Monday, May 16, 2011

Don Lemon of CNN is Out, But Not All is Well

Those who know me really well, know of my obsession with Don Lemon, so the moment he came out, I was inundated with emails informing me of this fact.  Unfortunately Don, my obsession with you continues on, though I must however admit that I am disappointed.  Okay, before you get worked up, I am not disappointed that he is gay. Don has chosen to speak his truth in a book entitled, Transparent. The following is Don's official statement.
"Today I chose to step out on faith and begin openly living my own truth. And let me say right up front that I hope many of you will be inspired to do the same thing in your daily lives. Some of the things I've chosen to reveal in my book Transparent were very difficult to share with even those closest to me.
There was a time when I was terrified of revealing these things to the person I love most in this world - my own mother. But when I finally mustered the courage to tell her that I had been molested as a child and that I was born gay, my life began to change in positive ways that I never imagined possible. Yet I still chose to keep those secrets hidden from the world. I, like most gay people, lived a life of fear. Fear that if some employers, co-workers, friends, neighbors and family members learned of my sexuality, I would be shunned, mocked and ostracized. It is a burden that millions of people carry with them every single day. And sadly, while the mockery and ostracizing are realized by millions of people every day, I truly believe it doesn't have to happen and that's why I feel compelled to share what I've written in Transparent.

As a journalist I believe that part of my mission is to shed light onto dark places. So, the disclosure of this information does not inhibit in any way my ability to be the professional, fair and objective journalist I have always been.

My book is dedicated to the memory of Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi, who jumped to his death from a bridge after his dorm mates streamed his private business over the Internet for the world to see. Tyler might still be with us today if more gay men and women had chosen to live proudly and openly. It is also dedicated to the millions of young, gay people who believe they are alone when dealing with their own sexual identities. You are not alone! There are people, like me and many others, who are thriving in their personal and professional lives and although we sometimes have a hard time with it ourselves, we are here to show you by example that you too can overcome any obstacle as long as you stay strong and, most of all, stay alive."
With love and honesty,

Don Lemon
May 16, 2011
So far so good.  Don risked a lot  revealing to the public that he is a gay man because of homophobia.  It was also brave to reveal that is a survivor of abuse, in our victim blaming society. I cannot even begin to imagine how much his experience will help others, who are currently struggling and feeling isolated. It is particularly important for young gay Black males to see someone out, proud and successful.

This however, is where Don lost me: 

“It’s quite different for an African-American male,” he said. “It’s about the worst thing you can be in black culture. You’re taught you have to be a man; you have to be masculine. In the black community they think you can pray the gay away.” He said he believed the negative reaction to male homosexuality had to do with the history of discrimination that still affects many black Americans, as well as the attitudes of some black women.

“You’re afraid that black women will say the same things they do about how black men should be dating black women.” He added, “I guess this makes me a double minority now.”(source)
Okay, first let me say that homophobia absolutely exists in the Black community.  Homophobia in the Black community is no worse than homophobia in any community, though it is often presented as uniquely damaging.  Though I attempt to challenge my straight privilege, homophobia exists within womanism, a label I hold dear.
"While Walker's womanism clearly endorses same-sex love and relationships, Ogunyemi's African womanism takes a more polyvalent perspective, and Hudson-Weems's Africana womanism rejects homosexuality outright, the process of interpolation that shapes womanist theory and practice beyond its original progenitors allows room for differences of opinion about sexuality, all while rejecting systematic discrimination and oppression based on sexuality on the basis of its dehumanizing consequences.  At this time, womanist perspectives on sexuality are as diverse as sexuality itself, yet womanism still opposes oppression based on sexuality.  While questions of sexuality are far from settled among womanists, productive dialogue is taking place."
-- Introduction, "Womanism: On Its Own" by Layla Phillips, The Womanist Reader edited by Layla Phillips (Routledge 2006)
The point here is that no matter what community that homophobia exists in, it is terrible, inexcusable and absolutely without doubt needs to disappear. 

I take issue with Lemon blaming homophobia on Black women without making qualifying statements. By this, I don't mean that he should be giving straight allies cookies, but that he should absolutely acknowledge that a monolithic representation of Black women is sexist and extremely limiting. First, let's start off by acknowledging that Black lesbians exist.  Yes, I know, shocker upon shocker. In his statement about his experience, he absolutely forgot that Black gay males are not the total representation of gay people in the Black  community.  Erasing Black lesbians on his part is without doubt sexist and once again sets men up as the standard.

There can be no doubt that plenty of Black women have spoken out suggesting that Black men should be dating Black women, and have gone as far as to attack gay Black males for their sexuality; however,  I think that it is extremely important to note that the media has been pushing the narrative of the desperate Black woman for quite some time now. I also believe it is important to acknowledge that the feelings that some Black women have about inter racial dating, have everything to do with White supremacy, and the fact that the Black woman has historically been constructed as the unwoman. When race, gender and sexuality intersect, it becomes easy to erase the experience of one group, but in doing so we fail to see the depth of human experience.

Even if a woman is straight, she is not necessarily pursuing a man, or believes that a man is necessary to her happiness.  I don't doubt that Don has experienced homophobia from Black women, because we live in a heterosexist culture, but to suggest that Black women are homophobic because they can't get a Black man is completely unfair, and fails to address the way that heterosexuality is enforced from birth. It further supports the narrative of the Black unwoman, by making it seem as though all straight Black women are so desperate, that they are angry at Black gay men for denying them the ability to partner with someone.  Discussing issues like this often becomes problematic when we move away from talking about institutions like racism, heterosexism etc., and begin to focus such ideas on specific groups in the same homogenous manner. Don should absolutely discuss his experiences and fight against the isms that effect his life, but when he begins to speak universally about specific groups without acknowledging the many factors that goes into every identity, then he does himself a disservice and tells not truth, but unacknowledged half truths.