The future study of black sexualities

Becoming acquainted with queer-of-color analysis as academic theory has allowed me articulate the frustration that I had felt for a long time but could never quite pinpoint with the mainstream LGBT movement. My vexations peaked while marching with the API (Asian Pacific Islander) contingent at the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade last June, as I watched the city erupt with confetti and cheers and corporate sponsors from Bank of America to Wells Fargo lined the streets with their promotional booths. The next day, I went to the Dyke March that took place at Dolores Park, a historic and rare green space in the heart of the rapidly gentrifying Mission District. The entire story of modern San Francisco, as well as the entire Bay, is intimately bound up with the continual influx of the predominantly white and professional LGBT population that has driven up rent prices to what many working-class people of color can no longer afford. I was working as an organizing fellow at a labor center in Chinatown that summer and engaged with countless immigrant families who struggled with the rising costs of housing and living. Low-income queer people of color have long written their history into the lifeblood of the Bay Area; they are among the folks being gentrified out of their communities. It was jarring for me to reconcile that reality with rainbows, sparkles, and a pink-washed declaration of queer pride.

Who is this for?

Who is this for? Picture from The San Francisco Gate.

Black sexualities as a field bursts with possibility and what Cathy Cohen aptly terms “the radical potential of queer politics”. Queer-of-color analysis that privileges racism and class exploitation as central features of heteropatriarchy in advanced capitalism is absolutely essential to building a more inclusive and responsive LGBT movement. We desperately need a movement that remembers the intersectional experiences of queer people of color and listens to the voices at the margins: the black drag queen, the prostitute, transmen and women who navigate an additional set of challenges, homeless queer youth all over. I believe that the critical examination of black sexualities harbors the capacity to expand the definitive boundaries of “queer” in ways that restore a compassionate and politicized vision to queer activism. Because we have got to be leading a pretty damn insulated and privileged existence for sexuality to be the sole determinant of our identity. Because this is an issue of both bread-and-butter and life-and-death. Because, in words borrowed from a spoken word poem by Stanford University students entitled “Queer Rage”:

There is something beautiful about being lied to
Rainbows are just a trick of light
They make us forget the storm is still happening,
When walking towards the end of the rainbow, it will always move away.

Very recently, a good friend of mine forwarded me an open letter from San Francisco Pride at Work. It was a deeply reflective piece announcing its decision to temporarily cease all operations to engage in self-evaluation. As the letter states: “Some of us are now moving into a collective accountability process. We do so with hope that, as people who are committed to working toward collective liberation, we can struggle together through hard conversations about how white supremacy and racism manifest themselves in our organizational structures, organizing efforts and ourselves.” Reading the letter gave me hope. I am optimistic that queer activism, through this kind of difficult but necessary introspection and personal assessment, can ultimately achieve its potential. I am optimistic that the study of black sexualities can provide the theoretical support for praxis that does not aim for assimilation into a racist and exploitative status quo, but envisions an alternative future. I had never been more proud of San Francisco queer politics.

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