Shadow & Actbig ups the phenomenal work being done by black women documentarians. Out of 151 Academy Award-qualifying documentaries (admittedly a large pool), more than five were directed by black women, including Free Angela and All Political Prisoners by Shola Lynch and Valentine Road by Marta Cunningham. Jai Tigget writes, “…black documentary filmmakers – and black women in particular – are doing groundbreaking work that continues to be overlooked even within the doc and independent film space. The films listed above have been awarded and recognized widely on the film festival circuit, but many are still struggling to get mentioned on the shortlists that will push them towards serious Oscar consideration.”
Also included among the qualifying documentaries by black women, Yoruba Richen’s The New Black, about race, sexuality, and the black church.
But for those of us who have been attending Transgender Days of Remembrance (TDOR) over the last few years, it’s been fairly obvious that my Brazilian trans sisters are catching hell.
If you are of Afro-Brazilian descent and trans it’s even worse, as this year’s TDOR, approaching on November 20, and a perusal of Eduarda Santos’ Transfofa em Blog, documenting what’s happening in Brazil, will sadly demonstrate.
Global Rights.org recently released a report documenting what’s happening to my Afro-Brazilian trans sisters, and it’s not a pretty picture.
An annual report by Grupo Gay de Bahia (Gay Group of Bahia) or GGB, a leading national organization in Brazil combating anti-TBLG violence against LGBTI Brazilians noted that there was a 21% increase in murders directed at BTLG Brazilians between 2011 and 2012.
There was also a 5.6% increase between 2002 and 2010 in the number of homicides of Afro-Brazilians as they declined 24.8% amongst white Brazilians during the same period
The lack of Brazilian federal legislation to prevent violent acts based on sexual orientation or gender identity also has been a factor in fueling the anti-trans murders aimed at trans Afro-Brazilians.
The week of October 7th was Nobel Prize week. And for economists, writers, scientists, and those who actively work for the resolution of conflict, and peace more broadly, the announcement of the Nobel Prize awards are like the Emmys, Oscars, and Grammys all rolled into one. Those of us engaged in the fields of international relations, conflict resolution, and peace studies eagerly await the announcement of who will win the coveted Nobel Peace Prize. This year, many of us thought that it would be Malala Yousafzai (we were wrong, by the way). You’ve likely heard of Malala. And you probably know the names of the Peace Prize winners more than any of the winners in the other categories– Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu, Al Gore, and Martin Luther King, Jr. are examples of recipients. Peacemakers need not be academicians, have formal education, or even know how to write. They can be from ordinary backgrounds and do extraordinary things to change their communities, countries, and the world for the better. They actively work to undo systems of oppression and injustice. They are everyday folks who become our heroes.
Unfortunately, peace has long been regarded as men’s work, and the Nobel Peace Prize is still a bit of a boys club. There have been 125 winners of the award since 1901, with 100 of those going to individuals and 25 going to organizations. Out of the 100 individuals, only 15 have been women. That number totals only 15% of the prize’s overall winners. And even though they are largely underrepresented in recognition, the list of women who have been awarded the prize is quite commendable and distinguished. Jane Addams, Rigoberta Menchu, Wangaari Matthai, Aun Sang Suu Kyi and Mother Theresa are among those 15. One of the wonderful things about this list of extraordinary women is that, at least for me, it is easy to see some of myself in each one. They were humble women who saw communities or countries damaged by violence and inequality. They knew that no one is truly free when others are oppressed and they put everything they had into changing oppressive structures. The international community took note and recognized them for their efforts.
Yet there are some glaring omissions on the list of Peace Prize winners. For example, no woman of color from the United States, nor openly LGBTQ individual, nor an organization championing the rights of LGBTQ persons has ever received the award. This is hard to believe but true. If you look at the contributions of Black American women alone (some of whom are also part of the LGBTQ community), we have a rich history of peace activism dating all the way back to slavery and the abolitionist movement. We organized for civil rights and marched in Birmingham and Selma. Some of us even lost our lives during that struggle. One of us even spoke at the March on Washington (Daisy Bates, the lone female speaker at the event). Even after the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement, we continue to promote peace and the elimination of harmful structures in this country via the prison system, education, health care, public housing, etc. And we are not alone. Women of color in the U.S. have been incredibly active in championing and building peace. Consider Yuri Kochiyama, who was actually nominated for the Peace Prize in 2005; Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the National Farmworkers Association (which later became United Farm Workers), who organized for migrant workers and the poor; Ada Deer, a member of the Menominee Nation and as a Native American activist who was the first woman to head the Bureau of Indian Affairs — the list of activist women of color is long and distinguished. However, these contributions seem lost on the peace community.
I thought W. Kamau Bell’s interview with Jay Smooth was worth sharing and getting our readers’ impressions.
After some talk about Kanye West’s run-in with Jimmy Kimmel and the appearance of a White Jesus character at the first show of West’s new tour, the discussion turns toward the LGBT community and hip-hop, and Jay acknowledges the generation gap at work — while acknowledging the presence of LGBT rappers — in commercial circles.
“There’s a sort of old-fogey, anti-gay Tea Party contingent among hip-hoppers my age,” Jay tells Bell. “They see the tide of history turning against them, so they’re becoming this really loud, freaked-out minority who thinks that our culture’s going to lose its moral center if people are openly gay or wear skinny jeans and things like that.”
Jay also name-checks James Baldwin and Bayard Rustin and points out that the modern LGBT rights movement began with a “bar fight” — the seminal encounter at Stonewall.
“There’s nobody more gangster than the LGBT community,” Jay explains “If they knew their history, like, Rick Ross would be pretending to be gay instead of pretending to be a drug lord.”
Free-agent NBA center Jason Collins. Image via freddyo.com
Welts’ combination of optimism and apprehension is shared by many others around the league who are rooting for Collins, but recognize the forces working against him. They list any number of factors, some unique to his identity as the only openly gay free agent, others products of circumstance.As the league gets stretchier — with some teams employing as few as four conventional big men — fewer NBA jobs remain for a center whose primary on-court asset is interior defense. Many teams prefer to take fliers on younger prospects whose contracts can be discarded on Jan. 10, when the vets’ phones start to ring. For their part, the Warriors have stockpiled centers. They have Andrew Bogut, Festus Ezeli, Ognjen Kuzmic, Jermaine O’Neal and Dewayne Dedmon all under contract.
“The reality for our team is that we are really deep at the center position — there’s not a roster spot available,” Welts says.
League trends aside, nearly a dozen execs say privately that the media glare that would come with a Collins signing just isn’t worth the distraction to most teams. Locker rooms are fragile places already and not always receptive to change, and though NBA players as a whole are extremely professional with the media, it’s not their favorite half hour of the day. The easier it is, the better. If he were a rotation player or better, the thinking goes, the cost/benefit analysis might produce a different outcome.
In other words, the market for Collins would be bigger if he weren’t openly gay.
I am a trans woman. My sisters are trans women. We are not secrets. We are not shameful. We are worthy of respect, desire, and love. As there are many kinds of women, there are many kinds of men, and many men desire many kinds of women, trans women are amongst these women. And let’s be clear: Trans women are women.
The shame that society attaches to these men, specifically attacking their sexuality and shaming their attraction, directly affects trans women. It affects the way we look at ourselves. It amplifies our body-image issues, our self-esteem, our sense of possibility, of daring for greatness, of aiming for something or somewhere greater. If a young trans woman believes that the only way she can share intimate space with a man is through secret hookups, bootycalls or transaction, she will be led to engage in risky sexual behaviors that make her more vulnerable to criminalization, disease and violence; she will be led to coddle a man who takes out his frustrations about his sexuality on her with his fists; she will be led to question whether she’s worthy enough to protect herself with a condom when a man tells her he loves her; she will be led to believe that she is not worthy of being seen, that being seen heightens her risk of violence therefore she must hide who she is at all costs in order to survive.
By Guest Contributor Pier Dominguez It is perhaps a queer time to be writing about Whitney Houston. After all, she died over one year ago and the many memoirs and remembrances that trickled out since then–on television, magazines, newspapers and countless blog posts–have been replaced by fresher news in the celebrity gossip industrial complex. But nostalgia has its own rhythms.
It wasn’t until I saw Oprah Winfrey’s recent interview with Whitney’s mother about her memoir, in which she discussed Whitney’s relationship with Robyn Crawford that I thought about Whitney again. And it wasn’t until I heard James Blunt’s sad, poignant tribute to Whitney, “Miss America,” that the nostalgia led to more thinking.
I remembered that, at one time, I had been a pretty invested Whitney Houston fan. I wasn’t around for “How Will I Know” Whitney because I wasn’t old enough to follow pop music and she wasn’t a big star in Colombia—where I’m from–in those early stages. I missed her 80s pop princess moment, in which she brilliantly continued Diana Ross’ lineage of black feminine beauty and glamour and combined it with cheerfuly melodic Dionne Warwick-style pop music. She wasn’t part of my pop culture landscape either as the leather-jacketed, Babyface-produced, R&Bish “bad girl” of “I’m Your Baby Tonight.” My initial interest in Whitney came at the most obvious moment, during “The Bodyguard” era, when her worldwide celebrity was arguably as big as it would ever get, aided in part by the scandalous frisson of the heterosexual interracial pairing at the center of the film.
Before that, Whitney was perceived as having a perfectly prissy image in her shiny gowns. “There she is, Miss Black America,” Time magazine once exclaimed, and it was an image so overwhelming–such a model of racial achievement and gendered comportment–that even after Whitney’s death, Madonna said she envied her “innocence.” In truth, though she negotiated the public sphere differently than Madonna, she was always a liminal, contradictory figure.
From the start of her career she was accused of “selling out” and making pop music that was too “white.” The film pairing with Kevin Costner was part of that logic arguably. Her real-life pairing with Bobby Brown seemed to disrupt it, because he seemed too “black,” and some saw her wedding to the bad boy of R&B as a career move to appease less pop-oriented followers. According to Brown himself, it also seemed designed to manage other contradictions. Because it turned out her liminality was not only racial.
I had no idea then that there was a Robyn Crawford in Whitney’s orbit, always haunting her image, like some queer ghost. While Whitney was alive, every major profile of her, from Time magazine’s “Prom Queen of Soul,” to Vanity Fair’s “Thoroughly Modern Whitney,” would allude to the intense relationship between her and Robyn Crawford, which had started when they met at 16. It was brought up, often as a parenthetical aside, and left as an open question, denoting the relationship to connote queerness. Whitney would either deny it or say it wasn’t anyone’s business.
Black women’s sexuality is so often misread by mainstream culture as excessive and/or queer, that it’s arguably too easy to assume there is something beyond the eroticism of friendship going on between Oprah and Gayle or Whitney and Robyn. Yet after Whitney’s death, there were numerous non-punitive attempts to claim her as gay and contest the media’s representation of her persona. Peter Tatchell, a white gay LGBT activist writing for The Daily Mail, remembered meeting her with Crawford: “When I met them, it was obvious they were madly in love. Their intimacy and affection was so sweet and romantic. They held hands in the back of the car like teenage sweethearts. Clearly more than just friends, they were a gorgeous couple and so happy together.” Obvious. Clearly more than just friends. A desire for certainty.
In an evocative essay provocatively titled “The Widow,” black gay New Yorker critic Hilton Als remembered the early days of Robyn Crawford in the Cubby Hole on Christopher Street, where they “knew” she was going out with Whitney. With obvious warmth he calls her “our” Whitney, a queer, black Whitney before she was swallowed up by the racial and sexual protocols of stardom: “Whitney Houston’s alternately powerful and bland resonance for us was not inseparable from our queerness.”
Evelyn C. White, author of a biography of Alice Walker—a powerful artist who never denied the queer complexities of black experience—wrote in the comments, “Thank you so much for this honest offering of true black love. You’ve said what those of us in the black lesbian community have known in our hearts — for decades.” Truth, race, love. Race and sexuality, knowledge and heart.
Robyn Crawford herself, in an as-told-to article that appeared in her “voice” in Esquire, finally said her piece/peace without any mention of romance. Towards the end of the article she says, “I have never spoken about her until now. And she knew I wouldn’t. She was a loyal friend, and she knew I was never going to be disloyal to her. I was never going to betray her.” Speaking, silence, loyalty, betrayal. Betrayal of what? Speaking about what knowledge? Why the silence? As Eve Sedgwick has taught us, sexuality and knowledge have always had a fraught, messy relationship.
Perhaps that is why, in the Oprah interview, Cissy Houston seemed so surprisingly candid in admitting that she didn’t “know” the exact nature of the friendship between her daughter and Crawford. Beyond friendship, she didn’t know. It was precisely her admission of not knowing which seemed so rich with possibilities, seemed to say so much and speak so loudly.
Many commentators focused on her homophobic outburst, when she said she wouldn’t have approved of queer Whitney. For some, queer Whitney means white Whitney. This prompted discussions of homophobia in “the black community” and a reconsideration of what had led to her downfall: it wasn’t “too black” Bobby Brown who had ruined Whitney, it was keeping her sexuality secret from her mother (and the world) that had done her in. Life is incredibly complex, and it seems like biographical reductionism, part of the need to make everything into a cohesive narrative, to claim Whitney’s problems all came from having to “hide her sexuality.”
Yet I understand the feelings of sadness and anger upon sensing that it had turned out to be “true” that there was a queer Whitney. I was saddened and it was an overwhelming feeling because of the totalizing way we are still made to think of sexuality, as if it’s a matter of true or false, black or white, all or nothing. That is part of the problem—though perhaps also the pleasure–of sexuality as we currently conceive it. It can create such an alienating wedge between oneself and someone, even while celebrity identification can feel so full and intimate. As James Blunt sings in his tribute, we thought we “knew” her through the bars of a song and her face on the silver screen.
Whitney’s queer afterlife divides her public once again: Whitney, we hardly knew you. Whitney, we knew you too well. What does it mean to “know” somebody? Why do we align sexuality and race with truth and knowledge? Whitney, who was such a big star, teaches us something in her afterlife. She teaches us about the size, color and emotional resonance of “sexuality.”
Now we have James Blunt’s white soul tribute to Whitney. Blunt has himself teased the public with “knowledge” about his sexuality, falsely “coming out” and later denying it. Gay or not, he has created an affecting, cross-racial, queer tribute to a diva—one as delicate and haunting as Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind” about Marilyn Monroe. He sings, in the melodious way she might have sang it, “No Goodbyes/You’ll always be Miss America.” But the resonance of that innocent pose will always strike everyone differently. Queer Whitney haunts us all.
Race, Culture, and Identity in a Colorstruck World