As is too often the case these days, my otherwise restful Sunday evening content binge was interrupted by an ill-considered tweet in my feed.
Prompted by a tweet from Alyssa Milano, women were using the hashtag #MeToo on Sunday night to add their names to the growing chorus of voices surrounding sexual assault in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein revelations. These tweets were more than welcome. The next one? Not as much.
The now-deleted joke in question was from a gay writer I follow. He quoted a tweet from a female pop star and unknowingly — at least I’m assuming — made light of the brave women drawing attention to the sheer scale of sexual assault and harassment.
Do I think this gay writer meant any malice by his joke? Absolutely not, as evidenced by his speedy tweet deletion and resulting remorse. Do I think his bad joke revealed something more systemic about Gay Twitter at large? You bet your sweet retweets I do.
If you, like Anne Hathaway, find yourself asking, “What is Gay Twitter?” — allow me illuminate. “Gay Twitter” is the mostly joking term for the nebulous subnetwork of media-obsessed and (largely) cis-male Twitter users who are by turns deeply affirming, wildly funny, endlessly thirsty, frustratingly catty and always freshly obsessed with any number of moving pop culture targets. Everyone knows one another and no one knows quite why.
Another unifying factor of Gay Twitter is this: Whether it’s Beyoncé, Cate Blanchett, Britney Spears or Carrie Coon, there is always a #QUEEN du jour to post about and subsequently garner likes from. This well-meaning diva worship can be a pretty slippery slope into some pretty layered misogyny, though.
In the aforementioned tweet, I’m sure the author meant no harm and was acting purely on instinct: Pop star posts something online? As a gay man on the Internet, it is my sacred duty, nay, my second nature to respond, parody and poke fun. The fact he hadn’t even seen other women posting with that hashtag is one problem. The fact he didn’t take a second to look for context to her message, that he just saw it as fodder for another cheap joke, is the bigger problem.
Don’t get me wrong. I love having fun on Twitter with my online pals. I love sharing in the joy of a surprise album drop in real time with a timeline full of my favorite gays. I’ve made my own share of groan-worthy Photoshop gags on Twitter, and should I have the good fortune to survive this current administration, I hope to make many more in the future.
I’m not saying I’m without fault here. Not so long ago, I made a joke on Twitter about a female musician that still makes my ears burn when I remember it. I thought of a pun I could make at her expense before I considered her personal history or what my joke meant in that context. I made an ass of myself because I ignored a woman’s humanity. Thankfully, I had good people who jumped in my DMs to call me out, and the post was only up for a few seconds, but ever since then I think of that moment when I compose a tweet.
I’m not here to get into the whys and hows of cis queer men and diva worship; wiser minds have already put better ink to paper on that. What I can confidently say is the moment you start seeing a woman on the other end of a Twitter handle only as an archetype, a punchline or fodder for your content, you’ve stopped seeing her as a person, as a sister and as someone with truth to tell.
I’m certainly not the first person to call out cis queer men on the Internet for this, and sadly, I won’t need to be the last. Queer cis men, before you see a chance to jump on a trending hashtag, take a second to think about who’s steering this narrative and what they’re trying to say. Ask yourself if this is your story to tell or your moment to sit back and thank the people who are sharing their stories. (Hint: If you have to ask, it’s almost always time for you to sit back and listen.)
That’s what #MeToo is all about: hearing and believing women. It’s about amplifying voices who’ve been ignored. If you haven’t done a great job so far, now’s a great day to start.