Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Men In Black (Dresses)

I remember a somewhat quixotic dialogue regarding the feminization of the black man that rumbled through the halls of bourgeoisie Negroes that was instigated by the phenomenal success of Tyler Perry and his Mabel “Madea” Simmons character. I have been privy to more than a few discussions on how the image of a Black man in a dress is nothing more than the latest “coon” paradigm for the new millennium. Dave Chapelle briefly commented about his reluctance to wear a dress on the now defunct Oprah Winfrey show and I imagine that’s what initially sparked the concept. Soon afterwards, “Madea’s Family Reunion” was released and subsequently soared to the top of the box office; and keeping in rhyme with the “Playa Hata” society that America is, the fall-out appeared soon afterwards. I say Playa Hata because you have to keep in mind; this dialogue was never as prominent when Flip Wilson, Wesley Snipes, Martin Lawrence, Jamie Foxx, Ving Rhames or Arsenio Hall donned feminine attire for their cinematic roles. Nor was it even a consideration when Damon Wayans and David Alan Grier fully epitomized the effeminate man with their “Men on Film” skits for “In Living Color”. It strikes me odd that when a Black man in a dress hit’s box office gold that discussions regarding the feminization of the Black man arises. To try and pull the full heap of effeminate Black male images and its negative attributes onto Tyler Perry’s shoulders was just lazy and irresponsible. Particularly when we still have this need to continue this witch hunt in discovering what exactly is decimating the concept of black unity and revolution in the new millennium... burning a cross on Tyler Perry’s lawn just isn’t going to solve the problem. And even in our own Black LGBT communities we have a tendency to shun, demoralize and excommunicate highly effeminate men from our social circles, all of which begs the question, “When did a guy in a dress become so goddamn threatening?”

The query reminds me of a striking, chubby light skinned dude I stroke up a conversation with one night at a gay bar. In the midst of our conversation, a gaggle of young twenty something overtly feminine guys sashayed in, flowery garments and all. My striking, chubby light skinned dude was completely discombobulated and for the life of him could not focus on the conversation at hand. When I inquired about his sudden disposition, he went on to inform me that he absolutely, positively can’t stand “girlie” men and the sight and sound of the drag-queens-in-training cackling behind us was extremely off-putting for him. He went on to say that he wasn’t “really” gay, he was just there to get a drink and listen to the jukebox and to not assume any deeper intentions.

As an out gay Black man I found myself obliquely offended. Not because I have ever worn a dress or ever plan to but because the principle at hand here is the Black man’s strength and masculinity, both of which seemed to be in question based on those young guys’ attire and my own sexuality. When I think of the word masculinity, images of courageous, strong, straight-backed men with deep voices and even deeper moral centers come to mind. But shouldn’t women be courageous, strong and straight backed with deep moral centers? It seems the opposite of “masculine” isn’t particularly “feminine”… it’s “bitch”. Masculine and feminine are on the same side, bitch is the polar opposite of both, neither men or women want to be perceived as a cowardly, weak, morally corrupt bitch. Enter the striking, chubby light skinned dude who I eventually did exchange numbers with that night who called a couple of days later inviting me to an all-male orgy. He still insisted to not mistake his intentions because he was not “gay”, which in his mind was synonymous to the most profane states of being and that I was “different”, especially different from the “girls” at the bar. Though I didn’t see it that way. Me and those guys shared an understanding and acceptance for who we were authentically, and masculine or feminine, we weren’t creeping in the corners of a gay bar like some bitch on the down low looking for some dick.

With that in mind, Medea is no way shape or form anybody’s bitch; nor the slew of other female characters portrayed by black men in dresses… aside from maybe Martin Lawrence’s Sheneneh Jenkins and Jamie Foxx’s Wanda Wayne… but that was the point, to bastardize the most extreme negative aspects of the female mystique to a slapstick caricature. They weren’t trying to set a bar for either Black women or Black men to attain, they were putting a mirror in front of the men and women who already did; for if you lived in the projects… you KNEW a Sheneneh and/or a Wanda and if you were lucky enough, you knew a Dwayne Edwards and an Antoine Merriweather… and the simple truth of the matter is, while a case can be made in regards to the political incorrectness of those creations, they were really fucking funny.

And I think that’s the point that a lot of people are missing is that at the end of the day, Tyler Perry is a grown man in a dress, and say what you will, that’s pretty fucking funny. I think the underlying fear is of a movement of a crop of Black men in drag succeeding in entertainment and for me I guess that’s where the sexuality component comes in to play, because as a gay Black man, I don’t really give a shit. I’ve been around enough drag queens to know that they are nobody’s bitch and they exude enough strength, vitality, courage and energy to power a small town. And while my heterosexual counterparts may look at RuPaul and assume his role as “castrated pickaninny”, I see a strong dude who has put forth a major effort to overcome racism, sexism and homophobia for the masses… with a perfect ass and great set of tits.

Now I am a firm believer that society does not naturally procure advantageous opportunities for minorities and conspiracy labels be damned, I also believe there are factions specially dedicated to encourage the “reniggerdom”, if you will, of black people; emasculating our men, disrespecting our women. And while I would agree that the proprietors of these factions laugh, if not applaud the exploitation of the image of a black man in a dress, I would imagine that they have also applauded our laughable attempts at hyper-masculinity née hip-hop and its efforts to shame, disgrace and excommunicate expressions of femininity by men and/or even women. But we can’t structure our agenda by blindly accommodating ourselves to be the converse of our adversaries’ assumptions… they’re going to think poorly of us no matter what we do; they would throw RuPaul on the barbecue just as quickly as they would Farrakhan.

The issue at hand seems to be restructuring the black family and making sure as many resources as possible are available for them to thrive, and that begins with ruminating the roles that every black man and every black woman should have in propelling us forward as a people.

With that in mind, and as outré as it may sound, I do believe that the image of black men in dresses can help that agenda, if only on a superficial level by simply providing much needed comic relief in this increasingly exasperating society of ours, and on a deeper level by creating a dialogue in regards to gender and gender roles within our community.

To me it seems that man’s innate fear of femininity fuels homophobia and with that I’m a firm believer that the greater LGBT community should align ourselves with the lessons learned from feminists’ movements. Key points of our agendas overlap whereas we are both developing paradigms in which we can thrive as intelligent people as well as sexual beings concurrently, we both want to live in a society in which our clothing is not perceived as an invitation for abuse or condemnation, we both struggle to get notoriety from mainstream culture with some key players manhandling stereotypes to form new archetypes of identity and while we both have an unyielding commitment to Beyoncé’s music… ain’t neither one of us really buying that she’s a feminist.

RuPaul once profoundly intoned “Ego loves identity. Drag mocks identity. Ego hates Drag.” In discussions of the state of Black manhood and our roles as fathers, sons and leaders of the community, this is a concept often overlooked that conveniently eliminates certain LGBT peoples from the dialogue. Many self-proclaimed auteurs of African American machismo are so tightly ingratiated with their own ego that the idea of someone separating themselves from their ego and playing with identity can be a frightening level of revolution that they cannot swallow. But I think there is something amiable about that ensuing fear. I think people who actively endure ego management via identity modifications are the true revolutionaries and would be the most beneficial in conversations about Black manhood, Black families and Black unity. I think it is the men who can proudly walk down these urban streets, being who they authentically are, masculine or feminine, wearing pants or skirts are the true leaders of the community. And they have been; Beyard Rustin, Barbara Jordon, Sylvester, Audre Lorde, Bruce Nugent, Isis King, Alvin Ailey, Janet Mock and of course RuPaul to name a few who have walked these streets, some contorting gender identity, all authentically being themselves.

So when it comes to fear of someone in a dress in a position of power, regardless if it’s a man or woman wearing it, I do tend to think that root is stemmed with a certain level of uncomfortableness of your own masculinity and maybe a little misogyny thrown in for taste. In either case, if you are afraid of the “dress” it’s probably best to avoid gay bars. And college campuses. And urban environments. In fact you might just want to stay in and catch up on some Betty Friedan, Ani Difranco and Sylvester and maybe a few episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race for good measure. It’s a brave new world out there dude… and your ego is only going to get you so far.

Male Media Mind