Monday, March 30, 2009

Monday, March 30, 2009
Memo to Jimi Izrael: Fronting as Straight Always Pays Off
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This is a cross post by blksista. She blogs at This Black Sista’s Page.

I’m a mid-Boomer/Jones Generation/unmarried/straight/Nichiren Buddhist/progressive and writer, interested in just about everything live and in color. Presently, I live in Madison, WI. But not for long.

There are some days that I think Jimi Izrael of The Root doesn’t know what else to say. I wanted to reply to him forthwith about his March 12 comment about Bayard Rustin, and the beatdown he received during a famous debate with Malcolm X in the early Sixties. But I held my peace. While Izrael was supportive of a bio flick about Rustin’s life, and was appreciative of pacifist Robert Gore’s eyewitness report on the event that made him question his own politics, I went back and forth about responding on The Root’s pages, and then finally resolved that I couldn’t let this lie.

The late Rustin had promoted a political line incompatible with that of the then-spokesperson of the Nation of Islam in 1962, and that was an alliance with progressive and liberal whites to reach the goal of racial equality. Izrael rightly put forth that it was perhaps “an unfortunate incident of backseat (homosexual) passion that got Brother Rustin thrown in the pokey” that hampered his ability to get a rise out of ordinary blacks and scared the civil rights hierarchy. However, it seems as if Izrael felt that he couldn’t criticize (or conveniently forgot to criticize) the Black Prince himself, El Hajj Malik El Shabazz, in light of recent scholarship, for fronting off as militantly heterosexual when his sexual history had proven otherwise. At least Bayard Rustin never hid who he was, like James Baldwin; Malcolm, though, according to one of his biographers, Bruce Perry, had far more to hide and everything to lose.

Bruce Perry’s landmark biography of Malcolm X, Malcolm: The Life of the Man Who Changed Black America, appeared in 1991, and caused shock waves among those who had taken his Autobiography as gospel truth. It wasn’t. And it’s been very hard and very painful, in the eighteen years since it was published during the resurgence of interest in Malcolm, for blacks to accept the very real possibility that Malcolm may have been bisexual or gay. Moreover, that his faith and marriage to the beloved and revered Betty Shabazz may have been a way to subsume his desires as well as his affinity for living on the edge and fit somewhere, anywhere in the world. It’s commonly known as putting up a front.

I do not, however, share the view of British gay rights activist Peter Gary Tatchell who wrote in The Guardian in 2005 that Malcolm El Shabazz was some kind of black gay hero. Furthermore, blacks still rationalize Malcolm’s previous homosexual activities as stuff that he did before he got “cleansed” through the teachings of Elijah Muhammad, and became “straight.” They see homosexuality as something close to criminality, that it was a “white (or Arab) disease,” and that it can be altered or changed through the right religion or woman. They point to Betty Shabazz’ unwillingness to work with Perry when he researched his book as proof that he had some fish to fry or some dirt to expose. I would ascribe it to a widow’s unwillingness to speak ill of her marriage bed and an inability to detach herself from a famous–and some would say, near-mythological–husband, which is perfectly apt in the circumstances. Tatchell says something, however, that I do agree with:

Was Malcolm X gay? Bisexual? In his schooldays, he was apparently a passive participant. Others masturbated or fellated him. Later, while working as a male prostitute, he took a more hands-on role in sex, especially with [William Paul] Lennon [a rich bachelor who hired Malcolm as a butler]. This part-time whoring may have been pecuniary. There is, however, plentiful research suggesting that many guys who have sex with men for payment are in denial about their homosexuality. They tell themselves they are doing it for the money. This is their way of coping with same-sex desires that they are unable to accept. Was this Malcolm’s excuse? Surely there must have been some degree of queer desire to enable Malcolm to sustain his sexual experiences with men over a period of 10 years? If this desire was within him from adolescence to early adulthood, could he have erased it completely in later life?

Sexuality is not like a newspaper–read today and discarded tomorrow. Established desires can be sublimated or repressed, but never eliminated. If people have a homosexual capacity, it stays with them for life - even if they never act on it. (Emphasis mine)

I doubt whether we would have seen Malcolm X on Oprah talking about his life on the downlow. But like many religious leaders from Henry Ward Beecher to Elijah Muhammad, their sexual behaviour off the pulpit or the lectern hasn’t always been pristine–it’s been downright weird. (The same could be said for political leaders as well.) The ways in which the Nation of Islam brought Malcolm and Betty together in matrimony seem rather distancing and has little to do with what I think of as courtship rituals. The faith showed the same fear of, and depreciation of women as with other ultra-orthodox Islamic groups. It was the same distancing that Malcolm had towards women in general, tainted by his relationship with his mother. In other words, his was an arranged marriage, made up to ensure and to confirm Malcolm’s masculinity and power in the relationship. The woman came to him, or was brought to him. And it does not imply that Malcolm did not come to love Betty. However, in pursuing gay relationships as an adult, in Perry’s book, he went after what he wanted.

I can now think of all this in light of the debate between Bayard Rustin and Malcolm X in 1962; it is what we know now against what we didn’t know then. When Malcolm died, all of his potential died with him. He remains frozen in time, the Black Prince who embraced heterosexuality as well as a black, black woman, as Alice Walker once said of him. He was also fronting. Even the Autobiography is a front, that is, a lie. This is not food for gossip magazines, but food for thought in all of our relationships and alliances.

When Bayard Rustin died, he died reviled for being an openly gay man who had few regrets for living his life, as well as being a black man and a progressive, who supposedly nearly hampered our walk to freedom. The redeemed, but hidden Malcolm was able to witheringly excoriate Rustin from a high place of judgment and superiority in everyone’s mind. He was unable to evince little empathy or even a pang of insight for Rustin across the differences, even backstage of the public arena, for fear of being exposed. It paid for Malcolm to remain heterosexual for the rest of his life, and for the life of his legend. And that is both the horror and the regret of that moment in time, in that debate between Malcolm X and Bayard Rustin, that needs to be iterated in any kind of film biography of this great, nearly-forgotten black leader.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


I recieved this in email. I have been unale to verify the author or the source. Still it is powerful. I do believe that we have become overly sensitive to others classification of us and the opinions of who we are. First and foremost I am a child of God. Who I choose to love is secondary to that fact. Let us stay focused on Jesus and what it is that God is calling each and every one of us to do in and with this life!


"God hates fags!" This lovely utterance comes from the mouth of Donnie McClurkin. "Matthew Shepherd is in Hell" was another thought expressed by one of McClurkin's religious colleagues, a rather infamous preacher. Religious folks love to make homosexuals and homosexuality their cause celebre. But I must confess their invitation to continual sparring is terribly unappealing given their limited and sparse intellectual capacity. Inciting people based on emotional charges and incendiary speech is so sophomoric. Not interested.

I prefer instead to think on things, ponder and theorize. My latest effort has been on the nature of homosexuality. All this talk about homosexuality being a choice and a lifestyle is irritable to say the least. People need more knowledge and less superstition, more information and less stereotyping.

Human beings are complicated creatures, full of layers and textures, a work of art in nature by the hand of God. The Trinity is a reflection of God's image and we, it is reported are made in that image. Three distinct images existing in their own time and space, yet one. We reflect the same. Body, Mind and Spirit. Three distinct images existing in their own time and space, yet one.

When I get dressed in the morning, after showering and grooming my naked body, I put on my underclothes: my underwear and my tee-shirt and socks. Then I put on my shirt and trousers or a suit. Depending on the season I will top it all off with a jacket or a coat. Our existence is quite similar to this layering. We come out of God as Spirits, naked if you will. When we come into existence we then "clothe" ourselves with other layers of existence like Body and Mind. We are essentially three creatures in one, Body, Mind and Spirit. Ideally all three parts work in harmony or unison to produce our so-called activity in this world.

Of course in everyday life we do not refer to ourselves as a trinity. We appear to each other simply as individuals. And as individuals we again clothe ourselves with different traits, characteristics and identities. This conglomeration of traits, characteristics and identities we call personality. Personality is also composed of layers of sorts that cover up the Mind and the Spirit.

My homosexuality resides in my personality; it is a personality trait. My Soul is not gay. My homosexuality is one of the layers that covers my Soul, like clothing that covers a naked body. When I lay down this life, I will lay down my personality and traits along with it. My Soul will return to its nakedness. In the next life I will again take up a body with a personality and its accompanying traits.

The Soul is a thing of God, the primordial spark of pure Spirit. It cannot be touched by impurity. It absorbs only that which is eternal, that which is "good, true and beautiful." As the prophet, Isaiah says of the Way of Holiness, "no unclean thing" may enter. Men think their Souls experience happiness and sadness and the vagaries of human existence. This is not so. The Soul is steady, it is constant. Its vision and existence is grounded in eternity where it sees the past, the present, and the future as one moment. That which we perceive as wickedness and evil are the result of time and circumstance, isolated moments taken out of context. Had we the Soul's vision we would see that our existence is simply a journey toward completion or the unity of a purified or "redeemed" personality with the Soul.

We are so crippled by time and space. Only at the end of our lives do we understand our life. Only then at the end can we see the isolated incidences that, when grouped together, give us a picture of who we are: infants, children, young adults, middle-aged, elderly. With no access to the future we cannot know what we will be or what we will turn into so we are limited in how we can express ourselves. Only hindsight gives us wisdom.

When we see someone in a particular time and space we see but a fragment of who they are. Were we able to see their entire existence in a moment we would see what they were, are and will be. Just because I am not smart now does not mean at some point in the future I will not be smart. Just because I am poor now does not mean at some point I will not be wealthy. Just because I am heartless now does not mean I will not be kind at some point. We, each and every one of us, has played the part of fool or jester, of king or queen, prince or pauper, lover and spurned. These are clothes our Soul has worn over the course of our lives. If we all had this conscious knowledge we would judge each other less, we would understand caste and class more.

I do not believe in judgment. I believe in understanding. I do not believe in ignorance. I believe in knowledge. The Soul cannot learn anything. There is nothing for it to learn. It is pure existence. The personality on the other hand, does learn and experience and grasp and hold and gain and lose. Like the prodigal son it goes into the far country (the big city) and spends its inheritance, a parable for the individual who spends his life experiencing all of life's pleasure and decadence. Once the prodigal son spends everything, he comes back home, stronger and wiser as a personality and more intent towards knowledge of the Soul. Without his whoring himself and prostituting his talents in the big city he would have learned naught of the world and been less of a person.

We all go into the big city and get lost. We have to find our way back home to the knowledge of truth and understanding. That experience changes and transforms us and brings us closer to what we really are: Spirit clothed in flesh.

My homosexuality has given me some assets, which my Soul will absorb. My homosexuality has also given me some deficits, which will not be absorbed by my Soul. Such is life. No matter who we are or what we are we have gifts and deficits. Our Souls will take the good and leave the bad.

My homosexuality is just lense through which I am viewing this life, just like my race and my sex, nothing more, nothing less. This is understanding. The two statements that I opened with-they are ignorance.
Posted by Thomas at 10:37 AM


"To defend one's self against fear is simply to ensure that one will, one day, be conquered by it; fears must be faced."

-- James Arthur Baldwin

23 March 2009
Rick Ross "Apologizes" to Gays: "I'm Willing to Record with an Openly Gay Artist Such as 50 Cent"

The Rick Ross-50 Cent beef takes an interesting turn. After taking some heat for calling 50 Cent a closet homosexual and a "fag"—among other colorful names—Miami-based Ross offers a left-handed apology in a video "apology" to the gay community and slyly maintains his willingness to record with "openly gay artist ... such as 50 Cent."

Ross says, "I heard I offended the homosexual community recently with terms I've been using the last few weeks—terms like fags, punks, homos, gays—we all know. What I want to say is I apologize. I sincerely apologize to the gay community, to the people I offended with the words like fags, gays, punks. You know, words like that. I apologize. And just to let the gay community know how sincere I am with my apologies ... I'm offering and willing to do a record with a openly gay artist such as Curly, Curtis Jackson, 50 Cent. We all know he's gay. I'm willing to do a song. Even Elton John. Both two great gay artists... So I apologize to the gay community. So now that that's out the way ... Now all the gays, we good. Peace."

The reference to "Curly" is to Fifty's Jherri Curl-wearing "Pimpin' Curly" video which mocked Rick Ross. In recent years, Fifty Cent, who has gaybashed during much of his career, has been relentlessly gay-baited by rival rappers and was even portrayed on a mix tape with a lipstick-smeared face and in a tender embrace with fellow G Unit members.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Lorraine Hansberry's Gay Politics

We must know of the ancestors on whose shoulders we stand.

Lorraine Hansberry's Gay Politics
Why the 'Raisin in the Sun' playwright's homosexual ties have been straight-washed from black history.

By: Kai Wright | Posted: March 11, 2009 at 12:01 PM

The thing about history is that you don't get answers to questions you don't ask. Sally Hemings was a forgotten slave until Annette Gordon-Reed came along. Black soldiers from the Revolutionary War forward were said to play no meaningful role until black scholars ferreted out the facts. And Lorraine Hansberry had nothing to do with the lesbian liberation movement until 1976, when an editor revealed the playwright's surprisingly radical correspondence on the subject.

Black gays and lesbians have been erased from our community's history with surprising thoroughness. March on Washington planner Bayard Rustin labored away on behalf of the greater good for decades while having his own humanity shunted by fellow movement leaders. Duke Ellington's genius writing partner Billy Strayhorn's contributions have been profoundly obscured. And many of the artists who peopled the Harlem Renaissance have had their queer lives entirely straight-washed.

It's a terribly consequential trend because it has left too many black people, straight and gay alike, to believe that sexual shame and silence is a long-standing norm in our community. The opposite is true, and Hansberry is a wonderful example.

Hansberry was a child of the civil rights movement—her parents fought and won a long legal battle against housing segregation in Chicago, which inspired her story for A Raisin in the Sun. Later, as a young woman, she abandoned her studies at the University of Wisconsin and moved to New York City in 1950, where she took up work on Paul Robeson's political journal Freedom.

It was during this activism that she met her husband, Robert Nemiroff. The two were together romantically only briefly, but their relationship remained close—they didn't divorce until the end of her life—and, for decades, historians viewed Hansberry's personal life through that lens. But throughout her short life—Hansberry died of cancer at 34—she engaged both a personal and a political search for sexual freedom and articulated a still-urgent understanding of its relationship to gender equality.

It's unclear whether Hansberry would have called herself a "lesbian," primarily because she and others were still in the process of developing the concept of such a clearly defined sexual identity. But she dated women and, more strikingly, joined the country's first-ever lesbian political organization, the now-defunct Daughters of Bilitis, at a time when doing so made you a target of federal law enforcement.

After joining the group, Hansberry wrote a series of provocative letters to two gay journals. Daughters of Bilitis began publishing its journal, the Ladder, in 1956. Hansberry chimed in to it in May and August of 1957, while she was writing A Raisin in the Sun. Hansberry is known for her drama, but she was a prolific political writer and speaker, dating back to her early 1950s activism and editorial work for Robeson. And in her essay-length 1957 letters to the editor, she challenged members to consider the feminist case against homophobia.

"I think it is about time that equipped women began to take on some of the ethical questions which a male-dominated culture has produced," Hansberry wrote in one letter, explaining, "There may be women to emerge who will be able to formulate a new and possible concept that homosexual persecution and condemnation has at its roots not only social ignorance, but a philosophically active anti-feminist dogma."

She believed, in other words, that people fear queers because they challenge comfortingly rigid gender norms. It's the sort of radical political analysis for which scholars like black lesbian author Barbara Smith argue Hansberry is rarely credited. Hansberry signed the letters with her initials, as was the journal's convention. Ladder editor Barbara Grier revealed Hansberry as the author, though the fact remains largely ignored outside of academic circles.

Hansberry further elaborated on the point in an unpublished 1961 letter to another gay periodical, ONE magazine. "I have suspected for a good time that the homosexual in America would ultimately pay a price for the intellectual impoverishment of women," she wrote, later adding, "Men continue to misinterpret the second-rate status of women as implying a privileged status for themselves; heterosexuals think the same way about homosexuals; gentiles about Jews; whites about blacks; haves about have-nots."

These ideas were way ahead of their time. Hansberry's evolving politics were groundbreaking, and many questions remain about how they impacted her work—both plays she wrote after Raisin included gay characters—and how her ideas impacted the budding movement for sexual freedom she joined in the 1950s. In ignoring these questions, we've limited our understanding of Hansberry, and we're all poorer for it.