Dangerous Truths: An Agitation of Black Participation in the LGBT Community

By Myles E. Johnson

Where beer flows or hugs are given, you can often forget as a Black person, that you are always in a certain amount of danger. Sometimes, it is physical, sometimes it is emotional, but the danger is always present. It is important to be cognizant of this danger, even when you are in communities that would prefer for you to think you are safe. There are communities that would prefer for you to believe you’ve found solace. This is a lie.

As a younger person in the LGBT community, I used to believe I found escape. I was conscious of the dominating systems that existed in the world, but believed, in bars and conferences, that those dominating systems were suspended. I believed these folks, because they experienced oppression because of gender and/or sexuality, were safe and would almost protect me from the domination that existed outside of those walls. They could relate. They weren’t just white people, they were LGBT white people. Therefore, they couldn’t possibly do harm towards me because they knew too well what harm feels like, and these LGBT white people were dedicated to ensuring no one was harmed ever again for any reason. This was a lie.

I can’t honestly recall a specific moment that my disillusionment with the lie of the benevolent and radical LGBT white person was fully formed, and I think this is because it was gradual. There was not a moment where I realized that White people inside the LGBT community were no safer than cis-heterosexual white people; there were simply bricks laid on top of each other that made this wall of truth that would not only be ridiculous for me to ignore, but dangerous. The bricks of evidence are plentiful, but I can feel each one. I can feel each one, not because of obsession, but because my flesh needs to remember the dangers exist in order to survive.

I have thought experiments where I imagine myself at the Stonewall riots. It is 1969 and perhaps I am reincarnated as a New York City rat. I think of the first fingers that gripped around the brick that initiated the riots. I think of how that decision must have been informed with a familiar type of disillusionment that I think a lot of black people in the LGBT community experience. It must have been informed by the realization that no relief exists when you are doubly and triply oppressed. When you realize the brick walls you found celebration in are not yours and the brick walls that cops push your face against are not yours.  This type of frustration, I imagine, could give one the strength to pick up a brick and throw it. Let it lead to death or chaos or revolution, it does not matter, because it was never yours to begin with. In this thought experiment, I run into the sewer and I return to reality. I remember the trailer to the Stonewall film that was supposed to recount these events and how the first brick was in the hands of a cis-gender white man. This possibility seems far-fetched at best when you think, even despite queerness, all that is at the feet of a cis-gender white man. In that decision to throw that brick, he’d have to be willing to die and leave the interlocking systems that privilege him. In that decision to throw that brick, he’d have to be okay with creating a type of chaos that might see him uncomfortable in ways that his whiteness lets him transcend. In that decision to throw that brick, he would have to be ready for a revolution, when in reality and traditionally, white gay men have only wanted to be able to fully participate in the dominating and oppressive systems while holding hands with their fetish or equally powerful white male counterpart. This does not concern the filmmakers of the film because the idea is not to represent or liberate through film, but to erase and reposition white people (even the ones in the LGBT community) as just as courageous, strong, and powerful as their cis-heterosexual counterparts.

James Baldwin explored his observations around White people in the LGBT community, “Their reaction seems to me in direct proportion to their sense of feeling cheated of the advantages which accrue to white people in a white society. There's an element, it has always seemed to me, of bewilderment and complaint. Now that may sound very harsh, but the gay world as such is no more prepared to accept black people than anywhere else in society.” This is the truth, and any time black people in the LGBT community attempt to deny this truth, we are put in danger both intimately and globally. It can be casual, like Marc Jacobs appropriating hairstyles that belong to the black community or being rejected (or fetishized) for your flesh.

You can also be Bayna Lekheim El-Amin, the black gay man that was found guilty for defending himself against another white gay man in a bar. In moments, we observed El-Amin no longer to be a black gay man, but a “hulking brute”, as described by New York Daily News. In a moment of convenience, Bayna Lekheim El-Amin was stripped of his membership in this precious LGBT community and was dehumanized, even with this incident being framed as an anti-gay hate crime despite El-Amin’s sexuality. Jonathon Snipes, the gay white man, found it convenient to erase El-Amin’s full identity, not just because he can, but because Snipes must beg for the acceptance of whiteness he felt like he lost. He must show that despite his transgression against the hetero-patriarchy through his sexual practices, he is still willing to participate in white violence. Jonathon Snipes, with his actions, has shown the imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy that he is willing to fight for what his whiteness has entitled him to despite queerness. He is willing to prove he can dominate and destroy a black body and life, just like his cis-heterosexual counterparts, and he succeeded. The truth is, this is the reality for most white LGBT members, and there is an incessant desire to participate in domination despite their gender, sexual or romantic practices. The idea that white people in the LGBT community have an inherent desire, informed by their sexual/gender experiences, to liberate others or find equity is a lie. A lie, if believed by black people in the LGBT community, can cost you your life. This is dangerous and this is the truth.  

Myles E. Johnson is a writer located in Atlanta, Georgia. His work spans between critical and personal essays, children’s literature and speculative fiction. Johnson focuses on black and queer identities, and specifically, the intersection of the two. Johnson’s work has been featured in Bitch Media, NBCBLK, Huffington Post, Out Magazine and The Guardian.

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