I am a Black Gay Man in my early 30s who was born and raised in the suburbs of a major metropolitan city and for as long as I can remember I’ve received constant reminders that I am not “man enough” to be considered desirable, deserve respect, or to warrant love. In my adolescence, my uncle and his friends would pick on me because my mannerisms read effeminate. I was more interested in reading a book than playing a video game or playing street ball with the other boys my age. I completely stopped going to the pool and never learned to swim because the bigger boys would pick on me and either throw me into the water or hold my head under until the life guard took pity on me and blew the whistle for them to let me up. If I cried when my feelings were hurt, the men in my life would scream “Stop being such a bitch! Man up!”
I was bullied throughout school - one particular memory comes to mind: The first day of 9th grade I walked to my bus stop to find that I was the only one that followed the instructions of buying and wearing a clear book bag to school (which was for our safety) and the entire bus called me everything but a child of God for doing what we were all told to do. The book bag and the scrawny little dude who carried it were too gay to befriend and too feminine to be left alone. Recently, 18 years after that day, I read a post on Facebook that at once lauded a gathering of Gay, Black People at a Pride event (read: a celebration of ALL OF US) as the convocation of the ‘most masculine... men’ and pointed out an altercation that occurred as one between “fem queens.” I was incensed! (Queue this post).
“Gay men’s interests in masculine men only is not a preference - it's discriminatory and it's harmful.”
When we in the gay and black communities separate ourselves into groups of masculine and feminine and decry anyone who doesn’t fit the heteronormative definition of a ‘man’ we create barriers for addressing the real problems we face and we buoy the hazardous and hurtful stereotypes the very segments we’ve created are trying to combat. It happens in microagressions like “No Fats. No Fems.” and “Masc Only” on online dating sites. It happens when you make a determination on a persons worth or value when you ask him if he’s masculine or feminine. WHAT THE HELL DOES THAT HAVE TO DO WITH THE PRICE OF CONDOMS AT WALGREENS?!
I’ve got some thoughts about how we got here. It is propaganda of the Black Church. The church told us that to be considered a man you had to be strong, unemotional, a provider and head of your household. You must exude confidence at all times and your wife must trust that she can surrender to you. It continued with pop culture. The most desirable Black men in movies, rap videos, and on television are tough as nails, incredibly muscular, and exude masculinity. Steve Urkel wasn’t even hot until he got in the machine and became super debonair Stephan Urkél. We are indoctrinated with this belief that you have to be overly confident, unemotional, and aggressive in order to be men - and it is killing us.
In the gay community, I’ve often heard individuals define their interests in masculine men only as a “preference.” I’m here to tell you it’s not a preference - it’s discriminatory and it’s harmful. When you alienate a portion of the population because of specific traits and assumptions associated therewith, it’s no longer a preference. I prefer chicken and steak on my burrito at Chipotle. That doesn’t mean that Carnitas or Barbacoa is undesirable. I don’t say “No Carnitas. No Barbacoa.” I simply see the chicken and steak and I get the chicken and steak.
“Try as you might to distance yourself, the world will consider your sleeping with another man as something ‘un-manly’”
We fuel the very derogatory stereotypes that many of us seek to distance ourselves from by consistently pointing out that people who might also identify as gay or bisexual are not invited to the party because they don’t have certain traits. A man who chooses to carry a tote bag instead of wearing a book bag is no less a man because of his PREFERENCE for the tote bag. For the record: Your book bag doesn’t make you more of a man either. Identifying the guy who wears a fitted suit, and coordinates his outfit head to toe, might have a higher pitch to his voice, as something “OTHER” and therefore not a black gay man who deserves love and respect only serves as a detriment to your struggle and desire to be viewed as a man as well. Try as you might, the world will consider your sleeping with another man as something “un-manly” and lump you with that guy you’ve worked so hard to denigrate. In the words of one of the most brilliant and marginalized people of our time, Hillary Rodham Clinton, we are “Stronger Together.”
Allow me for a moment to shift the paradigm on when you see traditionally feminine traits in a self-identifying man. He still has testosterone, a penis, and selects male on the questionnaires - just like you. When you see femininity in that human being, who is deserving of your respect, think FeMANinity. He’s still a man at the end of all your denigration. Stick that in your backpack and carry it.