Friday, May 12, 2006

Lebron James and the Cult of Black Masculinity

What follows is a recent email exchange that took place on the listserv for Princeton's Black Men's Awareness Group, of which I am a member.

From: "Brother Benjamin"
Sent: Saturday, May 6, 2006 12:13 pm
To: blackmen@PRINCETON.EDU
Subject: Reeeal Suspect pic of Lebron

From: Larry D Lyons (ldlyons@Princeton.EDU)"
To: blackmen@PRINCETON.EDU
Subject: Re: Reeeal Suspect pic of Lebron

yay! a continuation of our community's homophobic witch hunts!
I'll alert Bishop Eddie Long. He loves these, too!

From: “Brother Jeremy”
Sent: Monday, May 8, 2006 8:33 pm
To: blackmen@PRINCETON.EDU
Subject: Re: Reeeal Suspect pic of Lebron

lol, great pic Ben, that shit is hella funny.......who's Bishop Eddie Long?

From: “Brother David”
Sent: Monday, May 8, 2006 11:14 pm
Subject: Re: Reeeal Suspect pic of Lebron

Eddie Long is a black minister from Atlanta who has been seen as a type of black poster child for Bush's faith-based initiatives...also one of the most vocal opponents of the gay rights struggle, whether it be adoption rights or the right to marry. When I first got the email, I felt the photo was just a continuation of our tongue and cheek banter about the playoffs (which was definitely Ben's thinking I'm sure), but after hearing the seniors speak about being true to yourself at departing words, it makes me feel wrong to ignore the fact that some may have been offended.

From: Larry D Lyons (ldlyons@Princeton.EDU)"
Sent: Tuesday, May 9, 2006 12:57 pm
To: blackmen@PRINCETON.EDU
Subject: Re: Reeeal Suspect pic of Lebron

Thanks David. To be sure, Eddie Long's intolerance of gays doesn't end with the right to adopt or marry. He's a key player in the black church's ongoing mockery and demonization of its non-heterosexual congregants (see also: Bishop Alfred E. Owens
recent tirade against "sissies"). I interject their names here to draw a comparison between the implications Brother Benjamin's (surely lighthearted) email and the grave and unsettling homophobia that propels the sermons of Long and Owens. Unfortunately, linking the two is not such a stretch.

We know what "suspect" means. Suspicious. This picture makes us "reeeal" suspicious of something. That something is Lebron's masculinity. Men don't embrace. Men don't exhibit affection for other men. Not reeeal men. Reeeal men conform to the accepted strictures of gender. Any departure from these strictures render them "suspect" -- of questionable masculinity and/or sexuality.

Although we know that Lebron's gaze is this picture is the furthest thing from lustful or romantic, we still circulate the photo under the label of "suspect". Why? To fulfill our important role in endorsing and perpetuating a certain [stereo]type of [Black] masculinity.

These kinds of emails are a valued weapon in the fight against effeminacy, which is invariably (and problematically) linked with homosexuality. We do not want our men to be women. We do not want our men to be gay. These things are deplorable. So, regularly (and often under the guise of lighthearted derision) we send out these little reminders with a subtext that reads: "There are important social penalties for transgressing the established standards of masculinity" --or, more simply -- "Don't be a fag".

So, Brother Benjamin's email does some important work for our community. It exalts a standard of masculinity that stigmatizes a wide range of expression including camaraderie, platonic affection and jubilation by coding each as feminine. Simultaneously, it reminds "feminine" and non-heterosexual males that they are not men, perhaps not even human and certainly not welcome. This message is enveloped in a defense that reads: "I didn't mean it that way" -or- "It was just a joke", and the work is done. The cult of black masculinity is reified and its minion is protected by the ostensible jest of his intentions.

Bishops Long and Owens do it on the pulpit and we replicate it in our emails. Wittingly or unwittingly, the game remains the same, and our silence is all that is required to ensure that the homophobic witch hunt continue, unchecked.

in love,

Monday, May 08, 2006

Sex and Politics: A Sex-Positive Inquiry

Under the title of "XXX Political Campaign," rod 2.0 beta reports:
"London's sole gay, black councillor loses his seat in a bizaare political campaign that focused on an XXX M4M personal ad. Charles Anglin, the former Liberal Democratic councillor in Lambeth, south London (think: London Eye) says he was a victim of homophobia and hypocrisy.

In late March, the tabloid South London Press led with revelations about Councillor Anglin's profile on Gaydar. The article claimed that Anglin has "posed naked on a website, handling his private parts and revealing his sexual fantasies". The article also said that the councillor "has boasted of his sexual prowess on the website and revealed he gets an erotic kick wrestling other men."

Anglin never denied the Gaydar profile:"This is my private life and I don't see what the fuss is about." But his nude personal ad became the focus of the election. In the words of one opponent: "Posing naked on a website is surprising conduct for an elected representative." As much as we love a good wrestling match, alas, we'd have to agree."

"Patrick S" comments: This is a great story. True, its his personal business but if you're elected to office, you have to be discreet. Just because he's gay doesn't make it any diffrent. We wouldn't want a straight male or female politician posting an xxx personal ad.

Larry D. Lyons II responds:
I disagree. How many sex scandals need to hit the press before we realize that the problem is not that an ever-growing group of people in the public eye do nasty things, but that the public requires and vigilantly enforces the asexuality of its political figures? To be clear: LarryLy would sooner take issue with folks who aim to sweep the dirty dirty spectre of sexuality under the rug and out of the public eye than endorse the censure of those folks who bravely resist the sublimation and vilification of their sexual identity.

The question:
Why wouldn't we want a politician posting a "risque" personal ad?

Is it the ad?
What might it be about a politican's desire for affection or love or sex that renders them less capable or qualified to do their job? Why does this glimpse into the fullness of their humanity make "us" uncomfortable? Does the desire to be desired signify a vulnerability that we'd like to believe ceases to exist once one is elected to office? Does the visibility of a politician's quest for companionship remind us that elected officials can never be the superhuman eunuchs that "we" so need them to be? Are we resistant to these pseudo-icons being humanized to the point that we might actaully see in them those things which we [have been taught to] despise within ourselves (i.e. a desire for validation, a sexual apetite)? I don't want to psychologize irresponsibly here... but I am interested in the hypocrisy that refuses politicians access to the means of connecting to one another that the rest of us enjoy.

Is it the nudity?
Is there something particularly offensive or dangerous about the nudity of a politician? What aspect of our conditioning makes it harder to trust the prudence of someone we've seen naked? What narratives about sexuality and the body lead us to believe that it is inappropriate for someone in a position of power to exhibit some agency in the formation of their sexual identity? How has this stigmatization of the nude and/or sexualized body proven problematic in the past?

There are a million thoughts swirling about in my head:
Are we learning anything from the lessons we've been getting about the consequences of repressing sexuality from the Catholic church (and its altar boys)?

Arnold Schwarzenegger was nothing if not sexualized before he became Governor of California. But if i recall correctly, people had more of a problem with him being an actor than with him being a sexual being. Luckily for Arnie, he'd (ostensibly) tamed his infamous libido and gotten married before he made his bid for governor... because it seems that being young and openly single presents a particular type of danger.

But Anglin doesn't enjoy the luxury of being white, married, straight, conservative or ashamed. So, if Patrick is correct, the public does not permit even its straight politicos to decide for themselves what is appropriate and what is not. It would be outlandish, then, to expect that a black gay single man who's confortable in his skin might be evaluated solely on the basis of his qualifications and acumen rather than all-too salacious information about his prowess.

For me, it boils down to this: there are significant penalties designated for a black gay man who exhibits his body on the internet (particularly for the puposes of finding companionship or sex). For obvious reasons, this is an disqueting reality for your boy LarryLy.