In 2014, Roxane Gay published a collection of writing titled Bad Feminist, which critics have credited as challenging middle-class, academic, respectability politics in mainstream feminism. Like many working class feminists before her, Gay carved out a position to be complex and complicated, loving things that, in the 21st century, the guardians of feminist orthodoxy–guardians who are usually white, middle-class, college-educated and privileged–have deemed inappropriate. Gay discuss her work in this TED talk:
Borrowing Gay’s framing of the bad, I want to talk about Azealia Banks or rather I want to talk about the LGBT politics surrounding Azealia Banks. Harlem-native, hip hop artist, 20-something Azealia Banks is a Black bisexual woman. In 2012, she won the NME Phillip Radar Award, Billboard New Style Award and Urban Music Award for Best Single. In 2013 and 2015, she’s been nominated for BET Music Awards. She has publicly identified herself as a bisexual person. But you won’t see LGBT organizations embracing her the way they embrace gay, lesbian and even transgender entertainers and celebrities.
To those of us who follow the biphobia and monosexism within the mainstream LGBT echo chamber now referred to as GGGG, this is not surprising and we understand it from that perspective. Bisexual needs, interests, concerns, and people are frequently marginalized, ignored, and discarded in the interests of gay and lesbian agendas. To those of us who follow the racism and white supremacy within the mainstream LGBT echo chamber, there is also no cause for shock because we understand that white supremacy operates within it to marginalize, ignore and discard people of color and our needs, interests and concerns in service of white people’s agendas. To those of us who follow the classism that operates within the mainstream LGBT echo chamber, we are clear about the ways middle class respectability politics, careerism and upward-mobility ambitions make it possible to marginalize, ignore and discard the needs, interests and concerns of working class and poor people. To those of us who track the patriarchy and sexism within the mainstream LGBT echo chamber, even that which women–both cisgender and transgender–practice, we get that it will marginalize, ignore and discard women and their needs, interests, and concerns.
Azealia Banks is bisexual, Black, working class and a woman.
So intersectional politics would suggest that she is a prime target for the mainstream LGBT echo chamber to marginalize, ignore and discard. One can see the evidence of the echo chamber has marginalized, ignored and discard Banks how frequently she appears on the LGBT celebrities posts of organizations like GLAAD, HRC, the LGBT Task Force, etc. Consider how many times she appears as a performer or presenter at LGBT events. She’s the most successful LGBT artist working in a genre of music, hip hop, that many in the LGBT echo chamber have deemed frequently antagonistic to LGBT people. And yet, the LGBT echo chamber give her no love for all the reasons I stated above. But there’s more.
Banks dares to call out the sexism, patriarchy, monosexism, biphobia and white supremacy of LGBT politics. She dares to speak publicly the way working class Black people speak to each other without regard to whether white folks like it or not. She dares to claim her place in LGBT space by unapologetically using a word that gay men use, in love or anger, with each other (Notice the erasure of her bisexuality and queerness when gay men attack her as a heterosexual in using the word faggot). She chooses to be politically on point instead of politically correct.
Azealia Banks is not Evan Rachel Wood. She’s a bad (ass) bisexual. She’s a working class, young Black woman who lives her life confronted by the microaggressions and imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist heteropatriarchy that many Black women endure daily and therefore does not have the luxury or privilege to be the polite, digestible bisexual public figure and celebrity that some have made of Woods and Alan Cumming.
This is why most bisexual leaders and organizations have been silent on Banks, thereby making themselves bi invisible and erasing the role they could play in engaging the most rhetorically powerful bisexual public figure challenging the hegemony of the LGBT echo chamber today. As we entertain meeting invitations from the White House and celebrate the 2nd Bisexual Awareness Week, which had a nationally trending social media presence, Banks was embroiled in another fight on social media with white gay men.
What will bisexual organizations do to support Banks and show the LGBT echo chamber that we protect our own? What will bisexual people of color organizations do regarding Azealia Banks, a bad (ass) bisexual?
The polish and poise of Caitlyn Jenner, Laverne Cox, and Janet Mock have made them easily embraceable for the LGBT echo chamber, even as Jenner made her conservative views on marriage equality known. But Banks in her bad ass bisexual-ness continues to be untouchable for those of us who want a seat at the table of privilege, access and entitlement.
Bisexuals joined Faith Cheltenham, president of BiNet USA, as she marched to confront Christian zealots outside the gates of the White House after our meeting last week with members of the Obama Administration. In that moment, Faith chose to be loud, take up space, be confrontational and challenge the promulgators of intolerance. Her actions were disruptive and inconsistent with respectability politics.
We need more bad ass bisexuals not less but those of us who choose to be bad ass bisexuals should not pay the high price of alienation from bisexual space that bisexuals like Azealia Banks has. Bisexuals should embrace and support bad ass bisexuals. Bisexuals should mentor and advise bad ass bisexuals, not to be more respectable but on how to engage in self-care as they continue to be their bad ass bisexual selves. Bisexuals should defend bad ass bisexuals in public as well as private. The bad ass bisexual is necessarily scary, alien and disquieting to GGGG but when we, bisexuals, feel that way toward those among us who are bad ass, we are exercising the biphobia among us that is tearing us apart from the outside.
Join #Bi4Banks, use the hashtag to push back against the onslaught of monosexist, racist, classist, sexist attack on Azealia Banks on social media.
Do this in the name of the kind of bad ass bisexual politics Black bisexual woman poet/essayist and educator June Jordan articulated:
To insist upon complexity, to insist upon the validity of all of the components of social/sexual complexity, to insist upon the equality of all of the components of social/sexual complexity. [This is a] mandate for revolutionary Americans planning to make it into the twenty-first century on the basis of the heart, on the basis of an honest human body, consecrated to every struggle for justice, every struggle for equality, every struggle for freedom.