story by and photos courtesy of Joy Doss
There’s a war being waged. Apparently, it’s against black masculinity??? Now, as a woman who both loves looking at men and is considered an ally under the rainbow, I have some questions and concerns about this assertion. Pharrell’s November GQ magazine cover was squarely in the bullseye. Folks went off the rails because he basically had on a floor length dress. Then there’s Billy Porter giving you LEWKS, shutting the red carpet DOWN! But lawd-a-mercy black men in particular were BIG MAD.
There has been talk about the “gay agenda” for a few years now. But I have yet to see or hear any cogent argument, or even a bulleted list, explaining what this means exactly. Team LGBT is recruiting and inviting everyone to come live under the rainbow? They’re “making” our kids gay? Because a man wore a dress? Because of trans people? Because a boy does ballet? Remember when straight men were deathly afraid to wear pink? And everybody talked about the “gay ear”? A piercing in the left meant gay, right ear meant straight and both ears meant bi. This was an actual conversation people had and it sounds absolutely ludicrous today. Same logic applies. Wearing pink and what ear you pierce is no more an indicator of your sexuality or manhood than any other way you choose to adorn yourself. I LOVE what the gay husband calls “lesbian boots.” But that doesn’t make me a lesbian. Or even a tomboy. No matter what I wear, I’m still a girly girl because I’m a girly girl on the inside. It wasn’t conditioning. It wasn’t environmental or external influences. It just was and is.
It isn’t just Pharrell and Billy Porter who are crimping gender and sexual norms. R&B singer Tank recently got knocked about by Black Twitter for asserting that a man receiving oral sex from a man doesn’t make him gay. (Ummm…I guess??) Westbrook — very questionable church auntie fashions but he’s hetero. D. Wade, same. For me it’s trash fashion not a statement on sexuality. As our friend Matt says, “Not in that blouse hunny!”
I don’t mind flamboyance as entertainment and at a distance — gay, straight or otherwise. No shade whatsoever. I’m just a low-key person. No, I am not going on a date with a dandy, not even Andre 3000! (That’s a lie actually. He’s the exception) I don’t even subscribe 100% to the hyper-masculinity model. I’ve no taste for performative posturing, so it makes sense that my gay male friends are mostly dudes who present as “straight” or heteronormative if you will.
I am in my 40s so I believe that for the most part that my age group is firmly in the middle as it relates to all of this specificity. We’re mostly floating somewhere between, “Hunh?” and “If you like it, I love it.” However, I will admit to feeling at times lost in the jumble of identity word salad.
Most of my friends (again gay, straight, other) have a neutral disposition about masculinity/femininity, sexual/ gender identity. We aren’t really having conversations about what our pronoun is, fluidity, gender binary/ non-binary or how we identify — all new concepts to us. No need to drill it down to the teeniest atomic particle. Now, I don’t know about anyone else’s friend circle.
So, I consulted the gay boos.
Friend #1 is 49 — a gay black man who was in relationships primarily with women through college. He says they are having the conversation but historically side-eyed folks who claimed to be bisexual. Basically, just be gay already!
He says, “For many in my generation, especially black men, there is little understanding as to how a man or woman is able to progress socially and professionally with such extreme appearances and behaviors. We’ve seen men disregarded simply because they were gay. Personally, I live by the idea that it’s your body, do what you wanna do.”
My other friend, a gay black man in his early 50s, admits that there’s definitely a generational disconnect. His circle is confused by the conversation around identity. They stick to the identity basics – gay, bisexual or straight. Of his crew he says, “Like minds tend to stick together. Conservative or ‘straight acting’ men clique.” He goes on to say that Memphis is not the best place to be gay or multi-hyphenate, yet he is optimistic that the city will embrace the LGBT community as he has seen a lot of progress.
Courtney Robertson, 32, identifies as a cisgender gay man. He says that these conversations have always existed but have been expanded now that the conversation is more forthcoming and candid. However, as I suspected, they’re happening with more frequency and depth among our younger peers. Being in the South is certainly a factor as we are largely and by comparison still tiptoeing around taboos and tight boundaries.
He explains, “There are, unfortunately, major disconnects across generations when it comes to discussions around sexuality, gender, etc… [There is] a general lack of understanding…a fear of the unknown about things that challenge established beliefs and values.”
On identity: “Honestly, I stopped trying to fit into a definition and stopped giving a fuck about what people thought about me. I actively started enjoying what I enjoy, doing what I do, and being who I am without thinking about how it would be received or categorized.”
On labels: “Labels simplify things or provide language to build awareness, but it can make people feel constrained or boxed in. My approach is to use them as they make sense; the most important one is human being.”
Don’t get me wrong. There is so much freedom in being able to define yourself for yourself, as both an individual and as a collective. Either way, black masculinity ain’t going nowhere. No TV character, IRL character or clothing choice can change who you are inherently. Normalizing our differences is not indoctrination but rather providing the space and permission for folks to just be.