we need to talk about straightsplaining
It's not only Kevin Hart who's guilty of this
In a now-viral clip from HBO’s The Shop: Uninterrupted (an ironic name given the circumstances), Lil Nas X is asked a question regarding his recent coming out. But before he can answer, comedian Kevin Hart interjects: “He said he was gay, so what?”. As the question is redirected back to the “Old Town Road” singer, the comedian continues to interject his supposed confusion at why Nas would grow up hating being gay and would struggle with coming out.
Though it is bewildering how a man who recently came off a press tour over his own violently homophobic past tweets could be confused why a queer hip-hop and country artist might struggle with coming out, it his inability to let Nas answer the question that left many frustrated. The footage is taken from a longer interview where Hart later states that he feels Lil Nas X shouldn’t have to prove himself to anyone.
Despite Hart’s limited knowledge on being gay and the obvious fact that he is the least qualified person in the room to discuss the topic, he still takes control of the conversation. He implies that Nas has nothing to worry about and that there’s no reason for queer people to feel uncomfortable. Online the reaction was swift, and left many bemused. What does Kevin Hart know about the queer experience, viewers asked? What can he really offer the discussion and given all this, why is he the one talking? For queer people though, the situation is a familiar one: This is straightsplaining.
Straightsplaining, the condescending heterosexual act of explaining LGBTQ issues and experiences to LGBTQ people, happens more often than you think. Collectively in our society there exists a constant but insidious notion that someone can accept your “choice” of homosexuality. There’s the Uncle who always gets inappropriately drunk and questions why we need Pride anymore. There’s the social media troll who spends their life calling other people snowflakes, simultaneously obsessed by the idea that “there are too many sexualities and genders now”.
As queer people, we find ourselves constantly having to explain or defend our reality to people on the outside who think they know better than us. They don't, obviously.
Take Cardi B and Offset for example. Last year, when the Migos rapper was criticised for the lyrics “I don’t vibe with queers” in the song “Boss Life”, he went from claiming that “queer” wasn’t meant in a derogatory sense, to arguing he was offended that he offended anyone. Given Migos has a history of anti-LGBTQ remarks, the suggestion of homophobia in this lyric hardly seemed far-fetched. Cardi B didn’t help things. “I’m not going to let somebody call him homophobic when I know that he’s not” she argued.
In the rush to cancel Cardi after the statement, there were those who pointed out that her instinct to defend her partner was understandable. And yes, that's true. But it also doesn't erase the uncomfortable dichotomy between Cardi's words and her carefully curated image and speech style, which heavily borrows from the 1980s black and latino NYC ballroom scene. Her linguistic gymnastics offer the Offset drama, which attempted to push the fault back onto offended fans -- “why don’t y’all educate people about it?” -- was equally problematic, taking the responsibility off the offender and onto the offendees. LGBTQ education has existed for many years, but there are people, clearly, who choose not to listen.
Another recent example of such behaviour came -- unsurprisingly -- from a Mike Pence aide, who tweeted that the US Vice President couldn’t be homophobic because he had lunch with the Irish Prime Minister and his partner. The audacity to tell queer people what homophobia is as if an incredibly anti-LGBTQ voting record and a history of homophobic comments can be overlooked because Pence shared lunch with two high-powered gay individuals, is staggering.
One of Britain’s most notorious culprits of straightsplaining though, is perhaps unsurprisingly Piers Morgan. On one episode Good Morning Britain aired earlier this month Piers Morgan did what he does best, ranting at a DUP health minister who felt same-sex couples dancing should not be on a family show like Strictly Come Dancing. Piers took a typically contrarian stance, aggressively defending LGBTQ people and calling out homophobia while failing to acknowledge his own near daily attacks on trans and non-binary people. Though Piers’s knowledge of queer issues is limited and exclusionary in itself, and his pontification platform, GMB, often brings experts more in-tune with the issues to the table; they are often talked over by a man who will bring in the ratings with his nonsensical tirades and inability to listen.
But it’s not just Piers and Pence’s of the world who are guilty of straightsplaining. Well-meaning allies can sometimes over-step too. Taylor Swift’s “You Need to Calm Down” helped spotlight LGBTQ talent and advocated for the Equality Act but some listeners took credible issue with the song’s lyrics, which saw Taylor compare the hate she receives online to the homophobia and transphobia LGBTQ people face IRL. While abuse of any kind is disgusting, what Taylor faces isn’t quite the same as the state-sanctioned discrimination in the majority of US states and many countries across the world.
The truth is that these conversations need to be led by queer people. This is why some straight actors and actresses are questioning the roles they play. While Scarlett Johannson feels quite comfortable stealing acting roles from trees, Glee and American Crime Story star Darren Criss recently announced he would no longer be playing queer characters as he doesn’t want to “be another straight boy taking a gay man’s role”. While the debate on the boundaries of acting roles continues and as queer performers continue to get denied roles for being too queer, it is true that portrayals of minority characters by actors who have never had those experiences can often feel limited and inauthentic.
Furthermore, straight men playing queer roles has intensified the fetishising of cis-het behaviour in queer men. A scroll through Grindr won’t take long before you come across a profile saying “no femmes” or “Masc4Masc”. In films, straight-acting gay men are often the ones who find love, while effeminate men are merely comedic relief, too camp to ever be desirable. When it was announced that Jack Whitehall will be playing a “camp gay man” in the new Disney film Jungle Cruise many were disgruntled. Though an LGBTQ character in a Disney film is long overdue, a straight man acting overly camp as the punchline of the joke is not what we need nor want.
In truth, there’s a fine line between being an ally to the community and speaking over them.
As an ally you can and should still speak out for the community and advocate with them. Remember those iconic Hilary Duff anti-homophobia adverts? But there is a line, and when you are speaking over queer people about their own reality then you need to stop and check yourself. LGBTQ individuals from all corners of the community should have the space to tell their own stories without intervention or interruption. Cis-straight people need to step back, let those voices have their moment, allow them to tell their stories as they see fit and learn from what LGBTQ people have to say.