On Black People and Homophobia: for Cedric

By Guest Contributor Andreana Clay, cross-posted from QueerBlackFeminist

There are plenty of other things I should be doing right now: finishing a book review which has already been extended, preparing for classes that start in a week, finishing another post I’ve been working on on gentrification, starting and finishing two other book proposal/chapter reviews that are due, and the list goes on and on. But, I just had to stop for a moment and briefly reflect on a recent trip home I made with my partner/girlfriend–we had a wedding ceremony so I’m trying to say partner now, but I really love saying girlfriend, something about it.

Anyway, we made a long, three week road trip from California to the Midwest to visit with and, in some cases, meet for the first time family and friends. It was a sweet trip: we saw lots of beautiful things, like the Badlands and Black Hills in South Dakota, canyons upon canyons in Southern Utah, and just the regular, lush greenery of Michigan and Missouri, where we’re from. The road makes us both happy.

And, it’s always a bit of hard trip to make, for both of us. We both love our families so much and, as two queer women, often leave a lot of things out about our lives when we go home. Literally, there were points in the trip where it was hard for us to even reach each other, we were so checked out.

It’s something we’ve practiced for quite a while, for various reasons. Some of it is based on people not always asking about the specifics. Remembering to ask about the boys in our lives (son and godson) that we see at least once, if not twice a week. Nor would they ever remember or think to ask what it’s like to suspend holding hands with your partner in public, something we do everyday at home. Not to mention never getting into a serious debate about gay marriage and whether or not that is something we’re interested in. And, in many ways, that’s fine. I understand, sometimes people don’t know how to ask. And, quite frankly, there is so little that I share about my life that I think it may just be difficult to talk to me,”Ani” (my childhood nickname), and/or I’m not there enough (once or twice a year) for those kinds of conversations to be developed. Plus, there is a nice big helping of internalized homophobia on both of our parts that structure these trips home.

So it was within this setting, this history, that Joan and I made the trip from her parent’s house in Michigan to mine in Missouri, where she was going to meet my extended family–my father’s side–for the first time. Just to give you a little history and more context for how I share, I took her home last summer for the first time, where she met my grandmother (Dad’s mom) and my mom’s side of the family, many of her seven brothers and sisters and their children. Also, for the purposes of history/reminder, my mother is white and my father is Black. And, this is only the second time in my adult relationship history that I’ve ever brought anyone home. I dated my white, college ex-boyfriend (who Joan also met on this trip), home twice in the 6 1/2 years that we dated. And we lived three hours away from my hometown. So, the fact that I’ve traveled over 1600 miles and have brought Joan home twice in 3 1/2 years is, like, a really big deal. Plus, you know, I’m 40 so I’m kinda grown, which means I should be doing this kind of thing anyway…

Still, I was nervous to take her home. How are people going to feel about her? How are my aunts (my dad has six sisters) going to respond to her? To us? What about my male cousins? All people I see every year, but have not mentioned her, the woman I love so much, directly once. Now, if asked, I wouldn’t lie, but I was never asked, so…But I couldn’t keep up my charade any longer, my grandmother was invited and my dad came out for our ceremony in May, so I had to come clean. My dad picked us up and we headed over. I brought my mom along who is still close with my dad and his siblings/my grandmother, just in case Joan didn’t have anyone to talk to. That was my plan.

We walked in and everyone was there, and I mean everyone, my four aunts, an uncle, my cousin and his wife, my grandmother, my other cousin and his girlfriend. I was greeted, but almost immediately pushed aside so that one by one everyone came up, introduced themselves to her (I’m aunt______), hugged her, and welcomed her to the family. No joke. Some even said the words, welcome to the family.

I was taken aback.

Not by the sweetness of my family: they are some of the most incredibly sweet, laid back, witty, funny, sarcastic, sh*t talking, and sincere people I know. They are my people. No, in the moment, I was taken aback by how they welcomed her, us, my life that I never talk about, into the family. Almost immediately, my aunt began correcting Joan when she said, “I don’t want to sit in your uncle’s chair.” “That’s your uncle, Joan.” It was great and, once I got over my fear, nothing short of what I would expect from my people. Since we’ve been home, three of them have become her “friends” on Facebook.

But that’s not the way we understand the relationship between the Black and LGBTQ communities. The overall assumption is that the Black community is homophobic (at the same time that the same sex marriage movement equates this struggle with the Black civil rights movement).  The Black community was blamed for Proposition 8‘s failure in California, anti-gay leaders exist and are well publicized, and there is an ongoing discussion of homophobia in hip-hop. Often, it looks like straight Black folks are more homophobic than any other group, especially white people. But, that has rarely been my experience. Inquisitive? Yes. Inappropriate questions at times? Of course. A “girl you nasty,” once or twice? Sure. But I don’t think that constitutes a more homophobic community, which is what I take issue with.  The assumption that Black people are the culprit in the ongoing fight against homophobia and gay oppression. And, I don’t write this to deny other Black folks’ experience, but rather, to put out there a time when this was not the case. I think we need to highlight these experiences more often to remember and think about the Black community as a community, who looks out for, loves, and trusts one another. It doesn’t negate the Eddie Longs or Tracy Morgans, but is intended to open up and broaden the conversation a bit more. I am eager to engage in them.

Peace, family.

  • Jetesar

    Concerning The Advocate’s cover that says “Gay Is The New Black”: Bayard Rustin & James Baldwin  would disagree.

  • Stayfreshiceland

    Interesting, because I’ve been hanging with a black friend lately who is pretty homophobic and likes to talk about how its part of the “black community standards.” Like you, though, I haven’t found it to be the rule, more the exception, and homophobic black folk who use the old line of, “don’t worry, my beliefs are supported by my peers, this is just part of the experience of ‘being black’ “, and of course “by not being black, you just couldn’t possibly understand,” definately one of the most closed minded and outright wrong things a person can think.

    There are no limitations to the human mind.

    But yes; I live in a very gay-prevelant city. We’re touted (amongst our own residents) as the second largest gay-city in the country. There’s alot of open clashes between the LGBTQA community and the “others”. I’ve seen “bigoted” straight people, but bigoted gay folk as well. Ultimately its not the sexual preference that’s predisposing people to have a certain mindset, but merely their own humanity showing through inevitably.

    I’m not a bigot, I feel like folk should be able to do as they please, so long as they aren’t putting at risk: life, limb or property. With that said, my own preferences are clear, and I have strong convictions behind those preferences, but as a guy who interacts with LGBTQA on a daily basis, you have to learn how to play nice. While I might object to an entire community gathering together merely because they share a sexual preference, I understand the reality of the shared experience of another nature: discrimination; unpleasantness of all flavors because of a rift between society and subculture.

    Then again, I’m also the kindof guy who hates using the word: Black. I’d rather just call them by name; I’m of South-Asian decent, but British nationality. I routinely tell people, “I’m British,” when they ask where I’m from [I live in the Midwest, so it's a clusterfuck of explaining, and I'm a socially-lazy bastard, which I feel is perfectly alright.]

    As a comedian, I find gay-jokes are reacted to [by sensitive gay folk] in the way jesus jokes would be reacted to by extremely conservative pious christians.

    Both will burn you at the stake.

    Ultimately, there are those who will get sucked into the “sub-culture”, or perhaps even the myth of the subculture. Some people will feel more justified outright attacking one another because they feel it’s OK, since they’re just doing what is the “norm”. They’re just being a good ______ [insert deliniation here]. It’s the enlightened-few that no longer bother with trying to appease some ideal which ironically and ultimately more-resembles a stereotype than a life-goal or genuinely-worthwhile-ideal to endevour to inhabit.

    And then there’s a bit of resentment.

    As an immigrant, I have nothing like what the LGBTQA community has in my city, and in my country. In my lifetime, I will never have the support amongst people with my immigrant experience [within my specific era of immigration, my specific locale of origin]. And there’s bitterness in that, because examining the LGBTQA community, one of the formulative experiences that draws everyone together is the “coming out story.” It’s weird, because it’s such a universal that it extends far beyond sexuality. Anyone whose ever had a clash of relgious belief, or really any belief whatsoever, between themselves and strongly-believing parents… It’s these people which will relish the chance to relate to others who’ve been through THAT formulative and PAINFUL experience.

    So it’s great that such things exist for the LGBTQA community.

    I just wished we’d have it for the South-Asian wave of American immigrants as well.

  • Stayfreshiceland

    Interesting, because I’ve been hanging with a black friend lately who is pretty homophobic and likes to talk about how its part of the “black community standards.” Like you, though, I haven’t found it to be the rule, more the exception, and homophobic black folk who use the old line of, “don’t worry, my beliefs are supported by my peers, this is just part of the experience of ‘being black’ “, and of course “by not being black, you just couldn’t possibly understand,” definately one of the most closed minded and outright wrong things a person can think.

    There are no limitations to the human mind.

    But yes; I live in a very gay-prevelant city. We’re touted (amongst our own residents) as the second largest gay-city in the country. There’s alot of open clashes between the LGBTQA community and the “others”. I’ve seen “bigoted” straight people, but bigoted gay folk as well. Ultimately its not the sexual preference that’s predisposing people to have a certain mindset, but merely their own humanity showing through inevitably.

    I’m not a bigot, I feel like folk should be able to do as they please, so long as they aren’t putting at risk: life, limb or property. With that said, my own preferences are clear, and I have strong convictions behind those preferences, but as a guy who interacts with LGBTQA on a daily basis, you have to learn how to play nice. While I might object to an entire community gathering together merely because they share a sexual preference, I understand the reality of the shared experience of another nature: discrimination; unpleasantness of all flavors because of a rift between society and subculture.

    Then again, I’m also the kindof guy who hates using the word: Black. I’d rather just call them by name; I’m of South-Asian decent, but British nationality. I routinely tell people, “I’m British,” when they ask where I’m from [I live in the Midwest, so it's a clusterfuck of explaining, and I'm a socially-lazy bastard, which I feel is perfectly alright.]

    As a comedian, I find gay-jokes are reacted to [by sensitive gay folk] in the way jesus jokes would be reacted to by extremely conservative pious christians.

    Both will burn you at the stake.

    Ultimately, there are those who will get sucked into the “sub-culture”, or perhaps even the myth of the subculture. Some people will feel more justified outright attacking one another because they feel it’s OK, since they’re just doing what is the “norm”. They’re just being a good ______ [insert deliniation here]. It’s the enlightened-few that no longer bother with trying to appease some ideal which ironically and ultimately more-resembles a stereotype than a life-goal or genuinely-worthwhile-ideal to endevour to inhabit.

    And then there’s a bit of resentment.

    As an immigrant, I have nothing like what the LGBTQA community has in my city, and in my country. In my lifetime, I will never have the support amongst people with my immigrant experience [within my specific era of immigration, my specific locale of origin]. And there’s bitterness in that, because examining the LGBTQA community, one of the formulative experiences that draws everyone together is the “coming out story.” It’s weird, because it’s such a universal that it extends far beyond sexuality. Anyone whose ever had a clash of relgious belief, or really any belief whatsoever, between themselves and strongly-believing parents… It’s these people which will relish the chance to relate to others who’ve been through THAT formulative and PAINFUL experience.

    So it’s great that such things exist for the LGBTQA community.

    I just wished we’d have it for the South-Asian wave of American immigrants as well.

    • http://twitter.com/GREGORYABUTLER Gregory A. Butler

      Whenever I hear a non Black person refer to “my Black friend”, I get very uncomfortable.

      Quite often, what happens is that “Black friend” (who may or may not be real, or who may be a fictionalized version of a real acquaintance promoted to the rank of  “friend” for conversation purposes) gets to be a stand-in for 44 million Americans.

      To put it simply, if you know individuals who happen to be homophobic, they speak for themselves. They don’t speak for me or anybody else in the Black race just because we share a color.

  • Anonymous

    A timely conversation to be sure. I can’t tell you how often as a black gay man I’ve seen the “don’t you know black people are homophobic…why look at Prop 8!!!” Easy to refute, but difficult to cope with the us v. them social politics of division. I’m tired of it. And especially pleased you’re family sounds so warm and welcoming. Congrats, lovely post.

  • The Blue Dream

    I was debating whether or not to share this but I think it jives with your story, albeit in a much less personal way. I got my boyfriend involved in OFA (Obama campaign) and he came to a meeting trying to raise funds/volunteers to do voter registration and volunteer recruitment at Pride. Other than us, there were 15 people there, 10 white and 5 black.

    He was talking to me about homophobia afterwards, and how he expects a lot of people involved with OFA to be uninterested in LGBT rights. He then said the people most likely to be against him were black people.

    I went over and got the sign-in sheet for the event, and the sign-up sheet for Pride. 4/5 of the black people had signed up, and only 3/10 of the whites. Not only had a larger percentage of blacks signed up, but a larger actual number of PoC despite being only 1/3 of the group size. He got embarrassed, and admitted that one of the seniors had gotten out her checkbook and written him a check for $10 for the table–something no one else did at that meeting–but he has just assumed it was that one individual, since “everyone knows” black people are more religious and hence more homophobic, see Prop 8.

    It’s harder to figure how many active members of OFA are of any given ethnicity, since “active” is a moving target, but I would say there was a somewhat disproportionately large number of black straights at Pride (and, interestingly, WAY more queers of color volunteering than white queers), so the “homophobic blacks” trope isn’t even statistically defensible in my (limited) organizing experience. 

  • Rosanna Rios Spicer

    thanks for this! It’s also similar to my experience. I am Chicana and my girlfriend is black. I recently went to meet her family for the first time in New Orleans and was greeted with hugs, kisses, welcomes and am friends with many of her family members on facebook. My family also loves her and us as a couple. For every positive story there is you can probably find a negative one as well and those stories are also important tell and help heal from. the issue is that the negative stories are highlighted and presented as “how it is over there” which isn’t solving any problems. 

  • http://twitter.com/Crommunist Crommunist

    It’s wonderful that you had such a positive experience. It’s amazing how our worst fears not coming true is a bigger shock than when they DO.

    I think the idea of highlighting the positive stories as a way of pushing the ‘norm’ – the expectation that black folks will be homophobic as a default – is an interesting one. However, we shouldn’t rely on anecdotes as evidence of where we are as a community. There are always exceptions to trends, and we should absolutely crow our triumph when we spot those, but we can’t afford to lose sight of the big picture.

  • http://rvcbard.blogspot.com RVCBard

    That’s pretty much been my experience too.

  • http://rvcbard.blogspot.com RVCBard

    That’s pretty much been my experience too.

  • kayj

    Giving you a standing O!  When I saw the title I thought I was going to have to come in here and comment about the stereotypical homophobia of black folks.  Thanks for this!