On The Thinly Veiled Homophobia In Tati Westbrook's James Charles Video

Tati Westbrook and James Charles in happier times. (YouTube/@Tati)

Over the weekend, a whole bunch of drama kicked off between Cover Girl's first male ambassador, James Charles, and his one time mentor, beauty blogger Tati Westbrook.

The drama started after Charles endorsed Sugar Bear Hair vitamins, a direct rival company to Westbrook's Halo Beauty line. Westbrook was hurt over the slight—understandably so, given how much assistance she gave Charles in growing both his audience and income in the earlier part of his career.

In order to explain her side of things and bid her old friend goodbye, Westbrook made a 43-minute video (43 minutes!) in which she went into great detail about exactly what happened, when, and just how little Charles has given her in return, in terms of friendship, respect and, um, birthday party etiquette. To date, it has been viewed 34 million times.

The main takeaways from Westbrook's video are, essentially: James Charles is a terrible friend, an unapologetic narcissist, a master manipulator, an inappropriate dinner guest and a violator of other people's personal space. In short, she makes him sound like a nightmare to be around in any capacity, be it personal or professional.

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Fine.

There's only one problem. The way that Westbrook describes Charles' sexual boundary issues are rooted in a fair amount of good old-fashioned homophobia. Here's what Tati says, 24 minutes in:

"The last phone conversation that James Charles and I had, he [was] telling me about a situation that... literally made me want to vomit. Oh my God, you tried to trick a straight man into thinking he's gay yet again. And somehow, you're the victim. You know, it's really disgusting to manipulate someone's sexuality, especially when they are still, you know, emerging into adulthood and don't quite have everything figured out. Whether you're a woman, a man, gay, straight, bi, whatever sexual orientation you are, that is your personal call and it is not someone else's to take..."

First of all, Westbrook is implying here that sexual preference is something that can be forced onto others, which is not only the entire basis of conversion therapy, it's also the crux of what old homophobic PSAs used to say about gay men. (One from the 1960s that came with a message about gay men being predators, particularly around young boys, described homosexuality as "a sickness that’s not visible like smallpox, but no less dangerous and contagious.")

Westbrook goes on:

"How dare you laugh about it, and make meme after meme. and retweet this and that, and 'I love straight boys, I love straight boys,' and make it a joke."

Okay, Tati. Point taken. But straight women have been saying the very same things about gay men for decades. As such, there is a chance that Charles was just trying to flip that script.  There's no way of knowing for sure, but it's also difficult to imagine Westbrook getting this upset about a straight woman frequently expressing an attraction to gay men. It definitely feels like a double standard.

Westbrook continues:

"I loved meeting his parents. I was shocked that James, even then, was saying to his dad that every man is a little bit gay, and that there's no such thing as a straight man... So talking about that at the dinner table with his parents was kind of weird. Him talking explicitly about sex and things that he would like to do... Like, I thought around his parents that he would not behave this way, [but] it was just no big deal. Like 'sucking dick and cock'..."

First of all, James Charles clearly needs to get the phrase "sexuality is a spectrum" in rotation. But let's not forget, he's only 19, and this was a private conversation amongst the closest people in his life. Isn't that when we're our most unfiltered selves? Second, while talking about sex acts in front of one's parents is definitely creepy, if the parents are tolerating it at the dinner table with zero objections, that probably says more about them and his upbringing than anything else. Maybe this one is not entirely his fault.

Now to the single craziest thing about this video. The lead is almost completely buried. In amongst all of that stuff about table manners and targeting straight men, Westbrook addresses Charles directly:

"You are using your fame, your power, your money, to play with people's emotions. You're threatening to ruin them. You're threatening to embarrass them, and you're doing that to have them behave sexually in your favor, even if they're straight..."

Um. Did Westbrook just suggest that Charles is sexually harassing and assaulting people, Harvey Weinstein-style? It would appear so. And if that's the case, what exactly is the point of the other 42 minutes of this video? If she is correct in her assertions, those incidents need to be documented, reported and investigated immediately.

Unfortunately, as with the rest of this video, instead of focusing on the most serious and pressing issues at hand, Westbrook instead focuses on the fact that some of the people she alleges were targeted by Charles might have been heterosexual. There is a suggestion throughout this clip that gay people crossing lines with straight people is somehow worse than gay people crossing lines with gay people. It isn't. It's exactly the same thing.

There can be little doubt that James Charles has behaved badly on both a personal and professional level when it comes to Tati Westbrook. He himself admits that in an apology video directed at both Westbrook and her husband, James. In it, Charles says he's trying to learn from his mistakes and "grow."

It takes Charles until the middle of his video to broach the subject of his behavior with other men. He offers only:

"In regards to the boy situation, boys have been a topic that I've talked a lot about in my social media journey, and it's a topic that I wish I hadn't. I've been involved in a lot of very unique, strange situations that have left people confused or upset, and I've learned the hard way about ways that I can interact with boys that I'm interested in, and also ones that I should or shouldn't be talking to."

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As it stands, the world is already looking at James Charles differently. After Westbrook's video went viral, he lost 2.5 million YouTube subscribers almost instantly. But, no matter how awful he's behaved in his personal life, we shouldn't lose sight of the angle at which Tati Westbrook came at this from. Because on closer examination, her priorities seem almost as out of whack as Charles'.

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