Despite What Dan Savage Says, You’re Still Allowed to Question Straight Allies’ Motives

In case you missed the Grammys on Sunday night and haven’t been on the internet this week, let me bring you up to speed: we’re all mad at Macklemore. The Seattle rapper / gay-marriage enthusiast made the biggest statement at Sunday night’s awards ceremony by performing his massive hit, “Same Love” — an endorsement of marriage equality with the subtlety of an Upworthy headline — while several gay couples were married on stage in a mass ceremony officiated by Queen Latifah, who, in case you’re wondering, has yet to publicly confirm her own sexual identity. (Madonna also sang “Open Your Heart” while dressed as Colonel Sanders, but that’s something none of us are quite ready to tackle.)

As with Macklemore’s general existence, some people liked Sunday night’s performance, and some people didn’t. It doesn’t help that he’s a white rapper who won, undeservedly, the Grammy for Best Rap Album and then publicly apologized to Kendrick Lamar while conveniently keeping the award for himself. It doesn’t help that his endorsement of marriage equality carries with it the awkward sense of shouting over the queer activists for whom marriage equality is just one small part of a larger civil rights struggle. It doesn’t help that recruiting a bunch of people to get married behind you as you rap on stage at the Grammys is pretty tacky. Poor Macklemore can’t win in this situation, but, you know, all of these moves are his own.

Luckily, sex columnist Dan Savage is here to stand up for the straight white guy, with a little help from YouTube personality Arielle Scarcella:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YkZEjRrHvKA]

Savage posted the video above on his blog yesterday with an all-caps “THIS.” (It’s what kids on the internet are doing these days to show they agree with whatever thing “this” is.) And while I see her point — which is that we complain about the privilege of others, and then complain about when they use that privilege to advance the causes of those without it — I think she and Savage, who goes on a long-winded rant about how Macklemore is just like beer, or something, are missing a valuable point about the “rage” they are seeing online from “the gays.”

First of all, don’t say “the gays” to refer to a bunch of people. That’s what Kathy Griffin calls her friends, and I believe we can all be smarter and a little more nuanced than she is. Whether Dan Savage or Arielle Scarcella like it or not, the LGBTQ community is a large one, full of different people with different voices and different opinions. One man’s fight for marriage equality might very well be one woman’s lack of interest in the struggle for a heteronormative seal of approval. Marriage equality is not, actually, at the forefront of every queer person’s mind. To bundle the entirety of the LGBTQ community’s struggle for equal rights into a lame pop song about gay marriage is, to many people, a convenient, half-assed attempt at marketing a simple idea about (and occasionally to) a group of marginalized people.

Scarcella also insists that when we criticize gay allies, we’re only hurting ourselves and reflecting poorly on the LGBTQ community. To which I say: no. Absolutely not. People who are criticizing Macklemore are not really doing it to hold themselves — or, to point out the subtext in Scarcella and Savage’s argument, less radical queers like them — back at all. They’re doing it, frankly, because they care about what they are themselves promoting, ideals that are sometimes at odds with the goals that those with the most power within the LGBTQ community hold up as representative of every non-heterosexual person. The people who take to the internet to make their voices heard are doing so because they feel quashed by those who have better access to an audience; it doesn’t mean their opinions are of lesser value than, say, a nationally syndicated sex columnist’s.

And that brings me to Dan Savage, who has the gall to complain that “queer social justice warriors rattling around on Tumblr and Twitter” are creating pointless controversy over a poor straight white guy who just wants to help. This is coming from a man who uses the internet to promise LGBTQ teens that “it gets better,” as if three words spoken by celebrities in a YouTube video get at the reality of life because it’s all so simple. In fact, it doesn’t always get better; it gets different, because there’s still a lot of terrible pain and struggle for many LGBTQ adults who don’t find themselves with the options to live in communities that are more accepting of them. The latter is a nice notion, and it’s positive, but it’s unrealistic. If we want to talk to teens about the realities of life, why not be honest, rather than propagating the false assumption that everything gets better once you graduate from high school? (Cynical? Probably. But I’m OK with my stance.)

The problem here, of course, is that Savage has lost his edge and, like Macklemore, is preaching to the lowest common denominator of people who, basically, think just like him — or like to be taught very simple lessons in a predictable format where style replaces critical thought.

A better take on this? The acknowledgment that figures like Macklemore are complicated, because they do, at times, recognize the privilege they hold, yet still use it for their own gain while promoting tolerance and equality. Do I think Macklemore’s heart is in the right place? Yes. Am I fully allowed to think that song is stupid? Absolutely. My favorite response to Macklemore came from, yes, from a post on Tumblr written by Los Angeles-based comedian Cameron Esposito, who nails the song’s complication’s pretty accurately:

“Same Love” is catchy as hell, beautiful even. And I have some problems with it. I just don’t dig that THE song chosen this year to celebrate the national movement toward equality begins with a description of what it feels like to be straight but fear you might be gay. The song puts thinking you are gay in as part of a list of things to be sad about – to cry about even – and as a gay person, this upsets me. It’s tough to be defended by someone who would be bummed to be you.

Esposito then situates the whole Macklemore debate in a larger, timely context, mentioning the accolades Jared Leto and Michael Douglas for their roles as LGBTQ characters in film: “[I]t is still so difficult to be openly queer that straight folks are telling queer stories.” THIS, as Dan Savage would say. It’s not that we hate our straight allies or, as Arielle Scarcella suggests, that we are jealous. It’s just that we’d rather see people like us recognized for the work they do than watch progress on the issues that matter so much in our lives be dictated by those who were born with all the breaks.