Twitter rants are nothing new, but the now-infamous anti-gay rant by Azealia Banks, in which she called gay blogger Perez Hilton a "messy faggot" and suggested that he commit suicide, is a new low. Banks also included her personal definition of the word "faggot": "any male who acts like a female." Reactions to Bank's bigoted rant soon began to flood popular gay blogs like Towleroad and JoeMyGod. Jake Shears of the Scissor Sisters, who had collaborated with Banks in the past, sent out several tweets condemning Banks' use of the derogatory anti-gay slur. GLAAD (The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) wasted no time in posting a statement voicing its displeasure, saying:
Our society knows that "fa**ot" is a derogatory word for gay men, and in this case it was used to attack someone in a very public altercation with hundreds of thousands of fans and young people following.
It is an ugly, archaic word that was used to stigmatize a population of people who suffer high rates of violence both here in the U.S. and abroad. As far as we've come in this society, seeing it used by an artist many young people may look up to is painful, but even more so for those young fans, many of whom GLAAD has heard from.
Surprisingly, one of Azealia Banks' few defenders is someone who is literally a male who acts like a female. DiDa Ritz (Zavier Hairston) is a professional drag queen and alumnus of RuPaul's Drag Race Season 4. DiDa posted several tweets in which he defended Banks' use of the slur and stated that he doesn't have a problem with gay men being called "faggot." DiDa also suggested that gay kids who face discrimination and abuse should just ignore it and grow a "thick skin." In some ways I was more stunned by DiDa's callous reaction than I was by the original bigoted rant by Azealia Banks. We live in a time when anti-gay abuse and bullying is so pervasive that gay kids are committing suicide, and one need only remember the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard to know that it does not matter how "thick" your skin is. I wanted to give DiDa a chance to fully explain his views, and he agreed to be interviewed.
Anderson: In light of the many recent, tragic suicides among gay youth and the horrific hate crimes against and murders of LGBT youth in America, could you further explain your view that gay kids should ignore anti-gay abuse and just grow a "thick skin"? And how do you think that approach would help those who are potential victims of abuse or those who were lucky enough to survive a brutal, violent anti-gay attack?
Ritz: When I was in school, I had to deal with verbal and sometimes physical attacks for 12 years, until I was done with grade school. I guess for every kid it might be different. At a young age my parents always taught and told me to ignore people who try to make me feel less than human. I've always flown above haters, anyone who feels the need to bully those that are weak/different/etc. from them. I'm not saying that I'm better than anyone, but I just have always lived by this motto: "It's not what they call you. It's what you answer to." That's what I've always told any youth I meet, especially my DiDDles/fans. Growing thick skin is part of the gay culture, in my opinion. I think that's what makes us different, fierce and stronger than the rest. If I'm walking down the street and someone screams "fag!" out of a moving car, I'm not going to chase the car and get mad, because that's not my name.
Anderson: What are your thoughts on the suicides of young gay kids who could no longer bear the anti-gay abuse they faced? Should they have just kept ignoring the verbal abuse? Are they to blame for not having a "thick skin"? What about when the verbal abuse leads to violence?
Ritz: Being gay is very hard today. When I was in school, we didn't have social media and other things to help vent. I would say to those that don't have but want thick skin: If you can't talk to your parents or guardians, find someone at your school or even a friend that you can talk to. No one -- I repeat, no one -- is worth you taking your life because they don't like the way you are. I've always said it starts with the parents and the teachers, and I think a lot of times some teachers and schools don't know how to handle these situations. Maybe each school just needs a counselor who really understands the anti-gay topic. I mean, more kids are coming out at a younger and younger age, and if we don't get help for them now, then we will have a problem.
Anderson: One of the most shocking statements in the rant by Banks was her suggestion that Perez Hilton was a "messy faggot" and that he should commit suicide "for real." You do not also condone the promotion of gay suicide?
Ritz: No, I don't condone suicide, but let's be honest: We all know the type of person Perez is. He'd rather walk into a room and stir the pot than try to keep the peace and mind his own business. And in our community, we call that being messy, and he knows that. When you have a job like that, you have to be prepared to be called everything. I'm sure this is not his first time being a called messy or a fag. It's funny, because I watch Family Guy, American Dad and all those shows, and they get just as offensive as some of those comments Banks made, but people still tune in Sunday to watch, right?
Anderson: Historically, drag queens have a very proud heritage. Transgender activists and drag queens like Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera and Stormé DeLarverie are credited as being the first people to bravely fight back against the police when they raided the Stonewall Inn on the night of June 27, 1969. Their courage helped spark a riot and gave birth to the modern LGBT rights movement. What do you think those legendary drag performers, whose courage paved the way for our freedoms, would think of your attitude of tolerating anti-gay abuse?
Ritz: Times were different back then, and because of those women, I think that's why it never bothers me, because nowadays people only act like that to get a rise out of you. And I'm sure if I was kickin' with Marsha, Sylvia or even Sylvester, they would go on with their lives and not let words hurt them. They sure didn't back then.
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I want to thank DiDa for his candid answers. I still find his views to be somewhat disturbing and, frankly, disappointing, but I am a mostly white gay male in my mid-40s, whereas DiDa is an African-American gay male in his mid-20s. My youth was spent in the dark, deeply homophobic days of the early AIDS epidemic in the late 1980s, and it saddens me that the the lessons we learned from the battles we fought seem to be lost on the younger generation. Perhaps the disconnect is simply generational? Or perhaps it's a grey area and DiDa and I just have very different coping strategies when it comes to dealing with bigotry and abusive hate speech. If nothing else, when I first read DiDa's tweets about the need to grow a "thick skin," I thought he was being callous and coldhearted toward young gay kids, who don't always have the coping skills or the family support to deal with anti-gay abuse. I still disagree with him, but I no longer think DiDa was being intentionally cruel, and I thank him for taking the time to be interviewed.