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The Guardian: the dark side of gay stan culture

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Gay male culture has always coalesced around female pop stars, from Judy Garland to Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande. Academics and critics have puzzled over the source of this connection, their often misplaced theories ranging from the outlandish to the oedipal. But gay men and the women they worship are usually happy to bask in the mutual affection.

Heckling in smoky nightclubs has been replaced by “hate memes”, when stans circulate unflattering edited pictures or examples of a star’s least-becoming behaviour, while the cheering has morphed into a lexicon of superlatives and put-downs that may seem impenetrable to the uninitiated: “we stan” favoured female pop stars, they’re “iconic”, a “kween”, an “unproblematic fave”. “She outsold” describes both someone’s commercial successes and a general sense of their superiority. Anyone who fails to meet those standards? “Fat”, “flop”, “failure”.

This online community relies on a dense matrix of references and neologisms informed by everything from drag culture to reality TV. Sami Baker is 21 and a self-professed gay stan – his favourites are Grande, Beyoncé and Charli XCX. He explains that the culture reaches further than many beyond the community might realise, citing the example of the recent avalanche of memes of reality star Gemma Collins. “They originated from gay stan Twitter. The language used within this culture is taken from the same place that Drag Race gets its lexicon,: namely the underground subculture where LGBT people compete in various drag and performance categories, documented in the film Paris Is Burning, and an inspiration for Madonna and Beyoncé.

To my teenage self, women like Lady Gaga were the only light in a world where my queerness left me feeling like an outsider.

It is hard to overestimate how meaningful the fan-diva relationship is for gay men. What is so perplexing is why this pseudo-religious devotion has always been laced with spite. Earlier this year, pop singer Hayley Kiyoko criticisedRita Ora, Cardi B, Bebe Rexha, and Charli XCX for their single Girls, a song about bisexuality that she, as a lesbian, thought was appropriative. Within hours, stan Twitter had unearthed and circulated incriminating tweets by Kiyoko from nine years ago (when she was 18) in an attempt to “cancel” her – excluding a person entirely from online discourse, except as the target of hate memes – for daring to critique a song they liked.

For him, this behaviour typifies gay stan culture: female artists must obey the rules or suffer the consequences. “A sinister side emerges when their ‘fave’ isn’t giving them exactly what they want,” Byrne explains. “Often jokes made at their expense are said in fun but it’s grim to see the joy [the community] sometimes takes in seeing these women fail: ‘She’s over!’, ‘Flop!’ ‘This era is dead!’ Look at the smug tweets about Nadine Coyle cancelling her tour; the way Katy Perry became gay Twitter’s punching bag.”

Baker says: “I’ve seen stan Twitter make jokes about the Manchester attacks, Demi Lovato’s recent overdose, Beyoncé’s skin tone, Noah Cyrus’s appearance.”

One recent trend is to laud women by hailing them as “skinny” or a “skinny legend” – a trope that took off with a meme about Mariah Carey. Though it is used figuratively to imply flawlessness, it is revealing that a word historically used to police female physicality has naturally evolved in the gay male vernacular. Can it be anything other than chauvinist body-shaming?

“Because the object of a fan’s adoration becomes very important to the fan’s happiness, when there is some sort of disappointment, that brings a strong – and sometimes problematic – response. That is the dynamic behind the ‘mood swings’ you see in fandom, where fans love something one day and turn on it the next. It’s not about misogyny. It cuts across gender, sexuality, type of fandom, even time. Sports fans sometimes turn on star players in the same way. I don’t think it’s a male-female thing or a gay-straight thing. I think it’s a human thing.”

In gay stan culture, gender does not just occasionally intersect with online hatred – it defines the landscape. The abuse and objectification of these women is distinctly gendered – any man, gay or straight, tweeting “fat!” at a woman is unarguably misogynistic.

But with gay male misogyny being discussed more widely than ever, in terms of our nightlife, queer spaces, and social movements, what does it say when this relationship is often so heartless? What kind of permissiveness are we helping to cultivate around misogyny? Deep down, do we really know what it means to love these women?

1 person likes this: Hill
We all keep dreaming, and luckily, dreams come true.
Drag them out from their dank lairs and force them into the light! ATRL will rue the day they hated on my faves!
2 people like this: maikangel, Rainbow
The title is so macabre toofunny3
Ironically, it is often best for them to remain where they are comfortable – out of the spotlight – where the natural confidence prevalent in Architects as they work with the familiar can serve as its own beacon, attracting people, romantically or otherwise, of similar temperament and interests.

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