Rose McGowan, gay misogyny, and the myth of the “straight ally”.

Speaking to American Psycho author Bret Easton Ellis, Charmed actress Rose McGowan had the following to say about the gay community:

“Gay men are as misogynistic as straight men, if not more so. I have an indictment of the gay community right now, I’m actually really upset with them … You wanna talk about the fact that I have heard nobody in the gay community, no gay males, standing up for women on any level? … I think it’s what happens to you as a group when you are starting to get most of what you fought for. What do you do now?

What I would hope they would do is extend a hand to women. Stonewall was fought on the backs of drag queens, transvestites and women. Women have helped the gay community get to where they are today, and I have seen not a single peep from the Cleve Jones-es [prominent AIDS activist] who supposedly represent lesbians as well right? They speak for them as well. Three months ago, the Equal Pay Act was shot down by every Republican in the Senate. I have seen nobody, not a single man, not you, not anyone, mention that in the press. I’ve seen no help for the African-American community, I’ve seen no help for lesbians.

I see now people who have basically fought for the right to stand on top of a float wearing an orange Speedo and take [MDMA]. And I see no help. I see no paying it forward, and I have a huge problem with that. I have a huge problem with a community that understands what it’s like to be looked down on, that understands what it’s like to be hurt for existing, and I would ask them to do something to help others. That could be a new mission. And that would be something to shape how the gay community is perceived.

I have a crucial issue with McGowan’s argument, but let me start by defending her overall point.

Think about the attitudes many gay men have towards touching women’s bodies, whereby they think it’s okay to sexually assault a women by groping her because they’re gay. Or consider the way that women’s bodies are treated by many gay men, where they’ll often pull a face and say “yuck!” when a woman talks about her anatomy, referring to it as “fishy” or “tuna”. Or think about the way many gay men treat women in the media, judging them solely on their body type, their looks and their ability to “slay”. Even consider, if you will dear reader, that some gay men think that their cause is somehow more noble or worthy than the feminist cause, and that women have got all the rights they need.

I would also defer to the good judgement of Patrick Strudwick, who wrote in the Guardian:

“As a movement we have ignored women, individually and structurally. Along with the many gay rights organisations headed by men over the decades (thankfully Stonewall now has a second woman in charge), there is no more poignant example of this than in the fight against HIV/AIDS, where the tender altruism of hordes of lesbian volunteers who tended to dying men in the 1980’s has been forgotten.”

In short, being gay doesn’t prevent you from being just as much of an asshole as straight misogynists.

Some of the responses McGowan has gotten have certainly proved her point. She received a fountain of abuse from gay people on Twitter who called her “trashy”, a “slut”, and a “talentless whore”, to pick out a few examples. Unacceptable and indefensible. Criticizing her for the wrong reason using the wrong language.

Here’s the problem I have. McGowan, in a self-confessed “pissed off” rant, has promoted dangerous, outdated and deeply insulting stereotypes about gay men, namely that they are promiscuous drug addicted party animals who don’t wear any clothes. And like Strudwick, I think McGowan’s categorization of gay men as somehow worse than straight men when it comes to women is mistaken. Straight men violently sexually assault women for rejecting their catcalls on the street. Gay men don’t.

You might argue that her stereotyping doesn’t matter in the context of the wider point she’s making, but it really does. Gay people have been subject to the most brutal and damaging stereotypes ever since we came out of the closet. We’ve been called possessed demons. We’ve been accused of molesting children. We’ve been called drug takers. We’ve been accused of destroying society. We’ve been called animals. We’ve been called filth. We’ve been called fairies. We’ve been called every name under the sun by friends, family members, lawmakers and heads of state.

Our fight is not over. We are not yet at a point of full equality where you can criticize gay men like you can criticize straight men, that is to say, without worrying about the impacts of the language  or stereotypes you use. When you say “all straight men are x”, you aren’t harming men’s position in society. But we’re not accepted yet. You can’t just insult us and trot out old stereotypes without thinking before you fucking speak. By all means, recite legitimate criticisms, but don’t season them with casual homophobia.

I am not fighting for the right to take drugs and wear Speedos on a float. I am fighting to stop seven countries for administering the death penalty for homosexual activity. I am fighting to end blood donation bans, same-sex marriage bans, same-sex adoption bans, tax disadvantages, inheritance disadvantages, the HIV epidemic, homophobic bullying in schools, LGBT teen suicides, LGBT teen homelessness. My ethic includes women as much as it does men and those of a non-binary gender. I care deeply about the treatment of women inside and outside of the fight for gay equality, because not only do they face all of the problems listed above, but ones outside of the sexuality spectrum, ones that number in the hundreds and directly threaten their existence, both societally and physically.

And for those who might remark that the point she’s making about women’s safety is more important than the blasé use of stereotypes; I’m definitely inclined to agree. But why must we choose between a woman’s safety in the gay community and the elimination of regressive homophobic stereotypes? Why not tackle both? I certainly detest both, which is why I’ve tried to address both of them in this post.

For a bit of perspective, let us not forget that McGowan has actively spited the gay community in the past. When Brunei’s Sultan approved a revised criminal code which included stoning as a punishment for same-sex activity, many celebrities and activists boycotted the Brunei-owned Beverly Hills Hotel. McGowan’s response? To hold a lavish party at the hotel, claiming that a boycott would hurt the hotel’s staff (this is after the hotel assured the press that it wouldn’t lay off staff even if business declined). McGowan’s idea of changing the Sultan’s mind was to provide massive revenues to his business. Smart.

If she’s a straight ally, she’s a deeply problematic one. So why can’t we, as members of the gay community, criticize the homophobic foundations of her argument and her past activity of problematic behaviour? Why must we resort to calling her a slut and a whore, defaming her personal character with misogynistic language, the very same language she was calling out in the first place? We’re proving her right because of our brutally emotional reaction to her argument that, for the most part, is sound.

In apologizing for her stereotyping, McGowan asked “where does it say that because of a man’s sexual preference, I don’t get to point out a group’s character defects?” You do, McGowan. Absolutely. And I’m right there alongside you. But I implore you, do not poison your argument with dangerous stereotypes and overgeneralizations. We’ve been subject to them throughout our entire cultural history, and I am frankly as sick of being subject to stereotypes as I am sick of the misogynistic elements of the gay community. Both attitudes are harmful. Both attitudes need correcting. Please don’t use one to make a point about the other.

I got into a one-sided Twitter spat with McGowan. See my Tweets to her below:

All I would add to McGowan’s argument is that the gay community, just like any other minority community, has innumerable social problems. There are racists, sexists, transphobics, bi-phobics, fascists, misogynists, anti-Semites, ultraconservatives, and countless other undesirables.

On top of that, we’re also seeing deep issues in the socio-economic elements of our culture. White gay men are buying up low cost retail in some U.S. cities, thereby gentrifying the area and making it inaccessible to low income families in order to create a cosmopolitan gay neighbourhood for the upper-middle class. Meanwhile masculine “straight acting” gay men are distancing themselves from what they call “scene queens”, “camps” and “fags” in a stunningly internalized homophobic move. To top it off, we have a section of the gay community which thinks the right to marriage is the single, defining civil rights issue of our time, and they are content to retire from activism once they’ve got the right to a ceremony and can sit in Starbucks without feeling glum.

These are issues that run deep. I commend McGowan for highlighting one of them, but I ask her to refrain from such damaging language.


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