Goodbye, Rickey Williams

I just finished reading James Baldwin’s Another Country. The book was published in 1962, and focused on (I think) how anti-black racism makes love (between blacks & whites, and blacks & blacks) a difficult proposition, if not impossible.

The book (basically) opens with Rufus Scott, a young black jazz musician, attempting to come to terms with what his life has become. Unable to cope, on a cold night he (in a macabre and beautifully written passage) walks to the middle of the George Washington Bridge, and plunges himself into the “black” water of the Hudson River.

This must have been an extremely scandalous thing for Baldwin to write in 1962. For their was the notion, which some of us still believe, that black people don’t commit suicide. This, in spite of the fact that Baldwin got the idea for this character, upon reading a newspaper report f a former black male lover’s suicide, executed in the same fashion. [NOTE FROM KAZEMBE: Rufus Scott’s suicide in Another Country was inspired by a person that Baldwin was in love with, Eugene Rivers. Rivers committed suicide after professing a love for Baldwin. The incident haunted Baldwin for a number of years.Baldwin too attempted suicide, after being jailed in Paris for “stealing” (He took a sheet from one hostel to another) Fortunately, the rope broke.]

A week ago, black gay activist Rickey Williams jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. I didn’t know Rickey, but learned about this first from Keith Boykin’s blog. [NOTE: I have subsequently learned he was only 28, and was friends of several other brothers I love and respect– Frank Roberts, Tim’m West, Marlon Bailey.] But I am still concerned, affected in some way, by his death. As another Black gay man, I can certainly understand the type of alienation one can feel from one’s self, one’s community, and sometimes the whole damn world. As an “activist/community organizer,” I also know that while one’s work is often trying to build a sense of community–and to attempt to inspire the conditions that create alternative ways of being in the world, new ways of relating to each other–it is often a lonely endeavor. I have often felt that many of us who do this work are often the most alienated.

But specfic to the Black LGBT community, I urge us to work hard to try to create community. I live in a neighborhood that as a Black gay man, I don’t feel particularly safe in. Whilst I am lucky that because my boyfirend has lived here for over 5 years (and has close relationships with lots of people in the community), and I have gotten to know alot of people in the community (both straight and otherwise), I see LGBT folks in the community all the time who I don’t know, and have made no attempt to get to know, and they haven’t tried to get to know me either. With all of the violence (and murder) happening to us in NYC (and dare I say, every other major city in the US), we can’t really afford to live in isolation from one another.

In my personal circles, and with my work, I continue to urge us, particularly Black gay men and transgendered women, to really interrogate the culture of shade. Where does it come from? What is the impetus to cut each other down so quickly, and with such venomous ferocity? I know we come from communities (esp African-American) with a tradition of playing the dozens, but is it more harmful for the most oppressed members of the community? Is it a form of shaming? Is it kidding? All the time? When do we get to show care for one another? Me’shell Ndegeocello, in the song Dead Nigga Blvd said “I can’t even tell my brothas and sistas that they fine/this absense of beauty in the heart and mind…”

I don’t know if any of this woud have saved Rickey. People make the choice to end their lives for all sorts of reasons. But I do know, if we took better care of one another (whether white folks, or quite frankly, the larger Black community does or does not embrace us), his time here may have been a little easier.

And so would mine.

And so would yours.

Sorry Girls…Lance Bass is Gay

Tell me. Are you shocked?

Meanwhile, a celebrity in the hip-hop world hit on a good friend of mine in a NYC gay bar last weekend, but stormed away in a huff when my friend didn’t know who he was…hhhmmm….

Wouldn’t you like to know who that was?

Beyond Marriage. Gay or Otherwise.

Today the State of Washington ruled that the state’s “defense of marriage act” did not violate the state constitution. Many people will try to compare the ruling to the recent NY ruling, but they are really dissimilar.

The only comparisons to be made between the two is that both courts agreed that it was up to legislatures of those two states to change the laws governing marriage. But that is about the end of the

The New York State ruling was really very mean spirited. It basically statted that because heterosexual (well, at least 1man/1woman households) were in such state of disarray that the state thought to allow same-sex marriage would be to further undermine a crimbling institution, and we should be doing more to support (presumably) hetero marriages.

The state of Washington’s ruling was much more nuanced a decision. It read:

“In reaching this conclusion, we have engaged in an exhaustive constitutional inquiry and have deferred to the legislative branch as required by our tri-partite form of government. Our decision accords with the substantial weight of authority from courts considering similar constitutional claims. We see no reason, however, why the legislature or the people acting through the initiative process would be foreclosed from extending the right to marry to gay and lesbian couples in Washington.” Read the full decision here. Read the press release here.

Now many of you who have read “Is Gay Marriage Anti-Black?” are probably wondering, “Why the hell do you care about this?”

I guess that’s fair. My answer is twofold. While I personally do not care to get married, and have my own opinions about it as an institution, I do make a distinction between that and homophobic legislation. The other thing is, I am in full support of people being able to define their relationships and families for themselves, and people being able to have some sort of reciprocal benefits to determine beneficiaries, hospital visits, power-of-attorney, etc., without having to be married, or without the relationship needing to be monogamous, or even romantic or sexual.

It is for this reason last April I accepted an invitation to work with a group of LGBTQ(etc.) who had been writing, speaking, or organizing around the marriage issue (or critiquing the institution itself). We spent the weekend offering our thoughts, critiques, vision and strat and working towards a broader more inclusive vision of what work around domestic partner/civil union/reciprocal benefits/marriage work could look like that would move us toward a vision of, well, justice. The fruits of our labor have just been released into the world–with a statement of that vision, some strategy for folks in the marriage movement, and a place for individuals & organizations to sign on to that vision. The website is Beyond Marriage. I welcome your thoughts and feedback, as we see this document not as a complete, finite thing, but a living breathing document for people to use in whatever way makes sense, in whatever communities they wish to use it.

This was important for me, who people often accuse (and sometimes rightfully so) of being full of critique but offering no solutions. Sometimes I don’t think there is a solution (not an easy one, anyhow) to many of the issues I write/lecture about, but I think I can stand behind the spirit of this work.

So go read, forward it to friends, post the LINK on your blog(s), and get back to me.

Mo’Nique’s Crime: Flying While Black

My sister called me yesterday and told me she heard actress and comedian Mo’Nique talking on the Steve Harvey Morning Radio Show about a harrowing incident on United Airlines, where she was ultimately asked to leave the plane. She describes the incident as racist, and is calling for her fans to boycott the airline itself.

I found a link to the story on New York Daily News (who is making headlines itself as the paper featured in the new Bravo reality Show, Tabloid Wars.)

Gross Men Groping.

One of the problems of the Left in the US is that they can’t get past the rhetoric of hating on Bush. So without being able to articulate a poltical/social/economic agenda that extends beyond just being opposed to Bush or Republicans(which suggests that the Left (liberals in particular), don’t really disagree with Bush doctrine, they just don’t liike the fact that he (and his administration) is disinterested in engaging them in the performance of “negotiation.”

But since I blogged a last week about the racial/sexual/poltical dynamics of touching, in that case Barbara Walters tugging at R&B star Brandy’s hair while asking “is it real?” I saw this news story about Bush that I thought was appropriate to blog about.

Bush recently came under fire for massaging German Chancellor Angela Merkel. She looked completely horrified, so there was no doubt it was unwanted. What’s interesting this video, is that it gives you a window into the modus operandi of someone who is normally so guarded in front of media. It’s quite skeevy, because it appears (to me, anyhow) that this is how he always comports himself around women. It makes me feel like exactly how she looks to react to it…”ICK!!!!” I don’t think that most men understand how it feels to be groped by someone you have not given consent to be groped by.

But gay men I think experience that to some extent. Sometimes it happens with other gay men in gay establishments. For me, as a Black gay man, I am almost always groped by white men. A few years ago, I used to love going to the Wonder Bar, in New York’s East Village. It was racially mixed space for the most part, but I went primarily because I loved DJ Sharee, who was the resident weekend DJ for many years. She, in a nutshell, seemed to show up for work with my music collection in tow.

In any case, I remember once complaining to a white gay friend that men there always grabbed my crotch, or squeezed my ass. He replied, “That never happens to me.”

It wasn’t that he wasn’t approached be men interested in him sexually, but they didn’t feel empowered to fondle him the way they would me, or likely dozens of other men of color who frequented the bar. It was shortly after this point that I realized the racial/sexual dynamics of this space. It dawned on me that after nearly 5 years of being a regular at this bar, that of the scores of men that approached me, only two were men of color (both Black) ever approached me. By the same token, only one or two ever repsonded to me, while the rest looked on with indifference or outright indignance. If the space existed, or had come to exist, to be a place where white (mostly European) men could pick up artsy/bohemian Black, Latino, Asian men (if they wanted “homothugs” or whatnot, they were to be found in The Warehouse, Escuelita, or The Hangar). Therefore, it was perfectly acceptable for them to grope me. If that was the name of the game, I was supposed to be honored they wanted to play it.

But gay men also get groped during childhood. If we are perceived to be gay as children or move through the world in ways that are gendered “feminine” we are often subjected to groping, fondling, and sometimes sexual assault that women and girls are subjected to, as a tool of domination.

One would think that these dynamics would change how many gay men, of whatever race, then respond to women and women’s bodies. I have seen many gay men grope women’s breasts or ass (and had women friend complain of this this behavior from gay men.) as if because they (supposedly) aren’t sexually aroused by women’s bodies, that that makes it OK for them to grope women in ways that are inappropriate for a man who is sexually attracted to, and/or sexually active with, women.

Whether at the gay bar, on an entertainment talk show (which accrding to reports, was essentially Barbara interviewing Brandy for Star Jones’ job. Can you imagine a potential employer putting their hands on you, in your hair, on a job interview!?) , or at an international meeting of heads of state, dominator culture–and subjugation via physical/sexual contact based on race & gender, is ever present, and ever at play.

New Blogs to Watch Out For!

There are too many blogs. At least more than I can keep up with. There are a few I read because of my 9-5, and a few I read for my own pleasure. I have recently stumbled across three new blogs that I am really excited about, and I think you shoud know about them.

Kazembe Balagun, another fellow radical Black Gay Writer, has just launched a new blog, Black Man With A Library. Kazembe writes that he started this blog to “highlight grassroots scholarship and research.” He also plans to reveiw new books as well as classics, and post all writings from Left Turn and NYC Indypendent. Get into it.

The second blog I want to feature is also a podcast, coming from Los Angeles called Pink Mafia Radio. Damn! I hate when people do projects I wanna do (hey Kaz! Maybe we should do our own damn Black Queer Radical podcast!) first! Anyhow, I haven’t listened to the podcast yet, but as soon as I do, I’ll tell you how it goes…In the meantime, get into Pink Mafia Radio.

Lastly, but certainly not least, a Lebanese musician/artist named Mazen Kerbaj in Beirut Lebanon began blogging two days before the Iraeli Bombardment of Lebanaon. He has been detailing the experience, mostly through a series of illustrations. Get into Kerblog.

The Family Stand Returns

Whenever I think I have had it with New York for the last time, summer arrives. Somehow, I figure out some way to make it through another year in this city–save the year I actually DID leave!

But summer has become just about the only reason to live in NYC as far as I’m concerned. There are so many hotties here – boys and girls in NYC really like to show it off when the weather breaks, too! It’s all about the grown and sexy. It’s also all about the Sunday brunches. The mimosas and the mojitos. The rooftop barbecues.

But most importantly, it’s also about the free live music. Between Prospect Park, Wingate Park, South Street Seaport Festival, SummerStage, you more than get your fill of some really great music and performances.

This past Saturday, you could have found me perched next to three of my best girlfriends for The Family Stand show at Central Park’s SummerStage.

Many of you (if you’d quit lyin’ about your age) will remember the Family Stand as the group behind the R&B hit single Ghetto Heaven. But oh, are they so much more. One of the founding members of the Black Rock Coalition, The Family Stand helped to set the standard for Black music that was deeply rooted in Black American music and expressive culture, but also was unafraid of pushing the limits of those popular forms of rock, blues, jazz and soul, or combining elements of each to create something new, but strangely familiar.

The band–V. Jeffrey Smith, Peter Lord and Sandra St. Victor, recorded three albums together as a group in the late 1980s/early 1990s, before disbanding and working on separate projects. Smith & Lord went on to work with many artists like Des’ree and Will Downing, before producing a fourth Family Stand recording in the late 1990’s without Sandra.

Not my favorite record.

On the other hand, St. Victor recorded two brilliant CDs during this period – Mack Diva Saves the World(1996), and Gemini: Both Sides (2001), before moving to Amsterdam.

But the group never broke up, really, as they continued to collaborate when they weren’t recording as The Family Stand. But on Saturday, the group played through a tight ass set of new tracks from their upcoming 4th (or 5th) studio recording, Super Sol Nova. They were amazing, and what also makes this band rare, is that all three members can sing their asses off. But be clear, Sandra St. Victor is the standout vocalist. The only thing I missed from this show were some songs from Sandra’s solo records — Move Me, They’re Cool, or Mack Diva would have sent me over the edge.

The only other problem was SummerStage’s inept sound technicians, who didn’t seem to know that when a person’s mouth is moving (or an intrument is playing) and they’re no noise, it means a mic needs to be turned on or up. Alexa, get some new sound techs, please!

In any case, check them out if you can soon, and be sure to pick up the disc when it drops.