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.


15 thoughts on “Transphobic Katy Perry and Queer Accountability

  1. Skyyyylar says:

    i saw the mention about glee… and while i agree with the whole lady gaga/katy perry thing not only because of the transphobic/racist bit… but musically, it’s old. ANYWAY…. i just didn’t know what was oppresion-ish about glee… fill me in?

    • JAC says:

      haha, good one about the music, CJ! Glee has a long list of issues, some of which are outlined in this post. In addition to what CJ said about promoting not-so-cool stereotypes of gay and lesbian identities, it also promotes a lot of messed up stuff about size, ability, and beauty. It certainly throws the rest under the bus too. When it did the rocky horror episode it cut the word transsexual, a word our community actually uses, but had a character violently use the word tranny, for the shock value and who knows what other reasons. Also it did a lot of disempowering stuff in relation to a bisexual relationship on the show. The show is just all around a hot mess.

  2. CJ says:

    @Skyyyylar –
    I don’t watch GLEE, but from what I’ve seen/heard of it, it presents a very stereotypical view of L and G people, while completely throwing the rest of the community under the bus.

    That, and they ruin perfectly good music.

  3. Alex says:

    I *HATE* Katy Perry, and this was way before she made her transphobia remarks a long time ago. Same goes for Ke$ha. I hate her with a passion of a thousand suns, and I have before she made her phobic remarks.

  4. Natalie says:

    THANK YOU for saying that about Born This Way. I have so many friends who think it’s the best thing since a bowl of frosting, and I have almost all the same issues with it as you. So glad to know I’m not the only one. Also, fuck Katy Perry. She has been pissing me off since she started being “popular.”

  5. Andrew says:

    Katy Perry’s lyrics speak for themselves:

    “No, I don’t even know your name, it doesn’t matter/ You’re my experimental game…
    It’s not what good girls do, not how they should behave.” – I Kissed a Girl

    “I hope you hang yourself with your H&M scarf/ While jacking off listening to Mozart… I can’t believe I fell in love with someone that wears more makeup than me” – UR So Gay

    I point these and other lyrics out to people (which usually ends in a long, heated rant) and find that a lot of them don’t even realize how rainbow-phobic Katy Perry is. It’s just another catchy song on the radio, and a startling amount don’t care.

    Katy Perry Makes me so angry.

  6. Big Ole Lesbian says:

    Who gives a shit?! people can have there own opinion, wat bout all the other celebrities who support people like us?

    • JAC says:

      There are opinions, and then there is oppression. Oppression hurts; it is what holds us back from feeling good about ourselves, our lives – or even letting ourselves live. People give up hope and kill themselves because of oppression. I ‘give a shit’ because I want people to love themselves, I want to love myself. If someone is going to claim to be supportive of our community, but turn around and discriminate against it, I think that it is our responsibility to communicate that so that people can become more educated and, hopefully, not make the same mistake in the future. When oppressive ideals are mainstream, there is no way for people (including celebrities) to learn how to be supportive of us. If we allow people to do it without talking about it, nothing will ever get better.

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