The outrageousness of Kanye West’s most recent public fight with his ex-girlfriend Amber Rose has caught a lot of attention. In response to harsh words exchanged between Kanye and her ex-boyfriend Wiz Khalifa, Rose tweeted “Awww @kanyewest are u mad I’m not around to play in ur asshole anymore? #FingersInTheBootyAssBitch.” This was a dig obviously meant to undermine Kanye’s masculinity as a straight-identifying man (because anal-play is strictly a homosexual act, right?). Kanye responded, “Exes can be mad but just know I never let them play with my ass…I don’t do that…I stay away from that area all together,” clearly reassuring Rose and the rest of the world of his masculinity and heterosexuality.
In a society that correlates anal sex with homosexuality, the suggestion that Kanye participated in and enjoyed receiving anal pleasure called his sexuality and masculinity into question. As Chong-suk Han points out in “Sexy Like a Girl and Horny Like a Boy,” “The notion of masculinity is socially constructed, with the very definition of what is and is not masculine constantly negotiated and altered” (225). The construction of masculinity is a power play that only maintains its dominance by consistently belittling what it is not: feminine. A large part of being masculine is having sex with women, so men who sleep with men cannot be masculine. Hence, insinuating that Kanye was gay because of his sexual preferences belittled his fragile masculinity and caused him to issue a retaliation assuring everyone that he “stays away from that area all together.”
Common responses to such offensive comments on social media include, “If you don’t like it, then don’t pay attention to it!” or that it is simply entertainment. But, as David Nylund points out in “When in Rome: Heterosexism, Homophobia, and Sports Talk Radio,” media entertainment is “neither innate nor harmless.” The fact of the matter is these views and opinions held by celebrities influence the views of their fans. Similarly, in “Cultural Studies, Multiculturalism, and Media Culture,” Douglas Kellner claims, “Learn what to enjoy and what we should avoid. We learn when to laugh and when to cheer. A system of power and privilege thus conditions our pleasures” (232). It is because of this system of power and privilege that the homophobic comments made by Kanye West and Amber Rose cannot be ignored. By insinuating that participating in stereotypically gay sex acts should be taken as an insult, West and Rose perpetuate the notion of homosexuality as inferior to heterosexuality and promote heterosexism.
“At first glance, Friends is an innocent, family-friendly sitcom. However, it contains problematic and discriminatory themes, reinforcing hegemonic expectations […] Friends serves as a medium through which white and heterosexual hegemony are reinforced.”
—Lyric Jackson, Nathan Makela, Jamie Baum, and Eliza Mott (Block 5 2016)
“As the women in the photo are wearing lots of makeup wearing and revealing clothing and the men are not, we see that they are shown in ‘postures of sexual submission, servility or display,’ subtly perpetuating the ‘dehumanizing objectification’ of women.”
“While other popular sitcoms have been critiqued for perpetuating racial stereotypes, Friends succeeds in almost completely erasing racial minorities altogether […] Homophobia and transphobia are also apparent throughout the show. Any lifestyle straying from heteronormativity is used as a source for humor, reinforcing gender and sexual stereotypes.”
“With a racially diverse group of individuals that are not just white or black, we eliminate the erasure of people of color and challenge the problematic black-white binary. This also prevents the perpetuation of the white superior as the ideal” (Chidester 157).
“Television has limited its standards to monogamous relationships that thrive on heavy commitment and possessive social interactions. We decided to shift the tone of the trailer to be more relaxed in order to deviate from the hypersexualization of polygamous relationships. In our new show, we extend the conversation beyond such limited perspective and create a much more inclusive environment.”
“‘Rape jokes are never funny,’ shouted a woman in the audience at a comedy show in Los Angeles in 2012. Daniel Tosh swiveled his body and gazed at her, then looked back at the audience and asked, “Wouldn’t it be funny if she got raped by, like, five guys? Like, right now?” Daniel Tosh, the host of Comedy Central’s popular show Tosh.0, frequently toes the line on sexist, racist, classist, and overall exploitative commentary.”
—Ally Nagasawa-Hinck, Ariannis Hines, Jules Feeney, and Njeri Summey (Block 5 2016)
“Tosh’s success in the industry can be explained by David Nylund’s assertion that ‘the media industry, therefore, often mobilizes measure around conservative ideologies that have oppressive effects on women, homosexuals and people of color’ (232). Tosh’s jokes often adhere to traditional gender roles, classist attitudes of superiority, racists stereotypes, and narcissism […] The images that advertise Tosh.0 consistently portray Daniel Tosh as a funny, powerful male through conventionalized (normalized) indicators of masculinized body language.”
[NOTE: Due to difficulties with embedding, please click here to view the Tosh.0 clip.]
“While the vast majority of Tosh’s comments on the show are problematic, we focus on three specific examples that highlight his sexist and classist rhetoric. [This clip] illustrates Tosh’s use of assumption-driven, belittling, and problematic humor. When commenting on the YouTube video “Worst Prank Ever,” Tosh remarks on the family in the video’s living space, family structure, and the maternal figure’s appearance through embedded sexist and classist ideologies.”
“In order to accomplish our counter-hegemonic goals, we re-appropriate his jokes by mimicking their format and timing in a way that flips the power dynamic. By designating Njeri, a Black and Queer woman, as the Tosh.N0 host, we challenge Tosh’s authority and symbolically give power to a marginalized voice.”
“By replacing Tosh’s white male body with two Black female bodies, we invert the concept of ‘whitewashing,’ a phenomena that Lori Kito Lopez claims represents whiteness as ‘both invisible and dominant'(639). In other words, race in white male identities is often unacknowledged. Further, white men are overwhelmingly represented in mainstream media, while women of color are marginalized. The act of photographing Njeri and Ariannis in this way granted their identities true representation.”
By Spencer Spotts
Author’s Note: For the privacy and safety of their clients, the names of LesMigraS staff members and photos of the facility have not been included.
In the United States, LGBTQIA+ rights and issues are a hot topic, as the media obsesses over Caitlyn Jenner, the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage is heavily anticipated, and Orange is the New Black approaches its third season premier. While Berlin may appear to be ahead of the game in addressing LGBTQIA+ issues, our visit to LesMigraS reshaped this perception for me and highlighted how much work there is to be done and how very few people are doing it.
Founded in 1999, LesMigraS serves lesbian/bisexual women, inter* and trans* people. The organization “is engaged in antidiscrimination and antiviolence work, offers counseling and a space for self-empowerment,” and provides multiple services for their clients and their families/friends. Programs and services include, but are not limited to, counseling, workshops, film screenings, empowerment programs, support groups, and anti-violence/anti-discrimination networking. For example, they offer various forms of counseling (e.g. legal, psycho-social, partner/spouse) that address a wide range of issues (e.g. discrimination, coming out, migration, partner and sexual abuse, and other forms of identity-related violence).
Depending on the area of the city, Berlin can sometimes be relatively safe and comfortable for queer-identifying people to be open about their lives. There is a history of political and social activism for queer rights in Berlin, as explored by Erik Jensen in “The Pink Triangle and Political Consciousness: Gays, Lesbians, and the Memory of Nazi Persecution.” He writes, “In the late 1960s, in the wake of the civil rights protests, antiwar demonstrations, and the second wave of feminism…gays and lesbians [began] to organize on a broad basis and push for radical changes in their legal and social status” (321). Seemingly, however, only entrance into this increasing tolerance of non-heterosexuality is that you are a white, able-bodied, cisgender man. Anyone in LGBTQIA+ communities that falls outside this category will immediately notice the lack of resources, funding, and representation for them and their peers. In “Queer Injuries: The Racial Politics of ‘Homophobic Hate Crime’ in Germany,” Jin Haritaworn discusses this trend and notes the appropriation of “intersectionality” by white Leftist organizations. Haritaworn writes, “Dominant identity politics are learning the language of intersectionality and masquerading as multi-issues to gain representational power and a competitive edge over migrant organizations in struggles over public funding and recognition” (78). In our week and a half here in Berlin so far, we have repeatedly heard this narrative of funding discrimination. LesMigraS, which caters to a more intersectional and wide range of identities, is not unfamiliar with this experience of limited funding and resources.
Nonetheless, LesMigraS recognizes the importance and necessity of resisting this type of economic hegemony. As a result, intersectionality and inclusivity are the driving forces behind their work. Although their part-time staff only consists of nine members, all of them represent diverse and various backgrounds. For instance, most of their services and programs are offered in multiple languages, and workshops are carefully developed to address a wide range of topics and communities. Not only is LesMigraS providing resources where they are very heavily needed, they are also advancing the work and scholarship surrounding LGBTQIA+ issues and identity in Germany. Similar to Jensen, Clayton Whisnant writes about the progress and evolution of gay history. In “Gay German History: Future Directions?,” he writes that “the study of Germany’s gay history since its meager beginnings in the 1970s [was] driven forward by a relatively small cadre of devoted historians” (1). However, what Whisnant fails to acknowledge is the political and social location of these historians and what (or more specifically who) they are studying. The majority of the research that Whisnant highlights follows the history of gay and bisexual men in Germany, who are also assumed to be white cisgender men. In contrast, LesMigraS released a report in 2012 (developed over three years) that focused on the violence and multiple discrimination experiences of lesbian/bisexual women and trans* people in Germany. The translated title reads “Not So Tangible but Still Real,” and is a compilation of a large survey, six narrative interviews, and one focus group. The results showed that on average, lesbian/bisexual women and trans* people of color or with a migration background (self-identified) experienced higher rates of discrimination and violence as opposed to their white participants. LesMigraS expressed to us that, to their knowledge, their study is the first and only report in Germany to focus on these communities and multiple discrimination.
While LesMigraS may be the only organization of its kind in Berlin, they by no means are lacking in power and credibility. White gay men may be dominating the political and institutional spheres of queer identity, but LesMigraS is rewriting the cultural and social history at high speeds. Their resistance and impact, both on the day-to-day basis as well as long term, needs to garner more attention from LGBTQIA+ activists in Berlin as well as in the United States. Furthermore, LesMigraS provides the perfect example of how conducting intersectional and inclusive work is possible, effective, and above all, incredibly necessary.
Spencer Spotts is a rising junior at Colorado College, with a major in Feminist & Gender Studies and a minor in Race & Ethnic Studies. His hometown is Thornton, Colorado, and he is a first generation student. Spencer currently serves as the co-chair of the Colorado College Student Organization for Sexual Safety (SOSS) and hopes to pursue a career in sexual violence and sexual health education for LGBTQIA+ communities. His research interests include sexual violence, emotional partner abuse, effemiphobia in queer communities, and the experiences of LGBT youth. He also has a background in theatre and occasionally directs productions at Colorado College. He works as the Open House Intern for the Colorado College Office of Admission and occasionally writes for The Catalyst independent student newspaper. Last but not least, Spencer is a proud and active Starbucks Gold Card Member.