I love Matt McGorry.
He's cute, charming, and a talented actor. As the buff, sensitive Bennett on Orange Is The New Black he always managed to tug at my heartstrings. Plus that shirtless dance routine to "Hollaback Girl" wasn't half-bad. Then he made it onto our small screens as part of Shonda Rhimes' smash hit How To Get Away With Murder and ruffled more than a few feathers with his bad rich boy persona.
And then, slowly but surely, McGorry started to gain a different kind of reputation in Hollywood: a reputation for being socially conscious. He was reading Michelle Alexander, using the word "intersectional" in sentences (correctly, I might add) and appearing alongside Joe Biden to promote the It's On Us campaign. He said he was a feminist, supported marriage equality, spoke out in support of #BlackLivesMatter, and challenged Piers Morgan over his Lemonade critique.
Here is where the problem arises: Matt McGorry is now being worshipped as a hero by hundreds of thousands of people for being a decent human being.
I get it. I'm a white guy who identifies as a feminist. A lot of women are upset by that, and I respect their reasons -- that I should be a feminist ally because I'm not a woman. I disagree on the grounds that it supports the idea of a gender binary wherein only Women can be Feminists and transgender or genderqueer individuals are left without an ideological shelter, but I still respect the fact that they don't see feminism the same way I do. Likewise, I support the Black Lives Matter movement, and will very openly and honestly say so to anyone that asks. But the amount of awe and congratulations I get for doing both -- mostly from my white male peers -- is disturbing. I don't see why I should get applause for attaching a label of "supporter" to myself. Nobody gets any applause or cheers for living in a black body -- often times they get violence instead. So why am I always getting all the credit, just for showing up?
The same thing is happening with Matt McGorry. He's not just reading Michelle Alexander, he's posting shirtless selfies of himself reading it. He's not just saying he's an ally of the LGBT community, he's receiving awards for it. His allyship, for better or for worse, is a distinctly glamorous one; it's even earned him the title of Woke Bae.
Even the very name Woke Bae -- which, to be fair, McGorry has not endorsed or attached to himself in any way -- is groan-inducing. Do we call Brittany Packnett, Johnetta Elzie, DeRay McKesson, Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi, or Alicia Garza "Woke Bae"? How about Jennicet Gutiérrez, Janet Mock, or Nisha Ayub? Is it just a title reserved for those of us whose skin color and gender identity doesn't match expectations of prejudice? Do I get a participation trophy for knowing that Roland Emmerich's god-awful movie about Stonewall is a bunch of malarky? Are the standards for me as a white man so pitifully low that I just show up and get a standing ovation?
It's the same issue I have with allyship awards for LGBT organizations. A while ago, there was a bit of a controversy over the fact that Zayn Malik was nominated for an award for outstanding allyship for saying several years prior that he didn't have a problem with gay marriage. Not only did he literally just acknowledge it didn't affect him, he did so years before the award was even given out. As a 20-year-old gay man, I came out at the perfect time. I don't remember the kind of stigma that came with the AIDS epidemic, or even the debate around Don't Ask Don't Tell. Six months after I came out DADT was repealed, and five years after I could get married anywhere in the country I wanted to (supposedly). There should be a standard of allyship that is higher than just saying gay people don't bother you. You can have gay friends and still be homophobic (Donald Trump, anyone?). At the very least, allyship should not be passive. Ally is an earned identity. I have to prove myself every day to the women and people of color in my life that I really, truly stand with them.
I get why Matt McGorry is called Woke Bae. I understand people's attraction to him as a new face for feminism and equality. But we have to do better. It can't be enough to stand up and pin the button on your lapel. You're a feminist? You believe Black Lives Matter? You think transgender people should have full access to bathrooms? Prove it. And when you do, don't expect a gold medal.