Friday, January 19, 2007

Losing Isaiah:
Anatomy of Black and Gay Conflict**


I’m not a fan of television. In fact, my 24-inch TV set has been unplugged for four months, and is currently a storage unit for the five or six DVDs that I own.

I have never watched an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. Last fall when I heard that Isaiah Washington called his castmate T.R. Knight a “faggot,” and read about the ensuing outrage in the gay community, I made two immediate assumptions. White folks were trying to lynch a brother and bring down a highly successful show created by a black woman, and “faggot” had nowhere near the negative cultural and historical connotations as “nigger.” In short, gay people, get over yourselves.

Earlier this week, in the Golden Globes pressroom, Washington denied ever using an anti-gay slur against his castmate, saying, “No, I did not call T.R. a faggot. Never happened.” Now GLAAD (the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) is calling for a formal apology from the actor, and gay rights activists have proposed boycotting ABC until he gets the axe. Washington was recently nominated for an NAACP Image Award, and many are demanding that the honor be rescinded.

As I read about GreyGate in the black blogosphere and discuss the issue among some of my friends, the consensus is that blackness is more visible than gayness, more marginalized. Thus, gay people can’t fathom our struggle, nor should they attempt to equate it with their own. After all, a gay person can walk into a room and have the option or “flaunting” his or her sexuality or not, whereas blackness – pigment, phenotype -- is a constant badge of dishonor. Why are “they” always trying to shove the “gay agenda” down our collective throat? Couched within “intellectual” debate about race and sexuality is the notion that gay people should remain in the shadows and in their “place.”

I have never written about gay issues. Whenever I hear about same-sex marriage, gay adoption, gay rights, hell, whenever I see a rainbow decal on the bumper of a car, some emotion simmers beneath the surface, which at its best is fear, and at its worst is hate. I would never consider myself homophobic, and yet, I have to confront the fact that I must be.

Since I read about Washington’s on-set outburst four months ago, and then heard about the actor’s second “outing” at the Golden Globes on Monday, I have had a serious wake-up call, the shifting of a long-held belief system. I am forced to re-examine how I interact with the gay people in my life. I must admit, those friendships have been compartmentalized and superficial. I am thrilled to have gay homies who I can kick it with, shop with, who can do my hair and makeup, tell me how fierce I am, who can even console me when I talk about my dating woes … but please don’t share your life with me, your gay-identified life. We can share curling irons and M.A.C. lip glass, but please don’t kiss and tell. I am ashamed to admit that I was not a friend, because as Alice Walker says, “No person is your friend (or kin) who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow and be perceived as fully blossomed as you were intended.”

What’s behind the homophobia that I and many other blacks feel? As a thinking woman, and Christian at that, shouldn’t I be more tolerant and understanding of folks whose lifestyles differ from my own? As a black woman, someone who daily dwells on society’s fringe, shouldn’t I empathize with others who are also invisible?

I can’t claim that Christianity is behind my fear of forming intimate, loving and healthy relationships with gay people. If anything, my religious beliefs are beginning to inform how I view gays and lesbians, and propel me toward acceptance. A few days ago when I realized that I no longer sided with Isaiah Washington in his McBeef with T.R. Knight, I did some research on black homophobia from the perspective of Christian writers and scholars. I’m beginning to understand that blacks assume a colonizer/colonized role when they view gays as “other,” and attempt to deny them rights that they themselves fought hard to attain. Michael Eric Dyson, a scholar and ordained Baptist minister, wants us to resist this way of thinking. “Ironically enough, blacks identify with mainstream sexual values – the very mainstream that has censored and castigated black heterosexuality – when they practice homophobia,” Dyson says. “I am not arguing that homophobia has no homegrown black varieties; I am simply suggesting that such homophobia allows blacks to forge solidarity with a culture that has excluded them.”

We recently celebrated MLK’s birthday, but it would probably surprise some African-Americans to learn that Martin Luther the King and his wife, Coretta Scott King, believed that gay people were also entitled to civil rights. Speaking before the 30th anniversary of her husband’s assassination, Coretta said, “I still hear people say that I should not be talking about the rights of lesbian and gay people and I should stick to the issue of racial justice. But I hasten to remind them that Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream to make room at the table of brother- and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people.”

How is any real coalition building between blacks and gays going to take place, any real healing, when there is a lack of trust, truth and tolerance? Many sisters feel hurt and victimized by the down low phenomenon, and view black men as “suspect’ – guilty until proven innocent. Therefore, these women are unable to understand or empathize with the subjugation that gay men may face. Many black men either fetishize lesbians or view them as pitiful women who can’t land a man, or who were abused by men. There is latent superiority on the part of both black men and women toward our gay counterparts. I think that secretly, many blacks resent gays being able to mobilize and shut down the systems that seek to oppress them, hence comments like “The gay mafia is after Isaiah,” and “Fags run Hollywood.”

In the vernacular, the term “family” means that gays recognize, claim and are interconnected with other same-sex oriented people – in spite of differences. Cornel West, grandson of a Baptist minister, and a professor of religion at Princeton University, implores blacks to embrace this same spirit of diversity, and be wary of mindsets that diminish the humanity of others, or trample on their rights. West writes in Race Matters, “Instead of authoritarian sensibilities that subordinate women or degrade gay men and lesbians, black cultural democracy promotes the equality of black women and men and the humanity of black gay men and lesbians. In short, black cultural democracy rejects the pervasive patriarchy and homophobia in black life.”

The pervasive patriarchy West is referring to has its roots in the church. Some black Christians are unable to reconcile “Homosexuality is a sin,” with “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” And if they are tolerant of gay people, they may “love the sinner, but hate the sin.”

I recently got into a verbal sparring match with another believer when I announced that I no longer believe being gay is a sin. I pray my Christianity card doesn’t get revoked, but I didn’t feel “convicted” for making that pronouncement. In fact, it was quite liberating. As Dyson says, “We can affirm our re-created goodness through discourses of redemption open to all human beings. There is no asterisk in the biblical promise of redemption that excludes homosexuals. We have to reclaim the primordial goodness of God that ultimately took human form in Jesus. As they say in Christian circles, God didn’t make any junk, and that means whomever God has made, whether homosexual or heterosexual, is a good person.”

I’m working on becoming that good person. I’m no longer going to expect gay people to change to make me feel comfortable, but I’m transforming myself into the very image of love and acceptance that I seek. I realize that such revolutionary practices are not going to occur overnight. Did I write in to demand that Isaiah’s NAACP Image Award nom be withdrawn? No, but if you’d care to complain, the e-mail address is imageawards@naacpnet.org. Am I boycotting ABC and Grey’s Anatomy? I’m doing that by default, seeing how my television hasn’t been plugged in for the last four months. But seriously, I strive for authentic change. How clichéd and unfair of me to have my Driving Miss Daisy moment, proclaiming to the gay people in my life -- who have supported me unconditionally, whom I have not supported in return, not spoken for, not cared about intimately, not loved – “You’re my best friend!”

In the midst of these ruminations, I received a text message from a gay Filipino friend. His father died two hours earlier, and he had a simple request: to keep him and his family in my prayers. That request humbled me, and brought me to tears. I prayed for him and also for myself, that he could forgive me for all the times I regarded him as “other,” and not brother, for all the times I didn't love him as he loved me. We are interconnected. I am in his "family,” and he’s in mine.

** for DP and GRF

17 comments:

toinetta said...

How is it that I am always the first to comment on your posts?

Anyway, this was a well thought and touching article. I know that we discussed this in passing and I didn't know where you were going with this. But you came up with a very passionate and heartfelt response.

I hope people read this and see themselves -- good, bad or indifferent -- and that they think twice before they give a negative word power to hurt someone.

Kudos and kisses

tnj

Wendi Berman said...

Ms. Visions, it is now safe to introduce you to my brothers. I know more about gay sex than I ever wanted to but I've always believed in a real, liberal education (which is why I can't identify with those Limousine Liberals).

I have always been troubled by the obvious disconnect in what should be--in my world--an obvious, natural fellowship between the black struggle for civil rights and the gay one--and, yes, I blamed it mostly on religion. I had no idea that you were struggling with it, too.

Thank you, as always, for humility and understanding, for self-assessment and the often painful tread on the constant open road.

Kudos. Kisses. Hugs--Family Style. There really is no other.

Sista from another mother,

wlb

Aunty Dotsey said...

I think the wolrd would be a better place if we would stop trying to idnetify people by group affiliation.

Take each person you meet along the way as the individual that they are and base on fellings on your one to one relationship.

If my like for vanilla ice cream and yours for strawberry does not deprive either of us of our desires, then all is good..

Damon said...

First of all, thank you for showing me a bit of love on my own blog about this subject, "Vida". As Gandhi said, we must be the change we seek in the world. And, I think we're in agreement that the gay people are not the issue. The real issue is our discomfort, as a community, with ourselves, first. Being the change starts with seeing what we REALLY are.

Keep on, sista.

soulpeeps said...

Hi Vida,
I am one of the regular commentors on the Bossip site. My moniker is "richie" and if you look at the 3 posts on the Isaiah story, you will see the uphill battle I've been waging against homophobia and ignorance. Thank you for posting your comment on Bossip or I would have never know about your wonderful blog. Your intelligence and insight is like an oasis in the desert.
Your story touched my heart and I congratulate you on your personal transition. I have bookmarked your site and will be passing it on to all my friends both gay and straight. All of your observations are wonderful and ironically have been one that my friends and I have had serious debates about.
You have a new fan with more to come.

Peace.

Sita said...

You were truly born to write!! Your articles are proof of that statement. The Isaiah Washington debacle brings to mind that old childhood standard, “sticks and stones…”. We are truly living in a different world now, but it appears that names do hurt us. And, a lot of us are still acting like children. Too bad individuals like Isaiah let their egos do the talking. I am a believer in “live and let live”. Hopefully, one day we will.

Visions of Vida said...

Thanks to all the encouraging and supportive words from friends and family as I go on this journey of truth. Blacks, gays and Christians are not monolithic groups, that's why there is a serious need for dialogue about this issue. I think many blacks automatically equate being gay with being white, and disregard the struggles of black gay men and women who feel the gay rights movement has been co-opted and commodified by privileged white men. Many gays may not feel they have allies in the black Christian community, and this is particularly painful because aren't Christians supposed to be loving, tolerant and forgiving? Jesus never denounced gay folk. Tolerance is key, as is remembering one of the most important commandments, "Love thy neighbor as thyself." Let's stop the self-hate, people!

Visions of Vida said...

soulpeeps -- your blog is coming up invalid. Do you have another address/web site?

I have noticed your comments on bossip, and agree that the ignorance and homophobia is rampant. Consider the source! :-)

soulpeeps said...

Sorry Vida,
I don't have a blog/website. I wish I had time to start one. But with folks like you around, I think we will all be just fine. ;)

As far as Bossip? Good grief, the ingnorance is limitless. And because they can't argue their points intelligently, they resort to TYPING IN ALL CAPS!

Anonymous said...

Having lived in San Francisco for 38 years, I can personally tell you that the gay community is racist, intolerant, heterophobic, bigoted and tries to silence anyone who does not agree with them, their lifestyle or agenda.

I do not watch Grey's Anatomy. I am not a fan of Mr. Washington.

This man did a stupid thing. He apologized for it. People make mistakes. Have you ever made a mistake? Have you ever said something stupid and regretted it later?

Did you lose your job because of it?

Black people really need to wake up and stop being stupid by allowing the white, jewish power structure to twist their minds.

Mr. Washington apologized and this should be the end of it.

Did Rosie lose her job for making fun of Chinese people and how they talk on National TV?

Why aren't you complaining about how Rosie insulted Star Jones on "The View" when she said that Black children choose rappers and athletes to look up to because weren't any role models in the African American community?

Did you protest her being hire full time by "The View?"

I'm sick and tired of gay people expecting everyone to agree with them and then when they don't, it's called, "hate speech."

It's getting tired people. Nobody cares who is gay and who is not.

Nobody cares who you sleep with.

So please stop expecting people to "reward" or give you a "standing ovation" for coming out of the closet.

Race and Sexual Orientation are two different things.

You can pretty much always spot an ethnic person but you can't always spot a gay person.

I'm furious that you would support the gay community forcing Mr. Washington on his knees as if to stay, "here BOY, SUCK ON THIS."

Mr. Washington made a mistake. It's done and it's over.

Lastly, for all the gays who seem to "hate" Christians for their religious beliefs that's fine.

Nobody is forcing you to be a Christian. Nobody is forcing you to believe the Bible.

If you are truly happy with who you are and feel that God made you gay, then there is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING THAT ANYONE CAN SAY OR DO TO YOU TO CONVICE YOU OTHERWISE.

Please grow up!

soulpeeps said...

First of all "anonymous" I think that it's YOU that could use a good shot of growth hormone.

The bigotry, racism, intolerance, etc., that you see in the gay community in San Fran. is found in EVERY community across America, be it gay, straight, religious, Black, Asian, handicapped, whatever. Are not religious right-wing "Christians" constantly trying to silence ANYONE (including EACH OTHER!!)who doesn't agree with their lifestyle and agenda?

Rosie apologized the NEXT day.
Had Washington done the same, this thing would have blown over just as swiftly. But Washington DENIED he said it day after day after day, constantly fanning the fire with his arrogance. HE made it worse by opening his stupid mouth again at the Golden Globes. Finally, when he saw that it was not going to go away, he issued a "statement of apology". But the damage was done.

Now personally, I think that ABC and Shonda Rimes should have gotten together with the parties involved and resolved it, since it was a private matter MADE public. Should he lose his job over it? That's not my call. That should be for ABC to decide. On the one hand I see all the hypocricy and have said as much on many of the gay blogs. But then I see the comments posted on sites like Bossip and news commentators who think the word faggot is no big deal, and I pause. Maybe a certain community has to make noise so that slurs will not be accepted by the general public. Sound familiar?

Race and sexual orientation are different in YOUR opinion, but since you are NOT gay then you really don't know do you? As A Black gay man, I say that you can no more stop being gay than you can stop being Black.

The only ones receiving "standing ovations" are the celebrities who come out. The rest of us either get quietly accepted, tolerated, ostracized, beaten or killed. It's not applause we desire, but humanity and equal rights. And yes though it may make you squirm, the truth is that when it comes to these basic himan rights, Blacks and gays are the same.

And finally, the word Christian simply means "Christ-like". And there is NOTHING Christlike about religious attitudes toward gays. So maybe you should channel some of your "fury" into helping your "Christian" bretheren embrace the Scripture "Love your neighbor AS YOU LOVE YOURSELF".

Visions of Vida said...

Soul peeps,

They posted my IW blog at getunderground.com: http://www.getunderground.com/underground/features/article.cfm?Article_ID=2115

and there's an interesting discussion going on over there. Below is a comment that didn't make it past GU's filter, but which the poster was kind enough to send to my personal e-mail addy:

Dear Mrs. Sconier,

One of the appalling features of Protestantism (including Novus Ordo "Catholicism") is emulation of the Pharisees in "making void the commandment of God for the tradition of men." (see Matthew 15:16, Mark 7:9-13, Colossians 2:8, 2 Thessalonians 3:6 at http://www.drbo.org). Mankind's fallen nature ---Thanks a lot, Adam and Eve!--- finds God's Law inconvenient and "politically incorrect," so mankind makes up their own religions with "tolerance" of heinous vices, for example, "tolerance" of sodomy and murdering babies in the womb.

So, mankind diabolically morphs "Thou shalt not murder" into "Abortion is a woman's choice." Mankind diabolically morphs sodomy, one of the sins that cry to Heaven for vengeance, into "a gift from God that we must celebrate."


Know you not that the unjust shall not possess the kingdom of God? Do not err: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, Nor the effeminate, nor liers with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor railers, nor extortioners, shall possess the kingdom of God. ---1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (see also Genesis 1:1-29, 19:4-25; Deuteronomy 22:5; Leviticus 18:22-30, 20:13; Romans 1:24-27; Jude 7-8; 2 Peter 2:4-9; and 1 Timothy 1:10)


God's mercy is tempered with justice. To obtain His mercy we must be sorry for our sins and committed to overcoming our sins, not wallowing in sin, "tolerating" sin, while we excuse ourselves. Recall that half the formula for obtaining His forgiveness is, "Go, and now sin no more." ---John 8-11 (and John 5:14)

"God did not make junk," you quote. It is man, not God that makes sin. It is not "pride" in vice that gains us Heaven, but humility in virtue.

Homosexuals are not "born that way." There is no "gay gene." God did not "make them that way." Trauma, wrongful education, and sin disrupt normal heterosexual development, causing a disproportion of violent and predatory behavior by homosexuals, especially against minors. The claim of a "gay gene" is just an illogical diversion, a "red herring." Don't doctors treat diseases like diabetes with a genetic component??? Even if homosexuality were genetic, doctors should treat the disease! (see Homosexuality and Hope, a study of all the medical literature on homosexuality, http://www.cathmed.org/publications/homosexuality.htm)

Same-sex Attraction Disorder (S.A.D.) is a Preventable and curable CHOICE!

S.A.D. is a symptom of abnormal development, not the proper essence of a person's identity. If the emotional and developmental needs of children are properly met by family and peers, same sex attraction is very unlikely. Early recognition of Gender Identity Disorder and Chronic Juvenile Unmasculinity allows early intervention. All can call upon a heavenly treasure of graces. Freedom from all homosexual behavior, fantasy, or attraction is attainable for many. Good priests, therapists, families, and the community at large should all play a role in the charitable, but authentic, pastoral care that, properly directed, will in most cases help overcome the homosexual orientation. Do not deny free will, the power of grace, or the effectiveness of therapy because cures abound in the medical literature.

Despite two decades of education, homosexuals still tend to be promiscuous and to engage in high risk and often anonymous sex practices (including fisting, torture, sodomy, coprophagy, vampirism, and other paraphilias) that result in the exchange of blood, urine, feces, and semen yielding much higher rates of deadly disease than in the normal population. The medical consequences of acts common among homosexuals and the disproportionately increased rates of violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and psychopathology among homosexuals cause homosexuals to die decades younger than normal people. Despite the protestations of homosexual activists to the contrary, about one-third of adult homosexuals engage in sex with minors, putting teens and children at risk from their sick predatory practices. "Most child molesters are heterosexual," they boast ---but 47% of child molestation is perpetrated by the 1% of the population that is homosexual, making the average homosexual almost 50 times more dangerous to children than the average heterosexual.

To review the extensive research literature documenting these tragic truths and discrediting homosexualist "junk science," see http://www.narth.com.

Sodomy causes early death of the body and, if unrepented, eternal death of the soul, so there is nothing "gay" about S.A.D.

Ad Jesum per Mariam,
Edgar A. Suter MD

Visions of Vida said...

Oops, that address got cut off. It's http://www.getunderground.com/underground/features/article.cfm?Article_ID=2115 or you can go to their homepage, www.getunderground.com, and it's the third article down.

soulpeeps said...

Thanks Nicole (then who's vida?).

Just goes to show you who the really "S.A.D." people are.

I also left a comment on getunderground.com

Visions of Vida said...

Thanks, Soul Peeps,
Appreciate the support. "Vida" is a character in my novel, an alter ego of sorts :-) Nicole D. Sconiers is my given name.

AskThisBlackWoman said...

Thank you for your honesty. Great post.

Abbie said...

Thanks for writing this.