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“I Wrote This Rant Before” – Reflections From A Black Gay Man In America

Me - Hoodie

I wrote this rant before, but I erased it.
I wrote this rant before, but I erased it because I worried what others would think.
I wrote this rant before, but I erased it because I worried others would think I am militant.
I wrote this rant before, but I erased it because I worried I was militant.

The exact words escape my memory, but it went a little something like this.

I know two words, six letters long each, that shape my experience as a human. They are both old words, with long histories of linguistic, social, and political transformations. One is the perverse derivative of a color that now implies the oppressive superiority of one group over another. One is the perverse transformation of a neutral, inert object that was used to eliminate people now dehumanized and disempowered by the word. One has been reclaimed by some of the very people oppressed by the word and what it represents, but too many are repulsed by the word to successfully reclaim it. Instead, most refer to the word only by its first letter – N. The other word has not been met with systematic efforts to reclaim it. Yet, ironically, the word seems to repulse fewer; as such, referring to it by its first letter – F – world confuse most as another word we regularly censor.

Despite their differences, these two six-letter words share similarities, some odd. Similar in length, beginning and ending with consonants, home to two Gs in the middle, with vowels sandwiched in between. In use, the two are similar in their function of reminding me that I am subhuman, or maybe not human at all. At least, as a partial human, the word nigger reduces me to my skin color and, as such, that my status is inferior to those of white skin. The word faggot reduces me to a sexual act considered immoral, pathological, and revolting. Only six letters long, yet each conjures up a reminder of my place in society – always outside – even when included within.

The simultaneity of these experiences infuses their dehumanizing potential. Indeed, in society, this racist, sexist, classist, heterosexist society in which I live, places me at a subordinate status as a racial minority, as a sexual minority, and as a racial-sexual minority. This marginalization is compounded by the dual betrayals of the predominantly-heterosexual Black community and the predominantly-white gay community. In the former, I am just as likely to be reminded of my subordinate status as a faggot as I am in white-dominated society. I am likely told my efforts to fight homophobia are distracting. In the latter, my racial identity is erased and any attempts to attend to anti-racist projects seen as irrelevant. Unfortunately, both communities have fallen prey to white heterosexist efforts to “divide and conquer,” and too rarely able to forge lasting coalitions. Both, too often, forget that individuals cannot be reduced to a single status: fighting racism, yet putting up with sexism; fighting homophobia while ignoring the whiteness and middle-classness of gay movements. Invisible in Black spaces as a faggot, invisible in gay spaces as a nigger, and invisible as both in society.

But, for as much invisibility is regarded to these statuses is the granting of hypervisibility. Due to the presumption of whiteness and heterosexuality, one always stands out as something other – the Other. I know the ironic reality of invisibility as a Black person, yet the hypervisibility as a black man approaching someone on the street at night. I know the invisibility as a queer person, yet the hypervisibility as a gay man in sex-segregated spaces and situations. It is quite odd that one is simultaneously invisible and powerless, yet hypervisible and threatening.

I use these stereotyped threatening images to my advantage. Or, I at least attempt to do so in desperate attempts to protect myself. When I feel the sense of danger arising in white people as I approach, I trade off my Blackness for my gayness in an effort to seem harmless. Who’s ever heard of a gay thug anyhow? Flipped, in scenarios where I feel unsafe as a queer person, I emphasize my Blackness to appear threatening. To what extent this is simply hypervigilance every minority faces, I am unaware. To what extent these trading-off efforts work, I cannot assess.

The possibility of trading off race for sexual identity and vice versa is made through their intersections with gender. An emphasized Blackness to appear threatening presumes a tough, masculine demeanor, one that implies heterosexuality. An emphasized gayness to appear non-threatening implies a meek, feminine demeanor, one that is at odds with the stereotypical image of Black men. When laid out this way, their opposing nature becomes apparent. One cannot be both the stereotypical Black man and the stereotypical gay man. The former implies the opposite of the latter, and vice versa.

What, then, is the category of Black queer? How does one inhabit these two identity spaces defined as opposites of one another? One’s mere existence resists narrowly defined racial and sexual categories. But, many face what feels like pressure to choose: choose your status, your identity, and your allegiance. Are you Black or are you gay?

I reject this notion of opposition between Blackness and gayness just as I reject the labels nigger and faggot. I am not defined by the histories of oppression, enslavement, and discrimination faced by Black people. I am not defined by the history of oppression, exclusion, and collective closetedness faced by gay people. These histories shape who I am and my consciousness, but I cannot be reduced to either.

This time, I will keep this rant.
This time, I will keep this rant to share with others.
This time, I will keep this rant to share with myself.
This time, I will keep this rant to accept my militance.

Being Gay Doesn’t Make You Anti-Racist And Anti-Sexist

By the time the supposed Black vs. gay war had been (re)launched following California’s passage of 2008 Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marrage in the state, I was well aware of oppression within oppressed groups (I ranted back in February about the problematic expression, “gay is the new black.”)  In this post, I want to challenge the notion that being a minority automatically makes one empathetic toward other minority groups, and, further, that being a minority makes one immune to oppressing others.

Wow, Was I Naive Or What?

As a young biracial gay feminist aspiring-vegetarian activist, I understood the experience of a minority to include empathy for other minorities and explicit efforts to challenge all forms of oppression.  In my case, being of color and gay meant being a feminist and actively challenging sexist oppression, as well as other forms of prejudice and discrimination.  This mindset continued into college, particularly when I shifted toward a queer identity.  I suppose it only took moving to Indiana and beginning my graduate studies to burst my naive bubble.  It only took a few sexist and racist comments at the local gay bar and a growing awareness of the heteronormativity in Black communities (like any community) for me to begin to realize experience with one form of oppression doesn’t translate into advocacy against another.  I began to recognize that being a queer man (now genderqueer-identified) did not make my objectification of women any less sexist.

“It’s Okay, I’m Gay”

My intention is to critique this misguided assumption in general, but I use queer folks as my example case here.  I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen gay men fondle women’s bodies at a bar or party, sometimes with the woman’s explicit consent or assumed consent through her laughter or silence.  I’ve even heard such behavior justified by comments like, “it’s okay, I’m gay.”  This logic implies that sexism and the objectification of women is merely something of heterosexual men (and I guess bisexual men, too).  It has also been extended to justify racist prejudice.  (I can’t tell you how furious I was when I met a white gay man who saw himself as a Black heterosexual woman because of his “ghetto”, sassy attitude.)  Certainly, this logic may carry over to justify other forms of prejudice: ageism, ableism, classism, xenophobia, religious intolerance, and so forth.

Gay Can Mean Anti-Racist and Anti-Sexist

Today, a gay identity is not merely about sexual behavior – it’s a sociopolitical sexual identity.  That means that lesbian, gay, and bisexual identities incorporate an explicit challenge to heteronormativity, racism, sexism, classist oppression, etc.  LGBT and queer people, like any other minority, can begin to build coalitions (again) with other minority groups to challenge the status quo.  Such coalitions have existed in the past, and I’m certain that a number exist today.  But, like the Prop 8 fiasco, it seems that the “divide and conquer” strategy of pitting Blacks against gays against feminists against immigrants is still alive, well, and successful.  Not only is coalition-building across minority groups possible, it is necessary now as it was in the 1960s and 70s.  Although our President is of color for a change, white heterosexual middle-class able-bodied men still rule the country, yet they’re a numerical minority!  But, one could say that people of color, feminists, queers, working-class people, immigrants, and other minorities banded together to vote President Barack Obama into office.  Real and effective alliances are possible!

Hooking Up: Today’s Rewards For The 1960s Sexual Revolution

Source: Francesco Rachello

Note: this was originally published on Kinsey Confidential.

The Sexual Revolution of the 1960s, aided by women’s and gay liberation movements, have made for greater acceptance of casual sex, or “hooking up”, on campuses.  While many celebrate the freedom to hookup, others are expressing concern for safety and health.

What Is Hooking-Up?

Hooking up has emerged as a new trend on college campuses across the United States, and some say it appears among high school students as well.  Today, we see young adults getting together to have sex outside of the context of dating and marriage.  For some, this is simply a one-time thing soon after meeting, while for others it can be a regularly occurring encounter with the same partner (sometimes called “friends with benefits”).  Though we know about how common hooking up is today from research by scholars like Paula England and Kathleen Bogle, we see that there is no universal definition of “hooking up.”  Sometimes it simply means oral sex, or mutual masturbation and “heavy petting”, and sometimes it means sexual intercourse.  As I’ve noted in an earlier post, we tend to be vague and unclear about the specifics surrounding sexual activity in general, so it comes as no surprise that there is no clear, universal definition of hooking up.

So, Why Should There Be Any Concern?

What concerns could we expect aside from the obvious concern about hooking up from groups who would rather adults wait until marriage to have sex?  (This assumes that everyone will get married and can get married.)  Unfortunately, England has found a significant orgasm gap in her research on hooking up experiences of college students, at least in heterosexual hooking up.  In almost every case, men can expect to orgasm, but women are often left in the cold.  Men are more likely to initiate hook ups, and hook ups often happen after consuming alcohol.  These points raise concern for women’s ability to maximize their sexual pleasure, including reaching orgasm, but also in terms of fully consensual sex, as consent is difficult to negotiate if you or your partners are not sober enough to give a fully-informed “yes” or “no” to certain activities.

Proceed, But With Caution

I am not the type of person to suggest avoiding an activity all together because of potential risks involved.  Nothing in life is risk-free, even sex within a monogamous, marital relationship!  Young adults, well, really all adults, should enjoy their sexualities, but, of course, while being safe.  This does not only mean in terms of using contraceptives and other means to reduce one’s exposure to sexually transmitted infections.  But, I also mean adults should be safe about their social and emotional selves as well.  Be sure to have open communication with your partners about what you like, what you don’t like, and what you’re seeking in the end (or that you don’t yet know!).  Make sure you are capable of consenting and receiving consent to engage in certain activities.  Hook up all you want, so long as you’re being healthy and safe.

Race and Ethnicity Affect Who Responds To You In Online Dating

Source: Current.com

Note: this was originally published on Kinsey Confidential.

In early October, OKCupid, an online dating website, released an analysis of racial and ethnic differences in response rates.  It seems love isn’t so color-blind after all.

The Study: Over One Million People

The OKCupid study assessed the responses of over one million site users.  They found that two individuals of any race can be compatible just to squash any doubts that the racial and ethnic differences found in responses is due to lack of compatibility between partners of different backgrounds.

Though any two people could be compatible, the study found some remarkable racial and ethnic dynamics:

  • Black heterosexual women respond the most to messages they receive on OKCupid, but heterosexual men of all races and ethnicities respond to messages from Black women the least.
  • White heterosexual men’s messages are responded to the most by heterosexual women of all races and ethnicities, yet they reply the least to any messages.
  • White heterosexual women prefer white men to the exclusion of men of color, yet Asian and Hispanic heterosexual women prefer white men even more exclusively.
  • There is little variance among heterosexuals in support for interracial marriages, with nearly all saying such relationships are not bad, but white heterosexuals prefer white partners much more than non-white heterosexuals prefer non-white partners.  The gap in same-race /ethnicity partner preference is larger between white and non-white heterosexual women.

What About Lesbian, Bisexual, and Gay OKCupid Members?

In a later post, OKCupid released findings from an analysis of their members who are lesbian, bisexual, or gay.

It seems that some of the same patterns emerged among LGB people, but they were less prevalent.  For example, Black women were still responded to the least among all bisexual and lesbian women, but the difference was smaller than that among heterosexuals.

LGB people are much more in favor of interracial marriage, but the same gap in preference for same-race partners exists, though it is smaller.  That is, even white LGB people report a higher degree of preference for same-race partners than non-white LGB people.

In another post, I mentioned a survey of young adults’ relationship values, which found that lesbian, gay, and bisexual people were more open to dating people of different races and ethnicities than were heterosexuals.

Are There Any Implications?

Certainly, as I argued in an earlier post, these findings suggest that we  should continue to recognize how race and ethnicity, as well as other social factors, play into our sexualities.

Some groups, particularly people of color, have access to smaller dating pools.  This can translate into a number of things, including greater difficulty finding romantic sexual partners and possibly “lowering” one’s standards for potential partners.

In that earlier post, I referenced a study on gay and bisexual men and other men who have sex with men (MSM), who do not identify as gay/bisexual.  The study found that, because Black men were ranked as the least preferable partner relative to white, Latino, and Asian men, their dating pool was smaller, which increased their risk of contracting HIV/AIDS.

Is It Racism?

The OKCupid blog post suggests that these patterns of response rates by race and ethnicity reflect the continued existence of racism in the United States.  Some social scientists who have studied racial attitudes have included questions about one’s willingness to date someone of a different race or ethnicity.

But, I hesitate to suggest that a preference for one’s own race and ethnicity, or certain races and ethnicities over others, is a sign of racism.  Instead, I would argue that our dating and sexual preferences are shaped by social factors, including racism.

We can see that white (Anglo) standards of beauty are still the dominant standard in the US and that people of color are pressured to meet those standards by altering their hair, skin color, even facial features through cosmetic surgery.

And, sadly, as the National Health and Social Life Survey found in the mid-1990s, partners that come from different backgrounds (e.g., education, race, religion) break up at a higher rate than partners of similar backgrounds, largely because they are not as well integrated into each others lives (e.g., friendship circles, family).

Because of family and community pressures to partner with someone of the same background, people may be less likely to even attempt to start a relationship with someone of a background different than their own.

But, it is great to see that an overwhelming majority of people were in favor of interracial marriage in the OKCupid survey – a remarkable change over the last few decades in race relations.

And, as sociologist Michael J. Rosenfeld has found in his research on marriage patterns, the number of interracial and same-sex couples in the US have increased dramatically since the 1960s, primarily because adult children have become more independent from their families and home communities.

A Call For An Intersectional Perspective On Sexuality

Source: Von Dominik Bamberger

Note: this was originally published on Kinsey Confidential.

When we talk about sexuality, specifically our own sexualities, we sometimes fail to consider other forms of differences (and similarities) among humans.  We need to be sure to consider how our race, ethnicity, sex and gender, social class, age, ability, religion, and nationality shape and influence our sexual identities, desires, preferences, and community memberships.

The Tendency To View One Form Of Difference At A Time

Often, when we talk about difference and, more specifically, inequality, we tend to talk about one form of difference and inequality at a time.  That is, we talk about race, racism, and racial inequality.  Or, we talk about gender, sexism, and gender inequality.  It is rare, however, that we talk about how these forms of difference coexist and shape one another.

In gender studies, sociology, psychology, and the humanities, we use the term intersectionality to describe how forms of difference operate simultaneously and intersect and interact with one another.

So, for example, rather than simply looking at the experiences of bisexuals (i.e., sexual orientation), we could look at the experiences of Latino bisexuals (i.e., ethnicity and sexual orientation), or bisexual teenagers (i.e., sexual orientation and age), or Catholic bisexual immigrants (i.e., religion, sexual orientation, and nationality).

Why Is This More Inclusive View Important?

Although we can get a good sense of someone’s life experiences and sense of self just by looking at their sexual orientation or self-reported sexual identity (e.g., lesbian, heterosexual, bisexual, gay, queer), we may be overlooking how other forms of difference shape one’s life.

We are not simply sexual beings; we also have a particular race, ethnicity, sex, gender, religion, age, ability, and nationality.  For example, if we were only to look at the gap in income between women and men, we would fail to see that Black, Latina, and American Indian women are at an even further disadvantage in pay relative to white men.

Simply considering one form of difference fails to paint a complete picture of individuals’ lives.

A Clear Example

As a Kinsey Confidential site visitor pointed out in a comment to the April 30th blog post, “Dine Out for Life – HIV/AIDS Fundraiser” by Natalie Ingraham, one glaring oversight in research on HIV/AIDS rates among Black men who have sex with men (MSM), who may or may not identify as gay or bisexual, is the consideration of race, or, more specifically, racism.

Two researchers found that the higher HIV infection rate among Black MSMs is not due to riskier or less safe sexual practices (i.e., not using condoms regularly and effectively), but is due largely to a smaller pool of potential sexual partners.

The researchers found that among a sample of  Black, white, Latino, and Asian-American MSMs, Black men were rated the least preferred sexual partners and perceived to be the most likely to be HIV-positive.

Thus, because Black men are considered least desired and most dangerous in terms of HIV/AIDS, they have a harder time finding partnerships with non-Black men, which severely minimizes their pool of potential partners and increases their risk of contracting HIV/AIDS.  By simply considering sexual orientation, we’d see that men who have sex with men have higher rates of HIV/AIDS relative to men who have sex with women (MSW), but we would miss the racial and ethnic differences among MSMs and MSWs.

It might be a neat exercise, and certainly helpful in a self-reflective sense, to consider how your own race, ethnicity, religion, sex, gender, ability, age, and nationality shape and influence your sexual orientation, identity, desires, relationships, preferences, and community memberships.  And, making things a bit more complicated, think about how your sexuality shapes and influences these forms of difference in turn.