Best. Lesbian. Week. Ever. (August 14, 2009)

IS THE "NO HOMO" HIP-HOP TERM HURTFUL OR HELPFUL TO GAYS AND LESBIANS?
Homophobia in hip-hop is nothing new. For years, the subject has been discussed among journalists, artists themselves and activists. Where a mainstream pop performer would likely be chastised for saying something like “You can’t be f—in’ people in the ass and say you’re gangsta," as Method Man did in 2003, the hip-hop world generally responds to these tirades by shrugging its proverbial shoulders.

While the gay community clearly has a long way to go in terms of social acceptance on a mainstream level, Slate writer Jonah Weiner thinks the times may be changing — in the hip-hop world that is. Weiner’s recent article discusses the rise of the phrase “no homo” in contemporary hip-hop, and points out that while some may find it much of the same — homophobic rappers horrified of being emasculated — he thinks it may be a good thing. He writes:

No homo, to those unfamiliar with the term, is a phrase added to statements in order to rid them of possible homosexual double-entendre. "You’ve got beautiful balls," you tell your friend at the bocce game — "no homo."

Simply, Weiner explains, “no homo” is a “That’s what she said” for homophobes. So why is it a good thing?

When these rappers say "no homo," it can seem a bit like a gentleman’s agreement, nodding to the status quo while smuggling in a fuller, less hamstrung notion of masculinity. This is still a concession to homophobia, but one that enables a less rigid definition of the hip-hop self than we’ve seen before. It’s far from a coup, but, in a way, it’s progress.”

Personally, I think the “no homo” thing is excessive, and shows how horrified these rappers are of being mistaken for gay. “Got money out the a–/ No homo but I’m rich," Lil’ Wayne raps in his song "Georgia Bush." Really? Because when you said “money out the a–” I just assumed you were gay. Come on, now.

In 2007, lesbian poet Staceyann Chin discussed the issue of homophobia in hip-hop as part of an NPR panel discussion.

“If the lyrics offend me, I don’t listen to it,” Chin said. “I might find myself in moments nodding to a song because music is infectious. It’s kind of like laughter — you hear it and you start moving. But as long as I hear something that really offends me, I try my very best not to listen to it.”

Lesbians in hip-hop, such as Yo Majesty, Bunny Rabbit and KIN4LIFE have seen success by staying small and catering to queer audiences, but when it comes to gay and lesbian faces in mainstream hip-hop, there is a serious lack of visibility.

It’s difficult to discuss the issue without talking about race. Weiner’s article discusses a link between “no homo” and the “down low” culture of black men living secretly gay lives — Chin mentioned how socioeconomics may play a role in continued hatred of gays, particularly among minorities:

I think that when people have little of themselves and they don’t have enough of what they need to live comfortably and to live happy in their own spaces, they find other people to attack. And we need to figure out how it is that we can give people what they need to live so that we can actually sit down and have a conversation that isn’t trying to be judgmental about the group of people that we don’t know who they are or where they come from or the nature of the life they lead every day.

While I enjoy singing along to Lil’ Wayne’s "Mrs. Officer" as much as the next lesbian, I wonder if my continued support of rappers like Lil’ Wayne is just encouraging the problem. Is it OK to dance along to music that is spewing hatred? Why do positive role models in hip-hop see less success than those pushing a violent or homophobic point of view?

These are big questions that no one has really figured the answers to. Homophobia still tops the charts and gets everyone on the dance floor when played in a club. Is “no homo” progress or just another detour?

— by Jen Sabella

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