How I landed in the ring with Azealia Banks & Perez Hilton
The writer and activist discusses how her commentary turned the rapper’s feud with the blogger into a “shitshow”
I swear I was going to leave this ish alone, but as I cuddled up to Sunday’s premiere of “Downton Abbey,” I saw myself in a headline: “Azealia Banks Calls Perez Hilton A Faggot, Janet Mock Jumps In, Shitshow Ensues.”
When I read the Blackbookmag.com post, I was pissed that my commentary was trivialized and wrongfully portrayed as defending the rapper’s hurtful language. If I wanted to go all victim on you, I could say: “It Happened To Me: I Was Put In The Middle Of A Famous Twitter Feud!”
I honestly wanted this ridiculousness to die. But I knew that speaking out was necessary. Being silent simply because murkiness is uncomfortable sentences us all to complacency — and staying out of it is not my style. Here, I’ll explain how I entered the ring in the Azealia vs. Perez Twitter feud.
Saturday night I was bored, scrolling through Twitter while half re-watching “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” (sometimes I just like to have the ladies on background, like white noise). Then, I saw on Twitter that Banks, the pretty brown rapper with the long weave whom I saw all over ASOS.com that time I spent way too much money on that Blanche Devereaux-esque blouse, vehemently called Perez a “f*ggot.”
I immediately rolled my eyes. I’m sure you want to know why, right?
Anytime privileged gay men are wronged, the world takes notice. Do you know how many times, as a trans woman, that I have tweeted about celebs using trans women as punch lines or gags, calling us “tranny,” and no one makes a peep or writes a single article? (I’m side-eyeing beloved gay allies like Kathy Griffin and Roseanne Barr who’ve both belittled women like myself).
So after my eye roll, I dug a bit deeper because this, dear Janet, is not about you. I read countless posts on their feud, studied their Twitter exchanges, saw what the queer folks on Tumblr were saying, and then downloaded some of Banks’ music to get a peek into who she was.
Banks, a rapper who is openly bisexual, said she grew up around “gays” in the New York City ball culture and pulls from that scene, which was created by gay men and trans women of color. No wonder I was thoroughly entertained by her beats, “Paris Is Burning” references and in-your-face-ness. But when I heard the words “Adam’s apple,” in a song called “Us,” I paused. I have one of those, I thought, and rewound the mp3 for context: “She got that Adam’s apple and she asked about that fashion/And we passed her with that laughter.”
Again, aren’t trans women just so fucking funny? People can’t help themselves.
I also re-read her Tweets about Hilton and saw that she categorized “any male who acts like a female” as a f*ggot (which whiffs of transphobia and gender-policing). “When I said acts like a female I should’ve said acts like a cunt,” Banks clarified on Twitter, digging herself in a deeper hole of misogyny.
Let me be clear: Calling anyone a “faggot” and urging them to “kill” themselves because they’re a guy acting “like a cunt” is inexcusable. As woman who has been and is often called a tranny, a faggot and a nigger, I hate disparaging and abusive language no matter who knowingly or unknowingly promotes it. No one, no matter how despicable their past acts, should be on the receiving end of such violent language.
The coverage of this feud got me thinking about gender, color, privilege, intersectionality. It got me thinking about media makers and gatekeepers and the making of villains and victims. It got me thinking about bias and editorial process and selective outrage. It got me thinking about scapegoating and stereotypes and how celebrities profit over being controversial. And it got me thinking about the overlapping themes I discovered in the coverage of the feud:
1. Victim-blaming: Perez Hilton asked for it. It’s payback for all the times he called will.i.am a “f*ggot”, the times he drew penises and cum on celebs’ faces and the times he outed celebs on his blog.
2. Team Azealia For LIFE: I love Azealia’s music and she’s bisexual and grew up around gays so I’m OK with her appropriating our language and culture. Plus, we’re reclaiming faggot anyway and she uses the N-word, too, so why not the F-word.
3. Blacks Are Soooo Homophobic (in comments section): “Homophobia is rife in the black community, so pathetic behavior like this is hardly surprising.” -Actual Gawker commenter.
BANKS eventually Tweeted a sort-of apology that she did not extend to Hilton: “My most sincere apologies to anyone who was indirectly offended by my foul language. Not sorry for Perez tho. Lol.” Soon after, GLAAD released a statement about Azealia, saying that regardless of her personal definition of f*ggot, the use of it “hurts” the “gay kids who follow her on Twitter.”
The Banks-Hilton story harkened me back to Roland Martin, Tracy Morgan, Tyler the Creator, and countless other people of color who are called out on their foul language towards gay people — which then validates the stereotype that all black and brown people are homophobic or are inclined to be more homophobic. Yet, when a white person (Paris Hilton, Charlie Sheen, Kirk Cameron) says something homophobic, no one screams, “All white people are homophobic!” And I still haven’t read stories about how the invisibility of people of color from the gay establishment signals its inherent race and class problem.
So with my intersections as a poor-raised, trans woman of color all flared up, I took to Twitter on January 5 to point out my personal frustration with the media’s glaring habit of highlighting celebs of color who say horrible things, while a gentle touch or blind eye is utilized when white celebs say equally horrible things:
When a screengrab of my Tweets went viral on Tumblr, I took to my own Tumblr to clarify the murkiness of my 140-character statements: “The media’s selective treatment of these situations needs to be called out. We must analyze who is at the helm of these stories/bylines/institutions and why certain communities/people of color are demonized, publicized and labeled as more homo/transphobic.”
Then, I continued, “Why [is] the use of ‘f*g’ or ‘f*ggot’ an outright slur that raises much frenzy, but ‘tr*nny’ is seen as more of a debate (or ignored all together) when used with the same vitriol intent?” I wrote the line because both Banks and Hilton have used transphobic language (see: recent Banks tweet and Hilton’s blog categories “Tranny” and “Trannies”). Hell, the gay community even lauded them.
“Picking and choosing when to be offended…Pfffft, as fucking if,” Banks Tweeted, referencing GLAAD’s statement.
Here’s the thing — we must stop “picking and choosing.” If we’re going to call famous people out on their bad behavior, we need to call them all out, no matter what color or gender they are, on their disparaging and abusive language.
As a trans woman, there’s rarely a time when I’ve been able to applaud the portrayal or someone’s commentary on a woman like myself in mainstream media. As a fan of many shows, entertainers and writers who’ve belittled “my people,” I have a bittersweet relationship with what I consume. If I wrote off every famous person or show that offended me, I would have nothing to watch. And for some this is an effortless protest. For me, it is not. That’s why I’m a critical fan.
There are many things that I choose not to offer my commentary on because I just want it to go away and I don’t want to be bombarded by the stans who will surely say that I am “too sensitive,” that it was “just a joke,” that “tranny” is not a slur because “my friend’s cousin is a transgender and she uses it all the time.”
Being a critical fan means that you love a famous human being, knowing fully well they are flawed and can make mistakes due to their privilege-blindness or outright ignorance (whether knowingly or unknowingly practicing misogyny, transphobia, homophobia, ableism, racism, etc.). When they f*ck up, it is your duty as a critical fan to make them better, call them out and educate them. Your job is not to create excuses and adamantly defend their mistakes because they are so fierce in your eyes.
In a capitalistic society, these famous human beings need to be aware that their words and actions can cut deep into marginalized people, and marginalized folks should not be ploys for them to garner more press for their upcoming projects.
“Words are things,” Dr. Maya Angelou said during her 2011 Master’s Class on the Oprah Winfrey Network. “You must be careful, careful about calling people out of their names, using racial pejoratives and sexual pejoratives and all that ignorance. Don’t do that. Some day we’ll be able to measure the power of words. I think they are things. They get on the walls. They get in your wallpaper. They get in your rugs, in your upholstery, and your clothes, and finally in to you.”
With Dr. Angelou in mind, I’m hopeful for some kind of healing, progress and hopefully peace.
I know Banks will not be the last famous person to say something foul and Hilton will not be the last person to receive it. What I know for sure though is that we will not heal until we learn to love ourselves, embrace each other’s differences and push one another to be better, especially when we — the famous ones and the ones covering and following the famous ones — make mistakes.