Tuesday, January 29, 2008


I must have been in seventh grade when I first heard the term "bastard." I didn't know, exactly, what it meant. But one of my classmates used it to refer to our teacher, who was a nun. (Catholic schools are a font of interesting information.)

I guess I hadn't really understood that it was a swear word. I say that because I repeated the comment about my teacher in front of my mother. I would never have knowingly sworn in front of her. She was, as I recall, horrified.

She must have realized I didn't know what I had said because she didn't punish me. She did, however, chastise me. She asked me if I knew what I had just said. I told her that it was something another kid at school had said. She asked if I knew what it meant. I told her I didn't. Briefly, she explained that it meant someone had been conceived outside of marriage.

That was the end of the conversation. Properly chastised, I didn't use the word again for many years, and certainly not in front of my mother.

But it also didn't take me long to figure it out. Someone conceived outside of marriage. And I knew it meant someone who wasn't a nice person. I didn't know much about my origins, but I had figured out that that probably meant me. I was a bastard.

Years later (and yet, years ago) I began using the term proudly and defiantly. I was an honest to god bastard, not simply someone who was a jerk to others. Long before I found out about Bastard Nation and their important work, I had begun reclaiming "bastard" from those who use it as an insult.

But today, for the first time, when a fellow bastard properly referred to me as a bastard (in the sense of reclaiming the word), I remembered this story in full for the first time in a while. And I can't help but wonder, what did I internalize back in seventh grade, when I linked myself to the insult? I can't be sure. But it triggered quite a memory.

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