A Black Gay Poet, or a Gay Black Poet, or a Poet

by Margaret Bowland

I. 

The first thing I did after weathering Irene’s apparent disappointment was go to a diner with a friend for breakfast. While eating, I noticed a old Jewish woman wearing a FUBU do-rag. It might take some reminding to recall that FUBU stands for “For Us, By Us,” the moniker of the 90s black urban fashion brand that seemed to be a direct answer to Tommy Hilfiger’s rumored irritation that his clothing brand had become so popular among black urban youth. While I loved the idea of clothing as a direct response, an argument, FUBU just wasn’t my style. Nor would I have guessed — back in the 90s or now — that it would fit the style of the Jewish woman in the booth across from me. What on earth does this sartorial meditation have to do with the title of this post? Well, seeing that woman brought to mind a question I’ve been asking myself more and more often as of late: Who is us exactly? 

II. 

When, in middle school, I sheepishly confessed to my mother that kids at school had been teasing me for “acting white,” she laughed. Actually, laughed. “Oh, baby. Kids used to call me an Oreo when I was in school.” She went on to explain that nobody — white or black folks — is ready for smart young black boys; they don’t have a name for us so the best they can come up with is white. She turned up the radio and started singing along with Luther Vandross. 

Later, when discussing the black community’s thorny engagement with gay activism, a friend — a black friend — said “The truth is that many African-Americans still think of homosexuality as a form of whiteness. It doesn’t help that the dominant gay images in the media are of white gay men.” Perhaps we don’t have a name for ourselves after all.

III. 

“The black experience is any experience that a black person has.” – Gwendolyn Brooks

IV. 

“Only a really shattered, scotch- or martini-guzzling, upward-mobility-struck house nigger could possibly deny the relentless tension of the black condition.” – James Baldwin

V. 

There is no specific inciting incident for this meditation — I prefer meditation, than essay as essay purports a kind of coherence that I’m simply not in the mood for — aside from perhaps the “relentless tension” Baldwin speaks of. Rather, the question of whether I’m a gay poet who happens to be black or a black poet who happens to be gay, or a poet who argues that such things as “blackness” and “gayness” need no proceed my nouns is just once that I — almost literally — enjoy dancing with. It troubles my waters; it keeps me questioning my self/selves; these days all I have are my questions. 

VI. 

Or maybe it’s just easier to debate gay/black and black/gay poems rather than to write the poems themselves. Or maybe I want to crack all of the “names” open.

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3 responses to “A Black Gay Poet, or a Gay Black Poet, or a Poet

  1. I’d simply define you as one of my favorite modern day poets and really, really cannot wait until your chapbook comes out from SRP.

  2. I had to come back to this because I’m getting ready tweet on this topic; I’m also going to share your piece with my son. He’s biracial and is struggling with his identify a lot lately. It might help. He has been he “doesn’t act” black or white. Tough position to be in — and I hope this might help him work through his own self-identity.

  3. Dante Micheaux

    I was an undergraduate when José Muñoz was just beginning to make a name for himself. His book DISIDENTIFICATIONS: QUEERS OF COLOR AND THE PERFORMANCE OF POLITICS was all the rage in my circle and off they went, my Queer friends, to put Muñoz’s theory into practice. I never could get behind disidentifying. I wanted all the identities at once. In some respects, I still do. I much enjoy telling the world, when it gets up in face, “Yes. I am that, too. And what?” When I think about being a poet, however, I have to question which aspect of my multidentity is responsible for that being. If I were not Black, I would still be a poet but I do not believe my being a poet would be possible if I were not a homosexual. My sexuality was the catalyst for childhood introspection and, having to keep a major part of myself hidden, forced me to hone my powers of observation. I had to be aware of everything around me, to protect myself when I thought no one else would. As the images and language began to commandeer the synapses, an outlet was needed. Poetry. I think all poets must have an experience that makes them see themselves outside the center of things. For me, it was the gift of homosexuality–for which I am eternally grateful.

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