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Dear White Gay Men: A Letter from Two of You

Dear White Gay Men: A Letter from Two of You

By Christian Fuscarino and Guido Alexander Sanchez

Cut the crap. Before you clench your teeth (or your pearls) and run to your Facebook wall to exclaim that we’re self-hating, listen to us please! One of us is white and the other Latino. Both of us have white privilege, albeit through complicated lenses, and we are well aware of this privilege. So listen to us, because even after so many letters from people of color explaining to you how oppressive, insulting, and ignorant you might be, there still seems to be something in your mind that is telling you you’re right and they’re wrong. As two gay men who look like you and share a similar enough world experience with you: stop it. As gay men with white privilege, we want to explain to you how oppressive and embarrassing you are. And this could apply to any of you that are non-heterosexual white men, so listen up.

You are not a strong black woman. You aren’t entitled to another person’s identity with a history of oppression just because you’re Gay. While there is no hierarchy of oppressions (thank you, Audre Lorde), we also know there is difference. That difference doesn’t rank our oppressions; this is not the Oppression Olympics. What it does do, though, is help us keep all of our invisible privileges in check. When a gay man who looks white walks down the street, we are not more likely to be stopped by police, to be accused of a crime, to have white people walk over to the other side of the street, or to be followed when we enter a store. If we communicate our gay identity, there are many places where we are at risk for violence, but a) the system, in most places, will support us, and b) this is less pervasive than the systemic racism in our society. The system itself is institutionally racist, and we cannot ever share in that experience. Are institutions heteronormative? Sure. But there’s a difference between that and a police officer being more likely to pull us over and assault us because of our skin color.

And racism isn’t exclusively a heterosexual phenomenon. You don’t get a race card for being gay. Having oppressed identities doesn’t absolve you of ever being oppressive, even when, frankly, you are. See, that’s the thing: we are all oppressed in certain ways, and we all occupy the position of the oppressor in other ways. But in some attempt to reconcile this contradiction, we want to believe that victimhood gives us carte blanche, that we are automatically on the more inclusive, aware, and equitable side of the curve. And arguably, this is the most dangerous position to occupy.

Let us be really clear about this. Our white skin crawls from the embarrassment you bring to our identity, and heres what you can do about it:

Stop thinking youre a strong black woman. Maybe you’ve co-opted what you perceive to be racially encoded black language to be funny. Perhaps you even feel like there’s just a diva, an Aretha / Nina / some modern archetype inside you “dying to get out.” Well, there’s not. Do you have the right to be sassy? Sure. Do you have the right to switch into diva mode? Absolutely. Do you get to racialize it in the process? No. Imagine the tables are turned. Imagine someone straight who occasionally has a limp wrist or likes to sashay about once in a while. Can they do that? Sure, in fact we hope they do. Do they get to call themselves a gay person inside a straight person? No, because they haven’t lived your life. They haven’t lived our lives. And it becomes something different when you attach your behavior to an identity.

Stop feeling personally attacked when a person of color tells you to stop. Again, your actions become different when you attach them to identity. And if someone who has that identity tells you it’s not okay, who are you to protest? Do you perhaps think that you might have some unchecked privilege? When a co-worker at the office posts a picture of her husband without thinking twice, but you feel less comfortable doing so, do you think they realize that? No, of course not, they aren’t living your life. So they should listen. And so should you.

Stop feeling the need to add your voice. That’s right, believe it or not the world can operate without having your opinion heard every ten seconds. Take time to listen to what others have to say. Learn about their feelings, experiences, and emotions. Active listening requires taking time to digest the information they’re sharing with you. Stop thinking of how it relates to your life or what you’re going to say next. Just hit the pause button and let it set in. This is how we gain perspective. This is how we engage in dialogue.

Stop acting like you are using your white privilege for good. We are sorry to break it to you, but what is more likely is that your privilege means you’re oppressing someone and it’s causing myopia. You can’t just use your white male privilege as a gay man to lift up other oppressed people. The best thing you can do with your privilege is to check it, to investigate it, to see it, and then to share it with others. The power of your privilege is that you can more easily turn to another white person and say “hey, that’s not okay” than a person of color can.

And while were here, stop eroticizing black bodies. They’re not sexual toys for you to play with and then stuff away when you return home. Drop the chocolate-seeking profile tags. Their sole purpose in life isn’t to please you with their “ethnic” bodies. In fact, all such a dichotomy does is normalize your own white body as the standard and their non-white bodies as the other. It doesn’t matter if you’re receiving or giving; just meet people and take it from there. Can you prefer some people over others? Sure, but what you don’t realize is the way that your fetishizing of black bodies, of black women figuratively inside you or black men actually inside you, is reinforcing your privilege because it’s not taking that person seriously. How often do you see a profile seeking pale white people only? Or Euro-Caucasians only? What would you think about a person with such a profile?

Welcome to what it feels like to be told you can’t have something because of the color of your skin. This is something that doesn’t happen to you much because of your privilege, and that’s okay. You aren’t to blame for your privilege, and no one is telling you you’re wrong or you’re less than because you’re white, male, and gay. What is wrong, and what you are to blame for, is not seeing the way that privilege gives you more freedom of movement in this world, more social capital. And because this is about identity, it matters that even just one person sees your act as reinforcing oppression and therefore not okay. You might personally know one, two, or ten people who are not white who say it is okay with them. But remember that it is not okay to someone. You don’t get legitimacy for reinforcing oppression through anecdotal interviews.

Conversations about race in the LGBTQ community are happening daily and, more often than not, you’re not in the room. People who don’t look like you feel race at every single turn. Every time they wake up, leave the house, enter a space, or need to assess any social situation, race is there. It’s okay that it’s not always been there for you, our society was designed that way. But perhaps now is a good time to realize that there are just some things you don’t know, can’t claim, and won’t understand.

Sincerely,
The gay, male, and white privileged Christian Fuscarino and Guido Sanchez


Christian Fuscarino is a Brooklyn-based digital strategist and founder of the national leadership organization, The Pride Network.

Guido Alexander Sanchez is an educator, writer, and activist in NYC.

32 Comments

  1. Richard

    July 28, 2014 at 7:02 pm

    I’m sorry, but black people must stop putting white people like this on a pedestal. I have seen this article shared multiple times on FB by a black gay man applauding them more than they would if a black gay man wrote this. It’s great that they understand the racial social justice, but we should not congratulate them. Knowing this should be normal, not exceptional. Conscious white people still reap the benefits of white privilege in both larger society and all black spaces. Even if the authors of this article do not act on their racial privilege or fetishize black men (the probably do), I’m sure both of them gained popularity in POC communities because of their whiteness. I’m so sick of conscious white people copying frameworks of black activism and selling it back to black people. It’s another form of cultural appropriation. These authors do benefit from white privilege, and articles like this are usually ploys to flock more black men.

    • Jackie

      July 29, 2014 at 3:34 pm

      They are using their privilege to allow other people of privilege to read and understand what that means. I don’t expect a person of color to know what my white privilege means/feels like on a day to day.

      Believe it or not there are white people out there who have met only enough people of color that they can count it on one hand. Good or bad they are probably more likely to read a article authored by a white person than a black person.

      Tim Wise does a great job and making this disparity a reality. He frequently states that the things that he says have been said by someone of color but the reason why people listen to him is because he is white.

      I do not think this article is for black men or is being sold to black men. The title is “Dear White Gay Men.” It is not about black activism, it is about white privilege. If you are so worked up about it share articles on race by black men. Or if you are a black man write one yourself. Instead of dissing somebody for trying to make a positive difference.

      • witchsistah

        July 30, 2014 at 6:14 pm

        Tim Wise is a bad example because Tim refuses to pass the mic to said people of color (and he rarely, if ever names these folks. I guess we’re just one darkie miasma to him) so that WE can address White people. After all, don’t we know our own lives better than any well-meaning White person? But Tim made it clear on his website that he’s not about to let a bunch of uppity darkies mess up his lucrative hustle as White People Whisperer for the culluds.

        • Jackie

          July 30, 2014 at 10:07 pm

          You know it would be more helpful for me to understand where your coming from if you actually backed up what you were saying with content instead of using derogative terms and expecting me to agree2qxwteyde3we6rghrdexc.yt5r4gfv8y679h09087653aerdtfhy j
          :q . I used Tim Wise as an example because that is what he states at the beginning of many of his lectures. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8SIINVfqnxw (in the first two minutes of this video).

      • Richard

        August 3, 2014 at 10:43 pm

        People of color DO know what your white privilege means and feels like on a day to day basis. It feels the OPPOSITE of being a person of color. It means access to social capital, networks, and even sex; there is a disparity EVEN in social justice communities. Don’t belittle me by saying I don’t know. And furthermore, the title CLEARLY says “Dear White Gays”; I know who the supposed audience is. My point is that white gay men get more credit for producing content on anti-racism than black people do. Then they use it to prove their cultural understanding of black men, and then snag them a self-hating, black activist boyfriend.

        Write one myself? I have. I wish I had your white privilege to really get it circulated to this level, though.

        • Jackie

          August 3, 2014 at 11:45 pm

          Oh your right you do know what it feels like to be attacked and called racist or un-empathic or you don’t know what your saying because you came from white-priviledge (not high socio-economic standing lets be clear). That you don’t deserve what you worked for because you didn’t experience the struggle of being darker, because really you didn’t work for it at all because you must have known someone or bought your way in or looked un-threatening. Some how my struggle is less because I am not brown. How dare me try to contribute to a conversation on race because everything I say must be condescending and belittling. Yeah your right I don’t know what I am talking about and you know everything. I would love to share some of your writing but I guess I would never understand it because I so freaking privileged.

          • Jackie

            August 4, 2014 at 12:27 am

            But honestly if you share your writing and I like it. I’ll share it.

    • Jessica

      July 29, 2014 at 6:20 pm

      First of all I’m a black lesbian.
      I don’t think black people appreciating this article means they are putting the authors on a pedestal. I think they are glad to see that not all white gay men are oblivious to their privilege and insensitive to the troubles of POC.

      I too get a “ahhh finally, thank you!” moment whenever someone who is not affected by a problem still can open their eyes and acknowledge the problem. Perhaps, when the white men who are aware of their privilege speak up, the white gay men playing oppression Olympics might be more likely to listen. I have grown tired of trying to explain these things to people who don’t want to understand. I appreciate those who still try

      • Jeremy

        July 31, 2014 at 10:04 am

        Thank you. Your response perfectly says all I wanted to.

    • Lucas

      July 29, 2014 at 7:10 pm

      Dear Richard,

      There is a difference between putting folks on a pedestal and giving them props for saying what needs to be said. You seem to suggest that white gay men – even those who are saying thoughtful things, simply shouldn’t participate in the discussion. Further, you seem to suggest that it takes nothing more than a few well placed sentences and Black men will flock. As a black gay man, I find this insulting.

      Well flock it! If a white person has the ability to see discussions of privilege as an indictment of the structures that support it vs. an indictment of them as individuals, then yes, I am impressed and encouraged. Any effort throughout history aimed at addressing oppression has required members of both oppressed and non oppressed groups (women’s suffrage efforts included men, civil rights efforts included white people, gay right efforts include straight folk). We need allies, and this bull-jive about this being another form of cultural appropriation is not helpful and misguided.

      • Richard

        August 3, 2014 at 10:46 pm

        Not all allies are created equal.

  2. Pingback: Dear White Gay Men: A Letter From Two Of You – Urban Times

  3. David

    July 28, 2014 at 8:08 pm

    Yes to each and every word spoken/ written here. Yes. Yes. Yes.

  4. Aaron

    July 28, 2014 at 8:23 pm

    The Civil Rights Movement had Black and White young people and many gay but everyone who wasn’t Black understood that they were fighting with but for Black people so we don’t hear much about them. Thank you for simplifying complicated, passive but oppressive behavior. This is truly an honor to your parents, mentors or whoever helped you develop a mind that knows how to get to the bottom of the weed.

  5. nieciedo

    July 29, 2014 at 10:56 am

    I’m still curious to know who, exactly, is being addressed in this bizarre internet phenomenon. I am a white gay man. I know and personally interact with many white gay men. The only white(ish) gay man I’ve ever encountered who has proclaimed himself a “strong black woman” is Perez Hilton, and I don’t think anyone wants to defend him. Accepting the standard disclaimer that personal anecdotes are not scientific evidence, I’m still baffled by this. It is alien to my experience of the world. I’m not denying that this occurs, I would just like to know where.

    • bird t

      July 30, 2014 at 1:16 pm

      Off topic a bit but I feel this way about a lot of things, girls complaining about friends sexualizing them, vegans being made fun of, ect. I always think to myself, what kind of people are you surrounding yourself with? People exaggerate social implications on the internet. Not everyone and everything, but some things just hit me with that tinge of untruth now and again.

    • aintjemima

      July 30, 2014 at 6:24 pm

      Good question! I am a black woman working in the arts/entertainment industry and a very large portion of my friends and colleagues are gay white men. I have been experiencing the phenomena being discussed on a regular basis for over 20 years, and it’s honestly a relief to have it be talked about out in the open now. I don’t think it’s just dancers and actors though; I’ve been to many a gay bar or function where I was fetishized, stereotyped, and yes, told by many gay white men that they, too, were black women; and these guys weren’t always performers. But I do think that some guys in the entertainment industry might be a little like your Tea Party: a very loud, visible minority.

  6. Ed Magiste

    July 29, 2014 at 11:30 am

    Overall, you are correct. As a gay man I can no more assume I understand or can imagine what it is like to be a Black female anymore than I can understand what it means to be a straight man. Gay, as you so eloquently point out is in itself a set-a-part. What troubles me is the oversimplification of complex experiences.

    On the whole, your argument merits attention, if not, appropriate response in behavior changes by most of us. Yet, let’s be careful not to totalize all of gay men’s experiences. You belong to an era and generation that come out almost as easily as changing hair style. I friend’s 16 year old daughter came out to her and in essence said “I know you have all probably guessed by now, but I am gay.” In all my interactions with her since her coming out, I see none of the loss, the pain, the isolation, and the emotional trauma that went with those same words spoken by many gay men and women before us.

    I read, in earnest you open letter and commend you on clarifying for many what are the salient issues. And yet, I wonder, if you could say these same things to the gay man who was beaten with a hammer for simply coming out of a gay bar on a well light metropolitan street in the 1990’s? Could you sincerely know the level of pain that the married woman who now lives alone filled with the knowledge of what her life could have been if she had come out 50 or 60 years before?

    you point out, and I believe this is the main point, that oppression is not on a scale. The very fact that the vast majority of federal laws are against you and your partner being able to legally express yourself is an oppression. It is not equal to the over 300 years of oppression that Africans and African Americans have experienced.

    Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it so well during the 20th century’s darkest hours. Rather than take away the voice of outrage at being oppressed, why not exhort us as gay men to stand with other oppressed persons and stand against all oppression. I am not a Black woman, but I know what it is like to be an oppressed gay (Jewish, white, single adoptive father) man. Because I have learned empathy over the years, I can sympathize with those who have faced barriers larger than mine. The enemy is oppression. The time is now. What can I do today to make sure it ends?

  7. Sebastian

    July 29, 2014 at 12:15 pm

    This piece is EVERYTHING. But brace yourselves. Once the white privilege crowd finds it, they’re going to tear you a new one.

  8. David H

    July 29, 2014 at 12:18 pm

    Dear over privileged, self-entitled YOUNG white gay men: What you don’t know about years of oppression, pain, fear (from family members at times), and the pain of losing loved ones to a ‘gay’ disease could easily fill another useless opinion column. Your ridiculously preachy tone is a turn off. Your encomiums on what I should or should not do are driven by your egos, not by any empiric research or discussion. Who the hell do you think you are? Do you even realize what the current rates of HIV infection in your age group is, and why it is increasing? Do you even know what that means? Your rant here insults gay men over twenty who have lived lives you will hopefully never need to experience, and I am embarrassed by you. To think that all my life I have witnessed brave men and women fight bigotry and fear and incarceration and death for the likes of this! Shane on your sorry ‘white-appearing’ asses.

    • David H

      July 29, 2014 at 12:37 pm

      I wrote this in anger. You boys go ahead and be proud gay ‘white appearing’ manifestations of gay life in the 21st century. I apologize for my tone.

  9. Jaclyn Barrios

    July 29, 2014 at 1:48 pm

    In light of this ‘pop’ topic, I can’t help but wonder who these ‘gay white males’ pretending to be ‘black females’ actually are. Yes, there might be some who pretend to be Beyonce or Nicki Minaj, but this isn’t emulating black culture so much as emulating pop culture: a culture that was, itself, formed from the input of both gay males and black women overseen by, generally, very powerful white men.

    I think we need to be cautious of what we consider to be ‘black’ and ‘gay’ culture as all culture is influenced by pop culture and diva culture, specifically, has been a common culture for both black women and gay men for upwards of 60 years now.

    Not that I’m arguing that, if cultural appropriation is happening, it shouldn’t happen. I just don’t see it. What I do see is two white guys (I know one’s supposedly Latino, but they just look like two brown-haired blue-eyed white guys to me) feigning both humility and superiority at the same time while pushing out a weak, albeit politically palatable, analysis of a very nuanced issues.

    • Ed Magiste

      August 11, 2014 at 12:14 pm

      Thanks for posting Jaclyn. You say something really essential about cultural appropriation. When I first came out, the pop queens to emulate were Better Middler and Dona Summers (I know I just dated myself.) Who among us can deny the critical and essential contribution that “pop” culture has had from predominantly black artists reaching back as a far as the Harlem Renaissance?
      I particularly like how you separated the message from the messengers.

  10. WiseUp

    July 29, 2014 at 4:32 pm

    I’m guessing many readers have no clue what original text this retort is in response to. Somebody throw us a bone and provide a link to the original text — since neither Christian nor Guido had the presence of mind to do so.

  11. Rocket

    July 30, 2014 at 5:58 am

    “Stop feeling the need to add your voice.” “Stop acting like you are using your white privilege for good.” Feel free to take your own advice.

  12. Eddie Going

    July 30, 2014 at 11:04 am

    I don’t like being put into a box. And articles like these are popping up everywhere with everyone schooling everyone about how to act. I get it. Some valid points. Some ridiculous points. Some generalizations. Has a new argument been put up yet about it?

    I am half white. I don’t feel privileged. I don’t have a black woman inside of me.

    Thanks,

    Eddie Going

  13. Olubode Shawn Brown

    July 30, 2014 at 11:05 am

    This has turned out to be quite and education for me. In that regard this article has served its purpose. Perhaps, I [a Gay Black man un-schooled in the machinations of privilege] was the intended audience and not the white gay men it purports to address. With that said What concerns me most about the piece, its tone. How is someone like a “Tom” (let’s say he is the most unconsciously privileged white gay man on the planet), be expected to reflect on his privilege through what is basically a “read?” It is the tone of cleverness, self-righteousness and rank duplicity in the piece that throws me.

    If you are going to write [they are Latinos who pass as white], as a member of the class your article seeks to address I would have loved to see the pronoun “we” used throughout. As, it’s use is inconsistently; so one can get thrown. Who is talking here, and this is important. Are the authors privileged white gay males or the “oppressed?” Why is this important? Because if they are the former, then as they say “now is a good time to realize that there are just some things you [we] don’t know, can’t claim, and won’t understand.” In which case, don’t “add [your] voice.” But they do, and do so by co-opting the identity of the oppressed. It is a great case of having your cake and eating it too. In this way you don’t have to talk about your own oppressive actions is ways that are personal, vulnerable and less alienating.

    On the other hand, if they are really the oppressed, then I continue to be amazed at the process by which the oppressed becomes the oppressor. Though one may have all the facts and the weight of history, it is compassion that cuts the knot of the cycle that will ultimately place the oppressed in the seat of the oppressor. We abdicate our role of healers by taking on the biting tone of the oppressor – “us”, vs, “them”. To be healers we would have to acknowledge the work that everyone on all sides of this issue is doing, and the strides that are being made in often unheralded spaces, we would have to model our ideas on ourselves and see where we have come up short, and then sell a vision of shared human possibility. Yes, healing is no easy business. But then again this may be asking too much of a rant.

    • Olubode Shawn Brown

      July 30, 2014 at 11:15 am

      [CORRECTION] The first parentheses in the second paragraph should have READ “conveniently, one is white and the other Latino.”

    • Ed Magiste

      August 11, 2014 at 12:09 pm

      Wow, I am in awe and applaud how well you articulated your position, particularly in the third paragraph. I especially liked your use of the term “unheralded spaces.” So important to point out. Thank you for doing that for us.

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  15. Chris

    August 8, 2014 at 3:12 am

    So wait a Latino is WHITE? Or that’s how the white gay community wants to clarify you? If you’re white then why don’t let those white Latino children immigrate to this country? White my a** you’re a minority just like us black folk. A white man may prefer you over us that only meant he got different NOT better!

    • Ed Magiste

      August 11, 2014 at 12:06 pm

      Interesting remark. Actually, there is a designation by the US Census Bureau of “white” Latino and “black” Latino. I know, I went through this twice — the first time when I adopted my two sons from Colombia, and the second time during the census. It seems the demarcation comes from the label “Afro-Caribbean descent and “Spanish” descent. My older son was designated as white (read, Spanish descent) Latino, and my younger son is black (read Afro-Caribbean descent) Latino. Odd as it may be, to me — a Gay, Jewish, single male parent, my labels for them are slightly less demarking — the older one I call my favorite oldest son, and the younger I call my favorite youngest son. Sorry, I just had to respond. I really do appreciate your point, and wanted to infuse some levity.