US writer Roxane Gay has described how she "felt bad" for Liberal Party vice president Teena McQueen in the wake of the latter's appearance on an episode of Q&A, which has been widely dubbed a “trainwreck” by multiple news outlets.
Gay, the author of books Bad Feminist and Hunger, is known for her sharp wit and forthright commentary and is currently in Australia on tour. Some viewers speculated in advance of the program how the panel dynamic would play out, with Gay herself predicting that she and McQueen might not get along.
“I actually felt…bad for her," Roxane Gay later said of McQueen, who was sitting alongside her on the panel. "She wasn’t in the same conversation as everyone else but then she was super ignorant so many times and I stopped feeling bad."
As McQueen’s appearance went from bad to worse—with some viewers suggesting she must be behind some parody account—Gay was the calming presence, keeping some of McQueen’s more controversial comments in check.
In response to a question about the rise of Neo-Nazism and white supremacy, McQueen said, “Perhaps I’m in a bubble. I haven’t seen the growth of white supremacists that I hear constantly about", which drew groans and laughs from the audience.
She said if there was evidence of Neo-Nazism and racist propaganda, laws were in place to have people “carted off and deal with them”.
“You are in a bubble,” Gay replied calmly. “And that’s really terrifying. Because if you think you can just call the police and they’ll take away anyone being racist. That’s not how any of this works.”
Later in the program, when McQueen dismissed online right wing commentator Milo Yiannopolous, who was recently banned from entering Australia over hateful, as "an entertainer" and that "no one could possibly take Milo seriously."
"Hundreds of thousands of people in the United States take Milo seriously," Gay responded. "They follow him. They pay money to go see him speak."
Throughout the episode, Gay was on hand to remind McQueen that her own experience was not the metric of whether things like racism or sexism existed. When in a conversation about US President Donald Trump, McQueen told the panel that she was probably the only person that had spent time with him as his chaperone in 2006 during a Miss Universe Australia visit. “He was none of those things—he was not racist, not sexist, none of those things,” McQueen said.
Gay was quick to reframe McQueen’s response, pointing out that her personal experience wasn’t universal. “Just because you didn’t have an experience with him doesn’t mean he hasn’t done these terrible things,” she replied.
When McQueen interrupted Gay, who was praising New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern's tightening of gun laws in response to the Christchurch shooting, to say that the Liberal Party had done it first under John Howard - the writer's droll reply was, "of course you did."
McQueen continued, saying that Ardern was "copying" John Howard's gun law reforms, to audible laughter from the audience.
Even when McQueen accidentally called Gay ‘Rosa’, instead of her actual name Roxane, the writer let it slide. “I am not one to lose my cool, particularly when I am being baited to lose my cool,” she wrote on Twitter.
Gay is set to appear in conversation with so-called 'factual feminist' Christina Hoff Sommers in Sydney on March 29. It will be interesting to see if her "super zen" approach to public debate is still on display.