24 December 2007

Shaming The Brotherhood (Part Two)

The Late Essex Hemphill

My letter continued:

Do you know what "queer" means, sir? It means abnormal, sick, aberrant and wrong. It is not a synonym for "different"! The word has a pronounced negative connotation, and contrary to what you may believe, that connotation hasn't been diminished by casual use. "Queer" is not the kind of name to hang around the necks of people who suffer disproportionately from internalized shame. It reinforces the pariah status we try so hard to shake off, both in the public mind and our own minds.

Also keep in mind that this word is not indigenous to the Black community; it's White idiom. In fact, a 2002 survey of Black Lesbians and Gay men by the NGLTF revealed that we overwhelmingly reject "queer" as an identifier. To try and shove that word down our throats is to engage in a hostile act. Are you a friend or a foe? I think it's safe to assume you're a friend, but given the language you use, it's hard to tell!

We surely don't have to pick up on every trend White Gay folk initiate, and we should purposefully avoid dumb-ass trends like "queering" ourselves. Too many times in the past, I've been called ugly names by Black men. I simply won't tolerate it anymore! Where is a Black Gay man to turn when even his own brothers attack him with insults? Sir, I would appreciate an apology.

I'm still waiting for that apology. Dr. Allen hasn't yet seen fit to contact me, and I doubt that he ever will. Looks like I was wrong about him being a friend! Well, It's not the first time I've given someone the benefit of doubt only to be disappointed later.

Well, there's going to be an apology today, even if Jafari Sinclaire Allen won't be the one who offers it!. I'm going to apologize on his behalf. I apologize to my fellow Brother To Brother contributors. I apologize to the Black LGBT community. I apologize to all of us who aren't enlightened enough to realize we deserve an apology. And I'm not being sarcastic, either!

I truly am sorry that Dr. Allen thinks it's clever to insult Gay identity. I'm sorry that he has such a strong need to identify with his oppressors. I'm sorry that he wants to give our oppressors more power over us. I'm sorry that he wants to give them control over our language. I'm sorry that he chooses to reinforce prejudice instead of disable it. I'm sorry that he thinks LGBT folk should claim the filthy trash our enemies fling at us! I'm sorry that he wants to shove every Lesbian, Gay, Pansexual and Transsexual person of color into a lavender box labeled "queer" and slam down the lid!

Please forgive him, Lord, because the man doesn't know what he's doing. And while you're at it, please forgive me for being so naive! I thought everybody involved with Brother To Brother was interested in uplifting Black Gay men. I thought we were united in a desire to break the shackles of ignorance, validate our life experiences, express our shared pain, and speak truth to power. I didn't anticipate that some of us would want to perpetuate the lies of the powerful. I didn't realize that some Black Gay men would see themselves through heterosexist eyes, and talk about themselves with hetero-fascist tongues!

Why didn't I realize that? Wasn't the evidence right there in 1991, on the pages of Brother To Brother? I ask myself today, had I ever really read Reginald T. Jackson's heartbreaking essay "The Absence Of Fear" before? Jackson wrote:

We must disarm the word "f*ggot" in order to move closer to our true selves. Whether we like it or not, we are the f*ggots we were cruelly called in grammar school . . . we have to endow "f*ggot" with alternative meanings that empower us . . . I'm willing to be judged and called names because I am, at the very least, a f*ggot, and that's all right. In fact, it's the way I want it . . .

As I said before . . . heartbreaking! Given such a twisted notion of empowerment, why should I be surprised now when Jafari Sinclaire Allen denigrates Gay identity so gleefully? Why should I be surprised when I turn on Pacifica Radio as I did yesterday morning, and hear a young Gay activist of color attacking "queers" who want to do mainstream things like marry and serve openly in the US military? Why should I be surprised when prominent Black Lesbians like Pam Spaulding and Irene Monroe refuse to even consider the possibility that their routine use of sexual slurs might have a corrosive effect on the psyche? I should know by now that the oppressor has programmed us to marginalize ourselves and undermine our own equality struggle. I should know by now how successful that programming has been!

Well, I may be naïve, but I'm not suicidal! Anybody expecting me to bond with other Black Gay folk over derogatory names is one brick short of a load!  Stuffed Animal don't roll that way!  Wicked epithets like "n*gger," "b*tch", "hoe", "f*ggot", "bulldagger", "d*ke" and "queer" are murder weapons! They target the intellect, the self-image and the soul. What "alternative meaning" can you give to an instrument of death? How does it "empower" you to aim it at yourself? It's impossible! You can place a murder weapon in a vase, spray it with perfume and stick blossoms down the barrel, but it's still a murder weapon, dammit!

When will we ever wake up to the fact that we're playing with lethal force when we toss these slurs around? We act like thugs who terrorize their own communities with illegal firearms; just like they do, we subject one another to drive-by shootings! The only difference is that we kill with insults instead of with bullets. Insults filled with internalized shame!

A brotherhood based on shame does not make for strong family ties. On the contrary, it destroys a family. If you doubt that statement, just remember the recent ENDA debacle, where Transfolk, the ones we felt most ashamed of, got kicked to the curb like yesterday's garbage!

Shame on the peddlers of stigma! Shame on the monkey-see-monkey-do mentality that facilitates sale of their disgraceful product! Shame on Jafari Sinclaire Allen and all Gay people of color who try to impose abnormality their brethren! Shame on academics of any orientation or ethnicity who serve up intellectually-sanctioned marginalization to Gay people! As Pete Seeger so mournfully sang in his lyric to "Where Have All The Flowers Gone" . . . when will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?


  1. Stuffed Animal: You write, "I should know by now that the oppressor has programmed us to marginalize ourselves and undermine our own equality struggle. I should know by now how successful that programming has been."

    The truth of this assertion can be seen in the lack of meaningful activism at the grassroots level by contemporary LGBT people. When one consciously and/or unconsciously considers oneself to be what the oppressor tells him/her he or she is, despite how "out of the closet" that Gay person may be, those negative messages have so infused the psyches of so many LGBT people that many, if not most, don't really believe that they deserve full and equal civil rights.

    Using demeaning self-identifiers in the guise of "progressivism," or in the guise of anything else for that matter, is indicative of the fact that deep down one really feels him/herself to be "a queer," someone who is not merely "different" regarding his/her sexual orientation, but one who is "disordered," thereby showing one's internalization of the homophobic messages to which Gay people have been exposed, and from which many have yet to be fully delivered.

    it is crucial that people listen and take to heart the message you are espousing here! Using negative epithets as self-identifiers validates both acceptance and legitimacy of homophobic rhetoric; shows that one is still imprisoned by the negative self-image that that rhetoric has engendered; shows the need to fully renounce that negative self-image if meaningful grassroots activism is to become a reality.

    And we begin that renunciation by refusing to incorporate or use the derogatory words of the oppressor; that renunciation will fortify and embolden LGBT people to engage in meaningful, coordinated grassroots activism that is the only way that full and equal civil rights will be obtained.

  2. What we're seeing here, Jerry, is classic abuse victim behavior! In his degraded state of mind, brought on by long-term abuse, the victim convinces himself that the beatings he suffers will hurt less if he uses his abuser's cudgel to beat himself. While it's true that he may use a lighter touch, self-flagellation is still a beating! (My God, Jerry, this sounds so Catholic to me! When we talk about Gay people, we can't seem to get away from religious metaphors.) Take into account, too, that the abuser still has access to the cudgel and continues to use it on the victim sans mercy. Worse, the abuser is now encouraged to intensify his abusive ways because he sees the victim cudgeling himself! It's positive reinforcement of a negative act! So our so-called reclamation of hurtful slurs leads to a vicious circle in which the brainwashed victim aids in his own victimization. The question almost nobody in the LGBT community is asking is this one: Why do we feel this need to be abused? Why do we go out of our way to demand punishment? We don't want to confront the self-destructive urge within ourselves. However, we absolutely must confront it if we are ever to develop that "fire in the belly" for equality that you talk about.