As college football star and major NFL prospect Michael Sam trended on Twitter Sunday night for revealing that he is a proud gay man, The Real Housewives of Atlanta trended for opposite reasons. There is an unexplored theme in reality TV that features black women: the criminalization of black male sexuality, blatant homophobia and the misappropriation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender culture.
The fifth season of The Real Housewives of Atlanta premiered in October. And since then, once again, the hot topic has become “The man who doesn’t want me is gay!” Porsha Williams’ exhaustive storyline has constantly implied that her ex-husband, Kordell Stewart, who allegedly notified her of divorce via Twitter, must have been diving into the man pond because they weren’t sexual.
Last year, this was the identical plotline for Kenya Moore. The former Miss USA insinuated that Walter Jackson—a man she begged to marry—craved boy love because he didn’t go on bended knee or have sex with her during a trip to the Caribbean.
The allegedly classy Southern belles of Atlanta spit the hot-button word “gay” to rationalize why a man doesn’t want them, and thus fan the flames of homophobia. In the process they victimize black women for not having a man. For Porsha, Kenya and so many other women to attack a man’s sexual orientation because they’re not married or are divorcées is despicable. Whether or not they know it (I doubt they do—Porsha thinks the Underground Railroad was an actual train), their insults are attacks on black male sexuality, straight and gay. Gay or bisexual men are not the reason a black woman, or any woman, is single.
But the homophobia doesn’t stop there. On season 4, one of NeNe Leakes’ TV BFFs, Marlo Hampton, hurled the word “f—got” during a trip to South Africa. None of the ladies corrected her. On season 3, there was buzz that Phaedra Parks’ husband, Apollo, might be gay because he was incarcerated. When Kenya Moore joined the cast, she stated that Phaedra should get an AIDS test because he’d served time in jail.
This week’s episode hit an all-time ratchet low due to some he-said, she-said reality-TV foolery. A fight broke out, with the men and women throwing punches. Brandon, Kenya’s openly gay friend, caught a few blows. NeNe, who once referred to herself as a “gay magnet,” spat about Brandon, “He jumped up like a queen!” Nearly everyone jumped, pushed and yelled, so why is Brandon branded a queen? Oh … because he’s gay.
Most of the women on RHOA talk, walk and snap their way through each episode, cheaply imitating a community they know nothing about. Their drag performance is as inauthentic as when whites try to “act black.” The ladies’ misappropriation of LGBT culture and, more specifically, black and Latino drag culture is embarrassing to watch. Hearing terms like “get your life” (used incorrectly), “shady boots” or “hunty,” which are directly stolen from LGBT people of color, is equal to hearing white people babble urban slang to sound “down.”
In another sad episode this season, model Cynthia Bailey insisted that Mynique Smith hunt down “gay-guy friends—queens” to get some pizzazz. “Friends” is a bizarre choice of words. These men aren’t confidants or members of their family (at least on television)—they are used as gay mammies to affirm the housewives’ imaginary diva status.
The language that these women are colonizing originates from the specific experience of LGBT people of color who are rejected by the white community and the black heterosexual community. LGBT people of color brilliantly re-created and reinvented culture to find a safe space—a space that Kenya Moore, Porsha Williams, NeNe Leakes and many other women on reality TV will never need. Leave subcultures alone and develop your own identity.
These “real housewives” may claim that they’re for same-sex marriage and LGBT rights, but most of the women in the cast (not all—Kandi Burruss never “drags it up” for the camera) are deeply ignorant and strangely receive a pass for their bigotry. The homophobia from RHOA is much more damaging than anything from the bearded men of Duck Dynasty, who never framed themselves as allies.
Gay men may style their hair, compliment their shoes and “teach” them how to throw shade, but at the end of the long-weaved day, the Georgia peaches of reality TV still see gay men as AIDS victims, queens or f—gots.
Clay Cane is a journalist and radio personality in the New York City area. Follow him on Twitter.