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If We’ve Learned Anything From Carlos Santana and Alice Cooper, It’s Knowing When to STFU

Sometimes the best thing to say is nothing at all

Sarah Bricker Hunt

Look. No one says the conversation around queer issues (particularly transgender issues) is uncomplicated. These topics require thoughtfulness and nuance, and even then, people in the know don’t always get it right. Luckily, when people with bullhorn platforms get it not quite right, they always take a beat and make it right.

Right?

Well, no. Way, way too often, when public figures miss hitting that nail on the head by several feet, there’s a lot of huffing, puffing and doubling down when they get called on their bad hot take. Looking at you, various straight, cisgender icons from decades past who just cannot seem to stop displaying your bottomless ignorance related to what queer and trans people need and what they need to do. cough cough Ted Nugent, Kid Rock, Alice Cooper, Ricky Gervais...

Let’s break down a recent headline-grabbing anti-trans public gaffe involving the legendary musician Carlos Santana, who has been putting out hits since before many of our readers were born. The 76-year-old Rock & Roll Hall of Famer recently took to the stage in Atlantic City to not only play from his iconic discography but, for some reason, to enlighten the audience with his thoughts on gender. The gist was “Rest assured, Carlos Santana is fine with trans people — as long as they keep it in the closet.” 

“When God made you and me, before we came out of the womb, you know who you are and what you are,” Santana proclaimed. “Later on, when you grow out of it, you see things and you start believing that you could be something that sounds good, but you know it ain’t right. Because a woman is a woman and a man is a man. That’s it. Whatever you wanna do in the closet, that’s your business. I’m OK with that.”

Hoo, boy. There’s no need to unpack all of this, but suffice it to say, c’mon, man. We’re well past this point in the public conversation around gender. It is widely understood that it’s much more complicated than Santana is acknowledging here. His statement only underscores the fact that gender is a deeply personal topic. It’s a complicated subject that requires a very simple response: Other people’s gender is none of your business. 



But Santana did weigh in, and then he had to apologize. Let’s hope he meant it when he (or his people) released the inevitable non-statement statement:  “I realize that what I said hurt people, and that was not my intent. I sincerely apologize to the transgender community and everyone I offended.”

To be fair, he seems to have taken a minute to think things over, taking a classic Santana approach by penning a poem during his time of introspection: “the energy of / consciousness generates its own kind. /hate begets hate/ love begets love.” Really, though, none of this was necessary. He didn’t need to go there. It's OK just to embrace being 80 and take a walk with your tiny dog.

Every now and then, though, a celebrity with a platform gets it wrong — and then makes it right.

Take Irish singer-songwriter Róisín Murphy, who made headlines last week after she made some cringeworthy comments about gender-affirming care on X. "Please don't call me a TERF [trans-exclusionary radical feminist], please don't keep using that word against women,” she posted. “I beg you! But puberty blockers ARE FUCKED, absolutely desolate, big Pharma laughing all the way to the bank. Little mixed-up kids are vulnerable and need to be protected, that's just true."

In reality, puberty blockers have been used for decades, are endorsed as part of the gold standard of care for gender-affirming treatment by every major U.S. medical oversight body and have been studied extensively. A 2020 peer-reviewed study found a distinct correlation between puberty blocker access during adolescence and a decrease in suicidal ideation. 

Murphy was taken to task for the comments, and then, in a refreshing move, she cleaned up her mess. She shut up, listened up and sincerely apologized. "I cannot apologize enough for being the reason for this eruption of damaging and potentially dangerous social-media fire and brimstone," Murphy posted on X. "To witness the ramifications of my actions and the divisions it has caused is heartbreaking.

She also spoke directly to her LGBTQ+ fanbase, noting that she had spent her whole life “celebrating diversity and different views, but I never patronize or cynically aim my music directly at the pockets of any demographic."

It’s a good example of messing up and at least earnestly trying to make things right.

You know what’s even better, though? When people with platforms apply self-restraint in the first place. It can feel frustrating when a celebrity refuses to weigh in on sensitive topics. ”Just tell us what you think already!” we might implore. It can feel like they are trying to play both sides. And don’t get me wrong — there are topics when silence isn’t an option, especially when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights. There actually is a wrong and right side on issues where we’re actually talking about human rights. LGBTQ+ rights are human rights. Full stop. 

But it’s not actually a bad thing when we don’t hear, say, Dolly Parton, chiming in about trans athletes. I certainly know where I’d like her to land on that issue, but I also am OK with her tendency to always focus on humanity versus wandering outside her lane. Her message is “All people deserve love” and she backs that up with supportive action alongside the queer community, again and again. I don’t actually need to know her opinion about what percentage of testosterone should be the maximum for trans women in sports or what the appropriate medical treatment is for a specific trans child. 

Ultimately, this is a situation where prevention is key, and it’s a lesson from which we can all benefit. Before we even open our mouths (or when we’re hovering over the keyboard), we can ask ourselves: Does this need to be said? Right now? By me? 

It can be fun (or cathartic) to rant, especially into the social media void, but when it comes to complicated, sensitive issues on topics that are extremely personal, we’re just not adding to the conversation when we fire off a non-expert tangent, and neither are celebrities with highly influential platforms. In fact, we could be hurting the cause, and we already have politicians for that. They’re doing a fine job destroying the lives of trans people and the people who love them without any input from wildly out-of-touch metal singers like Paul Stanley and Dee Snider.

In a world where you can be anything, be the person who knows when to STFU and listen. Be a Dolly; never a Nugent.



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