When Dominations Cry:
Portrait of the Queer Black Man as Black Liberation’s Secret Weapon
By: Myles E. Johnson
Picture me, attempting to dismantle my spine in order to better serve my body. Picture me, reaching down my throat to capture my heart because it did not beat on the rhythm I believed it should. Picture this, if you will, me burning the books that hold my history and my truths just so I can continue seeing the shadow and figments of the self, and never the full reflection. These are the types of images that my imagination conjures when I think of the hatred of the black queer man in relation to the cis heterosexual black man. This is especially true in today’s black liberation movements. The desire of the cis heterosexual man to destroy something that is so essential to their well-being is something to bring to the water to investigate, and hopefully, clean and heal ourselves of. If the black woman is the ultimate partner to the black cis heterosexual man’s life, it is the queer black man that serves as the ultimate roadmap to liberation from white supremacist patriarchal domination.
Huey P. Newton said this on August 15th, 1970 in a speech focusing on feminist and LGBTQ rights, “Whatever your personal opinions and insecurities about homosexuality and the various liberation movements among homosexuals and women (and I speak of the homosexuals and women as oppressed groups), we should try to unite with them in a revolutionary fashion.” The language around feminism and queerness was new as it concerned the mainstream, but I revisit Huey P. Newton’s speech often for a type of validation, and also an insight into a truly revolutionary black cis heterosexual male mind. It worth remembering that Newton’s life did not escape violent expressions of domination, on both more intimate and global levels. This does not invalidate the speech, but almost gives it a new life. Newton was a man that could not escape the shackles of the patriarchy, but still somewhere found the insight that feminism and queerness is something to be aligned with and not opposed to.
Since this speech in 1970, language around representation, feminism and queer theory has transformed and is more widely accessible. There is language and theory for genders, sexual experiences, and different male identities that either had not been named in that time or had not yet been introduced to the mainstream consciousness. When I hear Newton say ‘homosexual’, I believe today he would say queer or LGBTQ. When I read Newton say ‘woman’, I believe today he would have said femmes and women. Still, Huey P. Newton was one of the most radical cis heterosexual male black minds that we’ve ever experienced, and in 1970, he understood the necessity of the queer black man, the black woman, and all of the femmes that live somewhere amongst these identities. He sought to understand us not as just friendly neighbors, but parts of the whole revolutionary body. As a queer black man, I am especially interested in interrogating this speech, and also agitating what we believe to be true about black liberation work and tradition.
The truth is queer black men have been in agreement with black liberation in all forms since there was blackness, which is to say, the black queer man is as eternal, infinite, and permanent as blackness itself. I think about this in art often. I remember crossing the street to my midtown apartment and seeing Alvin Ailey on the marquee of The Fox Theatre. It was Black History month. I thought of how much Alvin Ailey means to the black art world, and how a queer black man was an imperative architect in that design of modern black art as we know it today. My mind ventured into jazz music and seldom talked about Andy Bey, a jazz singer with an angel in his throat with a four-octave vocal range. He is still alive and queer, and challenging the borders of jazz. I think of Larry Levan who single-handedly reconstructed the dance and house scene and sound in New York with his music and creation of spaces like Paradise Garage. Levan is another black queer man. In art we’ve always existed.
I think of Langston Hughes and how he is located as one of the most devastating poetic voices we’ve ever known. This voice, too, was wrapped in black queer flesh. From his tongue, or his fingertips, his poetry planted a seed in the black lesbian writer, Lorraine Hansberry where she later birthed the Broadway play, A Raisin in the Sun.
With ink and paint, the queer black man has always been in conversation with blackness, but the apprehension informed by colonization has been there too. The gender binary and queer demonization is not inherently African, but things we’ve adopted since colonization. Queerphobia is the byproduct of the colonization of the enslaved African and this insecurity should be interrogated opposed as opposed to privileged.
Huey P. Newton continues, “We should be willing to discuss the insecurities that many people have about homosexuality. When I say “insecurities”, I mean the fear that they are some kind of threat to our manhood. I can understand this fear. Because of the long conditioning process which builds insecurity in the American male, homosexuality might produce certain hang-ups in us. I have hang-ups myself about male homosexuality. But on the other hand, I have no hang-up about female homosexuality.”
Newton gave a voice to the central disease I find in the black cis heterosexual man today. He revealed that cis heterosexual men are deeply invested in the white supremacist patriarchal domination. He revealed that the simple idea of male queerness somehow threatened his straightness, a delusion of this hegemonic society. He revealed not only the fear, but also the intense investment that we have in the ideas of a black man only existing as a singular caricature of masculinity, instead of an existence that is potentially infinite, diverse, and capable of evolution. Newton is jailed in patriarchy, but he recognizes it, unlike the modern cis heterosexual black man. Today’s straight black man is enslaved to the same white supremacist patriarchal domination, but is unaware. And it is a shame because this white supremacist patriarchal domination is exactly what calls for his death and/or imprisonment. The same system that informs society to think he is a monster, informs him to think any queer male representation or practice amongst men is wrong or should be devalued among other sexual practices.
My mind travels to the images of Deray Mckesson handcuffed by police officers while protesting in Louisiana. I viewed this and instantly thought of how much his life is in conversation with Bayard Rustin. Rustin, the queer black man that was erased and kept quiet during the Civil Rights movement of the 1950’s and 60’s because of his sexuality. He was kept hidden, but iconic and hyper-visible activists like Stokely Carmichael and Martin Luther King Jr., used his theory and strategy to galvanize all of North America. Seeing the image of one of today’s queer black liberation workers being jailed circulating on mainstream press, made me realize, that even in a situation that is horrible and unjust, there is a type of redemptive beauty in the thought that Mckesson as an out black queer male leader is living what Rustin was robbed of because of the laws made by white supremacist patriarchal domination. It is still to be seen if Mckesson can live up to Rustin’s brilliant organization skills, but the symbolism is powerful, regardless. It is powerful when we think of both of these black queer men as men that used their skill and platform to often serve and free men that would locate their queer practices as abominable.
This interesting service to cis heterosexual black men from queer black men is consistent throughout history, and it shouldn’t be a testament to the black queer man’s benevolence. It should a testament to the black queer man’s foresight of the nature of justice and freedom. James Baldwin is quoted, “Freedom is not something anybody is given. Freedom is something people take, and people are as free as they want to be.” Baldwin is one of the most coveted black queer men apart of the black liberation movement, and in this quote he describes the inherent gift that the queer black man can offers the cis heterosexual black man. Through sex, performance, theory, and protest alike; the queer black man is often the symbol of the black man that has acquired freedom, despite the dominating powers that desire to annihilate and control him. Despite the imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, throughout history, the black queer man creates, talks, fights, thinks, and protest against domination, and takes freedom, anyway. Despite the dominating systems, we desire to be free, so we make love, anyway.
Newton continues, “[…] Maybe a homosexual could be the most revolutionary.” This statement is the one that got caught in my eyelashes and my vision is changed for forever. I think of the ancient African orisha, Erinle. He is known to work with Oshun and Yemaya. He is known as both hunter and healer, he is known as the orisha of abundance. He is also an orisha that is homosexual, or queer. This is to say, the homophobia learned by the modern cis heterosexual black man is totally informed by the colonized white supremacist patriarchal domination. It is not African or traditional or ritual. It is colonization. It is white supremacist domination perverting actual ancient black beliefs and rituals.
So dig, if you will, a black liberation movement resisting domination in global ways like protests against police brutality. Dig, if you can, a black liberation movement resisting domination in intimate ways like homophobia totally planted inside of you by the ones you claim a desire to resist and overcome. It is only when we consciously resist, interrogate, and agitate these intimate forms of domination, as well as the political and global ones simultaneously, that we might have a chance of truly knowing the sound of interlocking dominations crying.
Myles E. Johnson is a writer located in Atlanta, Georgia. His work spans between critical and personal essays, children’s literature and speculative fiction. Johnson focuses on black and queer identities, and specifically, the intersection of the two. Johnson’s work has been featured in NBCBLK, Huffington Post, Out Magazine and The Guardian.