Michelle Shocked is sorry. Kind of. Maybe.
The folk singer ignited the blogosphere on Tuesday when reports of her vitriolic antigay rant at a San Francisco concert Sunday night made their way to the Web. Now—more than 24 hours and 10 canceled tour dates later—she’s attempting to put out the flames.
In a lengthy statement released to several news outlets, Shocked is saying her comments were misunderstood, and she’s sorry. But her mea culpa is a bit of a mess, and raises as many questions as it answers.
Consider the source. Throughout her three-and-a-half-decade career, which peaked in the late ’80s and early ’90s, Shocked was as much a progressive activist as a singer, a trait that won her legions of fans. That’s not to mention her implicit insinuation that she was a lesbian, made numerous times in her early career. From lesbian to homophobe? That’s what many, us included, thought.
“I do not, nor have I ever, said or believed that God hates homosexuals (or anyone else),” the statement begins. “I said that some of His followers believe that.”
That headline-grabbing bit—that she told her audience to “go on Twitter and say Michelle Shocked said ‘God hates fags’”—is explained away as some sort of social experiment. “I was predicting the absurd way my description of, my apology for, the intolerant would no doubt be misinterpreted,” Shocked says.
This may be reassuring to some fans, but it’s still a bit confusing. Shocked’s comments Sunday night, which began with a discussion about gay marriage, weren’t prefaced with any explanation that she wasn’t speaking from the first person, or that she was alluding to what “His followers believe” and not her own views. “When they stop Prop 8 and force priests at gunpoint to marry gays, it will be the downfall of civilization, and Jesus will come back,” she said during the performance. No hint that she was channeling the opinions of others.
If that segment of Shocked’s apology is hard to follow, the next part is not. Unequivocally, she says she is not homophobic, as her comments were construed. “My view of homosexuality has changed not one iota,” she says. “I judge not.” Later in the statement, she continues, “What is being questioned is my support for the LGBT community, and that has never wavered.”
People hoping for answers to other questions are out of luck. In several interviews and comments in the past, Shocked identified as a lesbian. Yes, she was later married to a man, but is she denying now that she ever identified as LGBT? “Folks wonder about my sexuality,” the new statement reads, “but denying being gay is like saying I never beat my husband. My sexuality is not an issue.”
But if she didn’t mean any of what she was saying, why in the world would she bring up the hot-button issue in the first place? Her answer to that is frustratingly wonky: “If I could repeat the evening, I would make a clearer distinction between a set of beliefs I abhor, and my human sympathy for the folks who hold them.”
A torrent of bad press followed Shocked’s comments, and venues almost immediately reacted to news of her comments by canceling her upcoming gigs. Shocked remained frustratingly quiet all day Wednesday. Repeated calls to her touring manager were not returned, and messages to the only publicist associated with her were met with exasperation. “I have not worked with Michelle Shocked in four years,” Cary Baker, the publicist, said. “We find her recent statements about marriage equality shameful and offensive, but we have no personal nor professional association with Ms. Shocked at this time, nor do we anticipate working with her again at any time in the future.” And because it bears repeating: “We have not worked with her in recent years.”
Following her statement today, attempts to reach out to Shocked via her website, her touring manager (again), and her Facebook page were again unmet, which is a shame because so much of her apology is confusing. Mainly, her silence is disappointing because one giant question lingers: if she does not believe these hateful things, why did she wait so long to clear the record?
A publicity stunt? “I’m not really that clever, and I’m definitely not that cynical,” she says in her statement.
Nonetheless, Shocked says, “I am damn sorry.” For now, that’s good to hear—and will have to be enough.