“You have wounds with me and I have wounds with you.”
These words, summarized loosely, were spoken by Black Male feminist Jewel Woods. Woods was responding to criticism about his work at an event at the Schomburg in Harlem, where he presented a talk called “Heterosexism, Sex, and Sexuality: A Conversation On Black Male Privilege.”
Members of the audience, including myself, were taken aback at how little of Wood’s presentation really dealt with homophobia or heterosexism. The talk was by and large an exploration of men’s attitudes towards women in rio and a very surface level analysis of the role that heterosexism plays in that phenomenom. The audience was slightly perturbed but was really ignited when he presented his infamous “Black Male Privilege Checklist”, a checklist which has enjoyed immense popularity and despite very vocal cirtiques of it’s hetero-centric analysis, in the 4 years since it’s inception, has also experienced very little transformation.
When asked about why this had not happened, Wood’s responded with the predicatble tactics used by those who have done little work with their privilege: avoidance, denial, etc. There was nothing new there. But what did stick out to me in the midst of his deflections was his sentiment that” because of the wounds black gay men have with black hetero men and vice versa, we are able to do very little work with each other.” Now mind you, he was using this statement in many ways to speak to why the checklist hadn’t been changed ( apparently he needed a gay to figure that stuff out). Also, we know that black gay men and black hetero men do work with each other often, even if it is amidst silence around specific differences and tension. Yet, despite this that statement has stuck with me since that dialogue. Because whether Woods realized it or not, there is alot of truth and power in that statement. And I believe there is much that must be explored within it’s context.
( It is also important to note that since this conversation, Woods has attempted to reach out to me, I suspect, to talk about that evening and some of the challenges that transpired. My sharing this story is not any attempt to disparage him. We all have been in similair scenarios with our privilege; self included.None of us walked out of the womb knowing how to address our heterosexual, gender, class, race privilege etc.It’s important we all know that and be accountable to these instances and opportunities for growth.)
Yet and still, what wounds was Woods speaking to? How have these wounds impacted the possibilities of black male feminists and black men’s work to dismantle privilege? How have these wounds contributed to many hetero black male feminist’s lackluster heterosexist and homophobic analysis and Queer black male feminist’s lack of critical investigation into queer male privilege? What fear is it that prevents us from “penetrating” to deeply into those constructs and from forming more public alliances with eachother?
How are the wounds of patriarchy that all black men experience directly connected to these tensions and frustrations?
Let’s talk candidly, shall we?
1) Many black male feminists have been very public about their struggles with working towards embodying a non-patriarchal masculinity. The challenge for many, though it has been coded and decorated nicely, has been fear of being percieved to be gay or queer. Of course, its important to note that being queer or gay does not equate a non-patriarchal gender expression. Despite mainstream delusions gay and queer men can be violent and patriarchal. What the real fear here is of course is about not being readily recognizable as “heterosexual” more so than being read as “queer”( sometimes.)
For men who have had historic access to the cloak of heteronormativity, doing intentional male privlege work means that your gender expression may now un-veil you; because doing this work calls for us to challenge norms and challenge precepts both publicly and privately that disrupt the masculininty code. This is difficult to all black male feminists for different reasons. For heterosexual men, it often calls for them to give up privilege and date romantically in a world that is often filled with women who enforce and celebrate patriarchy and to lose the homo-latent erotic bonds with their male friends, since most hetero male bonding is largely built on the celebration of the subjugation of women and the feminine(both within themselves and without).
For gay/queer/bi men, I have experienced that due to the void in work on queer specific male privilege, we have had a somewhat dissonate relationship to the unique ways it manifests in our communties or in our selves. We have for far too long, gotten away with just critiquing a broader male privilege dynamic and squirming/shying away from the unique manifestations of our queer male privilege in relationship to all women and queer women specifically. Of course this is due to heterosexism, which still permeates and questions if we are men and suggests that we all are buddies to women ( we all worship Beyonce and Britney Spears right? And of course, diva worship is about respect for women and never just a celebration of normative feminine performance and visual jack-offing. You know? I’m just sayin..)
This is apart of the reason I think it is important to note that un-doing male privilege within ourselves is work to heal trauma. We must understand gender socialization is trauma. This, I believe is the psychological reason that hetero men( and all men) react when they see someone crossing the “gender code” i.e a man in bright colored, shirt,or dress. This is apart of the reason that many men police each other around body moevement; i.e limp wrists, hands on hips etc. One of those reasons is because we have had gender beaten into us and that beating has been intense, systematic and traumatic.
Their is a story a young brother shared when I taught Men’s Education Clasess (Commonly called Batterer’s Intervention Courses) that illuminates this:
Tyrone says ( Not his real name): When i was young my dad would pop us in the mouth if we caught us with our hands on our hips. And I mean HARD. There were so many times I would be in the kitchen with ma, or just in the yard standing with my hands on my hips and out of nowhere he would slap the shit out of me. He would say “Boys don’t put their fuckin hands on their hips! You wanna be fuckin sissy?! ” Even though he did this for years, it always caught me off guard….And I know you gon say it’s wrong, but I’ve done the same things to my sons. Even though it used to scare me. But everytime I see them with their hands on their hips its like it just does something to me”
What it does to him is trigger the trauma he has experienced when he was beaten by his father. We all know that the subconscious mind carries with it wounds and experiences that are awakened by external stumuli. In this case it’s clear that the stimuli is seeing his own son standing there with his hand on his hip.
For many of us, that external stimuli that awakens a wound could be that guy carrying a purse. Or those two men holding hands. It can awaken the wounding we all have around when we wanted male affection and we were subsequently beaten, ridiculed and attacked because of it.
For instance, I know I am not alone in being caught kissing and touching another young boy when I was young (we were both under eight) and getting reprimanded and beaten because of it. Different people will respond differently psychologically to such an experience, but I believe it’s safe to say that for many hetero and homo-latent individuals trauma like this and the subsequent institutional support that it receives leads some to bury their longing for male affection or channel it sparsely through acceptable mediums (booty smacking on ball courts, hiding out as heterosexual, mutual masturbation sessions with hetero porn, “gang bang” sex, where women serve as a conduit for an acceptable sexual male connection, etc.).
The simple reality is, sexual energy, devoid of our moral and intellectual judgements, flows in a number of intricate ways and when specific routes for it’s expression are blocked it does not dissapear it merely manifests itself somewhere else. That somewhere else may be externalizing it by projecting it on the “other” or it may be through other homo or hetero -latent acts.
There is much more to be explored here. This is the just the tip of the iceberg. Next blog I am going to deepen more of what is being put out here.
I feel it’s important to frame this dialogue as much as possible before I dive deeper into the dynamics of the challenges between us as black male feminists doing the work of addressing male privilege as I see them. I welcome your comments, thought and perspectives.
in love and peace,