Living at the intersection of Blackness and Queerness.
BY GREGORY KING
November 20, 2018
In Souls of Black Folks, W.E.B DuBois' rhetoric on ‘twoness' interrogates the black man's Americanness and his Blackness. This essay, while acknowledging the dyad of being black in America, uses twoness as the litmus test to examine the coupling of my blackness, more specifically, my transnational blackness, with my queerness.
In the late summer of 1992, I was living in Jamaica, preparing to take my "A" levels, an upper-level exam required for admittance to The University of the West Indies. My home did not provide appropriate studying conditions so I asked the pastor of my church if I could spend some time studying in the rectory. The rectory I asked to use only housed the church custodian. I remember inviting a friend over and one hour into his visit, I heard two men knocking on the wooden windows, shouting, "Batty man* come out!"
My instincts forced me to slam the window shut but my reaction caused the hecklers to find me guilty as two men turned into a neighborhood of yellers. Thankfully the cement walls between us made it possible not to directly defend myself against the angry crowd, but I knew a conversation was out of the question and leaving would be suicide. I cowered beneath the window, listening as stones were hurled at the wooden shutters. The fear I felt as the entire neighborhood swarmed the rectory was immeasurable. I called the priest, hoping he was available to disperse the crowd. After what felt like an eternity, he arrived, quieting the vile attack of the crowd. He was able to get my friend out but I ended up spending the night in the vortex of my fear, sleeping on tear-stained pillows in that room in the rectory, trying to rest in the place I was almost killed. That night I slept with the crucifix beside me. I cried to God in the hope that he would erase that night from my memory. Unfortunately, the events of that night could not be erased and a casual stroll through my neighborhood was never the same.
I was sixteen.
Let me contextualize it for you. Twenty-eight years ago in Jamaica, homosexuality, open or assumed, was not accepted or tolerated despite commercials propagating the "one love" ideology. In 2006, Jamaica was deemed "the most homophobic place on earth" and even the newspaper, The Jamaica Gleaner, wrote that homophobia was pervasive across the sun-soaked island, from the pulpit to the floor of the Parliament. It was not a safe place to come out or disclose an alternative lifestyle.
Gay in Jamaica? Hell no. But at least my blackness was always protected.
Moving to America presented a different set of challenges, as I worked to navigate the duality of my new reality. Whereas Jamaica disallowed my queerness, America accepted it but rejected my blackness. In America, I had new awakenings and new fears, as I came face to face with the realization that being black would be a struggle. I had to learn gestures of submission, to be performed when confronted by figures of authority. I had to learn to not take up too much space, to move slowly, so as to not be seen as a threat. I had to learn that my actions had to be legible to institutions of power and that these gestures would soon become essential in my survival.
‘Spit’ by Gregory King, 2010. Depicts King’s experience as a gay man growing up in Jamaica. In King’s words, the piece represents, “The questioning, the uncertainty, the fear, the hurt and the healing in acceptance.”.
Fast forward to 2015 when the Supreme Court of the United States legalized gay marriage. I was moved to stand in solidarity, accessing my pride by posting a photo on social media with my face adorned with a photo filter showing a blend of the Black Liberation Flag and the Rainbow Flag (thanks to the expert hands of Ernie Ball). As I contemplated some of the issues plaguing America, lots of dichotomies came to mind; love-hate, black-white, freedom-restriction, victory-defeat. I embraced the intersection of the flags because they met at the crossroads of yet another dichotomy for me; acceptance and rejection. My queerness was being celebrated but my black body was still waiting for a victory - still waiting for a celebration. Combining the flags was a salute to all the dichotomies I've experienced. It was also a reminder that in celebrating the legal sanctioning of gay marriage, I am tasked with continued self-reflection regarding what it means to be black and gay in America.
So as I couple my queerness with my blackness, I am learning to overcome fear, self-hate, and self-denial so I can embody both with triumph and unapologetic confidence. And in the process, I am relinquishing the need to seek affirmation or permission from those who choose to ignore the complexities of my identities.
*A derogatory term used to refer to a homosexual male. The Jamaican patois term "batty" means buttocks in Standard English; hence the term "batty man" gets its meaning from the fact that homosexual males engage in anal sex.
Gregory King is a tenure track professor of dance at Kent State University and holds an MFA in Choreographic Practice and Theory from Southern Methodist University. His dance training began at the Washington Ballet and continued at American University. Among others, King has performed with The Washington Ballet, New York Theatre Ballet, New York City Opera and Disney’s The Lion King on Broadway. King’s work contextualizes the relevance of black dance aesthetics and cultural signifiers through research, writing, and public presentation and his current research project, titled ‘Digital Activism: Black Bodies Reclaiming Public Space’, combines the disciplines of dance, movement analysis, literary criticism, social psychology, and anthropology. King was recently nominated for a Governor’s Award for the Arts in Ohio and is the 2019 recipient of the Outstanding Creative Contribution award from Kent State University.
Find out more about King and his latest work at www.gregoryaking.com.