Written by Jaylen Thomas
Growing up as a Black male in a religious, heterosexist household, I was always aware of the attraction that I had towards other males. However, due to the environment in which I was raised, I was never equipped with the proper language to articulate my identity. My house was not a home in that although I was never deprived of a meal, and I never went without being clothed, those meals would never be as filling to me as it would have been to have known that my existence was not in vain. I would have rather worn a smile than the clothes that I was afforded the opportunity to put on my back. In my household, I was but a shadow.
I was a product of who my parents wanted me to be and lacked any knowledge of who I actually was. We never spoke about sexuality, and assumptions of heterosexuality became more like expectations. Instead, I was labeled as—and, thus, resented language like—“faggot”, “sissy”, and “feminine.” Because I was aware of the negative connotation carried by these words, I began to internalize the heterosexism that was taught in my household. My self-worth and my love for who I was began to become as absent as my identity.
In conceptualizing what discourse communities are and how to navigate through them, it becomes apparent that these communities go beyond what Foucault sets as the standard. Michel Foucault expounds upon discourse and what it is inclusive of in his written work “The Archaeology of Knowledge”?: “Discourse is not the majestically unfolding manifestation of a thinking, knowing, speaking subject, but, on the contrary, a totality, in which the dispersion of the subject and his discontinuity with himself may be determined.” Approaching discourse through a more intersectional lens affords the opportunity to analyze communities such as ethnic communities, religious communities, and even scholarly communities within education.
Within these communities there is an (un)spoken rule of what is considered unspeakable or unsayable, which creates an absence for language that is necessary for our understanding of identity. This absence perpetuates the erasure of those who are unable to express their identity due to an absence of language. This empowers those who we are socialized to believe are “the normal” and/or not queer. With this power these people are able to continue to shape language, oppress, and marginalize anyone who is deemed “other.” Many of these discourse communities typically avoid addressing similar issues, usually regarding sex and sexuality. This silence about these issues often do a disservice to members of these communities who are not afforded the opportunity to have language centered around their identity.
The Black community, socialized tremendously through religion, often disregards sex and sexuality or addresses it in ways that condemn and excludes anyone who do not identify as cisgender and heterosexual. In relation to this, heteronormativity becomes the premise of education. A heteronormative education leaves queer Black folk out of the discourse, erases their identities, and eliminates any conceptualization of sex and sexuality.
There is a silence within the Black community when it comes to issues of sex and sexuality. These issues go unaddressed and cause members of the Black community who do not identify as cisgender, heterosexual to fall victim to a bisecting oppression. Othered for being Black and discarded for identifying outside of cisheteronormativity. This oppression is perpetuated through the notion that sexuality is a choice and that those who choose to identify as “other” have chosen to remove themselves from the community. Gary Greenberg parallels the assumption of this choice to the choice of religion in his reading entitled “Gay by Choice? The Science of Sexual Identity” by referencing Jon Davidson’s statement: “It doesn’t matter whether you were born that way, it came later, or you chose… We don’t think it’s okay to discriminate against people based on their religion. We think people have a right to believe whatever they want. So why do we think that about religion and not about who we love?” With the popular thought that sexuality is a choice in the Black community, we often do not create spaces intentionally designed to include queer Black folk.
The bisecting oppressions of queer Black folk becomes realized early on, typically around the time when we begin to grasp an understanding of ourselves as sexual beings. We begin to discuss sex in the education system in an effort to be informed about reproduction, and to ensure that if we so happen to engage in sex that we have an understanding of healthy sex. I believe that this education is necessary, but fails to be inclusive. We cannot separate sex from sexuality, and we cannot be heteronormative—especially in areas as critical as sex education. This causes those who do not identify as heterosexual to be left out of the conversation and in search for answers. In reading “Sexuality and Social Theorizing,” Denise Donnelly, Elisabeth O. Burgess, and Wendy Simonds discuss the lack of conversation around sex and sexuality: “Sexuality is important in most of our lives, yet many people don’t understand it, are uncomfortable talking about it, and don’t know where to go to get their questions answered.” Without answers to these questions, those who are not afforded the proper education on how to approach sex correctly oftentimes become victims of sexual violence. I became one of those survivors.
In research conducted by Anthony J. Lemelle Jr., PhD and Juan Battle, PhD, it becomes evident that there is a breakdown within the African-American community and sex education in regards to the LGBT community: “For example, African American students are reported to have significantly less knowledge of AIDS and have significantly more negative attitudes toward gay men than both Hispanic and white students. It has also been argued that negative attitudes toward gay men prevent the control of HIV/AIDS. For example, stigma creates a heavy burden for gay men and impedes their ability to fight AIDS.” (Fullilove and Fullilove 1999; Herek and Capitanio 1999).” As a Black person without access to this information, I completely lacked the language necessary to articulate my identity. I did not have an understanding of what consent was between queer men, I was socialized into a belief that men could not be raped, and healthy sex was merely an assumption based on how I was taught to engage in heteronormative relationships.
What we have to pay attention to is who is creating language and for what purposes; who does this language exclude and what are the consequences for said exclusions. We have to address the absence of discourse around queerness and how that implies that queerness is not welcomed within the Black community. Those who sit at the crossroad of Black and LGBT often suffer from the weight of existing at the crux of intersecting dominations. We become more susceptible to being overlooked and, in turn, are forced to grapple with the insufficiency of our language to articulate our identities and the lack of accessible education. The matrix of domination—which deals with the point at which gender, race, and class intersect—does not only offer language for our marginalizations, but also gives definition to what leads us to self-destructive behavior. We cannot afford to be silent and we cannot afford to allow the erasure of our existence. There must be a push for intersectionality in education and we must be more inclusive of all identities within the spectrum.