This post started out as a poem. It isn’t complete in any sense. It is, rather, a series of thoughts put together with a poem rounding it all out.
One of the most devastating and tragic effects of the human condition under Capitalism is the psychic dissonance erected in the souls of the working class. By this I mean that people are alienated from one another and themselves. My first boyfriend kissed as if bullets were coming through bedroom walls. When we touched it was like there was a profound fear and loneliness that needed desperately to heal. Our relationship was a closeted one and existed long before Oprah gave it the name “Down Low”, before the witch-hunt and the fire that came after that; the ways in which queer Black men became the scapegoats for all things AIDS related in the Black community. That persecution and hatred was one of the many reasons why he and I chose not to come out.
As I develop my Feminist, Marxist, Black and Queer politics more, I see a large absence of analysis of Black men’s particular oppression under patriarchy. I don’t see anything beyond a paragraph or a sentence and I believe it to be crucial to the revolutionary project to analyze the ways in which men, in particular Black men, are raised as half formed humans.
When we talk about Black men’s oppression it is essential to discuss the ways in which patriarchy has shaped a destructive silhouette of manhood. One of my most vivid childhood memories is of being punched in the chest routinely by my older uncles, not because I had done anything wrong but because that’s he way young boys were taught to be men. When we were stopped from crying it was a hardening; a training in being void of emotion. These scars carry into our adult lives, as we become fathers, lovers, and friends. Something as simple as saying “I love you” becomes an illusive and rare thing because of the immense vulnerability shown in the statement. A hug or a kiss, especially given to another man, is something not commonly given because these displays of emotion tear at the very foundation of our socially constructed manhood. Our male-ness is sheltered in by our hardness, and guided by our erections and fist. To be male means to dominate. This holds true for most men, but especially for men of color, whose identities are measured against their white male counterparts. And it is this mix of oppression and male privilege that makes non-white male’s existence so damaging. Men of color often times find themselves attempting to access a power that is never completely within reach and this creates a violent nervous condition within the communities we occupy. To be queer and Black was the ultimate betrayal to the race and gender. You are screaming against the wall of silence that surrounds Black sexual politics and divorcing yourself from a male identity that was built through the domination of womyn.
It would be easy to just dismiss men as “men” (this fixed evil creatures), but that would not be revolutionary or productive to anything other than out and out separatism and the abandoning of hope in the human species. Additionally, since we are talking about Black men here, my position as a Black male does not allow me to dismiss members of my race like this. Our shared racial oppression binds us; holds us together. Instead I want to build a politic that challenges men’s position under patriarchy while understanding their development as a part of the capitalist structure. We have to learn to be kind to one another in this way, to strive to understand.
When we begin to talk about queer Black men, in particular ones that are labeled “Down Low”, we are delving into a deeper level of socially constructed behavior. I want to look at two points really on this subject. Lets see if we can expand this narrative a bit.
I would argue the capitalism teaches us that love is the stuff of co-dependency, annoying romantic comedies and monogamy- effectively destroying any true understanding of the word that could exist. In a way I’m saying that an idea such as true love is hard to understand and find in our current society.
In the case of Queer Black men and those labeled “down low” love finds itself struggling to find light. The common narrative is that a Black ma has a wife and leaves their bed at night seeking some high adrineline fuck by moonlight. Some time later the wife finds out that she has fallen prey to HIV/ Aids. Rarely do we ever unpack this and look at the men in these stories as fully human.
In a society where almost any love between men is vulgarized or unacceptable it becomes difficult to come to terms with the range of sexuality that we all possess. If we conceptualize male identity as one of power then homosexuality is an affront to that.
One of the largest and most violent arguments I had with him was when he told me to not “act like a faggot”. He wanted me to present myself like other boys our age so as not to incriminate himself and, in a way, to protect me from the harm that would come my way when people no longer tolerated my defection from gender norms.
In this instance we see how narrowly constructed and dangerous this idea of manhood is. For a Black boy who grows up with a little more switch in his hip, more sass in his speak, and more fabulousness in his genes life is a constant game of chess. Each movement must be deliberate or else. The violence with which flamboyance is met in oppressed communities is dis-heartening at times. This horizontal violence comes as no surprise, however. Often times, communities that are under attack from the larger society begin to police one another more harshly for difference and deviance from the prescribed norm.
So when we talk about the “down low” phenomenon or anything else in that vein, it is important to point out the material (and cultural) conditions surrounding actions. If there is a culture that violently socializes men in a manner that is incongruous without access the full range of human emotion, then we are setting up a situation in which we have people unable to be at peace within themselves. If men cannot access, understand, and express their essence then there is no way for them to do that with another person. Furthermore, in a culture that devalues femininity and builds the foundations of manhood in patriarchy there can never be a situation where men showing love to one another is completely acceptable.
As If Bullets. . .
I have been in the shadows with men
Known their loneliness
Kissed, held and touched it – tucked slightly behind their prostate
My first boyfriend kissed as though bullets were coming through bedroom walls
His narrow hips grinding against mine in the dark
hoping to communicate something that, if spoken, would mean suicide.
I remember the feeling of first laying my fleshy self down before him
Smelling him and listening to the command to remove more clothing
The way he felt around his shoulders.
The way his jaw line formed a perfect frame
The way he smiled when I found that spot on the back of his neck
I remember that knowing that came with pulling him in
Torn fabric and the faint sound of someone laughing
Around us, bawled up clothes, salted sheets, days when daddy didn’t show up and news clippings of attention worthy dead faggots formed mountains.
I’ve known how holding is dangerous and how men turn cold in an instance
How “cocksucker” stings and how he let them curse you