A wise woman named Lindsay Lohan once said, "I've pissed off a lot of people in my time. Never gays. I'm smart like that." The logic goes, if you're a ridiculous has-been, the gays will love you and keep your career and finances afloat. (How else do you think it's possible for Britney Spears to make millions lip-synching to Sia at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas?) Today, even straight men know this theory is true—last fall Nick Jonas used a gay-baiting strategy to launch a very successful comeback. But troubled rapper Azealia Banks apparently hasn't received the memo.
In the last few years, Banks has become better known for her homophobic Twitter beefs than her music. Most notoriously, she called gossip blogger Perez Hilton—the gay man who introduced Katy Perry and Lady Gaga to America—"a messy faggot." Instead of apologizing like most people would do in the age of Twitter and social justice Tumblrs, Banks defended her right to use hate speech: "Why has society accepted 'nigger' as a colloquialism… But will not accept 'faggot'?" she said in a (now deleted) tweet.
As a gay man and professional writer, I have mostly ignored her comments because her songs occupy the middle ground between my love for loud, angry music, like the Smashing Pumpkins', and campy pop stars like Paris Hilton. If I can continue to listen to R. Kelly's "Bump n' Grind" even though he married a teenage Aaliyah and allegedly did all manner of horrible things, I can listen to Broke with Expensive Taste despite Banks's Twitter account. Plus, like all other minorities, I live in an awful world dominated by straight white men—I have bigger problems to deal with than a one-hit wonder's Twitter account.
My views changed this weekend when I became the latest target of Banks's online homophobia. The spat started when Banks launched a series of questionable tweets mocking "twinks," a.k.a. skinny, barely legal gay boys.
Banks regularly (and rightfully) complains about racism and white women appropriating black women's culture while black artists struggle to maintain mainstream success. Yet, here she was, a victim of bigotry, once again tweeting homophobic comments and believing she had the right to appropriate gay terminology. Nothing annoys me more than a hypocrite, so I impulsively tweeted, "Does Azealia Banks even know what a twink is?" without tagging her. She must search Twitter for her name, though, because a few hours later, as I sang "Stars Are Blind" at my friend's karaoke party, my phone started to blow up. Banks had launched a homophobic rant about me:
Is Azealia Banks spending her Saturday night searching for her name on Twitter?!?! I wondered. Is she that desperate for attention after her major record deal never took off?!?! Then I remembered the infamous Hot 97 interview in which she described how she reads blogs obsessively. I showed the tweets to my friends. They laughed. I contemplated ignoring her, like how I ignore the VICE commenters who believe I'm skinny because I have AIDS or a heroin addiction. But my instincts ordered me to combat Banks. I wasn't sure why.
Banks positions herself as a 21st-century woman, but in these tweets she revealed how little she knows about gender and sexuality in 21st-century America and the history of pop culture. She repeatedly insists she, and presumably other women, invented all feminine styles, as if Madonna never ripped off Harlem's vogue scene and Nicki Minaj never wore giant wigs like a drag queen. She also seems to insist women's ability to give birth to gay men means they can be as homophobic as they like.
Anyone who knows anything about gay cultures knows being a gay man doesn't mean you want to appear feminine. Many gays identify as masc (Grindr-speak for masculine) and deride femmes on a daily basis. Even if Banks invented feminine character traits—which she didn't, since she's not fucking Eve—these qualities would never apply to all gay men.
Even worse than these painfully 19th-century views about homosexuality, Banks conflates gender with sexuality. She thinks gay male bloggers criticize her because we wish we had vaginas (her vagina specifically), even though today most people—even my Republican Party–donating Midwestern father—understand the difference between gay men and trans women, a minority group Banks has also unfairly attacked. Banks views biological body parts as the marker of gender, although NYU students have been calling gender a construct since Judith Butler popped on the scene more than two decades ago.
As much as I wanted to ship Banks off to a liberal arts college to welcome her into the 21st century, I felt bad for her. In the last few years, she's dealt with more career disasters than Sky Ferreira. When "212" went viral, everyone thought she would become a radio star; she even signed with Interscope and Lady Gaga's manager, Troy Carter. Then the label delayed Broke with Expensive Taste several times and Banks eventually had to release the album independently. The record may have shot to number three on iTunes, but that's far from from being the next "Poker Face."
For some reason, Banks blames gay men for her troubles, as if gay men have enough power in media to host a secret conference in Las Vegas and plot on how to annihilate her career. Yes, some gay men, like Hilton, have a lot of clout, and a gay fan base can keep your career alive. But like all minorities, gay men in the media (and elsewhere) have to fight five times as hard as straight men to succeed.
I never get off on mocking people online. But Banks had written enough homophobic bullshit for me to feel comfortable to bring out what my childhood friends called "Bitchell":
The tweet shut Banks down until the next morning, when she once again found a tweet I wrote without tagging her and decided to attack me. This time she went after my salary, as if anyone becomes a writer to make money:
I wish things had gone differently; I wished I had changed her mind. She's one of my generation's most talented musicians, and she possesses a talent to speak her mind and verbally go where few people will go. She could use these gifts to change the entertainment industry and challenge its entrenched sexism and racism. But Banks has instead decided to pick on LGBT people, a group she perceives as weak, while she simultaneously appropriates gay culture (she sampled Zebra Katz's underground gay anthem "Ima Read" on her Fantasea mixtape, and also organized a drag-filled concert called Mermaid Ball in 2012).
Every time she makes an ignorant, homophobic comment, or attacks trans women, claiming everyone wants her "femininity" or "hole," she invalidates her musical talent and her intelligent comments about race and sexism. Instead of going after rape culture or the straight men who make women and gay men's lives hell every day, she attacks other marginalized people. This weekend, for example, she decided to go after me, and I'm certainly not worth it. Once again, Azealia Banks decided to waste her talents.
Follow Mitchell Sunderland on Twitter.