By Dr. Herukhuti
What happens when a bisexual person uses the F-word? The gay social media world goes ballistic. Why? Because only gay men suffer the trauma of childhood taunts, schoolyard bullying and challenges to their masculinity and manhood codified in the word faggot, right?
Azealia Banks, a talented, hip hop artist from Harlem, finds herself in another controversy for her use of the offensive term. When she used the term in a public argument with white Cuban-American, gay man and celebrity-gossip monger, Perez Hilton, many in gay social media admonished her. Recently, an airplane passenger violated Banks’ privacy by recording and then sharing a video of her in an altercation with fellow passengers and a flight attendant. During the dispute, Banks uses the f-word to refer to the male flight attendant.
This most recent incident was different from the previous one in that Banks was living her life and not attempting to engage the public as an artist or celebrity. To date, none of the defenders of celebrity privacy have come to support Banks, a young, outspoken Black woman.
Instead, the social media commentator class—both amateur and academic—have taken to their keyboards to engage in a modern day examination of Banks that rivals the spectacle made of Saartjie Haartman in the 19th century. Many of these examiners are white and gay. The white gaze continues to define Black womanhood based upon white cultural norms and continues to find Black womanhood wanting, offensive, and disturbing to polite society.
But Banks did use the f-word, at least twice now. What about that? In defending her use of the word in the past, Banks has argued that because she is bisexual her use of the word must be understood as a community member using the term, no more offensive than a gay man using the term or a Black person using the n-word. Anyone who has spent any significant time in spaces dominated by gay men has probably heard gay men call each other faggot, cunt, bitch, and fish in both derogatory and affectionate terms.
There in lies the truth that Banks exposes. Most gay men don’t view bisexuals as members of their community. They don’t believe bisexual men have suffered the same costs of homophobia. They don’t believe in the existence of biphobia—even as they practice it.
According to the Williams Institute, bisexuals are 50% or a little more of the LGBT community—a slim but important majority. Take a moment and allow that to sink into your consciousness. Think for a moment how that fact challenges or not your sense of reality. There are more bisexual people in the world than gay or lesbian. Looking around LGBT organizations, celebrity round-ups, leadership circles, etc. and you wouldn’t find any evidence of that reality. Gays and lesbians, though a minority in LGBT community, dominate the political agenda and cultural/media presence.
In an analysis of LGBT funding from 1970-2010, 40 years of LGBT Philanthropy, Funders for LGBT Issues found that bisexual-specific projects, organizations and initiatives received 19 of the 21,794 grants given to the LGBT community and $84,356 of the $487,677,799 total dollars for LGBT issues. Bisexuals, the majority segment of the LGBT community, received a minority of the funds over a forty-year period.
Those kinds of inverted majority-minority structural inequalities are reminiscent of apartheid South Africa and Israel and the Occupied Territories. While clearly monosexism is a major contributor to these dynamics, white supremacy is also an important factor. In a Human Rights Campaign study, 40% of the LGBT people of color identified as bisexual. A significant number of bisexual people are people color and are therefore subject to the multiple forms of oppression—monosexism (i.e., oppression of people who are not heterosexual or homosexual) and white supremacy.
Banks’ use of GGGG, rather than LGBT, to highlight the monosexism of LGBT politics and her conflation of LGBT with whiteness is an astute critique lost on many who are preoccupied with her tone and word choice. The fact that they do not treat her use of word faggot the same way they do when white gay men call each other faggot in hostility or the way they have treated Dan Savage for denying the existence of bisexual youth makes her point.
The whiteness and homonormativity of mainstream LGBT spaces excludes and marginalizes people of color, bisexual, transgender and gender non-conforming people. In the tradition of hip hop—before the corporate colonization of it, Banks is challenging respectability politics, blowing up the status quo and exposing the interests of the privileged. She is reminding us of a time when hip hop was relevant and when its relevance was rooted in social analysis and critique.
It’s that time again. If you don’t remember where you were when Boogie Down Productions dropped By All Means Necessary, Public Enemy dropped It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, or Queen Latifah dropped All Hail the Queen, you’re probably clueless as to what is happening right now and mistakenly assuming you are reading Banks’ statements as she intends them—in the vernacular of hip hop, a Black working class art form.
I won’t go as far as to quote the saying, “it’s a Black thang, you wouldn’t understand” in this context. Instead, I’ll suggest to all the white gay men who are so incensed by what they perceive as Banks’ homophobia that they choose not to recognize their white privilege and biphobia—don’t sweat the technique, check the technique. Those are hip hop references, just in case you were unaware.