What’s even more depressing than the sight of Tommy Wear blanketing the world (is there much on the planet that’s uglier?) is the way so much contemporary rap conflates life-or-death political inequity and social injustice with the desire to wear designer gear, party with old-money blue bloods in the Hamptons, or bathe in Cristal. Genuine need and market-stoked wants have been fused. A handful of rappers’ newfound ability to shop without end is heralded as radical social change, as the whole point of centuries’ worth of social struggle. Even those still oppressed on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, race or class are conned into believing this, to the point that many participate in their own silencing because there’s no profit potential, no strobe-light validation, in serious voicing of their real-life issues. When the late Audre Lorde warned that the master’s house can never be dismantled by using the master’s tools, could she have envisioned a time when there wouldn’t even be a desire to dismantle that house — that, in fact, we would master the tools only to turn them on ourselves in order to protect that same house?
It’s not difficult to figure out the prerequisite for being a player on the cultural field whose maintenance crew is currently found in rap lyrics and videos, enshrined in the pages of glossy hip-hop periodicals. The rule for being seen or acknowledged at all is to uphold hetero/macho/consumerist standards. Faggotry or androgyny (even the suggestion of them) opens a Pandora’s box of possibilities that are not so easily boxed or sold, and that may even expose the lie of accepted — and steadily selling — “truths.”
What’s happened for a lot of young black and Latino faggots, especially those who identify as heads, is the forging of the DL/down-low identity, one where you secretly get your freak on and nobody ever thinks you’re anything but straight. You still register on the cultural radar because all “mistakes” have been erased. It helps to be somebody’s baby-daddy, to have a revolving cast of (biologically female) bitches on your arm.
Fliers for Blatino sex parties, floating orgies geared toward the young gay ruffneck/cholo/boricua crowd, warn that no sissies or femmes will be allowed. The same language is found on many Web sites and chat rooms that cater to black or Latino queer communities. Very important to note, however, is that this language also mirrors ads for hyperexclusive parties and hookups in white gay environs. The sentiment is pervasive across cultural, social and racial divides: If you must, you can be secretly “freaky” — just not a fag, not a sissy.
There’s a crucial distinction to be made between those who are simply low-key but honest about their sexuality and those who resort to debilitating psychological contortion in order to distance themselves from any whisper of faggotry. There are countless reasons — political, cultural and even intellectual — that a gay/queer/SGL man or a lesbian might choose not to identify with what passes for modern queer culture or community, and they’re not all rooted in self-hatred or denial. On the other hand, the harsh sexual policing of self and others is so reflexive, so ingrained in hip-hop culture, that in many quarters, options aren’t even considered; they’re not conceivable except as a joke.
The consequences of that myopia can be life-threatening.
“I think,” says Tim’m, “that on the other side of this new hardcore homo-thug thing is a lot of risky sexual behavior. It’s about experience, not identity, so you experience gay sex, but you’re not talking about gay identity. When I came out, there was Essex [Hemphill] to read, [the late filmmaker] Marlon Riggs to look at. There were all these things telling me that it’s not just about sex. I think the reason those brothers started speaking up is because of the toll AIDS was taking on the community. But it’s really sad now. So many of my kids are turning up HIV-positive. The statistics on new infections are really scary. And part of it has to do with the fact that there is no conversation, now, about what it means to be an African-American gay male. It’s more about an aesthetic now.”
The triumph of that materialistic-hetero-thug aesthetic over substantive conversations about sexual identity means that the likely audience for D/DC won’t even be the folks they’re trying hardest to reach.
“I would love an all-black hip-hop context,” says Tim’m. “But there’s a lot of self-hate among black gay people, especially the younger generation. They’d rather go to a club and listen to Puff Daddy say somebody is ‘[as] pussy as RuPaul.’ That’s always upsetting to me. I think our stuff is going to be received more in the progressive straight black hip-hop crowd and in the progressive white gay scene than in the black gay scene. That really saddens me and it’s troubling. It says a lot about the state of our community. You have a lot of black gays who are comfortable with this silence around our lives; it’s our new identity.”?
From Ernest Hardy’s Blood Beats: Vol. 1, Demos, Remixes & Extended Versions, Redbone Press, 218 pages, $20.