Please Note: This is not a comprehensive dissection of all-things-misogynistic in Black gay culture. What follows is an introduction to the issue, beginning with a (brief) exploration of the background and common circumstances of many individuals who are relevant in this discussion. There is much more to misogyny than words; however, this piece will be limited to critiquing common terminology in Black gay culture.
Two women recently shared with me their discomfort with the way many gay men use terms such as “bitch.” They felt that since gay men are still male and thus still have male privilege, their use of a term typically aimed derogatorily at women is disrespectful. Given my life experiences and current queer identity, I thought it appropriate to address the unintentional yet destructive misogyny of Black gay culture.
Black gay culture balances very delicately on the line between being grossly misogynistic and greatly influenced by the customs of women. While some gay men are just flat out sexist with no discussion necessary, others just do what they learned as youth among Black women. Evidence of the ways in which Black gay men have adopted, adapted, and appropriated the culture of Black heterosexual women can be found anywhere from language to idols to fashion. The “GIRL YOU BETTA STOP!” heard in Black hair salons is the same one heard in Black gay clubs, vocal inflection and all. Beyonce is hailed as a queen in each community, as are divas rocking the hottest fashion on the red carpet. To the untrained and ignorant eye, it is sometimes difficult to draw a line between the two communities, especially with the growing mainstream visibility of each. Black gay culture mimics that of Black heterosexual women, which in turn mimics that of Black gays. It is a cycle that has seemingly been in existence since the dawn of the cultures themselves.
How did this occur? Let’s speculate.
Disclaimer: My theory involves fatherless households; however, I am in no way implying that fatherless households are the root of all evil. They are not. Fatherless households merely contribute to the lack of knowledge of Black masculine culture in some young men. Furthermore, my theory does not assume that this is the case for all effeminate Black gay men. It is a possible general explanation.
Family matriarchs raise many Black gay men, immersing them in a divine culture of Black femininity and strength. In a patriarchal society, however, being a man with the mannerisms of a woman is grounds for exile. Given the social stigma and strong effemiphobia among Black men, these matriarch-raised gay men are often rejected from traditional Black male circles and thus opt to exist in the more familiar territory.
Familiar territories encourage familiar habits.
Black women often reclaim the word “bitch” as a term of endearment. A young Black gay man, immersed in this culture, bears witness to such behavior and does the same. At some point the young Black gay man ventures off into the world and encounters others like him. No longer surrounded by Black women, but instead by fellow Black men raised in a similar manner, old habits carry on. Thus, now exists a culture of men using terms reclaimed by women in a positive manner yet still maintaining their privilege as males. Therein lies the problem.
Misogyny in Black gay culture also rears its ugly head with the use of words such as “fish” and “cunt.” In each case, women are reduced to their assumed genitalia—and rudely so. The term “fish” derives from the occasional smell a vagina and denotes one who is or appears to be biologically female. Somewhere, somehow, Black gay men found it appropriate to refer women—yes, even the ones they “admire”—by this term. “Cunt,” on the other hand, is typically used as a positive support to femininity (e.g., “Marquis looks so cunt!). While it is slightly less of an issue in terms of praise versus insult, the term is no less problematic overall. Unlike with words such as “bitch” that are often used among Black heterosexual women, this time there are no excuses. I have never heard those of heterosexual culture use such terms; in fact, I have seen them express great confusion upon hearing the phrases for the first time.
Although none of the aforementioned terms are meant to cause offense, intent does not matter in issues of privilege abuse. Furthermore, it is difficult to believe that no one understands the implications of their language. To imply that a woman’s femininity is reliant on nothing but her genitalia is not only sexist, but also transphobic. To figure the best way to distinguish between a cisgender woman and transgender woman is by referring to their genitalia is equally problematic.
While I have yet to reach a conclusion regarding this issue, the conversation certainly makes one think. Is there a solution to this glaringly obvious problem? Before we answer that, we must decide whether or not Black gay culture is truly (albeit unwittingly) misogynistic. Terms in gay culture hold a different meaning than in the mainstream. “Fish” and “cunt” should most certainly be eradicated from gay terminology, but what about “bitch”? It is important to be culturally aware, but on which end and to what extent? Is the solution to be aware of your surroundings and use terms according to the dominant culture around you? Or, should everyone be aware of minority cultures and their terminology as not to be offended? Is there a middle ground and if so, who has to go how far to get there?
This is only one of many candid discussions between the Black gay and heterosexual communities that are desperately needed. Is a community plagued with self-hatred ready to learn to love another? As a queer man who has been on both sides of the fence, I am ready. Are you?
Fellow blogger Yolo Akili covered good ground on the physical aspect of sexism in the gay community. Peep his article ‘Gay Men’s Sexism and Women’s Bodies.’