It’s a weird moment in time when ‘90s sitcoms intersect with 2010s drag culture, but if anything can be said about 2017—it’s nothing but weird moments in time.
Candace Cameron Bure, who played DJ Tanner on Full House and used to be Elisabeth Hasslebeck 2.0 on The View, was recently seen on her Instagram wearing a shirt that says “Not Today, Satan.” Before we dive into the real deep drama, let’s just focus on the fact that Bure, a noted conservative and Christian, saw that shirt and thought, “Oh my god, I totally feel like that.” Wouldn’t you, as a Christian, wear a shirt that said, perhaps, “Never, Satan”? Should Satan come back tomorrow? I’m being mean and dumb, so let’s continue.
In fact, the phrase, “Not today, Satan” originates from Bianca del Rio, the winner of the sixth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race. In that moment, Bianca is responding to fellow contestant Courtney Act’s comment that Bianca always wore the same silhouette. The phrase went on to become the title of Bianca’s comedy tour, and was so well-known that it spawned those t-shirts—one which would eventually find its way onto the body of one former child star. I’m betting that Candace didn’t know that.
Bure is known for having conservative blonde views—particularly on The View. In 2015, she defended bakers who discriminated against LGBTQ customers.
“This is about freedom of association. It’s about constitutional rights,” said Bure. “It’s about First Amendment rights. It’s about having the right to still choose who we associate with.” Raven-Symoné, who was also on the show at that point, countered with, “I refuse to associate with you right now.”
It’s also worth noting that Bure’s brother, Kirk Cameron, is an Evangelical Christian and notoriously anti-gay. He called homosexuality “detrimental” and “ultimately destructive” to the foundation of civilization. Now, I don’t want to blame Bure for her brother’s opinions, but I think it’s important for context. She is associated with him and, to my knowledge, has not rejected her brother’s very public opinions on homosexuality.
So Bianca del Rio reposted the photo with the caption, “IF ONLY, THIS HOMOPHOBIC, REPUBLICAN KNEW…”. Her fans flooded Bure’s page with accusations of homophobia. Bure responded with a comment on Bianca’s photo, saying that “Loving Jesus doesn’t mean I hate gay people or anyone…I hope next time you’ll spread love and kindness, even when you disagree with people.”
First, I would like to state, unequivocally, that I do not condone flooding people with hateful comments. That accomplishes nothing and, in fact, only serves to reinforce negative stereotypes that these people might already be holding. However, I do think that Bianca and her fans were warranted in reacting to Bure.
Cultural appropriation, because that’s what this was, is never okay. Whether or not Bure knew the origin of that phrase, the fact that she—someone who has professed actively anti-gay sentiments—would wear a shirt with a phrase made popular by a drag queen is ludicrous. She does not get to be a part of that zeitgeist. Black women have been facing cultural appropriation forever. Like the Kardashians wearing cornrows, mainstream society is co-opting what they find “cute” about black femaleness without giving the actual people any respect or due.
Drag Race is an interesting case study because so much of it has become self-referential. Laganja Estranja’s “Okrrrr” and “I’m feeling very attacked” are referenced and replicated in queens of later seasons. Khloe Kardashian utilized “Okrrr” in her capsule collection of Kylie Cosmetics lip-kits. When things seep into the mainstream, it’s often without the knowledge of where they came from. And so as Drag Race becomes consumed by a wider audience, you run the risk that people will take that culture—they think that because they watch it, that warrants a piece of queer culture. It doesn’t. Because once people who have no right to this culture begin to use it, it spills over tiers and tiers of society until it ends up on the chest of someone notably anti-gay.
The queer—particularly gay white men—community has a complex history with appropriation because a lot of what we use as slang comes particularly from the vernacular of black women. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this—gay white men suck sometimes. But there are certain things that can be traced back to the beginnings of our culture—Paris is Burning—where phrases like “reading” and “shady” were used by queer people of color. “Why are you gagging so?” and “The library is open” pull from Paris is Burning and make regular appearances on Drag Race.
Particularly as RuPaul’s Drag Race has become more popular in the mainstream, I’ve noticed the adoption of queer phrases by straight people. Broad City did it with “Yas Queen!” However, they did it with the context that Ilana purports to be someone so woke and would still unintentionally appropriate a phrase. The people watching that show might not get that nuance and take “Yas Queen!” for themselves.
I’m not stupid, and I like that Drag Race is becoming more mainstream. I’m glad because it means that drag is becoming more widely appreciated. And drag queens can now make a career out of their passion. But with that comes with the need for acknowledgement. These words and snippets didn’t come from nowhere.
But beyond cultural appropriation, the t-shirt means something more.
Grindr ran an HRC-purchased ad as a banner in February. It applied to a specific radius of the Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual gathering for conservatives and notably anti-queer.
The ad read: “Attention CPAC Attendees: You can’t be with us in the hotel room and against us in the CPAC ballroom.” There have been numerous incidents of lawmakers (particularly Republicans) who pursue anti-gay laws that are found seeking sex with men. The most recent is Oklahoma State Senator Ralph Shortey, who was arrested and charged with child prostitution because he was found with an underage boy. Shortey ran on a campaign of family values.
The CPAC ad speaks to an issue bigger than just one woman wearing a t-shirt. But the sentiment is the same. Queer people are struggling, sometimes literally, to survive. And people like Bure and Shortey, who have influence in pop culture and politics, have the choice to either help or hinder us. And too often they choose the latter.
For me, the t-shirt and the ad are inextricably tied. Both lead to an erasure of queer representation. Both diminish the roles of queer people. You don’t get to be with us when it’s convenient for you. If you’re not going to take steps to provide safety and equality for us, then you don’t get to be a part of our culture.
People like Bure, who are against us, don’t get to use our phrases for cute Instagrams. You don’t get to pick and choose what of the queer community you want to accept. So while she might not have meant any active harm—harm was caused nonetheless. Because when she takes phrases like “Not Today, Satan,” she says that gay culture is only acceptable when it’s valuable to her. When it can be commodified. But when it comes to our rights and our bodies and our equality, it’s not acceptable. You don’t get to take a slice out of this pie. You need to accept everything or get nothing.