In the last several years, I’ve found it very difficult to talk to many LGBTQ White people. Everything I learn about LGBTQ experiences is primarily from LGBTQ Black people and other ones of colour. Because I am a cisgender heterosexual Black woman, often times LGBTQ White people approach me with the assumption that I am homophobic, transphobic and theist (where theism justifies the bigotry, as if theism is arbitrary [without history] and only applies to Black people). I am none of these. I’m a Womanist. My feminism is intersectional. I’m an agnostic atheist.
There’s been several times on social media networks (and in person) where a LGBTQ White person started speaking to me with the assumption of homophobia and theism. Once a gay White man assumed the sheer mention of Tracey Morgan meant I defend him. He accused me of homophobia, mentioned that my avatar revealed the truth about me (since in America, to be Black is to be deemed homophobic) and actually hashtagged the word “black” in his tweet reply. For the record, I don’t like Morgan’s comedy; I pointed out how his White audience and White fans laughed at his homophobic jokes, but as a way to punish Black men in general, and uphold White supremacy, White homophobes must be obscured and ignored. This angered LGBTQ White people (others came along) who felt that attacking me with racist tweets was better than recognizing that I didn’t defend Morgan and that yes, Whites, not solely Blacks are a part of the problem of homophobia in this country.
Why would they think racism is the best way to respond to presumed homophobia? Well, as long as this society is White supremacist, media figures like Anderson Cooper and David Gregory continue to push the idea that Black people are virulently homophobic, and Whites receive awards despite homophobia or homoantagonistic policies (i.e. Brett Ratner, Bill Clinton) while Black people are repeatedly and statistically inaccurately portrayed as “exceptionally” homophobic and the “real” problem, White supremacy will not only remain unchecked but LGBTQ Whites privileged in every other area can unequivocally blame Black people for their oppression while ignoring White supremacy, racism and White privilege. His approach ignored what I actually tweeted and was not intersectional.
Another time I discussed media stereotypes and a White trans woman said the media will see me as a “criminal” and her a “whore.” Her response considered my race not my gender and intersectional experience. This isn’t to say that Black women aren’t the most punished and incarcerated women in the country; we are, just as Black men are the most punished and incarcerated of men. But I doubt that she was thinking of women’s incarceration statistics. She was thinking of the stereotype of the “Black male criminal” because I am Black. However, overlooking my experience as a woman, a Black woman no less, she wasn’t able to see how the stereotype “whore” that she thinks could harm her life has harmed generations of Black women and even has hegemonic controlling images (Jezebel/welfare queen/hoochie mama) associated with it. I was expected to listen to her experience as a trans woman since cis privilege shields me from her experiences yet to her, I was interchangeable with a Black man. Again; not intersectional.
Recently I had an exchange with a different White trans woman who felt that I derailed her criticisms of cis women by mentioning Black trans women who felt supported by cis Black women. I apologized, as it wasn’t my intent. She didn’t want to continue to speak with me to continue the conversation. However, she started the conversation by mentioning that I was the only woman of colour that she’s ever encountered who mentioned cis privilege/support trans women and no women of colour really do. How do you say that as a White trans woman and not realize it sounds like “you Black women are transphobic just like Black men are homophobic.” She didn’t critique cis White women. She specifically mentioned ones of colour, as a White trans woman. That’s why I mentioned what I did—not to obscure valid critique of cis privilege but to repudiate the White supremacist idea that cis Black women or ones of colour aren’t supportive and cis White ones are. The imperative for me to check my cis privilege (important) yet ignore her White privilege and endure racism (painful) is exhausting to me.
What some LGBTQ White people fail to realize is LGBTQ Black people deal with homophobia AND racism. Will the former write the latter off as automatically homophobic too? I shouldn’t have to be called a homophobe for rejecting racism from LGBTQ White people any more than when I am called anti-Semitic for rejecting Jewish men’s cinematic interpretations of Blackness through a racist lens or Jewish comedians’ obsession with blackface.
This doesn’t mean that I don’t acknowledge cis and heterosexual privilege. For example, I see how Black women who are marginalized and oppressed by race and gender (and class, complexion, weight, ability, education, immigration status/citizenship, nation, for being trans etc.) are further marginalized and oppressed when their sexuality is deemed deviant. Even heterosexual Black women, with heterosexual privilege, deal with our sexuality labeled as a deviant form of heterosexuality; pathological, hypersexual and “unrapeable.” (“Deviant sexuality” is more than a label—it facilities oppression on multiple institutional, structural, systemic and social planes). I also listen to and talk to queer Black men about the intraracial and interracial difficulties of navigating or rejecting patriarchal masculinity and the emotional/physical violence that homophobia breeds. Clearly an intersectional perspective is needed, especially in regards to Black women who are bisexual, lesbian, queer and trans. It’s not one that I can always exhibit effectively because my cis and heterosexual privilege have to consistently be checked. Further, some experiences I won’t even have the experiential knowledge (which culturally for Black people is highly valued as an epistemological approach) that some bisexual, lesbian, queer and trans Black women have, so listening to them and not speaking for them is important to me.
When I see LGBTQ Black people without heterosexual privilege like I have, stating the exact same things that I just wrote above, there’s a problem. That’s their own community that they’re being excluded from by LGBTQ White people. I see this a lot, actually, and I feel stress and pain for them because despite dealing with the same racism as them and for some, the same sexism, misogynoir, colourism, classism, and more, and even with stereotypical constructions of my heterosexuality as deviant, I still don’t face the homophobia/transphobia that bisexual, lesbian, queer and trans Black women deal with, for example. While I face one of the highest risks for rape or assault as a Black woman, I don’t risk being beat up just for “looking gay;” something that Black men face in a hetero-patriarchal and homophobic society. (Gay Black men and Black women have a lot of overlap in experiences since homophobia and misognyoir are honestly two sides of the same coin.)
I don’t understand how to communicate with LGBTQ White people if the assumption is that I am homophobic and theist because I am a Black woman, if the conversation cannot be shaped with an intersectional perspective, if White homophobes are always off the hook and if they continue to believe that Black people are “exceptionally” homophobic and responsible for America being a homophobic nation. If the price of connection is me admitting homophobia that I didn’t exhibit, checking cis and heterosexual privilege that I do have but enduring racism along the way as they deny its existence and pretend like White supremacy and White privilege are figments of my imagination, that’s an impasse.
I don’t want the price of dismantling oppression in one area to be suffering in silence in another. I don’t understand how to support LGBTQ White people who exclude and oppress LGBTQ Black people and ignore intersectionality, racism and White privilege in regards to heterosexual Black people who aren’t homophobic and aren’t using heterosexual privilege to silence them. I most certainly do not condone homophobia from anyone of any race, to be clear. There ARE Blacks AND Whites who are homophobic, and this is a problem. And homophobic or not, ALL heterosexuals benefit from heterosexual privilege, just like individually racist or not, the historical, institutional, structural and systemic manifestations of racism, White supremacy and White privilege benefits all Whites.
I know the possibility of intersectional thinking exists because videos like this powerful spoken word performance with a queer White woman and a heterosexual Black woman help me visualize the possibility. Maybe such a possibility will materialize into common, not fluke experiences for me.