Category Archives: Culture

Prop 8 #1: A Material or Moral Defeat?

I know I am late on this one, but initially I thought that my essay from 2004, Is Gay Marriage Anti-Black, would be enough to help people think about the racial dimensions of the same-sex marriage debate. I can tell it’s getting alot of traction again, people have emailed to say it is circulating on listservs and it’s in the top 10 blog entries here for the last week. Sometimes, it’s better to be late than to be quick and not comprehensive. I think there are lots of things to say about this particular situation, so I am going to be blogging on this all week with short blog entries, while I work on a longer analytical piece. But I will use this series to talk about some of the flawed assumptions of the people upset about the ban.

One of the things that has been bugging me is the pro-marriage (and marriage ONLY) gays and straights have been talking as though this were the same thing as the Dred Scott decision–a total loss of rights tantamount to second class citizenship, or no citizenship at all. But is this true? Though it is a setback, in terms of cementing heterosexist law on yet another state in the union, is it really the loss of “rights” as is being framed by the advocates?

Something to consider: California already has a domestic partnership law on the books, that was signed into law in 2003, and took effect in 2005. According to the California domestic partnership law, “Registered domestic partners shall have the same rights, protections, and benefits, and shall be subject to the sameresponsibilities, obligations, and duties under law, whether they derive from statutes, administrative regulations, court rules, government policies, common law, or any other provisions or sources of law, as are granted to and imposed upon spouses.”

In essence, the benefits of domestic partnership are very similar to those given under civil marriage, which are pretty similar to straight married couples, with the exception of federal recognition to get the different benefits under federal law. The US government does NOT currently honor state marriages of gay couples.

Did the California Supreme Court decision which lead to default legal marriage for same-sex couples, end the domestic partner benefits already afforded under the 2003 law?

NO. According to the state website, “The Court’s decision regarding same-sex marriages did not invalidate or change any of the Family Code statutes relating to registered domestic partners. Until a Notice of Termination is filed with our office, a registered domestic partnership will remain active on California’s Domestic Partnership Registry. This office will continue to process Declarations of Domestic Partnership, Notices of Termination of Domestic Partnership and other related filings as permitted by the domestic partnership law.”

That would mean that same-sex couples could still get the domestic partnership benefits, even though there is now a ban on marriage, per se. Is there a qualitative difference between domestic partner benefits and marriage, if neither are recognized federally? I think not.

So I don’t think that the idea that gays in California somehow lost some substantive rights (though I don’t support the ban, obviously) in the few months where they were allowed to get a slightly differently worded piece of paper, makes not a whole lot of sense. This to me is more a moral debate than it is a material one, but I will get into that issue when I write a full piece…Stay Tuned.

Read American University Professor Nancy Polikoff’s Blog to keep up with the best legal mind on these issues.

Queer Black Cinema Takes NYC This Weekend

Noah’s Arc isn’t the only movie featuring the Black queer community. And if you want a little more gender parity of Black queer life in the mix, you can’t miss this weekend’s Queer Black Cinema Film Festival in New York City, running from Thursday, October 30-Sunday, November 2.The films they have on hand are diverse in subject and range of experience, and some feature or were made by friends of mine including Ignacio Rivera, C. Sala Hewitt, Hanifah Walidah & Olive Demetrius, and Maurice Jamal! CHECK THE SCHEDULE HERE:

Queer Black Cinema , New York’s first and Only Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer monthly micro-cinema series and annual film festival. We are a grassroots, volunteer-run organization who mission is dedicated to showcasing independent narrative and documentary works by U.S. and international Black LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer). We screen and promote all people of color artist by screening their trailers and original music . QBC film series takes place varies times once a month at the LGBT Community Center and other locations throughout the New York Metropolitan area. YOU MUST CHECK THIS SITE OR WWW.QUEERBLACKCINEMA.ORG FOR UPDATES.All are welcome to attend regardless of their sexual orientation, race or gender. We aim to entertain, enlighten and educate through our niche programming.

Please attend, tell your people, and watch the trailers here.

Noah's Arc: Why I Want to Hate it, But Can't!!!

When I heard that there would be a Black gay series on the first all-LGBT cable network, LOGO, I was highly skeptical. Who wouldn’t be? Hollywood (including gay cinema) has such a bad track record presenting Black people period, let alone Black gay men. Not only that, even if it was created, written, and directed by a Black gay filmmaker, what were the chances that it wouldn’t still not reflect what I think is an accurate view of Black gay life?

Well I watched the series Noah’s Arc, and though I sometimes cringed, I still like it. I saw the new movie “Jumping the Broom” which brings back the characters where they left off in Season 2, and though I also think it was far from perfect, I still, liked it.

The film, as the title suggests, picks up with the impending nuptials of Noah and Wade. They, along with their closest friends prepare for a weekend wedding on Martha’s Vineyard. And the DRAMA unfolds. I won’t give the film away, but it is much like the series in what it gets wrong, and what it gets right.

The Wrongs:

  1. It tries to take on too much, too many issues, too many subplots and twists. The script is over-written, but not broad enough to be a farce. Much like Tyler Perry, it’s hard to know what genre we’re playing in.
  2. Though improved over the series, some of the acting is not all that great. I “buy” the characters as they are, but sometimes they don’t convince me of the moment itself, which can be a weakness in the acting, the writing, the directing, or all three!
  3. It relies way too heavy on the upwardly-mobile, bourgie aspirational lifestyles that seem unrealistic. Much like Sex in The City, you wonder where they get the money for the lifestyle they seem to be able to afford. But unlike Sex in the City, some of it actually detracts from the story, rather than enhancing it. When I saw the film in NYC, the audience seemed more horrified than wowed by some of Noah’s outfits-me included. The costume designer did not give us Carrie Bradshaw, but someone doing a bad job of trying to copy it.
  4. You all know how I feel about the marriage issue. And this film is about a marriage. Need I say more?
  5. They clearly don’t know any lesbians or transwomen. I guess I do know some Black gays who don’t know (or like) queer women or trannies, but I don’t take these characters to be those kind of gays. I think it’s fine to not try to do everything in a script but I think (maybe I am being too generous) we tend to live a little more across gender lines than that.

The Rights:

  1. The relationships between the friends is the main reason we forgive Noah’s Arc for where it comes up short. I know alot of people who feel like the show is so unrealisitc and doesn’t represent the Black gay community, and it doesn’t entirely. But I think it does, generally speaking, represent the way many of Black gay men are differently gendered. There are some who feel like the characters are too femme, but I think there’s actually a range of genders represented.
  2. Though it tries to take on too much, it does at least try to take on some issues that we deal with from HIV/AIDS–sero-discordance and if it’s ever OK to stop using condoms in a committed relationship, ambivalence to marriage, raising kids, aging, butch/femme and top/bottom issues, being out to the family, etc. It’s refreshing to see the new young character in the film (played by the boy who was once once of Sandra and Elvin’s twin babies Winnie & Nelson on The Cosby Show), trying to figure some of this stuff out, but also has as much agency as the older characters.
  3. I think one of the things we severely lack in the Black gay community is examples of other Black queers negotiating dating, sex and relationships, and i think this film and the show does a good job of providing some models of how Black gay men love each other, whether in the friendships of the four main characters, or in the romantic and sexual relationships they have (or desire) with other men.
  4. It’s a good time! Though it gets ridiculous, hokey and melodramatic, much of the films is laugh out loud funny–especially the character Alex, and the Hollywood scenester and fag-hag Brandy. I was never bored, nor did I find it so problematic as to be irredeemable. It’s a good time at the movies, and sometimes it doesn’t need to be deep.

At the end of the day, no one show/film will ever be everything to everyone. And as much as I want so much more from it, I think the Noah’s Arc film Jumpin the Broom is worth seeing, for what it does give us. If you live in NYC, LA, DC, Atlanta or Chicago, where the film is screening (and did quite well opening weekend), you also get to be in a theater full of Black queers, which like, NEVER happens. It’s fun to just be in a movie theatre with nothing but the Kids and their best girlfriends. Black gay cultural critic Ernest Hardy didn’t dig it so much, but I think his Village Voice review is totally fair.

"Incognegro" Author Frank Wilderson, III in NYC This Week

When the “free” elections in South Africa happened in 1994, I was a 19 year-old college freshman at a small liberal arts college in Ohio. Fortunately, I had become friends with many South Africans on my campus, and in the neighboring universities that dot the central and Southern Ohio landscape. I remember looking at a copy of the ballot, given to me by my roommate’s mother, and seeing the dozens of candidates of many political parties that made up the government of the “New” South Africa, which strangely enough, has turned out to be as new as the “new” American South. Nevertheless, we all (African, and Blacks from the US and Caribbean) assembled in front of the televisions to watch Nelson Mandela become the new President of South Africa, and transforming the ANC from an insurgent revolutionary movement to becoming the dominant political party of the neoliberal nation.

Little did I know, at 19 years old the price that had to be paid for the “progress” that the country was undertaking. While I now know that many were skeptical, few Black Americans knew that price better than Frank Wilderson, III, one of only two American Black members of the ANC, who with several other ANC members, was labeled by Nelson Mandela, “a threat to national security” in 1995.

Wilderson, author of the newly published and highly controversial memoir Incognegro: A Memoir of Exile & Apartheid offers an incisive view of how to a liberation movement that becomes a political party. He also reckons with what happens to a revolutionary who returns to a U.S. Left, mired in the politics of gaining access to the “rights” of civil society in multi-culti California.

I met Wilderson this past Sunday at a small reading at the Salon D’Afrique, a longstanding Harlem salon hosted by writer and scholar, Dr. Rashida Ismaili Abu-bakr, who gave a reading to about 15 invited guests would be engaged in a political dialogue with the author about the book, which according to Wilderson, intentionally does not offer a “what to do next” proscription for progressive movements in the U.S. or abroad.

“The Black demand is for subjectivity,” stated Wilderson. “But progressive political movements must have a coherent goal, but the reality is that the demand cannot be met by a coherent demand, like a civil rights policy for access into civil society.”

Though he talked a little about the book’s structure—modeled after the 1987 autobiography of Black revolutionary Assata Shakur (currently in exile in Cuba), and written with chapters alternating between South Africa and the U.S.

“The organizational structure comes from Assata Shakur—how do you write about a revolutionary underground movement, anti-black racism in liberal and progressive California, and also the use of poetry,” Wilderson remarked.

Many of the guests who’d read the book were struck by the biography of his early life, the son of two academics who were the first family to integrate a Minneapolis suburb., which as Dr. Ismaili noted, “was not the stereotypical background of a Black revolutionary.”

Others, including myself, were struck by the places of sheet vulnerability in the work of a Black male political memoir. I am still reading the book, but I find this aspect of the book particularly refreshing.

The other central question of the book, partly made by the books structure is what are any real difference between the U.S. and South Africa? The book recounts one story illustrating this point. In one trip back to the U.S. with his South African wife at the time, she leaves him in New York telling him that if she wanted apartheid, she could get it at home.

This notion flies in the face of what so many on the left extrapolate from Black leftist politics—people seem to love the idea that Black revolutionaries learn to transcend concerns about Black people to take on more “international” concerns. From Malcolm X‘s trip to Mecca and MLK’s speech on opposing the Vietnam War, Black radicals can make it into the leftist pantheon of stars. Wilderson is drawing the conclusion that anti-Black racism is a global phenomenon and has yet to be addressed, let alone already solved, as much of the Left seems to purport.

“The world needs the Black position,” Wilderson said.

And though my friends, in 1994, watched the elections in South Africa with some level of pride and relief, we knew that being Black, whether from Soweto or St. Louis, Mombassa or Montego Bay, is what brought us into that room in the student center, shut away from the rest of the campus. But that hope we had, is exposed as a fraud in this book, and by the realities of where South Africa is headed. One of those friends, who was instrumental in my political growth, was killed in Soweto, sometime around 2001. South Africa continues to expand its prison system much like the US, and HIV/AIDS rates in Black communities in the US that literally rival those of Africans on the continent.

Incognegro, as a book, and WIlderson’s incessant and unrelenting look at the failure of the integration of Black concerns and liberation into “civil society” makes me highly recommend this book, and suggest you get yourself over the next few days over to one of his three readings in New York City.

October 21, 2008, 6-8pm
Medgar Evers College, CUNY
Founders Auditorium
1650 Bedford Avenue
Brooklyn, NY

October 22, 2008 7:30-9:30pm
The Brecht Forum
451 West Street (between Bank & Bethune Streets)
New York, NY

October 23, 2008 06:30PM – 08:30PM
New York University
Meyer Hall, Rm. 121
4 Washington Place [between Broadway and Mercer]
New York, NY

Guest Blog: Time Out NY Thinks Cultural Elite is…WHITE?

I got this forwarded to me in email. I’m not endorsing the cultural “elite” framework but I think it’s an interesting view into how these “best of” lists get created, which often are sorely lacking in people of color representation(in this case, the people of color chosen by Time Out NY for it’s favorite people of the last 13 years, were also ALL MEN) . If journalism is the first draft of history, then it makes sense why we always have t go back and re-vise both. Check it out:

Dear Friends,

Two weeks ago Time Out NY featured the Top 40 list of New Yorkers who have made a “lasting, positive impact” on NYC in the last 13 years. The cover featured a group of prominent individuals who have in fact
made a positive impact on this city, but only three people of color made the list – Jay-Z, Derek Jeter and Junot Diaz.

To make matters worse….. the editor’s response as to why there were so few people of color mentioned, was New York is “a city whose cultural elite have been mainly white.” The entire response gets much worse (see link below).

I am writing because I think it is essential that people write Time Out (especially if you have a personal connection to any of their writers and/or editors), send a response to Editor Michael Freidson, post a response at the link below and forward your response widely to people that will care and respond.

Time Out NY: Where Are All The People of Color?

What is revealed in the Freidson’s letter (linked to above) is the closed cultural world of Time Out.

This issue privileges personal rolodex-list-making over actual culture reporting.

It’s a list of “who we know” not a list of “what we can discover.” How to find the top New Yorkers? Do you interview top curators, politicians, non-profit leaders to find the surprise folks? Nope… You ask only your staff and then process only with your editors…Without any self reflection about who your staff is, what
their taste is, and how well they represent New York as a whole…

If Time Out wants to be taken seriously as culture reporters and not just a smug magazine of listings then they need to take their jobs and their place in the city more seriously. Michael Freidson Editor, Time Out New York states, “We chose only those who have made a lasting, positive impact in TONY’s 13 years. They had to still be active, still creating. The pool was nominated by the entire editorial staff and then whittled down by a panel of five editors.” In his letter he then goes on to offer a defense of how certain people were or were not chosen. However these rules are quite randomly applied, and when you only have forty slots this makes for a real absence of rigor…

For example, Bill T Jones isn’t immediately “vital” enough for Time Out NY, but Eliot Spitzer is cool even though he’s not exactly “still active still creating” unless harassing the new governor counts…Visual arts are so grossly underrepresented that somehow they’ve managed to make a list of New York cultural elites that doesn’t include Thelma Golden (!) and that ignores proven international artists like Kara Walker while great-but-still-niche white dance and film artists carry many slots……In fact, Mr Freidson’s main complaint about “people of color” is that they aren’t famous enough, he goes on to use Jeffrey Wright as an example saying he doesn’t have the big credits of Liev Schreiber or Philip Seymour Hoffman, but then he doesn’t compare Jeffrey to the equally talented but equally unheralded Elizabeth Marvel who does appear ….

And this is the great problem with the list….the choices are random, taste-based and cliquish….

Tim Gunn (who?) Tyra Banks (oops?)… John Zorn is an active icon but the only NY rep for jazz???? His full-on peer William Parker is still kicking more ass then ever ….. Or on the younger tip Matthew Shipp, and Vijay Iyer…..Also, Alicia Keys and TV On The Radio give our city a vital pulse and move music forward and they definitely are more proven (“over the last 13 years”) than Nellie McKay (who is also a great addition to the new york music scene).

Kelly Reichardt (Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy) truly is a great visionary of the small human drama but so is Ramin Bahrani (Man Push Cart and Chop Shop)…Chris Wheeldon is a fantastic choreographer but so are Miguel Gutierrez, Nami Yamamoto, Ron K Brown, Donna Uchizono, and Jawole Willa Jo Zollar and their impact is notably greater and in some case far more international….. You’ve got Mr Shakeshack (Danny Meyer) but not the the culinary genius of David Chang (Momofuku)?…….Sure Tony Kushner is crucial but Adam Rapp over Suzan Lori Parks, Young Jean Lee, Talvin Wilkes, and George C. Wolfe?

The truth is that the folks on the list are important and talented and we are lucky to have them be New Yorkers, but they aren’t the only ones who are important. The New York cultural scene and its “elite” are a multifaceted and diverse pack of people–and if a first-pass list isn’t reflective of our great city, it should be Time Out’s mandate to discover the people that bring the richest range….

It is an exciting reporting challenge to surprise both reader AND writer. Sadly, the Time Out editors are happy to stick to what they know, not what they can learn or what surprises they can share as true cultural reporters. And when called on this approach, they retreat to the age old argument “Well the cultural elite is white” which should be more accurately phrased as “For Time Out’s list making purposes we’ve chosen to define the cultural elite as white….”

……… Imagine if some real reporting were applied to this exercise……maybe then we would have been able to give Spiderman’s slot to an actual person……..and maybe this list would represent the surprising New York I love, not the the odd “white new york elite” that TONY seems to believe in….

Let’s fight for the representation of the New York that we love and not the New York that Time Out and Editor Freidson so lazily inhabit and promote…..


Esther Robinson

Jody Watley: So Black & So Gay

I have to say that I am having too much fun blogging about frivolity while the world’s economy comes crashing down, McCain & Palin pull every stunt in the book short of a physical attack, and the gays can now rock a Vera Wang in Connecticut–perhaps I should have never left acting! I could have ignored politics forever! LOL!!! Anyhoo, this is the next-to last in this installation of So Black and So Gay.

It’s hard to select one video or song from dance music artist Jody Watley that is Black and gay. They kind of all are. But I am gonna narrow it to two. Watley began her career as a regualar dancer on Soul Train in the 1970s, and then joined the group Shalamar, and had several hits with that band, before going off on her own with the release of her debut solo album in 1987. The second single, Still A Thrill, was the least successful as a single, but I think is one of the funkiest tracks of the decade by any artist, period. The Andre Cymone (a high school friend of Prince, and the Minneapolis sound is all over this track) produced track is about a love affair that remains steamy after many years, and has a killer bassline, and a funky guitar lick over a synthesized drum. The video is simply Jody and Tyrone Proctor a dancer, clearly a Black gay man (who’s name I can’t remember nor locate), who vogues with Watley through the video. This video pre-dates Madonna’s “Vogue” by 3 years, and is often given credit for being the first mainstream video to feature voguing. Shot in Black & White in what looks like Paris, the video is super sexy, and I also see a lot of where Aaliyah got her look and movement influences, which I had never thought of before.


I could not mention Still A Thrill and not talk about Real Love, from Watley’s second album, Larger Than Life, which definitely was a move toward a sound more associated with the 1990’s, though it was released in 1989. A much bigger hit for her than the previous single, but is no less relevant. This song kills as a dance track, it’s still fresh and interesting to listen to 20 years later. And the video, so black and so gay, is a tribute to Jody’s career as a model, and as someone who was very fashion-forward. Watley is giving you looks in this video. She’s giving you fierce runway (in an over the top way reminiscent more of the Ball/Vogueing scene than an actual fashion runway show), and even though it’s a video that doesn’t have a damn thing to do with the song, it somehow completely fits it. Real Love, and Jody Watley in general, is so Black and so gay!


Stephanie Mills' "Home": So Black and So Gay!

If you’re a Black gay of the Classic Era (meaning you’re over 30, or at least have Classic Black Gay Sensibilities, or CBGS), you’ll know that Stephanie Mills‘ “Home” is really the Black gay anthem. The song, written for the 1975 Broadway play The Wiz for which Mills was cast as Dorothy (and Diana Ross played in the 1978 film version and does a lackluster version of the song. In fact, it is Lena Horne’s “Believe” that becomes the showstopper in the film. But I digress.), is the “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” of this black version of the Wizard of OZ.

Why is this song, so Black and so gay, you might ask?

One reason that the Black gays of the classic era love this song, in my opinion, is that it speaks to the pain of feeling cast out of the larger Black community–we have no “home” in a sense. The song is about a stateless person–someone who has dreams of a physical place, but the lesson that they learn is that home has to be made in the family and community we create.

But Mills re-recorded the song for her 1989 album “Home” (with a Capella group Take 6 singing the background vocals). She has said that she recorded the song after the deaths of Kenneth Harper (The Wiz Producer, whose mother told the New York Times he died of cancer at age 48 in 1988)  and Charlie Small, The Wiz Composer who died in 1987 of a burst appendix.  I think that many Black gay men from the Classic Era were in the throes of so much death due to HIV (and sometimes violence) that this song became a song about the losses they were feeling too. I started going to gay clubs when I was 18 or so, and this song was a staple drag performance for about a decade. I think the part that really cinches it for the Black gays, me included, is at the end of the 1989 recording, when she sings “I can hear my friends tellin’ me, Stephanie, please, sing my song.”

Because it so much speaks to the Black gay experience, Stephanie Mills’ Home is So Black and so gay! The video below is a live verson from the Apollo in the 1980s. To see yet another un-embeddable music video from the theives at Universal Music Group, click here.


Klymaxx: So Black and So Gay!

Bernadette Cooper, with the firece asymetrical Bob to the left.

Bernadette Cooper, with the firece asymetrical Bob, next to last on the right.

No one brought Black gay culture, in terms of the language and the unique kind of camp/pretense of Black gay life to the mainstream in the 1980s more than Bernadette Cooper. Consider her lyrics, which open her band Klymaxx’s first single from 1984, The Men All Pause

I knew I was looking good

I had my Kenneth Cole shoes on, My Gianni Versace blue leather suit.

My nails were done, and my hair was FIERCE!

I was riding in a Coupe S Limousine…

The song get’s even gayer. But it is Cooper, with her not quite butch, not quite femme persona who continues the camp factor ripped right from the runways of the balls. It was as if she was writing songs for queens to get ready to the club to, or drag queens to perform…

‘cause they all love’d me
Slap me, no, somebody slap me
‘cause i know i’m lookin’ good
I’m givin’ attitude all over the room
People are starin’ at me
I just look too good for these people

As it turns out, I would meet Ms. Cooper years later when she lived in Jersey City, and operated a high-end vintage clothing store. She was still fab then. She also penned other such “I look too good” songs like Salt-N-Pepa’s “The Body Beautiful” and Bette Midler’s “I Look Good.”

For her camp factor and drag-a-licious performance, Bernadette Cooper & her band Klymaxx is so Black and so gay!

FUCKING UNIVERSAL MUSIC GROUP has blocked people from being able to embed the video, so you have to follow this link to Youtube.

Technotronic's Ya-Kid K: So Black and So Gay!

Since National Coming Out Day is this coming Saturday, I am going to do a new video everyday this week.

When Technotronic hit the scene in 1989 with Pump Up The Jam, it was one of the first house tracks to cross over to pop radio. Listening to the radio, we heard this hip-hop MC rhyming over the track with a husky, heavy voice that really made the track stand out. Well, the video for Pump Up The Jam featured a high-femme black model lip-synching the words. It wasn’t until the group performed on Saturday Night Live did we meet Ya-Kid K,  the voice behind Technotronic (much like the Black Box and C&C Music Factory videos that featured models instead of Martha Wash). Was Ya Kid K simply considered too butch for music video?

Ya Kid K was dressed in a very butch/hip-hop effect, complete with cornrows, hat turned around, baggy clothes, and very little (if any) make-up–and everyone was shocked to see her, given the fraud perpetrated in the original video.  But Ya Kid K was one of the first women to rock a butch hip-hop effect in pop music, inspiring many Black and Latina butch dykes across the country, if not the world! Here’s there most famoussong, Move This. Ya Kid K–so Black and so gay!