Friday, November 13, 2009

Was Malcolm X Gay or Bisexual?

image Malcolm is still to this day considered a very complicated figure.  I believe this is in part due to the fact that his life was cut short.  At the time of his death, he had severed his relationship with the Nation of Islam and was clearly moving left in his politics.  Unfortunately, because of his popularity there will always be those that seek to claim him as theirs.  You see, in his death, his words have become more palatable to many, even as they engage in the same acts of racism that he denounced in his life.

A good example of this neglect is the denialism surrounding the bisexuality of one of the greatest modern black liberation heroes: Malcolm X. The lack of recognition is perhaps not surprising, given that some of his family and many black activists have made strenuous efforts to deny his same-sex relationships and suppress recognition of the full spectrum of his sexuality.

Why the cover-up? So what if Malcolm X was bisexual? Does this diminish his reputation and achievements? Of course not. Whether he was gay, straight or bisexual should not matter. His stature remains, regardless of his sexual orientation. Yet many of the people who revere him seem reluctant to accept that their hero, and mine, was bisexual.

It is not problematic that he may have been gay or bisexual; the issue is that he did not publicly declare this identity in his lifetime. Malcolm is not reduced by being gay or bisexual and sexuality in this case is irrelevant. His sexuality has little to do with who he was as a person and what he fought for. He was unapologetically militantly Black, in a time when self love was frowned upon.  He encouraged us to love each other as he loved us and it is this, that  ultimately stands as Malcolm’s legacy.

Had he not been murdered in 1965, Malcolm might have eventually, like Huey Newton of the Black Panthers and the black power leader Angela Davis, embraced the lesbian and gay liberation movement as part of the struggle for human emancipation. Instead, to serve their homophobic political agenda, for over half a century the Nation of Islam and many black nationalists have suppressed knowledge of Malcolm's same-sex relations. It is now time for Black History Month to speak the truth. Malcolm X was bisexual. Get over it.

Right, Black people are the only ones with an agenda here.  We are supposed to accept the motives of a largely White run community that has done nothing but demonize us at every turn.  Let’s not forget the open and unapologetic appropriation of Black history.  We have openly said that this is offensive, only to be called homophobes.  Gay is not now, or every will be the new Black and using Jim Crow imagery to illustrate homophobia is insulting.  A White run movement, has no business believing it has the right to use Black history for its own benefit, when it is filled with so much pain for us. If these messages were used by same gender loving people of color, it would send a completely different message because this is our shared history.  When it is used by White members of the GLBT community, like The Advocate or the HRC crowd, it smacks of racism and appropriation.  The same as you meme means don’t treat me like a nigger.

image Here is where it gets sticky. We already know that assumed heterosexuality is a dangerous thing, however; assumed homosexuality or bisexuality supposedly isn’t?  Please give me a break. Over the years, if there has been the slightest suggestion that a Black star is not straight, there have been continual calls to out them. Queen Latifah anyone?  Some GLBT websites  don’t even question her sexuality anymore and have completely claimed her.   Queerty has long been known to dally in her personal business as though they are warming her royal bed sheets. In an interview with The New York Times the Queen stated, “I don't have a problem discussing the topic of somebody being gay, But I do have a problem discussing my personal life."

Unfortunately, we live in a world where a GLBT identity must be declared because of homophobic and transphobic assumptions.  This does not mean that anyone has the right to make assumptions about someone else’s sexuality to score political points.  If Malcolm was gay, fine.  I could care less because I never slept with the man.  If Queen Latifah is a lesbian, that is also fine with me, I am not sleeping with woman.  What they did sexually will never ever be my business to speculate on because it does not effect me personally. 

There is a difference between saying Malcolm may have been gay and declaring to all the world that he was. Get over it you say?  Just accept your word as truth; when you have shown so little regard for our history, or us as a people?  I think not.  It’s funny how marginalized groups always seek to express power coercively, even with the knowledge through personal experience how terrible this can be.  What is this but an expression of privilege, to believe you have the right to declare what the identity of another is? Especially one who is long departed from this planet.

If Malcolm had wanted people to know particular details about his sexuality, he would have stated so.  He had the opportunity on many occasions, including when he partnered with Alex Haley to write The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Many Black men of that time period lived openly as gay men.   Malcolm was born at the beginning of the Harlem Renaissance.  This is particularly noteworthy because this explosion of African American culture, was lead by Black GLBT members like Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes. No aspect of African American culture remained untouched. In addition, it would foster a cultural shift that continued for decades to create a space for our same gender loving family members, culminating in leadership roles, in what would become  the civil rights movement.  But then, certain White GLBT  members would know that, if there were not so busy appropriating the parts of our history that it found  helpful in pushing a political agenda.

Even with the rampant lesbophobia today, I daresay that Queen Latifah can make the same decision for herself assuming that she is lesbian.  She certainly would not be the only out Black lesbian in Hollywood or the entertainment industry. Wanda Sykes, Karen Williams, Michelle N’degeocello, Tracy Chapman, Alice Walker, and Stacey-Ann Chin would be her compatriots.  The Queen is quoted in People magazine as saying, “Nobody gets that. I don't feel like I need to share my personal life, and I don't care if people think I'm gay or not. Assume whatever you want," she added. "You do it anyway."

If Queen Latifah chooses to remain private regarding who she is sleeping with, I fail to see how this is anyone’s business.   She has not declared her sexuality and it is not anyone's place to make declarations on her behalf.

When you tell us what our identity is, it takes away our agency.  We have fought to long as a people to have our voices and experiences legitimized.  To this day, our lived experiences of racism are continually discounted to privilege Whiteness.  Speculate all you want on who is sleeping with who because we cannot stop you, but when you think that you have the right to make  unsubstantiated assertions about anyone’s identity, as though you have slept in their bed, then you have gone too far.