“I'm not so bad. People have (such) incredibly low expectations of me, that I just need to show up. For my performances, I need to not be terrible and people will be impressed. I just know people have really, really low expectations of me and that's what the Internet does. I'm such an easy person to target. Young, good-looking, white, gay men—we love to hate those people.”
— Steve Grand, PrideSource
Oh, Steve Grand. I was having such a nice day, too.
My initial reaction to this was, “Oh haaaiiilllll no.” Not hell. Haaaiiilll. I was so livid I was clapping in the face of grammar and syntax. After all, someone lamenting their own youth, hotness, and whiteness ranks low on the list of shit I'm willing to acknowledge. But then I realized that he’s right. We do love to hate young, good-looking, white, gay men. Because they’re kind of the worst.
Grand first came to the attention of the internet with his video for "All-American Boy" a forgettable song with some memorable scenes of Grand's chiseled torso. Aside from his looks, that he was an out musician in the traditionally closeted genre of country made him noteworthy, if also a novelty. But Grand's talent, whatever your opinion of it, is often overshadowed by his looks because he's gay. And if we're being honest, we wouldn't give a fuck about his music or what he has to say if he didn't physically embody the title of his breakthrough song.
However, for me—a black kween—terms like "all-American" or "boy next door" are a slap in the face because they invariably mean "white." I came to America when I was four (I was born in Guyana) and from then on I have been infatuated with white men. They're the religion of America. He looks like Jesus and except for the last eight years, he looked like the most powerful man in the world. In the gay community, whiteness is the standard by which everyone else is judged. Being black, or Latino, or Asian, is a niche, a type, a taste, a subset. The Other.
As gay men, we're almost all guilty of this exaltation of the white male body as the standard of beauty, giving credence and credibility to people based solely on their looks. This has manifested itself in the time-honored tradition of gogo boys in bars and clubs, in the evolution of Pride into a well-oiled beefcake parade, and the latest and most insistent incarnation: the Instagram celebrity.
As a member of the media, I'm particularly guilty of it because I know that abs drive traffic. I also know how hard it is to fight for more diversity in those traffic-driving images. Sex sells and in ads, editorials, and nearly everything marketed to gay male eyeballs, the sex is mostly white. So when the "All-American Boy" video hit, it was like Nick Jonas and Zac Efron birthed a gaybaiting lovechild. He was young, good-looking, white, and gay. Like some Ken doll or porn star who might actually be available. So Steve Grand became "that hot gay guy that I guess sings, or whatever."
Because he's the all-American boy type, Grand has become marginally famous (gay famous) and gets a pass—like he said, he can "not be terrible" and people will be sufficiently impressed. People were also quick to applaud him when he "shut down" critics of his gay boating attire, or when he called out a gay site for "slut shaming" him. Those same people then gleefully enjoyed a video of him working out with close-ups of him in spandex tights or showering naked to promote a charity tee.
Rather than insist that he can't have it both ways—after all, there's a big difference in being objectified versus objectifying oneself—I'd like to insist that we all just be honest with what's going on here. Artists have always used sex, beauty, glamor, etc. to gain attention. They entice you to draw you in. That's David Bowie dressing up as the androgynous Ziggy Stardust. That’s Madonna writhing around on stage in a wedding dress. That’s Lady Gaga being naked so often we become desensitized to the very fact of it. They entice you to get your attention, to draw you in to listen to what they have to say. At least that’s what the best artists do.
Once you get past Steve Grand’s body, there’s not much there. He's got a good voice, but it's nothing remarkable. You can say the same thing about 90% of the major pop acts out there today, but the difference is they have better production and more money to throw around. If Steve Grand wants or needs to get naked to stay relevant, he's just doing what's expected of him. Not much. But let's be clear—while some people probably do "hate" him for being a young, good-looking, white, gay man—hate isn't calling someone out for being basic and thirsty.
If anything, "hate" towards young, good-looking, white, gay men is a reaction to white hegemony, or to society's never ending obsession with youth. But if Steve Grand seeks the public eye, he needs to step outside of his own entitlement and get his life. In response to people who found his comments wrongheaded, ignorant, or otherwise offensive, Grand admitted that his perspective is "narrow" and "fallible" but argued that they were merely his observations; that he's subject to more criticism because of his "perceived" privilege.
And he's right—and he should be subject to more criticism—but his privilege isn't perceived, it's very real. Which is why young, good-looking, white, gay men are kinda the worst—no T, no shade.
They sit unfairly at the top of a hierarchy within a minority, mindlessly exerting their influence while ignorant or indifferent to the world around them, the history before them, and the harm they cause. Their youth, their beauty, their whiteness insolate them from the realities of a world that rewards those qualities in disproportionate amounts. And in the gay community, especially, the lack of those qualities strips you of any humanness.
So tell me again how hard it is to be an all-American boy.
Les Fabian Brathwaite—still having an all right day.