. So I lowered my voice two decibels, made sure not to talk with my hands, and wore subdued, muted colors. My focus was on not being found out. Just make it through high school, I told myself, and then I could be my faggiest self and not worry about being whipped with the slur. But the work I put in to avoid being labeled a fag continued long after I came out of the closet, because I found that even gay men use the word as a verbal punch.