Gay black men and straight black women have enjoyed beautiful, incomparable, amorous friendships since…well, since forever.
We’ve battled homophobia, patriarchy, misogyny, and sexism together — forces that render us both marginalized — throughout history (see: Toni Morrison and James Baldwin).
However, we both still enjoy privilege — whether male privilege or straight privilege — in our unions. And these spoils have caused rifts in what could be stronger bonds.
First, there’s straight privilege. Amid these nasty ideological battles behind mainstream issues like LGBTQ marriage, liberal media enjoys a bit of privilege in crafting ally-themed stories. And, when it comes to coddling the master narrative about straight women and gay men’s relationships, photos and op-eds often take on a sort of fairy-tale tone, illustrating a picture that kind of is but often ain’t. This behavior isn’t exclusive to liberal media either. Reality television, sitcoms, films and books commit similar offenses.
Mainstream media likes to pretend that liberal straight women are armored soldiers in the war for LGBTQ equality — entirely innocent and absolutely not perpetuating any heteronormativity whatsoever. But while many of us do stand with you in public political protest, plenty of us straight black women ignore our own private and social heteronormative behavior — and how it hurts you. We equate homophobia and conservatism with aggressive agendas like rejecting gay marriage, and forget that passive behaviors do just as much damage if not more, for the simple fact they occur inside intimate relationships, not all the way on Capitol Hill.
Many of my best friends, mentors and colleagues have been gay men. They’ve shown me insurmountable compassion and love, and provided me with guidance and resources. However, I’ve noticed, this love — a unique, grandeur sort of love that can only exist within the gay man-straight woman dynamic — is often one-sided and unaccommodating to the gay man. And so, I write to my gay friends in hopes of reassuring them that I’m the private ally as much as the public ally. I encourage other women to consider doing the same, if you haven’t already. Though, I do have a couple requests that I ask for in return of my own reflexivity.
First, I promise not to fetishize or “accessorize” you. Though we all enjoy television shows that depict black gay men living limited types of lifestyles — flamboyant and over-the-top — I understand the irresponsibility and immaturity in thinking you’re the same. I won’t expect you to know which shoes go with what dress — I understand that just because you’re gay, does not mean you give a damn or want to go shoe-shopping. More importantly, when it comes to fetishization of black gay men’s experiences, I won’t approach you to gossip about male genitalia and expect you to willingly want to disclose your own sexual experiences. I won’t play into narratives about gay men’s sexual deviancy. And I absolutely won’t “other” you into the human décor category. Your presence in my life as a human — not a “fabulous experience” — matters.
I promise never to compromise your comfort. It happens all the time. Straight women who allegedly love their gay men friends to death, but insist on dragging them to clubs or other spots where homophobic men harass them in the restroom, mumble “faggot” under their breaths, or behave disgustingly and mockingly on account of your “gay” presence. But leaving the establishment would interrupt her chance at being courted by the really hot guy at the bar — the one who’s hassling you the most — and so you stay, and deal, and hurt. It doesn’t matter that you don’t feel safe, comfortable, or welcome, as long as she’s mixing and mingling with fine homophobes, right? No. You don’t deserve these types of experiences, and as a straight women, I won’t put you in those positions.
I promise to fight the private, emotional fight in addition to public, political one. I’ll never out you to my family, friends, colleagues, etc. Introductions like, “Hey dad, here’s my GAY friend Josh!” are a blatant violation of your privacy. I understand that even if you’re comfortable and open about your sexuality, you deserve agency in where it’s actualized. My straight-privilege and fluid ability to go unnoticed in heteronormative spaces may render me blind to the discomfort and discrimination you might face in instances where your sexuality is made public. I get it. I respect it.
I promise not to flaunt my marital privilege in your face. Marriage and weddings represent an exciting blend of glamour, romance, and happiness, among other things. Ofttimes unknowingly, when women prepare for that once (or twice, or three times, or four times if you’re fierce) in a lifetime event, we’re giddy, overwhelmed, and superfluous in our conversations with gay men friends, not realizing that our blissful demeanor might trigger sadness, grief, or anger in them, because in most states and federally, bigoted legislation prevents you from having similar experiences.
Now, I do expect a couple favors in return. Please understand that sometimes, because you retain a level of male privilege, I am not automatically comfortable being called things like “bitch” or “ho” by you — even in fun or solidarity. At times, depending on situational context, it’s difficult to distinguish between the camaraderie version of “bitch” and the misogynist version of “bitch.” So I ask that you exercise caution. Just a little.
Then, I ask that you not disparage my body or my female genitalia in misogynist-fashion. Honestly — and this is where it gets complex — I don’t believe that black gay men speak ill of female bodies for the same reasons black straight men do. The oppressed space we share tends to get muddy, to the point where access to certain language or topics (like female bodies to black gay men, or the word “faggot” to straight black women) appear available to each other when in actuality, they aren’t.
If we’re going to make it out alive — together — we have to make our intimate, friendly space comfortable for each other. And we can do that by loving, respecting and listening to each other’s hearts.