By Dr. Herukhuti
Miles Brock and Yusaf Mack. Where do I begin to speak my part of the conversation about these two Black bisexual men? I asked myself that question as I struggled for a week to write this article. It was a new sense of discursive constipation for me—someone who can crank out an article or well-developed response email in a matter of hours. But I couldn’t seem to start even the first paragraph as the days came and went, which is a problem in the age of social media public intellectual work. Gotta get the story out quick. No more than 800 words. Get in and get out. Move on to the next trending topic.
My only comfort has been that I know something that most people don’t. This moment of reflection on Black bisexual masculinities is going to be with us for a while (however long a while lasts at this time in human history when the public’s attention span seems to be shrinking by the hashtag). In mathematics, three or more points on the same line suggest a pattern. Meaning, if something happens once it can be an isolated incident; twice and it still may not be predictive of anything, but three or more times and you start to have reason to believe something like a movement or a series of related re-occurrences may be happening. That’s what I see happening now with the emergence of a continuing conversation at the intersection of Blackness, bisexuality and maleness.
In 2012, R&B/Hip Hop music artist Frank Ocean published a letter of love on his social media account to share with the world his capacity to romantically love men, thereby opening up a conversation about his sexual fluidity. Gay journalists and social media commentators rushed to label him gay. For his part, Ocean maintained an illusive posture, eschewing labeling of his sexuality and generating more ambiguity, mystery and liminality regarding his sex life than is associated with the coming out cliché of openness, transparency and definitiveness.
One year later, 2013, Mister Cee, former DJ for Big Daddy Kane, associate executive producer on Notorious B.I.G.’s debut album Ready to Die and New York Hip Hop radio personality, responds to arrests that include solicitation of sex workers some of whom are transgender women. Resisting gay as an identity, he discusses the challenge of living with desires that cut across genders while being Black and male.
The fall of 2014, New York Times columnist Charles Blow publishes his memoir Fire Shut Up in My Bones and publicly declares himself to be bisexual and launches a nationwide book tour in which he discusses his experience of living at the intersections of Blackness, bisexuality and manhood. For the first time in its history, the oldest and largest LGBT pride celebration, NYC Pride, in June of this year 2015 had its first bisexual grand marshal, J Christopher Neal, a Black bisexual man. Neal is the founder of FluidBiDesign, an organization that provides programming and support for bisexual and sexually fluid people of African descent.
On October 19th, 2015, VH1 aired episode twenty-one titled “Truth” in season two of their reality TV show Love and Hip Hop Hollywood and a companion special Out in Hip Hop immediately following the episode. The central drama of “Truth” as it related to cast member Miles Brock aka Siir Brock, a rapper/songwriter, was sharing the knowledge of his same-sex desires with his family and a woman he has had a complex emotional and sexual relationship. This was Brock’s story although the woman in his life, Amber Laura, and his boyfriend, Milan Christopher, are also cast members. The show was taped months ago and at this moment Brock and Christopher are not in a relationship but in fact feuding. But again, the storyline was produced with Brock as the protagonist.
The companion special was promoted as a vehicle to have a very important and provocative conversation about being LGBT in Hip Hop by, in part, unpacking for viewers the themes that emerged during the episode and Brock’s storyline overall. In Brock’s initial comments, he identifies himself as bisexual. This identification should provide a framework for the discussion of what being out in Hip Hop looks like but instead with the exception of one other panelist no one, including the moderator TJ Holmes, a man many would suspect to be familiar with the word, discusses bisexuality. The producers of the show booked heterosexual, gay/lesbian and transgender/gender non-conforming guests and panelists. Not one bisexual advocate, community leader, religious leader, etc.
The conversation centered on being gay in Hip Hop despite the fact that Brock’s story is about coming to a sense of personal understanding and wellbeing being Black, bisexual and male in a world that renders sexuality as a binary between straight and gay, Blackness as a homogeneity that requires conformity and maleness as a fragility constantly under scrutiny, challenge and threat. On VH1’s website and in social media, Brock is continuously subjected to a one-drop rule to sexuality by people who wish to make him gay because in their worldview any same-sex experience by a man makes him gay no matter what he says he is.
As if Black bisexual ancestors were conspiring to give social media another opportunity to get it right, ten days later, news broke of a story of Philadelphia-based former professional boxer, Yusaf Mack, who alleged he had been drugged on what he thought was an adult film set to shoot heterosexual sex but later found out was a homosexual sex-themed film in which he took part—engaging in oral and anal sex as a receptive partner. His narrative included blacking out after taking an unidentified pill and vodka, walking up hours later on a train back to Philly with $4,500 and being notified by friends some months later that he, under the performer name Philly, was in a guy-on-guy adult film by the company DawgPoundUSA.
Social media went hard classifying Mack as a liar, poor fabricator and, in a painfully predictable manner, gay. This last characterization was made despite Mack being identified as the father of ten children, engaged to a woman, and being quoted problematically identifying himself as a “whoremonger”—a slut-shaming word I haven’t heard anyone under the age of 70 use unless they were a devote Christian. Seriously, who’s using whoremonger these days outside of church? But that’s another discussion.
After the film company threatened to sue and a week of the firestorm blazing, Mack issued a combined recantation of his earlier allegation, apology for lying and declaration of his bisexuality. Despite the fact that Mack is seen using a condom when he’s being anally penetrated on the video and there is no evidence of him having any sexually transmittable infections or diseases, some folks on social media are not only characterizing him as a liar-scoundrel but also a sexual terrorist who has been putting women—the mothers of his ten children—at risk for STIs.
When people wonder why more Black bisexual men don’t publicly identify as such, they need look no further than the public responses to Frank Ocean, Mister Cee, Siir Brock and Yusaf Mack. Fed on coming-out narratives that were processed and homogenized by white gay elites for public consumption in a society that is imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist and heteropatriarchal, the public expects straight, linear stories of emergence from chrysalis to big bright rainbow-colored gay butterflies. It does not expect stories of funky complexities, murky admissions, and dirty deeds behind closed doors (or in front of open cameras).
Bisexuality, Black bisexuality in particular, is not neat, tidy or blemish-free. How could it be in monosexist, binary societies that requires conformity to rigid sexual and gender roles? Black bisexuality has stretch marks from all the growing and contorting one has to do to fit in, around, over, or through the boundaries set for us by others. Living as a Black bisexual person means you’re making the road by walking it because everyone around you tells you that all the LGBTs are gay, all the gays are white and all the whites are enviable.
Because of the multiple layers of erasure and invisibilization, to be Black and bisexual is to live in a dark continent of no history, legacy, ancestors, and elders to be your compass or roadmap. For people who have been waiting for Will Smith, Floyd Mayweather Jr., 50 Cent, Eddie Murphy, Jamie Foxx, Magic Johnson or any other Black man of means and/or position to publicly identify as something other than heterosexual, it would be useful to consider the social costs for doing so as well as the existential trauma of already living at the intersection of Blackness, bisexuality and maleness even if one is not publicly identifiable as bisexual. There in the kill zone of our national and community discussions of sexuality, gender and race lie the bloody, tortured bodies of many Black bisexual men, some famous and others nameless.
But We’re in a Moment
Despite those realities, I am hopeful because I believe we are in a moment—a Black bisexual men’s moment—in the public discourse. The moment doesn’t take away from our commitment to creating a world in which all Black lives matter. It doesn’t diminish the importance of addressing the conditions that make it possible for Black cisgender and transgender women to be murdered and brutalized. It doesn’t render the lives of Black bisexual women any less important and worthy of critical engagement and understanding.
The Black bisexual men’s moment makes it possible for Black bisexual men to recognize their ancestors, elders and brothers; understand that they are not alone; learn from the mistakes, missteps and lessons of others in coming to embody their complexities, fluidities and intersectional identities; and step into the power of what they can contribute to the ongoing project of making the society more just and inclusive.
It’s a moment for Black bisexual men rather than about Black bisexual men. A moment to gather the tribes and draw upon collective wisdom. A moment to heal from the multiple ways we are traumatized. A moment to bring forth missing and necessary truths forged in the crucible of living, loving and learning beyond the binaries.