How I Landed in the Ring with Azealia Banks & Perez Hilton

Janet Mock insists that if we’re going to call famous people out for their disparaging and abusive language, we need to call them all out, no matter what color or gender they are.

I swear I was going to leave this ish alone, but as I cuddled up to Sunday’s premiere of “Downton Abbey,” I saw myself in a headline: “Azealia Banks Calls Perez Hilton A Faggot, Janet Mock Jumps In, Shitshow Ensues.”

When I read the Blackbookmag.com post, I was pissed that my commentary was trivialized and wrongfully portrayed as defending the rapper’s hurtful language. If I wanted to go all victim on you, I could say: “It Happened To Me: I Was Put In The Middle Of A Famous Twitter Feud!”

I honestly wanted this ridiculousness to die. But I knew that speaking out was necessary. Being silent simply because murkiness is uncomfortable sentences us all to complacency -– and staying out of it is not my style. Here, I’ll explain how I entered the ring in the Azealia vs. Perez Twitter feud.

Saturday night I was bored, scrolling through Twitter while half re-watching “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” (sometimes I just like to have the ladies on background, like white noise). Then, I saw on Twitter that Banks, the pretty brown rapper with the long weave whom I saw all over ASOS.com that time I spent way too much money on that Blanche Devereaux-esque blouse, vehemently called Perez a “f*ggot.” 

I immediately rolled my eyes. I’m sure you want to know why, right?

Anytime privileged gay men are wronged, the world takes notice. Do you know how many times, as a trans woman, that I have tweeted about celebs using trans women as punch lines or gags, calling us “tranny,” and no one makes a peep or writes a single article? (I’m side-eyeing beloved gay allies like Kathy Griffin and Roseanne Barr who’ve both belittled women like myself).

So after my eye roll, I dug a bit deeper because this, dear Janet, is not about you. I read countless posts on their feud, studied their Twitter exchanges, saw what the queer folks on Tumblr were saying, and then downloaded some of Banks’ music to get a peek into who she was.

Banks, a rapper who is openly bisexual, said she grew up around “gays” in the New York City ball culture and pulls from that scene, which was created by gay men and trans women of color. No wonder I was thoroughly entertained by her beats, “Paris Is Burning” references and in-your-face-ness. But when I heard the words “Adam’s apple,” in a song called “Us,” I paused. I have one of those, I thought, and rewound the mp3 for context: “She got that Adam’s apple and she asked about that fashion/And we passed her with that laughter.”

Again, aren’t trans women just so fucking funny? People can’t help themselves.

I also re-read her Tweets about Hilton and saw that she categorized “any male who acts like a female” as a f*ggot (which whiffs of transphobia and gender-policing). “When I said acts like a female I should’ve said acts like a cunt,” Banks clarified on Twitter, digging herself in a deeper hole of misogyny.

Let me be clear: Calling anyone a “faggot” and urging them to “kill” themselves because they’re a guy acting “like a cunt” is inexcusable. As woman who has been and is often called a tranny, a faggot and a nigger, I hate disparaging and abusive language no matter who knowingly or unknowingly promotes it. No one, no matter how despicable their past acts, should be on the receiving end of such violent language.

The coverage of this feud got me thinking about gender, color, privilege, intersectionality. It got me thinking about media makers and gatekeepers and the making of villains and victims. It got me thinking about bias and editorial process and selective outrage. It got me thinking about scapegoating and stereotypes and how celebrities profit over being controversial. And it got me thinking about the overlapping themes I discovered in the coverage of the feud:

1. Victim-blaming: Perez Hilton asked for it. It’s payback for all the times he called will.i.am a “f*ggot”, the times he drew penises and cum on celebs’ faces and the times he outed celebs on his blog.

2. Team Azealia For LIFE: I love Azealia’s music and she’s bisexual and grew up around gays so I’m OK with her appropriating our language and culture. Plus, we’re reclaiming faggot anyway and she uses the N-word, too, so why not the F-word.

3. Blacks Are Soooo Homophobic (in comments section): “Homophobia is rife in the black community, so pathetic behavior like this is hardly surprising.” -Actual Gawker commenter.

BANKS eventually Tweeted a sort-of apology that she did not extend to Hilton: “My most sincere apologies to anyone who was indirectly offended by my foul language. Not sorry for Perez tho. Lol.” Soon after, GLAAD released a statement about Azealia, saying that regardless of her personal definition of f*ggot, the use of it “hurts” the “gay kids who follow her on Twitter.”

The Banks-Hilton story harkened me back to Roland Martin, Tracy Morgan, Tyler the Creator, and countless other people of color who are called out on their foul language towards gay people -– which then validates the stereotype that all black and brown people are homophobic or are inclined to be more homophobic. Yet, when a white person (Paris Hilton, Charlie Sheen, Kirk Cameron) says something homophobic, no one screams, “All white people are homophobic!” And I still haven’t read stories about how the invisibility of people of color from the gay establishment signals its inherent race and class problem.

So with my intersections as a poor-raised, trans woman of color all flared up, I took to Twitter on January 5 to point out my personal frustration with the media’s glaring habit of highlighting celebs of color who say horrible things, while a gentle touch or blind eye is utilized when white celebs say equally horrible things:

Struck by sum of headlines blasting Azealia. Same outlets rarely discuss countless misogynistic & transphobic headlines Perez pens.

POC commits homo/transphobia, establishment proclaims our peeps r plagued w/phobias.White celeb offends, est doesn’t blast their privilege.

Similarly, same outlets outraged by Azealia’s use of “f*g” turn a blind eye to slurs used to belittle/dehumanize trans women. #girlslikeus 

When a screengrab of my Tweets went viral on Tumblr, I took to my own Tumblr to clarify the murkiness of my 140-character statements: “The media’s selective treatment of these situations needs to be called out. We must analyze who is at the helm of these stories/bylines/institutions and why certain communities/people of color are demonized, publicized and labeled as more homo/transphobic.”

Then, I continued, “Why [is] the use of ‘f*g’ or ‘f*ggot’ an outright slur that raises much frenzy, but ‘tr*nny’ is seen as more of a debate (or ignored all together) when used with the same vitriol intent?” I wrote the line because both Banks and Hilton have used transphobic language (see: recent Banks tweet and Hilton’s blog categories “Tranny” and “Trannies“). Hell, the gay community even lauded them.

“Picking and choosing when to be offended….. Pfffft, as fucking if,” Banks Tweeted, referencing GLAAD’s statement.

Here’s the thing –- we must stop “picking and choosing.” If we’re going to call famous people out on their bad behavior, we need to call them all out, no matter what color or gender they are, on their disparaging and abusive language.

As a trans woman, there’s rarely a time when I’ve been able to applaud the portrayal or someone’s commentary on a woman like myself in mainstream media. As a fan of many shows, entertainers and writers who’ve belittled “my people,” I have a bittersweet relationship with what I consume. If I wrote off every famous person or show that offended me, I would have nothing to watch. And for some this is an effortless protest. For me, it is not. That’s why I’m a critical fan.

There are many things that I choose not to offer my commentary on because I just want it to go away and I don’t want to be bombarded by the stans who will surely say that I am “too sensitive,” that it was “just a joke,” that “tranny” is not a slur because “my friend’s cousin is a transgender and she uses it all the time.”

Being a critical fan means that you love a famous human being, knowing fully well they are flawed and can make mistakes due to their privilege-blindness or outright ignorance (whether knowingly or unknowingly practicing misogyny, transphobia, homophobia, ableism, racism, etc.). When they f*ck up, it is your duty as a critical fan to make them better, call them out and educate them. Your job is not to create excuses and adamantly defend their mistakes because they are so fierce in your eyes.

In a capitalistic society, these famous human beings need to be aware that their words and actions can cut deep into marginalized people, and marginalized folks should not be ploys for them to garner more press for their upcoming projects.

“Words are things,” Dr. Maya Angelou said during her 2011 Master’s Class on the Oprah Winfrey Network. “You must be careful, careful about calling people out of their names, using racial pejoratives and sexual pejoratives and all that ignorance. Don’t do that. Some day we’ll be able to measure the power of words. I think they are things. They get on the walls. They get in your wallpaper. They get in your rugs, in your upholstery, and your clothes, and finally in to you.”

With Dr. Angelou in mind, I’m hopeful for some kind of healing, progress and hopefully peace.

I know Banks will not be the last famous person to say something foul and Hilton will not be the last person to receive it. What I know for sure though is that we will not heal until we learn to love ourselves, embrace each other’s differences and push one another to be better, especially when we –- the famous ones and the ones covering and following the famous ones — make mistakes.

by Janet Mock

 

Originally appeared at xoJane

 

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Comments

  1. I hope my fans are critical, too. I don’t want a free pass.

  2. I guess you just have to remember faggot isn’t always used in a homophobic way. I call my friends faggots (and get called a faggot) but I would never actually use that word to insult, degrade and/or dehumanise somebody. I think she was using it the same way TBH, just that the person she called a faggot actually happened to be gay.

    • When you call your friends that, what does it mean?

      • I don’t know, just means faggot lol. There’s two ways to use it (other than the homophobic way). Like for a random example if I wanted them to get something I’d say “go get that, faggot” and they’d say “fuck you faggot”. Most guys are constantly insulting each other all the time (in a ‘not actually trying to insult you’ way), faggot is just one of those insults. The other way is if a guy is acting girly or scared, like for example I’m creeped out by spiders and one time when we were all hanging out a massive one dropped on me and I kinda freaked out lol, to which everyone said “stop being a faggot”. They’re not actually saying “stop being a homosexual man”, they’re just saying “stop being a faggot”. I can definitely see why that would still be seen as offensive, I just think it’s important to acknowledge the word isn’t always comng from a place of homophobia.

        • So you’re saying that the F word is always an insult, but that is okay among friends who are gay, because friends insult each other all the time. The way you describe people using the word to mean feminine or fearful is misogynist as well as homophobic.

          I don’t think this fits either of those cases, but let’s add to the folder labeled, “Ways you can use the F word that are offensive (all)”

          • Whoa there buddy, I’m not gay. Neither are my friends. I’m just letting you know the ways the word is used and I don’t think it’s uncommon at all. If you add it to that folder I’ll agree with the addition wholeheartedly, I’m just saying the word isn’t always used as an expression of hatred or fear of gay people. I’d say most of the time gay people have nothing to do with it, in fact I can’t recall many times I’ve heard the word faggot used to actually describe someone who’s gay. If Perez was straight I’m willing to bet she would’ve still called him a faggot. Maybe she even had that racism 3.0 look on the matter, you know – “I’m clearly not homophobic look at how comfortable I am using homophobic slurs”.

        • But it is. Because it it wasn’t, they’d use a word like “jerk” or “ass” or “clown.” They are saying, so far as I can see, “quit acting like a dude that may not be a fag, but sure is acting like one.”

          If acting like a faggot is “girly” and being “girly” is bad, then being a faggot is also bad, yeah? So being less than a man, is being a faggot, is being a girl. It’s just not good no matter how you look at it.

          The word means something, and I get that you think you are making it mean something else? Except, really, you aren’t. No one is. It’s a disparaging term.

          • Being a faggot is bad, yes. What I’m saying is faggot doesn’t necessarily mean homosexual (though admittedly in the second example it’s coming close). I’m not saying I’m not being ignorant on the subject, I’m just revealing that ignorance to you for you to understand the PERSPECTIVE behind the ignorance. You can’t combat what you don’t understand. People who use the word faggot like I (and pretty much every straight man I know) don’t use it thinking about gay people, it’s just a word. Like how the N word is offensive but white people will still call each other nigga and use it as an emphasis (“damn nigga!”) when there’s no black people around. Not to insult black people, because nigga is just a word to us (though I personally don’t use the word, too hipster-ish).

            • And I would argue that you can’t separate the meaning from the word. It’s terribly insulting and privileged and yeah, racist. You may not be thinking about black or gay people, but that’s because you, as a white straight man, don’t have to.

              Use it if you want, but at least know what you are doing. Own the crap behind it. It’s phobic and yeah, misogynistic. the N word is racist so either own that history and meaning (you or whoever) or be way more creative and eloquent and use words that mean bad-horrid, horrible, jerk, malfeasant, cur, etc There are thousands of words out there that don’t carry the racial or homophobic weight. But if you choose to use those words, then own the meaning.

            • Fair enough, you can argue that all you want. But telling people “you’re bad” isn’t going to make them change, it’s going to make them more defensive. I’m quite a rational person and so we can have this discussion, but if you think this is how it’s going to go down with most people who use those words…Nah. If you want to make people understand the problem behind their use of the word YOU have to understand their use of the word. Just calling them racist, homophobic, sexist or whatever (ESPECIALLY if they feel they’re not those things) is going to make them either dismiss you completely or get very defensive about a point that you could’ve otherwise made them agree with you on. You have to undnerstand that your perspective isn’t the only perspective in the world and not everyone who has a different one is just choosing to be a bad person. There are different perspectives (some of which we can objectively say are wrong, like this one) but you can’t change them without first understanding them, is my point. People who use these words aren’t thinking “I’m a bad person for this”, but it seems you think they are thinking that and just don’t care.

            • People who use these words aren’t thinking “I’m a bad person for this”, but it seems you think they are thinking that and just don’t care.

              You’re right, I do think this, and you haven’t told me anything that makes me think any differently about that. I pointed out that these uses of the word are homophobic and sexist; Julie Gillis has explained how they are, painstakingly. Saying that white people use the N word doesn’t make it less so, and to counter your point, I think it’s clearly the case that when white people do it, they’re intentionally evoking hip hop culture. The words we use, we choose for a reason. You and your friends have decided that the F word is nicely offensive as a slur. Nice job. Now tell me why you think you’re such good people for doing it.

            • Well i’m pretty sick of dealing with hostility for trying to provide you with an insight so yes go ahead and call me a bad evil person, I’m done.

            • But he isn’t doing that and I don’t see him as hostile. He’s trying to explain as are you. This is exactly the point in which the defensiveness takes over and then the response is, well hell, I can use whatever damn words I want…etc..instead of reading what’s being said. You can use whatever words you want. They do have meaning and while some people go about not being aware of them, it’s ethical to take into consideration all of the meanings and to decide what words fit your ethic. And yeah, you’ll have to deal with people’s opinion of those words if you choose to use them.

            • I don’t care anymore.

            • So here’s the thing. I don’t think they are thinking “I’m a bad person for using this word but I don’t care.” Some are using it because they are actively racist or homophobic and I’m not concerned with them. The others are using it because they aren’t thinking about what the word means. They are using it because, like you said, there is ignorance of a certain kind given to them by privilege. They don’t, most of the time, have to think about what it means. They go about saying N*gga or F*ggot thinking it’s funny or for a laugh without ever having to consider the word’s history, what it means and that by using it they are taking part in that word’s history and meaning. They are white and straight and yeah, they do get defensive. I think they get defensive for a couple of reasons-1) because they don’t like having their privilege called out (their fun stopped etc) and 2) I think someplace inside they do have an inkling that yeah, f*ggot means something not so good.

              Many, many people don’t feel they are racist or sexist or homophobic, but there still are actions they engage in sub or unconsciously that are indeed part of a system of racism, sexism, homophobia. So when that dynamic/action is pointed out, they have a choice to let it go and continue to be less and less racist etc or to keep it and be like..welp, whatevs. But at that point they can’t say they are really un-racist etc…

              I’m saying that it’s actually a good idea to think about it and then either decide a) I don’t like the meaning of those words, the implication of using them, how it might impact people or promote a system of oppression so I’ll find other words, or b) keep using the words but own the bullshit that comes with it.

              I grew up in the American south in the 70’s, as a white woman. I’m really damn clear I carry remnants of racial bullshit just like virus traces and I work hard to note them, deconstruct them and eliminate them. And it doesn’t do me any harm to do that. In fact, it makes the world a better place when I see people try to make it safer for others.

              You and your friends can do whatever you want, I just think it’s important to be really clear in yourself why you are doing it.

              I’mm off for the night so have a good one.

            • ThePaleKing74 says:

              I think Louie C.K. and Matt Stone and Trey Parker explain what Raegus was getting at much better:

              http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U-otAJrtY-w
              http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H7C0vd-L5lg

              And if we’re going to bring up the history of the word faggot, you should note that word has been used as pejorative for women and the elderly, and don’t forget the literal definition of the word: a small stick. Also, you can do a quick Jstor or Lexus/Nexus search and pull up a plethora of articles by linguists that suggest that shorter, monosyllabic words are more apt to carry a larger variety of meanings across subcultures that speak the same language. Would Raegus’ friends be less homophobic if they were British and were used to “smoking fags” while drinking at the bar?

              People who are truly racist or homophobic or misogynist are going to find some word to belittle people they irrationally hate. Conversely, playing semantics is an easy, straw-man argument that does nothing to address that hatred and will quickly veer your perspective into irrelevancy.

            • I can understand Julie’s point to an extent. Normalising the word automatically lowers your empathy to the feelings of a gay person when it’s mentioned because it IS harder to see it as offensive. Just like glamourising black poverty trivialises their problems (I used to do this myself, wondering what black people are ‘always’ complaining about when they’re seen as “cool”, like that solves all their problems).

              In short, I’m saying it IS wrong and probably shouldn’t be used, period. I’m just saying there’s no hatred for gay people behind it when used that way.

        • I think you (and everyone) should remember (and be KEENLY AWARE) that just because a word means one thing to you does not mean that it means said same thing universally (connotation). Moreover, we should likely defer to the people against whom pejoratives are defined and leveled when it comes to determining their “appropriate” usage.

          To wit: I have a friend who is a rape victim. She does not condone the casual, flippant, figurative use of the word “rape”. Out of respect to her, I censor myself in her presence. Do I personally care how people use the word “rape”? No. Have I used it inappropriately by my friend’s standards (“I got positively RAPED with orders at work today. It sucked!”)? Yes. But I still censor myself because I can appreciate that a rape victim has a personal and intimate right to define the term “rape” having been subjected to it, and that (whether friend or stranger) any decent person should respect their wishes in regards to the term.

          • That’s just common sense.

            • If you agree, it follows that if I ask you, being a man who has sex with men and has had the pejorative “faggot” leveled against him millions of time throughout my quarter-century of life not to use the word “faggot” flippantly out of respect to me, you should agree not to do so. I really don’t care whether you do or don’t, for the record, and I don’t think you’re a horrible person for using an offensive word. I’m just clarifying for myself how you view proper usage of the term.

              I think our problem in discussing words that incite strong emotions in people is that we tend to discuss said words in absolutes: someone simply “should” or “shouldn’t” be able to use the word in question in the manner in which they are. To me, it’s less an issue of limiting someone else’s speech in a way of which I approve and more an issue of basic manners. I don’t think anyone should be prevented from using any given word, but their use of the word does reveal a degree of their character.

  3. LolitaSA says:

    I have to commend the levelheaded discussion in the comments section. I have never read a comments sections where people engaged in such a calm, intelligent and insightful manner, NEVER. I heard and understood all perspectives so clearly that I myself questioned my use of those terms. I’m from South Africa and the term kaffir is the equivalent to n’gga and so I found this topic quite relevant. Wow, my heart has been warmed.

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