On “Fag Hags” and Stereotypes

I have a friend who always posts the most interesting stuff on his Facebook page. Recently, he highlighted a National Public Radio segment on “Tell Me More” where a gay man set out some rules for his female friends because he was feeling like an accessory.  The rules, by Thomas Rogers, were set out in a Salon piece titled “Ladies: I’m not your gay boyfriend.”

The Facebook post launched a heated discussion over the role of women in gay men’s lives and how offended some women were to be written off as lonely women looking for “accessories.”

So, what does this have to do about journalism?  Well, I was interested to hear Michele Martin start the interview by making it clear that they weren’t going to use a term, she said, rhymed with “bag tag.” I was a little surprised, actually, that “fag hag” was now a pejorative that could not be spoken in polite company, or at least not on NPR.  It’s not necessarily a term I use, but I also don’t have many single, straight female friends.

I understand the reasoning behind not using the term “fag hag” in journalism–or at least putting it in quotes–but it would be interesting to know when–and how–this term went out of favor.  The term is permitted by Salon and used with and without quotes.

More and more, the fag hag is becoming a relic of another era. As a case in point, SWISH (or Straight Women in Support of Homos), the world’s preeminent fag hag organization, is undergoing a rebranding. The group, which was cofounded by Sue Sena in 2002, helps fight homophobia and raise money for AIDS research (it’s a frequent contender for “best float” at the New York City Pride Parade), and has a presence in 32 states and four countries. In the coming year, it plans to get rid of its acronym in an effort to include more non-fag hags in its ranks. “That’s the way the movement is going,” says Sena. “If the moniker is eroding, that’s a great thing.”

The thing that offended me most about the article and interview, however, was this chippy quote about how a woman could be more “gay friend” without being, well, a phrase that “rhymed with ‘bag tag.'”

According to Rogers, it was once more natural for gay men and sexually uninhibited women to be friends, because each felt a common sense of being an outsider. But nowadays, when straight women approach Rogers seeking his friendship, he says they do so without really understanding gay culture.

“They didn’t know what Mommy Dearest was, or they hadn’t seen a John Waters movie,” Rogers jokes, referring to iconic Hollywood films that have become part of the gay lexicon.

Both Michele Martin and are were appalled by this quip, because arguably the stereotype is more offensive than the “fag hag.”

But stereotypes–by journalists and the general public–are part of the mix.  Just take a look at this defense by Gawker-wanna be Cintra Wilson who was spanked by New York Times Public Editor for a Wilson’s Critical Shopper column on J.C. Penney’s.

Wilson told me she usually writes about “obscure stores that don’t exist outside of Manhattan,” and she thinks of her audience as “1,300 women in Connecticut and urban gay guys in Manhattan.”

Ick.

2 Responses

  1. As the author of a book about gay men and straight women, I know about the danger of veering off into “stereotype land.”

    Of course, there are all types of gay men and all types of straight women. All types of straight men and lesbians, too, for that matter.

    But the topic of gay men and straight women has bubbled up again. A guy guy is pissed off and doesn’t want to be anyone’s gay boyfriend. He feels like an accessory. In his case, I’d be pissed, too.

    That just sounds like a bad dynamic, and I have been there a lot myself. I am hyper-aware of comments made by women (or men for that matter) who want to put me in any box.

    But that doesn’t mean I avoid the differences we sometimes bring to the table.

    I was (am) interested in the gay man/straight woman dynamic for one reason: often, it’s a friendship without typical agendas, which is rare if you think about it.

    Don’t most relationships have some sort of agenda attached? In talking to women, I heard from many that a brother, husband, boyfriend, dad, and girlfriend sometimes have more of an agenda than a gay man might. Sometimes with a gay man, there’s a non-judgmental and non- competitive attitude, and the same applies from women back to gay men.

    The difference between the gay boyfriend (if you want to call it that) of today and yesterday is that the old archetype is fading. Increasingly, we are friends with straight men, and if we choose to play any role in a woman’s relationship with a man, it might be to act as an interpreter, not “yes” men. The needy, imbalanced, and codependent gay man/straight woman stereotype is, hopefully, evaporating. In its place is a healthier relationship and that’s something to celebrate. The derogative term “fag hag” doesn’t apply here.

    But back to generalizing for a minute. Two general thoughts:

    Every healthy relationship requires balance and if you’re feeling like an accessory to anyone, there’s a problem. Been there, done that, got out, am much happier.

    While I am glad to just call anyone who is a friend a friend and leave it at that, I don’t see anything wrong with noting special characteristics of a certain type of friendship when applicable.

  2. Hey – I hope that ick isn’t some knock against people from Connecticut!!
    Proud to have been born and raised in the Nutmeg state!!
    🙂 Matthew

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