Monday, September 24, 2007

Random Ass Quote of the Week

Some foolishness for y'all from UGK's Pimp C:

In XXL's October issue:

You’ve conducted some interviews recently that expressed some prettyoffensive opinions, but you only apologized for your “Atlanta ain’t the South” statement. Any other apologies you wanna make?Let me say this: That statement about Russell Simmons had nothing to do with his sexual orientation. It had more to do with a disagreement [we had]. I don’t know if the man likes Martians, squirrels or whatever, so I ain’t gonna speak on something that I didn’t see. It’s no gay-bashing with me. It’s just, be proud of what you are, instead of hidin’ in the closet. And if ya f*ck boys in the ass, then don’t be tryna f*ck with the girls, too, poisoning the pussy population wit’ ya sh*tty ol’ dirty-ass dick.

Friday, September 21, 2007

God Save Queens

The New York landscape provides the perfect backdrop for advertisers to entice us with advertisements for their latest product offering. They are everywhere we turn – on billboards, buses even restroom urinals. Sometimes they use images to catch our eyes – the dynamic contrast between Dijmon Hounsou's opal black skin to the ultra white boxer briefs he wears in the newest Calvin Klein ads. Other times it's a catchy slogan – like the “Priceless” ads from MasterCard or the ever famous Nike “Just Do It” ad campaign. Whatever the case, these ads become ingrained in our psyche, and often times take on a whole separate set of meaning other than the intended purchase of a product or by-in to a lifestyle – the Dijmon Hounsou ad makes me want to get my ass into the gym, pronto. On a recent day out in the city I was struck by an ad for the John Varvatos line of apparel for Converse. The ad is of a woman wearing a denim jacket with “God Save Queens” on the back of the jacket. I found it a bit inspiring – the celebration of “queendom,” I thought. As I continued on with my day out in the city I thought about that ad more and more. Perhaps it was about more than the celebration of femininity? In a world ever consumed by the politics of religion and sexuality, I arrived at the thought that, God, does in fact, save “Queens.” What a beautiful affirmation I thought. Yet beyond that, I thought about the dynamic change that would occur if African American gays and lesbians would embrace this ethos.
Throughout history groups have used religion, and more specifically, the Bible, as a means to justify oppression. In Germany the Nazis used it as a means to justify Anti-Semitism. Here in America, it was used to establish the credibility of slavery by white Americans, and today it is being used by the Black Church to justify homophobia and anti-Gay thought. The Black Church has historically been the cornerstone of the African American community. As an institution it helped to set in motion the wheels of change as it related to civil liberties for black Americans. However, in recent years, the same institution so vigilant to establish change is now aiding in impeding the rights of African American gays and lesbians. In recent years there have been church led marches that called for a ban on gay marriage, and even a case in Texas where the church encouraged two girls to divorce their lesbian mother. We can assert blame to misguided pastors and so-called “reformed gays,” but I think that at the root of the issue are black members of the LGBT community who continue to fill these pews Sunday after Sunday and not speak out openly in disdain for the message that is being delivered from the pulpit.
During my college years I attended a church in which the pastor condemned homosexuality as an abomination – his thoughts were that gays and lesbians could “get out of the lifestyle” with faith and prayer. I sat there countless Sundays, made to feel ashamed of the person that I was, and on some level believing what was being said, and wanting to change. I guess if you are told something over and over, at some point you actually begin to believe it. Which I guess explains why so many members of the LBGT community remain in such congregations. The turning point came for me when I began to seek greater understanding about what the Bible really says about homosexuality, and as I began to read and understand for myself, I found that what I had been receiving from the pulpit did not fall in line with what I was reading. Needless to say, I stopped attending that congregation. By canceling my “church membership,” which included my tithes and offerings, I was indirectly sending a message I would not allow myself to be subjected to the hate that was being spewed. I learned a long time ago that silence equals agreement. By not saying anything we are shaking our heads and nodding yes. If more black gay men and women would simply stand up and walk out of these congregations, it sends the message we stand united and that hate will not be tolerated.
This can be a daunting task, as so many of us live in a constant state of denial, self-loathing and self-hate – affected by years and years of damning commentary about our orientation. Bell Hooks stated once that “A commitment to true telling is the first step in the process of self-discovery.” In saying this, I think that we have to learn how to be comfortable in our own skin – not allowing our sexually to be the most paramount thing in our lives, but being able to acknowledge that it is a part of who we are that should be nurtured accordingly. When we do this we operate under the auspices of self respect – and no self respecting individual would allow themselves to be put in situations that did not support their greatness. When we do enter into places of worship I think that we must walk in with our thinking caps on. Far too many times in our religious engagement we accept things at face value which leaves no room for thought, opinion or dialogue. This in turn leads to no room for spiritual growth. We often times become experts within our careers, super knowledgeable about the goings on within pop culture and connoisseurs of food and wine, but when it comes to our faith and what we believe, we tend to leave it entirely in the hands of another person. To ask someone why their spiritual beliefs are what they are is too often times get no answer.
Good advertising appeals to the emotional sensibilities of the consumer – our wants, desires, needs and even our insecurities and our fears. Yet, smart consumers research and make sure that the product lives up to its promises. Operating under the guise of redeeming people, a number of black churches appeal to the insecurities and fears of black gays and lesbians – guaranteeing hell if they do not change. Ultimately, however, the power lies in the hands of the individual, as they have a choice to blindly believe “smart advertising” from the pulpit or test and research for themselves. Does God save Queens? Hell emphatically yes! And he loves them too. Let us walk in the fullness of this love and in self respect knowing that we are divinely created.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

What a Man, What a Mighty Good Man

My man is smooth like Barry and his voice got bassA body like Arnold with a Denzel faceHe's smart like a doctor with a real good repHe always got a gift for me everytime I see himAnd when he comes home, he's relaxed with pep

My heterosexual female friends keep me informed on almost a daily basis that there are no good black men out there. They give me statistics, quote Essence Magazine and give me the 411 on their latest quest to meet a good black man at the newest hot spot, in an all out attempt to support their hypothesis. These women have tried internet dating, speed dating and even the office fling. Some have allowed family and friends to hook them up on dates. Others have cooked, cleaned, worked-out, gave it up on the first date and even enlisted the “three month rule.” They have been to the singles ministry at church and even learned to “pole dance” to unleash their “inner-freak.” The battle cry of “they are all either gay or in prison” resonates stronger than ever among these women living in a post J.L. King Era. I have gotten these calls for years now, and I don't expect them to end anytime soon. Yet, the new trend for me has been that for every one black woman I speak with about the lack of good brothers, I talk to two black gay men with the same issue. I yell into the receiver “I thought they were all gay, so what's the problem?” That usually gets me a chuckle or deep sighs from the other end of the receiver. Perhaps I am overly optimistic, but I find it hard to believe that there are no good black men out there? In fact, I know more than a few. So if there are good black men out there, why then is it so difficult for us to meet and maintain a good relationship with them?
I guess one would have to define what qualifies someone as a “good black man?” Our definitions end up looking more like a laundry list of sounds bites we've heard over the years of what a good man should be than anything else. The list usually goes something like the following: He has to be attractive, in shape, financially secure, love his mother, be honest, have a big car, a big house, big hands, a big dick, good teeth, good credit, good manners, and good dick, have a 401k and speak five languages. That's the short list y'all. In fact, most would forgo the good credit and 401k for the big dick. In all seriousness, these attributes would be nice, but I have to ask how realistic it is to find all these things in one individual? Further, we must ask ourselves if we possess all those things that we are looking for in a potential partner. If my credit is “jacked-up” and my figure is less than fly, how then can I have a heightened expectation for a potential partner? The focus tends to be placed entirely on what the other person can bring to the table, as opposed to what both parties can contribute to the growth of a relationship. While the visceral is important (it is the thing that usually draws us in), I think we have to be able to move beyond that being the primary criteria. Qualities like good communication skills, spirituality and a good relationship with family should be paramount if we are in fact seeking to be in a lasting relationship. What this means is that we need to learn how to date, rather than completely immersing ourselves too quickly in situations. I have found that we tend to approach dating in inverse order; we meet, have sex, and if the sex is good, decide to move forward in the engagement of courting. So, we end up falling for the great smile, nice body and the good sex, as opposed to falling for the person in their entirety. Having already fallen, we become disappointed once we become acquainted outside of the “tall, dark and handsome illusion” and find that our compatibility is limited only to hot sessions between the sheets. The same becomes true when we place great emphasis on one's professional life. I joke with my friends about handing out my resume to potential dates to see if it gets their stamp of approval. My occupation is what I do, not necessarily who I am. It has no bearing on what type of friend, lover or parent that I am. The garbage collector or the MTA worker could quite possibly be really good black men, but our narrow scope keeps us from giving it serious consideration.
Aside from having a flawed definition of what a good brother is, I think that we have to also examine our patterns. If we take a moment to look at past relationships I think that we begin to see patterns form. Examining these patterns allow for us to see where the relationship went wrong, and by doing so we are able to avoid making the same mistakes over and over. In this, we have to be honest about the role in which we played in the detriment of the relationship, as many of us like to play the victim in a defunct relationship. By virtue of the fact that so many of us “come into our gayness” later, I have found that there are some really good black men out there who merely do not know how to have a relationship with another brother. Many of us have been told all of our lives that homosexuality is nothing more than a sexual perversion, and a lot of us bought into the hype. Thus, we tend to negotiate our relationship with other men from a purely physical vantage point. With this being the case, there is never really a conscious effort placed of moving the “relationship” to a higher level. I think that black women are at an advantage here, as there is a standard by which heterosexuals can measure themselves. The fact that most of us have never really seen long lasting gay relationships modeled for us puts us at somewhat of a disadvantage, because we are learning as we go. Though I know that many would argue that good relationship qualities transcend orientation, I personally think, based on my experiences, that the nuances and idiosyncrasies that exist in same sex relationships are unique. The fact that we live in a world dominated by gender roles makes it can make it difficult for two men to coexist. There is this unconscious or maybe conscious thought that someone has to assume a less dominate role in the relationship, and this can sometimes act as a road block in finding and establishing long lasting relationships.
The Salt-n-Peppa /En Vogue collaboration that created the song “What a Man, What a Mighty Good Man” became an anthem of sorts for black women celebrating their men. The thing that I loved about the song was that each woman celebrated the individual uniqueness of what made their man good for them. It seems to me that we are all looking for a prototype – the perfect man, as opposed to honoring what it is that we really want, and even better, what we need in a man. At the end of the day we will need more than abs and biceps to sustain something real. My intent is not to debase anyone for their personal preference, as we all have them, but rather, to remind us to give serious consideration to the possibilities that exist beyond the margins of our list. Good black men are out there. They exist in various sizes, hues of brown and professions – and there is one out there for all of us.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

He Ain't Heavy... He's My Brother

“I must believe, I must believe, that the heavy grace of God, which has brought me to this place, is all that can carry me out of it.” James Baldwin

The bond of brotherhood is formed in a number of different ways. For some of us it was created in dorm rooms over cups of ramen noodles as we discussed sports, girls and a plethora of other random bull-shit. For some, it happened on football fields, in locker-rooms and better still on neighborhood blocks where we cracked on each others mothers, lied about when we lost our virginity and spent summers shooting hoops well into twilight. For others, true brotherhood made its presence known in our allegiances to fraternal organization. And sometimes it happened merely because we were the only two “brothas” who worked in a certain area of the company. As a testament to the importance of brotherhood among black men, the film industry has taken liberty to explore it in movies like “The Wood,” “Brothers” and “Get on the Bus.” “New Jack City” exemplified the “g-code” using the biblical through-line “Am I my brother's keeper” as constant reminder to have your brother's back. Despite how it happened, the thing that remains consistent in most brotherly bonds is the presence of some kind of common connection, the commitment to stick together, to fight for each other, push each other in the right direction (or perceived right direction) and always be available to lend a helping hand. Black male life is not a monolith, and to that same point black gay life does not exist in a vacuum. There will always be differences. These differences can either bond or divide. However, what happens when we allow the thing that links us as brothers, as “family,” to create division and allow for the zeitgeist of non-brotherly behavior to rear its ugly head? Does brotherhood truly exist among black gay men?
We categorize ourselves in a number of different ways – top, bottom, fem, masculine, dl, queen, t-girl, just to name a few. I question if these labels force us to segregate, and by segregating, severing the ties that bond us together as brothers. I made a recent visit to my old friend “Adam” to see what the latest offerings are in the city. In only a few clicks, I was able to view firsthand the divisiveness that exists within our community. Preference has truly run amuck. On a site where everyone is a man who has sex with other men, it is hard for me to understand from whence all the hate is derived. One can express what their likes are without bashing. If we are all meeting on the common ground of sexual affinity to men, why then is it important to pick apart a person's individual lifestyle in such a hate driven way? If we are really honest with ourselves we realize that our struggle is the same. We all face the same discrimination. We may be tolerated if our life mirror a “normalized” heterosexual lifestyle, but the fact still remains that acceptance is far from being actualized. At the heart of this is the human tendency to react in opposition to things that we do not understand. It is the “fight or flight” response – where you either fight against that thing (i.e. feminine men, trans-gender men, men who are out of the closet) with every ounce of your being or avoid it as if it were the plague. Instead we should seek to find understanding. I made a personal vow with myself some years ago to not speak publicly with disdain about another brother (or sister). By doing this it allowed for me to place a greater focus on myself and find that the flaws I so readily pointed out in other people had more to do with personal insecurities than anything else. My hope is not some utopia where we all hug and sing “flower child” songs from the sixties, but rather that we adhere to the standards of brotherhood.
Donnie Hathaway's remake of the Hollies 1969 hit song “He ain't heavy, he's my brother” is a favorite on my ipod playlist because it provides me with a constant reminder to act accordingly and acknowledge the fact that I belong to an additional brotherhood of men. Though my admission into this brotherhood was not a matter of choice, I am still responsible for nurturing it. When I speak negatively about my brothers, it gives others outside the bond a false sense of entitlement to do the same. Further, we do a disservice to each other when we allow for such comments to go unchecked. Despite the gay sub-culture that I associate with most closely, I must make it my business to look out for all my brothers despite their gay sub-culture. That does not mean becoming intimately involved in the lives of every black gay man, but it does mean that there is an awareness that exist as we interact with one another. As we increase our collective camaraderie, it decreases the chances for others to attempt to divide us and use us as puns. Let us be the true embodiment of brotherhood and be advocates for each other. It's like Donnie says in the song, “His welfare is my concern. No burden is he to bear, we'll get there. For I know he would not encumber me. He ain't heavy, he's my brother.”