Queerness and blackness don't have to be at odds with each other
In 7th grade, there was a new kid who moved to town and one of the things I remember most was how he joked about being gay. He never identified as gay or made fun of people for being gay. Rather, he always played up the joke of people saying he was gay for being comfortable with his sexuality. Growing up queer, you are surrounded by a variety of messages, images and ideas informing you of how you are not what’s considered “normal.” Homophobic slurs fill middle and high school hallways. “That’s so gay” defined a generation of anti-bullying commercials and anything gay was the butt of most jokes.
The weight of surviving the changing tides of puberty and coming into your sexuality is difficult enough without having to deal with the ways you’re reminded to stay closeted. For me, the stigma of identifying as bisexual seemed to weigh heavier on me as a black male. I was the problem within “the culture,” adding to the HIV rate among women, or just a liar that was really gay — all things I’ve heard from black classmates. Through the years, I noticed that the task of owning my queer identity was even more burdensome than it was for my queer white counterparts or those that played into the joke.
The narrative that queerness and blackness exist in opposition has been an ongoing discussion, with sensational reporting of black men on the “down low” and the reception of Frank Ocean’s Tumblr piece on falling for a man at the forefront. Odell Beckham Jr. has even fallen victim to being called “suspect” for comfortably dancing or sitting in a hot tub with his male friends. On the other hand, white male celebrities that claim bisexuality or allude to sexual fluidity don’t seem to face harsh backlash or spark a discussion on male queerness. Andy Dick has always been noted for his eccentricity, which it seems his bisexuality factors in. Musicians like Billie Joe Armstrong and Brendon Urie have mentioned their attraction to multiple genders as a matter of fact rather than declarative statements.
While the tide is changing for out black LGBT+ men —Kevin Abstract securing the no. 1 selling album as the leader of Brockhampton and Issa Rae producing a show focusing on a bisexual black male — the few-and-far-between representation of black male queerness leaves the lingering stereotypes unchallenged.
Black culture, with its heavy ties to the church, often uses Christianity to denounce homosexuality. Meanwhile, people of color can be easily pushed out of the most visible of LGBT+ spaces. Hypermasculinity within hip-hop has also encouraged black men to reject mannerisms and beliefs that could signal femininity or submission to other men. Pushing back against the stigmatization of queerness as a black male is not always easy because it requires challenging the definition of black masculinity.
The beauty of the term “queer” is its all-encompassing nature of gender and sexual identities that fall outside of heteronormativity. Because of this, it’s possible to define queerness in your own distinct way. While coming out in high school, I couldn’t evade the slurs, the jokes, or the ridicule, but I could own my own identity and therefore, my masculinity. Queerness allowed me to reconcile coexistence in both black culture and the LGBT+ community by giving me permission to define myself on my own terms. Bisexuality still gets misconstrued and redefined, but I no longer feel the need to change my identity to accommodate my blackness and masculinity. 🍒