I’m interested in the debate going on about Katy Perry, the new trying-to-be-Lily-Allen popsicle. Her first two singles are both accused of being anti-gay. The first was called “UR so Gay” and is all about an ex who was too metrosexual for his own good, while the second is called “I Kissed a Girl” and, well, its about her kissing a girl. The musical value of the songs aside, she’s pissed a lot of people off. But the daughter of two Christian Pastors and the latest product of Capitol Records seems herself to be blithely ignorant of the offence she has caused.

This fantastic interview with her and its subsequent discussion in The New Gay magazine is wonderful. As one of the commentators points out

“The interviewer just keeps asking, over and over, “Why are you such a homophobic cunt?”

The subject keeps responding, “The songs are personal, the themes are open to interpretation, I don’t have a government-mandated obligation to be politically correct.”

The songs each play on tropes of homophobia that are common in daily life but considered to be ‘harmless’. The first being the use of ‘gay’ as an insult akin to ‘stupid’ or ‘sucky’, the second being the idea that (pretty) straight girls kissing is hot as long as its aimed at turning on men. The first is one of my own personal rant buttons, and I have on several occasions got into huge blazing rows over it (most recently with my little sister – the one who also thinks that Muslims are evil). “But I don’t really mean gay as an insult, its just a word. It doesn’t mean gay like that“: the excuse of the fucking ignorant. The second idea that lesbians are hot seems to have a whole lot to do with porn. I always wondered why it was that lesbians were so popular in porn for men, given that you’d assume there would be nothing there for them. But I figured eventually that its probably because most straight men are so homophobic that they aren’t even comfortable seeing another guy naked in porn, so if you just eliminate the guy and put in two women it solves the problem. Which is of course reinforced by the fact that you would never see a butch lesbian, or in fact a lesbian, in ‘lesbian’ porn aimed at straight men. So Katy Perry’s funny little jokes reinforce the idea that lesbians only exist as male sex objects, and that men (gay or straight) who don’t fit in with established sex/gender roles should be punished for it. Catchy!

I was thinking about writing this post last night while in a gay bar in La Paz, and talking to my friend who took me there. My friend, Diana, was pretty uncomfortable but trying really hard not to show it. She had been nervous about whether she ought to mention the fact she was going to the bar, and had kind of ‘sounded me out’ on how I would react before inviting me. She is straight but was going because an old friend of hers who is gay was organising the event. Diana’s reaction was really interesting – although she was obviously very uncomfortable and probably quiet unhappy about her friend being, as she called it, ‘abnormal’, she was really trying hard to understand and to open her mind to the idea. She wanted to go to the bar to support her friend in an event she was organising, and I think in general to show her friend that she still supported her altogether. We had a good night out (till the curfew interrupted us) and made plans to see the Miss Gay Bolivia candidate through to the competition next weekend. Diana talked about how dangerous it is to be openly gay in Bolivia – at the gay pride event earlier in the year people attacked and sprayed gas on the people marching. We talked in the taxi home about the Katy Perry song “UR So Gay” and she was far more shocked than I had been.

In a way its a bit like the racist comments I was talking about before. Ed, for example, considers himself to be progressive and would probably describe Diana as homophobic because she is uncomfortable with the idea of her friend being gay. But Ed regularly makes the kind of locker room jokes with his male friends about being ‘so gay’, and I can only imagine the look of fear that would cross his face if we had offered to bring him along last night to the drag show in a gay bar. Diana lives in a country where being gay really is considered to be ‘abnormal’ so her opinion is understandable – I think its a bit much to assume that individual people can throw off their habitus overnight after one contact with the ‘liberal west’. In fact it’s this idea that we are more liberal in the west that makes us able to become comfortable with our own prejudice. What makes Diana more tolerant that Ed is that she is actively trying to change her opinion and broaden her mind, and that she understands that such ‘causal jokes’ are part of the day-to-day reinforcement of oppression that keep her friends underground and, at times, in fear of their lives.