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Drag Race’s Sherry Pie’s Non-Apology After Misconduct Allegations
The night before Sherry Pie, a New York-based drag queen, was set to make her televised debut on the premiere of Season 12 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, BuzzFeed News published an explosive report: Five men have come forward with claims that Joey Gugliemelli, the man who plays Sherry Pie, coerced them into sexual correspondence under false pretenses. One man alleges Gugliemelli solicited sexually explicit video from him and five men allege that Gugliemelli “catfished” them into believing they were auditioning for acting roles through a casting process that never existed. When the allegations emerged, Gugliemelli posted on Facebook that “I learned on that show how important ‘loving yourself’ is and I don’t think I have ever loved myself.”
The allegations against Gugliemelli surfaced after a man named Ben Shimkus alleged in a Facebook post that he’d corresponded with a fake persona about what turned out to be a fake audition. Shimkus claims he was asked to delve into the psyche of a male character with rippling muscles busting out of his clothing, then asked how that made him feel. Another person was allegedly asked to videotape himself masturbating, so that he could “feel more macho.” On Thursday, Gugliemelli posted a message onto Facebook in response:
For years, conservative circles have leveraged debunked talking points about how queer men are more likely to commit sexual crimes than their heterosexual counterparts. In a terrible twist, that rhetoric has occasionally been co-opted by gay men to explain away grievances within the community. To lesser extents, gay men (particularly white gay men) have used the difficulty of self-acceptance and difficult upbringings to make sense of poor judgment and damning behavior. In the case of Gugliemelli, the alleged actions are beyond a bad opinion (voting against gay marriage, say) or a reprehensible take expressed on social media. Justifying bad behavior with your own painful history is equal parts dangerous and irresponsible. Not only is it an out that’s too easy, but it cheapens the real struggles of people who are working through trauma without hurting anyone.
Apologies and pseudo-apologies, like I’d consider Gugliemelli’s, matter. In the #MeToo era, the standards we set for ourselves matter. And when it comes to allegations from one queer person against another, a community’s reputation is at stake. Ignoring the allegations and taking that apology at face value has the potential to erase the stories of alleged victims, and only hurts the gay community.
After writing that what he did was “truly cruel,” Gugliemelli adds “Until being on RuPaul’s Drag Race, I never really understood how much my mental health and taking care of things meant. I learned on that show how important ‘loving yourself’ is and I don’t think I have ever loved myself.” To be candid, that’s bullshit. A qualified apology is not an apology; it’s a PR campaign. Allegations like these, be it for “catfishing” or soliciting sexual content under false pretenses, are not an opportunity for reputation management. Gugliemelli’s explanation misses the point. If, in fact, his apology recognizes the alleged wrongdoing, now is a time to listen, not explain.
In the short list of highly publicized queer #MeToo cases, the queer community is still working out what to do without the gender dynamics that animate allegations in the straight community. There is no comparison to be made between victims of abuse; every person’s story is different, within the queer community and without. But there is something particularly egregious when these instances happen between two members of the community. We are one that already endures so much criticism, prejudice, and scrutiny. For every study and anecdote dispelling dangerous stereotypes, one non-apology about not being loved enough refuels a system of prejudice. The LGBTQ community is well-versed in pain and rejection, but the community at large also understands that those moments of hurt are never justification for abusing another person. Every time an alleged predator within the queer community pins their sins on their sexuality, no matter how obliquely, bigots gather more kindling to stoke their anti-LGBTQ arguments.
In the case of Gugliemelli, RuPaul’s Drag Race has mostly finished filming. Sherry Pie will continue on through the season until she’s eliminated or makes the finale. Initially, VH1 did not respond to BuzzFeed’s request for comment, directing the publication to Gugliemelli’s statement on Facebook. On Friday afternoon though, the series released a statement saying that out of respect to the other competitors, the series would air as planned, but that the grand finale (which has not been filmed) would not include Sherry Pie. RuPaul’s Drag Race is setting the correct example when it comes to how these situations should be handled.
Bad behavior should not be rewarded, and yes—inaction is a reward. Inaction says that we’re fine with the alleged bad thing that was done, and thus, are ok turning our eyes away. As for the gay community, we need to circle the wagons and have a talk: we cannot stand for people using our community as a scapegoat for bad behavior. The first step is not to love yourself. It’s to apologize, sincerely and directly, and then wait to see what follows.
Justin Kirkland is a writer for Esquire, where he focuses on entertainment, television, and pop culture.