Junior Burchall, a friend to the blog, perfectly critiques the asinine notion that homosexuality is un-African. He writes,
”These ‘conscious’ folks sound like European, bible-bashing, rapist-enslavers.
they have absolutely no handle on the history of the Motherland and how same sex sexual intimacy had a Continental presence that went back thousands of years. here are three examples, off the top:
among the Maale of southern Ethiopia, men who took on female roles and had sexual relationships with other men were called ASHTIME. they were not shunned by their community.
the Dagara (of Burkina Faso) viewed ‘homosexuals ‘ as gatekeepers charged with the supreme responsibility of shepherding people between the world of the flesh and the world of the Spirit.
among the Meru (of Kenya), same-sex, sexual relationships were seen as normal. indeed, some Meru who occupied positions of religious leadership (they were known as MUGAWE) often wore women’s clothes and hairstyles. they were also sometimes married to men. [NOTE: the aforementioned predated the arrival of europeans by many, many millennia].
these ‘conscious’ brothers are viewing Afrika through the pale, bleu eyes of the folks who brought them the king james version and made cruel sport of the slaughter of their Ancestors. and they think that – because they’ve read a few chapters of Diop and Dr Ben and have an uber-conscious-sounding online name – somehow, their homophobic bullshit is magically transformed into breakfast chock full of nutrient dense, culturally specific scholarship.
not so, not so…..
but, as with all systems predicated upon the aggressive suspension of reason and the uncritical devotion to the maintenance of oppressive hierarchy, the arguments of these pseudo-conscious, pseudo-afrocentric, Youtube minstrels are remarkably resistant to fact.
i tell ya, the always-busy intersection where various unjustly-acquired privileges converge makes for the strangest of bedfellows. it is there that you’ll find, for e.g., Umar Johnson and Mwalimu Baruti, cuddling up with the right reverend pat robertson and sharing sweet, homophobic nothings with the ever-insightful doyen of late twentieth century, lowbrow yankee bigotry, rush limbaugh)
call it what it is: pure, unadulterated, Eurocentric, patriarchal, anti-Feminine pfuckery.
…and yes, the ‘p’ is silent.”
Vernacular: The commonly spoken language or dialect of a particular people or place.
I begin this essay with the full understanding that definitions do not tell the whole story. I chose to define vernacular because I feel it offers an entry-level understanding of what I mean when I talk about the language of Black gay people. There is much more to the languages spoken by Black gays, but I do think the definition is a useful starting point.
I believe that I have always known of Black Gay Vernacular, to some extent, but my full awareness of, and entrance into, the language came when I created an account on a site titled Black Gay Chat. This site, populated mostly by Black gay men, provided me with an entrance into Black gay culture. It was in the forums of this site that I began to dialogue with Black gay people from all over the world. Reading the profiles of members, conversing with members in chat rooms, and reading message boards, were some of the ways that I began to access a language that I would come to learn and love. I would begin to learn all about “the tea,” and “shade,” on this site, but it would take another experience to truly familiarize with Black Gay Vernacular.
Growing up in a small, predominately White, town did not provide me with much access to Black gay life. The only openly gay person that I knew of in my immediate surrounding was a drag queen named “Punk Jerry.” I always found Punk Jerry to be thrillingly entertaining, if not a little misguided and the subject of constant taunting, but he carried himself with a confidence that anyone could appreciate. As far as small town life goes, Punk Jerry was a Polar Bear in a desert, but insisting on his right to exist there, none the less.
So, in the fall of 2006 I entered college as a freshmen student at Florida A&M University. It would be in this environment that I would come to fully integrate myself into Black Gay Vernacular. In college, I came into contact with a host of words and expressions that I had never heard of. The Black gays in this college town had a language all their own, one separate from the language used by the heterosexual environment of my youth. In the settings I found myself in college, “shade” “the tea,” “miss girl,” “yes ma’am,” “stud,” “femme,” “paid it,”, “kiki,” “read,” “Alice,” “sick’ning,” “trade,” and “late” were the words commonly and affectionately used. Learning this language was like learning any other language, it took work and familiarity with those who spoke it. I would become familiar with this language by my continued embracing of the Black gay culture of Tallahassee.
I’d like to share some examples of Black Gay Vernacular in action. If you’re not familiar with Black gay culture, you likely won’t understand a word of what I am saying, but for those who are familiar it will be like talking to an old friend.
“The real T is that mama couldn’t get her coins up so she boosted that store and trade called Alice.”
“That performance last night was sick’ning. He cleared it, and the late kids couldn’t take.”
“The kids are going to gag when I tip through the bar.”
“Shade comes from reading.” – Dorian Corey (Got to know my history)
“That gave me my life.”
“The kids cleared it, last night. They did not have it!”
These are but a few examples of Black Gay Vernacular, in action, and I could honestly go on all day with colorful examples of the language. I could explain what it all means, but I think an understanding of the language should come with access to the group that uses the language. As the saying goes, to know there you have to go there.
The conditions that make a Black gay vernacular necessary are the same as those that underlie the development of all languages. There has been, and remains, a need for Black gay people to communicate with each other, removed from the gaze of heterosexual gaze. The vernacular employed by Black gays does not need to be validated by outsiders because our participation in it, and continued invention of it, is all the validation that is needed.
Like all languages, there are certain issues that pop up in Black Gay Vernacular. There are many within the Black Gay Community who rightfully contest the usage of certain words and expressions, I being one such person. I have called into question the use of popular word “fish,” and many others take issue with the use of “girl.” I do, however, feel that these words can be used among familiars, such as a group of friends, but the issue comes into play when people use the word with those they are not familiar with.
In my opinion, the future of Black Gay Vernacular is bright. New words, phrases, and expressions are being created every day. Somewhere, a creative young gay is crafting term to express themselves and their friends, and this act represents the vitality of language.
Toni Morrison once wrote, “We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.” The language of the Black gay community remains one of the greatest measures of our lives, a reminder of our creativity, our insistence on expressing ourselves in a racist and homophobic society.
Many have contributed to the creation of a Black gay vernacular, but I would like to close by paying homage to one of the legendary queens of the Black gay community– Dorian Corey, of Paris Is Burning fame. I’ll never forget Dorian Corey sharing the etymology of the term “shade.” I celebrate you Dorian as I celebrate the Black Gay Vernacular that I so love.
Ideas often come to me at the most peculiar times. The idea of this essay came to me while I was sweeping in the den of my house. I’m not sure what that says about the overall idea, but I am very fortunate that it did.
As I went about sweeping my den the nature invisibility, or rather visibility, as it pertains to those in the gay community appeared in my mind. I, and I am sure countless others, have heard the homophobic argument that homophobia isn’t an issue, or a serious issue, because unlike race or gender, it’s something that you can hide. These homophobes believe that because one cannot hide the color of their skin or the fact that they have breasts, homophobia isn’t the same as racism or sexism. The idea being that that gays choose to display their sexuality, and as such those who are victims of homophobia are often asking for it.
On the surface this seems like a somewhat logical belief. There is something to be said about the way skin color or sexual anatomy presents itself in an overt form making it easily identifiable for racism and sexism. But, I would like to suggest that homosexuality, or at least the characteristics that we associate with it, also presents itself in overt ways which make it easy for homophobes to marginalize and oppress homosexuals.
We are trained in this white supremacist patriarchal society to see race and gender. We are taught to associate certain characteristics with race and gender, and to pinpoint those characteristics when they are expressed. The way one walks, or talks, or who the person hangs out with, are all ways that racist and sexist people identify and discriminate against people based on their race or gender. However, this phenomenon is not unique to race or gender oppression.
Homosexuals, whether they choose to or not, are daily assaulted by the expectations and assumptions that we as a society place around sexual orientation. From an early age children have their gender expression policed in this society, and this often results in them being the victims of homophobia. If a little boy walks to feminine or if a little girls voice is too deep these are things used to police their gender, and are also used by homophobes.
As we get older the way homophobia pinpoints us does not change. I can think of countless occasions where I have been the victim of homophobia based on things outside of my control. I do not choose to hold my hands the way that I do, I do not choose to walk the way that I do, I do not choose to talk the way that I do. i also did not choose for these otherwise empty characteristics to be associated with my sexual orientation. In a homophobic society these characteristics of myself render me visible, and thus prevents me from being invisible. Of course, I could possibly do things to render myself invisible, I could try and walk and talk in a different manner as many do. As a gay person my sexuality is just as overt as my race and my gender.
The belief that sexuality isn’t visible the way race or gender is, is a myth homophobes use to diminish the realities that gays face. It is about denying our struggle and the oppression that we face. We live in a homophobic society where gender expression is linked with sexual orientation and that underlies much of the oppression that homosexuals face. As a child I longed to be invisible, and sometimes I still wish to be rendered invisible. I did not choose for my sexual orientation to be linked to my gender expression, but that is the way that homophobia works, and as such the myth that sexual orientation is invisible, unlike race or gender, is one that continues to harm those in the gay community.
The construction of heterosexuality has had many effects on the construction of homosexuality. This construction has meant that homosexuality has been associated with certain characteristics and many stereotypes. Homophobia makes it almost impossible for gays, or anyone for that matter, to be have an invisible sexual orientation. The time has come for us to realize that sexual orientation, like race and gender, is visible. The myth of invisibility must end.