PARIS In a country like Colombia, which has somehow taught itself to use the word gonorrhea as a term of endearment, it is not surprising that the word marica (or faggot) has also indelibly established itself into our everyday jargon. Except for its obvious use as an insult or when reappropriated by the LGBT community, the word seems to mold itself to any situation. "Quiubo marica!" we yell to greet our friends. "Que maricada," we say when we make a mistake. "Usted si es mucho marica," we tell each other when we are doing something stupid.

It's so ingrained into our society that at times one could almost say the word has been utterly extracted from its ignominious past. But don't be fooled.

Personally, I loathe the word and find it offensive. So last week, when I saw that the hashtag #FuriaMarica (FaggotFury) had gone viral on Twitter, both my stomach and my mind started turning. The backstory of what had happened will shed light on more than just words.

It all began on April 14 in the capital of Bogotá. A man named Pedro Costa approached a young gay couple near a children's play area inside Andino, a shopping center, and began to push and threaten them, yelling obscenities.

"It disgusts me!" Costa furiously screamed at the victims, Sebastián and Esteban, on a video posted on Twitter. "An animal like you, watching kids while you and your "girlfriend" touch each other...you are a pedophile and this we won't allow!" Later in the video, Costa's wife also chimed in, calling the couple pedophiles. "That my son may be gay, cool, but a pedophile like you, never!"

Video recording of the incident at Andino — El Espectador

The couple said they were simply hugging and kissing and were not doing anything that a heterosexual couple would not do in a public space. In the video, you can see bystanders coming to the couple's defense. But then the story turned uglier when the police arrived and instead of protecting Sebastián and Esteban (they were, in fact, the ones who'd called the police), issued them a subpoena for exhibitionism and indecent exposure. They were fined nearly 2.5 million pesos ($800), which they are contesting.

The next day, El Tiempo daily published a video from the mall's security cameras on their website, which Costa claims were tampered with in order to hide the moment the gay couple was apparently not kissing, but touching each other explicitly. As it was rapidly turning into a national drama, Pedro Santos, LGBT activist and son of former Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos, launched the viral "Besatón" or "Kiss-a-Thon" with the hashtag #FuriaMarica to take place on Easter Wednesday outside the shopping mall, reposting on Twitter a phrase by cartoonist X-Tian: "Let's all kiss! On the streets! Man with man, woman with woman, woman with man, in the same manner and in every direction!"

In an interview with RCN Radio, Santos said the only thing he wanted to show is that a kiss is never an act of violence and that it should never be a reason to discriminate. The night of the event, more than 300 people, including Sebastián and Esteban, gathered outside the shopping center for the #FuriaMarica "Kiss-a-Thon."

Pedro Santos' original tweet calling for a "Besatón" (Kiss-a-Thon) — Photo: Pedro Santos via Twitter

This is just the latest chapter of the LGBT civil rights movement in Colombia that reveals many of the contradictions of this nation of 49 million people. In 1977, we had the first LGBT publication "El Otro" and our first pride parade in 1982. Fast forward to 2016 when Colombia legalized same-sex marriage, and a year later, when it recognized the union between three men, the first time in the world. However, much of Colombia is still deeply attached to its Catholic traditions, which often brings awful sexist and homophobic tendencies. In a way, everything about the incident at Andino is shocking, yet not surprising at all.

And, for me, it all comes back to the paradoxes of that word.

Marica. Furia Marica. Faggot. Faggot Fury. With our pain and anger, we need to reappropriate these terms that the world has always pointed at us like bayonets. Right? If we, as the LGBT community, do not take charge of the terms that have been used to define us, we are doing a disservice to ourselves and to those before us who have fought for the rights we enjoy today. But, reappropriating something that brings so much pain is not so simple. It's worth first digging into the roots.

Since the Middle Ages, the word marica was utilized in Spain as the diminutive form of the name Maria, and somewhat also in Greece and Hungary, though spelled as Marika. By the 16th and 17th centuries, the word signified a puppet doll, faintly alluding to later definitions that referenced a person that was "easy to manipulate." As such, by the 1730s, when the Royal Spanish Academy published its dictionary Autoridades, the word was described as such:

"Name given to an effeminate man of little courage that lets himself become subordinate and handled, even by those who are inferior to him."

During the early 1800s, the word for ladybug, or mariquita, also became directly linked to the meaning, and to this day, is used both to describe the insect and as a diminutive form of the word marica.

According to Francisco Molina Díaz in a paper titled Homosexuality in the Real Academia Española. An Analysis of Its Treatment in the Academic Lexicography, after the 1880s and in editions in the late 20th century, more derogatory definitions and adjectives were added into the word marica, such as "sodomite," and "despised or undesirable person."

Not much has changed since the 1700s. The mean-spirited significance of the word is the same as it was back then, which says plenty about our society today. The way in which the word has entered the Colombian lexicon as something very much disassociated from its intended meaning, yet so tightly associated with it at the same time, is the work of the heterosexual — and still too often homophobic — society in Colombia. It is a direct lack of care for the term and the truth is that, when it comes to the final say on what this word is, what it should mean and when and how it should be used, it is never up to the LGBT community to decide.

What do you want me to say, that I use it? Yes I do.

Not every LGBT person from Colombia is a supporter of the Kiss-a-Thon or the way in which the campaign reappropriated the word marica. I spoke by phone with Juan, a Colombian living in Chile, who said that the Kiss-a-Thon was simply a political strategy by Pedro Santos to hurt the LGBT community.

"The word marica is just a word. What do you want me to say, that I use it? Yes, I do. Do you use it? Sure. We all use it within the LGBT community. All the time. The problem here is not words... ‘#FuriaMarica'. As if they could somehow give the word its adequate place, but they have in fact disfigured the word. They've turned the word and all of us into a cartoon."

But for supporters like Mauricio Albarracín, lawyer and LGBT activist in Colombia who attended the Kiss-a-Thon, it's important to recuperate the word marica and rid it from all hate. Writing to me via Twitter, he said the word marica is normally used between friends in a colloquial fashion, but when it is used as an insult against LGBT people, the word maricón is more common.

"Insults must be unveiled, analyzed, inverted, appropriated, left without the power to hurt," he says. "I don't know how exactly... It's good to reflect on the question of insults."

In today's Colombia, one sees the same heterosexual people who turn to each other and say "What's up marica?" also go on Facebook and use this word to insult the LGBT community. Thankfully, in 2017, the country's constitutional court ruled that calling an LGBT person marica is considered discrimination. It is good to have another legal tool on paper to protect ourselves, but we will have to look for real change in conversations at the local shopping mall — and on Facebook.


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