Saturday, April 4, 2009

Legendary Latinas Wings To Fly

This is a guest post from Frau Sally of Jump off the Bridge.

Frau Sally Benz lives, works, and blogs in NY. She fights oppression, promotes activism and spreads political awareness at Jump off the Bridge. You can also follow her on twitter (@frausallybenz) if you need a stronger fix.

I've never been the biggest fan of visual art, being more musically-inclined, but Frida Kahlo is an exception to that. Her paintings are raw and real, and there is an honesty and vulnerability in them that I have always been drawn to. She was self-taught and perhaps that's why she wasn't afraid to pour her heart out on the canvas in a very special way. I remember being in awe of several paintings when seeing them for the first (and second, and third) time, and her depictions of reproduction, sexuality, and personal struggles are among my favourite paintings by any artist.

But I'm getting a little bit ahead of myself if you don't know who she is or don't know very much about her. Here's a cliff notes version of her bio:

"The only thing I know is that I paint because I need to, and I paint whatever passes through my head without any other consideration."

Frida was born in Mexico in 1907 to a father of Hungarian/German descent, and a mother of Mexican, indigenous and Spanish descent. When she was 18, she was in an accident that left her with a number of serious injuries. She was bedridden and her father got her paints and brushes to occupy her time. She never fully recovered from the accident and had several other health problems throughout her life, but this is when she started painting seriously.

Frida married Mexican artist (and fellow Communist) Diego Rivera a few years after her accident, when he was 42 and she was 22. To say they had a tumultuous relationship would be an understatement. Diego was never faithful (even sleeping with Frida's sister), and after putting up with that for a while, Frida started having her own affairs with men and women (including Leon Trotsky). They were on again, off again, divorced and remarried, and spent a great deal of time living together, but under separate roofs.

And that's as good an intro as any because, really, her paintings are a much better biography than any words in print will ever be.

"I never paint dreams or nightmares. I paint my own reality."

Her relationship with Diego was one that I don't think anybody will ever really understand. But, for all of their problems, they certainly couldn't seem to let each other go. Diego was the subject of many of Frida's paintings, directly or indirectly. Her ambivalence about their relationship is depicted in The Two Fridas. She painted a Frida in a Mexican dress, holding a picture of Diego that's meant to symbolize the woman he loved. The other Frida is in a European dress with her heart bleeding out, meant to represent the Frida that Diego didn't want.

Image of Frida Kahlo's painting, Flower of Life But Diego was hardly her only inspiration. Reproduction and fertility, including her own troubles in these areas, made its way to the canvas a number of times. One of my favorite paintings, Flower of Life, uses a flower to symbolize sexuality and fertility. I've always loved that imagery and the power that seems to emanate from the painting. Another favorite of mine, My Birth, was Frida's attempt at illustrating her feelings on childbirth, motherhood, and her own reproductive failures. Her own miscarriage in Detroit was the subject of the graphic painting Henry Ford Hospital, which included symbols of her difficult pregnancy and miscarriage.

As I mentioned earlier, Frida's work around the themes of reproduction and sexuality are among my favorites. She is not the only artist to ever paint about these themes, but her work continues to speak to me in ways no other artist can. They're deeply personal, and obviously come from her own experiences. Yet, they're also universal, in ways a lot of her other personal works are not. You might not be able to relate to the image of her broken body, but childbirth, fertility, sexuality -- these are things that affect all of us in some way. But whether we succeed or fail in our attempts, the emotional, physical and psychological affects are certainly no less complicated. She owns this reality and her own experience, and in doing so, she pushes our buttons and makes us consider that there is beauty and tragedy in the balance of life and death.

"I hope the end is joyful - and I hope never to come back."

Image of Frida Kahlo's painting, The Dream
This is all just a sliver of her life and work. I could go on about her accomplishments and other paintings for days, but I'll leave it to the biographers. What I really want to do is show why it was so easy for me to love a woman who lived with such pain (physically and emotionally), but who was still able to produce work that spoke truth to that pain and to live her life without apologies. Her status as a feminist icon should be honoured for that alone.

"Feet… what do I need them for if I have wings to fly."

For more about Frida's life, love, and art, you should check out:
Frida Kahlo Fans
The Life and Times of Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo Quotes

Michelle Obama Reborn

image I have made no secret of the fact that I am huge Michelle Obama fan.  There are precious few examples of black women leading public lives that have the grace, strength and beauty of Michelle Obama.   I watched with rising anger as she was attacked continually throughout the campaign and those that claimed to be feminist in the mainstream media had precious little to say in her defence.   They were quicker to defend that colluding betrayer Sarah Palin than Michelle Obama. Not only is Michelle better educated than Palin, I am quite sure if you asked her, she could list the magazines or books that she reads. 

She has been called an angry, unpatriotic, and even uppity, yet there has been a wall of silence instead of a rousing defence.  When she announced that she was going to be “mom in chief”, the wolves howled at the moon questioning what kind of modern example she represented by “standing behind her man”.  What people forget is that Michelle’s labour supported the Obama family while Barack pursued his dreams.  Without her income, he never would have been able to  work as a community organizer and in fact this is the first time in their marriage that he has earned more than her.  When we consider that many women continue to be economically dependent on men, Michelle stands as an example of a woman that is not only capable of having a successful career, but managing a family as well.  Barack was absent quite often for the last two years and it was Michelle who took on the burden of raising their daughters. 

Yes ,Michelle left paid employment when her husband became president of the United States but she is still working.   There is no possible way that she could fulfill the duties foisted upon her as first lady and maintain paid employment.  We simply choose to purposefully not view what she does as work because we believe that  the support staff work that women engage in is a function of our so -called desire to nurture.   It is this attitude that helps to maintain the economic divide between men and women. 

Michelle Obama is a remarkable woman.   She has stood bravely in the face of her critics and continued to be a wonderful example to not only WOC but all women.  As the media that once denigrated her begins to gush as her approval ratings rise, I cannot help but think about what fickle friends they have been throughout this journey.  The same people that refused to stand in her defence now rush to claim her, comparing her to Jackie O and Princess Diana. Somehow this is perceived as showing deference, or even a form of appreciation for the woman that she is.   It is enough to make me ill.  Michelle is not uplifted because the media has chosen to wrongly compare her to two white women born into privilege.  Her style and her grace are her own and she does not need to be legitimated by white femininity. 

Even in their comparisons to Jackie O and Princess Diana, they cannot see their racism.   White women have always been held up as the standard of femininity and to pronounce Michelle a success in this vein means that they are still not recognizing her as a successful black woman.  As long as white women continue to be standard that all women are judged by, WOC will continue to play secondary roles no matter what our achievements may be.  It’s like saying that she is worthy because she embodies qualities that have typically been associated with white womanhood and  not because of being authentically and wonderfully a black woman.  You cannot claim her in times of convenience. She never has been, or ever will be yours to own.

Drop It Like It’s Hot

Thanks everyone for all of the great participation this week.  Once again we did not agree on much but as long as we keep speaking about the difficult subjects that very few want to engage with some progress will be made.  I would like to say thanks to all of those who guest posted this week.   If you are interested in cross posting or guest posting feel free to e-mail me or you can find me on twitter.

I would also like to take this opportunity to remind everyone to submit their posts to the WOC and Ally Blog carnival.  If I can get enough submissions it will once again be posted at Tell It WOC Speak on the 15th of April. Please enter your submissions here.

As usual I have a great list of links for you to check out,please show these bloggers some love.  When you are done, don’t forget to drop it like it’s hot and leave your link behind in the comment section.

Taking Up Space

Apache Girls Sunrise Ceremony

What if you lose weight the “easy way”? (Reflections on Weight Loss and Weight Loss Surgery, Part 1)

Intersex Separatists, Transpeople Aren’t Your Enemy

Henry VIII “subjugated” by female historians paying attention to wives

we don’t need another anti-racism 101

My Thoughts Always: Let The Beatings Begin  (Extreme trigger warning)

you don’t speak the dunn language (properly)

The Intellectual Space to Be Anti-Male Is Necessary and Desirable

 The Myth Of The Strong Black Woman (This is a must read)

Pulling The Plug On Rape Culture One Word At A Time

“There never was a member so defined…”

Derailing For Dummies

Parental Alienation Tactic: Punishing Parents, Punishing Children

a girl like me


Friday, April 3, 2009

Book Review: If Women Ran the World Sh*t Would Get Done by Shelly Rachanow

This is a book review by Holly of Menstrual Poetry.

 image As soon as I read the title of this book, the first thing I thought of was 'Damn straight!' and I am sure many, many other women thought that to themselves upon first glance, but If Women Ran the World Sh*t Would Get Done is a great deal more than just a completely spot on, oh-so-true title; it is a collection of wonderful, amazing, stupendous, inspiring, butt-kicking things that women have done, continue to do, and your motivation and inspiration to do all of the butt-kicking things you want to do.

Women have done a great deal of amazing, awe-inspiring, and out of this world things to improve the quality of people's lives everywhere simply by imagining the world as they would like to see it and creating it.  But despite all that women have and continue to do to change the world, we are still often denied the respect that we have worked for and undoubtedly deserve.  Most often, we are not taken seriously and even degraded and ridiculed for the work that we do because of society that has yet to overcome the patriarchy.

Even if we're not making international headlines, in Rachanow's mind (as well as in all women's minds!) we should be given Nobel Prizes for friendship.  We should be celebrated for what we do for our friends, for our families, for our jobs, for the world, and yes, even for ourselves.  Self love and self care are what a lot of women have trouble doing because naturally, we are nurturers; we take care of our friends and our families and we stand up for and battle for the civil liberties and rights that we should undoubtedly possess for our determination and hard work at our jobs but when it comes to doing for ourselves, we tend to make excuses and we tend to think that we have not done enough yet in order to simply celebrate how much we have kicked butt that day.  Rachanow gives us all that kick in the pants we need to celebrate who we are and what we do every single day of our lives and gives us the permission we so often deny ourselves to celebrate what we do as well as who we do it for.

Every page of this book is full of inspiration and motivation to celebrate what we do all the time and highlights the courageous, mind-blowing things women have done.  Women created The American Legacy Foundation in efforts to build a world where young people can reject tobacco and help your friends quit smoking for good.  Trickle Up is another organization that was created by the minds and hands of a woman sick of hearing about eradicating poverty and who actually did something about it.  As we continue to learn more about exactly what women have done throughout the years to change the world, Rachanow tenderly reminds us at the end of every section that we too have the power to do wonderful, amazing, stupendous, inspiring, butt-kicking things equipped with lined pages to remind ourselves what we do for our families, how we've kicked butt that day when we don't feel as if we have done quite enough, what we would do if we ran the world, what we will demand in our lives that we are not currently receiving and refuse to accept anything less, and of course, what we will get done for ourselves--Because we deserve it for all we do!

If Women Ran the World Sh*t Would Get Done is a no-bullshit book that will jump start your mind to begin thinking about the world you would like to see and the steps you can take to create it.

A Royal Hug Or Royal Racism?

image For the last few days the media has been obsessed with the question as to whether or not Michelle Obama broke royal protocol by daring to return an embrace initiated by the Queen.   Let’s be clear, despite the nonsense about the divine right to rule, the Queen puts her panties on one leg at a time just like every other woman.  While I respect British traditions the idea that someone is magically elevated by an accident of birth to me seems not only highly archaic but somewhat ridiculous. 

From watching Michelle interact with dignitaries what is clear is that artifice and falseness are not natural to her.   This was simply a moment shared by two women that the media and certain members of the aristocracy have managed to fixate on to the negation of what I feel to be a far more grievous action by Prince Philip.

The following is from Sky News:

It had to happen. When President Obama and wife Michelle met the Queen at Buckingham Palace, a Prince Philip gaffe was inevitable.

In the small talk when they first met, the Queen and the Prince were sympathising with the President and his wife about their gruelling schedule since arriving late on Tuesday evening.

"The time lag," said the Queen, ever the diplomat.

"You're just trying to stay awake!" said Philip, ever the foot-in-mouth blunderer.

Then the President told the Royals: "I had breakfast with the Prime Minister, I had meetings with the Chinese, the Russians, David Cameron...

"And I'm proud to say I did not nod off in one of the meetings."

A guffawing Prince Philip then blurted out: "Can you tell the difference between them?"

Now at first I thought that was an insult to David Cameron. But perhaps not. I may be wrong. Perhaps it was a compliment for the Tory leader to be compared to two powerful world leaders.

Either way, it was vintage Prince Philip!

It would seem to me that  considering his position, the statements of Prince Philip were far more egregious then any breach in royal protocol that occurred when Michelle Obama hugged the Queen.  He was clearly continuing on with  the tradition of royal racism that they have shamelessly displayed to the world.  It is particularly telling that the media felt no need to create a sensation over this event.  Philip is deemed “old world” and therefore, his racism is continually excused.  Regardless of how old this man is, if he is going to represent a country such behaviour is unacceptable.

This is not just some sort of verbal blunder.  The royal family have continually made racist statements publicly.   When we consider the fact that their positions are based in an accident of birth wherein a society has falsely chosen to privilege certain bodies,   it reveals exactly how far we are willing to extend white privilege and hierarchy.   Philip is not some sweet doting old man, he had to know that his commentary to the first African American president and first lady were completely unacceptable; the point was that he did not care. 

Elites like Philip can afford not to care about the damage that their actions or statements cause.  At worst they will receive a small slap on the wrist, while the POC is left to deal with the shame and humiliation of being reduced to an “other” .   We are told that we are “too sensitive” when we complain about racist statements and yet it is our lives that are negatively impacted.  Each time a stereotype is allowed to pass unchallenged, it further cements the idea that whiteness necessarily belongs at the top of our chain of hierarchy.  Not only do we pay a cost for being assaulted by such vicious  racist constructions, we pay a cost to fight for our rights as human beings.  Conservatives continually call the media liberally biased, but when an issue of white racism is allowed to pass with virtually no comment how can the media possibly be understood as fair or equal? 

I personally see nothing special about Philip that should allow him to denigrate another in  this manner.   If we are going to allow these people to supposedly represent the goodness that we have to offer, then they should be held to a higher standard.  As a Canadian and a commonwealth citizen, they embarrass me with their insistence on reducing others to support their supposed superiority.  Instead of God Save the Queen , it should be God Save Us All from the proliferation of such ignorance and privilege. 

H/T Jack and Jill Politics

Dickist Of The World Unite

Fair warning: this post is not rated G.  If you are going to get yourself tied into a knot stop reading this instant.

I have done some thinking since I learned that I am dickist.  What does it mean to elevate the dick?   Is it having relationships with men?  Is it taking pride in giving a good blow job or simply enjoying a good lay from time to time?  Not only do I refuse to feel shame for loving the men in my life, I positively refuse to feel shame for engaging in sex.

The idea that choosing to be intimate with a man is somehow shameful or a denial of feminist principles is ridiculous.;  it necessarily precludes any concept of an active female sexuality.  In fact such clear negations of womens sexual choices are far more harmful than any blow job I’ve ever given. 

So what is with the association of the dick with ultimate in female shame?   We slut shame sex workers, we slut shame women who have sex outside of marriage, and we slut shame women who engage in sexual acts that we deem somehow anti-woman.   Unless you are lying on your back as frigid as an iceberg somehow you are behaving inappropriately.   It seems me that lying on your back with your legs spread, acting like a human pin cushion turns sex into something that men do to women.  It’s the passive pussy complex.

While I have no problem with lesbian sex, it is just not for me.  I don’t get turned on by breasts and shapely curves, I want a big thick piece of man meat.  I love everything about masculine bodies, from the broad shoulders to the hard muscles; men are where it is at for me.   Not only do I consent to sex, I do so enthusiastically and eagerly await each opportunity.

While there are women who identify as political lesbians or abstain from heterosexual sex because of our sexist patriarchal society, it is patently unfair to hold us all to the same standard.  This policing of behaviour is no different than that which patriarchy does to control female bodies.  Don’t give me the monolithic woman bullshit when it favours your interests and your desires.  I understand the desire to elevate vaginas, hell I have one, but this one knows exactly what makes her little heart happy.

If the dick makes you happy celebrate it.  We have to deal with enough bullshit to get through a single day without worrying about whether consenting sex between two adults is appropriately feminist.  We are doing the work of patriarchy every time we attempt to slut shame women for seeking to satisfy our natural desires and if that isn’t counter to feminist values, I don’t what is.

The Global North Meets The Global South And Racoons Become Food


image Glemis Beasley of Detroit hunts, sells and cooks raccoons.  To many of us this activity seems right out The Beverley Hillbillies, but to Glemis it has become a good way to not only support himself but supplement the high cost of commercially grown food.

"Starvation is cheap," he says as he prepares an afternoon lunch of barbecue coon and red pop at his west side home. "Today people got no skill and things is getting worse," he lament"This city is going back to the wild," he says. "That's bad for people but that's good for me. I can catch wild rabbit and pheasant and coon in my backyard."s. What people gonna do? They gonna eat each other up is what they gonna do. I knowed some hard times," Beasley says. "But a man's got to know how to get hisself through them hard times. Part of that is eating right."

He recently appeared on Travels With Charlie a local show out of Detroit.   When 1 in 10 Americans are collecting food stamps, which translates into 32.2 million people now is not the time to turn poverty and coping skills into some from of infotainment to shame those that take what some would consider to be unconventional means to cope.   Poverty is not some form of “lifestyle choice,” nor is it meant to be discussed in the form of shaming. The capitalist system breeds inequality and class warfare.

What I found most startling is the condescension of the reporter versus the way the poverty of white Americans is presented by the mainstream media. Though we very much still push the idea of meritocracy for poor bodies of color, the newly poor white middle class have been exempted from this social lie.  When we consider that if one is of color, you will have additional challenges to overcome i.e. institutionalized racism, the fact that whiteness is understood as blameless for the current economic downturn speaks of the social desire to continually oppress.

Whiteness creates the rules and controls much of the world.   In terms of economics, though we can point to individual success stories the bulk of the worlds wealth is firmly ensconced in white hands and yet it is POC that must pull ourselves up by the boot straps.  If you did not create the game, are not given access to the rule book, and are systematically prevented from making the relationships (read:networking) that are necessary, how is it possible  to advance?

POC have once again become the scape goats that poor whites can unleash their anger at about the reduction in living standards.  It is not at all accidental that during this time that the outcry regarding so-called illegal immigrants is reaching a frenzied pitch.  Now you can volunteer to be a virtual minuteman, guarding the border from the safety of your home. Yes, do your part to keep  the brown hordes from invading and stealing jobs from (white) Americans. 


We will not acknowledge that the jobs that these people take are absolutely essential to the functioning of the state and they are paid at a rate that is so low that no legal citizen would agree to work for these slave wages.  There are no benefits, long hours, no sick days and in the agriculture industry women have been subject to mass rapes.  Please explain to me what harm these people are doing by trying to escape the poverty that is in part created by the US through its legal economic bully the IMF and World Bank.

For the first time in  generations, Americans are beginning to experience a small sample of the kind of poverty that it has been more than willing to impart upon third world bodies.   Even with all of the trips to food banks and soup kitchens, many still function with such a high level of western privilege that they still cannot see exactly how lucky they really are.  No child in a slum in Calcutta can depend on the government to provide food stamps for their family.   In many parts of Africa if you do not have enough money to pay the school fees your children will not receive an education thereby, sentencing them to a lifetime of poverty. 

Each and everyday people wake to absolute destitution and yet they continue onward.  As westerners our sense of entitlement has grown exponentially with our ability to be able to control capitol and thereby run neo-colonies throughout the world.  The same lie of meritocracy is continually thrown at the third world as though economics is a level playing field.   The west was very heavily dependent on colonies to provide cheap labour, resources, and to function as a market for its goods.  Third world countries have never had these benefits and it is therefore impossible for them to close the gap between wealth and poverty. Though legally colonization has ended, economics continue to function as an expression of western power allowing us to have informal colonies to exploit.  This has proved to be a very advantageous strategy as  now we no longer bare the costs of policing, or maintaining a foreign presence, to legitimate our so- called right to rule.

Though stories like that of Glemis Beasley put a face to the poverty that many people of colour are living with, what we can take away from him is the idea that even when our options are not pleasant, they are still far more plentiful than many across the globe.   Though the media sought to construct him as an ignorant throw back, he has managed to use his skills to  ensure that he is able to feed, clothe, and shelter himself.  How many of us if suddenly reduced to nothing, could say that we would be able to achieve subsistence? 

These essential skills that we have turned our back on due to mechanization need to make a return to everyday living.  Prior to WWII most of what we consumed was made in the home and now we are hard pressed to eat a meal that does not involve a microwave or picking up the phone and dialling dinner.  If we take anything away from this crises, perhaps the lesson will be that skills that we once deemed outdated truly still have a purpose.  There is no shame in negotiating the system to survive rather,  the shame belongs to those who continue to live lavishly on the backs of the majority of the worlds population.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

It’s Just Sex People

image Recently I cross posted a piece from this black sista’s page about the possibility that Malcom X could have been gay or bisexual.   Though it did not get a lot of commentary on the blog, it was highly linked to.   The idea that the black prince may not have been straight was very troubling to a lot of people.

There have also been rumours for years that despite his devotion to God and social justice that Martin Luther King was not faithful to Coretta.   If you believe the gossip he actually had several affairs over the course of his marriage.

The following is a comment left on the thread about Malcolm X:

The Real Truth:I have a master's degree in Political Science and a bachelor's in African American Studies and I refuse to entertain these slanderous comments about Malcolm X. Every hero the the black community has, white america seeks to slander and debase their memory. There is nothing wrong with being gay, but Malcolm X was most certainly not gay. This book is based on lies and misinformation. Get your facts straight people. In my extensive research on the life of Malcolm X, I have never come across any information that makes this book relevant or true.

Though there are many problematic aspects to this comment, I would like to focus on the fact the commenter suggests that the possibility that  Malcom X was gay somehow denigrates his memory?  If he was, it involved consensual sex between two adults and does not change a single thing that he managed to accomplish in his lifetime.

image The same holds true for Dr. King.  He could have slept with hundreds of women and he will always be the same man that lead the march on Washington. He will still be the man whose I Have A Dream speech continues to inspire people around the globe. 

Often the idea of sex as a marker of social good attaches itself to women vis a vis the Madonna/Whore complex but in the above cases we can see that it can also attach itself to men.  With exception of asexuals we are all sexual beings and yet sexuality is something that is highly policed in our society.   Not only do we choose to discipline what acts we find acceptable, the context within which they occur can also be highly problematic.

image The sexually permissive state that we claim to live in does not actually exist, as we spend more time discussing all the reasons not to have sex than we actually do engaging in it.  Sex seems to be pervasive; it is used to sell everything from fish sticks to USB gadgets and yet when we choose to engage in it, it is still considered an act that debases us.  When we look at the way in which we treat individuals that work in the sex industry can there be any doubt that sex is considered a highly problematic act?

What if we were to decide that sex between to consenting adults was just a normal part of our existence?  How would this change the way we choose to view bodies differently?  I think that we would find that some bodies that exist with a stigmatized identity would suddenly find themselves normalized.   Even though we have taboos many exist with the idea that these are normative but in fact what is considered a distasteful sexual act varies from across culture, class, and ethnicity. What is the highest form of love in some places is considered foul and disgusting in others.   If we accept this very simple truth, the very idea that we need to discipline any act becomes ridiculous.  Obviously what we find abhorrent in western countries has not harmed another society and therefore what we are choosing to stigmatize is more about our desire to oppress the bodies that participate in a particular practice than it is about our over all disgust with a particular sexual act. 

As part of honouring the entire human experience we need to validate the concept that sex is simply an act that most engage in freely.  It is an essential part of our happiness and fulfillment therefore; to expect certain bodies to refrain from participation or attempt to control the circumstances in which sexual activity occurs actually stunts our social progress.   Sex is simply sex and has no meaning other than which we confer to it.  It is a physical act like eating, breathing and sleeping and to apply a false morality to such basic behaviour is hubris.  No matter how many shaming tactics we employ people will always seek to satisfy their basic urges.

Congrats Isis On Your SRS And Engagement

Let me start by saying congratulations to Isis on her SRS surgery because this is something that she really wanted. I do have to send a massive dumbbell award to Tyra Banks.  I simply despise the fact that she felt it was necessary to declare that “Isis was now 100% woman”. Uh Hello….genitalia does not equal gender.  Isis was 100% woman before she had the surgery.

One of thing that bothers me about Tyra is that even though she claims ally status she has on occasion made anti trans statements or has done an anti trans activity.  It really hit home to me when she put pictures of Isis up pre transition, while Isis sat there looking so uncomfortable.   Even if she had permission to do so I think considering the power differential between Tyra and Isis it would have been difficult for Isis to say no.   Tyra is a lesson to all allies…if you are going to advocate for trans rights take the time to learn the basics. 

I’m An Ally But

image Many people take on the ally status because it is the cool leftist thing to do.   They announce to the world that they are for gay rights, trans rights, disability rights and are strongly anti racist.  Being able to own the label of ally comes with a responsibility that few are willing to openly acknowledge.  It is not enough to claim a belief in, or for something, one must actively seek to live your stated principles.

I spend a fair amount of time reading blogs from various positions because I want to learn.   One of the issues that I have with the feminist blogosphere is that though some have declared their beliefs boldly, the follow through is lacking.  May I ask, what the hell is the point of declaring yourself a trans ally is and then rarely to never writing about trans issues is?  Putting up the occasional link to Questioning Transphobia or TransGriot does not amount to doing your part to raise awareness when it comes to trans rights.

In terms of the LGB community, though I know that marriage is the major image organizing push, it is only one issue amongst many that must be dealt with.  To truly advocate on behalf of LGB peoples one should discuss employment, discrimination, education, gay bashing, etc., being a one trick pony does not display any kind of real understanding of the way in which our heterosexist society expresses its hatred of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals.  Oh BTW, if in your writings you turn the B into a silent letter, you are just as blind and heterosexist as the haters you claim to fighting against.

Waiting for a racial incident to occur before you choose to write about race, means that you don’t understand the ways in which racism effects the lives of POC on a daily basis.  To us negotiating racism is not a “special event”,  it is every damn day of our lives.   From the minute we leave the safety of our homes whiteness uses power coercively against us to maintain its privilege. 

If you are going to actually be an ally this means that you have to take a true and legitimate interest in the causes and or people that you are claiming image allegiance to.  Wearing the right assortment of coloured bracelets or ribbons does not constitute activism.  Sitting in a coffee house expounding on the lightness of being, while you quote esoteric quotes to prove how in touch you are with the downtrodden is the equivalent of a hot breeze on a hot day; annoying and needless.

Being an ally comes at a cost.  Though you will never truly know what it is like to live in the body of the oppressed individual, to some extent you will inherit their haters.   It means having to tell friends, family and co-workers to stop when they say something inappropriate.  It means not turning a blind eye when you see privilege in action because it is inconvenient for you to say something.  Every single day of your life, you must commit yourself to the cause of justice because you truly believe in the equality of all beings. Ally and the word but do not go together.

I am truly sick and tired of the lipservice given to intersectionality.  This is not some cool word that you can toss around.   Either you are committed to looking at issues from various angles or you aren’t.  How about a little honesty? Just admit that you are so damn privileged that you don’t really give a shit about the way that isms work together.   It is frustrating to have to take the time to weed through those that really care and those that claim to care.  Don’t freedom fighters have enough to do without dealing with false friends on top of it all?  Do the world a favour, since we already know that many just don’t want to own their privilege in the first place; just admit that you love being one of the “chosen”  and allow those of us that are committed to change to get on with it.

These are trying times and real lives are at stake.   If you are going to take on the label of ally all that I ask is that you mean it.  I know you want to hang on to your trendy leftist card but if you are really not up to the challenge, I appeal to your basic sense of humanity and humbly request that you stop getting in the way of progress.   Omission is just as much a sign of privilege as standing on the corner screaming epithets, it just takes a little longer to recognize.  

Editors Note: Thanks to Allison McCarthy for the conversation that inspired this post

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Bill O’Reilly On Letterman

Line of the Night goes to Letterman without a doubt.

Letterman:  I wanna tell ya, and this book is a crazy best seller how many weeks has it been on the best sellers list?

O’Reilly: 6 months on the best seller list

Letterman:  See here’s  what breaks my heart about this  because in my mind I think of you as a goon.  But when you look at this picture look at how sweet (Letterman is pointing to picture of Bill as a child on the cover of his book) and adorable that kids is and it breaks my heart because I have a sweet and adorable kid like that at home and I think of great what if he too becomes a goon, ya know

O’Reilly: Do you want me to respond to any of this?

Letterman: No

This of course was the first of many wonderfully barbed comments sent O’Reilly’s way.  I do believe that Dave earned a canned ham for this one.

Adam Lambert: Play That Funky Music

I am a huge fan of his and if he does not win American Idol this year, this competition is fixed. Though he makes Simon uncomfortable, even he cannot deny this mans talent.  He reminds me Freddie Mercury, a true one of a kind talent.

When Genitals Are All The Rage

Of course the female fish stick has this throaty voice, which is all about temptation.  When she strips off her coating are we at all surprised that it is nice and pink on the inside?  

This commercial is about a salmon fish stick and yet if you close your eyes it could be about a strip club.  Heaven forbid we talk about the health benefits of salmon; why even bother when we can sexualize women and in the process reaffirm the idea that female sexuality is nothing more than a commodity that patriarchy can trade upon to increase profits? 

Moving to phallic worship:

MMMMM you want it don’t ya?    Who wants the pork? Just look at how powerful the sausage is. It can perform various tasks to satisfy your every food fantasy.   Unlike the fish stick the sausage is an active agent, which completely fits with its masculinised identity.  It seems natural that this company would fetishise  the sausage because of the phallocentric worship that we socially participate in daily.  From porn to the mundane the male gaze is particularly privileged.   I do believe that Freud in particular would have loved this commercial.   What can be more evidence of our so-called penis envy than an advertisement that not only puts the penis at the center of the conversation and encourages us all to participate in masturbatory bliss? 

Even as I wrote the above, I was highly aware that one of the first thought of critics would be that sex sells.   I think it is important to concentrate on more than just the sexualized aspects of the above commercials because each gender is presented in a specifically essentialist way.  It’s not just about titillating the audience, it is about reaffirming our ideas of what constitutes masculinity and femininity. If female sexuality is constantly seen through the male gaze it can never be understood as active, or seeking self pleasure whereas; the male as the active agent confers not only individuality but power based in the so-called power of the penis. 

If we are going to use sex to sell, reaffirming a sexist understanding of each gender only emboldens our dissonance in worth and value.   As we take in these images it is important to reflect on what they truly mean; these are not passive images and yet daily as we consume advertising we have a tendency to ignore the various ways in which we are being disciplined and trained.  These images have become normalized because we have allowed them to be so and not because they represent qualities that are inherent to each gender.  A woman does not necessarily perform continually for the male gaze and the penis does not represent the height of western achievement.

H/T The Mongoose Chronicles

Monopoly, Scrabble, and Now The KKK Game


This board game was created by an Andover Middle School student as project on research assignment about historical figures.  The board game was on display at a school open house when a parent became offended and reported the school to the local NAACP.

According to the Witcha Eagle:

Terica Davis, who is African-American and has a child attending the school, saw the game displayed at a recent open house and took photos of it.

Davis objected to the game, saying it was offensive.

Among the game captions: "You forget to clean your white robe so you can't go to the lynching. You are punished. Move back two spaces."

Schools are responsible to provide a hostile free learning environment for all students to create an environment that is conducive to learning.  It is a sign of undeserved white privilege that it took a black parent to point out why displaying this project was not only offensive but harmful. 

Incidents like this are exactly why parents of color need to be hyper vigilante about what ideas  schools are teaching our children.  It can be as simple as textbooks that have no positive images of children as color, to as blatantly obvious as game that constructs the terrorist activities of the KKK as a game. 

As parents we need to be highly aware of what schools actually do.  They are more than a place that we send children to learn the three r’s, they also function to instil social mores and therefore; one of the largest lessons children learn is to conform.   When we consider that many of the ideas that we consider normative are necessarily racist, classist, homophobic, sexist, abelist and ageist the lessons that children learn in education system can at times be counter to an equal society.

Children absorb not only what they are shown directly, but by examples they are not given.   If a child only sees white characters when they are flipping through their text book it will encourage them to privilege whiteness and see it as the norm.   If the only time they see POC  is in “ethnic situations” and “clothing”, it further serves to create POC as exotic others who have no roll in mainstream life.

The ideas we have about race don’t occur magically, we purposefully construct them and actively pass them on to our children.   Any parent committed to teaching their child critical anti-racist theory must fight against all the agents of socialization that attempt to mold our children into believing and supporting our dissonance in worth and value.  We cannot afford to blindly send our children to school and assume that will learn that all people will be respected when those that teach them are steeped in the same racist ideology that has become pervasive in our culture.

Teachers that have chosen to challenge ideas about race, gender, sexuality and class have faced harsh criticism.  Many have lost their jobs for daring to believe that their students deserve to be taught to think critically about the world around them.  If we discipline teachers for teaching equality how can we possible expect the education system to reaffirm this value with our kids? Unpacking privilege means more than sending our child to an integrated school and living on a wish and a prayer.  The education system must be held accountable for the messages that it chooses to enforce if we are ever to break the stranglehold that racism has on our society.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

I Can Declare

Many of us have various different labels to which we ascribe.   I identify as a WOC, womanist, unwife, mother, daughter, sister, friend etc and etc.  Some are identities that I was born into and others are those that I have purposely taken on.  The ability to choose how one will be understood is an expression of privilege that we give little thought to.  We see this as a basic human right that any sentient being should be able to decide what roles and or labels that they take on in life.

This so-called “right” is not universally applicable.   Even though I view the labels that I have chosen to own as my part of rights as a sentient adult human being, there are those that would seek to apply limitations to my autonomy.  As is well known the unhusband is white.   There are those that feel that by choosing to pair inter-racially that I have somehow defected from my race, thus reducing my ability to fully own the status of a WOC. 

Though we claim to view the category of race is static, such is not necessarily the case.  Michelle Obama recently spoke about being called a white girl for her pursuit of an education.   The idea that race equals behaviour means that unless one conforms to what the social construction of what is assumed to constitute blackness, or in this case black femininity, one is necessarily assumed to have rejected this identity in favour of taking on the characteristics of whiteness.  As part of the discipline the person is often held up to ridicule as clearly it is not possible for a WOC to be in the physical sense white.

It is irrelevant that the individual in question may be performing the behaviour to achieve a certain goal or derive some sort of pleasure, what matters is that said behaviour has socially been understood to belong to  a different group.  When we take it upon ourselves to reject the identity of another, or demand that they accept another label, we are using a form of social privilege to express power.

Much of our activities involve power.  Our understanding of power as coercive is directly responsible for our continual desire to oppress and rank bodies according to socially constructed ideas of importance.   When a trans woman is called a man despite identifying 100% as a woman, this is an expression of not only cisgender privilege but an affirmation of the fact that power can be used to create strict boundaries of inclusion or exclusion.   When a cisgender person declares that a trans person is not the  gender to which they have identified, demanding an alternative identity and or label is an assertion of the cisgender persons ability to label based in power.  The ability to name and or label contrary to the wishes or understanding of another, is just one of the many ways in which power negatively manifests in our society.

Naming or labelling creates out groups within society.  When someone is stigmatized they become a problematized body and therefore; those in power are able to justify their bigotry and victim blame.  For some, the issues of African Americans would be solved if we would all simply consent to owning our second class status and play the “happy sambo”.  Whiteness would not have to confront the ways in which they benefit from our diminishment therefore leading supposedly to a more peaceful society.   The same is true of our understanding of the plight of transwomen; some cisgender women believe that if transwoman would deny their gender identity, those of us with privilege would be able to continue in our hegemony peacefully.   In this sense, power is used to discipline the problematized body into silence. 

When a problematized body declares their identity, it is an expression of autonomy and this is specifically why it is challenged by more privileged bodies.  It is assumed that unless you exist with undeserved privilege that on should not exist with the right to self identify as there can be no more poignant recognition of a person than a validation of personal agency.  The ability to say “I am” confers upon the speaker a sense of self worth that is counter to a society that is built upon  power as a form of oppression.    When we speak about privilege, we cannot divorce it from power and how we understand it.   If we are constantly seeking power and validation as a method to affirm value, it then becomes necessary for a shift in conversation wherein power can be understood as a creative force.  Until we can make that mental leap we will continue to desire the reduction of others to achieve a sense of self worth.  “I am” is a necessary quality in a free society because each person deserves to be valued.

Journey To Womanist-hood

This is a guest post by Monica of Transgriot

As a transwoman of African descent I've developed during my 15 plus year transition a distaste for feminism.

Much of that dislike of it is multifaceted, but has its roots in the virulent disco-era hatred still expressed by some rad fem drones. It's also fueled by witnessing the lack of support, disrespect, back stabbing and drama given to Black women to the point that they left the movement.

I paid very close attention to the almost pathological hatred that some feminists have for Black men that is rooted in the historical fact that Black men got the vote courtesy of the 1870 ratification of the 14th Amendment several decades before the 19th Amendment gave women the vote in 1920. I also noted that the meme played out once again in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary between then Senators Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama.

I was annoyed by the naked hypocrisy of seeing feminists rush to the defense of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin at any perceived slight during that campaign as well, but their lips were and continue to be zipped for any attack on now First Lady Michelle Obama.

Ain't she a woman, too?

It also didn't escape my attention that some of the loyal cisgender Black female friends in my life tended to identify themselves as womanists.

Being the intellectually curious type I am, I started reading womanist sites and picked up writings by Audre Lorde, Toni Morrison and Alice Walker. I noticed that much of what womanism espouses and had to offer fit my worldview.

But with the rad fem haters fresh in my mind I wondered if there was space in the womanist movement for me and other transwomen of color, or was I setting myself up for more of the same old 70's era transphobia?

I found it ironic that as I was going through my womanist musing phase, a commenter compared my writing style on some issues to bell hooks. I don't know if I can walk in her pumps, but I do consider it an honor to even be thought of in the same lofty company with her.

The interview I recently conducted with Renee also jumpstarted my thinking as to why I was reticent in claiming the womanist label for myself. While I've accomplished much in the transgender community on an activist level and still have much work ahead of me still to do, I still had questions in my mind about where I fit, if I could measure up, and had concerns about how my cisgender sisters would react if I did.

So I'm taking a deep breath, stepping out on faith and making the declaration that yes, I am a womanist. I know my journey is far from over and I have much to learn, but I intend to be a compliment to all that the pioneering womanist thought leaders have built. I want to continue taking major steps toward continuing to bridge the knowledge gap between my cisgender sisters and my transsisters on various subjects, and collectively work together toward taking the movement in bold new directions.

And if I continue to learn and grow as a proud woman who happens to be transgender, then that's all good, too.

Does Sextexting Lead To Sex?

In our modern world everything is virtual and everything is available  A few weeks ago I wrote a post about Jesse Logan, a young girl who was slut shamed for nude pictures that she had taken of herself and sent to her boyfriend.  The harassment reached such a high level that unfortunately she decided that she could not deal with it any longer and committed suicide.

image It seems that more and more teens are sextexting.  The judicial system has decided that this constitutes child pornography and in the case of 15 year old Marissa Miller could lead to a charge of sexual abuse of a minor.  Should a girl taking pictures of herself in a bra really result in  a criminal record and jail time?

For George P. Skumanick the issue in question is that a large percentage of teens who have admitted participating in sextexting also admit to participating in casual sex. 

When I first heard about the backlash against sextexting as a womanist my first thoughts were to question the role that gender had to play in our understanding this behaviour as socially damaging.  The following is a snippet from a study.

  • 71% of teen girls and 67% of teen guys who have sent
    or posted sexually suggestive content say they have
    sent/posted this content to a boyfriend/girlfriend.
  • 21% of teen girls and 39% of teen boys say they have
    sent such content to someone they wanted to date or
    hook up with.
  • 15% of teens who have sent or posted nude/seminude
    images of themselves say they have done so to
    someone they only knew online.
  • 83% of young adult women and 75% of young adult
    men who have sent sexually suggestive content say
    they have sent/posted such material to a boyfriend/
  • 21% of young adult women and 30% of young adult
    men who have sent/posted sexually suggestive content
    have done so to someone they wanted to date or
    hook up with.
  • 15% of young adult women and 23% of young adult
    men who have sent sexually suggestive material say
    they have done so to someone they only knew online.

Looking at these figures confirmed what I had suspected since learning about sextexting; this is a behaviour in which female participation outweighs male participation.  Are we experiencing social anxiety because our youth are engaging in sextexting, or that young girls and women are engaging in sextexting at a higher rate than their male counterparts?

Though we supposedly live in a society of permissiveness, the discourse surrounding sex and sexuality is highly disciplined.  We spend more time talking about not having sex than actually engaging in it.   All the energy that we devote to speaking about why sex is forbidden and harmful constructs a society that is highly sexually aware and yet oddly puritanical at the same time.

Had this been an issue wherein males were largely sending sexually suggestive images of themselves to females, the sextexting paranoia would not be understood as it currently is.  

Despite the gains of feminism young girls are still valued or demonized by what they choose to do with their vaginas.  We claim to be free and equal and yet we still see sex as something that sullies a young girl and elevates a young boy.  When we combine this with the fact that the vagina is still uniformly viewed to be something that is foul, is it at all surprising that when a young girl chooses to be sexual or display a desire for sex, she necessarily assumes a spoiled identity?

The other unmentioned aspect of this phenomenon is race.  In the instances that I have read, the participants that are being disciplined are young white women.  I have seen no information on how this behaviour is performed in communities of color.  It leads me to question whether part of this social anxiety exists because white femininity is understood as chaste and submissive whereas, WOC are understood to be wanton whores.  I suspect whiteness and sexism are tied to the  social discourse surrounding sextexting.

In the Times article George P. Skumanick asserts, “Frankly, it’s sad to me that their parents don’t realize this is wrong.”  For Skumanick it is the immorality of the behaviour and not the consequences that should be stressed.  The fact that that once an image is release on the internet we loose all control of who views it and how the image is used should be the priority, not the fact that girls are choosing to be sexual.  

As parents what we must accept is that our children are sexual beings.  To try and enforce a code of behaviour by gender is not only sexist, it stunts the growth of our daughters.  What we should be concentrating on is the fact that all actions have consequences, so that our children are able to make decisions based in knowledge rather than ignorance.  Sex is as natural as breathing and no amount of legislating, or slut shaming is going to make people stop participating it.  I do believe it is time that the government end the business of concerning itself with what people choose to do with their genitalia. 

H/T Diabola via twitter

Is Gay The New Black: Newsweek Documentary

Why do some African Americans feel, or they can’t see that we’re just asking for rights? For so long they asked for rights and all of a sudden..maybe it just don’t happen soon enough.  Maybe we should have asked for rights back in the sixties, you know back when they were getting their rights. I mean if we would have asked then, and they would have shown interest yeah we’re getting our rights we need to give it somebody else but now we’ve got this huge 40 year gap.

Therein lies the problem.  First as I have said many times, the fact that some members of the LGBT community feel compelled to act as though blacks are denying them their rights is evidence of their white privilege.  How is it possible that one of the most socially maginalized groups is somehow denying white gay men equality?  The supposition would be laughable, if it were not an expression of the desire of some to continually privilege whiteness at every turn. To oppress to the degree at which blacks are accused, one would need to be able to display power and it is clear when we look at the racial divide in the US, power is firmly ensconced in white hands.

Yes blacks can vote but that does not mean that many were still not illegally stricken from voter rolls  (2000 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION).   Yes, affirmative action exists but even with that the income differential between whites and blacks is startling.  A black man may be president of the United States but blacks are still in every sense of the word second class citizens.  There have been great achievements to attain civil rights for blacks however, the struggle is far from over and even the implication of such is a denial of our lived experience.

As Michael Crawford elegantly states, the face of the LGBT community is resoundingly white and this means that same gender loving people of color are marginalized by a movement that claims to represent them. The idea that blacks are repressing gays and lesbians precludes the idea that there are gays and lesbians who are black.  The privileging of whiteness is obvious by simply examining what is considered to be LGBT leadership. 

Michael Crawford is quite right when he states;

In a lot of ways it’s almost like we’ve been forgotten black LGBT people.  The African American community does not talk so much about black gay people and when the leadership and when  the African American community think and talk to gay people they are usually talking to white gay people.  When white people talk about about black people they don’t necessarily include African American gay people.  We are in a unique position to help bridge the gap between both communities but in so many ways we are left out of the conversation.  

I found this video at the Bilerico and the following is commentary in that thread:

Not the same as "black" but worse. To be a slave was not a death sentence but to be homosexual was.

Comments like this are exactly why African Americans get resentful when the “gay is the new black” meme is pulled out.  Not only do some white gays and lesbians want affirmation of their lived experience, they want to posit that it is somehow worse than the experience of another.  This is oppression Olympics at its finest and it is infuriating.  I wonder how he would feel if he could look at the bottom of the Atlantic and see the skulls of the millions that died on the middle passage alone; would he then be content to still declare that being a slave was not a death sentence?  Statements like above unfortunately are expressed quite boldly and without any recognition of their inflammatory and racist nature.   

How many times can one stand outside of a movement and continue to argue for their equality and  be subject to such assaults?  Denying and or appropriating our experiences will not gain allies, in fact it will serve to alienate those that are willing to publicly advocate for gay and lesbian rights.  While I would agree that blacks definitely need to affirm the rights of all peoples, using a strategy that deliberately eliminates same gender loving blacks and denigrating our history, and our struggles, will not encourage the kind of solidarity that is desired by the white LGBT community. Gay can never be the new black because we continue to exist and our struggles have not ended. 

Monday, March 30, 2009

Memo to Jimi Izrael: Fronting as Straight Always Pays Off

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.