Jan 29, 2015

Dude Looks Like a Lady: Not as Homophobic as You Think

The hard-rock band Aerosmith, consisting of the extraordinarily ugly but extremely bulgeworthy Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Tom Hamilton, and Joey Kramer, had a string of hits when I was in high school and college.  Mostly about heterosexual sex,  with slang, innuendo,  double-entendres, and obfuscation to keep the censors away:

She just loves my big 10 inch...record of her favorite blues.

Goin' downtown, goin' down, goin' down, neath the city, eatin' ground round

Their most famous song, "Walk This Way" (1975) is surprisingly explicit, to those familiar with 1970s slang:

You ain't seen nothin' till you're down on a muffin, then you're sure to be a-changin' your ways


"Dude (Looks Like a Lady)" (1987)  is often cited as the epitome of hard rock homophobia, a viciously anti-gay diatribe.

Except when I heard the song and watched the music video, it wasn't anti-gay or anti-transgender at all.  Steven Tyler meets a woman, goes into an alley to have sex with her, and is surprised when: "She whipped out her gun and tried to blow me away."  

But after his initial surprise, he doesn't attack, lash into a diatribe, or run away screaming.  He decides to go through with it anyway: "Baby, let me follow you down  -- do me, do me, do me, do me.  What a foxy lady!"

Even with the "gun," the lady turned out to be "foxy."

I would not be so accommodating to a Lady who Looks Like a Dude.

Songwriter Desmond Child describes working on the song with Aerosmith.  Joe Perry was worried that gay people would find it offensive, but Child said "I'm gay, and I'm not offended."

In fact, it was very accepting, especially during the conservative retrenchment of the 1980s:

Don't judge a book by its cover, or who you're going to love by your lover. 

See also: My Girl Bill; and Subtext Songs of the 1980s.