Gay For Pay And The Exploitation of Queer Identity

Gay For Pay And The Exploitation of Queer Identity

By Joelle Bayaa-Uzuri

It’s 2008, and… the number one song in the world was an ode to “lesbian love.”  Katy Perry exploded onto the scene with her infectious number one song “I Kissed a Girl”; speaking to queer and LGBTQ women everywhere.  While Perry gained a large LGBTQ (especially female LGBTQ) fanbase and ultimately catapulted to pop stardom, once there, she turned a cold shoulder to her pseudo-lesbian lyrics.  

In 2009, rapper Nicki Minaj began her rise to hip-hop royalty.  One of the things that initially made her stand out among her peers was her use of sexually explicit lyrics, often discussing bisexual sexual acts and provocative girl-on-girl imagery.  However, once Nicki Minaj’s star took off, she turned her back on her LGBTQ image, vehemently and publicly denying that she was ever Bisexual.

“Hollywood has come to accept and monetarily reward cisgender, straight (mostly men) who dress up and take on LGBT (or derogatory femme) personas.”

These are only two examples of stars “dressing up” as LGBTQ and appearing “Gay for Pay.”  “Gay for Pay” is a term coined within the porn/sex industry, meaning a straight person who films/performs gay sexual acts for money.  In an age where it is all about “securing the bag,” Hollywood has come to accept and monetarily reward cisgender, straight (mostly men) who dress up and take on LGBT (or derogatory femme) personas, all the while shunning and ostracizing open, queer LGBT people with the same talents.  

gay for pay

The “Gay for Pay” and “dressing up” phenomenon is nothing new.  Many popular Hollywood actors have donned drag for a movie role (one of the most famous being Dustin Hoffman’s Oscar-nominated turn in ‘Tootsie,’ with it being more prevalent in the comedian realm (i.e. Martin Lawrence’s “Sheneneh Jenkins” and Jamie Foxx’s “Wanda Wayne” character).  The only difference between then and now is that in the past, those characters/roles were only one role for an actor or a part of a comedian’s repertoire of characters and jokes. Now, it seems that dressing in drag, and taking on LGBT personas is the act, with much to gain from it.

“In a time where the LGBT community is fighting for their rights, their visibility and for their voice to be heard, “Gay for Pay” acts to silence them.”

Social media is the main reason for the rise of this type of “Gay for Pay” culture.  Social media personas and influencers use their influence on the platform to convey their misogyny, transphobia, and homophobia; all for a laugh.  Personalities who have gained notoriety on Vine, Twitter, and Instagram did so by making skits mocking LGBT stereotypes (most of the time intersecting with female stereotypes).  BlameitonKway is an example.

BlameitonKway is a hetero, cis-male who’s popularity is based on the performance of his “drag” persona. While the LGBTQ community is often ridiculed and shunned for expressing their drag art and their true selves, BlameitonKway is cashing in; with appearances on BET Awards red carpets, cosigns from Billboard and Fenty Beauty, and even a reality dating show, with his character at the center.  While it is beyond amazing when someone “secures their bag” and is able to hustle and build their brand, it is beyond questionable at the fact that at the core, BlameitonKway does not identify as LGBTQ, yet is getting paid and famous off of dressing in drag.

BlameitonKway

BlameitonKway is an example of cis-heteropatriarchy; the system which allows “Gay for Pay” to flourish.  Cis-heteropatriarchy is the system of power based on the supremacy and dominance of cis-heterosexual men through the exploitation & oppression of women and LGBTQ people.  It is the intersectional, more complex term for good, old-fashioned Sexism.

Cisgender men are not the only ones gaining from “Gay for Pay.”  In recent years, we have seen a jump in cis-women taking on LGBTQ roles.  Both Felicity Huffman and Hillary Swank won Oscars for their portrayal of trans characters on film (‘TransAmerica’ and ‘Boys Don’t Cry,’ respectably).  Glenn Close was nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe for her portrayal of a 19th Century transgender butler in ‘Albert Nobbs.’

“Being LGBT is not a joke, or some shtick being used for a punchline, joke, or for entertainment.”

In a time where the LGBT community is fighting for their rights, their visibility and for their voice to be heard, “Gay for Pay” acts to silence them, and essentially erase their identity as being real.  Because Hollywood and social media are oftentimes the only way cis people experience LGBT people, what “Gay for Pay” does essentially is make the community and the expression a joke.

While “Gay for Pay” is not slowing down, there is headway in fighting the exploitation.  Scarlett Johansson, after much backlash, had to withdraw from her movie role as the trans man Dante “Tex” Gill.  Social media, the same platform used to monetize “Gay for Pay” players, is also being used as a way to speak out against it.  

Being LGBT is not a joke, or some shtick being used for a punchline, joke, or for entertainment.  And the sooner we stop giving these characters our attention and our dollars, we sooner we can create space for true, authentic LGBT expression.  

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