Earlier this week, Panama and I made a trip together for VSB-related business. We met with a group of people interested in our long-term goals for the site. During this conversation, they expressed how unique they believe VSB to be, especially in regards to our (collective) candor, tone, and irreverence with race-related and race-adjacent topics.
This is something that never fails to come up in those types of meetings. And I find pleasure in hearing it, because it's intentional. Our platform provides us the freedom to deconstruct, critique, and celebrate Blackness — from the mundane to the most serious — and our writers (and community) allows us to do it well. For this to work, both a hyper-sensitivity about race and racism and a willingness to recognize, articulate, and find humor in the absurdity is necessary.
For me, these are qualities cultivated through 37 years of life and the still burgeoning desire to be more aware and observant of race-related peculiarities. It's paying attention to language — to colloquialism, to connotation, and to implication. And it's being able to sense something is racially problematic, not quite having the words to articulate what's wrong, but being comfortable enough to admit that sometimes you just aint going to have the words but that doesn't make shit any less wrong.
And it's through this examination of how I think and feel about race and racism that I've come to realize I'm a willing and active contributor to a culture of pervasive homophobia.
I haven't written or published anything on Orlando this week because I just haven't had the time and the mental bandwidth to create or edit something with the type of delicateness and nuance it deserves. I did however write a status on Facebook Sunday afternoon:
As thoughts about and images from the tragedy in Orlando continue to sadden and anger us, remember that Omar Mateen's homophobia-fueled hate didn't exist in a vacuum and wasn't created in an isolated silo.
It's one of the many tragic culminations of what happens when non-heterosexual sexual acts between consenting adults are still considered (by many) to be deviant, when words like "gay" and "queer" are regularly used as perjoratives, and when we weaponize Christianity as an agent of kind-hearted hate; using it as both a conduit and an excuse for unmitigated bigotry.
Perhaps connecting these acts to today's terrorism seems melodramatic. Hysterical, even. But they all contribute to a state of perpetual unwelcome and intentional vulnerability for LGBTQ people. And as long as that continues to flourish — and as long as people willing to commit violence can find comfort in knowing that while their actions might be extreme, the latent bias that led to it has company — acts of violence against LGBTQ people will be less anomaly and more inevitability.
This was not a senseless act. Considering the world LGBTQ people are forced to exist and find safe space in, it made perfect sense.
It was appropriately angry, insightful, encompassing, and succinct. It was also hypocritical.
As far as I can remember being aware of homosexuality, I've also been aware that it's just a thing some people happen to be. Not a good thing. Or a bad thing. But just a thing. Like having freckles. Or brown eyes. Or being left-handed. Of course, it's a bit more complicated than that, but I never saw the value in discriminating against someone because they just happen to be attracted to a person of the same sex. Homophobia isn't just restrictive and regressive. It's unnecessarily time-consuming. And just fucking stupid. And I don't hesitate to let people know that.
But, I've empowered this admittedly obnoxious and holier-than-thou progressivism as a shield to hide behind while I use homophobic language. I still occasionally refer to things I consider wack as "gay." I've labeled men "suspect" and entertained year-long debates over whether a particularly effeminate guy is gay — as if it matters (and as if that's any of my business anyway). And I'm three years away from 40, but I still find humor in someone saying "pause" as an accompaniment to a phrase that sounds gay-adjacent.
"It's always in jest, of course" is what I tell myself. Because I don't really believe there's anything wrong with being gay, so there's nothing wrong with finding some ironic humor there.
But how is this any different than the ironic racism we (myself included) regularly call out and criticize? How is my rationale dissimilar from the hipster bro caught wearing Blackface who attempts to excuse it away as being "meta?" I'm just as not-homophobic as they're not-racist. Which, frankly, is bullshit. Because while I don't harbor any conspicuously homophobic beliefs, my language — as innocent and sarcastic and satiric as I claim it to be — contributes to it; adding to that same state of perpetual unwelcome and intentional vulnerability I mentioned in my status.
They're mere microaggressions. But I should know as well as anyone that microaggressions matter. Putting that language in the air matters. As it softly reinforces and subconsciously validates the types of abhorrent beliefs that lead to fear, hate, bias, and violence.
I'm aware there's a world of difference between using "gay" as a synonym for "weird" and excreting "God hates fags" from the hateful orifices some people use as mouths, and I'm not attempting to conflate the two. But they exist on the same continuum. And continuing to pretend they don't — especially when specifically aware of the power of language — is just as willfully ignorant and intentionally oblivious as Wendy Bell.