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Aug15

Beyond Grindr: racism, fetishisation and reimagining queer black masculinities

Tuesday, 15 August 2017 Written by // Guest Authors - Revolving Door Categories // Social Media, African, Caribbean and Black, Activism, Gay Men, International , Living with HIV, Media, Opinion Pieces, Revolving Door, Guest Authors

From FS Magazine, Otamere Guobadia examines the current state of racism within the LGBTQ community

Beyond Grindr: racism, fetishisation and reimagining queer black masculinities

Report after report and survey after survey demonstrates that for BAME people in LGBTQ communities racism is a near universal experience.

While there is enough evidence, both empirical and anecdotal, to back up the claims, very rarely do these reports answer more difficult questions about the nature of this racism. The result is often a very ‘water is wet moment’ for queer people of colour at the heart of the matter, frustrated as to the lack of depth into these investigations, which stop at a shallow proclamation of things that they have always known on a deeper to level be irrefutably true. 

Thus the complex, and toxic systems of dominance, violence and disenfranchisement faced by queer people of colour in mainstream LGBTQ communities, gets boiled down to oversimplified statistics about how many people have simply ‘experienced racism’. A conversation that often fixes firmly upon the most post shallow aspects of the politics of desire. The complex grievances of queer men of colour are often frustratingly reduced to who will or won’t fuck us, with us firmly positioned as desperately demanding love from the white men who exclude us from their Grindr profiles and chillouts - the praxis of which is often limited to Grindr screenshots posted performatively on social media by white allies, who have taken them to task on their racist sexual ‘preferences’. 

But the fact remains that our grievances run far deeper, the repercussions of which spread far further and devastatingly than dating apps. Queer communities have always had a fraught relationship with black sexuality. Black queer men have found both their experiences and existence systematically erased. Contemporary conversations in the LGBTQ community’s position black masculinity as both outsider and archetypal villain. 

Conversations about black homophobia often frame ‘ignorant black men’ as grand perpetrators of homophobic violence, which erases the imposed upon black queer men that straddle and are simultaneously dislocated from both communities (othered by white queers who overestimate the homophobia of black men and black communities, and simultaneously by black communities who view queerness as white/western deviance). 

"It is profoundly telling then, that black men in gay pornography rarely move beyond the realm of fetish. It is a gaze that renders black men into walking dildos."

It is exhausting to navigate a community in which one’s sense of self as the other is cemented in every interaction; to have, under heavily racialised pretext, your crotch discussed, and verbally dissected, and grabbed with an astonishing frequency by gay men, straight men and women alike. A communal fascination with your genitalia means that you are rendered constantly vigilant and hyperaware of your body and made to feel like nothing more than flesh and bone curiosity. It takes a vast toll navigating your own boundaries and the perverse entitlement and sometimes revulsion that people have towards you and your body. 

Representation for people, and queer people of colour in particular, plays a universally critical function across all media. From the valorized and traditional magazine covers to the taboo of the pornographic, our understanding of our roles, selfhood, and potential are dictated to us by this media. 

It is profoundly telling then, that black men in gay pornography rarely move beyond the realm of fetish. It is a gaze that renders black men into walking dildos. The fetishisation of black men is not just an uncomfortable inconvenience (that exists in a vacuum). It comes with the very real and present risks of violence and incarceration; the highly charged, depictions of black men as ‘monster-cocked’ ‘thugs’, in quasi-animalistic Othello-inspired cuckold narratives is industry standard. It is sexually lascivious blackness emasculating the fragile, innocent whiteness on loop ad infinitum. 

This persistent preoccupation with the size of black male genitalia - an obsession and expectation that harms trans and cis black men alike - may at first seem harmless or playful, but feeds into and relies upon a narrative, which at it’s more extreme end, is plainly a rhetorical tool dehumanisation of white supremacy. 

It fuels the dehumanization, and kind of hypersexualised, violent caricatures that create cases and outcomes as unjustly racialised as the recent ‘Tiger Mandingo’ case.

The voyeuristically graphic description of Johnson’s ‘very large’ and (‘too tight’ to fit condoms) penis’, demonstrated repeatedly not only in plaintiff police reports, but by point of reference sex tape stills, led one commentator, Thrasher, to say that for all intents and purposes, Johnson as he sat was not being prosecuted, but rather “standing trial was his black, ejaculating, HIV-positive penis”. 

The complex, and toxic systems of dominance, violence and disenfranchisement faced by queer people of The hypersexual portrayal necessarily goes hand in hand with the hyper-violent characterisation. It is too often juxtaposed against the innocence and inviolability of white sexuality, and embodied in an anxiety about the corruption of that innocence. In the Tiger Mandingo case this black penile obsession literally serves to criminalize Johnson at the hands of a predominantly queerphobic, white, and straight jury

"Archaic laws about HIV transmission inevitably disproportionately punish and criminalize queer black people who have significantly higher rates of HIV transmission than their white counterparts and face increased structural barriers to both preventative and corrective healthcare." 

The plaintiffs in Johnson’s case are not merely his sexual partners, but rather his ‘victims’. Aside from the institutionalised racism that played out in the actual mechanics of the trial and his eventual 30-year sentencing, Johnson’s partners, where evidence and morality conflicted, were united in a singular goal: finding a blameworthy villain for their predicament. Emmet Till, murdered at the age of 14 in 1950s Mississippi died because a white woman had fabricated a story about his aggressive sexual forwardness; The fear of the sexually wanton, big-dicked, black monster is one that has dogged contemporary thought for an unshakeable amount of time, and it can be a quintessentially life or death matter. 

Archaic laws about HIV transmission inevitably disproportionately punish and criminalize queer black people who have significantly higher rates of HIV transmission than their white counterparts, and face increased structural barriers to both preventative and corrective healthcare. These range from a lack of necessary sexual education, access and affordability of contraceptives, treatment and health insurance, and perversely increases the stigma that discourages people from testing far more regularly and discussing their status honestly with prospective. 

The experiences of black men in LGBTQ communities is so often one of overwhelming isolation and alienation, but the situation as ever, is not without hope. Change, while not painless or simple, is visible on the queer horizon. How should you play your part in the liberation work?

Listen to us. Complicate the narrative. Black queer men exist in multiplicity. We are your teachers, students, friends and lovers. We have rich and complex interior lives; bodies in every shape, size and colour; multifaceted relationships with our families, our communities and our varied faiths; with our politics and our art. We contain multitudes and we create multitudes. Resist the single story. Black men have and have always had, utility beyond sexual fantasy and fetish. Reevaluate the lens through which you view our bodies and ourselves. Refuse your own indoctrination by questioning and interrogating every aspect of your own biases. Strive to respect the bodily integrity of the black men around you. Question the fantasies, myths and toxic narratives that you have almost certainly been sold wholesale and consequently traded and dealt in.

As I always say there are already those who have begun the vital work. This is after all is a post-Moonlight world, and there have long been these figures doing the fierce, nuanced and beautiful praxis reimagining us as intimate, and complex wonderworks, loving and lovable in equal measure. Among my favourites: Inimitable stylist and newly-named Dazed 100 influencer Ib Kamara who weaves a rich fashion tapestry that blends a sensual, and luxurious afrofuturism with an unapologetic blackness and queerness. Photographer and Filmmaker, Seye Isikalu has taken aim at contemporary black male narratives with his viral work ‘Don’t Police My Masculinity’, along with his poignant new short film ‘Monochrome’: a nuanced insight into gaze, intimacy, and traditionally constructed black masculinities. 

It is still within the bounds of possibility that the notion of room in a mainstream LGBTQ community for black men and QPOC can still hold water. There are people propelling the conversation about black sexuality and masculinities forward in bold and novel ways. Those already doing the hard but rewarding work of reimagining queer black masculinities as something other than site and visitor of violence. If only you can listen, learn, and unlearn your prejudices.  

This article by Otamere Guobadia previously appeared at FS Magazine, here.

Otamere Guobadia | @Otamere 

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