Culture Critique: What’s the Tea? The Abuse and Misuse of Gay Culture

A teenage girl, one that looks like she wears Vans and has a visually appealing Instagram feed, opens a straw and stabs it into an artificially colored Starbucks drink before swirling the cup around and taking a dramatized sip. Finally, she proclaims, in a cartoonish voice: “Here’s” (she hits the camera) “the motherf*cking” (another concerningly rough smack of the camera) “tea,” before launching into a rant on a range of topics, from boys to school to work. 

From “throwing shade” to “spilling tea,” terms coined by the gay community have gained major traction and frequent use in today’s culture, an example of how “the majority plucks the characteristics of disenfranchised communities for profit,” as put by an O Magazine article last fall. 

Every trend must start somewhere, and this adoption of stereotypically “gay” language has clear beginnings in the influx of gay representation in the media. Like “Queer Eye,” a Netflix remake of an original series where a group of gay men (dubbed the “Fab Five”) remake and remodel a person’s life. The show, which was welcomed by the straight community, naturally features some of these phrases, which naturally lead to them being picked up by said straight community. 

As always, the internet plays a major role as well. On YouTube, “content creators” like James Charles and Shane Dawson rattle out “tea” and “sis” with every other word. 

On the surface, the adoption of this language by straight-identifying people may not seem like a problem at all. What’s the harm? To answer this, I direct you towards the girl who says she’s “spilling tea” but refuses to reprimand her homophobic boyfriend, or the guy who says he’s “throwing shade” but posts frequent tributes to celebrities who rap about not “vibing” with “queers.” This undeniable hypocrisy is the problem. 

It’s not just phrases being hijacked from the gay community with no credit whatsoever. It’s just about everything else, as well. 

James Corden, a man who is very much straight and very much married to a woman, is notorious for “acting gay” to get laughs. It’s so funny when James Corden flicks his wrists, or wears a dress. It’s shocking when he kisses Harry Styles on the lips. Corden is beloved because he’s “not like other men.” That is to say, he’s comfortable enough with his sexuality to do things like kiss Harry Styles. But, as outlined by a HIGHSNOBIETY opinion piece, what makes the reception of men like Corden so problematic is the fact that he gets hailed for being “comfortable” enough to kiss another man, something that could (and often would) get a gay man ridiculed, or worse. 

Another one that pushes a button for me is “Lip Sync Battle,” a television series where celebrities lip sync to popular songs in large, glitzy performances. The show was treated like a renegade amongst straight people, as if lip sync performing hasn’t been a staple within the drag community for decades. The worst part is, drag queens put the often straight celebrities who “perform” on this show to shame. But said drag queens, even with the ever-increasing mainstream exposure to drag, are frequently ignored, or written off as “weird,” while Channing Tatum delivering a low-quality, poorly choreographed performance in a wig and dress is “iconic.” 

In today’s society, straight-identifying people are more willing than ever to partake in language and actions that have been coined and made relevant by the gay community, though most are unwilling to admit this. So the next time you are about to “spill the tea,” sis, keep the people that created and perfected so much of what pop culture is today in the back of your mind.

About Jake Mauriello 100 Articles
Jake Mauriello is a fourth-year journalism and public relations major, with a minor in film and video studies. This is his seventh semester with The Oracle. Previously, he has worked as an Arts and Entertainment Copy Editor, Features Editor and Managing Editor. He dedicates each of his stories to his personal heroes, Taylor Swift and Alexis Rose.