Many of you may have heard by now that Azealia Banks, the NYC-based bisexual rapper best known for her 2011 hit “212,” has gotten herself into some trouble.
Banks, who is known for her brash words, aggressive lyrics, and numerous ‘beefs’ with artists, found herself in a Twitter battle with another up-and-coming female, black rapper named Angel Haze last week. The two have a well-documented disliking of one another, so this battle came to no one’s surprise. However, things took a turn for the worst once gossip blogger Perez Hilton jumped in the ring after Banks made a disparaging comment in regards to Haze’s breasts. Banks, in response to Hilton, lashed back by calling him a “messy faggot” and ending their Twitter fight by telling him to kill himself.
Unpleasant meddling woman = bitch, unpleasant meddling man = Perez Hilton
— YUNG RAPUNXEL (@AZEALIABANKS) January 5, 2013
And now rumors are circulating that Banks has been dropped from her label. A spokesman for the rapper denied this was the case, saying: “Azealia Banks is currently in the studio recording her debut album, which will be released this year through Interscope in the US and Polydor in the UK.”
The word ‘faggot,’ when heard by many people in the LGBT community brings back dark memories, moments of violence, and feelings of anxiety and hurt. The word has a long history, and is closely aligned with words like ‘nigger’ during discussions on language and identity. These two words run symmetrically within a linguistic history, but their current popular usages differ in many communities. Nigger is used pretty commonly in the rap community, as well as in many racial and ethnic communities as a term with elasticity. It can mean: friend, family member, loved one, enemy, etc. It has multiple definitions.
However, faggot, in a modern day sense, is most commonly aligned with negativity and doesn’t yet hold as much elasticity, per se, as the former word.
It is sadly still heard in a McDonald’s restaurant late one night in Baltimore as a transgender woman is being beaten to an inch of her life, or in the streets during a homophobic fight with a group of men; it’s heard coming from the mouth of a fellow gay man right before he throws a punch at another gay man. And it’s even heard from the mouth of the same gossip blogger, Perez Hilton, toward artist Will.i.am, outside of a club in Toronto one early-summer morning in 2009.
There have been efforts to reclaim it, most popularly with the 50Faggots web-series, launched by Director Randall Jenson. This web-series documents the lives of effeminate gay men in America — men who are called ‘faggot’ by other gay men for being too gay. But even within the context of this project, many in the LGBT community at-large watch these webisodes with baited breath and anxious hands — still feeling the word faggot ring through them.
Faggot is a complicated word with a complicated history and future. And honestly, I don’t know when LGBT folks will heal from the pain they have felt from this word, but I pray soon.
When I read the headlines and the many articles discussing Banks’ usage of ‘faggot’ I didn’t flinch, I didn’t even get mad. (Though I did get upset about her asking him to kill himself, especially in light of the extremely high rates of suicide that plague LGBT people.) Instead of anger toward her usage of the word, all I could think about was Banks being bisexual, and that she grew up with gay kids who were active in the ball scene — a community that has reclaimed faggot. I thought about how Banks is a black woman, and I thought about how once again when a woman acts out against men (gay or not) in any way, the world descends upon her to “get her together,” as someone in the ball scene would say. And all of this made me remember the genre of rap — Banks being a rapper — and its relationship to the word faggot.
Rappers have been using this word for as long as most of us can remember. It is a staple in aggressive lyrics that boom through speakers in clubs and cars and homes. Artist like Eminem, Tyler the Creator and many, many more — mostly all men — have made millions off the usage of this word in their lyrics. They have performed these songs at award shows and spit this word in sold-out arenas where members of the LGBT community stand among seas of heterosexual folks singing along. And most have argued, upon critique, that they use the word not to be homophobic, but to instead critique someone for acting like a woman. For being a bitch, for being a cunt (Banks later revised her definition of ‘faggot’ as someone acting like a cunt). Essentially it’s meant to be used on men who are not acting like ‘real men.’
The times I have been called faggot were moments when my “hey girl!” was too loud, times I would be walking down the street with another gay men or any time I was just “too gay to function.” It was the times that I was not acting like a ‘real man’ and being too public about it.
What I would like to offer up for this discussion is, instead of calling Azealia Banks homophobic, we should instead say she was perpetuating misogyny. Why? Because saying she is homophobic or arguing the politics around her using the word ‘faggot’ doesn’t get to the root of the problem.
Example: A female family member of mine would use the word faggot all the time. She used it quite flippantly, but never meant for it to be homophobic. One day, after calling her boyfriend a ‘fag,’ I stopped her and asked: Why did you just say that?
Because he wasn’t acting like a man, she told me.
Well what was he acting like, a woman? I responded. She shook her head yes and that’s where I stopped her before she could respond. You do realize what you mean when you say that, right? Not acting like a man means he is acting like a woman, if we use your logic. You’re a woman; do you think it’s so bad to be a woman? She shook her head no. I want you think about that every time you use that word, that you are essentially telling people to stop acting like you, a woman.
I haven’t heard her say the word since.
If I had instead said, YOU’RE BEING HOMOPHOBIC! OMG! That wouldn’t have been received as well; believe me, I’ve tried it. Even though she’s an ally, she isn’t gay or queer, and homophobia doesn’t affect her in the ways that it does LGBT folks. And more importantly, even though she was using a homophobic word, she wasn’t meaning to be homophobic (even though that is what happened). Instead, she meant to shame someone for being effeminate, for not being man-enough.
I find re-situating this conversation from homophobia and onto misogyny is more productive, more directed at the systemic problem at hand.
Want another reason why we shouldn’t focus on the ‘faggot’ part of this issue?
You know that word ‘tranny’ so many people use as an insult? People like gay icon Kathy Griffin and RuPaul, people like Azealia Banks who, in one of her songs directly shames transwomen in order to create humor; you know variations of the word like Trannylicious, coined by Perez Hilton himself? Tranny is another version of faggot. It comes from that same machine called misogyny pumping out hatred. And I would bet many folks have used that word loosely — without even realizing the meaning — and are probably some of the same folks that got so offended by Banks calling Hilton a “messy faggot.”
It may be easier to direct the anger and pain that surfaces when the word faggot is said by a celebrity, but what does that do to the larger problems? Does it make the word go away? Does it make the problems go away? No.
Instead, it makes all of this into a sound bite until another artist slips and says something homophobic and we cite this Banks vs. Hilton controversy as evidence in that person’s case. And maybe they will get dropped from their label and face public shame, all while another woman is paid less than a man and another gay boy is punched in the face and hears “faggot” screamed above him. It will be a sound bite as another transwoman is laughed at and called “tranny” by strangers on the street, and it will be a sound bite as the world continues to turn and people are still treated differently for acting “like a woman.”
So, was Banks wrong? Yes. Is homophobia a problem? Yes. Are there other things to direct all of this media attention too? Yes, yes, and yes.
Can we all work to end all of this sexism, misogyny, racism, etc. in the world?
We sure as hell better try.