The Circle of White, Gay Appropriation
As queer media becomes increasingly popular, it’s time for the community to admit we have an appropriation problem. Many forget despite sharing the identity of “queer,” there are still several levels of oppression within the community. A white, middle-class gay man and an impoverished trans woman of color simply will not live the same experiences. Yet, in traditional appropriation manner, it seems that everyone else wants to steal pieces of culture, especially in 2017.
The emergence of mass queer media and television representation made this appropriation clear as day, especially with shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race. Drag queens wore bigger wigs, darker foundation and deeper contours. They rapped Missy Elliot, belted Whitney, and best of all, had “black women inside them.” White queens were the pioneers of this magical new style, this fantastic aesthetic. And when black queens did it, they were the copycats. This manifested easily into the white queer audience in one obvious way— vocabulary. The “reading,” the “snatching,” the “yas queen” and “ooh hunty” all functioned in a carefully spun web of misogynoir. While it was easy to illustrate how a queen was appropriating the physical aspects of black womanhood, the words were a lot harder to trace. Until black women got loud.
In 2014, Sierra Mannie wrote what many black women had been waiting for— a cease and desist. Detailing how white queer men appropriate and why it contributes to the oppression of black women, she expertly argued, “white people are not racially oppressed in the United States of America. White people are not racially oppressed in the United States of America.” Repeat it with me.
Mannie was met with backlash across the community, proving her exact point. As white queer men furiously defended their art, their culture, Mannie’s words rang true. For every black woman willing to call out the queer community, there were five white gay men ready to shut her back up. The most interesting addition was published by Time Magazine, the same one that hosted Mannie’s original article. Steve Friess argued if black women keep pushing their white gay allies away, they would have no one left. As if it was the job of the oppressed to accommodate their oppressors.
Mannie’s fearless voice illustrated something the queer community still needs to learn, namely that their oppression is not the same as the oppression of women of color. No matter how hard they try, queerness will never be racialized. No matter how much power RuPaul Charles might have, he still funnels out more white queens than all other races combined.
The most recent edition of this appropriation is a little more subtle. It began with Valentina, a Latinx queen most of her fans viewed as the drag community’s Selena. A queen who was nicknamed “Linda Evangelista,” who was heckled for always incorporating her culture into her looks, who was treated as if her heritage was nothing more than a theme. Her elimination from Season 9 broke a lot of hearts, not because she deserved to stay, but because it became pretty clear that another white queen would win the crown.
Over the summer, when my friends (yes, white and gay) played Alaska Thunderfuck 3000’s new song “Valentina,” I was struck with disgust. The nasally memorized Spanish, the playful jabs, the music of “Despacito” in the background all seemed to say “I’m helping you.” Sure, I’m appropriating you. I’m exploiting and profiting from the very identity that got you eliminated. But at least someone is saying your name. As All-Star Alaska went on to release the song “Come to Brazil,” accompanied by a Carnival-esque video, it was clear the queen was pioneering the drag community in a brand new way.
I won’t be surprised if Latinx culture is the next spicy thing for drag queens to latch on to. I won’t be surprised if black culture is still appropriated in subtle ways, becoming harder and harder to call out every time a queen walks the runway. Because at its core, the drag community still fetishizes these women the same way the rest of the world does. As long as their perceived immunity to sexism exists, so will their profit on the backs of women of color.
Let us not forget the first PRIDE wasn’t a parade, but a riot.
Let us not forget that it was black trans women throwing the stones.