My Remarks for SlutWalk NYC
So I gave a VERY abbreviated version of this speech, due to the rain–so if a video of the event surfaces, don’t gag. LOL! But this is what I’d prepared.
SlutWalk NYC Speech
Saturday, October 1, 2011
I am a slut. And I have always been a slut. Some of you may find this tongue-in-cheek, or even annoying coming from a male-identified person, right? Because when men call themselves sluts or ho’s, or players or whatever, it doesn’t carry the same social stigmas that it carries for women, particularly women of color. I understand that.
But I am not here to make fun of sexual violence, street harassment or any other form of nonconsensual behavior, often visited on the bodies of women. Nor am I here to try to displace the impact of gendered forms of violence against women, including transgender women, have to face, by doing what people with whatever relative form of privilege try to do when they want to justify being in spaces not deemed for them―to claim that they too, suffer forms of oppression. And then proceed to take over and displace the most impacted voices. But I am here because of this:
When I was 14 years old, as my body started to develop, and my particular kind of Black gay gendered body began to move through the world, I began to receive a lot of attention for older men. I was harassed on the street. I was, on 3 different occasions in one week when I was 15, followed by three different men, one of whom was in a car. When I was about 25 years old and living in New York City, I was once followed by a white van while walking to the train at 4am in the morning on my way home from clubbing in Chelsea, and had to run like hell to get away from it.
Most recently, in conversations about “men on the down low”– bisexual Black men who are not open about their relationships with men to their female partners–gay men are portrayed as the vectors of disease, particularly seen as the cause of HIV rates among Black women, though people are less likely to care that actually Black gay men have higher HIV rates than men who are not out, or so-called DL. And it is difficult to get people to care about the HIV epidemic where we’re concerned, because we cannot be seen as “innocent victims.” While most obviously an expression of the anxieties of bisexuality of Black men, the “down low” framework also positions Black gay men as predatory, as competitors with straight Black women, as a threat to the success of the Black family, Black marriages, and Black progress in general. In other words, we are sluts.
So with this in mind, I want to challenge the way many straight men working against gender based violence have framed the debate– “Men don’t have to wake up in the morning and wonder if what I put on is going to make me the target of violence.” Unfortunately, many queer, gay, SGL, and transgender men and boys know this reality all too well. I am well aware of the ways in which I am marked, my gender, the sex I have (or am imagined to be having), and my physical body, as a problem―to be controlled and policed by the larger Black community in informal ways, the church, by the state policing apparatus, and by public health epidemiologists.
And like many of us, I have had to struggle with the anxiety that my body and sexuality, regardless of what I wear or how I butch or femme I behave, produces in other people. And that anxiety produces a range of responses from disgust, to titillation, to embarrassment. The weight of that is very real and it can be crushing.
Yet despite all the negativity, the stigma, the present and historical trauma I carry, all of the threats of violence, all the times I have been attacked verbally or physically, all the predatory acts of other people, I have come to embrace the fact that yes, I am a slut too.
I also have come to love my body (which I didn’t always), and often I like showing it off, and I know sometimes I dress like a faggot, even when it is sometimes dangerous for me to do so. I know the irony of the moments at which I feel my sexiest, are the same moments at which I am the most visible, legible as a faggot―which in many peoples’ eyes, is synonymous with slut. I know stares of disgust I see from men, and sometimes women, and sometimes from other LGBT people who wish I would be less loud, less flamboyant, less exuberant, and less obvious in my own body and sexuality. And I don’t give a fuck!
So I chose to speak at SlutWalk because I believe playing the politics of respectability will get us no where. Being slutty and promiscuous is not incongruent with dignity, self esteem or consent! I support all of us creating ourselves in the image that speaks most to us―even if that means not accepting the label of slut for oneself, for personal, historical and/or political reasons. But some of us have figured out that while we are both targeted for our gender or our sexuality, we also continue to embrace being utterly trashy and scandalous, and our desire to do so does not take anything away from you, and how you chose to be in the world.
In many ways The Color Purple, the book and film, were huge parts of my understanding of this dichotomy. When I was a kid, I most identified with young Celie. I felt ugly, skinny, and undesirable. But I knew that I wanted to be like Shug Avery―empowered, sexy, queer, creative, worldly, and someone who just didn’t take any shit. She was a Black woman who defied convention, and in the world of the novel, while she struggled with the gendered expectations of a preacher’s daughter and her estrangement from her family, she still chose to live the way she wanted, even being labeled a slut, and rumored to have “that nasty women’s disease!”
So I feel that Black queer, bi, gay, SGL men have had to struggle with our bodies at the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality, but there are maps toward liberation, even in the midst of what seems like unsurmountable oppression and violence.
But I also want to extend my slutty hand to straight Black men, too. The recent campaigns targeting Black youth in different cities to ban “pants sagging” to me represent the way in which even the Black male body, even when it is assumed to be cis-gendered and heterosexual, creates a sexualized anxiety in the eyes of the state, whites, and Black middle-class with “racial uplift” values. And while some Black people reject these forms of criminalization of Black youth, we have an opportunity to work with young straight Black men and boys to fight back against their own criminalization, but also use this a way to critically engage their own sexist and misogynist assumptions about women, queers and trans people. In other words, what would organizing poor and working class Black and Latino straight men look like who both denounced the criminalization and hyper surveillance of their bodies and clothes, at the same time were committed to end the ways they are privileged and encouraged to commit violence against trans people, women and queers, or to act as enforcers of gender standards through street harassment?
I hope that we are able to own the real legacies of trauma many of us face in terms of the ways in which we are sexualized and criminalized in communities and by the state, to say nothing of the acts of violence that have been committed against us. But that does not negate nor render impossible the many of us who, despite those legacies, own our overt sexuality or promiscuity, and see it as a liberatory process. So here’s to all of us who realize we’ve been victimized by racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia, and labeled perpetual sluts and the enemies of whiteness, respectability, patriarchal families, and the nation itself. And despite the pain it sometimes causes, we’ve made a path for ourselves where we still get to be in our bodies in the way we want―to dress slutty, behave scandalously, love fiercely, and fuck consensually.