Sometimes people say stupid things, and when those people are celebrities, those stupid things often get recorded and mentioned later. There are two ways for a celebrity to handle that situation. Either they learn and grow as a person, acknowledge the stupidity of the thing, and apologize; or they stand by their words and tell anyone who’s offended by their stupid comment to “fuck right off.” Sadly, John Barrowman, who entered our hearts as the pansexual, loveable Captain Jack Harkness on Doctor Who (and later, Torchwood) did the latter.
Last year, Barrowman posted a video online where he used the word “tr—y-tastic.” Understandably, some members of the transgender community got offended by his use of that phrase and expressed their disapproval. In a Q&A at the time, Barrowman defended his use of the term, and called everyone who complained about his use of it “haters.” Cut to two days ago, when a fan found the video and sent this to Barrowman:
Granted, the use of the word “asshats” was a bit much, but this Twitter follower wasn’t calling Barrowman an asshat directly. They were asking for confirmation as to how Barrowman feels about this video. This was Barrowman’s chance! It was his chance to recognize that his words affected and hurt people, not only in the moment he said them, but as long as they live on the internet. It was his chance to maybe rethink his approach. *sigh* Instead, he responded with this:
Hmmm. The thing is, if you genuinely do support the LGBTQ+ community as much as you say you do, you’d do well to remember that the “T” in that acronym stands for something, and you don’t have the right to throw that letter under the bus when it suits you.
His 371,000+ Twitter followers saw this, and “Team Barrowman” sprung into action, as is wont to happen whenever a group of fans feels like their favorite person is being “disparaged.” Never mind that this person had a legitimate grievance and question. To his credit, Barrowman saw this happening, and tried to put a stop to it:
However, the bombarding continued, and he made another appeal to his fans to leave the original Tweeter alone:
Now, this was the right thing to do, as this person is an average person and fan who didn’t ask for all of the Internet to be on their back. That is very different, however, from a fan taking a famous person with a platform to task for misusing that platform and hurting people in the process. Barrowman apparently dealt with bombarding of his own. But rather than acknowledge the serious issues being brought up, he went into defensive mode:
Now, this is very true. Most of us don’t know Barrowman or the intricacies of his life. However, unless he himself is trans – which I don’t believe he is – he has no right to the t-word. Period. No right to “reclaim it” or use it as part of how he expresses himself as a gay cis man. Whatever troubles he’s seen, or whatever he’s been through doesn’t give him the permission to appropriate pieces of another community’s struggle; certainly not for cheap comedy value. So far, he’s ended his thoughts on the matter with this, remaining ever-glib:
Well, gee. That’s constructive. Sorry to bore you with silly things like words’ power to heal or hurt. Sorry to remind you that the shit you say actually has an impact on people, because you’re lucky enough to have a huge platform, and sometimes that impact is negative. Sorry you’re so bored by people demanding more of you. Must be hard. You know, it would have been easier to be like, “You know what? I didn’t mean to be disrespectful, and I’m sorry.” THAT’S IT. One line would’ve saved you from all the “haters.” Now, your insistence on being in the right despite having people tell you what their experience of your actions were might lose you some of that platform.
It won’t lose Barrowman all of his platform certainly. Team Barrowman is a mighty force indeed, and yes, it includes trans people. In the Twitter conversation I saw some people identifying as trans saying they weren’t offended by his use of the word at all. And you know what? That’s great. After all, no community is a monolith, and not everyone is offended by the same stuff.
However, just because not everyone is offended doesn’t invalidate the feelings of those who are. Just because there are some women who don’t find certain things sexist, doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with the other women who do find it sexist. Just because some trans people aren’t offended by the t-word, doesn’t mean that those who are offended are “haters” who don’t have a sense of humor.
There are too many examples of gay men like Barrowman – or like RuPaul – thinking that being gay gives them a Free Pass. It doesn’t. And surrounding yourself with people who think like you and support you blindly doesn’t change the fact that your words were hurtful to a lot of people. If you don’t care about that, that’s fine, but admit it. Trying to make it about people’s lack of humor, or about them being “boring” with their constant mention of it only makes you look like a special kind of hypocrite.
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