I just read an op-ed on The Guardian scolding a british celebrity. (I know nothing about them, to be honest. Plus, I’ve gotta say, I never thought I’d be writing about something to do with a former Spice Girl. Even at the third remove…) Now, this by itself is not noteworthy. Anyone who has ever flicked an errant glance at their op-ed section knows this is frequently par for the course. It’s a way of pretending to be above the vapidness and indignity of celebrity-worshipping, whilst really just putting on a different mask and serving up yet another form of obsessing over celebrities. (‘No-one Cares What Rich-White-Man George Clooney Thinks About Child Poverty!‘ blares the typical headline. And with a ‘witty’, equally dismissive subtitle for good measure. But what is it then followed by? Four thousand words meticulously dissecting what George Clooney thinks about child poverty. This is an age-old sleight of hand. Just a shameless workaround for having it both ways. Keep an eye out for it and you’ll start seeing it everywhere.)
However, in this particular case, there was an added peculiarity which caught my attention. This article is upbraiding the performer in question for discussing her past experiences having sex with another woman. Because she said it on television. The implication is that she’s therefore doing “lesbianism” — a term it’s refreshing to hear someone besides your out-of-date conservative grandparents using — very wrong. Yeah. I’m not fucking with you, I promise. That link above is real. I haven’t somehow spoofed the website and forged a phony article. This was on The Guardian. (And, as it turns out, it’s not the only one on there with this exact take either.) Damn, isn’t it funny how the world turns?
No, wait, you don’t understand! It’s, like, done in a vaguely semi-jokey way or whatever! Well… despite the ultra-petty, caustic jabs about this performer’s supposed lack of cultural relevance. And despite the earnest attempts to shame someone for discussing their sexuality in a supposedly-distasteful context. And despite the exhortations for this performer to keep their mouth shut about such things in future, lest they incur the, uh, high-minded ire of ‘cultural critics’ in the commentariat.
I mean, hey, tell me if this sounds crazy… but I think that if you’re essentially saying ‘no, no, no, STOP THAT! you’re doing xyz sexuality WRONG!’ you should step back and re-evaluate your own attitude. Because you sound bigoted. In the most literal definition of the word. And in this case the writer also kinda seems high on some childish power-trip. One which has made them erroneously believe that they can ridicule (and silence) other people’s choices about discussing their sexuality, because they’re commenting as an LGBTQ+ person. Well, I’m an LGBTQ+ person too — though one certainly needn’t be to validly make this point — and I can tell you that that’s rank stupidity whoever it comes from.
Case in point: you’re not being a “humourless homosexual” — a faux self-deprecating phrase evidently meant to say ‘folks, I know it sucks to have to be the sexuality police, but, gee, someone has to do it and I’m willing to take on this onerous responsibility’ — you’re just being a self-righteous asshole. You’re acting as if being-a-lesbian is somehow yours. But it’s not. And you’re acting as if you’re offended that some half-hearted poseur is trying to leech off of its luster. But they’re not and that’s ridiculous.
And, look, I get it. People in the LGBTQ+ community have been marginalized and put-upon and ignored for a very long time. Absolutely. But now that they finally have some belated cultural cachet and authority, some of them — no doubt a miniscule percentage — have taken on traits of those they hated. These misguided few have given into the temptation to become bullies or shamers or censors themselves. It’s not hard to see why. It is innately gratifying to feel like you have the power to tell others what they can or can’t do/say. It appeases that primitive instinct in all of us which longs to be in charge and get to push people around. But even though it’s understandable, it’s still not okay. No matter whether the identity-group you belong to finds itself on the top of the societal dogpile or at its bottom.
Indeed, this article reeks of that ‘hierarchy of authenticity’ mentality in some queer circles. I’m trying to think how best to illustrate what it looks like in practice. Well, okay, it is perhaps most pronounced, and well known, in the lesbian community. Y’know, how there is sometimes a bizarre reverence for so-called ‘gold star’ lesbians and expressions of superiority from the selfsame. And that’s only one dimension of this whole thing. There’s also the exclusionary mindset of “oh, her? she’s not a real lesbian, she just kisses girls in nightclubs when she’s drunk/’for attention’/to experiment.” Which I know you may think of as a comically outdated prejudice. But you’ll find that it has actually just been morphed to fly under the radar better in 2019. Like in this article. Where one barely even needs to try to read between the lines to see what’s going on. Behold, the true-lesbian verdict is summarily delivered. (Wait, was the full True-Lesbian™ council convened to hear the case? My god. Surely they won’t stand for this flouting of their sacred bylaws!) But you know what? Maybe this former Spice Girl hasn’t watched ‘The L-Word’ fifteen times, maybe her favorite musicians aren’t ‘Tegan and Sara’ or Mary Lambert, maybe there’s not a dogeared copy of Sappho’s poetry on her bedside table, maybe she isn’t a regular on irreverent, tight-knit lesbian subreddits, maybe she doesn’t have an oversized venus symbol tattooed on her bicep, etc. Or whatever other markers of credibility — aka stamps on your lesbian passport — the elitist in-group gatekeepers feel are required. I’m sure you get my point. Yet none of that means her own particular embrace or expression of homosexuality is not valid or to be denigrated.
Nor does anyone get to decide that you’re not a ‘real’ bisexual or asexual or pansexual (and so on) because of some arbitrary, self-aggrandizing bullshit. Remember this. And call them out when they’re idiotic enough to try.
Moving on. Let’s look at some other things that get said in this article. Because, believe me, it’s chock-full of gems. (Or, at least, the type of ‘gems’ you dig out of the ground and hold up to the light only to discover they’re merely shiny fossilized poop. Depends on your expectations whether this will be a disappointment. But just know that currently, as far as I’m aware, there is no market for polishing and embedding them into jewelry. So if you’re into — *scoff* — accruing riches on this lowly material plane, it’s probably not for you.)
“It is never cool to kiss’n’tell” the op-ed writer declares. This one kind of speaks for itself, doesn’t it? But, never one to artfully leave something unsaid, I’m going to gratuitously analyse it anyway. It has shades of that sneaky neo-puritanism which has been burrowing its tendrils through even the ‘progressive’ segments of society in recent years. Happily wearing one’s sexual past on one’s sleeve is so lame and tacky and embarrassing, don’t you think? Far better, and ‘cooler’, to be discreet. And modest. Shit, perhaps only wear dresses or skirts that go down to the soles of your feet while we’re at it. Why not. Everything old is new again.
Furthermore, isn’t this implicit slut-shaming? Sure seems like it to me. I really cannot fathom what else chastising someone for publicly recounting a sexual fling could possibly be. So this is just another classic example of ‘it’s not bad when I do it, because I’m [BLANK]’ and ‘do as I say, not as I do’. Hypocrisy at its most brazen.
Now, would I personally want to discuss my sex life with Piers Morgan on his talk-show? No. I have to say, I really don’t think I would. If I was unfortunate enough to have to be face-to-face with him, and choke on the thick airborne effluvium from his weapons-grade smugness? Hmm. Let me ponder that for a second… Oh I imagine I could suffice with just asking him why it is that he’s such a slimy, cretinous little lowlife. A would-be dollar-store demagogue and all-around laughing stock. A man so devoid of talent or decency or sense of dignity that he can be used to scare-straight youngsters hoping to one day go into the vacuous side of broadcasting. So on and so forth. (Stick around after this blog post and, in private, I’ll shed my timidness and tell you what I really think…) Yeah, I suppose that about sums it up. And, I mean, I’d even be so kind as to say that if he doesn’t actually know the reason, guessing would be an acceptable substitute. But, look, that’s just how I’d handle it. Or so I’d hope. In truth, I think the main priority when confronted with someone like that would be trying to keep one’s breakfast down. I have a pretty iron stomach usually, but this would be a stern challenge.
Nevertheless, the op-ed writer presumes to know that her subject is only disclosing titillating moments from their sexual past to promote an upcoming musical tour. And this is a very, very bad thing… apparently. Still, isn’t one of the principal ambitions of feminism to ensure that women may use their sexuality however the fuck they like (including for personal gain) without being shamed or punished for it? I’ve always thought so, at any rate. And a very fine goal it is too. (Though, how sad it is, and what an indictment of society, that it even must be a goal.)
Also, either that accusation is always assume base motives in people you dislike thinking at its most blatant, or this writer can read minds. In which case, her telepathy is being unforgivably squandered on fueling mean-spirited articles for the online half of a british newspaper. Wouldn’t you say? Deducing why minor celebrities say the things they do is just not a good use of such unprecedented talents. Surely there would be some lucrative government contract awaiting her? Various shadowy three-letter agencies would love to study her wondrously unique and hyper-evolved brain, and apply that research in some no doubt sinister way. Tapping all digital communications is so last year! Empowering the government with vat-grown mind-reading biotech is the path to a brighter tomorrow! Or perhaps she might get her own reality show on TLC? ‘My life as a Begrudging Mind-reader’. That kind of thing. A camera crew could document the unforeseen hardships and inconveniences of supernatural endowments. ‘Oh no, I wasn’t just being paranoid. The cashier really doesn’t like my backpack! They think it looks too garish!’ Or perhaps she could craft a glamorous stage-show in Vegas. You know, have some veteran magician take her under their wing and impart the tricks of the trade, honing her showmanship skills. Shit. I’m babbling. I’m babbling! I know, I know! I’m just so excited for all the fabulous opportunities awaiting her! First things first, get a manager who specializes in ESP performers. All their previous acts will necessarily have been con-artists, sure, but presumably they can adapt the same old business model to someone who can actually do what they claim.
Okay, I’d like to switch gears a bit. I know you were hoping I’d stretch that previous paragraph out even longer, make it even more congested. But you know what I learned when my psychic last read my Tarot cards? You don’t always get what you want. Truly. I was hoping I’d be shown the Death card, because… come on… it looks badass. Unfortunately though, Esmeralda — $25/hr, 555-8921, LA based, also open to auditions — told me it was just not to be. She’d lost half her Tarot deck when she was glamping in a luxury yurt at Joshua Tree to participate in a midnight desert séance. Now, you know your boy. I didn’t miss a beat. I simply said to her, “don’t even sweat it, who hasn’t had that happen to them?” Moreover, I added that if any of those lizard ghosts she was presumably trying to contact should happen to find her missing cards, I’d love to arrange a do-over reading.
Didn’t I have some actual point I wanted to make next?… Oh, yes.
I have to say, I don’t read much of The Guardian’s op-ed section anymore. Of course, it deserves to be said in the same breath that I think their news-reporting is first-rate. Their investigative journalism in particular is obviously nothing short of stellar. And that warrants extra praise because it seems to be, tragically, a dying trade nearing its nadir. Yet this localized excellence does create a very jarring juxtaposition. Because their op-ed section (with the exception of a handful of occasional or rare contributors) is lousy. On a good day I mean. On a bad day, it can be really quite dire. A word I do not throw around lightly. (And do not assume I’m saying this just because I differ politically with the most common sentiments espoused there. Firstly, that’s not necessarily even true. I am, frankly, in several ways farther to the left than many of its writers. And secondly, editorial content whose conclusions I do not like or agree with is a staple in my diet of online reading. As it should be for anyone. At least, anyone hoping to become a well-rounded thinker with robust arguments.)
As one often finds, this shabbiness has not always been the case. Their op-ed section’s average quality has ebbed and flowed quite drastically over the last decade or so. It was fairly good at times. But, yes, regrettably it is right now about as ebb-y as I’ve ever seen it be. And the grubby low-water mark just keeps sinking lower and lower. ‘Tis a shame, to be sure. But also not to be politely ignored out of respect for what it once was. That’s a nicety it’s been too long afforded already. And just look at the result.
I’ve noticed that quite a few of its most-prominent writers often choose to just purvey either trivial outrage or schadenfreude mockery or empty snark or sanctimonious cant. Or even a hodgepodge of all four, and many more forms of puerile intellectual sloppiness besides. I don’t even mean to imply they’re ‘bad’ writers; some of them are obviously quite skilled. Well, as far as it goes. But they’re putting their talents to use for sordid ends.
And I’ll point something else out as well. If they were ‘just’ trying to cater to the lowest-common-denominator, that would be one thing. However, the very floor of The Guardian’s readership (given that, overall, it straddles the intellectual middle-ground between, say, HuffPo and The Nation) is apparently still too high for them. So it’s like they’re trying to, by putting such pungent tripe out there, actually entice into being an even more lowbrow, even easier-to-please audience. Custom-made just for them. This is otherwise known as cementing your own job security. One can’t help but abstractly admire the ingenuity of that strategy. And yet, all the same, hope it’s doomed to emphatically fail for all to see.
Don’t get me wrong. Editorially, The Guardian is still nowhere near as bad as, for example, Salon.com. No way. That’s what a real cesspit looks like. A website whose guiding principle is that the millennial social-justice left needed, at long last, its own shitty online tabloid too. Where there are no standards of ethics or quality of writing/argumentation. Where the most vapid and self-serving forms of performative wokeness are practiced and perfected. Where being oblivious to one’s own lapse into humiliating self-parody is very well-rewarded. Et cetera, et cetera. But I’ll tell you, that is what awaits any website enamoured with the many tawdry, short-term rewards of the ideological race-to-the-bottom. In that sense, it’s a cautionary tale. No-one should ever want their outlet to become a punchline which no serious person would dream of taking seriously. But it can happen. Don’t think it can’t. Just as sure as there are meteoric rises, there are meteoric falls too. In fact, maybe it’s because I have little scientific education under my belt, but I must admit I tend to think of meteors as… um… most often falling.
At any rate, I feel I should say that I don’t really mean to pick on this article in particular. Even though, yes, I undoubtedly am doing that. (To be fair, it is quite a doozy. Economically managing to cram so much foolishness in so few paragraphs.) I’m much more interested in using it as a springboard to get to the bigger picture. Given that I recognise it is just one data point in a swarm of them, which in turn constitute a clear trend from the macrocosmic view.
And, naturally, that trend is not just confined to The Guardian. By no means. It’s a symptom of what one notices about some professional editorialists across the board. Sure, unsurprisingly the rate of occurrence greatly varies depending on the ethos of the outlet in question. But it may still be seen regardless of whether someone is writing for a prestigious newspaper like the New York Times or an online trash-compactor like the Huffington Post. Because they have to pump out a certain amount of content each day/week/month, they’ll sometimes just hastily scribble a new clickbait hot-take without thinking it through whatsoever. (Such as the piece analysed above, which is like the writer took a snide attack-tweet and padded it with enough inane filler to cobble together a short article.) It’s easily done. Requiring very little time, and even less effort. They merely scoop some muck out of the gutter, dip their quill in it, and away they go. Their goal isn’t to say something intelligent or well-considered or insightful. Their goal is just to say a specified amount of something every so often. And if you’re working for an outlet which (even behind-the-scenes) quantifies your performance via pageviews? That incentive structure will warp your sense of priority. Because then it always pays to either spout some inflammatory nonsense or piggyback on some sensationalist event that just happened in celebrity culture. Yes, that’s the ticket! So why even bother with anything else? Oh, and for bonus points, make sure to rush a flimsy ‘reaction-piece’ out within an hour or two after anything newsworthy breaks, to capitalize on that sweet, sweet window of search-term overload.
This twinned urgency-and-clickthroughs imperative can have a very pernicious effect on any writing shoved through its meat-grinder. If a writer isn’t wedded to a baseline of integrity and quality, that will be their ruin. Quickly. Irreversibly. And you can actually watch it happen. Their output will become bland and watered-down and robbed of all nutritional value, like gruel. Utterly forgettable and utterly interchangeable with all the other grey slop being ladled out by hacks elsewhere.
Still, it is a choice whether or not to let that happen. I think you can judge for yourself whether this article, and any like it, is indicative of someone having made the right one.
One thought on “The New Self-Appointed Gatekeepers of Sexuality”
I appreciate this in-depth analysis.
This elitist attitude, this superiority complex people have about authenticity is everywhere. I thought we were all supposed to hone our individualism, fight for our rights, and then lean on them? I guess not, according to some. There’s a code, no matter what, and if you don’t adhere, you’re kicked out of the club.