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.”