Let's Unpack the Small Kernel of Unintentional Truth in Rose McGowan's Unfair Characterization of Gay Men
Last month on Bret Easton Ellis’ podcast, actress Rose McGowan (Charmed, Planet Terror) said some things about gay men, and what she said was ignorant and unfair, but the issue is more complicated than simply saying, “Oh, Rose McGowan is an idiot. She doesn’t know what the hell she’s talking about,” although that is probably also true.
Here’s what she said:
“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? There is Sharia law active in Saudi Arabia, there’s a woman who’s about to be stoned — I have not heard [AIDS activist] Cleve Jones discuss her, and nor will he. 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.
“Women, by-and-large, have very much helped the gay community get to where they are today. And I have seen not a single peep from these people, who supposedly represent lesbians as well… when the equal pay act was shut down by Republicans in the Senate, not a single man mentioned that.
“I see now people who have basically fought for the right to stand on top of a float wearing an orange speedo and take molly.”
Look: I have no idea what Rose McGowan was really trying to say here, but what she did say ended up sounding misguided and homophobic , and the way that she came at the issue basically foreclosed the possibility that anyone is going to listen to her or treat her comments seriously. And they shouldn’t because, if you really investigate the gay rights movement particularly during the AIDs crisis of the 80s, you’ll see that gay men played a significant role in improving access to healthcare for women, minorities, and the poor. In fact, many of the rights that gay men have fought for since the 1970s have been expanded into other classes of people.
And yet, on the other hand, the gay rights movement — which has made incredible advances in the last decade — is still a movement focused largely on sexual identity, on tolerance, on stamping out bigotry, and on equal rights for gays and lesbians. The movement hasn’t fully reached its tentacles down into other issues of race, gender, and class yet, but there’s a reason for that. In urban and liberal pockets of the country, gay white men have largely been accepted, and to an extent, they benefit from the same privileges as other white men. But there’s still a lot of fighting left in the rest of the country — homophobia is still as prevalent in certain parts of the country as sexism and racism, which — contrary to what Fox News and Rush Limbaugh would have us believe — are very much still alive. Two viral videos from the last couple of weeks — here and here — prove the extent of homophobia.
And so, the gay rights movement is still fighting a major war on one front, so they haven’t yet began fully opening up other fronts to concentrate its focus on poor gay people, or black gay people, or Muslim gay people. I mean, look: Neil Patrick Harris is living the idealized life of a gay man, but he still very much benefits from from his wealth and white privilege, and yet the poor, gay Redneck from Arkansas or the gay black guy who lives in inner-city Chicago is still struggling because of a combination of class issues and sexual orientation.
But, look: It’ll get there. The women’s rights movement of the 1960s and 70s largely focused on white women of privilege. It was a movement for women like Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan — women who already had privileges in other ways. But third wave feminism really began to reach deeper down, and focus on women of many colors, ethnicities, nationalities, religions and cultural backgrounds. The gay rights movement hasn’t gotten there all the way yet, and that’s because there’s still a lot of work left to do on the first and second waves, so to speak, which is not to say that gay men should not also focus on gays of “many colors, ethnicities, nationalities, religions and cultural backgrounds” because there are still plenty of gays who aren’t riding on floats in orange speedos and taking molly, which of course is the dream of all gay people of every color and of every class.
But none of you care about the history of the movement. You just want to know more about the stupid things that Rose McGowan said. I hear you. Here’s the dumdum apology that dribbled off her Twitter feed:
To be fair, she then tried to lighten the mood with some less defensive tweets:
I think one should always speak out against the tyranny of the Speedo pic.twitter.com/DSNbZdTqDW— rose mcgowan (@rosemcgowan) November 5, 2014
tl;dr: Rose McGowan said some stupid things, but it’s complicated.
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