letting our idols off the hook: on fame and problematic behavior

Hello kittens,

As some of you probably know, I spearheaded an attempt to boycott the fourth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race due to RuPaul’s defense of using the word tr***y to hurt people’s feelings.

It’s an uphill battle to call artists to task for their problematic behavior, a fact that I learned long before I boycotted RuPaul for a year (or, more accurately, a season).

You would not believe – although maybe you would – how much shit I got/get for pointing out that a feminist megastar like Kathleen Hanna is guilty of exactly the same kind of hate speech that RuPaul was.

Here’s all the evidence you need (tw transphobic language):

Le Tigre – Keep on Livin’

You’ll note that KH – a straight cisgender woman – doesn’t use slurs for gay, lesbian or bisexual people, only for trans people. And she does it in the terrible guise of supporting queers, which might be the worst part.

So, so, so many people, including my dearest friends, have given me massive gobs of shit for calling KH out for her behavior. And it’s not just this one video. It’s about 20 years of misappropriating queer identity. Need I remind you of:

Bikini Kill – Rebel Girl

In which KH asserts that there is a hot lesbian she’d like to exploit for social cache. How cutting edge. (EYESPRAIN.)

Now, to be clear, I love pretty much everything Kathleen Hanna has ever done. I have all of Bikini Kill’s albums *and* all of Le Tigre’s albums. I hold KH as a kind of heroine.

But if I can’t call her out for her shit – how the hell are we supposed to change things?

And the only defense people can come up with is: “COME ON. SHE’S KATHLEEN HANNA!”

Well, ya know what? The exact same thing could be said of RuPaul. “COME ON! SHE’S RuPAUL!”

And it is no excuse.

The uprising against RuPaul was swift and blinding (and ongoing), while the uprising against me for pointing out KH’s problematic behavior is its only equal. “Come on! SHE’S KATHLEEN HANNA!”

Right. Because KH is a feminist superstar and RuPaul – what? Flies in the face of your anti-femme bullshit second-wave politics?

This called to mind the rightful outrage enacted against Sharon Needles for using the n word.

Sharon Needles shouldn’t be out there using the n word. That’s not her word. That’s not her button to push, as I like to say.

[Sidebar: Sharon Needles also got a lot of crap for appearing in a show in a Nazi uniform, although all of the said crap completely ignored the context of that performance. During that performance, Sharon was performing this song, and as a proud Jew, I wish I could have been there to see that performance. It sounds brilliant. And PS: I never heard one damn Jew who was offended by that. If we can’t use art to critique genocide, then we may as well go back to painting wheat fields.]

Sharon deserves all the crap she got for using the n word. But where in the world was the crap for Justin Vivian Bond (as Kiki) using the n word?

In a bit that can be found on the Kiki and Herb at the Knitting Factory DVD (which, for the record, I recently purchased), Bond says that v and Herb were declared retarded at an institution earlier in their lives. Bond goes on to say (to paraphrase – sorry, I’m not going to watch the whole movie right now to get the exact quote), ‘I know it’s not politically correct to use that word these days, but it’s like when black people say n***er: we own that word.”

To riotous laughter.

Although this hardly warrants saying, I bleeped that word, not the producers of the movie.

To my knowledge, no one has ever (publicly) criticized Bond for using the n (or the r!) word in v’s act. V was also not called to task (although v was hardly the first or the only) when v took to v’s Facebook page to defend John Galliano for his antisemitic tirade – barring a comment I made on said status.

The absentee crap lies (in my opinion, all too obviously) in the fact that Bond is a well respected artist – v was even nominated for a Tony! While all Sharon has done is win a reality show.

That’s the only difference, right?

They’re both white people using the n word. Both RuPaul and Kathleen Hanna are cisgender people using the t word. But one is vaunted in respected circles, while the other is not – that is the sole difference.

This is not a defense of RuPaul or Sharon Needles – this is a critique of the absence of criticism for Hanna and Bond.

Either art is an excuse for problematic behavior or it’s not (HINT: it’s not). But the uneven application of standards stinks to high hell of letting respected people get away with problematic behavior.

We have to be able to critique our own – and just like it is problematic for Nabokovians to deny psychoanalysis of Nabokov’s work because Nabokov rejected psychoanalysis, it is problematic not to subject beloved artists to critique just because they flout said critique.

~Big Mama Schlomo

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