Enimem: Beyond The Encore, Part V – Eminem vs Gays

Now you will undoubtedly remember a rather excellent feature called Eminem: Beyond the Encore that saw some of IP’s finest writers attempt to analyse the cultural phenomenon that is Eminem. Now I, Will Cooling Nexus comic reviewer and former Daily Pulse writer was meant to contribute but through strangely apt circumstances had been forced to take a sabbatical (its code for disappearing from the internet for two months). With the sabbatical at an end and that brilliant man Mathan assuring me that it’d still be wanted here’s part V of Eminem: Beyond The Encore.


Eminem and Homosexuality

(NB I usually use gay and gays as shorthand for gays, lesbians and bisexuals)

Let’s start with the most obvious question-is Eminem a homophobe? Well to be blunt; yes he is. Ignoring for a minute the lyrics of his songs his comments on homosexuality over the years are more than enough to damn him. Perhaps the most startling thing about such comments is his repeated refusal to acknowledge the importance of gay rights and treating us with respect and tolerance such as his comment that to Rolling Stone that “he didn’t care” about gay people. This of course places him in a difficult position due to his prominent position in an art form that is to many people synonymous with African-Americans fight for civil rights. To most gay rights activists and many leading African-Americans the two peoples struggle for acceptance are part of a wider progressive march for tolerance, underpin by the same principles and ideals. Eminem’s rejection of gay rights opens him to the charge of hypocrisy when he espouses anti-racist sentiments. His responses to such charges have been stark in their unthinking bluntness and thoughtlessness; when challenged in the aforementioned Rolling Stone interview as to whether he would ever use the “n-word” he says that “out of respect” for black people he wouldn’t and at the 2001 MTV Video Awards when he was repeatedly pressed on how anti-gay slurs were different to anti-black slurs he replied “I don’t know, it’s just different”

A second strand of Eminem’s unquestioned homophobic statements is his repeated contrasting it with masculinity. In an infamous quote Eminem revealed his beliefs at the true meaning of faggot and other gay insults:

“The most lowest degrading thing that you can say to a man when you’re battling him is call him a faggot and try to take away his manhood. Call him a sissy, call him a punk. Faggot to me doesn’t necessarily mean gay people. Faggot to me just means… taking away your manhood. You’re a sissy. You’re a coward. Just like you might sit around in your living room and say, “Dude, stop, you’re being a fag, dude.” This does not necessarily mean you’re being a gay person. It just means you’re being a fag. You’re being an a**hole or whatever. That’s the way that the word was always taught to me. That’s how I learned the word. Battling with somebody, you do anything you can to strip their manhood away.”

To many people this is a clinching argument; the tired old-look I didn’t mean any offence to gay people I just wanted to hit this guy where it really hurts. The problem with this is two-fold; one you’re implicitly equating being gay with being an asshole so cemented in most peoples eyes that being gay is a bad thing. I mean if there was nothing wrong with being gay then it wouldn’t be used as an insult would it? Secondly you’re saying that homosexuality and masculinity are too opposites, in effect that you’re either a fag or a man. Now speaking from personal experience I know plenty of gay men who are no less of a man because there are gay-I had an ex that was extremely masculine. Eminem’s repeated insinuation that all gay men are twinkle toes sissies does nothing but confirm stereotypes that make it difficult for gay people to gain acceptance in mainstream society.

Thirdly, Eminem seems to have little insight or understanding of the idea that gay people have no choice over their sexual orientation as shown by statements such as “It’s their business” and his repeated referring to homosexuality as a “lifestyle”. Sometimes he sounds suspiciously like the tele-evangelicals (and George Bush at his most offensive) that he claims to railing against.

Having established that Eminem is a homophobe, we now turn our attention to the four strands that make up his homophobia. The first has already been mentioned, it’s the idea that gays aren’t masculine something he has brought in his feud with the Insane Clown Posse where on Marshal Mathers he said:

Plus I was put here to put fear in faggots who spray faygo root beer
And call themselves clowns cause they look queer
Faggot2dope and silent gay
Claimin detroit, when y’all live twenty miles away (f*ckin punks)
And I don’t wrestle, I’ll knock you f*ckin faggots the f*ck out

The anti-masculine assertions are plain to see; they drink root beer not proper beer, the clown gimmick is an excuse for make up, they couldn’t live in Eminem’s manly hometown of Detroit (no queers in this neighbourhood) and finally that unlike the ICP who fake fight Eminem is the real deal and would destroy them. Here we have the usual Eminem use of gay insults to degrade straight foes, however it would only achieve that effect if in his eyes being gay was degrading.

The second strand of his homophobia is a constant fear that gay men are lusting after him…

(Please excuse me for a second…


Thank you)

…as first shown in his breakthrough track My Name Is where tells us that:

My english teacher wanted to have sex in junior high
The only problem was my english teacher was a guy
I smacked him in his face with an eraser, chased him with a stapler
And stapled his nuts to a stack of paper

Ignoring the collapse into cartoonish ultra-violence the key point of this extract is the idea that a gay guy hit on Eminem. It’s a fear that’s made more forcefully in another song (which I cannot remember the name to):

Starin at my jeans watchin my genitals buldge over
Thats my motherf**kin balls you better let go of em
They belong in my scrotum youll never get hold of em

Now straight men fearing that gay men are lusting after them is a common trait with the joke “backs to the wall” only making sense in that context. It also takes me back to a drama lesson I had about 4 years ago where we got onto discussing homosexuality and two of the other lads were adamant in their disgust at the thought of homosexuality primarily due to the fear of a gay man “looking at them”. Of course just as Eminem’s case it said as much about their vanity as their bigotry.

The third strand to Eminem’s homophobia is a fear of intimacy, something that links in with his contrasting of homosexuality against masculinity. Eminem’s raps see him constantly disregarding those closet to him; his mum, his wife, his fans even long time mentor Dr Dre is repeatedly killed in his lyrics. Indeed, it would be fair to say that there is only one genuine moment of intimacy in one of his high profile raps and that’s in Stan where in his closing reply to the original letter he replies:

And what’s this shit about us meant to be together?
That type of shit’ll make me not want us to meet each other
I really think you and your girlfriend need each other

With this he doubly dismisses the idea that run through Stan’s head; firstly he needs to back off from his love of Eminem and secondly he should bang the missus to take his mind of it. It further underlines the brand of emotional backwardness that Eminem sees as masculinity; guys don’t care about anyone, they don’t care about each other’s feelings, they are in short shallow. The fact that Eminem use of homosexuality to undermine a moment of intimacy (something he also does in the My Name Is…where he dismisses the possibility of a reunion with his father by asking “whether he liked my ad”) further suggests the use of homosexuality as an excuse not to connect with anyone on an emotional level.

Finally there is sheer, unthinking disgust and hatred of something that is alien to him as best shown by the obscene lyrics to Kill You:

You faggots keep eggin me on
Til I have you at knifepoint, then you beg me to stop?
Shut up! give me your hands and feet
I said shut up when I’m talkin to you
You hear me? answer me!

Whilst its true these sentiments are nothing extraordinary in the context of the song (although we should remember that all his other targets are ones that we know he legitimately hates) the vehemence of the hatred and anger is quite shocking. I honestly wonder how people can be entertained by such blatant hate speech.

And of course that’s the key question, how is it that Eminem is not only allowed to get away with such violent and inflammatory language but is increasingly accepted and lauding by the mainstream establishment? One of the foremost defences is that his records are of such quality that we should forgive the excesses of his language and enjoy his lyrical dexterity. Now this is a matter of personal taste but personally I find very little of Eminem’s back catalogue merits much more than a couple of listens whilst the vast majority of his lyrics wouldn’t look out of place being graffitied on a wall by the local skinhead. However, be that as it may the argument falls down as no one who uses this excuse would permit openly racist lyrics on the same grounds.

A second argument is linked to that and that is that Eminem is rapping about his life and his white trash culture and that homophobia is a part of that. In effect they claim to make Eminem censor his homophobia would be to dilute the truthfulness of his portrayal of white trash life. This argument falls flat on three accounts; firstly racism is also a part of white trash and its pretty obvious in light of recent events that Eminem may have censored himself of some early racism to get on in a black dominated art form. Secondly, surely someone in the position of authority that Eminem has found himself should try and improve the outlook of his peers not just regurgitate them? Thirdly, there is the simple fact that as far as I can see Eminem has since The Real Slim Shady LP spent very little time talking about white trash crash and a lot more about himself and his pet hates.

Thirdly, there is the argument that he doesn’t actually mean it! That the lyrics are said by his evil Slim Shady alter ego and are actually a parody of violence and other bad stuff. The only problem with that is that Eminem frequently portrays himself as a role model and inspiration figure; for example his famous performance to the VMAs where he was followed by 100 look-a-likes and the recent video to his new (surprisingly decent) song where he portrays himself inspiring a (peaceful) revolution. Eminem does not present himself as a character to be hated or pitied but one to be respected and followed.

Fourthly, there is the argument that we simply don’t get it, that poor Eminem has been misinterpreted. Perhaps the most hilarious example of this was one I found on Gavin’s Blog where a comment was posted defending Eminem and in particular The Real Slim Shady saying:

I see nothing to indicate he is actually homophobic, quite to the contrary, lyrics in his songs often make reference to the opinion that there is nothing wrong with homosexuality. Some of the songs on his new album totally blur men and women in in a rap about sex. Even older lyrics make statements such as “But if we can hump dead animals and antelopes, then there’s no reason that a man and another man can’t elope” On this issue and most others, the underlying voice seems to be one of outrage and anger against all oppression, whether personal or societal

Of course ignoring the offensive connotations of the quote as shown (oh if we can f*ck dead animals then I guess we can’t stop the fags having their fun) it’s actually an incomplete and inaccurate showing of the whole extract. In full it reads:

But if we can hump dead animals and antelopes
Then there’s no reason that a man and another man can’t elope
{*ewww!*} but if you feel like I feel, I got the antidote
Women wave your pantyhose, sing the chorus and it goes

Chorus: eminem (repeat 2x)

I’m slim shady, yes I’m the real shady
All you other slim shadys are just imitating
So won’t the real slim shady please stand

So not only does Eminem explicitly make clear his distaste at men kissing (I mean for crying out loud the video shows him pulling a loving couple apart) but he actually offers an “antidote” female flesh and his shining example. If there was no starker an example of Eminem’s desire to degrade, humiliate and insult gay people I haven’t seen one.

Of course, many people dismiss all this as irrelevant. They attack anti-Eminem campaigners as being over sensitive on two grounds. Firstly, there’s the argument that Eminem has eschewed his homophobic past with his duet with Elton John and the token gay character in 8 Mile used as evidence. However, the later can be dismissed as paying lip service to the conventions of Hollywood. The former actually shows up Eminem even more with Britain’s Kerrang magazine reporting quite soon afterwards that Eminem was denying having none in advance that Elton John was gay. The implication being that if he knew Elton John was queer he wouldn’t have dueted with him.

Now whether you accept that (slightly unlikely) denial it does raise an interesting point about what Eminem’s homosexuality means to him. As Mathan pointed out a large part of his appeal is how he reflects young white (heterosexual) culture and values and his part fearful/part contemptuous homophobia is a large part of it. As he becomes richer and more isolated from the lifestyle of his fanbase its only their shared bigotry that unites them. A symptom of this can be seen in the fact that the gay bashing actually increases with The Real Slim Shady LP. The fact that we live in a world where hatred and intolerance can sell records and maintain a career is something we should all be deeply worried about.

The second and more pernicious argument is the old chestnut “that if you don’t like, don’t listen to it”. Now in a limited sense this is fair enough, I don’t like the sentiments behind Eminem’s songs so I don’t buy his albums and only occasional listen to his singles on the radio/TV. However, this is an incredibly limited and simplistic way at looking at things. Eminem is a role model. He has actively sought to become one with countless demagogic appeals in his songs. Many people look up to him and intimate him, whether it’s with the constant use of gay-related words as insults, the casual dismissal of gays as read or the macho posturing that leaves gay people struggling to fit in. These things are serious matters, they are not talking points of the liberal left and they are not nitpicking political correction.

I know because this is my life. I am someone who has to constantly battle the ingrained prejudices of my friends who sometimes just cannot help themselves using gay/puff as an insult or assuming that all gays conform to the stereotypes. I am someone who has had to put with an hour of idiots on a bus calling every single f*cking thing they dislike gay or faggy. I am someone who has had my self-esteem shot to pieces so badly that I’ve been diagnosed with depression and I’ve had to seek counselling.

And you know what? I’m one of the lucky ones! Because none of my straight friends deserted me, because my parents didn’t kick me out or materially punish me and because I’ve been able to get help.

This isn’t a game! When you chant Eminem’s inane and bombastic hate speech, when you copy his constant use of gay-related words as insults you are degrading and dehumanising many vulnerable and isolated people. I quite frankly couldn’t give a shit about Eminem, but I do give a shit about my fellow gays, lesbians and bisexuals who have to suffer a constant stream of homophobia. And although he didn’t created homophobia, Eminem and his ilk has revived what was once discredited and “uncool”. Today we see music, once a progressive force for change and civil rights is reduced to giving foul mouth succour to reactionaries and bigots.

A Comics Nexus original, Will Cooling has written about comics since 2004 despite the best efforts of the industry to kill his love of the medium. He now spends much of his time over at Inside Fights where he gets to see muscle-bound men beat each up without retcons and summer crossovers.