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On Race And The Gay Community Part I

July 21, 2014

So this is a thing that is happening. A Woman of Color wrote an article pointing out that a not small number of gay men put on a fake voice and imitate a very specific speech pattern in an effort to be funny.

Here’s a really good example of the behavior being talked about:


(Let me pause here to state that I’m not saying that Laganja Estranga is the most egregious example. She’s just the one most people are aware of and, you know, she’s a really good example.)

And, predictably, the series of tubes exploded and a number of other opinions were expressed. Some of them were more rational than others.

This isn’t the first time the issue has been talked about but generally the people doing the talking are white and male they are talking about the “bond they have with black women,” and not in any way acknowledging or apparently thinking about the fact that mimicry isn’t really all that fucking flattering. Also, cultural appropriation isn’t a bond. It’s just appropriation.

Here’s the thing, the points being made by Ms. are actually pretty accurate. The “queen” speech pattern/voice (and the articles I’ve read are often specifically referencing drag queens, although they do make the point that the “kiki” voice is growing more common beyond drag culture) really is an obvious imitation of black voice/speech patterns, specifically black female voice/speech patterns, specifically black, southern, speech patterns popularized by white people at black people’s expense.

Yes here’s another Laganja clip. Like I said, she’s a really fucking good example. What you’re seeing above is called code switching. Laganja does it as a part of her character. Black people do it as a survival technique.

And when it’s used as a character, an attempt to get attention or in L.E.’s case, as part of performance, it comes of as something like verbal blackface. “It’s OK to laugh at me! I’m doing my funny voice! Let’s all ignore the origin of that voice and just laugh. P.S. Give me money!”

It kind of makes sense given that the only exposure a lot of young drag queens have had to older queens comes from Paris is Burning, which features largely black and Hispanic queens. And you can easily track Laganja’s voice as coming directly from her drag mother Alyssa Edwards. I get that. I do. I also get that, in many cases, it’s meant to be inclusive. When one white person calls another “guuuurrrllll,” it’s meant to include them in both conversation and culture. I get that. But that still doesn’t make it OK. Because it’s not your fucking culture and it’s not something that we are all included in. Gay culture and black culture are not same thing. Yes, both cultures have been and are being oppressed but in different ways and for different reasons.

The basic facts are that gay people are in more danger in the world than straight people AND People of Color are in more danger than white people. And you know what, PoC who are also Gender and Sexual Minorities are in even more danger than that.

PoC? More likely to die of curable disease. More likely to be stopped by and met with violence by authority figures or, just dudes with guns who think they are authority figures.

WoC? Significantly more likely to be met with sexual violence.

So while yes, being gay is hard, being female is hard, and being a PoC is hard being all three of those things is really fucking hard. It’s harder than being one of those things.

If you’re a white, gay male, you’re dealing with different levels of systematic oppression than someone who is a WoC or a GSM who is a WoC. So when you use that voice you’re not making me feel included. you’re doing the opposite. You can throw off that voice. You can walk away from the culture you’re playing. You can take on only the fun, sassy, vibrant, loud parts of the culture and ignore all the shit. I can’t.

Stop it.

Here’s the other thing.

Why do all of the authors of the pieces I’ve linked seem to think that WoC and gay men are two cultures at odds?

Hi! Hey there, What’s up? How are you?

I’M A WoC AND A PART OF FUCKING GAY CULTURE. And you know what? I am not down with some white dude or white chick using their LaWanda voice.

So while you personally gay, white man, (or woman, honestly) might not have any interest in appropriating black culture, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t happening and it doesn’t mean that through drag culture, it isn’t spreading to the larger gay community, which I will remind you contains black women, (one of whom is me) AND that doesn’t mean it isn’t damaging and really divisive.

And that’s fine. If you want to keep using that voice, do it. But do it while acknowledging that it is causing people pain. Do it and accept the consequences, that you will piss people off, that you will hurt their feelings.

And acknowledge their pain as a thing that is happening. Do not tell people that your hurtful behavior isn’t hurtful. You don’t get to decide that. We do.

So to paraphrase RuPaul, if you can’t love yourself, do your best not to harm other people as a part of your learning process.

Can I get an amen up in here?



2 Comments leave one →
  1. euphrosyne1115 permalink
    July 22, 2014 12:04 AM

    Amen. I’d also feel like a fucking idiot assuming the dialect and speech patterns of any group I didn’t legitimately belong to.


  1. Cultural Appropriation: Here's When It's OK To Copy Black Women

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