lesbianism in black culture


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 Lesbianism in black culture. By:  Tasha.

so, am i freaky? do i qualify as the 'freak of the week'? too often in dealing with black men my sexuality is exoticized, made to be something for his pleasure and not something that is integral to my being. either that, or i'm portrayed as a 'butch', a man-hating dyke, unfeminine and a traitor (or a threat) to the other, normal black women. let me say here that i have it easy. because i'm bisexual, i have one foot in the straight world, and one foot in the 'other' world. therefore it is easier to accept me (this is also true in the white world for white women). in order to understand this mentality, we have to look at the black female in popular culture.

the black female in pop culture is portrayed as slutty, loud, jealous, gossipy, and in competition with other black women (for men, jobs, etc.). because she is portrayed as being man-hungry, there is no room in the stereotype for the polar opposite which is lesbian or bisexual. nowhere in mainstream black popular culture are images of black lesbians/bisexuals shown. whereas white lesbians/bisexuals are beginning to infiltrate the media with images of their diverse lifestyles (i.e., 'Ellen'), black lesbians/bisexuals have not.

the idea of black woman as lesbian or black woman as bisexual is anathema in black culture, and a major reason for this is that homosexuality or 'alternative' sexualities are seen as a radical sub-group that is not fully accepted by the mainstream culture, and therefore would jeopardize black standing in that culture. let me clarify: black people do not want to revive the myth that blacks are inherently more sexualized and more loose in their sexuality than whites. this whole 'free sexuality' trend brings back painful memories of when blacks were considered 'impure' by whites because their sexual morals were falsely believed to be lower than those of whites. black women in particular suffered the most from this claim, as white women were elevated to the status of virtual Virgin Marys, black women were lowered to the status of actual Jezebels. for black women to openly embrace homosexuality/bisexuality as a natural occurrence would akin to admitting that their moral standards were lower than those of the ruling class of whites, in many blacks' eyes. these false ideals are in no way limited to black women; indeed, black men face the same obstacles but in a different form. that is a subject for another essay, however.

a black female singer performing a song about love for a woman is a rare find. whereas white lesbians in music now claim their sexuality openly, the only black bisexual female musician to be open about her sexuality is me'shell ndegeocello. there has even been talk of a 'lesbian chic' among actresses, musicians, and even the public in general - all white. among the black community there has been no such talk. white lesbians/bisexuals make movies about their love stories, black lesbians/bisexuals remain largely unrepresented. there is a great disparity between the liberation/visibility of white lesbians/bisexuals and that of black lesbians/bisexuals. i attribute this to two factors: one, that the fundamental basis of lesbianism is that women can satisfy each other sexually, and indeed do not need a man for sexual pleasure or companionship threatens the 'manhood' of the black male; two, that because of the so-called deviancy of lesbianism and bisexuality in the majority of white patriarchal society in which black men and women have strived so long to be a part of, to not make visible this reality that homosexuality/bisexuality does occur in black culture gives blacks an 'edge up' on the competition for 'most pure race'.

blacks have witnessed the battle between homosexuals and the government which controls all of us, and they recognize the virtual powderkeg the debate can become. whether consciously or subconsciously, we blacks as a group have decided that it is best not to enter the war on a mass level. i know of very few black lesbian/bisexual organizations in comparison to white-controlled organizations. women of zami is one such organization. the reason for this lack of structured acceptance in the form of organized resistance can be attributed to the 'pure race' theory. as i stated before, blacks were for so long considered the most morally/sexually depraved race in this country. in order to instill fear into the hearts of white women, black men were characterized as brutal rapists. in order to replace the position in the sexist patriarchy abdicated by white women, black women were characterized as sexually loose, immoral, promiscuous, Jezebels. now that white society is having such a 'problem' with homosexuality as the embodiment of sexual immorality in this culture, blacks are content to sit back and preach about how evil those white homosexuals are, enjoying the false position of purity not having to deal with this 'problem' creates.

the idea that lesbianism/bisexuality threatens the 'manhood' of black males is pervasive. black men have, for a long time, wrestled with the image of them as emasculated due to the 'castrating' black woman. in order to maintain their newly acquired status as the most 'manly' man, they must support the existing white patriarchy and conform to the highest ideals of its structure. therefore, they either ignore black female homosexuality or they exoticize it, turning it into a form of pleasure for them and not a sub-group of its own. modern rap songs will include references to watching two women 'get it on', as evidenced in this lyric: "had an episode with two lesbians/i got a fetish for that". that statement epitomizes the perversion of the lesbian/bisexual experience into something solely performed for the pleasure of males. lesbianism is transformed into a fetish object for males and is therefore acceptable to discuss. to view lesbian/bisexual relationships as an entity unto themselves, without the need for male approval or participation, would be akin to admitting emasculization of the black man and therefore losing his power in a patriarchal society. by taking this stance, that female-to-female relationships are like live pornography for men, black males are again trying to one-up their white counterparts by saying that they are the more masculine males in this society.

the way many black men (and women) discourage black lesbians/bisexuals from coming out publicly is by telling them subversively that they are less of a woman, and less black, because they do not conform to the majority of black women. bisexuality may be seen as more acceptable because it is seen as a 'lifestyle choice' or a 'phase'. the bisexual woman also includes men in her choice of sexual partners, thereby affirming in the eyes of black men that no woman can live without 'a good deep dicking'. lesbianism is an outright challenge to social order in black culture, because the lesbian has no need for a man to please her sexually; in fact she does not even desire a man, and therefore invalidates male companionship/protection/support as a qualification for womanhood. black lesbians may find themselves the most invisible in black culture other than homosexual black males, simply because the nature of their sexuality challenges the black sub-culture patriarchy that black males worked so hard to attain.

the authenticity argument is used in many other situations in black culture. in order to maintain blacks' shaky foothold in this society we must appear to be free of any aberrations from the 'norm' of black people. black homosexuality represents an extreme deviation from that ideal norm, a norm that is determined by racist, sexist, homophobic white males. by denying that such an aberration exists, blacks hope to gain an advantage over whites by appearing free of such issues while at the same time non-homophobic because no such homosexuality in black culture exists. the mass silence of black lesbians/bisexuals, while protecting them from ridicule and persecution by the black community, has only contributed to the problem and supported the myth that black female sexuality only comes in one flavor.

black lesbians/bisexuals need to take a cue from our white sisters and become visible. gay rights are no less an issue for blacks than they are for whites, yet you will see few black women at rallies, marches, meetings, etc. we need to become vocal, and that goes for all non-white lesbians/bisexuals. efforts need to be made to advance black culture beyond the point where we would rather one-up whites than support all the diverse lifestyles/sexualities of our society. homophobia is just another form of sexism, and denying that homosexuals exist is no better than persecuting them. black men must realize that just because a black woman prefers women as companions and sexual partners, does not mean he is any less male - he still possesses the patriarchal rights all men are granted in this society, regardless of whether lesbians exist or not.

i welcome the day when i hear black lesbian/bisexual rappers talk about their exploits with women, when black lesbian/bisexual actresses can walk down the red carpet arm in arm with their girlfriend. but until that day comes, i will remain visible, because one voice is always better than none.