Free Xone: How Tyler Perry Made Janet A Homophobe

by Johnny Golightly

Today, Janet Jackson released her U.S tour dates for the “Janet Jackson Number Ones, Up Close and Personal” Tour. This release brought back memories of some of her other recent releases–movies like “Why Did I Get Married Too?” and “For Colored Girls”.

We all remember that there’s one rule: no rules. One love: free xone. Janet’s Velvet Rope classic holds new meaning after the latest rounds of Janet Jackson/Tyler Perry collaborations.

“Free Xone” was a liberating song that addressed the freedom to love whoever you wanted to love–heterosexually, homosexually, bisexually, pansexually. Now I’m far too young to comment on when exactly Janet Jackson became a gay icon, but there is no denying she is one.

Janet has followed suit to those before and after her, grouped with legends like Diana, Cher, Babs (Barbra Streisand), Madonna, Beyonce, Gaga and all the other one-name wonders. It seems only tradition that when a female icon gains a large gay male following, we shorten her to a one-name moniker. My experiences tell me it is out of honor that her name is shortened because she doesn’t need her full name–you know her by her presence. Not to mention the fact that Janet spoke to queer people of color in a contemporary moment where the face of gay men is a white face. She allowed all queer people of color to have at least one Black icon in a mainstream industry consumed by white music artists. Janet was the generation’s chosen one, with Diana before her and Beyonce after her.

Now, let’s not even front. We all know Janet can’t act. From “Good Times” right on through “Poetic Justice” all the way to “For Colored Girls”, Janet has been giving us the same persona highlighting her acting capabilities. But we all still go out and support Janet, cause we want to see her. I mean, we didn’t all line up to go see “The Hand that Rocks the..” err, “Obsessed” because we thought it was gonna win an Oscar. We wanted to see Bey. That’s what a lot of gay fans do–we go to support our artists, because we admire their aesthetic–physical and artistic. This same logic informs a lot of gay men’s decision to see the latest Janet movie.

Tyler Perry is a whole ‘nother case of worms you ain’t even about to get me started on. But I will say this, I loved “Why Did I Get Married?” It was a great narrative for heterosexual relationships (and if you chose to ignore the fact that all the couples were, in fact, heterosexual–you could walk away with some great insight to relationships, regardless of where you’re positioned *pause*). It highlighted the communication problems that take place in relationships as well as addressing honesty, commitment, and just everyday things that happen. Janet’s character, Patricia (also known as “Perfect Patty”) is a psychologist who appears to be the level-headed one, though you do find out later in the film there may be some hidden pieces to her and her husband’s, Gavin (Malik Yoba), story.

Needless to say, I don’t think anyone was expecting the trainwreck that was “Why Did I Get Married Too?” Without getting into too much detail (this is not a movie review, the film opened early last year) I want to know precisely how level-headed Patricia turned into an “Obsessed” Beyonce-line stealing homophobe. (Yes, there is a scene where Perry notoriously extracts Beyonce’s line from “Obsessed” and puts it into his film–“You think you’re crazy? I’ll show you crazy.”) First of all, how you gonna play Janet like that? Janet came long before Beyonce, so why is she using Beyonce’s tired lines? This is yet another Perry-ism whereby good ol’ TP forgets to develop his characters and storyline relying on his audiences loyalty to support his films.

Secondly, Janet has always had a large gay following. So why would he write lines that include something along the lines of: “So you wanna act like a bitch? Here!” And then she proceeds to wheel in a large cake where a flamboyant, effeminate young man pops out and starts vogue-ing. Clearly a play off society’s misogynistic stab at gay men, whereby men are not supposed to act “feminine” in any way without their sexuality being called into question. Homosexuality is never addressed in Tyler Perry films unless it is being used as an attack on an otherwise heterosexual man. That is, until “For Colored Girls”, where Tyler Perry capitalizes on DL hysteria.

This scene breeds homophobia for a few reasons: 1) the misogyny that alludes this scene suggests that it is wrong for a man to act in a way that is socially acceptable for women as well as her usage of the word “bitch” 2) her comments suggest it is somehow inferior for a man to love another man as opposed to loving a woman and 3) using this fear tactic of attacking a heterosexual man by suggesting he may be homosexual is self-evident.

I’m not sure if “Free Xone” Janet was talking about a free reign to implode heterosexism all over the screen but it sure did work. I’d always understood “Free Xone” as a song of liberation that said you are free to love whomever you’d like. Screw masculine/feminine ideals and forget what it socially acceptable…but “Why Did I Get Married Too?” gave me a new lens to explore what we think we know about Janet’s position on love.

I know I’ll be scoping tickets to Janet’s Chicago tour date, but one thing is certain: I won’t be lining up for the next Tyler/Janet project.

Janet, don’t let Perry’s issues become yours. We love you.