** This post is stitched together like Frankenstein from a comment I made on the original Barba post. **
I kinda knew my interview with Kevin Michael Barba would stir up strong feelings considering the relish with which commenters disemboweled him in the initial Gawker piece on that stomach-turning letter used to introduce him to the world. I mean, "18yo gay socialite" is like chum in the water.
But I find a chunk of the responses to be a real embarrassment—much worse than the harm they're accusing Barba of causing simply by existing and having an ego and a youthful desire to achieve notoriety.
Let me start by saying I actually take no issue with all the commenters who simply are not at all impressed—especially (but not exclusively) for older people, there is no real reason why he would be inspiring. So those criticisms are pretty expected and self-explanatory and I get them.
First, anyone who's attacking him for his nose or his hair or his clothes while saying he's not deserving of being a role model is kind of saying, "He's sooo shallow...and ugly, too!" I mean, look at your logic.
Criticize him for being naive in thinking just getting to where he is so far is a sign of "success"—but attacking how he looks? How exactly does that make him unworthy?
More deliciously, we have commenters calling him a lesbian, a girl, a transvestite and over on YouTube insulting him for being "femme," something our community "tends to shy away from." Are you guys out of your gourds? You're fucking gay. You suck penises. We all do. So what if he is more effeminate than you are (assuming he even is)? Why on earth would that bug you? The drags at Stonewall wore dresses. So?
Again, I totally get it if you're making the snap judgment that he's shallow or has real chutzpah wanting to be a role model inorganically. You might be right; we'll see how his life unfolds. But insulting him from a gender-based POV while arguing that he isn't worthy of being a member of the LGBT community is hypocritical and destructive to ourselves. It reminds me of how so many gay guys love to call Ann Coulter "Man Coulter." That's not why she's gross. (But it's different from attacking Marcus Bachmann for being so gay-acting because that comes from a suspicion he is the very thing he despises whereas gender-based Coulter-bashing comes from a place of thinking that women who look mannish are a joke.)
I thought Gawker was pretty smart to zap him for tweeting so much about shopping after having said in the "amateur" (! the hatred is contagious, lol!) interview that he did with me that he didn't want to be known simply as someone who shops. That was unfair (it's not like he said he'll never shop again and is against it), but it was at least about something substantive.
Lookit, no one (not even Kevin Michael Barba) is saying he's curing cancer. But he's sure as hell not causing it. Chutzpah, ego, ambition, a love of shopping, a desire to tweet one's flakiest thoughts...these things are not destructive to our community as long as there is balance in the form of working for LGBT rights, taking care of each other, caring about injustice. But some of the insults he's weathered about his appearance and mannerisms are destructive to our community because they have judgments in them that effectively peel off other people who might look and/or act like him.
Also, for the people horrified that I gave him any attention, did you miss my recent David Mixner posts? You may not have, but quite a few others did. A video of me asking some LGBT rights questions of Mixner from over four months ago has 60 views while my unwieldy nine-minute chat with Barba will soar past 6,000 in 48 hours. Where are my priorities in featuring this kid in a post? Well, where are our priorities as a community—or perhaps, more broadly, as a society—when we all seem to be so drawn to things we hate and want to tear down?
I'm no gay angel (wait—remember those Ryan Kwanten pictures from years ago???), as I have been known to tear stuff down occasionally. And some things deserve to be torn down. But it has been an education—and I believe it is a litmus test for each commenter—not seeing how many people decide to dismiss Barba, but to see how they go about doing it. This is one of those things (remember my infamous Perez Hilton post?) where the person we're talking about is far less the issue than the reaction to them.