UPDATED: Vanity Fair’s ‘Fun and Faggy’ Editor F–‘s Up

Glee is pretty gay.  OK, it is REALLY gay.  Vanity Fair is pretty gay.  OK, Vanity Fair is REALLY gay.

So, when Vanity Fair’s resident gay homosexual “fun and faggy” writer Brett Berk drops the f-bomb in a a “Gay Guide to Glee” review on the VF website where he says:

Nice singing. But how can having girls in the audience make these cartwheeling, foam-party fags straight-sexy?

there is going to be some upset people. is it ok because Berk is gay himself?  The over 300 commenters on the story seem divided.

I am so insulted by all the comments “just because you’re gay doesn’t give you the right to use the term fag”. Excuse me, yes it does. Many of us have reclaimed the terms “fag”, “dyke”, “queer” and reappropriated them into our everyday language. It’s oppressive of you to tell I can NOT use those words. I’m not asking you use the terms or even like them, but rather to accept that they exist as an empowering term to some to some of us in the gay community.

. . .

Bett Berk is a disgusting example of being a gay male and has reversed all the progress Ryan Murphy has accomplished with an influential series such as Glee. The show inspires viewers and it reflects very poorly on Vanity fair that it recruits a so-called ‘writer’ edit that to ‘wanker’ in publishing such a disgusting word and allowing Brett Berk to be so casual when throwing around words burdened with hate? Shame on you for being such an ignorant, vile man lacking in morals or principle I hope the youth of America learn from your stupidity.

. . .

The article is titled “The Gay Guide to Glee”. It’s written from a gay man’s perspective so I’d assume he used gay-speak in what he’s writing. Would it be less offense if he wrote in PC-sort -of-way? Would it better that he censor his “gayness” and not use the term “fag” and replace it with “homosexual”? Maybe he should eliminate the faggy-tone and cattiness he’s writing in. Many of you are essentially asking him to “straighten up” his writing. Way to go for being a straight allies.

. . .

I find it amazing that with such a wide marketing span, no doubt including gay men, that you’d even have the audacity to use a term such as ‘fag’ in an article. Not only does it show a complete lack of sensitivity, but as well as a lack of tact and common sense. When addressing an issue such as homosexuality, you need to have enough common sense to know this will spread and be brought to the public when using slander that’s offensive and hurtful. I hope whoever wrote this article not only gets reprimanded but possibly fired.

So is the fact that Berk is gay and the column is labeled as gay mean Berk is off-the-hook for dropping the f-bomb? If the writer had been straight man (or a straight woman) with a big gay fan base, would it have been okay? Are we just to sensitive about it all?

My personal take? Berks was being a little too cute for his own good. While VF definitely has a gay sensibility, you can’t write as if your audience is the tea dance crowd at Fire Island or happy hour in Chelsea. That’s true whether your vehicle is a gay publication or blog or a “gay friendly” one like VF. While the argument that gays should reclaim worlds like “fag,” I’m just not sure reclaiming it in the pages of VF is all that heroic.

UPDATE: Late last evening, Berk changed his post and Twitter profile to eliminate the terms “fags” anf “faggy.”  Read about it at my post for Mediaite.

UPDATE II: Vanity Fair has now responded to the controversy:

With so many genuine homophobes stirring up trouble these days, the gay community doesn’t need any agita from an ally like vanityfair.com, so we are eager to set the record straight about the use of the word “fags” in Brett Berk’s latest “Gay Guide to Glee” column. Brett, who has repeatedly referred to himself as VF.com’s “fun and faggy editor” (a title the editors have declined to endorse), writes from a humorous and explicitly gay perspective, and his invocation of this complicated word was meant to critique the notion that the gay characters of Glee should feel obliged to “play straight” on stage. That said, we recognize that the column caused genuine offense to many readers, and we apologize unreservedly to them.




8 Responses

  1. This is a tough one. My own feeling is that every time “fag” is used in a positive context, it’s a win in that it dilutes its power as a slur.

    This particular usage seems appropriate to me. A fun, frivolous, affectionate, pop-cultural context seems like just the right place for this word to pop up.

    • But can the average person who comes across this article in a Google search automatically tell it’s being used in a positive context?

      • All that it takes is reading two or three sentences for the author’s tone to become clear. There’s no mistaking this usage for something anti-gay. So, from an ethical standpoint, I don’t think this is a damaging usage of the word. But it does seem to have completely distracted from what he intended to be the point of the piece, which is … er … something about television criticism I think?

      • That’s a good point, mattymatt. I don’t think this is the worse offense in the world and I get what the writer was trying to do. But I do think it is important for journalists–and especially LGBT journalists–to think and talk about the impact of using terms like “fags” in stories where we assume the audience is “in” on the message.

  2. As a black, queer, 40-something, this whole scenario seems way too familiar to me. These are the EXACT SAME arguments used to justify the speaking/writing of the word n***er. For reasons I wish were more obvious to the largely-white readership, I can accept works like “queer” or “dyke” or “lezbo” in non-mixed company than I will *EVER* be able to accept the use of n***er under *ANY* circumstances.

    What the reader should glean from the above paragraph is this:

    1) Use of words reclaimed by the LGBT community might be OK if used within an LGBT space with an LGBT audience
    2) It is *NEVER* acceptable to use n***er no matter where or with whom

    In this instance, Berk never should have used it and Graydon Carter never should have allowed its use.

  3. I think it’s important to put this in context:

    The column was targeted by a few rabid GLEE fans who are unhappy with Berk’s sympathetic, but often critical reviews of the show. They have written in before to complain that his reviews are not “positive” enough. Now they have orchestrated a campaign. A great many of these 300-plus comments came in several waves, posted minutes and seconds apart, and largely read the exact same way. They were instructed to post from a GLEE fan site, and indeed, as you can see, many of the posters there have GLEE fan-names. They even congratulate each other in the comments for the campaign.

    So are these truly offended “fags” or are they just angry fans? All evidence points to the latter. At which point the question becomes:

    Why are we agonizing over manufactured outrage?

  4. I was offended by Berk’s comments and by VF’s editors allowing them. When they start using N*gg*r (by Black writers, of course, in an ironic or playful manner) or K*Ke (by Jewish writers, of course, in a light and comic way) or Sp*c (by Hispanic writers, of course, with a side-splitting hilarity), then it seems to me it would be appropriate to playfully and ironically have a faggy writer use fag. Until then, I think it would wise for VF to cease and desist.

    The problem with gay people and gay allies using the term in mixed company or at all is that it gives license to others who do not have our best interests at heart to use the word. The term “fag,” even when used ironically, is dismissive of gay people, rendering us insignificant. If just about the only gay teen couple in popular culture can be dismissed as party fags, then they certainly don’t have to be taken seriously, and surely one should have no concern about the pain gay and lesbian teens endure on high school campuses where “fag” is routinely used to denigrate others.

  5. […] 9. Vanity Fair’s ‘Fun and Faggy’ Editor F–’s Up […]

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