One of the more interesting internal divisions within the gay community has to do with how gays feel about celebrity engagement with the group. Some revel in the deep connections that figures like Madonna or Joan Rivers have fostered with the community, while others decry any overture from pop stars as an opportunistic marketing ploy disconnected from real support. I fall somewhere in the middle, not necessarily minding the obvious calculations involved but also being curious about and sometimes wary of their impact on gay culture. This is especially true when these relationships go unexamined (which is why I spent a great deal of time back in school analyzing Lady Gaga’s then-unfolding campaign to transform herself from square Upper West Side school girl to downtown, queer-like-you diva). In other words, I’m all for raising questions about the exploitation of gay audiences and culture—but what I can’t handle is hypocrisy about those issues from within the community.
Earlier today, Britney Spears, one of the more troubled icons in the gay pantheon, went on a radio show to talk about her highly popular and very gay new single, “Work Bitch,” and to promote her upcoming residency in Las Vegas. The hosts asked her if she drew on gays when crafting her music, and she answered with the following:
A lot of my hairstylists and my beauty team that I work with are gay so I hang out with gays a lot and I just think they’re adorable and hilarious.
While that statement could have contained stronger compliments like “brilliant” and “creative,” it really is perfectly nice. Yet mainstream, corporate-cozy gay-interest blogs like HuffPo Gay Voices and Queerty are acting like they’re protectors against “gay exploitation” by framing the quote as some kind of condescending gaffe. In fact, considering the silliness of the question, it was a fairly polite way of changing the subject. The hosts had not asked Spears probing queries about her artistic mentors in the gay community or how discussions of trans identity had challenged her thinking on gender; rather, they offered the impressive insight that she uses the word “bitch” in a lot of her songs, which must in turn mean that the gays “are a big influence” on her. Who’s the offensive party in this exchange again?
Let’s do interrogate the gay community’s tendency to get attached to certain celebrities, but let’s don’t act like we haven’t been complicit in the formation of those relationships—even if we don’t like how stereotypically “adorable and hilarious” we’ve made ourselves seem in the process.