Dear Syd the Kyd,
Let me begin by commending on you for speaking openly and honestly about your experiences as a Black gay woman. I would also like to commend you for pursuing a path that has been difficult for gender non-conforming women like yourself. Unfortunately, there aren’t many prominent Black gay women who are singing and DJ’n, so that deserves credit unto itself. I truly welcome your entrance into the mainstream, but I do have some reservations.
Earlier this week, I came across an interview you did with the LA Weekly Blog, and I have to admit that I was disappointed by many of your views. I am not one to deny one of their opinions, as everyone has the right to one, but I was disappointed with the reasoning in which you constructed those opinions. As a Black gay man, I share your frustration with the lack of role models Black gay youth are afforded, but I think that is a separate issue from what you conveyed in your interview.
I understand that there are certain stereotypes that we use to determine someone’s sexual orientation, and usually masculinity in a woman is one of those things, but I think we do ourselves, as Black gays, a disservice when we try to force others out of the closet, or suggest that someone is a certain sexual orientation based solely on their gender expression. Yes, it is highly possible that Alicia Keys, Missy Elliott, and Queen Latifah are gay women, but they could also be bisexual women. You fail to challenge the heterosexist thinking that sexuality is either straight or gay. Sexuality is more than the dichotomy that such thinking relies upon.
In a society that promotes heterosexuality at every turn, being comfortable with a sexual orientation that goes against that will be a work in progress. Would I love for all gay, bisexual, and pansexual people who are in the closet, to come out and live their lives openly, honestly, and free from shame? Yes, but that is easier said than done when people are being shamed and attacked for being who they are. As a Black gay, I would expect you to be sensitive to this fact.
During the interview, you stated, “Do I look straight to you?” in response to a question on your sexual orientation. While I understand what you are trying to convey in your response, I think it is dangerous to suggest that sexual orientation has “a look.” Stereotypical thinking suggests that there are certain behaviors or looks that reveal a person’s sexual orientation, but this is simply not true, and if it is it certainly isn’t true for all cases. There are “masculine” women who are heterosexual, bisexual and homosexual; just as there are “feminine” women who are heterosexual, bisexual, and homosexual. There is more to sexual orientation than how we look and act.
I will continue to watch your career, and I wish you the best in your efforts. This letter, if it finds you, isn’t about attacking you, but rather understanding where you are coming from, and hopefully helping you navigate the often difficult road of being a Black gay person in the mainstream media. Your experiences are valuable, and I would never try to deny you of them, but I would like to challenge you to be mindful of the language that you use, and the ramifications of that language. As a Black gay who is gaining in prominence, you have a responsibility to challenge conventional thinking, but also be mindful of the ways that your words can support it. I wish you the best in your personal and professional pursuits.
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.