It’s Time to Be Honest about Black Male Queerness & Black Women
This is a conversation conversation that I’ve sat with in the months since Kim Burrell infamously added another face to mural of homophobic religious leaders. In most public platforms, homophobia is near-guaranteed career suicide. Yet, in the church, it is not only par for the course but grounds for protection.
[Light Spoiler] On this week’s episode of Greenleaf, Kevin finally indulges in a physical expression of his same-gender attraction. In a Greenleaf Discussion Group, there is a near-weekly lament of the queer storyline. [For the uninitiated, this story arc runs parallel to one involving the pedophilia of a church elder against young girl. This is far less lamented than the queer storyline.] And almost always, the conversation is dominated by the Black women in the space. To its credit, many of us try to break up the homophobic commentary with injections of common sense, but we’re often drowned out. Last night, an exasperated group member lashed out with this post:
The responses were the real gems. As I stated before, the voices of reason are often drowned out by the drones of status quo religious bigotry.
A fascinating concept, especially out of the mouths of Black women. We tend to forget that we too are victims of the same heteronormative patriarchy that fuels the sexism and misogyny that we experience in our sanctuaries and pulpits. As is evidenced by the exchange below:
In the words of George Johnson of The Grio: “there is an unspoken synergy between black women and black gay men; an understanding of how their plights at many times intersect and create naturally-formed bonds based on their lived experiences within the context of patriarchy and hyper-masculinity. Black women who have spoken against LGBTQ-identifying people only expose the hard truth: there’s much work to do to reconcile these often broken relationships between black women and their same-gender loving counterparts. Though it’s trendy to have a gay BFF on social media, black women don’t always show up in droves when it comes time to stand up against the violence and oppression of black gay men.”
Homophobia in High Heels & High Places
Unless you’ve been under a rock, you know all about Kim Burrell and her homophobic remarks. Among other fiery condemnations, Burrell called homosexuality both perverse and subject to a certain death in 2017
The response was starkly opposing, with most planting themselves firmly against or in support of her comments. There was public fallout. Burrell’s invitations to appear on the Ellen show and be presented honors at a BMI event were rescinded. We do live in a country that guarantees the freedom of speech. Yet, with big mouths come big responsibility to deal with the penance for our word choices.
There has already been much in the way of thought pieces on the morality of Burrell and her sermonic content. Yet what I found interesting was the posturing of Black Christian women in this conversation. Women who, on any ordinary day, advocate for our sexual liberation chose to use the bible to oppress Black LGBTQI people.
In listening to Kim Burrell’s verbal evisceration of Black gay men, as well as the response of many Black women, I have to ask: why do we continue to make gay men our enemy?
The Unspoken Bond
Cishet [defined] Black women have an appropriative at best and terse at worst relationship with Black gay men. We’ve, by and large, co-opted the language of Black gay ballroom culture and claimed it as our own. We love to shout “yaaasss, slaaaaayyyy” and congratulate one another on “reading” and “shading.” We seek out gay men to “beat” our faces and “slay” our hair.
Yet, in all of this, we have no problem gaining our liberation at the expense of these same men. Somehow, their humanity becomes blurred by our vision of queer identity and culture as merely a trend to assimilate into our own.
We blame them for our singleness, consoling ourselves with the [false] belief that we’d be happily coupled if not for their existence. We put them on the altar of sacrifice in our churches so that we may seek elevation within religious patriarchy. We ostracize effeminate Black gay men as trying to “be us” while we parrot the culture they’ve distinguished for themselves. Our relationship with LGBTQI folks, especially Black gay men, is quite similar to race relations between the dominant race and minority identities. We happily benefit from the good while drawing a distinct line in the sand at viewing, treating, or defending them as our equals.
A Roundabout of Conflict
The antagonism between us is not one-sided, however. Not by a long shot. Black Gay and Queer men who continue to uphold sexism and patriarchy stoke the ire in our already fragile relations. To be clear: gay men can (and often do) participate in misogyny. We are beholden to the objectification and criticism of our appearances by queer men as much as we are by straight men. In our churches, we are criticized on everything from our hairstyles to our failure to wear the proper undergarments. Gay male culture has decided to, in its own way, define how womanhood and femininity should be presented. And, unlike with straight men, it’s not even born out of sexual attraction to our bodies. It is purely from their power as men to assert a dominance over our bodies and telling us, as men, how we can better exist as women.
I’m not sure if the chicken or the egg came first in the case. That is to say, I don’t know if we (Black women) antagonize them (Black Queer men) because they started it or vice versa. I do know that it is, at this point, and exhausting game of tit for tat that serves neither of us anything positive.
We Need Each Other to Survive
We are more similar than dissimilar to Black gay men. Perhaps more than many of us actively give credit. With respect to the church, neither of us experience healthy sexual dialogue or liberty. We both struggle to reconcile the beauty of our sexuality with the tenants of our faith. We’re both told by the church to suppress our sexual desires. Both of our sexualities are often blamed for the fall of otherwise “upright and upstanding men.” We’re both welcome to serve and lead auxilary ministries as long as our sexualities remain closeted and repressed.
Yet all too often, when given the opportunity, cishet women will join the chorus of oppression of Black LGBTQI lives in Jesus’ name.
More than what Burrell said is the vigor with which she said it. There was a distinct, unique malevolence in her tone and body language. It is one that I found all too familiar. It is one that embodies a distinct personal bitterness dressed in scriptural interpretation. It is one that is easily dismissed as standing for the kingdom. It is one that claims to preach in tough love but with well intentions to bring us all closer to holiness. It is the kind of religious mindset that cleaves to a “Love the sinner, hate the sin” ideology.
A Piece of Our Love
What is not is one that recognizes healthy love is not given in fragments. We cannot love people in pieces. “Love the sinner, hate the sin” treatment of LGBTQI identity is merely the cousin of “the sin was in the sex, not the baby.” The same bible we cleave to as a bat against our gay brothers is used to shame and berate us as well.
We are told that the fruit of our womb is shameful because it was not conceived in marriage. Then we’re told that the sin was in our decision, not the production of that decision. We then spend 9 months to a lifetime trying to atone for what we’ve been taught is an egregious error. We seek repentance in rushed, loveless marriages. We seek reconciliation through denial of ourselves. We seek atonement at the expense of others’ liberation.
The sexualities of cishet women and gay men are all too often fodder for shame and exploitation within the church. When will we see the parallels between ourselves? When will we recognize that we both want our identity and sexuality to be respected and reconciled? Both groups (both within the faith and beyond the church) want nothing more than to be whole.
Meeting in the Middle
Still, I recognize the change work that must be done requires an environment that fosters change. As progressive as my faith is now, I too am still working to undo the faith of “mama ‘nem” and reconcile my spirit to what I believe to be God’s heart. Moreover, I recognize I am only as “learned” as I am through the diligent patience of others in my process.
Yet I am but one person with one platform. I cannot—and should not—be doing this work alone. We need more safe spaces where women can healthily explore the why, when, and how of their ideological approach and connection to Black LGBTQI men.
One thing I know for certain, though, is that the liberation, equality, and respect of Black women, particularly in the church, should not (and will not) come at the expense of Black gay men. Our wholeness can only come through the transformation and renewing of our mindset.
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