I’m Black And Queer At The Same Time, All The Time.

By Hari Ziyad

“When you walk through the door, what does one see?”

I have always found this a fascinating question for multiple reasons: first, it assumes people are present in every room to “see” and that those people all possess a form of “sight”. Then it assumes a uniformity of vantage points and a common language. Finally, it assumes their response is a comprehensive way of describing my interaction with the world.

When I walk through the door, different people “see” different things and explain those things in different ways.

But the room I enter is always set up on foundations built upon an oppressive country, and I am always me – a Black queer (or queer Black) cisgender male 23-year old from Cleveland, OH with 18 siblings, raised in a Muslim and Hare Krsna household, among many other things, and each of those things define me. Each of those things depend on one another in order to create me. And all of them enter through every door.

There seems to be a never-ending conversation around two of those parts of me specifically which I most recently saw continued in a piece (again) making the rounds on Facebook by Terrence Chappell published on the Huffington Post entitled “Why I’m a Black Man Before I’m a Gay Man.” In it, Chappell explains that, for him, Blackness comes first because “It doesn’t matter where you live or what kind of car you drive; to some you’re still a nigger, and that is the cold, hard truth about the world we live in today, and it’s what my parents had to teach me growing up. I don’t experience this with my identity as a gay man.”

While it’s true that Chappell’s experience is his own, and also true that anti-Black racism is sometimes more easily perceived than anti-queerness, to some I am similarly still a fag, and the question of putting one before the other and the willingness to answer it is part of a pattern of erasure all too familiar to Black queer, trans and women folk in conversations about Black and queer identities and what they mean. As a Black queer man, I can attest to how we are consistently asked to put aside either our Blackness or queerness in fighting for each respective liberation, implying that both Black and queer liberation do not rely on the liberation of Black queer folks, despite the fact that Black queer folks experience rates of certain anti-Black and anti-queer violences far greater than both their gay white and Black cishetero counterparts.

Empathy with Chappell’s reluctance to be defined by the mainstream (white) LGBTQ community that has a history of demanding Black queer people put their sexuality before their racial identity is one of the reasons why I identify as queer and so many others have chosen to identify as same gender loving (SGL) rather than gay, which has come to be associated with Whiteness. But the alternative erasure, the pressure to place one’s Blackness before their queerness, is just as traumatic.

As Michael J. Dumas, a professor of education and African American studies at the University of California, Berkeley explains, “the question (of which comes first) reflects a specific history of Black queer men’s marginality in both Black and (white) gay communities. The answer that is supposed to appease heteroblackness is to say we identify as Black first. That becomes our way of buying a bit of respectability–but only for those of us who can perform heteromasculinity. But in white gay circles–even if the question is never explicitly asked–many Black queer/gay men will go ahead and answer: ‘I am gay first. I don’t see other Black men. I don’t see Black in myself, except as white men desire it.’”

I have never heard a Black cishetero man or a white gay man asked which identity they put first, yet intersectionally marginalized communities are constantly expected to pit their marginalized identities against each other. It’s no coincidence that only marginalized identities must oppose, conflict and be erased.

If my Blackness and queerness are incoherent but a cishetero Black man’s cisgenderness and heterosexuality adheres to his Blackness, then it follows that Black is inherently cishetero (male). It means that Blackness and queerness must ultimately oppose. It means, as Chappelle acknowledges even as he reinforces it, “in the context of perception and the world, they are binary.”

But they are not.

As Kimberle Crenshaw explains in her exploration of the necessity of intersectionality, “the problem with identity politics is not that it fails to transcend differences, as some critics charge, but rather the opposite – that it frequently conflates or ignores intragroup differences.” Group binaries are enforced when instead marginalizations overlap, interact, and feed one another.

Though I am sometimes perceptibly queer without my explicit consent by virtue of my dress, association, easily accessible information or conversations, even if Chappell’s assertion that “at any point and in any space, I can choose not to disclose my sexuality, and thus be perceived as ‘straight’” applied to me, I would still be queer. Words, actions, behaviors, laws, and barriers set up to impede queer people (leading to real mental and physical traumas – including those directly related to HIV rates, depression, substance abuse, physical abuse, and poverty rates) still affect me even when not directed at me. How I’m seen is often less important than what I see (and feel): an anti-Black, anti-queer system working in conjunction.

And even as I write this, I must reckon with how my Black queer identity so easily becomes a stand-in for a Black, cisgender male identity, leaving trans folks, gender non-conforming individuals, and Black queer women to deal with a similar erasure and forced binaries. Beyond white hetero supremacy, cisgender male supremacy is a comparable violent force us cisgender queer men must address and for which we must take responsibility when faced with such truths as trans people are murdered at a rate almost 50% higher than cisgender queer people.

My world is a world where I am constantly in battle with anti-Black and anti-queer violence as they intersect. I am forced to both defend Black folks who wouldn’t lift a finger to defend me by virtue of my queerness while also defending against them, even as I might perpetuate sexist and anti-trans violences. And that is the constant truth of being a Black cisgender queer man. That is always what is through any door I enter, seen or not.

I do not know a Blackness that isn’t queer. I never have, never will, and never could separate the two even if I tried. If my “Black politics” interfere with my “queer politics,” the Black isn’t a Black I know and neither is the queer. Black liberation is always Black queer and trans and woman liberation and queer liberation is always queer Black and trans and woman liberation, or we just aren’t talking about liberation in the first place.

Hari Ziyad is a Brooklyn-based storyteller and the Editor-in-Chief of RaceBaitR. Their work has been featured on Gawker, Out, Ebony, Mic, The Guardian, Colorlines, Paste Magazine, Black Girl Dangerous, Young Colored and Angry, The Feminist Wire and The Each Other Project. They are also an assistant editor for Vinyl Poetry & Prose and contributing writer for Everyday Feminism.

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  1. Years ago and having grown tired of being asked this loaded I wrote the below piece as part of a series of personal manifestos.

    Black/Gay vs. Gay/Black
    He asked, “So are you a Black Gay or a Gay Black?” which of course is code for which is worse, racism or homophobia. Some people really should not ask questions, especially when they are not prepared for the answer. Still I smiled and replied.

    Look dude, I refuse to participate in your Oppression Olympics. While homophobia and racism are not the same, it is at their intersection where I am forced to live. I am a Black Gay and a Gay Black. The blood of my peoples was shed at both Selma and Stonewall.

    For I am both James Byrd’s severed head lying on a Texas, highway and Mathew Sheppard’s crucified body on a Wyoming fence. I am the gay black child left behind in HIV war zones known as Harlem, Oakland, Detroit, and DC. I am a professional pallbearer standing parade-rest over the coffins of ten thousand motherless children. To some I am the colored wet nurse from whose breasts the master’s children continue to suckle. And to others I am the lone T-Cell who staves off Death and his galloping pale horse.

    But for you I am also a prophet who has returned to smite false prophets who have chosen to shepherd their flocks in designer suits while filling their coffers with money borne of stale rhetoric and manufactured hysteria. You will no longer lead my people to their slaughter and dine upon their carcasses. For I am also a sorcerer capable of spinning shame and brokenness into healing and restoration. And like my rage I have returned to gather my people and we shall fill up ten thousand Tiananmen Squares for in my world the civil rights cloak is vast and wide and able to warm everyone who needs protection.

    To my black brothers and sisters, I did not catch my gayness from white folks no more than I caught my blackness from God’s curse upon Ham. You calling me dirty will not make you clean. I am not the enemy. I am not racism, teen pregnancy, illiteracy, hypertension, unjust incarceration, addiction, molestation, poverty, unemployment, police brutality, homelessness or domestic violence.

    To my gay white brothers and sisters, I am tired of my back being used as a bridge to your blackness, Build your own or at least have the decency to pay a toll. See, I am not your girlfriend, sister, sexual fetish or disco diva, I am the incarnation of African Kings, Queens and American slaves; now please show some respect.

    To my heterosexual contemporaries I do not wish for a seat at your table. I do however wish to dismantle it and sell the pieces on Craigslist. I want to crash church weddings and, when asked to speak now or forever hold my peace, rise and tell the congregation that Sally and Brad, Tamika and Tyrone have no business having a church wedding because everyone knows they’ve been doing the nasty for hella long.

    Oh, and in answer to your original question, “Which is worse, racism or homophobia?”—well, of course the answer is whichever one I am dealing with right then.

    • Hi Chad Goller-Sojourner,
      What does this mean: “To my gay white brothers and sisters, I am tired of my back being used as a bridge to your blackness, Build your own or at least have the decency to pay a toll.” I’m not trying to be contrary, but I don’t understand what you’re saying to heed here at all. I get that being mutually gay would be the common ground… but what do you mean “a bridge to blackness”? What is the toll to be paid? You mean respect is the “toll”?

      Thanks for your time. peace,

  2. Interesting, love your final paragraph, as I am not in your position I can’t speak from experience but I agree with what you are saying. Good luck.

  3. What needs to be addressed is the HUMAN EXPERIENCE. I am a white male who grew up in the South and experienced race based mental segregation – the kind that has never left the collective American experience. Now I identify as Gay trans-gendered – a “double whammy” in most of America today. I experienced American mental segregation on the job. I had a new apprentice working with me. He was a young black man from South Central LA. He worked his butt off trying to impress the boss. We left for the weekend and I arrived at work on Monday morning looking for my apprentice. I asked the boss what happened to him. He said that “Well….it’s starting to slow down a bit so we had to get rid of some people. Yea….he was a good worker. It’s just too bad he is BLACK.”

    It seems the plantation still exists in America’s collective consciousness.

  4. The problem that i have with “queer” is embedded in the article above. The way that “queer” is used now seems to me to be less about affirming “otherness” in and in contrast to normative social contexts (heteronormativity or homonormativity) but rather more about establishing “otherness” within its own normative contexts. Instead of being a challenge, it has morphed into its own status quo: one that instead of demanding affirmation, respect and recognition now seeks to normalize “otherness” as being “apart” from everything/everyone else…almost on a permanent basis. Given that “queerness” an academic and political historical/sociologicl position have always had a considerable number of problematic issues (What IS “queerness” anyway? Well, to be honest, it can be anything…which make it what?), the author exemplifies what I I find off-putting: it’s just another form of identity politics disguised as anti-identity politics.

    Therefore, personally, I reject “queer” on a wholesale basis because a) I don’t see myself “apart” from anyone. I claim all my spaces as “me” regardless of who I am perceived by others; to wit, b) “queerness” itself is based on the definition of others buy trying to claim or “reclaim” a space in opposition to heteronormativity (or whatever normatively its positioning itself against or rejecting) instead of legitimately claiming its own space, which leads to c) being this amorphous blob of a thing that ultimately means very little…

    except to those who claim it. But I don’t. Of all the identities I claim and am, “queer” is a redundant bit of business that is better suited to academic study rather than an identity that by its very definition establishes yet another set of the kinds of normative expectations that “queerness” is supposedly in opposition.


  5. Your article was very thought provoking. Until today I was one of those that thought my blackness came first but today I can’t say that. Today my blackness and gayness are interwoven and can’t be separated. I was gay and black as I pushed my way out of the birth canal.

  6. I read this part:
    “But the room I enter is always set up on foundations built upon an oppressive country, and I am always me – a Black queer (or queer Black) cisgender male 23-year old from Cleveland, OH with 18 siblings, raised in a Muslim and Hare Krsna household, among many other things, and each of those things define me. Each of those things depend on one another in order to create me. And all of them enter through every door.”

    …and you are the most amazing person. What beautiful layers. You were born to fight for freedom of being. So many things that “should” separate you (based on status quo) make you whole. I love this essay.


    • Thank you so much for this, Tabby. I really do appreciate you reading. So glad you got something from it 🙂

      • I know a lot of people who are coming out or are coming to terms with their identities in various ways that I think your article could help inspire or educate… and liberate too. Would it be okay to reblog this?

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