The Katy Perry Problem
Having loved myself a little Jill Sobule back in the 90s, after homosexuality was titillating but before it was decriminalized in several states, I was a little miffed when Katy Perry (née Katy Hudson, former-next-superstar-of-Contemporary-Christian-Rock) appeared on the scene with her thumping, Benataresque tribute to lesbian tourism "I Kissed a Girl." I found the video to be overly lubed with hyperfeminine stereotypes of straight-man-fantasty lipstick lesbians (or, in this case, Chapstik lesbians) and, well, kind of offensive, considering precisely how much trauma is actually wrapped up in many gays' "applications for permanent visas" in gayland. (Where our mail goes.)
I poked around on iTunes and saw one of the songs on her album One of the Boys is called "Ur So Gay," so I read the lyrics, which go a little something like this:
"You’re so sad maybe you should buy a happy meal
You’re so skinny you should really Super Size the deal
Secretly you’re so amused
That nobody understands you
I’m so mean cause I cannot get you outta your head
I’m so angry cause you’d rather MySpace instead
I can’t believe I fell in love with someone that wears more makeup than…
You’re so gay and you don’t even like boys
No you don’t even like
No you don’t even like
No you don’t even like boys"
I got more offended. The song relies entirely on some silly stereotypes that belong, in my opinion, more in the hipster realm than in gayland. After working at the Gap for a while, I can tell you I helped more straight guys into skinny girl jeans than gay guys. Not that the gays were asking for my help anyway.
So: moral of the story at this point is, Katy Perry, you are lame and a hatemonger.
But then "Hot N Cold" came out, and it's a fun song, and it's a little funny, and I started to listen to her, and then I downloaded her album. The rest of the songs aren't as offensive, and I even came to love the joy-in-transgression of "I Kissed a Girl." Although the video does draw questions about who "wins" when Perry kisses a girl (and who gets to watch the slumber party), I think the song itself is steeped more in experimentation--lesbian tourism--than in offense. Although Perry quickly follows up her admission with a reminder that she is, after all, in a straight relationship, there's something to be said for allowing ourselves to encourage everyone to ride someone else's bike for a while to see if maybe it's right for them.
If, as a gay culture, we enforce a "you break it, you bought it" approach to sexual experimentation, we're going to alienate people who are simply too afraid to try before they bi. And honestly, isn't a return policy the core value of all American interactions?
I still struggle to accept "Ur So Gay," even though I like the rest of the album (especially "I'm Still Breathing," "Self-Inflicted," and "Mannequin"). I will say I'm glad that in this context, "gay" means "homosexual" as opposed to "stupid, lame, or undesirable," because that's my second linguistic pet peeve (the first being confusing "anxious" and "eager," as in "I'm anxious to go home").
The tipping point for me was this article in Blender magazine, in which Perry essentially claims she is 60% drag queen and in love with every homosexual she meets. It might be clever damage control, but it's not like Blender really has a huge queer following. If she'd had this interview with The Advocate, I'd be smelling publicist on her breath in a second.
What do my gays think?