Book review: When white guys read about white guys 

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The White Guy: A Field Guide

By Stephen Hunt

Douglas and McIntyre

204 pages


Life was strange in Toronto. A freelance writer with inconsistent success, I was forever earning extra money with odd jobs like walking dogs, deceiving people in call centres and handing out flyers at fetish masquerades.

The latter was quite the gig. It saw me standing on the lame side of a velvet rope at 5ive Nightclub, watching a parade of sexually liberated people decked out in the height of vinyl regalia as they did salacious and subversive things, like whip each other with riding crops, lead their partners around at the end of dog leashes and allow 60 years of accumulated lard to hang over nothing more than a leather thong. I stood there in jeans, a hoodie and a baseball hat, looking for all the world like a man utterly afraid of what his penis might rather he be wearing.

In part because of this job, I one night found myself drinking with some lesbians that didn’t trust me on account of my heterosexuality and inescapable whiteness. I had just finished saying the word “cunt,” which, to me, has lost almost all gender-connotation, probably because of its widespread use in Trainspotting and certainly because of the way I’ve employed it ever since . I was about to say the word “fag,” which, to me, has never had much to do with sexual preference, probably because it was used in my schoolyard as a substitute for “moron” and certainly because I’ve used it that way ever since.

And then it all came out.

“You can’t say those words,” said one mortified girl. “Not ever. You are a straight, white male. Your time is gone.”

“But what about slur-mitigation?” I argued. “The more people say ‘cunt’ without a gender implication, the less it has traction with misogynists, no?”

“You don’t say ‘nigger’, do you?”

I fell silent. “Nigger” wasn’t in my standing army of general insults. Nor could I command it to the frontlines, even to help fulfill the admittedly shaky agenda I just finished explaining. Just the same, there was something contrary at work here.

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