If Eminem wants to convince people he’s not homophobic, the best thing he can do is leave the homophobic language in the past.
Warning: This article quotes homophobic language.
As both a member of the LGBT community and a long time fan of Eminem, I’ve often felt as if two parts of me are somewhat at odds with another. I grew up listening to songs where slurs like ‘fag’ and ‘faggot’ were tossed around as commonly as any profanity. The problem with these homophobic lyrics, ironically, is not homophobia. Eminem is not homophobic in the sense that he doesn’t have any problem with homosexuality the way that say, Mike Pence does. This is something that he has clarified in numerous interviews over the years, and is often posed as something that makes Em’s usage of homophobic slurs ‘ok.’ And I have to admit, I bought into this for a while. I believed that one could use homophobic language without actually being homophobic, just as one could be homophobic without actually using explicitly homophobic words.
After all, as Eminem explains in a Rolling Stone interview, he doesn’t take these words to mean “homosexual,” but rather just generic insults like “punk” or “asshole.” But this is where the real problem comes to light. The word “faggot” is intrinsically different from “punk” or “asshole.” It’s what you would call a thick concept, because it combines both evaluative and non-evaluative ideas into one word. For example, someone who is “courageous” lacks fear in a good way, while someone who is “reckless” lacks fear in a bad way. These words are thick concepts because they contain both a non-evaluative trait (to lack fear) as well as an evaluative trait (positive for courageous, and negative for reckless).
For years and years, “faggot” has been used to oppress, bully, and otherwise antagonize LGBT+ people, and as such it has become a thick concept. It means “homosexual,” but in a decisively negative way. Eminem, no matter his personal views, cannot magically remove “homosexual” from the meaning of the word. The stones which he throws might not be aimed at homosexuals specifically, but they will hurt homosexuals disparately regardless. The thing is, Eminem seems to understand this, since he chooses to censor this on Kamikaze, yet you won’t find any censorship of words like bitch, punk, or asshole. Eminem knows it’s different, and that it should be censored, so why include it in the first place?
There’s an even greater problem to be acknowledged, however, and it’s that Eminem specifically targets a bisexual man, Tyler, the Creator, with homophobic language. Eminem’s defense crumbles completely because of this. There’s no logical way to claim that you’ve divorced this word from it’s meaning of sexuality when you’re using it to insult a bisexual man, this is utter nonsense. And why, you ask, is Eminem dissing Tyler? Are they in one of those ‘beefs’ that your parents keep hearing about but don’t actually understand? Was Tyler disrespectful to Eminem? Did he make comments about Em’s daughter or significant other? No, in fact on the other hand, Tyler has called Em one of his favorite rappers of all time, and has cited him as a significant influence on his own work. No, Eminem has decided that he’s angry enough at Tyler, the Creator, to call him out with homophobic language, because he didn’t like Eminem’s last album. That’s it. Tyler had a negative opinion of Eminem’s music, probably the first negative opinion he ever had about any of Eminem’s music, and this was Eminem’s response:
“Tyler create nothin’, I see why you called yourself a (faggot), bitch / It’s not just ’cause you lack attention / It’s because you worship D12’s balls, you’re sack-religious / If you’re gonna critique me / You better at least be as good or better.”
Even if you’re going to continue to defend Eminem’s use of homophobic language, you have to admit that this is childish. Any critic in their right mind knows that Tyler’s 2017 Flower Boy is AT LEAST as good as Revival. I think most would agree that it’s better. And Eminem was perfectly fine with speaking positively about Tyler when he only had positive things to say about Em’s music. Eminem even compared himself to the rapper on 2013’s ‘Wicked,’ saying: “I’m a combination of Skylar Grey, Tyler the Creator, and Violent J.” How did Tyler go from worthy of a direct comparison to Eminem to all of sudden not having made any music as good as Revival? Eminem is flip flopping as hard as the politicians he’s so fond of criticizing.
In short, the backlash Eminem has gotten for these lyrics is well deserved. Maybe I’m just a triggered millennial snowflake whose asking for far too much and the next stop on this slippery slope is the death of all free speech and a descent into totalitarian dictatorship. But I’m not saying Eminem should stop cursing, stop playing outrageous characters, or tone down his music to be less controversial in general. All I’m saying is that if Eminem wants to convince people he’s not homophobic, the best thing he can do is leave the homophobic language in the past.