Gay Media Please Raise Your Standards

Gay Media Please Raise Your Standards
Image:Matt Winkelmeyer (Getty Images)

I have never seen Justin Timberlake at a gay bar. In fact, many people are saying they too have never seen Justin Timberlake at a gay bar. Is there even a single person on Grindr who has been messaged by “jtloudvoice” for a discreetly hosted dick suck?

I ask these questions because some frivolity is afoot. In a recent chat with GLAAD, Mr. Timberlake was asked how it felt to be an “ally” to the LGBTQ+ community. And he took the bait!

GLAAD’s “Head of Talent” Anthony Ramos just sat down with Timberlake, alongside co-star Ryder Allen and writer Cheryl Guerriero, who wrote the script for Palmer, a new film about a man tasked with caring for an openly gay child. Yes, the one Timberlake famously might have cheated on his wife while filming. The conversation was fine—Guerriero shared stories of people moved by the film’s depiction of bullying, homophobia, and parental acceptance, and how everyone seemed excited about its release January 29.

But buried near the end of the interview was an exchange I will transcribe in full:

Ramos: I know you said you were a young kid in the arts and were bullied for it. But for our community, the LGBTQ+ community, allyship is so important, and you have been such an ally. Why is it so important for you to continue to support the community and to speak out and to make projects like this?
Timberlake: Well thank you for saying that, um… I very much enjoy being an ally. And it is a true honor any time someone addresses me that way.

Obviously, nothing Timberlake said matters. This interview was with an organization that is effectively a PR apparatus, and he was asked a question designed to be excerpted by the tabloids. Anthony Ramos’s long career at Access Hollywood has clearly proved useful. But what’s truly brazen about this exchange isn’t Timberlake’s answer, it’s that the question was even asked at all. Especially in front of Guerriero, who is a lesbian, and actually wrote the film. In fact, the overwhelming chunk of the interview was catered almost exclusively to Timberlake. How it made him feel to make history, how it felt to be an ally, how it felt to learn that gay people get bullied, and what it was like to be a kid who was into theater.

I’d imagine it is probably every gay filmmaker’s worst nightmare to watch a straight man explain allyship to GLAAD in an interview about a movie they wrote. Later in the same conversation, Ramos wraps up Timberlake’s soliloquy with: “That was a beautiful answer. Films like this will create allies, and change hearts and minds. That’s what we’re hoping.” Yes, the loudest anti-defamation group in the LGBTQ+ community aimed that blessed statement not at the gay filmmaker herself, but a celebrity, who is straight, and has ostensibly never said a single memorable thing about queer people in his decades-long career. Jared Leto similarly received this treatment for the wretched Dallas Buyer’s Club. And in the Hollywood environment that has, throughout the pandemic, contracted, with only just a margin of its space left for the caped crusaders, the chasm between his importance here, and hers, is widening.

It’s just too bad this is to be expected for an organization as self-important as GLAAD itself.

In its official description of itself, GLAAD proclaims: “GLAAD rewrites the script for LGBTQ acceptance. As a dynamic media force, GLAAD tackles tough issues to shape the narrative and provoke dialogue that leads to cultural change. GLAAD protects all that has been accomplished and creates a world where everyone can live the life they love.” Their avenue to achieving this is multitudinous. Each year they host an award show for the most acceptably LGBTQ+ things in existence. They’ve campaigned the MPAA over movie ratings. They’ve shouted down unfair depictions of gay people in popular media.

But the key to their continued success, besides GLAAD’s work in the broader community, is the recruitment and fostering of a rich celebrity roster, whether that be through award shows, junket interviews like the above, panels, talk show appearances, celebrity driven campaigns. Things like The Vanguard Award have been doled out to just about every pop diva ever, alongside other notable names, like Robert De Niro, Kelly Ripa, Jennifer Lopez, and Bill Clinton, in 2013. Taylor Swift also received the award, after a career spent mostly silent on political issues—only very recently has she changed that press strategy.

Through this broad strategy of ego-stroking, GLAAD arrives at an exchange like the one between Ramos and Timberlake. Despite the interviewer’s obvious earnestness, Timberlake’s only notable contribution to the popular discourse is a one-off speech at the iHeartMusic Awards in 2017, which most people didn’t even hear. That, and starring in a gay woman’s movie, for which is he now being prominently interviewed.

I’d like to clarify one thing for both Ramos and Timberlake. There are only two ways to be an ally in 2021, for someone like JT: You either suck a dick or you transition. Those are the only options, decided on by the council of secret homosexuals and transsexuals, millennia ago, before GLAAD came in and started handing out awards for breathing and also being a celebrity. A time-lost third option once existed, but the tablet upon which it was inscribed has been worn bare. Elders say that it read: “Don’t touch Janet Jackson and destroy a beloved pop diva’s career.” How esoteric, and fittingly prophetic.

Allies can also read. Maybe JT will at least do that.

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