Updated on Nov. 10 at 10:00 a.m.
The first time it happened was in the fourth grade. His name was Miguel. He was a year older than me and he poked his head out of a wooden fort near where I was playing on the school yard.
“Do you want to be a girl?” he shouted at me.
I was stunned. I don’t even remember what I said, if I responded at all. But, from his snicker, I knew that what he said was meant as a jab. That he had sniffed out something in me that wasn’t like the other boys and he thought that was bad.
Miguel would not be the last. I grew up in rural hockey country, where even the most minor gender transgressions were noticed, noted and, more often than I’d have liked, criticized out loud.
Most gay men know the pain of being called a fag. But we also know that prejudice often comes with a softer touch. It comes coded, or posed as a question.
On Tuesday, it came coded as “fey.”
The Great Canadian Baking Show premiered on Wednesday and in his review of the new series, Globe and Mail television critic John Doyle called the show’s co-host, Dan Levy, “fey.” In speaking about the show’s judges, Vancouver pastry chef Bruno Feldeisen and Montreal’s Rochelle Adonis, Doyle was unimpressed. “Both are a tad stiff and nervous and little winded—at any moment, they know they might be swarmed by the feyness of Levy and the tweeness of Chan.”
Levy responded with a statement on Instagram that reads, “As a proud gay man, being criticized for my “feyness” (defined by Merriam-Webster as “campy” and “precious”) in today’s Globe and Mail struck me as offensive, irresponsible, and homophobic.”
It’s hard to read Doyle’s words as anything but a criticism of Levy’s gayness—a criticism that he’s not just being gay, but *acting* gay, and that will be too overwhelming or too distracting for the viewers of the show.
I shouldn’t have to say that it’s homophobic to suggest a TV host is too gay, but here we are.
Full disclosure: I’ve known Levy for nearly a decade, since we were both—to use Doyle’s word—young “fey” men in Toronto. And yes, I take issue with that word being thrown in his direction because we are friends. But I’d take issue if we weren’t, too. I take issue with it because every gay man has been called “too gay” in coded language, whether the word used is “effeminate,” “flamboyant” or “fey,” only it’s usually not in a public forum, but in the workplace, at home—or in the school yard.
Whether the word was slung with that intent or not doesn’t matter now that it has been used. Even if the motivation wasn’t malicious, it points to an unconscious bias. Doyle sees men like Levy as “fey” and feels entitled to describe them as such. That’s a problem. What’s important to recognize here is that there are some words that carry perilous weight when you pair them with a gay man’s name.
Levy’s statement was tough to read. But what really got me was the last part: “To all the “fey” kids/people out there who read that and were made to question whether their “feyness” is deserving of criticism, it’s not. You are loved for who you are.”
That’s the part I want you to read, circle, highlight and read again. Because as far as we’ve come, there’s always going to be a little “fey” boy or “butch” girl on the school yard who needs to know not to listen to the Miguel, or the John Doyle, in their life.
Editor’s note: Globe and Mail published a statement on November 9, a full 11 days after they first published Doyle’s review containing the homophobic term, in which they claim Doyle did not know Levy was gay, nor did he know the word “fey” was offensive. “Mr. Doyle was not aware that Mr. Levy was gay and he used the term to mean preciousness,” a portion of the statement reads. “The Merriam-Webster Dictionary doesn’t seem to suggest a slur (other definitions: doomed, visionary, excessively refined, quaintly unconventional), but it is clear in terms of the reaction, especially on social media, that some people, notably in the gay community, disagree. Lesson learned that you cannot rely on dictionaries alone.” Public editor Sylvia Stead also writes: “Editor-in-chief David Walmsley said ‘we caused unintended offence and for that we apologize.'” At the time of this update, the offensive term remained in the digital version of Doyle’s column.
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