"Are Black Gay Men Proud?" That is the titular question asked by Donovan Thompson's June 26 HuffPost blog post. I must admit that it caught me by surprise because I feel the answer is obvious: like any other group of gay, queer, same-gender, same-sex loving and desiring people, some of us are "proud" some of us are not, but as a collective group I would say yes, we are proud and historically speaking we have been "proud" -- whatever that means. Nevertheless, I read the piece and and quickly my guarded surprise faded into exhaustion.
When Thompson, about his experience coming to terms with his sexuality, states that, "[there] were never any images of gay black men anywhere," I could not help but recall my own queer childhood. How could I, or, particularly, many of us who came up at anytime prior to the new millennium not feel Thompson's pain. Yet, while I empathize with Thompson's experience of growing up black and gay in a country that is hostile to blackness and non-heterosexuality, and I am happy that he found Oprah and her "army of revolutionaries," and I certainly agree that there is an obvious lack of black LGBTQ folk in the media, I am not sure that this is evidence of a supposed lack of black LGBTQ Pride. I mean, we seriously have our own prides, all over the country. Plenty of black LGBTQ people travel to these various Prides just to be among other black LGBTQ people.
Organizations like GLAAD, OUT Magazine, and The Advocate are noticeably void of color. Is this because we have not been invited to play, or is it a result of us not raising our hands? It may be both; you never know. I do know, however, that without gay black men who are willing to come forward and offer our community a voice, we will continue to go both misrepresented and underrepresented.
While Thompson does concede that GLAAD, OUT Magazine, and The Advocate (we could also include The HRC) are institutions whose only colors are that of the rainbow and the color white, ultimately he puts most of the onus of the issue on black LGBTQ people. Black LGBTQ people must be "willing to come forward and offer our community a voice," but, while this is true, it is also that many of us have been offering a black LGBTQ voice: Pam's House Blend, Rod 2.0, Son of Baldwin, Anti Intellect, ADTV, Xem Van Adams are just some of the black LGBTQ folk who spring to my mind. They are not sport stars or celebrities, and while all are not equally "nourishing," some have particularly problematic output, but, I would argue, they are all more important and vital to us and our community than any celebrity.
When the black community was falsely blamed for Prop 8, when white LGBTQ folk like Dan Savage made a black queer boi like myself feel even more unwelcomed in that movement unless I made a particular sacrifice, I did not look to celebrities of any kind -- I looked to black LGBTQ intellectuals like them. Each (and many others) represent different approaches to "the movement" (and certainly I do not value each the same), which not only provides young black LGBTQ folk with diverse opinions but multiple avenues and ways to see themselves.
Moreover, perhaps the problem is with where so many of us are looking, to (white) mainstream L&G publications (let's be honest many of these publications ignore the Bs and Ts). How many of us went and got a copy of the zine The Tenth ? Are we reading online publications like Mused? Also, we live during a time when we do not have to be restricted to what is feed to us. Yes, we are underrepresented in the media, and yes this is a problem, but plenty of black LBTQ folk are responding online with web series: Finding Me, What's the Function, or The DL Chroniclesto state a few; we are also providing our own commentary on culture and politics.
I am not claiming that lack of representation is something to be ignored, but what I am arguing is that the idea that since we don't have a gaggle of out black celebs, we are somehow a less proud people, is false. For the record, while there are more out celebs now than ever, there are still not a ton of out white celebrities either and a few of them "came out" only after whiffs of scandal, but I don't see headlines questioning white gay men's pride because it is just assumed that they are proud.
Not only do "we" privilege white gay men with the status of being "proud," we privilege their language and understanding of what constitutes pride: the idea that being "out" somehow denotes pride, or that if one does not "come out" they are somehow "in" and therefore not proud. Thompson writes, "There is no room for pride when shame and fear occupy the spaces of one's mind." I agree, but why is this attached only to coming out? I am out, yes, but did I feel more pride once I came out than before? No. I came out because that was the script I was given; I was told I had to and that I couldn't just simply live my life as any other person. What I am saying is that there is no room in the discussion of not being out or in but just "being." (For a more nuanced and richer discussion of coming out and blackness--much richer than I can sketch here -- I would suggest Dr. Jeffery Q. McCune's Sexual Discretion: Black Masculinity and the Politics of Passing.)
In short, I am beyond tired of this idea that black gay men (here I am following Thompson's post's lead and limiting the discussion to black gay men, but I do wish to state that excluding our sisters from this conversation woefully skews our conversation in general) are "closeted" or not "proud" or are not "out" or even that we "have to come out"; I mean according to who; whose rules are we playing by? I am growing weary with pieces that "lovingly chastise" and "encourage" black LGBTQ folk while citing as an example what white LGBTQ folk are doing. Like seriously tired.
Are black gay men, folk, are we proud? Have you seen us walk? Have you heard us talk? Have you read our words? Have you not listened to the world to notice how desperately they are still trying to copy our shine?