TW: Mentions of sexual abuse
Historically, the queer man has been perceived as the comical relief, the flamboyant sidekick of the straight protagonist, and most prevalently, the predatory less-than. Unfortunately, this mindset extends to many of today’s discussions surrounding LGBTQ+ individuals in media today.
Case in point, the immediate ‘cancelation’ of James Charles following the Tati Westbrook scandal.
James Charles is a well-renowned Youtuber and one of the biggest influencers in the beauty industry today. But just as quickly as he’d risen to the top, he’d nearly lost it all.
The scandal dominated the social media scene over the past month. While it has since died down, little has been done to address the underlying issue of homophobia.
To provide context for the tumultuous array of events that have followed since then, the whole issue began when James was seen promoting SugarBearHair vitamins on his Instagram story—the supplement brand being a rival of Westbrook’s own, Halo Beauty. Westbrook was a mother figure to James, and this was seen as a direct attack. This prompted her to release the now-deleted ‘Bye Sister’ video, which detailed her relationship with James and his track record of problematic behavior.
However, the main contention people seemed to focus on was Westbrook accusing James of being a sexual predator. According to Westbrook, the 19-year old YouTuber often used his fame to manipulate straight men into having sex with him, apparently going so far as to force Seattle waiter Sam Cooke into making out with him.
While this has since been disproved by a video testimony from Cooke, which claimed what had happened between them was consensual, James has had a history of claiming he could ‘make straight men gay’.
Thus, this begs the question: how are gay men justified in saying they can ‘turn’ straight men?
The answer is simple: They aren’t.
It is highly disrespectful of a person’s sexual identity.
However, there’s still nuance to the issue that people fail to address.
The matter being overlooked is what fuels the repetition of it all. The public responded to the fiasco the way they, in context, always have—by immediately placing all the blame on the queer man. The scandal grew to include people that were not involved in the first place. This includes fellow beauty personality Jeffree Star, who had gone so far as to call James a “danger to society.” How quickly people jumped on the bandwagon of hatred against him only goes to show how self-hatred blossoms into the homophobic desire to see fellow gay men crumble.
Now, it is 2019. Society is slowly progressing towards the ideal world wherein a person’s sexual identity is not conflated with how well society perceives them. But the fact remains that a lot of what is going on is a mere matter of misdirected finger-pointing politics—politics neglectful of the historical oppression of queer people in media and society a whole. And this can be said of both sides of the spectrum. A very marginal portion of the media, regardless of their alignment, has made the effort to understand the underlying homophobia interweaved in the actions of both parties.
For instance, Jeffree Star’s eagerness to shut James down is clearly motivated by the prospect of being the biggest beauty influencer on the YouTube platform, which may seem to have nothing to do with the happenstance that both are queer. But in this aspiration, he has essentially resolved to an agreement with the predatory image that has been so heavily associated with queer men. How he fails to acknowledge James’ own circumstances as a gay man himself—which, like most in the LGBTQ+ community, has been a key component in his upbringing—shows an unfortunate lack of solidarity between two members of an already oppressed community who should be empowering one another.
The power imbalances between Westbrook and James in this situation is also very important to note. Westbrook is a 37-year old woman, James a 19-year old gay male. The two were very close. James’ position as a queer teenager far away from homemade Westbrook’s position as a dominant figure that much more critical. Publicizing a private matter by shaming James for immature behavior furthers arguments against homosexuality. James did not and does not have the same privilege straight people have in learning about relationships.
What exactly has made gay men such an easy target? Tracing the history of their portrayal in Western media, intolerance has permeated most queer narratives. Media depictions of the LGBTQ+ community up to the 21st century have highlighted their behavioral and ideological difference. As such, the discussion around queerness, and by extension queer intimacy, has always been convoluted. Only recently has it been given the representation it deserves.
Societal constructs of what a man should be prevail even to this day. It has always been incredibly easy to antagonize the homosexual male, expected by most to be the antithesis of manliness—submissive, effeminate, and weak. However, it simultaneously produces a different outlook. Homosexuality is also seen as the main threat to heterosexuality. This fear is cognitively dissonant from the mindset that looks down upon queer people but still adds to society’s hatred of them.
Because of this, socialization is a lot slower for queer folks in comparison to their straight counterparts. There is an ounce of shame attached to expressing their sexuality. According to a study by the National Institutes of Health, there is a significant positive relationship between shame and internalized homophobia, and a significant inverse relationship between internalized homophobia and self-esteem.
In this sense, it makes sense that many gay men—and more generally, members of the LGBTQ+ community—find themselves attracted to straight people. As per James’ own admission, people generally want that which they cannot have. But in consideration of the nuance added by queer context, they want it because they crave an affirmation of their ‘normalcy’.
This attraction can be narrowed down to three main reasons: an attraction to masculinity, repressed fantasies of forbidden love, and a desire to be accepted by the conventional majority that had only invalidated them in the past. All of these can be boiled down to an internalized homophobia, systematized by the need to conform to heteropatriarchal expectations for sexual activity.
Until society deconstructs the patriarchal standards that necessitate male masculinity, the queer man will not have access to resources that would enable them to be sexually responsible.
With all that being said, this is in no way a queer supremacist argument for tolerating abusive queer behavior. In fact, holding those double-standards would only further the divide between the LGBTQ+ community and those outside of it.
The Tati Westbrook is a wakeup call for everyone, regardless of where they fall on the spectrum of sexuality. Queer people shouldn’t be let off the hook for predatory behavior; holding them to different standards would prevent progress towards sexual equality. But at the same time, straight people are obligated to be understanding of the queer experience, which is inherently different from theirs.