Words by Caroline Colvin (they/them) @taroheaux
Being Black and non-binary is a tough space to occupy. But someone’s got to do it, right?
From my personal, academic and professional experience, there’s a quintessential butting of the heads of old-school, pro-Black culture and the LGBTQ community. Many old heads have this well-meaning, but damaging approach to undoing the evils of slave-masters and White folks in the Jim Crow era — particularly around anti-Black stereotypes.
To this day, Black cis het men and women alike express concern that slavery era tactics of emasculation resound in modern-day culture.
In order to embarrass and psychologically terrorize Black men, many white men acted in ways that would be deeply harmful in a deeply heteronormative context.
TRIGGER WARNING: Often times, this took the form of White men sexually assaulting Black wives, Black daughters, Black mothers, and the like, on top of verbally abusing and humiliating Black men. This type of racial abuse remains IRL, but now online as well. There’s a collective trauma there, which causes many to lash out.
It’s why now there is so much vitriolic discourse on Twitter about the queer thought, the symphony of fluid gender presentations and expressions of queer expressions of love that go viral. It sounds like, “Oh, wow, really? So this is what we’re doing to our Black men?”
To that, I say: in a world where straightness and cisnormativity are shoved down our throats when we are but a sparkle in our mother’s eye, there is nothing queer being enacted on Black men. Quite the opposite.
“How will boys grow up to be boys?”
To that, I say: this boy found a way to grow up and be a boy.
“This is the kind of trash that tears apart Black families.”
To that, I say: Not only are you a bigot, but you lack imagination. How can you not see a family beyond a man, a woman, 2.5 kids, a dog, matching pajamas, some sprightly dance and a cringy straight audio off TikTok? While the term “chosen family” — Siri, play Rina Sawayama on Spofity — was coined by the queer community, the concept has existed in the Black community for centuries. Typically, it’s communicated in terms like “play cousin” and “kin.”
To that, I say: In your bias, you are so transparent. Black people are very likely to be raised by their grandmamas and aunties and uncs. Black people grow up with their cousins, who are often as close to their cousins as they are to their siblings. Sometimes, more so. These networks of marriage and blood and geography and affinity continue to sprout up throughout the Black diaspora. Where do you think the phrase “it takes a village” comes from?
Moreover, many of the same people espousing homophobic nonsense from their chapped lips or ashy fingers were raised by two women (their mother and their grandmother) or two additional men (a family friend and an uncle). If those people are cis and het, the sole difference was that the nature of the love these pairings and trios shared differed a little.This is braided with the heftiest rope of hypocrisy.
If you're social justice minded and claim to be for the advancement of all people, how are sexually fluid and trans people not included in that?
If you believe that Black lives matter, why are Black trans lives left out in the cold? Left out in the gutter? Beaten and strangled and shot and discarded?
In turn, this particular genre of pro-Black person doesn’t even stop to consider that queer Black people feel ostracized for their race not just with cis het white people, but LGBTQ+ white people as well. That Black trans people are getting it from lesbian TERFs as well.
In some ways, I think: how can I blame homophobic and transphobic Black people for rebuking queerness, for scapegoating the disintegration of the Black family on the LGBTQ+ community as opposed to systemic oppression? Gayness has historically been a white thing, if media representation was any indication. Word to GLAAD: the queer characters that get to exist on the small and silver screen are reaching to farther ends of the LGBTQ+ landscape.
But if the core idea of the LGBTQ community is an effeminate, white, skinny, gay man, then that's a problem. We need more Black people. More trans Black people. I’ll take it further by advocating for more Black trans masc hotties: with their hyper-pigmented top surgery scars, kinky coily sprouts of beard and what we call taco meat (the spoonfuls of little curly hairs on chests). More hoodies with dreads poking out, more Timbs and baggy jeans and Jordans, or maybe smart chinos with fly ass polished sneakers. And the tattoos, and the glasses, and the bomber jackets. Trans masc Black boys with, as Beyoncé once described, too much damn swag.
We’re getting close with Lil Nas X. I have such a soft spot in my heart for him. He's unapologetically himself, but then he never acts like he's impenetrable. He never acts like he is our queer black Superman without also being deeply human; that he struggles with his mental health and with carrying the mantle of the first out gay, Black pop star are no secret.
But he does what I am to do always with my Black queer activism. He acknowledges, “Yes, we have trauma. Yes, we fear for our life, we miss out on chances for financial equity, are ridiculed and beaten up and beaten down. But guess what? Because of our collective trauma around slavery and immigration, we have this wonderful, distinct capability to ‘dance’ our way through the darkness.” That’s what I want queer Black people to do this Pride, to do this Juneteenth, and Junes in the future: dance your way through the darkness and hold your loved ones tight, if you can.
Caroline Colvin (they/them) is an identity and culture reporter. When they’re not reporting on diversity and inclusion, you can find them analyzing film culture, facilitating inclusive sex-positive dialogues, or swooning over alternative fashion.
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