The gay community needs to be mindful of it's 'outrage.' In the wild west of social media outlets, if we are 'offended' every time someone misspeaks, we run the risk of parody. The latest example of this was last weekend: just one bleeped-out word and hair weave away from being like a typical episode of Untucked (the RuPaul's Drag Race after-show where the queens engage in nasty, barbed exchanges), gay gossip blogger Perez Hilton and upstart, openly bisexual rapper Azealia Banks battled it out on Twitter.
It started when Banks and a competing rapper Angel Haze were having an all-too typical Twitter war of words that involved some foul name-calling (including Haze calling dark skinned Banks a "charcoal skinned bitch") and recording dis tracks about each other. It's a rather ugly affair and not to be condoned, but fans often eat these feuds up, it escalates people's popularity, and there's a long history of peddling public spats in music and celebrity that long predates Twitter.
It was in the thick of this heated exchange that Hilton decided to jump into the conversation attacking Banks calling her among other things "pathetic." Banks response was to call Hilton among other things a "messy f*****." Well, if you see two ladies slathered in Vaseline fighting on the street, you don't jump in the middle expecting not to get your hair pulled or an acrylic nail stabbed into your eyeball. And then imply you're a 'victim' of a hate crime!
Involving themselves in this silliness was GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation). They issued a statement against Banks insisting that the word "f*****" hurts kids. Yes, that word (like many others) is hurtful without question, and she should not have used it. But by bisexual Banks' own admission, she knew that when she directed it specifically toward Hilton. Now every time a well-known woman in the heat of an argument calls another woman a "bitch," do woman's rights groups issue statements marking those woman as sexist and anti-women? And as much as some of us wouldn't mind them taking out a few of those Real Housewives, if they did would we take them as seriously when more serious matters arose?
Bullying is undoubtedly a huge issue these days and deserves our attention. But we also have to be careful to not go overboard in the cases we choose to make. If a boy cries wolf too many times then when an event happens that actually matters (like Uganda's very real "kill the gays bill"), people are desensitized and don't pay attention. And the wolf eats his flock!
GLAAD is obviously an important organization in battling true homophobia and celebrating those who encourage gay equality. But when they involve themselves in things of this nature they diminish their considerable cache. We can't be outraged when a 34-year-old gay man who built his career on bullying is in turn 'bullied' by a 21-year-old bisexual woman employing his same methods. It was, after all, just in June 2009 that Hilton himself called will.i.am a "f*****" to his face. Defending Hilton is the equivalent of coming to defend sextape-made-me-famous Kim Kardashian if she claimed to be a victim of someone showing her some porn.
Hilton has talked a lot of his intention to change his tone online this past year, including an Oprah appearance on her "Life Class" show along with Deepak Chopra. Many had hoped this was a genuine shift in consciousness for him. However, would Winfrey and Chopra have conducted themselves like this, inserting themselves into a rapper's cat fight? Would they then have tweeted other celebrities to attempt to involve them, claim victimhood and escalate the feud? An argument could be made this type of bad behavior is far more detrimental to gay people than Azealia's actual use of a gay slur.
One celebrity who chose to run to Hilton's defense -- and to the tune of great irony -- was Scissor Sister's frontman Jake Shears. He tweeted: "Oh yeah. 'F*****.' Totally cool. Give me a fucking break." Yet Shears himself somehow found the word fine to use in his own song "Step Aside a Man"? Sure the context is different, but he's still choosing to propagate the ugly and hurtful word himself (even if it's under the guise of 'reclaiming' the word). It's equally sad to see him so easily throw his collaborator under the bus. (Banks guested on an album track of his just last year.)
Oddly enough, the only voice of reason to chime into the argument was the notoriously snarky Gawker. In Rich Juzwiak's piece, he clearly makes a case that while Banks is reckless, she is no homophobe. But it's a sad day when Gawker is the voice of reason in the gay community.
The teachable moment here isn't 'sensitizing' Banks or for that matter Hilton to the error of their ways. They are likely not to change because these types of feuds are hallmarks in their careers. Instead, it's about the need for gay people and their organizations to learn to pick their battles. "Ladies, play nice," would have been a far more appropriate comment for GLAAD to make for the level of maturity these folks are acting from. It's like when a foul-mouthed drag queen makes an inappropriate aside, you're not meant to get 'offended' by what they say. As Bill Maher argued brilliantly in a New York Times Op-ed piece last year, America gets 'offended' way too easily. He suggests we need to learn instead to co-exist with each other and people that have different opinions that we do. And in this spirit of co-existing, the gay community needs some sober, mature, thoughtful leaders who are able to transcend the silliness that the far too often permeates gay life and get on with the real issues.
So people, pick your battles. It's important to be able to discern when it's worth fighting for. And when we should just leave it to the Interior Illusions Lounge of RuPaul's Untucked.