by Tabias Olajuawon
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 mutation.
Black masculinity is similar to white masculinity insofar that neither tolerate femininities—its existence often depends on ongoing, silent violations of them—and both are situated in the sociopolitical domination and dominion over the female body and the effeminate presumptive 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 that are marked as male—and by extension black women, girls and children—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.
Black access to patriarchy is not a solution—indeed it is a dangerous trick and empty enticement to join a burning house—but its consequences have interesting and violent impacts. Because cisheteropatriarchy is the fulcrum of American society, its logic not only polices the imaginative and reality of the household but also power distribution. Power in the United States is filtered through the male—as the imagined economic and political power center of a household—this has tragic implications for black people.
The reality of the black family is not a consideration of white patriarchy or feminisms. The archetypical portrait of a nuclear, upper-middle class family with a working man and a woman who works in the house—or in modern times—two privately employed caregivers, does not capture the reality of black, single and dual parent, working and middle class families.
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. Patriarchy would grant this power to violate to the man, modern feminisms to all people and a humanist politic to no one at all.
In black heterosexist spaces black masculinities are often constructed similarly to white masculinities. They are the desirable patriarchs, the locusts of power. 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 is our yearning for equality, our performance of self-worth; we too can wield power—we say. 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, Dr. E. Patrick Johnson, Dr. Marlon Bailey, Rotemi Fani-Kayode and many others.
But do these spaces need to be specifically or normatively male? Is that not another learned—if not robotic—routine that removes us further from self and deeper into a trance of racial-sexual performatives? From slave-ships and auction blocks to ballrooms and barber shops, BlaQueer folks have long-established and maintained spaces of relative safety, affirmation and fuller existences. Masculine anxiety, homo-antagonism, femme-phobia, trans-genocides, and white supremacy have necessitated the creation of alternative communities and spaces, lest we forfeit portions of ourselves 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—for a sanctuary from it—would be both misguided and incomplete.
BlaQueer communities are a fertile birthing place of 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.
Our bodies are central locations of conversation, meaning-making and perfect imperfections. In short, BlaQueer people are a cosmos, affected but not contained by the bounds of neither blackness or queerness. In the words of Whitman, we are vast and contain multitudes. We are masters, servants and queens of the in-betweens. We have perfected liminal existences, particularly those between and beyond masculinity and femininity, into an art.
We have moved beyond coining positive terms for, and promoted acceptance of, left of masculine and femme men. We are in the process of noting that masculinity and femininity are prisons of performance, while also noting and recollecting their real and lived effects and our freedoms to dance as we please. While much work remains in the full acceptance and celebration of femme, GenderQueer, ButchQueen and Trans* folk, due to our continued internalized (sexual) masculine-anxiety, our community spaces are becoming places where we can and do flourish, thrive and move beyond mere survival. We are birthing a new BlaQueer love and power practice. But can masculinity, with its violent tendencies, 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” and “sis”) might function or be read as safer entry points to authenticity in BlaQueer—as opposed to Black Gay—spaces? Those of us who identify as Femme, Queen, GenderQueer, ButchQueen and Trans* have had our identity violently branded onto our flesh. For better and for worse, we are not called to assert or prove our queerness, but instead our humanity, a sick twist on othered predicament.
Our identities have long-standing herstories and communities within BlaQueer spaces. To be clear, these spaces are not sites of privilege, but outposts of refuge. We birthed them not out of desire, but necessity. For us, our familial homes are often where the hatred is. However, the same cannot be said for masculine men, for myriad reasons. Their type of other is often seen as too normative to be queer, too privileged to need community and too violent to be close.
While we cannot deny the power and privilege of masculine performance in society—nor can we discount the internal and external physical, emotional and legal violence that originates from masculine ideologies—we must analyze whether and how this changes in our spaces. Masculine men too, suffer from the violence of masculine privilege and its requirements for internal dehumanization.
Daily they perform, internalize and circumcise themselves to play the role, perfectly, silently and with suicidal ease. The overtly masculine gay or bisexual male is often read as a temporary or probationary community-member at best and marked as Trade, Down Low or confused. These markers have the effect of erasing their queer existences, obscuring access to a queer identity and practice while resurrecting antiquated tropes about black, male sexualities rooted in racial-sexual terrors, historic and present.
This type of authenticity-checking relegates performances of masculinity, and proximity to it, as 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, if not necessary for our protection. It has been purposed again and again as a bludgeon against queer people 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 folks? Can one be simultaneously masculine, bio-male 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, people of color culture(s), identities and spaces 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? This is not to say that being femme is a privilege, it is often a death sentence, but to question how we read signals of gender performance and which, if any power, violence, fluidity or permissions we assign to it.
We must question and note how power is moving, where it resides, whether its present and specific function is problematic and if so, should we care? Finally, we must question the effects of power, through the role of femininities, masculinities and gender fucking in the birthing, perversion, strangling and maintenance of restorative, healing and liberatory BlaQueer communities.
I have yet to determine whether 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, cispatriarchal society. Rather, I question if we should drop the masculine-feminine performance identification system altogether and imagine a deeper freedom.
I posit that it is not only the role, but the nature of BlaQueerness to mark, encourage, celebrate and translate the flows of the myriad existences and performances of our selves. 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/her/ourstories.
Just as our bodies have made peace with warring pieces of ourselves, 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 and begin the work of complete divestment.
Tabias Olajuawon Wilson is a 26 year old BlaQueer author, speaker and scholar-activist. He is the Editor-In-Chief of BlaQueerFlow: The Griots’ Pen, and his sociocultural and legal critiques have been published via Gawker, TheBody.com, the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice at Harvard Law, the Critical Black Studies Reader and GLAD. His book, Godless Circumcisions: A Recollecting & Re-membering of Blackness, Queerness & Flows of Survivance, from which this piece has been worked, is available now.