Gay Scandal: Nigerian Style

I just hosted a Nigerian gay activist on his stay in NYC recently, and it was really instructive to hear how queer politics are playing out in the country. Contrary to popular belief that the only discussion about non-normative gender or sexuality in Africa is one that results in violence. But in the public sphere of mass pop culture driven by tabloid and “reality” scandals, there  seems to be, according to my new friend, an obsession with gay identity in Nigeria at the current moment.

Case in point, Derenle Edun and Charly Boy. Edun is a Nigerian TV personality and Charly Boy is a popular musician. Tabloid Entertainment 24/7 (E247) published some scandalous photos of the two in a range of poses that apparently is a recent talk of the town. Nigerian entertainment website Under Da Rock also blogged about the article with the title

Derenle Edun gets erotic with Charly Boy for a mag!

This is currently a major story in many Nigerian newspapers based on my google search. But rumors have swirled around the two for years, and Denrele was asked by Naija Rules.com flat out if he was gay:

Q: There was this rumour sometime ago that Denrele is a homosexual?
A: I think the truth is that no matter how good you are, people will want to look for a loophole somewhere and penetrate you, but when they don’t find one, they will just say something. I am not bothered about the rumour at all, because if I am gay or homosexual, I will come and say it because I don’t lie, but what the allegation has done to my person is that it has put me in trouble with some people because they started to torment me. I am a kind of person that when they call me and say you are a gay, I don’t shout at them because I am one of the people that affect people positively. I don’t care who you are, your status, age, standing in the society or your sexual preference, I have a lot of gay friends and lesbians, but I don’t mind because it is part of life and life has to be lived. When they started to peddle the rumour, the first one I heard was that I went to a gay party and some people came to me, disturbing me. You know people just make fabrications. My family was not even bothered because they know me very well. What I will say is that when I am getting married, I will invite all of you to come and be part the of occasion.

While he clearly denies being gay, he does emphatically defends people’s right to their own sexuality and identity. So people, it is important to try to find ways to help LGBT folks in Africa defend themselves against unjust laws and violence (like what’s happening in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo), but it’s important not to support certain discourses that paint Africa as forever and always socially “backward” or anti-queer.

Unpacking Lt. Dan Choi’s Tricky Race & Class Talk on Democracy Now!

So finally Amy Goodman and producers at Democracy Now! got it together to have a real debate about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, as opposed to doing what they did in 2009, which is to let Lt. Dan Choi, the poster boy of ending the DADT policy, to go on and on without any opposing voice (that, and Goodman has written pieces on Choi for Truthdig not once, but twice! and I would ask any progressive and radical people who listen to or watch her show as a left alternative to mainstream media to think critically about what this suggests about her political concerns and commitments, and to me, the ways in which the Left, in its attempts to be LGBT friendly have so little concern or even a notion that there are queer critiques of a lot of this mainstream bullshit. Sycamore wrote about this in a piece on Bilerico this past August.)

Yesterday, Goodman and co-host Juan Gonzalez hosted a debate between Choi and queer activist and writer Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore. What’s interesting here with Choi’s counter debate to Mattilda, we see the way bad and shallow race and class politics get thrown about by liberal and conservative queers (including people of color) to defend the push to expand the opportunities for LGBT people to serve openly in the military.  To try and position Sycamore as part of some elite group of queers who have the luxury of questioning LGBT involvement in the military, Choi starts his response to Sycamore by race and class baiting, where he suggests that the LGBT young people he meets around the country do not have the opportunity to be on television, get book deals, model or to know that they have any other job or career options other than serving in the military.

This is the most dangerous thing about the DADT debate. While I agree that there are a lot of poor and working class queers, and queers of color, people in rural communities, etc., who don’t know that they have other a lot of other options, or who see the military as one of a few viable options. But let’s be clear, Choi also gets to be on TV and travel the country talking to queer youth from poor backgrounds, and he is not offering them other options.  He is actually instead supporting this choice, which he says they see as their only career option. Furthermore, just because the US Armed Forces is by the default the largest jobs program for the country, does not mean we should accept that as an ethically defensible truth, despite the many people who, given the current structure of our economy, might not have other stable employment choices (although the rate of homelessness among returning veterans ought to tell you that that job stability may last only so long as you’re employed by the military.).  People have tried to use this argument with me, given that I work for Queers for Economic Justice, and knowing my race politics, that the fact that Black women are disproportionately discharged through DADT should make me want to support lifting the ban on race, class and gender terms. This is a false racial, gender and economic justice argument that should be constantly called into question by queers on the left and our allies.

“War is the force that gives us meaning, war is the force that teaches us the lesson of humanity, and allows us to realize something about our society, and teaches us the lessons we probably should have learned before we went to war”

This is also really as much a part of the issue at hand, that many in the anti-war movement have really yet to articulate a response to. Despite the material reasons why many poor people (including people of color, queers and queer people of color) choose to join the military, the reality is many also join because they buy into notions of patriotism, or notions of war and violence as just or necessary, as long as one’s country says it is so.


THANK GOD!: Pilot Refuses Body Scan and Questions TSA Surveillance Policies In General

I have been hoping, wishing and praying someone would finally stand up to this, because the Transportation Security Administration is out of control.

I was watching CNN just moments ago, when ExpressJet pilot Michael Roberts was interviewed by Kiran Chetry, about his refusal to go thru the new body scan machines at airport he was flying through, and then was subjected to the invasive body pat-down. I hope CNN posts the video because he said a lot of interesting things.

What I liked most about his interview was that he didn’t make this about his personal issue to be free from the increased surveillance as a pilot. Chetry tried to suggest in her questioning that “Isn’t the security there to protect the safety of the passengers?” He framed his response about the TSA surveillance system as an abuse of power by the state, and as an issue of protecting interests that have nothing to do with travelers, not as an issue of “security for passengers.” Roberts went so far as to compare TSA security to bank security guards: They’re there to protect the bank’s interest, not your safety.

He was kind of dismissed by Chetry and co-anchor (whom I despise) John Roberts in the post interview banter (Which is what I pay close attention to–this chatter between stories to fill time or build transitions is where the political views and comittments of so-called objective journalists often is the most exposed.).

I usually find it hard to find a place to support issues like this as they are often framed in the media from a libertarian “the state should leave people alone, but by people we mean white men” perspective. With all of the anti-Washington, anti-government spending, anti-government intrusion in personal liberties rhetoric of the Tea Party movement, that the issue of the increased militarism and police state practices now ubiquitous in American society has not been taken up by this movement, is interesting. I guess it speaks to the centrality of racialized notions of “crime prevention,” “security,” and “war on terror” for maintaining the military and prison industrial complexes in such a way that keeps most people invested in these things you’d assume would be the first thing they’d protest, even in there narrow and often obnoxious worldview. Anyhoo, here’s a link to a much more boring story about this from the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

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.

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.

Kenyon Wants to Learn How to ‘Dougie’

Now I know how my parents felt. I am too damn old to be getting crunk (see, even the use of crunk marks me as rapidy approaching middle-aged grown and sexy) over the latest dance craze. But a friend just passed this song and video on to me and I kinda love it.You can best believe I will be at home practicing this shit when I should be working on my book, or my abs.

It’s from a group called Cali Swag District, and the tune is “Teach Me How To Dougie.” The track kinda reminds me of the percussion heavy, go-go inspired beats of early Salt-N-Pepa and Kid-N-Play tracks (again, dating myself). Despite my best efforts, I am really into how queer it is. I have to say, I am giving props to all the young black men breaking with the hip-hop thuggery of my generation. Two snaps to you!