Seth MacFarlane’s hosting of this year’s Academy Awards ceremony is, by now, a well-critiqued car crash. The articles here, here and here are well-argued, analytical and clearly document why the racism and sexism his jokes were based on is deplorable.
But one aspect of his routine that might have been overlooked is the chorus that supported MacFarlane during his opening number, We Saw Your Boobs. MacFarlane, a trained singer and pianist, was backed in that crass and tasteless number by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles (GMCLA), an organisation that, according to its website, has the vision to sing “for a future free from homophobia and all other discrimination”.
Well, here’s the thing. Agreeing to sing a song that propagates entrenched discrimination in an industry that is hardly known for being diverse and supportive of equality seems like a strange way to fight discrimination. That is where the GMCLA failed, and failed quite spectacularly.
But this is the stinger: not only did the GMCLA fail in fulfilling its own vision; its participation as a willing accomplice in an awfully sexist performance is symptomatic of a wider phenomenon: discrimination in the LGBT community itself.
To be clear, I am not accusing the GMCLA or any of its members of being consciously sexist. What I am asserting, however, is that their actions are part of a wider phenomenon, whereby a minority community that faces discrimination itself adopts and entrenches other discriminations that the majority community perpetrates. For example, think of ethnic minority communities that may discriminate against disabled people. Or in this case, gay white men demonstrating sexism. (I’m staying away from racism within LGBT communities in this piece, because that is a massive can of worms in itself.)
People like to believe that communities that have historically faced discrimination are supposed to be more accepting of other minorities. This is both naïve and simplistic. By that argument, there would be no black people who were homophobic, nor lesbians who had a problem with Muslims.
The point is this: an individual identity is made of multiple strands: gender, race, sexuality, nationality, education levels, etc. A ‘community’ (German, university alumni, LGBT, Methodist, etc) relies on fostering a collective of people on the basis of one or more elements of their individual identities. Just belonging to one community does not immediately rid its members of their ties to other communities. It also does not remove the prejudices and biases that their membership of those other communities might bring.
It is therefore normalised for most gay men, regardless of their sexuality, to propagate the sexism inherent in societies. Just because they may not be sexually interested in women does not mean they still do not have male privilege; this privilege may be ‘diminished’ by the discrimination they themselves may face for their sexuality, but it still exists, in different forms.
Gay attitudes reflecting sexism and misogyny have been discussed recently in several articles (see here and here for good examples) though there is need for more systemic research into this area. For example, the ubiquitous fag hag stereotype in Western gay culture is a good example of this, where a woman who is purportedly unable to ‘land a man of her own’ supposedly seeks out gay male companionship. There is also extensive (though arguably anecdotal) evidence of gay men privileging their own access to female bodies, using their supposed lack of sexual interest as licence to grope women’s bodies (Isaac Mizrahi at the Golden Globes being an excellent case in point if you need illustrating.)
So did the GMCLA think about the sexism that the song they were performing at the Academy Awards? Quite probably not. In the same way that a gay man might not think racial profiling at an airport is a bad thing. Gay people are people first, and they are victim to the same fallibilities; unthinking prejudice being one of them.