Photography by George Lange
Some people love TLC’s Toddlers & Tiaras spin-off Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. Some people hate it. And still more love to hate it. Regardless, there was a moment on its season finale that no one with any sense of social justice could argue with: It happened when the reality show’s seven-year-old principal personality, Alana Thompson (a.k.a. Honey Boo Boo), told the camera with her typical flippant sass, “Ain’t nothin’ wrong with bein’ a little gay. Everybody’s a little gay.”
Initially, it may have seemed as outlandish as any of the show’s outbursts—although since those normally come in the form of bodily functions, this one was more polite than usual. But really, who better to deliver such a clear message of equality than a child?
Thompson is the voice of a generation that will look back on the current absurd attacks on gays in the same way many of us regard reality TV today -- yes, these things happened, but they are too ridiculous to be believed. Driven by her love of her gay paternal uncle Lee, she is an example of how mere exposure to gay people can shape acceptance, and how wrongheaded the antiquated belief is that children must be kept away from gays. The haters like to claim that teaching kids about even the existence of homosexuality will cause confusion, but we see none of that here. (That argument is garbage, anyway, since being confused is an integral part of being a child.) When reached by phone, Alana’s mother, June Shannon, says that when she explained what “gay” meant to Alana, Alana’s reaction was, “OK. It is what it is.” Here’s a kid who gets it, because it’s really that easy: Gay people are people, too -- and they’re great.
With her over-the-top gesticulating and background in the hilariously stilted world of child pageantry, Thompson was a shoo-in for gay icon status even before she made her grand pronouncement. (She had previously hinted at gay acceptance, waxing affectionate about her uncle in a Toddlers & Tiaras episode and telling her sister that the pet male pig she cross-dressed was allowed to be gay, because “you can’t tell that pig what to do.”)
Part of what made Thompson’s gay acceptance so viral was that it confounded the stereotypes about her self-proclaimed “redneck” family, who live in McIntyre, Ga. (about 45 minutes away from Macon). As much as gay men can teach Thompson, this seven-year-old can teach us a thing or two about acceptance manifesting in what we think of as the least likely of places. Shannon speaks passionately about the sense of equality she instills in her daughters—Lee opened the door, and she keeps it propped.
“I’ve raised my kids to love who they are—gay, straight, crooked, whatever—and not to judge other people ’cause that’s just who they are,” she says.
For his part, Lee, “Uncle Poodle,” is just as much of a stereotype killer. He recently told the GA Voice, “I’m gay, but I’m as redneck as I can get.”
Thompson refers to gay men as “poodles” (a term she picked up from a pageant coach) and seems to regard them as nonstop machines of fabulousness. Her fetishizing of them may read as pandering, but if she is this open at age seven, how nuanced might her understanding of gay culture become in years to follow?
Thompson’s blunt fixation on gay men is admirable and, in a way, more progressive than someone who claims to accept everyone without accounting for sexuality at all. Here Comes Honey Boo Boo is a show about embracing individuality; Thompson, an unlikely beauty queen, has only been rewarded for doing so (her Toddlers & Tiaras spin-off illuminates living rooms across the country brighter than any pageant crown could). She is a model of the way that self-love radiates outward. In acknowledging difference and openly accepting it, she’s encouraging other people to do the same. This kid has pride to spare.