Black Freaks, Black Fags, Black Dykes: Re-imagining Rebecca Walker’s “Black Cool”

February 20, 2013
By

15037_10151311871680791_1210328814_nEnter Scene: I am walking in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn—where we do more than die, by the way—rocking a close fade with two parts on the side, a full beard and mustache lined up perfectly, eyes protected by a pair of fresh chocolate browline frames (I was two blocks from Malcolm X boulevard, after all). I am donning a fitted button-up white shirt, closed off with a pink and gray striped bowtie, form-fitting charcoal gray blazer, dark blue kinda-skinny jeans, and a pair of hot pink and silvery gray kicks.

Passerbyer 1 checks out my footwear.

Passerbyer 2 offers up the obligatory, “Yo, son, your kicks are hot.”

Passerbyer 3 is looking at me like I’m way off, as if to say, “Really, you got on pink sneakers, sucka? That’s gay as hell. You are doing way too much!”

Passerbyer 4, my neighbor, repeats, like he always does, “You cool, brother.”

My representation as a certain type of black man often transgresses the accepted boundaries of black masculinity. The ways I cut my hair, shape–or refuse to shape–my beard, style my clothes, walk, talk, and gesture tend to confound some folk and, on occasion, anger others because of my seeming transgressions. Sinning ain’t easy.

Indeed, some will stare at me as I make my way down any street rocking a beard, frames, “man bag,” and a little less than loose clothing because my gender presentation seems to be read as a sign of non-heterosexuality, deviance. In fact, most folk are okay with what they “see” until they notice that I am wearing something like hot pink (!) sneakers. According to some, a black man wearing hot pink sneakers, like a black woman wearing a suit, ain’t at all “cool.”

The notion of “Black cool,” in particular, seems to be limited, limiting, and quite “straight” (as in hetero and rigid). I am thinking, for example, of one of the inspirations that motivated Rebecca Walker’s investigation of “black cool.” She mentioned during an interview on NPR that an image of then-Senator Barack Obama exiting a black Lincoln Town Car during the 2008 campaign “was really, at that moment, the epitome of black cool.”

She went on to say that she was “drawn to that image because [she] wanted to decode it and to see where it fit into this Afro-Atlantic aesthetic.” And while that image is but one of Walker’s inspirations (and while her book, Black Cool: One Thousand Streams of Blackness, actually includes critical and beautiful essays that think through the gendering of “black cool”), that particular picture of Obama locates the quotidian “black cool” in a male-bodied, masculine, straight black man and leaves me to wonder: Does coolness exist anywhere beyond black masculinity, maleness, and heterosexuality? As some of the writers in Walker’s Black Cool argue, I think so.

I can recall, for example, growing up with an older female cousin who was a swagged-out straight young woman and mother. She often chilled with the dudes in my family. Her vernacular was cool. Her walk was cool, or, as others would say, “pimped out.” She was cool. But this one black straight woman’s coolness was contingent upon the masculinity that she performed expertly. And, no, she didn’t identify as lesbian. Which, again, forces me to consider: are masculine performances solely emblematic of “black cool”?photo

Unlike my swaggalicious female cousin, I failed at performing certain black masculinities. I tried my best to perfect the art of swag, but my gender expressions took much practice to perfect over time and are the result of me trying to fit into the normative boxes (i.e. men play sports and not with dolls; men are strong and not weak; men wear blue and not pink sneakers) that others attempted to trap me within. I was called a “fag” often and my cousin was called a “dyke” quite a bit, because our styles and expressions were moving beyond the gender boxes, somewhere other than the restrictive spaces of the normal that attempted to constrain us. And folk who escape the tight prison cells of gender, like “fags,” aren’t cool, until they are.

There are black male artists (especially those who have been identified as “fags” and “freaks”), for example, who have embodied, or performed, coolness in ways that go against the mundane gender formulas that tend to limit us. Little Richard, Marvin Gaye, Prince, Michael Jackson, Andre 3000, Kanye West, Cee-Lo Green, and yes, RuPaul (when he is out of drag) come to mind. These black men have expanded cool beyond the boundaries of a certain type of constricting black masculinity.

And, yep, there are also black women like Grace Jones, Monique, India Arie, Erykah Badu, Jada Pinkett-Smith (and her daughter Willow), Queen Latifah, Lil’ Kim, and Janelle Monae who exhibit coolness through the ways they fashion themselves, refuse norms, contest and perform gender. And some of these women are feminine performing, indeed.

In my own life, freedom from the prison of gender normativity allowed me to really be. I am no longer trapped in makeshift gender containers that were never strong enough to contain my authentic self-expression in the first place. Me, a Black unconventional queer brother who is sometimes masculine and other times feminine performing, cool? Well, maybe.

Black cool was queer before queer was cool

A friend pushed me to consider Miles Davis’s album, “Birth of the Cool,” which was released in 1957 on Capitol Records, as inspiration when reflecting on black cool. What’s interesting about Davis’s musical styling on this particular album is his use of polyphony, a musical texture where two or more voices are employed and not just one dominant voice.

Black cool is polyphony, that is, it is multi-textured and free from one dominant voice and way of being. It’s like jazz: always moving in one or many directions with and without intent. It is resistance to structure and, yet, it creates form without even trying.

Black cool is…

581542_10151262041510791_2086835650_nIn other words, it keeps moving, redefining itself, and traveling along the ellipses because it refuses to be comfortably fixed. And that’s why I dig the black and cool, because queering is a political intervention that attempts to do the same: it signals one’s resistance to normativities (sexual or otherwise), boundaries, and binaries.

Given this, it seems to me that any notion of black cool that is only imagined as being exercised or embodied by black masculine men and/or some masculine women is, well, played out. Black cool is multi-textured, unrestrictive, and forever changing. We, black folk are diverse in our embodiments, sexual identities, and gender expressions; therefore, our imaginations of black cool, if they are to be unrestrictive, should be vast enough to consider feminine women, feminine men, gender variant/trans men and women, and differently-abled individuals.

Indeed, coolness, like queerness, comes as the result of a type of unsettling, a desire for something different. Thus, it seems that the black “freaks,” “fags,” “femmes,” and “dykes,” among us might be experts in the art of embodying black cool, after all.

 

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64 Responses to Black Freaks, Black Fags, Black Dykes: Re-imagining Rebecca Walker’s “Black Cool”

  1. Coriander on February 20, 2013 at 10:46 am

    Thank you! I really enjoyed this, especially being the mother of a young boy. I noticed right away that my son was being pushed into strictly masculine narratives and mannerisms. I try to be conscious of cultivating his sensitive, nurturing self which I believe all boys have…good to know it’s going to make him “cool” lol!

    • Darnell on February 20, 2013 at 4:59 pm

      Your son is quite lucky to have a mother like you. Thank you!

      Best, darnell

  2. Coriander on February 20, 2013 at 10:46 am

    Thank you! I really enjoyed this, especially being the mother of a young boy. I noticed right away that my son was being pushed into strictly masculine narratives and mannerisms. I try to be conscious of cultivating his sensitive, nurturing self which I believe all boys have…good to know it’s going to make him “cool” lol!

    • Darnell on February 20, 2013 at 4:59 pm

      Your son is quite lucky to have a mother like you. Thank you!

      Best, darnell

  3. Coriander on February 20, 2013 at 10:46 am

    Thank you! I really enjoyed this, especially being the mother of a young boy. I noticed right away that my son was being pushed into strictly masculine narratives and mannerisms. I try to be conscious of cultivating his sensitive, nurturing self which I believe all boys have…good to know it’s going to make him “cool” lol!

    • Darnell on February 20, 2013 at 4:59 pm

      Your son is quite lucky to have a mother like you. Thank you!

      Best, darnell

  4. Coriander on February 20, 2013 at 10:46 am

    Thank you! I really enjoyed this, especially being the mother of a young boy. I noticed right away that my son was being pushed into strictly masculine narratives and mannerisms. I try to be conscious of cultivating his sensitive, nurturing self which I believe all boys have…good to know it’s going to make him “cool” lol!

    • Darnell on February 20, 2013 at 4:59 pm

      Your son is quite lucky to have a mother like you. Thank you!

      Best, darnell

  5. Jihad Ali on February 20, 2013 at 11:02 am

    i thoroughly enjoyed this read and agree wholly. we are free to BE… and those who are free are always labeled “cool” but if you’re black and queer you’re sorta cool by default lol.
    peace and light.

    • Darnell Moore on February 21, 2013 at 1:16 am

      Ha. Thanks for reading. I appreciate the good word.
      Darnell

  6. Jihad Ali on February 20, 2013 at 11:02 am

    i thoroughly enjoyed this read and agree wholly. we are free to BE… and those who are free are always labeled “cool” but if you’re black and queer you’re sorta cool by default lol.
    peace and light.

    • Darnell Moore on February 21, 2013 at 1:16 am

      Ha. Thanks for reading. I appreciate the good word.
      Darnell

  7. Jihad Ali on February 20, 2013 at 11:02 am

    i thoroughly enjoyed this read and agree wholly. we are free to BE… and those who are free are always labeled “cool” but if you’re black and queer you’re sorta cool by default lol.
    peace and light.

    • Darnell Moore on February 21, 2013 at 1:16 am

      Ha. Thanks for reading. I appreciate the good word.
      Darnell

  8. Jihad Ali on February 20, 2013 at 11:02 am

    i thoroughly enjoyed this read and agree wholly. we are free to BE… and those who are free are always labeled “cool” but if you’re black and queer you’re sorta cool by default lol.
    peace and light.

    • Darnell Moore on February 21, 2013 at 1:16 am

      Ha. Thanks for reading. I appreciate the good word.
      Darnell

  9. Cheryl on February 20, 2013 at 11:53 am

    Yes, sir. Love this. Thanks to my colleague for passing it along. I think Rebecca Walker would enjoy reading it as well. I was born black, female, and queer (and perform and embody the feminine), so black cool I am. (I’m always thinking about/wondering about the class component. How does black cool manifest in those unable to stretch let alone meet the standards/nonstandards of cool?)

    Peace.

    • Darnell Moore on February 21, 2013 at 1:19 am

      Agreed. Class should be seriously considered. Capital(s) are often required to reach those standards. Thank you for reading. Darnell

  10. Cheryl on February 20, 2013 at 11:53 am

    Yes, sir. Love this. Thanks to my colleague for passing it along. I think Rebecca Walker would enjoy reading it as well. I was born black, female, and queer (and perform and embody the feminine), so black cool I am. (I’m always thinking about/wondering about the class component. How does black cool manifest in those unable to stretch let alone meet the standards/nonstandards of cool?)

    Peace.

    • Darnell Moore on February 21, 2013 at 1:19 am

      Agreed. Class should be seriously considered. Capital(s) are often required to reach those standards. Thank you for reading. Darnell

  11. Cheryl on February 20, 2013 at 11:53 am

    Yes, sir. Love this. Thanks to my colleague for passing it along. I think Rebecca Walker would enjoy reading it as well. I was born black, female, and queer (and perform and embody the feminine), so black cool I am. (I’m always thinking about/wondering about the class component. How does black cool manifest in those unable to stretch let alone meet the standards/nonstandards of cool?)

    Peace.

    • Darnell Moore on February 21, 2013 at 1:19 am

      Agreed. Class should be seriously considered. Capital(s) are often required to reach those standards. Thank you for reading. Darnell

  12. Cheryl on February 20, 2013 at 11:53 am

    Yes, sir. Love this. Thanks to my colleague for passing it along. I think Rebecca Walker would enjoy reading it as well. I was born black, female, and queer (and perform and embody the feminine), so black cool I am. (I’m always thinking about/wondering about the class component. How does black cool manifest in those unable to stretch let alone meet the standards/nonstandards of cool?)

    Peace.

    • Darnell Moore on February 21, 2013 at 1:19 am

      Agreed. Class should be seriously considered. Capital(s) are often required to reach those standards. Thank you for reading. Darnell

  13. Marlon Moore on February 20, 2013 at 11:56 am

    I notice the absence (but implication) of “black dandies.” I think they are part of the diverse embodiment of cool of which you speak. Thanks for sharing this reflection.
    http://chronicle.com/article/Black-Dandies-Fashion-New/135954/

    • Darnell Moore on February 21, 2013 at 1:20 am

      Thank you for reading and sharing the link. Darnell

  14. Marlon Moore on February 20, 2013 at 11:56 am

    I notice the absence (but implication) of “black dandies.” I think they are part of the diverse embodiment of cool of which you speak. Thanks for sharing this reflection.
    http://chronicle.com/article/Black-Dandies-Fashion-New/135954/

    • Darnell Moore on February 21, 2013 at 1:20 am

      Thank you for reading and sharing the link. Darnell

  15. Marlon Moore on February 20, 2013 at 11:56 am

    I notice the absence (but implication) of “black dandies.” I think they are part of the diverse embodiment of cool of which you speak. Thanks for sharing this reflection.
    http://chronicle.com/article/Black-Dandies-Fashion-New/135954/

    • Darnell Moore on February 21, 2013 at 1:20 am

      Thank you for reading and sharing the link. Darnell

  16. Marlon Moore on February 20, 2013 at 11:56 am

    I notice the absence (but implication) of “black dandies.” I think they are part of the diverse embodiment of cool of which you speak. Thanks for sharing this reflection.
    http://chronicle.com/article/Black-Dandies-Fashion-New/135954/

    • Darnell Moore on February 21, 2013 at 1:20 am

      Thank you for reading and sharing the link. Darnell

  17. Thaniel on February 20, 2013 at 12:35 pm

    “Cool” is a great manifestation of living culture. I remember when the very style Obama embodied in that image was transgressive. Now, as you say, it’s time to queer the mix & liven things up :-)
    I always enjoy your thoughtful & relevant essays; I would LOVE to hear your thoughts on “cool” versus “hot!”

    • Darnell Moore on February 21, 2013 at 1:22 am

      Thaniel, thank you for reading and for the prompt. Cool versus hot, eh? That would be a fun essay to write. Darnell

  18. Thaniel on February 20, 2013 at 12:35 pm

    “Cool” is a great manifestation of living culture. I remember when the very style Obama embodied in that image was transgressive. Now, as you say, it’s time to queer the mix & liven things up :-)
    I always enjoy your thoughtful & relevant essays; I would LOVE to hear your thoughts on “cool” versus “hot!”

    • Darnell Moore on February 21, 2013 at 1:22 am

      Thaniel, thank you for reading and for the prompt. Cool versus hot, eh? That would be a fun essay to write. Darnell

  19. Thaniel on February 20, 2013 at 12:35 pm

    “Cool” is a great manifestation of living culture. I remember when the very style Obama embodied in that image was transgressive. Now, as you say, it’s time to queer the mix & liven things up :-)
    I always enjoy your thoughtful & relevant essays; I would LOVE to hear your thoughts on “cool” versus “hot!”

    • Darnell Moore on February 21, 2013 at 1:22 am

      Thaniel, thank you for reading and for the prompt. Cool versus hot, eh? That would be a fun essay to write. Darnell

  20. Thaniel on February 20, 2013 at 12:35 pm

    “Cool” is a great manifestation of living culture. I remember when the very style Obama embodied in that image was transgressive. Now, as you say, it’s time to queer the mix & liven things up :-)
    I always enjoy your thoughtful & relevant essays; I would LOVE to hear your thoughts on “cool” versus “hot!”

    • Darnell Moore on February 21, 2013 at 1:22 am

      Thaniel, thank you for reading and for the prompt. Cool versus hot, eh? That would be a fun essay to write. Darnell

  21. Ramizz on February 20, 2013 at 5:40 pm

    loved your essay….I lived in Bed-Sty back in the 80′s I would just for the fun of it wear a yellow golf jacket pink button down bright blue book bag and a stripped “apple” hat …just for the responses and like yours they were varied. I enjoy “rockin” the straights what I love more is when they take from my style and adapt it in theirs….we must keep “giving” it to them…how else will they learn?

    • Darnell Moore on February 21, 2013 at 1:23 am

      Many thanks. We must keep giving it, indeed. Darnell

  22. Ramizz on February 20, 2013 at 5:40 pm

    loved your essay….I lived in Bed-Sty back in the 80′s I would just for the fun of it wear a yellow golf jacket pink button down bright blue book bag and a stripped “apple” hat …just for the responses and like yours they were varied. I enjoy “rockin” the straights what I love more is when they take from my style and adapt it in theirs….we must keep “giving” it to them…how else will they learn?

    • Darnell Moore on February 21, 2013 at 1:23 am

      Many thanks. We must keep giving it, indeed. Darnell

  23. Ramizz on February 20, 2013 at 5:40 pm

    loved your essay….I lived in Bed-Sty back in the 80′s I would just for the fun of it wear a yellow golf jacket pink button down bright blue book bag and a stripped “apple” hat …just for the responses and like yours they were varied. I enjoy “rockin” the straights what I love more is when they take from my style and adapt it in theirs….we must keep “giving” it to them…how else will they learn?

    • Darnell Moore on February 21, 2013 at 1:23 am

      Many thanks. We must keep giving it, indeed. Darnell

  24. Ramizz on February 20, 2013 at 5:40 pm

    loved your essay….I lived in Bed-Sty back in the 80′s I would just for the fun of it wear a yellow golf jacket pink button down bright blue book bag and a stripped “apple” hat …just for the responses and like yours they were varied. I enjoy “rockin” the straights what I love more is when they take from my style and adapt it in theirs….we must keep “giving” it to them…how else will they learn?

    • Darnell Moore on February 21, 2013 at 1:23 am

      Many thanks. We must keep giving it, indeed. Darnell

  25. Joyelle on February 21, 2013 at 6:38 pm

    Do you think Walker thinks of ‘black cool’ only in the form of heterosexuality… considering she dated N’degeocello after all. lol.
    Good Read D.

  26. Joyelle on February 21, 2013 at 6:38 pm

    Do you think Walker thinks of ‘black cool’ only in the form of heterosexuality… considering she dated N’degeocello after all. lol.
    Good Read D.

  27. Joyelle on February 21, 2013 at 6:38 pm

    Do you think Walker thinks of ‘black cool’ only in the form of heterosexuality… considering she dated N’degeocello after all. lol.
    Good Read D.

  28. Joyelle on February 21, 2013 at 6:38 pm

    Do you think Walker thinks of ‘black cool’ only in the form of heterosexuality… considering she dated N’degeocello after all. lol.
    Good Read D.

  29. Victor Lee Lewis on February 23, 2013 at 6:01 am

    thank you so much for this post. it is resonating so far, deep and wide in me, i almost feel like it is saving my life. it has certainly vindicated me in my irreducible eccentricity.

    3 months ago, i “came out” to myself as a “MENSA-class genius.” i demurred from that announcement while i was growing up in the projects–even though they called me, “the professor” at 13 (i’d read the World Book Encyclopedia 2 years earlier.). growing up “high-yellow” skinny, with big ears on my big head, declaring myself a “genius” would have been just one more reason to commence kicking on my ass.

    No sooner than I admitted to myself that I was way past, “scary smart,” I noticed two things: first, about 80% of my previously crippling social anxiety simply evaporated. Secondly, the compulsion to express a much more complex, ambiguous, confounding and playful gender identity became quite overwhelming. While having identified as bisexual since the mid-70′s, I have not kissed a man since 1995, on the eve of the Million Man March. (Interestingly, in the absence of ANY uniformed law enforcement, I found myself in a cluster of a couple of hundred gay/bi/trans/queer/otherwise bent black brothers, an enclave of variant gender and sexual expression. surrounded by hundreds of thousands of straight black men, this was the single day in my entire life when i felt the most safe.)

    i am a dedicated social dancer. 3-5 times a week on the dance floor replaces health insurance and a whole lot of therapy that i don’t have either. only 3 days after i declared myself a “smarty-pants” to myself, i went to my usual, totally intimidating dance place, and found that my familiar fear of engaging with acquaintances and strangers was essentially gone. i was used to wearing an occasional skirt or “flaming” scarf on the dance floor, but within just a few days, i found myself wanting to express more “swish” more “flair” and more “keep ‘em guessing” playfulness. i’d been wearing pink corduroy dance pants with a racing stripe for months. i now found myself hunting through the goodwill stores and salvationa army family stores for CUTE, PRETTY and NICE things. if i get a vote, “Black Cool” has got to FEEL good as well as look good. what do i mean? i mean, if it comes in a women’s version, the color palette will be WAY more interesting, and the fabric will feel good to the touch. my adornment, my personal portable shelter, my clothes have GOT to feel real good.

    on the inside, there is a voice (people will think i’m gay!). on the inside, there is another voice, (So, what?). i bought the crocheted, wrist-warmers made from the rainbow yarn. and, i LOVE them. i want to go to the store just so i can count change at the register, while surreptitiously showing off my bad-ass gloves. i have a 4-button hugo boss suit jacket and a heavy-gauge basic black wool skirt, and fuzzy socks to go with them.

    it feels moral, political, narcissistic, indulgent, delightful, frivolous and soulful for me to change clothes throughout the day, and to create shocking contrasts with a hard mix of men and women’s clothes. it is the sparks that fly from the admixture that feels most like me. :-)

    oh, and the way i dress is meant to express my commitment as a gender-contrarian. gender normativity says “man is” and “woman is.” something inside says maybe, maybe not, and sometimes. thank you for your lucidity, courage and brilliance. you have nourished my soul. p.s. some gender-queer, canadian white woman sister-friend facebook shared your post with me. i wondered why for all of 5 seconds.

  30. Victor Lee Lewis on February 23, 2013 at 6:01 am

    thank you so much for this post. it is resonating so far, deep and wide in me, i almost feel like it is saving my life. it has certainly vindicated me in my irreducible eccentricity.

    3 months ago, i “came out” to myself as a “MENSA-class genius.” i demurred from that announcement while i was growing up in the projects–even though they called me, “the professor” at 13 (i’d read the World Book Encyclopedia 2 years earlier.). growing up “high-yellow” skinny, with big ears on my big head, declaring myself a “genius” would have been just one more reason to commence kicking on my ass.

    No sooner than I admitted to myself that I was way past, “scary smart,” I noticed two things: first, about 80% of my previously crippling social anxiety simply evaporated. Secondly, the compulsion to express a much more complex, ambiguous, confounding and playful gender identity became quite overwhelming. While having identified as bisexual since the mid-70′s, I have not kissed a man since 1995, on the eve of the Million Man March. (Interestingly, in the absence of ANY uniformed law enforcement, I found myself in a cluster of a couple of hundred gay/bi/trans/queer/otherwise bent black brothers, an enclave of variant gender and sexual expression. surrounded by hundreds of thousands of straight black men, this was the single day in my entire life when i felt the most safe.)

    i am a dedicated social dancer. 3-5 times a week on the dance floor replaces health insurance and a whole lot of therapy that i don’t have either. only 3 days after i declared myself a “smarty-pants” to myself, i went to my usual, totally intimidating dance place, and found that my familiar fear of engaging with acquaintances and strangers was essentially gone. i was used to wearing an occasional skirt or “flaming” scarf on the dance floor, but within just a few days, i found myself wanting to express more “swish” more “flair” and more “keep ‘em guessing” playfulness. i’d been wearing pink corduroy dance pants with a racing stripe for months. i now found myself hunting through the goodwill stores and salvationa army family stores for CUTE, PRETTY and NICE things. if i get a vote, “Black Cool” has got to FEEL good as well as look good. what do i mean? i mean, if it comes in a women’s version, the color palette will be WAY more interesting, and the fabric will feel good to the touch. my adornment, my personal portable shelter, my clothes have GOT to feel real good.

    on the inside, there is a voice (people will think i’m gay!). on the inside, there is another voice, (So, what?). i bought the crocheted, wrist-warmers made from the rainbow yarn. and, i LOVE them. i want to go to the store just so i can count change at the register, while surreptitiously showing off my bad-ass gloves. i have a 4-button hugo boss suit jacket and a heavy-gauge basic black wool skirt, and fuzzy socks to go with them.

    it feels moral, political, narcissistic, indulgent, delightful, frivolous and soulful for me to change clothes throughout the day, and to create shocking contrasts with a hard mix of men and women’s clothes. it is the sparks that fly from the admixture that feels most like me. :-)

    oh, and the way i dress is meant to express my commitment as a gender-contrarian. gender normativity says “man is” and “woman is.” something inside says maybe, maybe not, and sometimes. thank you for your lucidity, courage and brilliance. you have nourished my soul. p.s. some gender-queer, canadian white woman sister-friend facebook shared your post with me. i wondered why for all of 5 seconds.

  31. Victor Lee Lewis on February 23, 2013 at 6:01 am

    thank you so much for this post. it is resonating so far, deep and wide in me, i almost feel like it is saving my life. it has certainly vindicated me in my irreducible eccentricity.

    3 months ago, i “came out” to myself as a “MENSA-class genius.” i demurred from that announcement while i was growing up in the projects–even though they called me, “the professor” at 13 (i’d read the World Book Encyclopedia 2 years earlier.). growing up “high-yellow” skinny, with big ears on my big head, declaring myself a “genius” would have been just one more reason to commence kicking on my ass.

    No sooner than I admitted to myself that I was way past, “scary smart,” I noticed two things: first, about 80% of my previously crippling social anxiety simply evaporated. Secondly, the compulsion to express a much more complex, ambiguous, confounding and playful gender identity became quite overwhelming. While having identified as bisexual since the mid-70′s, I have not kissed a man since 1995, on the eve of the Million Man March. (Interestingly, in the absence of ANY uniformed law enforcement, I found myself in a cluster of a couple of hundred gay/bi/trans/queer/otherwise bent black brothers, an enclave of variant gender and sexual expression. surrounded by hundreds of thousands of straight black men, this was the single day in my entire life when i felt the most safe.)

    i am a dedicated social dancer. 3-5 times a week on the dance floor replaces health insurance and a whole lot of therapy that i don’t have either. only 3 days after i declared myself a “smarty-pants” to myself, i went to my usual, totally intimidating dance place, and found that my familiar fear of engaging with acquaintances and strangers was essentially gone. i was used to wearing an occasional skirt or “flaming” scarf on the dance floor, but within just a few days, i found myself wanting to express more “swish” more “flair” and more “keep ‘em guessing” playfulness. i’d been wearing pink corduroy dance pants with a racing stripe for months. i now found myself hunting through the goodwill stores and salvationa army family stores for CUTE, PRETTY and NICE things. if i get a vote, “Black Cool” has got to FEEL good as well as look good. what do i mean? i mean, if it comes in a women’s version, the color palette will be WAY more interesting, and the fabric will feel good to the touch. my adornment, my personal portable shelter, my clothes have GOT to feel real good.

    on the inside, there is a voice (people will think i’m gay!). on the inside, there is another voice, (So, what?). i bought the crocheted, wrist-warmers made from the rainbow yarn. and, i LOVE them. i want to go to the store just so i can count change at the register, while surreptitiously showing off my bad-ass gloves. i have a 4-button hugo boss suit jacket and a heavy-gauge basic black wool skirt, and fuzzy socks to go with them.

    it feels moral, political, narcissistic, indulgent, delightful, frivolous and soulful for me to change clothes throughout the day, and to create shocking contrasts with a hard mix of men and women’s clothes. it is the sparks that fly from the admixture that feels most like me. :-)

    oh, and the way i dress is meant to express my commitment as a gender-contrarian. gender normativity says “man is” and “woman is.” something inside says maybe, maybe not, and sometimes. thank you for your lucidity, courage and brilliance. you have nourished my soul. p.s. some gender-queer, canadian white woman sister-friend facebook shared your post with me. i wondered why for all of 5 seconds.

  32. Victor Lee Lewis on February 23, 2013 at 6:01 am

    thank you so much for this post. it is resonating so far, deep and wide in me, i almost feel like it is saving my life. it has certainly vindicated me in my irreducible eccentricity.

    3 months ago, i “came out” to myself as a “MENSA-class genius.” i demurred from that announcement while i was growing up in the projects–even though they called me, “the professor” at 13 (i’d read the World Book Encyclopedia 2 years earlier.). growing up “high-yellow” skinny, with big ears on my big head, declaring myself a “genius” would have been just one more reason to commence kicking on my ass.

    No sooner than I admitted to myself that I was way past, “scary smart,” I noticed two things: first, about 80% of my previously crippling social anxiety simply evaporated. Secondly, the compulsion to express a much more complex, ambiguous, confounding and playful gender identity became quite overwhelming. While having identified as bisexual since the mid-70′s, I have not kissed a man since 1995, on the eve of the Million Man March. (Interestingly, in the absence of ANY uniformed law enforcement, I found myself in a cluster of a couple of hundred gay/bi/trans/queer/otherwise bent black brothers, an enclave of variant gender and sexual expression. surrounded by hundreds of thousands of straight black men, this was the single day in my entire life when i felt the most safe.)

    i am a dedicated social dancer. 3-5 times a week on the dance floor replaces health insurance and a whole lot of therapy that i don’t have either. only 3 days after i declared myself a “smarty-pants” to myself, i went to my usual, totally intimidating dance place, and found that my familiar fear of engaging with acquaintances and strangers was essentially gone. i was used to wearing an occasional skirt or “flaming” scarf on the dance floor, but within just a few days, i found myself wanting to express more “swish” more “flair” and more “keep ‘em guessing” playfulness. i’d been wearing pink corduroy dance pants with a racing stripe for months. i now found myself hunting through the goodwill stores and salvationa army family stores for CUTE, PRETTY and NICE things. if i get a vote, “Black Cool” has got to FEEL good as well as look good. what do i mean? i mean, if it comes in a women’s version, the color palette will be WAY more interesting, and the fabric will feel good to the touch. my adornment, my personal portable shelter, my clothes have GOT to feel real good.

    on the inside, there is a voice (people will think i’m gay!). on the inside, there is another voice, (So, what?). i bought the crocheted, wrist-warmers made from the rainbow yarn. and, i LOVE them. i want to go to the store just so i can count change at the register, while surreptitiously showing off my bad-ass gloves. i have a 4-button hugo boss suit jacket and a heavy-gauge basic black wool skirt, and fuzzy socks to go with them.

    it feels moral, political, narcissistic, indulgent, delightful, frivolous and soulful for me to change clothes throughout the day, and to create shocking contrasts with a hard mix of men and women’s clothes. it is the sparks that fly from the admixture that feels most like me. :-)

    oh, and the way i dress is meant to express my commitment as a gender-contrarian. gender normativity says “man is” and “woman is.” something inside says maybe, maybe not, and sometimes. thank you for your lucidity, courage and brilliance. you have nourished my soul. p.s. some gender-queer, canadian white woman sister-friend facebook shared your post with me. i wondered why for all of 5 seconds.

  33. D on February 23, 2013 at 10:03 pm

    So let’s talk about black cool outside of urban centers. Where I grew up black cool took on a very different meaning. It was rooted in upholding familial traditions, rocking heirlooms (this is my grandaddy’s watch or my aunt made this for me) that told a story or being the complete opposite of whatever the white kids were doing at the time.

  34. D on February 23, 2013 at 10:03 pm

    So let’s talk about black cool outside of urban centers. Where I grew up black cool took on a very different meaning. It was rooted in upholding familial traditions, rocking heirlooms (this is my grandaddy’s watch or my aunt made this for me) that told a story or being the complete opposite of whatever the white kids were doing at the time.

  35. D on February 23, 2013 at 10:03 pm

    So let’s talk about black cool outside of urban centers. Where I grew up black cool took on a very different meaning. It was rooted in upholding familial traditions, rocking heirlooms (this is my grandaddy’s watch or my aunt made this for me) that told a story or being the complete opposite of whatever the white kids were doing at the time.

  36. D on February 23, 2013 at 10:03 pm

    So let’s talk about black cool outside of urban centers. Where I grew up black cool took on a very different meaning. It was rooted in upholding familial traditions, rocking heirlooms (this is my grandaddy’s watch or my aunt made this for me) that told a story or being the complete opposite of whatever the white kids were doing at the time.

  37. KStone on February 26, 2013 at 3:14 pm

    It so interesting that this article was written, I’ve alway thought to myself its ironic how so many people are quick to say someone dresses “gay” (no matter what race they are) yet people are so thirsty for the next big name designer which is probably designed by a gay man.

  38. KStone on February 26, 2013 at 3:14 pm

    It so interesting that this article was written, I’ve alway thought to myself its ironic how so many people are quick to say someone dresses “gay” (no matter what race they are) yet people are so thirsty for the next big name designer which is probably designed by a gay man.

  39. KStone on February 26, 2013 at 3:14 pm

    It so interesting that this article was written, I’ve alway thought to myself its ironic how so many people are quick to say someone dresses “gay” (no matter what race they are) yet people are so thirsty for the next big name designer which is probably designed by a gay man.

  40. KStone on February 26, 2013 at 3:14 pm

    It so interesting that this article was written, I’ve alway thought to myself its ironic how so many people are quick to say someone dresses “gay” (no matter what race they are) yet people are so thirsty for the next big name designer which is probably designed by a gay man.

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