Recently openly gay Irish comedian Graham Norton got himself into quite a pickle on his show. In what was meant to be a typical, funny segment about inventions that never caught on, Norton ended up making quite a few lesbians — and one of his guests &mdash kind of upset.
Are people being too sensitive, or is it true that lesbians are too often the butt of gay men’s jokes?
I knew of Norton before, but I couldn’t miss the hype that surrounded his remarks that were deemed “homophobic” by several media sources. The segment went down like this: Norton shows an illustration of “jumpsuit for women,” which was invented to allow women wearing a one-piece jumpsuit to pee while sitting down. The woman in the drawing has short hair, which clearly means to Norton that she is a lesbian.
“Now I don’t know why they have got some strange lesbian to be the model for this, but they have,” Norton says with a grin, adding that “obviously the lesbian pissing in a jump suit was a big market.” The joke, likely encouraged by the roaring audience, went on: “So, Lesbian full bladder here, what am I going to do?”
The comments prompt actress Ruth Jones, a guest on the show, to call him out, but not in such an intense way as it was reported. “She may not be a lesbian, come on now,” Jones said. Norton rebuts: “You’re right, she could have gone to a very bad hairdresser.”
Norton was given an official warning by the BBC following the segment about his “homophobic” behavior, and many news outlets began reporting that Norton called lesbians “fat” and “ugly,” which was just not true. Perhaps the most in-depth coverage of the incident came from the BBC News, which published an article asking
Jane Czyzselska, editor of Diva magazine, thinks that when lesbians become a joke among gay men, it can likely be attributed to sexism, saying, “I think it might be partly a case of sexism. Women are still judged on their looks and gay men — who stereotypically are supposed to have a more developed aesthetic awareness — consider themselves well placed to make comments about the beauty or otherwise of stereotypically “ugly” lesbians.”
Using a stereotype to dismiss a stereotype — is this where we are in the gay community? Norton did perpetuate a lesbian stereotype — and it was in bad taste, but I don’t think he “hates” lesbians or thinks all lesbians are “fat and ugly.” Honestly, if a lesbian friend of mine saw the woman in the jumpsuit, they may have made the same assumption. Is it right? No. Do I think gay men are out there ripping on lesbians to make themselves feel superior? Not really.
When it comes to humor, if you are a fan of the stuff that can be in poor taste (à la Sarah Silverman), where do you draw the line? If you are a lesbian, is it OK to joke about your gay male friend’s taste in clothing, music, homedécor based on stereotypes just because he knows you don’t mean any harm? As a lesbian, is it OK to mock your other friends for activities that can be deemed stereotypical for lesbians (moving in with their partners quickly, enjoying a sports game — or a Melissa Etheridge concert)?
“When you have people that are part of a sub-group, there’s a certain freedom of expression within that so it’s much easier to make comedic references about other people within that community because it’s much safer,” said Peter Lloyd, news editor of Gay Times and Pink Paper. “So there’s an element of this within the community but ultimately there’s a shared level of understanding about our aims and objectives.”
You can watch the full clip of the joke below:
Honestly, I think the gay community needs to spend less time upset about a haircut joke among gays and more time working together for equal rights. A bad joke is a bad joke and, sure, there are gay women as well as gay men who do not treat their partners-in-queer with the respect they deserve, but it’s certainly not a majority. Do you think there is a serious rift between gay men and lesbians?