Why Black LGBTQ+ people get upset when our most prominent people show up with white partners
Because we live in this society, anti-Blackness is very common among us, perhaps even more so when we date outside our race
Editor’s Note: This Sexual Health and Awareness month, we will be exploring related issues at BYP, and we are interested in publishing works that address these topics. What does sexual health look like outside of cishetero norms? Where does the #MeToo movement go from here? What can we do to better support survivors, including survivors of childhood sexual violence?
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By J.R. Yussuf
On Thursday, August 29, 2019 NFL veteran Ryan Russell opened up about being a bisexual Black man in an exclusive interview with ESPN. In the interview, Russell talks about vulnerability, trust and honesty, and how increasingly important these values have become to him since losing his best friend and former teammate last year. This, coupled with finally recovering from a shoulder injury which prevented him from playing in the league, prompted Russell to show up in his totality as an openly bisexual man while interviewing for defensive end positions in what he calls his last chance.
The interview is poignant. It shows Russell’s depth and very quickly summarizes a few of the challenges bisexual men face, such as not quite fitting into the gay or straight world, feeling shame about only being with women knowing he could also love men, and how coming out as bisexual can mean you’ll be perceived as inherently having commitment issues. Although only time will tell whether he will get picked up by one of the teams he interviews for, the response from news outlets and celebrities was very supportive overall and a pleasure to see.
Before long though, many media outlets began posting a photograph from Russell’s Instagram of him with his boyfriend Corey O’Brien, alongside the publication of Russell’s trailblazing interview. O’Brien is a Los Angeles based professional dancer who’s also white. And just as quickly as Ryan Russell garnered the attention of many Black LGBTQ+ people, many of these same people either lost interest or roused concerns about prominent Black LGBTQ+ people consistently gravitating toward relationships with white partners.
From Billy Porter to Don Lemon to Laverne Cox to Karamo Brown to Derrick Gordon, it seems as though in order to reach and/or maintain a certain level of prominence, Black LGBTQ+ people have to make themselves available to white partners, and white people at large.
Is it optics, a ploy used to throw off suspicions that the entities which support them are racist at their root, that they don’t actually value Black life and only want access to Black people and culture? Is these peoples’ proximity to whiteness a symptom of circumstance and access because of things like the school-to-prison pipeline, which creates a scarcity of Black people—and more severely Black LGBTQ+ people—in places of power? Do the higher rates of homelessness, poverty and debilitating mental health epidemics that Black LGBTQ+ people face drain the dating pool of the presence of a variety of Black people at a certain level?
Or is their proximity to whiteness because of internalized anti-Blackness, the product of a world that tells Black people our features, our personalities, our history, our culture, our hair, our existence, and our lot in life is not desirable? Do we feel entitled to these high profile Black LGBTQ+ people, or an owed allegiance as it relates to who they date? Is it a combination of these things or is it something else entirely?
Who is being allowed to represent the Black LGBTQ+ community is important to discuss to keep them accountable to the community, and also for the literal welfare of said high profile people. Reading about Michael Sam’s devastating post-coming out story earlier this year was really rough, but especially the part where he admitted to feeling used and discarded by the very same white LGBTQ+ media and community who had hastily become his sphere, via his white ex-boyfriend, during many drug fueled, near-death benders.
Many of us are used to being fetishized in white spaces, trivialized one minute, seen as being inherently more masculine and the owners Big Black Cocks, and just as swiftly discarded when these white figures become bored or find another interchangeable Black body they can wrap their arms around. At times, it can feel as though no area of our Black lives are allowed to be sacred, to even hint at the same exclusion and firm boundaries that white spaces have to keep Black people out. The plain truth is that we can never be equally exclusive, we just don’t have that power. But we can decide who we date.
Many Black LGBTQ+ people are too used to being seen as only brothers by the Steve Lacys of the world, too used to feeling overlooked by the Frank Oceans, that when the pictures of Ryan Russell and Corey O’Brien surfaced the knee-jerk reaction of disappointment made complete sense. Perhaps Russell hasn’t internalized anti-Blackness, and maybe he just happened to develop a bond with a man who is not Black.
But because we live under a white supremacist, heteronormative society, anti-Blackness is very common amongst Black people, perhaps even more so in Black people who date outside of their race, and it is completely logical to be skeptical until proven otherwise. Because of this, perhaps it is my business to know who prominent Black LGBTQ+ people date and the reasons why.
Internalizing anti-Blackness will make you act against your own well-being, supporting people, establishments and ideologies that will lead to your eventual death. It attributes every good thing a Black person does to anomaly and balloons missteps as a representation of the entire race. It is what causes Stacy Dash and Kanye West to be vocally supportive of politicians who uphold and propose systems and policies that will be to their detriment. It is punching at a mirror, hoping that will change the picture, until shards lodge themselves into your knuckles and then continuing to punch anyway.
I want Black bisexual men, and all Black LGBTQ+ people, to be healthy and happy on all fronts, non-Black partners or not. Internalizing anti-Blackness is obviously self-sabotage, but as long as they are engaging that reality, I’m happy if they’re happy.
When you take into account that bisexual men are worse off in the realms of mental health, physical health, domestic abuse, graduation rates, poverty, and sexual harassment in the workplace than our gay and straight counterparts—worse still if you’re also Black—due to bi-erasure and biphobia, it is clear that Russell needs to be supported by as many people in as many ways as possible, especially at this critical point in his career. But support doesn’t mean uncritical acceptance.
J.R. Yussuf is a Nigerian-American, New York native. J.R. deeply believes in the importance of personal power, and in addition to being an actor, is the 1st place winner of a 2016-2017 Reader Views Literary Award in the Self-Help category for The Other F Word: Forgiveness, a book for anyone who has ever struggled with forgiveness and letting things go. Yussuf maintains a YouTube channel devoted to self-improvement, emotional intelligence & forgiveness. His writing has appeared in the anthologies Best Bi Short Stories: Bisexual Fiction, finalist for a 2014 Lambda Literary Award and a 2014 Rainbow Award and Double Consciousness: An Autoethnographic Guide To My Black American Existence which soared to #1 Best-Seller in Kindle African American Poetry within it’s first week of being released, as well as Black Youth Project, Positively Positive, The Good Men Project, Escarp, Instigatorzine, and The CultureLP. Yussuf created the tag #bisexualmenspeak for bi+ men & masculine identified folks to have the space to speak for themselves & talk about how being bi+ impacts the way they move through the world. Learn more at www.JRYussuf.com