Brazilian Men Sex Trafficked in Spain

Over the last year I have heard straight men who are very prominent in the intimate partner domestic violence movement state in public forums, before hundreds of people, that “men don’t have to get up and think about what ind of clothes they put on that say, and is it going to invite some kind of violence or assault,” or some form of the message “men don’t have to worry about sexual violence.”

Really? Because as a black gay man, I worry about that every day. The possibility of rape or sexual assault is not out of the realm of possibility for me.  In fact, there are statistics that show gay men have a disproportionate rate of child sexual abuse histories. And I think for a lot of men who are even straight, so much of the violence men perpetrate against each other has very gendered aspects of those interactions.

Today, the Associated Press reported on a story showing that in Spain, police have busted up a sex trafficking ring where Brazilian men (keep in mind Brazil has the largest number of Black people outside the continent of Africa–just to help provide some racial context for who may in fact constitute “Brazilian.”) were being forced to do sex work with other men. The AP writes:

The victims, men in their 20s and estimated to number between 60 and 80, were mainly recruited in northern Brazil and saddled with debts of up to euro4,000 ($5,000) as the cost of bringing them to Spain.

Some were duped into thinking legitimate jobs awaited them as go-go dancers or models; others knew they would be working in the sex industry, but not that they had to be prepared for sex around the clock and would be moved from one province to another depending on demand for their services, Nieto told a news conference.

The men had to give half their earnings to the gang, and pay for rent and food in the apartments where they worked.

To show the total racism of the Spanish authorities, the article also notes that on top of busting up this ring, 17 of the “prostitutes” were then also arrested for being in Spain illegally. Despite being held against their will.

I want to be clear that trafficking and coercive sex is different from people who willingly participate in sex work, even if the conditions are often dangerous or less than desirable, or the reasons which they chose it have to do with other structural problems.

I also don’t point this out to usurp any discussion about the impact of sex trafficking on women identified people, or sexual violence and rape against women. But it is to say, that I wish that the men who have made their careers and mission to educate other men about violence against women, don’t continue to make false assumptions about the “safety” that all men are supposed to have, when clearly many of us, because of our gender or sexual orientation, race and/or class,  may not in fact be so safe.

(Note: I put a lot of thought into what image to post with this piece. I didn’t want to find a picture of “Brazilian men” that further hypersexualizes them (They are hypersexualized enough), and that would further perpetuate a strange desire to consume their bodies, while trying to take seriously the situation of these men being forced to have sex and financially exploited precisely because of the way their bodies are desired. The Advocate.com, for instance, went in the other direction of their stock image choice.)

Queen Latifah: Sexuality a “Private” Matter or Protecting a Corporate Brand?

There has been lots of speculation about Queen Latifah’s sexuality for many years. Most recently rumors were almost totally confirmed by photos of Queen and Jeanette Jenkins (thought to be her longtime partner) in clearly romantic embraces while at a boat party for the marriage of Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz.

Latifah is the latest of a string of celebrities that have been known (allegedly) to be queer, and were all but outed by tabloids, gossip mags and radio, etc. But is Queen Latifah’s sexuality up for debate? Is it any of our business, or is it a “private” matter?

This week, writer Jamilah King opined at Colorlines.com about whether or not people, in this case Queen Latifah, have to come out in the political way that we think about it, or if outing people is an effective strategy. She writes:

She may not be leading next year’s Gay Pride parade down San Francisco’s Market Street, but she’s telling the world that she’s living her life and not particularly concerned with hiding it. The photos, which she clearly didn’t hide from, may say the rest.Queen Latifah may not have a particularly political queer identity, and if she wants to remain silent about her personal life, then so be it. But forcing someone into becoming a role model of any sort has never been a good strategy. If anything, it creates an atmosphere of shame and guilt. And love is always about much more than that.

While I recognize that many straight people (including homophobes, including black ones) and queers (including a lot of self-interested white LGBT organizations and activists) want people to come out for many reasons that are about their own shit. But I think  we need to ask some serious questions when we say that someone’s sexuality is simply a private, personal issue that is off the table for discussion, especially a multi-millioniare like Queen Latifah.

Latifah has partly made a career off of promoted heteronormativity in some pretty conservative films–not just as an actress but as an executive producer. The extremely racist and sexist Bringin Down The House was a film where her character , a black “ghetto” ex-con at first causes havoc to the life and family of Steve Martin, but in the end assists him in correcting his white middle-class, heteronormative family.  Latifah was executive producer. Beauty Shop is a film that has one mammy character after another, and even Last Holiday, while critiquing the ways in which Black women are forced into roles of servitude to their own detriment, still follows a traditional path that ends in her union with LL Cool J.

Since Queen is one of the very few black women in Hollywood who can really finance their own projects, don’t we have an obligation to ask how these very images not only contradict her personal life, but more importantly, promote hetero-normativity to the detriment of black queers, and even straight black people who choose non-normative lifestyles? At this point, I believe we are absolutely allowed to raise these questions, insofar as they speak to political choices that implicitly or explicitly promote homo/queer phobia.

But celebrities somehow have access to privacy, as a way to not only silence any gossip about who they’re fucking, but actually to silence others critiques to protect their privacy insomuch as it threatens their capitalist enterprises.

Not only does Queen have a rap and acting career, but has:

  1. a movie production company that has a DVD distribution  deal with Paramount
  2. a record label
  3. a perfume line
  4. is a spokesperson for Jenny Craig, Pizza Hut, and Cover Girl
  5. a Cover Girl make-up line for women of color, and
  6. owns at least one FatBurger restaurant.

I found one internet site saying her net worth was $50Million.

I understand that she may pay a higher price (as a Black woman) for coming out that Ellen DeGeneres did not pay, but protecting her fortune or corporate brand is not a reason for us to shut up about it.

Joi Re-Emerges “Hot, Heavy, & Bad!”

If you’ve followed my blog over the years, or know me personally, you know I am a huge fan of the work of Joi, the Nasvhille raised and Atlanta based artist who emerged out of the early 1990s as a pioneering voice in what was a new genre, “neo-soul” (which some say was originally penned by a reviewer to describe her 1993 debut, The Pendulum Vibe.).

But Joi is an iconoclast, and her follow-up recording 1997’s Amoeba Cleansing Syndrome (a project that was only recently released by Joi herself, after 2 record labels folded before it could be released), were it released, would have at the time made the neo-soul label passe, as the record break with any kind of convention of the time and includes a range of rock, funk, go-go, soul and hip-hop influences (check the video for the one single that got released, a duet with ex-husband and Goodie Mob’s Big Gipp, Ghetto Superstar).

Four records later, Joi is back, this time in a project with her current partner and guitarist (the smoldering hot) Devon Lee for a joint collaboration under the name Hot, Heavy & Bad. They’ve released their first single and video from the upcoming project, called One. I hate comparing artists work to one another, but the track and vocals are definitely reminiscent of what Prince B-sides used to sound like–trippy, dark,  heavy, dripping with sexuality, and overlaying one’s vocals on top of itself to create interesting textures behind a fairly sparse track. The video should provide lots of fodder for budding feminist academics writing about Black women’s sexuality and sexual agency in popular culture (You gotta see for yourself! Video below).

After a 17 year career, with 4 recordings, and collaborations on nearly every OutKast record, and with George Clinton, Curtis Mayfield, TLC, Raphael Saadiq and many others, Joi’s own hometown is just beginning to pay its respects. Creative Loafing, the alternative weekly of ATL, just gave Joi her first and well-earned cover story. So you can find out more about her work in that story.

If you’re in ATL, you can catch Joi & Devon every Saturday night at Pal’s Lounge, for her “Futuristic Throwback” set.

If you’re in NYC this Friday (August 13) at 9m  Joi is headlining Slum Beautiful: Music from the Gut of Black America at Littlefield, in Park Slope, BK. DJ Sabine of OyaSound Productions will be spinning. I’ll be there.

Antoine Dodson: Internet Star or Homophobic Joke?

I kinda love Antoine Dodson. The Huntsville, Alabama black gay (I mean he hasn’t said that, but can we just go with it?) man who has become an internet sensation because of a widely circulated local news story about an attempted rape made upon his sister with whom he lives in a housing project. The attempted rapist apparently climbed through the sister’s window and Antoine awakened to the sound of the ensuing scuffle, and helped chase the assailant out of their home.

So far there have been two news stories, and several remixes done by internet geeks of Antoine. I love that he’s so queer, clearly from a poor and /or working class community, and so visible–as someone who’s clearly somewhat femme in presentation if not identity, and not a victim. I have been, for the last several days, watched a lot of these videos and remixes with varying levels of pride, dismay, amusement, etc.

But some things are being lost here.  In my first viewing of this news story, I was less amused as the rest of America seems to be. A Black woman was nearly raped. And what disturbed me about the original video was that while Antoine and Kelly were angry, there was a way that it also seemed so normalized.  Maybe it was Kelly’s stoic way of dealing with it–I don’t want to tell anyone they need to perform their trauma  for the American media or public to feel they’re “properly hysterical”–but I hope that she has access to some support to deal with this. Is anyone helping her there or offering support? I totally commend her for being willing to come forward, which must not be easy, and could open her, and Antoine, up for retaliation. Maybe it was the way the story was produced that gave it a “this is what happens in the projects everyday” kind of tone.

Also, the news station intentionally included more footage of Antoine than Kelly, who was the actual survivor–were they going for ratings here? Did they stick this on Youtube? This just feels like exploitation of her situation by the press. You can tell the news station is responding to critism they received about the original story in the follow-up piece (no doubt some of the critique from bourgie black people who don’t think poor black people should ever be in public view at all, but that’s another blog post).

Secondly, like reality television, I am afraid that the joke is really on Antoine. Who, despite doing the right thing in this situation, is being made a mockery of, I think. If you really look at this phenomenon, this is really America making fun of this poor, black, and presumably gay man in a moment where he was clearly pissed off and angry about his home being invaded and his sister being subjected to violence. When I look at most reality TV shows like I Love New York/Flavor of Love, Jersey Shore, Real Housewives of ATL/NJ, etc, I really see how much the reality TV culture exploits poor and working class people, our struggles, and or culture, especially people of color. The (often black) gay sidekicks on these shows adds to the circus-like atmosphere of it all, but at after 20 years of being invisible in American visiual culture (including black visual culture), one can’t help but be glad we’re even visible.

So while we applaud Antoine, let’s not make a mockery of him, nor lose Kelly Dodson, and the horrific event that made us know who they were in the first place.