Tag Archives: Queer Tokenism

We’re Queer, We’re Here: Beyond Serving As Clickbait And Buzzwords, Our Voices Must Be Heard

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A popular women’s fashion magazine recently celebrated ‘voices’ — trendsetters and change makers — with a star-studded award ceremony earlier this month. Did they deliver?

You bet they did. When a fashion magazine recognises and respects diverse voices, including ones that propagate feminism and body-positivity, they need to be congratulated. In fact, said fashion magazine even commended voices in the tech space.

Now this is where it gets strange. When a magazine awards every kind of voice there is, how do they applaud the country’s queerscape?

With complete radio silence. And it’s the same everywhere. Over the weekend, the country’s leading men’s magazine lauded content creators in the fields of style and culture. And yet again, they forgot to send queer voices a memo.

Why is this even more disheartening than it should be? Because over the same weekend, many a thousand miles away, the GLAAD Media Awards honoured various branches of the media for their outstanding representations of the LGBT community.

This side of the Indian Ocean, the problem lies in the complete indifference with which the media deals with homosexuality in general. Like the (now disgraced) king of Pop once sang, they really don’t care about us.

How do I know?

After a three-month-long email exchange with the (then) lifestyle editor at the aforementioned men’s magazine, she wrote back saying that the magazine (digital or print) didn’t have space for queer content. ‘Activism isn’t the scope of the brand,’ she drawled. ‘We aren’t sure how our audiences would react to something as sensitive as queer pieces.’

This was in 2017. For a magazine that regularly objectifies adrenaline-pumping men on its cover, doles out fashion and beauty advice, has an audience that consumes queer culture, and a taskforce of gay men that’s larger than my list of starred favourites on Grindr, what really counts as hetero-sensitive? What counts as important? What counts as a voice that needs to be seen, but not heard?

Sadly, things haven’t changed much in the last decade.

Half a decade ago, I got a call asking me whether I wanted to be part of a ‘label-breaking’ advertisement. Conceptualised by an award-winning director known for his indie work and independent voice, it was a #TimeToBreakStereotypes video campaign for a high-end luxury brand.

They needed an openly gay man for a bit role, and here I was, fresh out of the closet. It was Pride Month, and I was bursting to do my bit for the community (and more importantly, my 15 seconds of fame).

On the day of my shoot, I rushed over to the set with a fresh haircut and fresher hopes. Between a hurried costume change and makeup session, I excitedly peeped over the AD’s shoulder to read my character’s description on the call sheet; there were only two words:

Gay Two.

The fact that I wasn’t important enough to be ‘Gay One’ aside (in my defense, it was an androgynous supermodel), was this really what we had come down to?

Because if the urban intellectual can be so unsympathetic to an entire sexual minority’s problems, what can we really expect from the rest of the country?

See, because the Urban Intellectual™ is supposed to be smart and opinionated (but obviously not in a weary sort of way). The Urban Intellectual™ gives regular discourses on toxic patriarchy through their Instagram stories. The Urban Intellectual™ has lot of gay friends accessories.  The Urban Intellectual™ supports the #MeToo movement (until one of their own is called out). The Urban Intellectual™ posts memes about misogyny. (S)he is your online best friend. Your voice of reason. Your ally.

And they are everywhere.

At a meeting with one of India’s top internet media companies, I had the pleasure of being offered a freelance gig by the (then) editor. They needed new voices, she said to me — more inclusion leads to more introspection for the audience. I tittered. Was this finally our day of reckoning — when queer voices weren’t just typecast, but cast as frontrunners instead?

‘And you know, we could really use you at the office,’ she giggled, ‘Our office is so heteronormative, it gets really boring with all these straight boys,’ she laughed.

I blinked. I thought she was joking — solely because one of the main reasons I wanted in was ‘cause all the straight boys seemed so much fun.

She wasn’t. And that’s when I felt like the joke. Because it doesn’t just stop at intellectuals and (the occasional) Instagram influencers.

See, queer men and women have forever been paraded in campaigns and draped in click bait. I’ve personally been asked to ‘be gay’ (for the camera) and ‘write gay’ more times than I can count. Can you write something bitchy? Can you write something scandalous? Can you ruffle some feathers? Can you shock our audiences? Can you be the person we want you to be?

I’m not denying that being fabulous is fun; I am just saying there’s more to queer culture than our sartorial choices and sass.

The truth is that people really aren’t looking for queer voices; they are looking for queer click bait. Gay culture will always be trivialised and tokenised, treated as a SEO trend right around the time of Pride Month (and marches) or worse, Valentine’s week. Which means that as you read this sentence, thousands of companies have taken down their rainbow flags and pushed their glitter glue supplies back into their office back rooms. Queer campaigns have been dismissed (much like queer folk), or pushed to June when LGBTQIA+ rights suddenly gain traction with International Month of Pride.

Two years ago, a popular bar franchise turned my date and I down at the door, because ‘only couples were allowed, and no stag entries were accepted’. Well, that seemed like it. I meekly shrugged and told my out-of-town date that we’d have to find another bar that sold alcohol at fluctuating low prices. But he wouldn’t have it.

Drawing himself upright, he stared the testosterone-pumped bouncer (who was twice his size) down and told him that we were ‘two boys on a date’. The man sneered at us, saying ‘rules were rules, and unless we found a girl, they wouldn’t let us in’. I hastily muttered an apology, and pulled my friend to a friendlier bar; the drinks weren’t cheap, but neither was the staff.

This is ironic, because a year-and-a-half later, they celebrated the Section 377 verdict with a #LoveIsLove offer on the day of. Touché, right?

I’ll tell you a secret.

Queer voices don’t necessarily need appreciation, they need to be acknowledged. We don’t necessarily need a provision for an ‘inclusion rider’, we just need more inclusion (that goes beyond the norm of introducing one queer archetype in your videos for the sake of checking the diversity quota). See, we aren’t asking for a spotlight, we are just asking for a platform. There’s a whole world of queer content out there that goes beyond the story of how we came out (side note: I’ve come out so many times for the media, my coming out story has a coming out story). It’s going to be a long, arduous journey, I know it. But the least we can do is hope.

Until then, you can just hand us the microphone.

I promise we won’t drop it.

Dear Straight People, What Does Your Favourite Queer Eye Guy Say About You?

 

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Three seasons in, I love Queer Eye.

Five fabulous (but not so fabulous that they intimidate you) gay men coming together to school bigots groom clueless straight men into better versions™ of themselves, without adhering to the tropes of being catty, conniving or cocky (as the media perceives us to be)?

What’s there not to love?

Sure, the show can be a TRP orgasm, but I find it only slightly grating to see the community peddling its talents in exchange for acceptance. It’s offensive for us to have to fight for our rights by showing how important we are (as masters in our fields, possessed of an almost supernatural sensitivity to fine living) in the heterosexual grooming ritual. But maybe, there’s no way around it. I’ll just sit here in a corner, feeling upset about hetero people taking advantage of queer creativity since forever.

Until then, here’s what your favourite queer guy from the ‘Fab Five’ says about you, readers:

Jonathan Van Ness

Racked with guilt for having said something mildly homophobic a few years ago, you overcompensate now by wrapping yourself up with queer culture references and iconic gay catchphrases – which is why it becomes so important for you to win the ‘Ally of the Year’ award. You want everyone to know that you care. You want your Instagram followers to know you care. You want your crush to know that you care. You care with a vengeance.  You care so much that it hurts.  In fact, if your care could be qualified, it would be produced as a Broadway musical.

It would obviously star you.

You’d want to believe that you could walk into a room and steal the spotlight immediately, because you are fierce and/or fabulous. And why won’t you?

You have the sum total of one gay friend. But that doesn’t stop you from stringing him (it’s always a him) along to all your shopping excursions at the mall/bar hopping scenes across town. You are constantly trying to set him up with other gay people you know (which are few and far between, like that one guy you met while waiting in line at your favourite pub’s restroom) because you desperately want him to get married and find, true eternal happiness.

But don’t pat yourself on your back so hard; you are only doing it because you want to steal the spotlight as maid of honour. You’ll want to kill it at this hypothetical Hallmark-worthy wedding with your speech (which you already have prepared), but you’ll probably end up saying something like ‘dating would have been so much more fun if I was just gay…’

Side note: If you wrongly use ‘Yaas Kween!’ one more time, your fingers might fall off as they snap.

Tan France

You kissed someone of the same sex back in school, and you are probably convinced it could happen again. Thus, watching Queer Eye is your way of showing your solidarity for the LGBTQIA+ community.

Clearly, you don’t want to be too obvious about it, so siding with Tan seems like the perfect choice — you don’t want people to think you are a poser now, do you? Because we all know how you think about posers — something you are very vocal about online.

You like having debates like you love telling people how comfortable you are with the queer spectrum, but your personal favourite is the one time you spent six hours dissecting Diet Sabya’s identity at a house party. You describe yourself as an intellectual. You hate it when other people call you that.

Side note: You don’t really know what a French Tuck™ is, but you make sure you use it in every conversation you can. Also, you roll your eyes at fashion bloggers on Instagram, but secretly like all their posts (because their stories are on mute).

Antoni Porowski

Everybody loves Antoni. He feels so…safe and easy. You like that he is gay, but ‘not really gay’. Antoni — with his GQ hair and loopy lopsided grin that strums at your heartstrings like a Pablo Neruda poem — doesn’t fit the cookie-cutter mould of the gay stereotype everyone (including all the gays you follow on the internet) despises. He’s different, you tell yourself. He could be you. ‘Why are more men not queer?’ you ponder, ‘why are more men not like him?’

But then again, you probably think it’s a compliment when you tell your queer acquaintances (because you don’t have real queer friends) that they can pass off as ‘straight’. You mean it in a nice way, because you are a nice person.

Now, let it slowly sink in that you are terribly shallow, but it might not register because you are trying to decide which of his #ThirstTraps to leave a thirsty comment on. Because, let’s face it – you probably only like him for his movie star good looks and his guacamole-making skills (although you’ve ignored all the click bait about his questionable cooking skills.).

Plus, you might just have a fetish for washboard abs.

Karamo Brown

Like the kids say, you are woke, but not so woke that people can make fun of you.  It’s your favourite quality about yourself. Your friends would describe you as an ‘all-around lovely person’ even though you aren’t the most hilarious one in the bunch.

You still love your friends.

Liking Karamo makes you feel like you are being inclusive (as everyone should be in this world, you tell friends at parties). However, whenever you are talking about your gay friend, you make sure you use the word ‘choice’ when you are talking about his ‘lifestyle’. It doesn’t stop you from getting bottomless mimosas for brunch with him every other weekend. You take a picture then, and hashtag it your #HappyPlace.

Your Instagram bio describes you as a life coach and a go-getter, but your friends aren’t sure whether you mean it in a sardonic way. You have a lot to say, but no one takes you seriously because your feed is full of stock photos of Internet quotes.

You probably stole some of them from meme accounts.

Bobby Berk

Let’s face it. You are only here because your girlfriend wanted you to watch the show so that you could ‘be more attuned with your feelings, and find your inner sensitive self’.

But then you got hooked. Sure, Antoni knows his avocados and Tan can really help you with your sartorial choices (or lack thereof), but it’s Bobby who does all the hard work, but hardly gets any credit.

Just like you. In fact, why does Bobby not have his own show, you ask angrily. He’s so good at design, and construction, and…stuff, you yell at no one in particular. Everyone else just nervously giggles.

You’ve always thought of yourself as the underdog, someone who’s on the outside. You are quiet, but you can also be quite the handful when you are talking about your passion projects. You don’t just like Bobby, you want to beBobby. He’s a painful reminder of all the times you were assigned group projects in school, but ended up doing all the work by yourself.

Now, your favourite past time includes talking about (but not working on) DIY kits, critiquing design at the dinner table, and hoarding old editions of Architectural Digest. It’s all tasteful, but unremarkable.