backlash

Can Details Get Away With Calling Someone a “Douchefag”?

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Can a magazine that plays it straight but actively courts a gay readership get away with making tasteless gay jokes? Conde Nast’s Details sure thought it could when it published “The Rise of the Douchefag,” one of the magazine’s trademark “Let’s identify a trend, or make one up, and then package some witty copy around it.” Front and center in the piece, next to Marc Jacobs’ ex Jason Preston, are Project Runway designer Christian Siriano and his DJ boyfriend Brad Walsh — who had a major problem with Details throwing the “fag” word around, let alone being identified by a mainstream magazine as a “douchefag.”

The article’s premise: There are gays, and then there are gay “douchefags.” Like douchebags, only with the F-word. A handy charticle helps identify which is which: A guy is only gay if he “bleaches teeth”; he’s a gay douchebag if he “bleaches anus.” Gay if he “saves up for calfskin briefcase”; gay douchebag if he “saves up for calf implants.” Gay if “posts sleeveless pictures on Connexion”; gay douchebag if he “posts pantsless pictures on Manhunt.” See how this goes?

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The backlash started on Twitter, when Walsh tweeted: “so, just to be clear, when a major (albeit dying) magazine for straight men refers to me in part as a ‘fag,’ that’s homophobia. and hate.” It was followed up by a few more short bursts, including: “i don’t mind someone thinking i’m a douchebag or calling me gay. opinion and fact. but calling me ‘fag,’ even if OUT did it, is not right.”

Details got wind of Walsh’s outrage, and opted to change the story’s online version. There, the headline now reads, “Meet the Gay Douchebag.” But the print version (in the December 2009 issue with John Mayer on the cover) already shipped, with the original “The Rise of the Douchefag” headline — and Siriano and Walsh’s photo included.

So Queerty asked Walsh to explain what happened. He tells us:

A friend showed me the article, and in the print version I didn’t really understand why the photo of me and Christian was there. It’s not really explained. But in the online version of the article, they refer to Christian as a stereotypical gay “always with a pocket square” (though he’s not wearing one in the photo, and doesn’t ever wear them), and me as the “douchefag” who is “always with a pocket gay.” I’m not sure why the fact that my boyfriend is shorter than I am is funny. I think it’s a flimsy joke to begin with. But calling me a “gay douchebag” is fine. I am gay, and they are allowed to think I am a douchebag. That’s their opinion. It’s the use of the word “douchefag” that I have a problem with. I don’t appreciate any magazine referring to me as a “fag.” I don’t like that word. I wouldn’t be happy with a primarily gay publication calling me “fag” either. If OUT Magazine called me a fag I would be just as upset. It’s not appropriate, and it is offensive, and you’d think on the eve of 2010 that would be clear by now. It’s a dumb article, and it really stretches to be funny. But that’s their choice. If they have no valuable content and need to fill two pages with an unfunny listicle of stereotypes, that’s their problem as a dying magazine. But why call, me “fag” in the process? I know it’s a tired point nowadays, but really, imagine if they had done the exact same article about black people, and included a punny interpretation of the “N” word. Would never ever have gone to print. It seems like they were trying for controversy for attention, and unfortunately, some people think that while making fun of race is off limits, making fun of sexuality is acceptable.

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And therein lies a critical part of the story: Can any publication — gay or straight — get away with calling someone a fag? If not, then it shouldn’t be in print. But if the rules are looser for gay mags, does Details qualify? That’s a question even Details doesn’t like to answer; it’s stocked next to GQ and Esquire, but appeals to Out‘s readership. It’s headed up by a straight married guy (Dan Peres) but hires top-notch gay talent (Augusten Burroughs is a columnist, and Simon Dumenco is a regular contributor). Does that give it enough gayness to qualify? (Worth noting: Queerty uses the word “fag,” as both a replacement for “gay person” and as a pejorative, but mainly when discussing bigots, like John Ensign.)

We asked Walsh what, if anything, Details could do as a make good.

Well, they can’t go around the country and take back all the issues they sold with my face across from the word “DOUCHEFAG” in big red letters, can they? I don’t think they need to do anything, no public apology would mean anything to me. Homophobes who are forced to apologize… what does that do? I think they should be fined or required to print a full page ad for GLAAD or something appropriate, for printing the word “fag” in a way that deliberately makes fun of gay people. There should be legitimate consequences for such use of that word and other slurs.

Novel idea! We’re checking with Details right now about that.

In the meantime, you tell us: Is Walsh right to feel slighted by a major magazine for throwing around such an offensive word? Or is Details just having a good laugh — with, not at us — and guilty of nothing more than some off-color humor?