Transphobic Katy Perry and Queer Accountability
In an interview with Rolling Stone late last month, Katy Perry is again quoted using transphobic language and promoting uneducated, transphobic mentalities. Rolling Stone removed all problematic language from all digital publications, but the quotes remain in paper print and thanks to our friends at Queerty, the information was reported on. I’m not ok with the use of “Bimbo” in the Queerty article title, but I appreciate the remaining sentiments of the text. Queerty reports Perry saying (in reference to her fashion):
“You can’t be a full tranny every day of the week, that’s an exaggerated part of my personality.”
Ok, not to be overly aggressive here, but if I had a no tolerance policy about Katy Perry before (which I did) it has exploded into a million more. What the hell, people? Why do our queer and gay communities continue to support this person? Wake the fuck up. If we are supporting people like Katy Perry, we are not supporting trans* people. GLAAD and other “big” “gay” organizations surprisingly overlooked the issue despite being previously vigilant about Perry with her transphobic tweet last year. As many of us know, GLAAD has been a little busy lately, but that doesn’t excuse missing a red-letter incident like this. Our community has long discussed and gone over the use of the word tranny, and pop culture has recently taken interest and decided to use it too. Am I the only one confused about why people think we’re so interesting? Besides our obvious fabulousness, that is. Are non-queer folks out there using other community words as hip catch phrases? Something like: “I’m so lesbian right now.” or “That’s fag-arrific, man.” Hmmm, maybe I should start using these… This fascination with trans identities comes from the growing fascination with gender and the bending of it – and while I think its awesome that genderfucking is becoming a larger conversation with more visibility, I am terrified of how that visibility is being built, who is building it, and where they may be taking it in our culture. Trans isn’t a hip thing I do to be cool, it is my life. I can’t avoid it, and I likely would have if I could because it sure as hell isn’t easy – can’t say it isn’t glamorous, but that’s just because I’m a fucking glamorous person. (JK!) For the trans community, being trans isn’t about being fashionable or cool. It is about surviving. We squeeze the fun in afterwards, if we’re lucky enough to have room for it. Despite our struggle, which has been growing in its own visibility, people fail to find issue in the growing tokenizing and exotifying of it.
What does Katy Perry give to queers? I’m told it is some form of viability, but I’ve yet to actually see it. I’ve heard people say “I know Katy Perry is terrible, but I can’t help but like her music.” Well of course people like her music. Most pop music is manufactured for that specific purpose, to make you like it. This past winter, while at a tech rehearsal for a show I was in, I watched a drag troupe run through an awesome number to a really fun song. I didn’t know the song, but I was sure I had heard it on some oldies station at some point. Everyone in the place was singing along, just like any “classic song” that people emotionally bond to when they’re growing up. Ever self-conscious of my lack of pop culture knowledge, being born and continuing to live under a rock, I smiled at the singing, laughing faces across the bar. I wanted to be cool too… I pretended to know the song, which wasn’t hard since the lyrics were as predictable as a romantic comedy. When the number was over I discovered that the song was not a 1980s hit I just wasn’t cool enough to recognize. It was a new song and not only was it by Katy Perry, it was a Glee version of a Katy Perry song. Double Oppressor Whammy! I was embarrassed about looking like a hypocrite and I was disappointed that I could never enjoy this fun song ever again. Does it seem silly to give up something like a song? I’ll admit it, yeah, it does. But is enjoying a song by an oppressor any different than willingly promoting any other system of oppression that I may otherwise benefit from, like white privilege? No, it’s not; its just a smaller version, a smaller cog in the bigger machine that works against you, me, and all of us in this community of underdogs. Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” may make a lot of gay people feel empowered (not me, but apparently 1000s of others.) but what about the Asian Pacific Islander folks being called “orient” in the lyrics? What about Gaga claiming the word Chola? Gay people get something out of it, but the song is fucking racist. Plus its a rip off of Madonna’s “Express Yourself”, but I digress.
I’ve gone on and on about the mistakes pop culture continues to make, as well as how our own communities don’t seem to give a damn. Is anyone else tired? I’m remembering my bruised frustrations over the L Word series; my anger and confusion about trans supporters enjoying a blatantly transphobic show because even though it was hurtful to trans folks, it was beneficial to them. Sometimes being accountable sucks because you have to make sacrifices, but in the end I think its worth it. I might feel a little silly protesting a song that I actually like, but deep down I feel good about it. I feel that by giving up something that I could otherwise like, I am showing myself that I am willing to go the distance for what I believe in. You can’t pick and choose what oppression to fight, it’s all or nothing, even when it’s “only a song” or “only a TV show.” Folks say “I know its bad, but it makes me feel good” but we aren’t talking about eating a whole bowl of frosting while watching bad reality TV shows about beauty pageants (yes, I do do that). We are talking about cultural messaging that hurts our friends, our family, our communities. I think if we have to give up a fun song here, and a night of TV there, it’s worth showing each other that we care enough to make a sacrifice for those we love and for good of the greater whole.