BlaQueer community members, scholars, artists, lovers and griots have long discussed the effects of normative masculinities on our livelihoods and our struggles with and against the hegemonic portrayal of maleness. While (white) maleness is often defined and recognized as the paragon of human existence–economically, physically, intellectually–black maleness has been imprisoned in controlling images as a type of mutated maleness. Black masculinity is similar to white masculinity insofar that neither tolerate femininities and both are situated in the sociopolitical domination and dominion over the female body and the effeminate male. However, while white masculinities are envisioned, situated and maintained as benevolent, sexually desirable and measured patriarchs, black masculinities are marked as dangerous, hyper-sexual, erratic and animalistic in our white supremacist, heterosexist, patriarchal, capitalist society. This demarcation of the black male as an uncontrollable, yet attractive, nuisance births the socio-legal logic necessary for state-control of black bodies through various social, political, legal and extrajudicial apparatus and phenomenon, creating a collective indifference and communal shrug when black boys and men are routinely killed, discarded and swooped up by the state in jails, prisons and community supervision. Because black men are seen as a natural nuisance, it inevitably becomes the job of the (white supremacist) state to provide a sense of order, calm and control and it does so through its indiscriminate policing and slaying of black boys, men, bois, girls and gurls.
In Black (heterosexist) spaces black masculinities are often constructed similarly to white masculinities. They are the desirable patriarchs. Where the white supremacist gaze posits black male sexual virility and general power as dangerous mutations, the black gaze notes them as points of pride, if not necessary characteristics for survival where one is constantly battling white supremacist, capitalistic machinery for humanization and access to sociopolitical resources, goods and services. This reverence (and longing) for the omnipotent, omniscient black patriarch–situated and proved by his masculinity–often obscures or erases the role of the left of masculine, and/or BlaQueer male, and completely obliterates the central role and power of black womyn. Access to, and performance of, these romanticized, deified notions of black masculinity function as a method of gatekeeping. Those who fail, or decide not to, display the pre-authorized script are marked as in-authentic, insufficiently black-male and, often, a threat to real black maleness, the black family and blackness writ large. This reality births the liminal space that BlaQueer men must navigate. We are neither white nor the traditional black patriarch yet our safety, sanity and success is measured and threatened by (in)access to both. This necessitates the creation of a space for other brothers, brothers like us.
The importance, emergence and longevity of BlaQueer, male spaces has been documented in works such as “Paris is Burning” and the artistry, poetry and essays of historic and modern griots such as: Essex Hemphill, Joseph Beam, James Baldwin, Kenyon Farrow, Dr. Jafari Allen, Rotemi Fani-Kayode and many others. From slave-ships and auction blocks to ballrooms and barber shops, BlaQueer men have long-established and maintained spaces of relative safety, affirmation and fuller existences. Masculine anxiety, homo-antagonism, white supremacy have necessitated the creation of alternative communities and spaces, lest we forfeit portions of our selves and circumcise the components of our realities. These spaces provide a home to a diaspora of diasporas. They allow for safe(r) exploration of sexualities, (non)genders and notions of queerness and blackness, allowing for those pushed to the margins to exist and thrive at the center of their own world. While these spaces provide an undeniable layer of protection for its residents, to understand them as a simple reaction to violence would be both misguided and incomplete.
BlaQueer communities are a fertile birthing place r/evolutionary existences and creativity; complete with new languages, phrases and ideologies that connect, unpack and dissect seemingly disparate realities, circumstances and politics. BlaQueer folk are griots, translators, pedagogues, artists, healers, lovers, activists and truth-seekers. They are fashionistas, writers, speakers, bloggers and creators. They work with their hearts, hands, minds and bodies. Their bodies are central locations of conversation, meaning-making and perfect imperfections. In short, BlaQueer men are a cosmos, affected but not contained by the bounds neither blackness or queerness. In the words of Whitman, we are vast and contain multitudes. We are masters and queens of the in-between. We have perfected liminal existences, particularly those between masculinity and femininity, into an art. We have coined positive terms for, and promoted acceptance of, left of masc and femme men while also noting and promoting them as the ambassadors of our people. While much work remains in the full acceptance and celebration of femme (and trans) men, due to our continued internalized (sexual) masculine-anxiety, our community spaces are arguably one of the few places where femme and (especially) left of masculine men can and do flourish, thrive. But can masculinity be counted among the welcomed multitudes of our cosmic existences?
How do we contend with the hegemonic role of masculinity in society writ large, while also noting how access to femininity, or social, physical and verbal performance of the so-called “feminine” (see: tea, beat-faces, shade, walks, style,”girl”, “sis”) might function as entry points to authenticity in BlaQueer spaces? Those of us who identity as Femme, Queen, ButchQueen and Trans have our identity branded onto our flesh. For better and for worse, we are not called to assert or prove our queerness. Our identities have long-standing histories and communities within the BlaQueer spaces. However, the same cannot be said for masculine men. Their type of other is often seen as too normative to be queer, and to privileged to need community. While we cannot deny the power and privilege of masculine performance in society, we must analyze whether and how this changes in our spaces. The overtly masculine gay or bisexual male is often read as a temporary or probationary community-member at best and marked as Trade, Downlow or confused. These markers have the effect of erasing their queer existences, obscuring access to a queer identity and resurrecting antiquated tropes about black, male sexualities rooted in historical, racial-sexual terrors. This type of authenticity-checking relegates the performance of normative masculinity, and proximity to it, as both desirable (sexually), alien (due to in-access to aforementioned community/cultural markers) and threatening (sociopolitically).
Taken in context, an aversion to, and skepticism of, masculinity is understandable: it has been purposed again and again as a bludgeon against queer men of color. In order to perfect our community, we must answer a few questions. Do we wish to be a discursive, radical culture that creates a safe(r) space for all BlaQueer men? Can one be both masculine and queer? Can masculinity be queer? Or is it simply a reflection of patriarchal power and desire structures? Alternatively, is the “femme-ish”, dominant portrayal of queer, men of color culture(s), identities and spaces simply an inversion of masculine privilege; where incidental access to femininity or the ability to gender/code-switch or perform is a requisite, privilege or passport required for queer-authenticity, marking fluidity as a form of (sub)cultural power? We must question and note how power is moving, where it resides, whether its present function is problematic and if so, should we care? Finally, we must question the effects of power, through the role of femininities and masculinities, in the birthing, perversion, strangling and maintenance of restorative, healing and liberatory BlaQueer communities.
There is no question in my mind that BlaQueerness is expansive enough to include both masculinities and femininities without inspiring or permitting friction or a continuation the masculine privilege exerted in the American, heterosexist, patriarchal society. I posit that it is not only the role, but the nature of BlaQueerness to mark, encourage, celebrate and translate the flow between and among our masculinities, femininities, ethnicities and non-genders. We are a diaspora that is fine-tuned for imaginative reconstruction, hopeful reconciliation and complex and compounded existences. In our blood, one will find a chorus of contradictory narratives, truths, performances and existences that map and center the margins of our his/herstories. Just as our bodies have made peace with warring pieces of our selves, our community is called to continually become whole, reclaiming our cosmic existence as an inarticulable juggernaut of perfect, imperfections. In order to create and maintain true liberation, we must discard the master, the tools and his houses.