The following incident I’m about to transcribe really took place and it’s interesting how a good 5-7 years later, similar sentiments were shared, yet the discussion hasn’t made much progress.
Years back, during the MySpace era, I had a small core group of friends and that included my go-to girl, who was black, and all of the guys were gay men of color, except for one. So while some were closer to each than others, we were all buddies on MySpace. One day as two of those friends (see how I’m trying not to name name!) were at my house, my girl friend was using the home computer to check her page. After checking her messages (it was all about the friend requests), it seemed a lightning bolt had gone through her body and she immediately started spewing annoyance at our shared friend’s new MySpace name which was: “Strong Black Woman”, accompanied by his default picture of him wearing glasses and pursing his lips. She was irate at the notion that our white, gay, male friend, through his page, was trying to somehow imply that he embodied the essence of a black woman. She became a track runner right then and there with her argument, going a tad left field with it, and even asking the computer screen: “What does he think he is? A strong black woman?”
My other friend, a gay Puerto Rican, and I couldn’t help but just burst into great laughter. It was so classic of what we already knew of her, but we had to let her know that it was ridiculous and nothing to lose your sanity over in thinking that he was trying to be or thought he was a black woman. It wasn’t a secret even back then that our friend had a lot of love for black women in music and that was because it just so happened that so many of his favorite artists were physically that. We continued laughing, but I could understand why she thought that might’ve been offended, but because we all knew him, in this circumstance it was silly to view his MySpace as some kind of mimicry. That incident became an inside joke for years to come and that same Caucasian friend and I still laugh about it from time to time as he’s declared he’s quite fully aware he is not a black woman, inside or not. He saw her outrage as ignorance and when we do get around to talking about it deeper, he seems disappointed that she even went there because it wasn’t in his nature at all to be disrespectful.
The reason why I said, and still do understand her belligerence towards “Strong Black Woman” was because even though she represented her disapproval in a batty way, I did put myself in the shoes of someone else racially and thought, I wonder how I would feel if I was an Asian woman and I was to see “Petite Asian Fairy” as someone’s MySpace name and they were not Asian. I would probably feel a bit uneasy too, and while my black girl friend’s thoughts on our friend’s online pseudonym was ahead of this very opinionated time, this situation of white gay men adoring black culture, and specifically from the viewpoint of black woman, again reached a boiling point when Sierra Mannie, a Southern college student, had her inflamed essay “Dear White Gays: Stop Stealing Black Female Culture” posted to a wider audience on the platform of TIME.com
The piece is pretty audacious when compared to TIME’s more scholarly catalog, and the language in which Mannie wrote her essay was conversational, with copious nods to “in real life” slang and observations. Mannie accused gay men of blurring the lines between “appropriation and appreciation” and that no matter how much they loved Beyonce and can imitate her moves, and calling themselves “Keisha”, she even got brusque with her list in adding “or which black male you’ve been bottoming, you do not get to claim either blackness or womanhood. It is not yours. It is not for you”.
Mannie’s essay, though largely strong on its message, it missed the mark in being positively influential because of how passive aggressive she was. She attacks white gay men in such a graceless way, it was as if her essay was verbal payback for all the times she felt offended when once again she saw a white gay recite Madea lines or upload another twerking video. Again, I apprehend Mannie’s essay to the fullest, I really do but because she wrote her piece with such anger, which is her right, in a way it was like her words were trying to spark a war between two groups, black women and gay men, and both of which continue to be amongst some of the most ridiculed and unfairly examined in America sometimes. Waging a war between the two just doesn’t seem right. She writes somewhat towards the middle of the essay an obvious statement which was: “White people are not racially oppressed in the United States of America”. Well, Mannie, gay men, black or white, are. Where have you been during all of the activism for gays to have the official right to get married? That doesn’t seem like equality to me. And maybe, she should look up the name Matthew Shepard.
Gay men, no matter their the color, are still referred to by derogatory names and viewed as threats to the sanctity of the U.S. despite America as a whole having a lot of problems on its plate that are more damaging to whether or not a gay couple marrying in Kentucky affects a family of two adults and their three and half kids in Washington state.
Mannie came across as bitter and her essay very intimate like she’s been, or felt disrespected to her face by gay men, and white gay men specifically. Interestingly, I’ve always found gay men, again doesn’t matter the color, for the most part to be on women’s side, and not because we’ve seen them dressed as exaggerated versions of us in drag queens or in knowing how to effectively finger snap. I’ve experienced a kind of allied relationship with gay men so when I see once dressed up as Beyonce or attuned to urban culture lingo, I’ve never been offended. It would take a lot to offend to me to be very honest and I’m not quite sure why that is, but I just never felt so inflamed as Mannie clearly has. I think if at all, it has a lot to do with how we view ourselves, and not maybe even as an entire group, but literally our inner being. Caricatures are never pleasing to the senses, and I have been rubbed the wrong way by the media or by others in what they had to say about women of color. Remember that crap online about Do You Have An Inner Sassy Black Woman? That was highly ignorant and I for sure let out some flames about it and that was from mainly from straight people doing the lampooing. But with gay men…that’s just never been the case.
I recently attended the Gay Pride parade in New York City this June, and of course they were men dressed up as extravagant prom queens and even one as Maleficent. The images I saw I’ve become so used to, my reaction was the same in that I adored how free they were in just being themselves, even if dolled up. I sometimes have felt that the LGBT community were some of the strongest people walking the streets because even more so than people of color, they were treated more as odd or entertainment. The more I thought about Mannie’s essay, it was clear to me this was a personal vendetta of sorts. Like she was mad at that whatever void she felt she still had inside of her or was working on, a gay man was expressing his self-love in displaying confidence and appreciation for himself and the things and people who encouraged him to do so. I’ve also seen many black women embrace white gays and black gays, and all kinds of gays. The Real Housewives of Atlanta is a perfect example (though they’ve had their share of homophobia), and so many reality shows in which the straight women are besties with a gay man. And how could Mannie forget all of the tributes from gay men towards Madonna? Were those offensive and just as wanton by her standard? Don’t tell me it doesn’t matter just because she’s white.
[The video below is a clip from the 1999 MTV Video Music Awards, and before Madonna came on stage to present the last award of the night, a drag queen tribute was presented in her honor. Fast forward to 1:45 to see that part of the clip].
After the posting of said essay, others took it to the blogs to defend white gay men and their love for black popular culture and black women, or at least their thoughts. From Thought Catalog to VICE, they noted that maybe they were some underlining rooted issues in Mannie’s piece, and back in December, way before this uproar, Madame Noire did a post about who had been more influential on each other: gay men or black women, as they interchangeably shared a highly sassy lingo. Also on TIME.com, a more elegant retort was written by Steve Friess following Mannie titled “Dear Black Women: White Gays Our Your Allies, So Don’t Push Us Away“, and New York Magazine wrote a soundbite but that was focused more on the obvious example of the 1990 landmark documentary film Paris Is Burning, that disclosed the ball culture of New York City’s multi-cultural gay community.
After I read the NY Mag piece, I also came to this conclusion. What Mannie saw as debasing, might really be just grand emotional tributes to a categorical group of individuals that in the eyes of a gay men are the epitome of bravery and individuality. The NY Mag piece goes only as far back as 1990, but there were elements of ball culture in the 1970s nightlife of New York and LA, and during the heydays of Studio 54 and the Mudd Club, which continued to clubs like Area in 1980s New York. Gay men have long adored the unique confidence that emerged from some of the most iconic black women of the 20th century and into the 21st. With a penchant to ruffle the feathers just to expose how ignorant or judgmental we sometimes allow ourselves to be, women like Diana Ross, Donna Summer, and Tina Turner, they were like these otherworldly goddesses with their talent and beauty. Topped off with big hair, look at me makeup, and backed by the kind of music that could brighten anyone’s day, women like them truly embodied through the most visible influence, popular culture, that to be different and loud and proud about it was nothing to be ashamed of. It seems to me that gay men for decades connected to this idea and made it a part of their everyday lives, and so when they are finger-snapping or dressed up or supported Whitney Houston in large numbers when she in return performed for Gay Pride events in 1998 and 1999, it was really in homage to the influences that allowed them to find their own voice. I mean, for crying out loud, one of Ross’ biggest hits was “I’m Coming Out” and while not blatantly a Gay Pride song, it could not have been more perfect.
What some writers urged of Sierra Mannie was to definitely give the kids a break. Yes, sometimes the tributes can get out of hand and go from loving to crass, but likely that’s not because they are mocking black women. That person could naturally just be very crass in nature, but again, presentation speaks just as loudly. So when a gay male gets out of order and happens to be dressed up like Jennifer Lopez, is that how the world views J. Lo? Not necessarily.
Any rational person can and should respect Mannie’s right to voice her opinion, but the last thing gay, white gay men, and black women need is fighting each other when so many of our brothers and sisters need our support on real issues, not on whether or not a gay white male is “allowed” to rap along with us to Nicki Minaj’s “Yass Bish”.