Our “Conversation” posts are meant as open-ended discussion starters. So leave a comment here or on social media and share your perspective. In these thorny issues, many voices get us closer to the truth. -CDO
Today I was checking out tweets under the #tweetlikeawhitegay hashtag. The tweets are hilariously on point, but a handful of them gave me the sting of self-recognition:
Sis! You did not just shadesnatch her to the filth! Dragweave bald 💀💀💀 edgesfleek on lit😫😫 its BAE😍😍
— MY DADDY ALABAMA (@moisturizeds) January 29, 2016
them: HUNTY YAS BITCH YOU BETTER FUCKIN WERK SERVING ME FISH GIVE ME LIFE EAT IT SLAY TO THE GAWDZ BITCH YAS #TweetLikeAWhiteGay
— bantu babe (@uwantaqua) January 29, 2016
#TweetLikeAWhiteGay YAAAAAS QUEEN SIP THAT TEA BOO OOH GURL SNATCH MY WEAVE MY EDGES ARE GONE I AM LIVING RIGHT NOW WERK HUNTY YAAAAAS
— harley (@CRYBABYHARLEY) January 29, 2016
I’m white. I’m queer. And that language — the language of “Paris is Burning” and “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” language that sits somewhere at the intersection of blackness and queerness and drag culture and ball culture — is language I use often. For me, the language codes queerness into my daily interactions with other people (I don’t just use it when I’m kiki-ing with friends. I use it at work. I use it in the world. I even used it as a respondent at a theatre festival to some unsuspecting playwright who didn’t quite know what to make of me). There’s an exuberance about it that I love, a flourish that speaks to some part of me I want to express, a underlining of my queerness that makes it visible, tangible.
But I’m also aware that it’s not mine. It’s the language of cultures I don’t belong to. I’m not black. I’m not a queen. And white people have a history — oh, we do! — of taking things that don’t belong to them and twisting them, minimizing them, sanitizing them, whitewashing them to serve their sometimes nefarious, sometimes innocent purposes. The confiscation of culture is an aggression, and the last thing I want to be is some white guy who talks social justice out of one side of his mouth and racist bullshit out of the other just because he’s fond of saying “fierce.”
I want to believe there’s a difference between using the language as an expression of your queerness and the sometimes grotesque performance of it by white gay men. I want to believe it’s one thing for me to say, in a work meeting, “Girl, I don’t know about you, but I feel like she just read you,” in the same way I talk about the weather and another for some white gay man to claim he’s got an “inner black woman” named Laquisha, and shout “SLAAAY” and “WERK HUNTY” as though he’s stepped out of some MadTV sketch.
Because there’s a difference, right? There’s something fucked up about white dudes affecting a voice they imagine is “black,” parodying the physicality and musicality of black women and black queens, and turning it into amusement. Is it equally fucked up to just use the language? Is it permissible, or just a more subtle form of parody?
I want to believe I’m not being an appropriative asshole. (Even though I may totally be one).