As I was browsing through the interwebs today, I came across an article written by Sierra Mannie for Time Magazine’s opinion section, available here. After reading it, I feel compelled to respond. There are times when you read something and the message begins to deviate from the delivery – this article left me straddling one hell of a median after just the first paragraph from a legitimate gripe to a full-on bashing of White Gay men and their own struggles.
First, let me begin by saying this: I’m one of the White Gay males you refer to. I don’t appreciate the tone of your article. You clearly don’t understand the struggles that the LGBT community, particularly Gay men, have to deal with. While there’s no excusing the mockery of traditionally Black, female names, you go way beyond this. So let me throw a little bit of truth tea your way.
Gay men are 500% more likely to be physically attacked than Persons of Color, and 250% more likely to be attacked than Gay women (here’s some proof). Those are 2012 numbers, mind you, which is a long way from the electroconvulsion “therapy” that many in the LGBT community experienced only a few decades ago. Gay youth have a 300% higher suicide rate, and it only improves slightly from there. Did you know that two whole decades after schools were desegregated, homosexuality was still considered a mental illness by our country? Did you know that sodomy – the law used to terrorize and ruin the lives of many Gay men and force them into the hiding you so forcefully suggest they can be comfortable in – was only struck down in 1996? That’s less than two decades ago. Were you afraid of being arrested or worse when you met your first love, or had your first sexual experience?
Is Racism alive? Sure, but we’ve been talking about it for almost a half century, and there has been progress. There’s a good chance you weren’t alive when Jim Crow terrorized your family, and it’s feasible you weren’t watching live television feeds of young Black children being shot with rubber bullets or water in the sixties. Everything my first boyfriend and I did was illegal, and I watched my first crush get beaten so badly that he was placed in a hospital, his family forced to leave our town because he “acted like a faggot”. At my current age, I still have to remind myself that it’s okay to love someone. To have feelings, and to be myself.
The first long-term relationship I saw in-the-flesh was ended after over five years when a group of 6 Black men beat him so severely he had his jaw wired closed. He physically never looked the same again. He had his head curb-stomped, literally, by a half-dozen men for walking out of a Gay club. In the ten years since that happened, I’ve seen him exactly once since. His relationship is over and he’s comfortably living by hiding who he is from everyone, enjoying all his new-found privileges.
I should mention to you that every time I’ve been attacked, physically or verbally for ‘acting’ Gay, it was by a Person of Color. Of all the people I know, the people who have it worst are Gay men of color, who have struggled to be accepted by both the Gay community and their own community for ‘acting Gay’. Your own community has an abysmal record in how they treat their own people when they are gay.
Your suggestion that privilege floats back when you hide your sexuality shows your lack of understanding. You are not privileged when you have to “make up” a girlfriend during company meetings to explain that you’re travelling to Florida with your partner of 7 years this Christmas, and you can bring your hetero-normative boyfriend (of color, or not) to company holiday parties with almost no fear of reprisal. You can even walk up to someone at a bar and tell them they are attractive, and they have a nice smile. The only place Gay men can do this (without a likely fistfight) is a Gay bar, which aren’t known as incubators of healthy relationship.
Young gay men of today grow up in a bizarre world, where everyone is assigned a supposed gender identity. Many are regarded as feminine and weak (and they spend their entire lives being treated as such – sound familiar as a women?) or end up developing hyper-masculine personalities to compensate for how they are treated. There are no healthy role models. When Clay Aiken came at the time, the news was awash with rumors of his fisting fetishes, and not his attempts at having a normal, healthy relationship and family. At least Black females have role models like Beyonce – there are no strong and self-determining Gay role models. Instead, our media is awash in incredibly distasteful representations and role models for LGBT people. And tons of Gay jokes, jokes that are still made on the air today. It’s not okay for anyone to make black jokes, in or out of the media. But jokes about faggots, fudge packers, fanny bandits and countless other colorful references to who my heart loves are still made today.
Do you know what it’s like to be so afraid of being with someone you love that you completely disregard any feelings you may have? That any emotions begin to hurt, because you know they can only go so far before you have to make great sacrifices to keep it? To be so desperate for connecting with another human being that you have to resort to the online meat-markets you ignorantly submit as evidence in your case? Did it occur to you that these places started out as safe spaces where men could talk to each other openly and safely and have since morphed into places that men, stripped of the right or desire to have normal in-person conversations and relationships, go to experience something? Before this were Gay bars (constantly raided by police, or nutjobs with guns, hatchets and other weapons) or even public parks, where the most desperate would go at night in the twisted sense of safety that others there were – just maybe, if you were careful, Gay? I’ve seen more acts against Gays in recent than anyone else, and the media doesn’t seem to pay it nearly the attention it deserves.
So let’s get out from underneath your delivery and back to your message. The next time you see one of these men, do yourself a favor and challenge your point of view. They might just be trying to relate to you, to be accepted, to identify. Sure, mocking Shaniqua’s name isn’t the right way to do it, but it’s completely short-sighted of you to twist an appreciation for Beyonce – at one point, a top-selling artist in America, into a rant about appropriation and privilege. You might add more to the world by being yourself and showing them a more compassionate, strong, nuanced and thoughtful person – and if they emulate those qualities, two people have benefited.