I’m not going to imply that the point I’m about to make grants ownership to or excuses ignorance of flippant gays in regards to ball culture, BUT
it seems perfectly natural that ball vernacular (REAH HA, SLAYYYY) has found a home on queer tumblr considering the undeniable parallels between balls and tumblr. both are largely safe spaces for marginalized groups. both invite a certain degree of implied performativity that is mixed within one’s genuine persona. both allow participants to experience a healthy disconnect from the “real world.”
yes, queer people in the heyday of balls had bigger hurdles in front of them, and of course the racial and gender-bending components provides additional dimension to what ball culture was responding to. (quick aside…I’d argue that ball culture is as queer as it is black, so please don’t think I see this as a purely queer issue). I earnestly believe that the preeminent purpose of balls was to strip the power of oppression, as well as instill confidence and a sense of competitiveness within people that are beaten down by society. balls gave people a chance to win, regardless of what any layperson on the street felt about it.
given this, I am not inclined to pinpoint the problem with people using ball vernacular despite no direct connection to its culture as being one of simple appropriation. I have found that its use is rarely of the typical appropriative model: gazing upon and distinguishing some group as the “other,” only to rob them of their cultural identity for superficial purposes. instead, I routinely perceive people as behaviorally latching onto the tone of ball culture. people are not mocking ball culture; they are mocking the act of ostracizing and diminishing others, which is absolutely something that balls accomplished. now, rivalries obviously existing in this subculture, but the fundamental quality of shade and reading is that it doesn’t carry the same weight of actual fighting words. however, I don’t believe that necessarily contradicts shade’s recognition that queerness does require a sense of resilience and fighting spirit.
now I would be naïve to claim that any of what I just said has fail-proof practical relevance. tumblr, stan culture, and relative anonymity of the internet have all conspired to create a perfect storm that does threaten to uproot the vernacular and behavior from its origins. more and more people are engaged in this type of online speech without any recognition or knowledge of why it exists beyond it being “gay.” a lot of people in the year 2014 do just want a funny way to be an asshole. therein lies the major problem as far as I see it. however, I do think it is entirely within our power to combat this by informing people about this important subculture of the queer community—even if that just means linking someone to Paris Is Burning. I’m already noticing glimmers of this. the stories of radical queer activists Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson of STAR have begun to be revived as of late, sparing them total erasure from queer history. and if you’re looking for that sense of resilience and fighting spirit so prevalent in ball culture applied to courageous activism, there you fucking go. continuing this trend can very much allow bits of earlier post-Stonewall queer history to exist today in a responsible context. this, of course, includes something so seemingly inconsequential as calling someone “hunty.” showing honest and consistent reverence for all aspects of the queer community and its history makes you way less of a prick than someone who just DRAGS HA for no god damn reason.
for Lent, I’m giving up
So Gaga’s look when she was arriving at the spring 14 Versace couture show is my favorite look of hers now, but the catsuit leaving Mugler fall ‘11 is an extremely close second