PJ Brennan: "Let's not fight, let's talk"
GT's exclusive columnist shares his two cents on the Alan Carr/PETA "fairy" debate...
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Alan Carr lent his image to PETA for an ad encouraging people to spay or neuter their pets. “Be a little fairy…” it says, next to an image of Carr with wings and a wand. Having seen the DVD once I understood that it was a reference to Alan Carr’s successful stand-up entitled “The Tooth Fairy”. Let me make that clear: I got the reference. I also had no idea how the idea of spaying or neutering your pet had anything to do with being a fairy.
I’m a big fan of Alan Carr; I prefer his late night chat show to all the rest of them, so I felt conflicted by the ad. I suspected Alan felt empowered by re-appropriating the word, just as he seemingly did when he titled his DVD “The Tooth Fairy”. In the aftermath of all of this, Alan tweeted, “Hey and before all you oh so worthy gays get back on your high horse the most homophobia I get is from gays. #selfloathing”. That gave me pause. Perhaps I was being too sensitive, maybe he was right. Was my self-loathing blinding me to the “lighthearted” attempt at humour?
But then I remembered the word “context” and I thought, no, there is still something there that doesn’t sit well with me. Plus, my high horse left me years ago (no more sugar cubes).
I got into a twitter debate (read: argument) with a faceless incendiary who told me to “lighten up”. I’ve been told to “man up” before and “calm down”; all attempts to negate the actual argument by attacking the emotional state behind it. This is not a counter-argument, it is simply dismissive.
Alan, I’m sorry if certain people spoke to you in a manner that made it difficult for you to see the idea behind their emotion. If they insulted you or called you names, that’s unfortunate and incredibly counter-productive. I have not, so I hope you will take what I have to say slightly more to heart.
If we are not careful with the criticism, I agree with Alan wholeheartedly, we run the risk of being homophobic ourselves. Our rejection of the word “fairy” has as much to do with ideas of masculinity and femininity as it does with sexuality, in this case. So, I see where Alan is coming from. Alan (and myself, don’t get it twisted) possess qualities that many in the general public would deem “feminine”, and that’s absolutely fine. By criticising the use of the word “fairy” I am not claiming that there’s no room in the gay community for the feminine, on the contrary, but by labelling himself as a “fairy”, in today’s context, he is taking a step in the wrong direction, and dare I say, slightly “Uncle Tom’ing” himself. Mr. Carr may believe he is taking back the word and making it work for him, but I would argue that he is taking the diverse richness of who he is and simplifying it down to a phrase that has a historical connotation as a derogatory slur towards gays.
That can be seen as empowering or not. Talk about neutering: while I genuinely do love his sense of humour, and indeed who he is, I am dismayed to see what I believe to be voluntary subjugation. By labelling himself as a fairy he is allowing the current set of beliefs associated with that word to cement itself even further.
With all the advances in gay rights in recent years we are heading into a new era of subtle homophobia. Luckily, for the sake of context, we already live in a world of subtle racism, where people, attempting to claim a “post-racial” society, close their eyes and ears to the racism that still pervades day-to-day life. Oscar Pistorius’ current defence is based on a “fear of violence”, which has racist undertones throughout. George Zimmerman said he feared for his life when he shot an unarmed young man, Trayvon Martin. This fear that is spoken of in these circumstances is based on the portrayal of race in today’s society, as the facts in no way support that sentiment.
People can’t shout “faggot” on the street and get away with it much these days. That’s overt homophobia, and we are well on our way to stamping that out. But we can tell each other to “man up” without seeing the misogynistic and homophobic undercurrents found within that phrase. Alan was not portrayed as his “Tooth Fairy” but merely as a fairy, so there is a flaw in the logic being used to argue their side. The ad relies on the reader to take that one extra step from “fairy” to “Tooth Fairy”, and without trying to insult Alan Carr or his success, not everyone would be able to do that. It is in this murky in-between world, this “limbo” of comedy, that subtle homophobia can take its hold. And it’s pretty freakin’ subtle when a gay man is complicit in it. It’s certainly tricky, this nuanced and delicate terrain, but admonishment and outright rejection of another’s ideas is no way to deal with it. I hope to not be dismissed because I am being “emotional”; I do not want to be told to “lighten up” because this is important. I want to laugh “with” you and not fear that, somewhere, someone is laughing “at” me because we said it was okay.
I am not screaming “Homophobes!” with intense vitriol. I am nudging you in the side, as a friend would, and telling you that it’s not as okay as you might think it is. I used to make jokes about bisexuality until my friend told me he was bisexual. I wasn’t a bigot, but I said bigoted things, and rather than getting defensive, I listened, and rather than getting aggressive, my friend calmly pointed out the times I unwittingly made him feel “less than”. There is no time for pointing fingers but there is time, and there should be time, to listen and to improve.
Words PJ Brennan, @peejaybrennan