Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Gay men, lesbians, and gender roles

I caught this article today and wanted to share:

Role of a lifetime:

Black gay men and women navigate gender roles in often contentious environments
By RYAN LEE Friday, September 09, 2005 http://www.washblade.com/2005/9-9/arts/feature/fem.cfm
Growing up in a small rural town in northeast Ohio, Jay Williams knew he couldn’t be a “faggot.”
He knew that he was attracted to other boys, but also realized that such feelings were widely rebuked by his family and neighbors, who, like many African Americans, viewed homosexuality as a sickness, sin or both.
“My family, we were raised that being gay was a no-no,” says Williams, a 22-year-old who moved to Decatur, Ga., five months ago. “It was based on religion — that, and the things my family had seen on TV, or the things they heard, or the things they knew about gay people.
“Their image of gays was just men running around, prancing around, being a lady,” he adds.
Heeding these warning signals from his cultural environment, Williams forged a masculine persona and asserted his manhood. He also developed a cadre of female friends who unwittingly provided a cover for Williams because his family assumed they were his girlfriends.
As Williams settled into being a black gay man, he says it was important for him to maintain his masculine identity.
And just as important as it is for him to “act like I have a dick between my legs,” Williams says it’s essential that his sexual partners are masculine as well.
“Feminine guys, I’ve got nothing against them, but as far as relationships, it’s just not for me because I would much rather just date a girl if I’m going to date a dude who acts just like a girl,” Williams says.
Black leaders like Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan fuel the stereotypes about the role black men and women must hold in African-American communities. Faith-based leaders like Rev. Willie Wilson at Union Temple Baptist Church in Southeast D.C., also play a role.
In July, Wilson said in a sermon that lesbians were trying to “take over” the black family, and he made disparaging remarks about sexual acts among gay people.
Wilson, executive director of the 10th anniversary of the Million Man March, which Farrakhan convened, later apologized, though he reiterated his claims that “lesbianism” remains a serious threat to black teenage girls. The event next month is officially named the Millions More Movement.
Farrakhan recently invited the National Black Justice Coalition, a gay civil rights organization, to become one of about 100 co-conveners of the Millions More Movement rally, which is scheduled to take place on Oct. 15 in Washington, D.C.
Black gay rights advocates have expressed cautious optimism about Farrakhan’s invitation. They say he did not mention the words “gay” or “lesbian” in his invitation letter and did not agree to longstanding requests by black gay leaders that the Millions More Movement address the issue of homophobia and arrange for a gay man and a lesbian speaker to address the rally.
SINCE ARRIVING IN metro Atlanta in March, Williams admits that he feels more freedom to explore other sides of his sexuality, mainly because of the distance between himself and his family. But he says his “masculinity still stands on the same level as it did back home,” noting his reluctance to join a fraternity of black gay men in Atlanta who in his view maintain a masculine façade while evolving into “ladies,” or effeminate gay men.
“Folks pose all the time,” he continues. “But it’s things like ‘Girl,’ and ‘Sista’ — that right there, I don’t care how masculine you are, but if you call your boy your ‘sista,’ then being masculine isn’t who you really are.”
After first coming out as a lesbian following a seven-year marriage to a man, Ebonee Bradford found herself playing the masculine role in intimate relationships, an uncomfortable departure from the womanly ways she always incorporated into her identity.
Raised by a family of devout Baptists in Alabama, Bradford was steered away from her early tomboy tendencies into what was considered more gender-appropriate behavior, which Bradford continues to this day.
“I try to be 120 percent woman all the time,” says Bradford, 39. “Not because I have something against [masculine lesbians], but because I was brought up to be a lady, and that’s what I am.”
Appreciative of feminine beauty and attempting to avoid the masculinity that came with her seven-year marriage, Bradford says she was always attracted to other feminine lesbians, which forced her into the more aggressive role in her early relationships with women.
But Bradford struggled adjusting to the heightened levels of power and dominance she experienced while playing the masculine role in relationships, leading to disputes that resulted in domestic violence.
Now Bradford mostly avoids masculinity in herself and her partners, a choice she says limits her dating opportunities with other black lesbians.
“There’s not many occasions when you’ll see femme-femme or stud-stud couples,” she says. “It will almost always be opposite roles.”
Joel Gori, a filmmaker who created the touring dramatic dialogues “Keepin’ It Real: Sexual Orientation and Gender Roles in African-American Communities,” says being black means being subject to each other’s expectations.
“The African-American community is not as tolerant of the diversity in gender roles that exists within its own ranks,” Gori states in his introduction to his vignettes. “[The community] sets limits on the kinds of behaviors that are acceptably ‘black.’”
ONE OF THE most integral parts of black gender roles is how cultural images of what it means to be a black gay woman or man impact sexual negotiations and acceptance of sexual variance, he says.
“Is there a certain way to be a black man or a black woman? Gender role expectations affect how black gay men and women communicate with each other about sexuality,” Gori asserts. “Pressure exists to conform when blacks pair up.
“Homosexuality is part of the black community, but certain members don’t want to see it,” he continues. “Some people think you can’t be black and be gay. Black gays face these pressures every day.”
In clubs and in Internet chat rooms, and in most other venues in which black gay men, lesbians and transgendered people meet to socialize and date, gender roles are powerful — determinative enough to start or end relationships, and strong enough to marginalize entire segments of the black gay and lesbian population.
Bernard Bradshaw used to feel obligated to defy stereotypes as a 20-something black gay man, but he says his gender identity became “highly contextual.”
“There’s sometimes I’m definitely a little more butch, and there’s times when I’m with my best friend and we’re ki-ki-ing and having a good time,” says Bradshaw, who lives in Chicago and operates SexInThe2ndCity.com, a Web log about his sexual exploits.
But despite his fluidity when it comes to gender roles, Bradshaw says it’s difficult to admit that he’s part of the anti-femme problem among black gay men.
“When I hear guys on the chat line or on the Internet say ‘no fats, no femmes,’ there’s a part of that that disgusts me because I hate the way fem guys are dogged out,” Bradford says. “But the crazy thing is that what I and most people want is a masculine guy, and so sometimes I fear I’m sort of reinforcing the denigration of femme guys.”
Leslie Martin, a self-described “soft-stud” from Lithonia, Ga., says more black lesbians seem to embrace their femininity, the same way some black gay men are posing as masculine men, almost as if they were on the down-low.
“I think being femme is more in because I think a lot of people that don’t want it known, or don’t want to be out there like that as far as the workplace and stuff, I think it’s just like the DL thing,” Martin says.
But Maressa Pendermon of Atlanta says it seems as though a younger generation of lesbians are gravitating to a butch identity “because they believe it gives them the power in a relationships.”
A feminine lesbian, Pendermon says some have accused her of selling out, which makes her even more determined to openly assert and affirm her sexual orientation.
“I’ve gotten some angry reactions from people who may be more butch or masculine, and they see me as someone who can pass, so I may have more privilege than they have,” Pendermon says. “I feel a responsibility to be out because it’s not as easily detectable, and so I am out sort of to be in solidarity with other people.”
Many black lesbians religiously adhere to their preferred gender role, especially in the bedroom, according to Martin and Bradford.
“If they carry themselves like a stud, that’s basically what you’re going to get in the bedroom,” Bradford says.
But among black gay males, masculine façades often melt away at the bedroom door, according to Williams.
“It’s a different story from what they show the outside world almost every time,” Williams says.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Why Black Pride?

I have been asked more times than I can count, why does Indiana need a black pride? I was initially offended by such an inquiry. Having grown up in Indianapolis and been witness to the birth, growth, and success of Indiana Black Expo, I have always understood that black culture could be and should be celebrated. The fact that we, as a community, are fabulously gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans-gender, and same gender loving is even more cause to celebrate. The problem is that because of the prevailing mind-set of many African Americans homophobia and its oppressive attitudes are allowed to run rampant in black culture. Most gays and lesbians would be hard pressed to find safe places within the black community to be wholly who we are. Certainly our institutions, such as churches, schools, and even the extended family units tend to perpetuate negative stereotypes and dismiss homosexuality as the white mans ailment. On the surface homophobia and theologies of discrimination and separation are a major problem in black America. However, as a black GLBT community, we have formed families and societies of our own. Many of us have been cast out of our own families and churches and have sought out and created safe places. Black Pride is a celebration of those safe places.
Sadly, religious oppression has taken a devastating toll on the black GLBT community. Sermons on damnation and abomination have created a culture of shame, guilt, and self hate. We have internalized the opinions of others regarding our lives. This is evidenced by the devaluing of our relationships, sexual irresponsibility, and the depth of our closets. Black pride unites a community that is wounded and promotes dialogue for healing. What must we do to end religious oppression? In society today it is common for the religious leaders to counsel, advise, and influence lawmakers at all levels of government. Overwhelmingly, these religious leaders are black pastors from black churches. Black churches that for a long time have benefited from the time, talents, and tithes of countless black GLBT people. The people that they profess to be against. As a community we should be outraged in the face of such hypocrisy. Sadly, my voice and the handfuls of individuals who agree are not enough to affect change. All black gays and lesbians, as a unified voice, must stand together and call for an end to homophobia in the black church.
Finally, Indiana Black Pride is moving our community forward. On June 27th, 1969 the New York city police department raided a Greenwich Village gay bar, the Stonewall Inn. The raid quickly turned into a riot when the crowd of mostly white gay men and lesbians decided to fight back. From that one event the gay civil rights movement was birthed. Since its inception the gay movement has been orchestrated, executed, and actualized largely by Caucasian gays and lesbians. In the early 80's when HIV/AIDS was beginning its rise to a world wide epidemic white gay men heard the call to action and started militant groups such as ACT UP (the Aids Coalition to Unleash Power). While many in the black community thought AIDS was only a white gay mans disease those that were infected early knew that gay men, and their friends, were the only people who cared about healing the gay community! Today we know that, though African Americans make up just 14% of the population, we account for 47% of all newly reported infections and one in four people who are positive don't even know it. Truly the time has come for the African American GLBT SGL community to step forward and begin the business of healing ourselves. Decisions are being made daily that effect our lives. Decisions about HIV funding and outreach. Decisions concerning our equality under the law. Decisions concerning spousal rights and our children's rights. We, as a black gay and lesbian community must be present at the table when these decisions are being made. If we cant get a seat at the table then we should be blazing a trail so that the children that come after us will have open doors to walk through. Black pride is assuring that we celebrate our past and stay on board for our future.
I have always believed that the work that Indiana Black Pride is doing isn't for us today. We are forging new avenues for the ones that will come after us. We see a community that is worth celebrating. We see a community that is unified against racism, sexism, and homophobia. We see a community that is prepared for the challenges that lie ahead for African American same gender loving, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans-gender people!

Robert S. Ferguson
President, Indiana Black Pride Inc.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Black men in peril!

As the gruesome reality and devastation that Katrina left in her wake continues to blanket newspapers and news broadcasts around the world one face has begun to emerge as the constant symbol of an entire people. That face is the displaced, victimized, lost black man! It seems that over the last 4 days we have been unable to turn on the televison or open up a newspaper without seeing our brothers faces in despair, crying, mourning, and hopeless. Naturally the media largley has chosen to focus on a few renegade, gun wielding, "gang members" who are allegedly terrorizing search and rescue teams. However, even with regards to them I have had to ask myself to what lengths I would be willing to go in order to feed and protect my family. In no way do I want to defend those that are exploiting this situation for personal gain, but for every boy that has looted a gun I am sure there are 50 men who need to protect what little they have managed to hold on to since Monday morning. Once again, the media, in a race for the most sensationalized story has chosen to magnify that which is the most horrifying element of a story that has at least 100,000 perspectives. On Tuesday morning I was moved to tears by a gentleman I will call Mr. Jackson. The cameras were filming people aimlessly walking sown the street. The reporter asked him how he was doing. He said, "I aint doin' no good"! It seems that he was trying to hold on to his Children and his wife at the same time during the hurricane. After a while his wife realized that he couldnt hold on to her and the kids. Finally she said, "let me go, you can't hold me"! The man was devastated and kept saying, "I dont know what I am going to do"! This morning another black man was in Houston. He had successfully gotten his wife and children to safety before the hurricane set in. Now he had come to the AstroDome searching for his extended family, mother-in-law, uncles, and siblings. As he began to beg and plead for anyone that knew anything about his family to contact him by cell phone or email he also began to weep. I wept with him and tried to imagine what my state of mind would be if I were in his shoes. This week I have seen more of my black brothers and sisters on CNN than ever before. I have grown increasingly angry towards the people who are supposed to be managing this tragedy. I have gone from sorrowful to bitter when I see 60,000 mostly black people wading through filth, debris, and sewage trying to get water, food, and shelter! Knowing the military muscle that this country is capable of displaying I am awed that such an event could be so poorly mishandled on US soil. Finally, I have been forced to ask myself, if there were 60,000 caucasian women and children stranded at the superdome would it be taking 4 days to evacuate them from what appears to be war zone?
My heart is heavy for all of the people that have been effected by hurricane Katrina, but particularly for my brothers trying to make sense out of the choas.

Below you will find information on how to assist those that have been displaced as well as information for those that may need assistance.

Our prayers and thoughts are with those that are affected by Hurricane Katrina.

Hurricane Katrina has blazed a trail of devastation throughout Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Across the Gulf Coast, Katrina engulfed thousands of homes and decimated the landscape in what could become the most destructive storm in U.S. history. Victims are stranded and in need of immediate medical care, food and water, and tens of thousands of people will need temporary housing for months.

Help people affected by this storm by making a donation today.


1. American Red Cross - In response, the American Red Cross is launching the largest mobilization of resources for a single natural disaster involving thousands of trained disaster relief workers, tons of supplies and shoulders to lean on. (http://www.redcross.org/)

2. Network for Good - is the place to make secure online donations, explore volunteer opportunities, and learn more about the causes that matter most by assisting victims of Hurricane Katrina. (http://www.networkforgood.org/)

3. Habitat for Humanity - Help rebuild the lives of the victims of Hurricane Katrina, piece by piece, house by house. (http://www.habitat.org/)

4. NSALA: Hurricane Katrina Animal Rescue - Unfortunately, most public evacuation centers do not allow individuals to take their pets. Our mission of rescuing and restoring animals to loving homes. (http://www.nsalamerica.org/)

5. Salvation Army - is currently providing services to storm victims and first responders in the Gulf Coast states. (http://www.salvationarmyusa.org/)


1. State of Louisiana - Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness (http://www.ohsep.louisiana.gov/)

2. State of Mississippi - Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (http://www.msema.org/index.htm)

3. State of Alabama - (http://www.state.al.us/statenews.php)

4. Federal Emergency Management Agency - Federal Emergency Management Agency (http://www.fema.gov/press/2005/resources_katrina.shtm) and (http://www.fema.gov/index.shtm)

5. WWLTV: News for New Orleans, Louisiana - Get out messages to let loved ones know that you are okay. Are you trying to get in touch with someone? (http://www.wwltv.com/forums/index.php)
Help those affected by this tragedy. Support rescue and relief efforts. Donate today.