Azealia Banks has used elements of queer culture in her music and earned a large LGBT following over the past few years, but last Friday night she engaged in two separate Twitter beefs that could seriously endanger that goodwill. First, she battled with rising rapper Angel Haze (who, like Banks, is openly bisexual) in a spat where her insults were strongly transphobic.
Later that evening, she picked a fight with gossip maven Perez Hilton and resorted to homophobic insults, only to attempt to backtrack without apologizing to Hilton.
There are plenty of problems with Banks’ tweets. Over the course of both beefs, she turns to homophobia, transphobia, and the reinforcement of normative gender roles to make her points. As high-profile female bisexual musicians, Banks and Haze should serve as partners in spreading a message of tolerance and awareness, but Banks’ default mode of attack in their argument is to transphobically demean Haze. As for her spat with Hilton, she should simply have a better sense of the difference between the intended meaning of a word and its meaning at-large. A display of such misunderstanding from someone typically prejudiced would be troubling; from an up-and-coming superstar who has been popularized as a queer/queer-friendly icon and routinely borrows elements of queer culture for her music and image, it’s enough to make your stomach sick. I’m well acquainted with that sick-stomach feeling because I was part of that popularization.
A few months ago, I wrote about how Banks’ music empowered me during my first summer of exploring queer culture. After writing it, a few friends and other writers who are more aware of larger issues in the queer community pointed out a few issues with the post, like some homophobic and transphobic elements of Azealia’s lyrics and my unfair labeling of “the hip-hop community” as an island of homophobia. It was an important learning experience. Now, in the wake of Banks’ latest comments, the story at the heart of that essay has been totally undermined. How did I ever find comfort and confidence in the music of someone with such a fundamental lack of understanding? Banks’ tweets should be taken as an affront to everyone in the queer community, whether they’re masculine, effeminate, or somewhere in between.
This Twitter saga doesn’t just shake my personal belief in Banks’ status as an ally, but makes me question the way the media - myself included - built a narrative featuring Banks as a friend and guardian of the queer community. It’s possible that young queer listeners looking for heroes were directed to her, only to face the same hate speech and willful blindness they deal with every day at home, work, and school. It’s just as unfortunate that this narrative, as well as the fallout from this most recent controversy, have been and will be almost solely shaped by white gay men. This is just one of many situations where the perspectives of gay, bi, and trans women and queer people of color would play a huge role in fully understanding the issue. They deserve a much greater role in the conversation.
Azealia is only 21 years old, and it’s possible that in later years she will come to realize how hurtful and misguided she’s being right now. Learning to understand and recognize issues that affect others but leave us untouched is a lifelong process that casts our earlier behavior in harsh light. I still appreciate the catchiness and confidence of her music and the potential she’s only begun to realize. But her position as a queer person and ally doesn’t mean she’s infallible, and her pride and ignorance have led her into a place of severe wrong. It’s a mistake I and many others won’t soon forget.
Jamieson Cox is an engineering student at the University of Waterloo, and has written for One Week One Band, Pitchfork, Prefix and The Singles Jukebox.