The call to boycott fashion label Dolce & Gabbana, launched by the LGBT News Italia website and supported by a rightly furious and hurt Elton John, was as inevitable as the subsequent hashtag #BoycottDolceGabbana.
Designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, a one-time couple, had opined that in-vitro fertilization led to “synthetic” children and that gay people could not be parents; this despite a 2006 interview, quoted in the Daily Mail, in which Gabbana said he wanted to have a child via artificial insemination himself.
The question is not so much why they said what they did, and the subsequent boycott, but what changed Stefano Gabbana’s mind so radically. In 2006, he wanted to have children using exactly the same method he now denigrates as a choice of other gay parents.
“I want my own child, a biological child, the fruit of my sperm, conceived through artificial insemination because it wouldn’t make sense for me to make love to a woman I don’t love,” he said then. On Sunday, calls to Dolce and Gabbana went unanswered. Is it their Catholic upbringings? How did these two gay men become so prejudiced against LGBT parents?
Predictably and rightly, the Internet went into outrage overdrive over the pair’s latest remarks in the March 12 edition of the Italian magazine Panorama.
As with the controversies over Mozilla’s Prop 8-supporting CEO Brendan Eich and the Dorchester group of hotels, owned by the Sharia-law supporting Sultan of Brunei, the immediate consumer reaction to homophobia has been to hit D&G where it hurts, at the cash register, and a call for a boycott.
The right wing has tried exactly the same thing. One Million Moms boycotted Ellen DeGeneres when she became a JCPenney spokeswoman—although that boycott didn’t work out so effectively.
Not only that, he said that he could not have a child because he was gay.
“I’m not convinced by those I call the children of chemicals, synthetic children,” Dolce said. “Wombs for rent, sperm chosen from a catalogue...psychiatrists are not ready to confront the effects of this experimentation.”
“I am gay, I cannot have a child. I guess you cannot have everything in life,” Dolce said. “The only family is the traditional one. Life has a natural flow, there are things that should not be changed. One is the family.”
“The family is not a fad,” added Gabbana. “In it there is a supernatural sense of belonging.”
Elton John, who has two children by IVF with his husband, David Furnish, rounded on the designers angrily, and resoundingly. Via Instagram, John spoke for a chorus of Dolce and Gabbana’s critics who immediately took to social media to condemn the duo for being so narrow-minded and prejudiced. It's hard enough when straight bigots decry gay parenting. Now high-profile gays are putting the boot in too. Is it prejudice, internalized homophobia, something else?
“How dare you refer to my beautiful children as ‘synthetic,’” John wrote. “And shame on you for wagging your judgmental little fingers at IVF—a miracle that has allowed legions of loving people, both straight and gay, to fulfil their dream of having children. Your archaic thinking is out of step with the times, just like your fashions. I shall never wear Dolce and Gabbana ever again. #BoycottDolceGabbana”
Ricky Martin, another gay parent, said on Twitter, “ur voices R 2powerfull 2B spreading so much h8. Wake up. Its 2015 Luv urselves guys.”
Clearly freaked by all the condemnation, Dolce and Gabbana issued a statement Sunday saying they never intended to judge anyone.
Anticipating perhaps the crushing vista of no frocks on the Oscars red carpet, none of their sunglasses on the hunks of Provincetown this summer, and defaced posters of their next tighty-whities advertising campaign, Gabbana said: “it was never our intention to judge other people’s choices. We do believe in freedom and love.”
That statement was patently ridiculous, as his earlier remarks reeked of judgment and possibly self-hatred and a whole lot of other demons he was choosing to project on to the world. Dolce and Gabbana are simply running scared of the backlash.
They swim in bizarre shallows of their own conception. At Milan Fashion Week, they had celebrated motherhood, though Time said it smacked of gimmickry. Then they debuted $8,000 fur-covered headphones.
On Sunday, as condemnation rained down upon them, the AP quoted Dolce, saying “he was expressing his view about family based on his experience growing up in a traditional Sicilian family ‘made up of a mother, a father and children. I am very well aware of the fact that there are other types of families and they are as legitimate as the one I’ve known.’”
Dolce said he was expressing his personal views “without judging other people’s choices.”
Again, his original words did not mirror this. The qualification was far from an apology or retraction, and was clearly made with damage limitation in mind, although the chance of ceremonial burnings of D&G underwear outside gay bars is pretty slim, as no one would want to own up to wearing them in the first place. A mass stomping of their sunglasses, however, might be more satisfying.
Most of us can’t afford Dolce & Gabbana, so it’s more realistic to say we shall, well, continue not buying them. It will be an easy fashion boycott: We were doing it anyway. Now, we can not buy D&G with an added political zeal.
As the novelist Philip Hensher tweeted:
The more interesting boycott question will be whether fashion magazines and newspapers will continue to feature their clothes and carry their advertisements—and if so, whether readers will seek to pressure them out of doing so. Will famous actresses not wear the label at awards ceremonies? Will actors cease wearing their tuxes? (Channing Tatum and David Oyelowo both wore their tuxes this season.)
Whoever is next seen in a Dolce & Gabbana dress or campaign will inevitably be seen as supporting their remarks or asked how they feel about those remarks.
The latest firestorm is the latest in a long line of judgey garbage the pair has indulged in.
In 2006, Gabbana, quoted in the Daily Mail, said: “My dream is to have a baby, not to adopt one because I am not up to it and I don’t feel strong enough. I want my own child, a biological child, the fruit of my sperm, conceived through artificial insemination because it wouldn’t make sense for me to make love to a woman I don’t love.”
The week before, he said, according to the Mail, that he had asked a dear friend, who was 12 years younger, if she would help him. “I asked her ‘Would you like to be the mother of my child?’ She was left a bit shocked and the following day telephoned and said she was still shocked but thought it was a great idea.”
Gabbana did not reveal, the Mail added, if the surrogacy was to go ahead, but said: “I am opposed to the idea of a child growing up with two gay parents. A child needs a mother and a father. I could not imagine my childhood without my mother. I also believe that it is cruel to take a baby away from its mother.”
Sadly, truly sadly because it shows his own narrow definition of parenting, it was inconceivable to Gabbana that he could both be a gay parent and allow for a significant (as much as he chose it to be) female presence in his child's life.
In a 2013 Telegraph interview, Dolce said he was a practicing Catholic. He and Gabbana were asked if they ever considered getting married, and they answered in unison: “What?! Never! I don’t believe in gay marriage.”
They were also asked if, in Catholic Italy, their sexuality had proved a problem. “No, never,” says Dolce. “The fashion industry is full of gays.” Isn’t that lovely? They take comfort from being surrounded by gay people in their industry, then use their influence to denigrate those gays who don’t live according to their worldview. What charmers.
In the same interview, Gabbana said: “I had a few problems. I didn’t realise it until I started going to therapy. I did it for 10 years, two days a week, and pretty quickly I understood that a lot of my suffering, many of my issues, were rooted in my realizing that I was gay when I was a little boy. I knew I was different. That made me very fragile. It also made my success with Domenico all the sweeter: I felt I could say, hey, I’m homosexual and I make all these amazing things.”
This, more than their toxic nonsense about gay parenting and IVF, is the most telling quote about their narrow views around homosexuality. For Gabbana, like many gays growing up sadly, there was suffering and questioning about who he was.
But the better kind of therapy, or self-awareness in the wake of acknowledging this, should have taught him that those demons are not simply vanquished by becoming successful at what you do but by also finding some peace and understanding for yourself about yourself. And with that, one hopes, you come to an embracing acceptance of the wider gay world around you, which is made up of many people not like you.
Coming out, done properly, is not just feeling OK about you, but opening your eyes to the many flora and fauna of the world around you, gay and straight. Coming out successfully, coming to terms with who you are, should make you more accepting of others, not less.
What’s not OK is taking to the public stage and attacking gay parents, who already have a challenging enough time raising their children in a prevailing context of prejudice, both societal and everyday. And you know that prejudice all too well, because you are gay yourself.
Also, what has changed for Gabbana, who wanted to have an IVF child himself just nine years ago, to condemn other gays doing the same now?
If there is one beneficial irony to the Dolce and Gabbana controversy, it is a lesson in that not all gay people think alike. There are gays who don’t support gay rights, gay homophobes, gay misogynists, gays who don’t like gay parents, even gays who’ve despicably obstructed equality, sometimes with their own desire for power motivating them, like J. Edgar Hoover. The rainbow has many colors, some darker than others.
The designers have inevitably attracted support for their comments from conservative quarters, and it will be intriguing to see if they choose to align themselves actively with those kinds of groups.
Even if they don’t go that far, Dolce and Gabbana are not retracting their statements. Now the boycott question moves on to Vogue and other style magazines, newspapers, stylists, and tastemakers. Will they continue to take Dolce and Gabbana's lucrative checks and feature their clothes—and if so, how will consumers respond to them for doing so?
These questions are easy when the homophobes are straight, and representing societies and countries that perpetuate homophobia, sometimes violently. But now the villains are gay, and in the fashion world. The Dolce and Gabbana boycott is an easy knee-jerk response, but the saga, and its responses and calibrations, may not end with Dolce and Gabbana.