“Silence itself—the things one declines to say, or is forbidden to name, the discretion that is required between speakers is…an element that functions alongside the things said…There is no binary division to be made between what one says and what one does not say; we must try to determine the different ways of not saying such things.” Michel Foucault, History of Sexuality Vol. 1

Considering the height of contemporary social activism, the threat of a “post-racial” declaration before actual attainment, and the ongoing struggle with homosexuality in the United States, now is the perfect time to start discussing the “silences” of prejudice.  Clearly, we have seen manifestations of racism in the last few months that go beyond atrocious acts of racially derogatory name-calling and physical harm.  It is the ingrained social politics of discrimination that continue to prevent this country from sprinting toward a progressive nationhood and, eventually, social equality.

Professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell made a comment on MSNBC that caused me to truly reflect on the definition of racism, sexism, and homophobia.  She stated that we, as minorities, as women, as LGBT supporters, have not done a good enough job at explaining the evolution of these terms for our fellow Americans.  The majority of the country still is operating under old definitions, e.g., racism as spewing the n-word, sexism as being intentionally unfair to women, and homophobia as hating “gay” people.  As society progresses, the forms of prejudice will continue to change and evolve.  Unfortunately, the discriminatory ideologies surrounding these social issues are deeply embedded in our psyches, often causing us not to realize our individual participation in their perpetuation.

Over the last few months I’ve written, filmed, and read commentary, about controversial LGBT topics. I’ve encountered and combated a lot of anti-LGBT discourse that likely was not intended to be anti-LGBT.  A profound example of a popular anti-LGBT topic that I believe was not intended to be anti-LGBT, is the salacious “down low” phenomenon.  Time and time again I hear the same response from the authors and similarly minded commentators on these articles:

“I’m not homophobic.”

“I don’t hate gay people.”

“I love gay people.”

Really?  Are you sure about that?  I’d have to disagree—and I’d encourage you to hear me out.

It’s not about “hating gay people.”  That is a simple manifestation of homophobia.  I’m interested in what’s under the cornbread.  Let’s talk about the things that people don’t want to say, especially within the Black community, and the silences surrounding the discomfort of homosexuality.  Let’s talk about Black women in heterosexual relationships who freak when their male partners convey homosexual desires (it’s happened to me and, yes, I reacted the same way).  Let’s talk about the disgust and contorted faces that occur when we see a gay couple kissing.  Let’s simply admit that the majority of the Black community believes that heterosexuality is the norm, and that it is superior to any form of homosexual relations.

Beyond the conversations surrounding homosexual, disease-spreading promiscuity, and the growing rate of HIV cases for black women with unfounded evidence that bisexual men are perpetuating these statistics, our discomfort with homosexuality trumps all.  That is the bottom line.  We do not understand homosexuality, have been taught in our families and churches that it is abnormal, and, frankly, do not care to challenge or consider altering our beliefs.

We live in a society that places heteronormativity on the throne of social relations, e.g., tax breaks for heterosexual couples, skewed hospital visitation rights, limited access to child adoption, etc.

Heteronormativity is the institutionalized belief that heterosexuality is the best and singular mode of sexual and gender organization for society, creating a hierarchy in sexual politics that is detrimental to LGBT and heterosexual people.  Under this social model, technically, homosexuality can exist without any physical threat or ramifications, but it will never be treated as equal to heterosexual relations.

This creates an atmosphere of separatism where, essentially, most Black Americans adopt the attitude that insinuates that it is okay for people to be gay, just do it away and apart from the community.  We don’t consider it “normal,” but they have the “choice” to do it over there.  We find it “unacceptable,” but, hey, they can conduct their lives as they please.  Basically, let me forget that the “they” also is the “we” and that unfair sexual politics harm members of the Black community.  Yes, let me turn my cheek and pretend that none of this is intertwined, like this is not an equally pressing issue to racism and sexism.

Wake up!  Oppressions are not mutually exclusive.

Heteronormativity breeds homophobia like old garbage births larva.

This is not an easy or fun conversation to have.  I’m sure that I’ll have a number of nooses waiting for me online once this is published.  Before anyone throws his or her religious beliefs into this conversation, let us reflect on the numerous occasions in history where religion has been used as an oppressive force—including the 400 years of enslavement of our ancestors.  Please do not fall into that knee jerk trap.

I have no problem with anyone’s religious beliefs, but recognize that this country separates religion and state.  I challenge you to step outside of your personal beliefs about how you conduct your life in order to create a better nation.  For the record, I am a heterosexual woman who has no interest dating other women.  That does not make me exempt from tackling LGBT discrimination.  Racism, sexism, and homophobia remain intertwined.  Same script and, truly, an overlapping cast.

In the words of Audre Lorde:
For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.  They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.  Racism and homophobia are real conditions of all our lives in this place and time. I urge each one of us here to reach down into that deep place of knowledge inside herself and touch that terror and loathing of any difference that lives here.  See whose face it wears.  Then the personal as the political can begin to illuminate all our choices.”

We must move beyond simplistic analyses of sexuality and touch that terror of the “other.”  We can no longer afford to have discussions that only brush the surface of our fears.  Dig deeper, love harder, and think of those who stepped outside their box to combat other oppressions.  Sometimes, challenging yourself can be the hardest but most rewarding experience in social progress.

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  • Habibah

    Every individual deserves respect, love, and personal consideration but, People need to know for a fact that this is not something they have been brainwashed, media bomdarded, or tricked into by a society bent on corrupting everything sacred including the family structure. There are huge social consequences to taking this topic as lightly as the effect of fashion trends on next week.

    I know someone who works with “gay” teens and at a party for them she was overwhelmed by the smell of feces wafting in the room. One of them had a sex change and the surprising thing was that Medicaid ( a gov’t sponsored health program) paid for it when he was only 17 years old; before he even finished going through puberty! She cares a great deal for the teenagers, but is torn by realities facing us with what comes along with a “gay agenda” forced on our children.

    bottom line: this is not an easy topic to deal with or change peoples mind set about over night or even a couple of decades. We ALL have a right to our own point of view. right?!

  • Serenity

    After reading these comments the only thing I have to say is that for those who wish to quote the bible to back up what you say please PLEASE PLEASE make sure that everything you quote is going forth in the Spirit of God and not the Spirit of you. The most dangerous thing in the world is a fool with a bible in his hand. If you are going to quote scripture then I need you to not be religious but have a relationship with God so that you can be discerning, I need you to know your history behind the Word of God, I need you to know the facts behind the Scriptures, I need you to know what you know. The word tells us that the people of God perish from LACK OF KNOWLEDGE therefore, please use knowledge and wisdom in what you quote. Any parrot can quote scripture, the devil even knew the Word of God, which means that you need to come a lot better than that, and just because you are a Christian does not mean that it gives you a free pass to HATE anyone. Don’t just reference the Old testament, if you aren’t going to reference the New Testament PLEASE. If you really are concerned about the souls of those who feel it’s okay or that homosexuality isn’t a sin, then you go into prayer and you intercede for them and do it with love, God loves ALL OF US regardless of whether or not you’re homosexual. God hates the spirit that causes the sin. I’m a Christian but I support Gay rights, why? Because God gave us ALL free will and if that’s what they want to do then they should have the right to do it. Stop making God out to be some big bully with a magnifying glass and an ant arm, and if people don’t want to receive what you are saying then STOP! You are not to force ANYONE, you shake the dust from your shoes and you keep it moving. Homosexuality is a LIFESTYLE so if you’re going to tell someone its wrong, yes, you better be ready to back it up in a legit manner. And despite what some on here think, yes, God loves the homosexuals just like he loves the heterosexuals so why would you restrain anyone that God loves.

    At the end of the day if the marriage isn’t with someone God placed for you to marry then it’s not going to be honored by God anyway Gay or Straight, so there is no need to try and defend how “holy” the act of marriage is if the couple ain’t “holy”.

    I’m a Christian and I support Gay Rights, what I don’t support is those rights being used as a trump card to show your behind and act a fool, what I don’t support is Gays pulling the Gay card as an excuse to act like they don’t have no sense the same way that some blacks pull the race card. What I don’t support is PDA (just cause I don’t like PDA gay or straight so it’s my own personal thing). What I don’t support is Christians who try to be “all deep and extra holy” just to make someone else feel bad. What I don’t support is Christians who preach “religion” and not “a relationship with God in Christ”. What I don’t support is gay people that think ALL CHRISTIANS are “ignorant, hypocritical, people who believe in old tarnished ways” simply because you’ve been hurt by those who were ignorant, hypocritical tyrants, who claimed they were Christians. I don’t support Gays, I’m a Christian, what I don’t support is ignorance.

    • WOW!! One of the better comments I’ve heard. Ever!

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  • Anonymous

    If one believes that EVERY person on this earth has the right to live in peace but is not an advocate of LGBT, is that such a crime? I don’t want to see anyone – homosexual, heterosexual, transgender, or whatever, abused or harassed in any way but I am quite frankly getting tired of people that assuming I am homophobic because I do not agree with this growing population of so called homosexuals, etc. I am neither scared of nor hate homosexuals, etc. I don’t agree with homosexuality as a way of life for all the people who are claiming to be homosexual. I believe that we live in a media driven and hungry, perverse and over-sexualized society, and the rate in which we are seeing younger and younger, particularly, black youth claiming to be homosexual is very questionable and disturbing to me. There are some people in this world, and I believe it’s a whole lot less than we are seeing, who truly are homosexual and that’s all fine and good and they deserve to be respected. But the amount of folks claiming this these days speaks to a bigger societal issue of instant gratification, escapism, and lack of self identity. Homosexuality is slowly but surely becoming the norm, it may take a while but it’s getting there, and I just ask people to further investigate the root causes. Let’s weed out the real from the fake, respect the real as they are and work to heal the fake so that they can make a clear and balanced decision as opposed to one drenched in the problems of our society.

  • Peace Clutht, I agree with your sentiment regarding updating old categories and confronting the silences “under the cornbread.” But I disagree with your target– “heteronormativity.”

    Every society on the the planet has normative ideas about sexual orientation. In fact we could go further and note that all societies have normative ideas about social life. Indeed, societies can’t function without normative ideas. These ideas will naturally marginalize those deemed “deviant.” And there are always internal debates about where normative lines should be drawn–resistance from the margins (and “progressives” in the center), if you will. Doing away with normativity strikes me as an impossible task–perhaps even anti-social. Perhaps a better question is how we might encourage tolerance beyond our normative ideas about how society should work. kzs

    • hello, peace.

      I’m interested in understanding your disagreement with the idea of heteronormativity (going a little further under the cornbread. LOL).

      I agree when you say that all societies have ideas about what is considered normative, but an important point to remember, especially regarding our sexuality (and heterosexuality specifically) is it are largely based on religion (which is largely misunderstood — in my opinion) and colonized traditions.

      Societies *other* than Western have, for centuries, had many members who participated in homosexual activity and it was considered the norm. But again with colonization and religion came prejudices and marginalization.

      Our sexuality has been constructed as something that is “black and white,” but is not necessarily the case. We may verbally state something is normal, but that is only based on our conditioning and what is deemed acceptable and not necessarily our innate characteristics. So if we change the model of “normal” in this case, homosexuality, instead of attempting to increase tolerance, all sexualities would be a normative model.

    • I do want to say one more thing and that is you made an excellent point when you suggested we “encourage tolerance beyond our normative ideas about how society should work.” I think that is a great view to have in overall society, but more specifically when it comes to sexuality, I’ll have to stick my initial thoughts.