Appropriation and the 'Gay She'

Once again Advocate.com is practicing the politics of the professionally outraged. In its desire to promote the issues of those generally marginalized by gay pop culture, the website continues to identify all gay men as oppressors and use us as convenient targets, rather than focusing on issues of actual substance. While gay men, especially white gay men, need to continue to educate themselves on trans issues and the experiences of people of color in our community, it is divisive and unhelpful to pretend that all gay men bear the same burden of guilt as bourgeois conservative gays. In reposting articles like this one on their Facebook page -- reposted on April 5th -- the site promotes half-truths that participate in a growing trend to alienate gay men from the political movement of the LGBT community. (Note this recent piece on LGBT student groups from another media outlet.)

Just to be clear about one particular point from the reposted article from Advocate.com, gay men referring to each other with female pronouns is not a new phenomenon. While some slang may have been appropriated from urban black and Latino gay men, particularly from Ball culture, using female pronouns and names as terms of solidarity or affection has a long history. This history can be found in books like Rictor Norton's Mother Clap's Molly House: The Gay Subculture in England 1700-1830, Alan Bray's classic Homosexuality in Renaissance England, or in the article by D. S. Neff entitled "Bitches, Mollies, and Tommies: Byron, Masculinity, and the History of Sexualities" from the Journal of the History of Sexuality (July, 2002).

In fact, referring to each other in these terms served various purposes over the long history of gay culture. It wasn't only a sign of solidarity and affection among a highly marginalized group. It also wasn't a way for gay men to pretend to be women or mock experiences of womanhood. In the case of Mother Clap's brothel and the gay subculture of early-modern London, it was a way to protect their identities in one of the few safe spaces for gay men to congregate and socialize.

While some groups of gay men deserve criticism over their views of trans identity or the racism they happily promote and encourage, gay men in general are only a target of convenience for parts of our community happy to use conservative and neoliberal political tactics in order to promote their cause. I am only addressing this one particular statement in the repost by Advocate.com, but it is characteristic of a larger trend toward borderline homophobia in some gay media outlets. White gay men have definitely appropriated aspects of black and Latin culture, both gay and straight. However, the use of the "gay she" is not one of them, and continuing to promote that idea is a divisive political tactic, the tactics of social conservatism.