The negative reaction that Noah Michelson's recent feature on the "27 Gayest Christmas Songs" received has got me thinking a lot about who gets to call whom (and what) 'gay' and why. As I was thinking about this today, a George Lopez tweet reminded me that he continues to use 'más puto' (more gay) or its abbreviated form 'maspoot' with -- it seems -- little criticism (at least as compared to the public figures who have publicly used the "f-word").
As Michelson articulated in his response to the criticism his light-hearted look at seasonal songs received ("Hey, Queers, Lighten Up!"):
In the right hands (and mouths) "gay" isn't an epithet, and dubbing something "the gayest" is a celebratory distinction, for me at least. I see it as a way of looking at the straight world -- a world that we have not been welcome in or have forcibly been removed or erased from -- and saying, "This is ours."
When is 'gay' (or 'puto') an epithet and how can you tell?
"That's so gay" -- a seemingly ubiquitous phrase -- has been the target of a good deal of criticism recently because of the phrase's pejorative meaning and its relationship with bullying and the hostile environment facing LGBTQ youth, which finally reached the level of public consciousness in 2010. We have seen over the last few years the development of Public Service Announcements discouraging its use. (Here is one example with Wanda Sykes, another with Grant Hill and a third one I like.) We all accept that "that's so gay" is not a celebratory distinction when used this way, to mean that things are ridiculous or pathetic or silly.
At the same time, however, there is 'Maspoot', a word that has become somewhat of a catchphrase for comedian George Lopez . Maspoot is an abbreviation of 'más puto' or 'more gay'. As with 'gay', those who use the term often contend that it has nothing to do with gay people, but it just means 'jerk' or 'asshole'. (This debate blew up years ago around the Mexican punk band Molotov's song Puto.) The first Urban Dictionary definition of 'puto' sums up the word in all its ambiguity:
spanish word for a male prostitute. sometimes it's offensive for homosexuals. in mexico it is used for cowards and traitors.
Lopez's use of the term 'puto' got a bit of attention and criticism upon the release of America's Mexican (2007), which has an entire stand-up bit in which he explains and then explores the term, giving examples:
Latinos think anything done correctly is gay. And not gay but más puto, which is really gay. That's puto squared.
Incidentally, America's Mexican has another bit called "FTP", which stands for "fuck that puto", and it is used in a scathing criticism of then President George Bush and other Republicans for their anti-immigration, English Only and anti-Latino policies.
The criticism around America's Mexican was minimal and short lived. Criticism reignited briefly this summer when some conservatives objected to Lopez's use of the term 'puto' in reference to then presidential candidate Mitt Romney and Maricopa County (Arizona) Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Yet, Lopez continues to use the term 'maspoot', sometimes abbreviated 'mp', with relish. He even sells t-shirts with the term on it for $20 on his website.
And on Tuesday night Lopez tweeted "hanging with some foo's at the Laker game, guess which one is Maspoot". The tweet featured a picture of Lopez posing with six other people. The following day on Facebook, Lopez posted the same picture with the comment "Last night hanging with some foo's at the Laker game, guess which one is Maspoot". With this set-up, it's not surprising that what follows in the comments is a rousing and enthusiastic game of what can only be called 'guess the gay', interspersed with people calling George Lopez gay and people insulting the Lakers. I won't reproduce the comments here, but suffice it to say that many could accurately be called anti-gay, if not homophobic. The Facebook post, in less than four hours, racked up over 7,000 likes and nearly 400 comments.
This incident has made me wonder why George Lopez is allowed to use 'maspoot' with very little pushback from LGBTQ groups, at least that I am aware of. Is it because he is a comedian, and as such is given more leeway? Is it because he is thought to be liberal and, therefore, people assume that his "heart is in the right place" or "it's all in good fun"? Is it because the expression is Spanish and most people don't know what it means? Or because in the U.S. we've decided that 'maricón' is the Spanish equivalent of the 'f-word', so we give 'puto' a pass? Reading through the comments on the Facebook page, it's clear that 'Maspoot' is not being used to celebrate gayness or to appropriate the term in any empowering way. Instead, its use seems wholly mean-spirited, hostile and derogatory.
Lopez's continued use of 'maspoot' is especially problematic, in my opinion, as it distracts and detracts from the U.S. Latino community's tolerance and acceptance of LGBTQ people and issues, which has made news in the past year, breaking down the unfair, unwarranted stereotype of a rampantly homophobic Latino community. NBC Latino, for example, found in a recent poll that 60 percent of Latinos in the U.S. support marriage equality, and both the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) came out in support of marriage equality, joining with a host of other organizations to launch "Familia es Familia", a bilingual public education campaign to "resources and information that are culturally appropriate to empower voices within and from Latino families and communities".
With celebrities from a broad range of fields organizing against bullying, including many Latina/o celebrities, joining with GLSEN and GLAAD to speak out against "that's so gay" and anti-gay slurs, and with major Latino organizations putting their names and reputations behind campaigns to support LGBTQ youth and families, why is George Lopez's 'maspoot' still okay?