It was brought to our attention this weekend, thanks to the efforts of bloggers like Steve Pep at Towleroad and Perez Hilton, that Vanity Fair used the three-letter f-word in its review of last week’s episode of the hit show. This language should never have made it to the readers, so GLAAD reached out to the magazine (undoubtedly along with numerous upset and offended readers) and asked for an apology from the publication, which we did eventually get.
First though, the author of the piece, Brett Berk, posted his apology this morning.
"UPDATED: I would like to apologize sincerely to anyone I offended with the use of the term “f*g” (now removed) in this “Gay Guide to Glee” column. As an openly gay writer writing in an overtly overblown style, my intent in using the word in this offhanded way was to continue my consistent efforts to confront and challenge stereotype, to unpack the way in which language works, and to deconstruct the clever gender politics at play in the scene I described…." (continued here)
Berk says his use of the f-word was well-intentioned, but by making this language choice, what Vanity Fair actually communicated to its audience was that the f-word can sometimes be an appropriate way to describe gay youth, like Kurt and Blaine. Thousands of “real life” Kurts and Blaines in America get called this word every day – in school, online, and sometimes even at home. It’s not okay there, and it’s not okay here either.
Does the author have license to do this because he himself is a gay man? Among his friends, maybe. But the second this article went live, this f-word didn’t belong to Brett Berk anymore. It belonged to Vanity Fair. So then, does Vanity Fair have license to casually throw around the f-word to describe gay men? Absolutely not. And that’s why his apology wasn’t enough by itself.
This is what editors are for-- not just to fix spelling and grammatical errors, but to catch things that could wind up misinforming or offending a wide swath of the audience, no matter how innocuous the writer intends them to be.
A teacher who read the original article might subconsciously think twice about it when he or she hears the f-word being used in the hallways at school, and then decide not to act. And what about the thousands of Glee viewers who personally identify with Kurt or Blaine? What are they left to think? “Is that what I am? Is that ALL I am?’” Anti-gay slurs are anti-gay slurs, even if they’re intended not to be taken as such.
We spoke to editors about this and explained why an apology from the author alone doesn’t cover the publication’s responsibility to keep anti-gay slurs out of its pages. In response, at noon today, the editors of the magazine posted this:
With so many genuine homophobes stirring up trouble these days, the gay community doesn’t need any agita from an ally like vanityfair.com, so we are eager to set the record straight about the use of the word “f*gs” in Brett Berk’s latest “Gay Guide to Glee” column. Brett, who has repeatedly referred to himself as VF.com’s “fun and f*ggy editor” (a title the editors have declined to endorse), writes from a humorous and explicitly gay perspective, and his invocation of this complicated word was meant to critique the notion that the gay characters of Glee should feel obliged to “play straight” on stage. That said, we recognize that the column caused genuine offense to many readers, and we apologize unreservedly to them.
We are grateful to Vanity Fair for making this statement to clarify the publication's position on the use of a slur that, regardless of who is using it and when, is often ammunition for anti-gay bullying. As an ally, this magazine has an important responsibility to set a good example and use its influence to be a responsible voice.
A cursory search on Vanity Fair’s website for the offending language turns up more than two dozen results, so it’s clear that this term has been a part of the publication’s allowed vernacular for quite some time. Moving forward however, given their clear understanding of the offense this word can cause, the magazine’s editors are now acknowledging their responsibility for keeping slurs like this out of its vocabulary. We commend their statement's tone of respect and the implication that Vanity Fair will have a greater awareness of the impact of this word in the future.
As we reflect on the use of the word “f*g” in popular culture (especially among people who consider themselves to be friends of the gay community), we have a deep awareness that words and images matter and want to ensure that this one is not summoned to do harm – even if inadvertently.