Tracy Morgan’s apologies regarding his homophobic rant a few weeks back littered the web (as here and here), as did reactions to his anti-gay routine. However, most of the condemnation of Morgan has circulated around his framing of homosexuality as a “mistake” as well as his failure to take gay bullying seriously. Additionally, Tina Fey was been singled out with calls that she needs to fire Morgan (a move that Melissa McEwan of Shakesville aptly described as “an echo of the age-old stereotype that boys will be boys and it’s up to women to soften them and control them and deliver consequences for moral failures”).
In contrast, what received scant attention was Morgan’s anti-lesbian rant “that there is no way a woman could love and have sexual desire for another woman, that’s just a woman pretending because she hates a fucking man.”
In a move that is far from new, Morgan denied lesbians even exist, then went on to make many homophobic jokes about gay men. The blogosphere largely responded to this story in kind, leaving out (or not mentioning) Morgan’s anti-lesbian joke.
Here I am reminded of Adrienne Rich’s classic essay, “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence,” in which Rich eloquently and exhaustively examines how the denial of sexuality for women is a means to control and suppress ALL females, not just lesbians.
Rich’s key point that male (hetero)sexuality is forced upon women can be linked to Morgan’s rant, which itself can be read as a comedic enforcing of compulsory heterosexuality. As Morgan’s “joke” suggests, women only “pretend” to be lesbians to get back at men. Yes, Morgan, because all desire revolves around the mighty phallus.
Apparently Morgan fails to appreciate that without his gay and lesbian co-workers, he, as Tina Fey put it “would not have lines to say, clothes to wear, sets to stand on, scene partners to act with, or a printed-out paycheck from accounting to put in his pocket.”
“30 Rock,” in contrast to Morgan, does recognize lesbians exist and does a good job of joking about lesbian identity without offense (as Fannie’s Room argues here).
As noted at After Ellen, “It’s no secret lesbians love Tina Fey” and, to her credit, Fey seems to understand that there is no such thing as equal opportunity joking. In her GLAAD award acceptance speech she noted “so much what makes the difference between a joke being offensive and being funny is the context it is in and the intention behind it.”
In regards to Morgan, the intention was clearly not to promote acceptance or to breakdown stereotypes. Instead, it was hate speech masquerading as comedy. As Renee of Womanist Musings argues,
“Morgan like many comedians believes that comedy is specifically designed to be a shield that makes hate speech acceptable. Instead of claiming to be ‘an equal opportunity jokester,’ what he should have said is that he is an equal opportunity bigot.”
Tami of What Tami Said echoes this sentiment, noting “No comedy is really equal-opportunity. Why? Because our society is not equal opportunity. We are not all the same.” To illustrate her point, she argues that jokes about those who have privilege in society are not going to have real world consequences in the same way that jokes about marginalized groups are, that “No matter how many stupid jokes you tell about George Bush, none of this is likely to change for him. Nor will things change for people like him. Put it this way, no one is likely to stop hiring heterosexual, Christian, rich white men, because of George Bush.” No, nor is anyone likely to try and claim that heterosexual, rich, white men don’t exist.
You know what doesn’t exist? Being “an equal opportunity jokester.” You know what does? Women loving and having sexual desire for other women.