By Dr. Herukhuti
Before keeping it real was a thing, we represented. Back in the 90s and early 00s, people repped the street on which they lived, the school they attended, the neighborhood, city, or state in which they resided. Showing love for your community and your origins was a sign of self-love and we represented accordingly.
It feels so good to love what you represent and represent what you love. That’s why, throughout history, people have used all manner of ways to represent. We have repped so hard that even our bodies have become the material foundation for showing up what/who we represent through tattooing, body painting, hair styles, and other forms of body adornment. Badges, shields, clothing, and other materials have also been tools that allow us to represent.
Despite all of its apparent positivity, representing has always been a politically charged act with consequences that require consideration. Openly demonstrating self-love can invite haters and people who are generally bothered by anyone enjoying their life to come for you in an attempt to invite you to the sucky suckfest that is their table of want, woe, and persistent lack of gratifying anything. Some folks limited by their binary thinking and socialized competitiveness may believe that you repping something different than what they are repping means that you have to automatically be in conflict with each other. This could lead them to target you for attack, character assassination, bullying, etc.
So not everyone decides to rep. And certainly not everyone readily or easily makes the decision to rep. For some, it is far too costly an option.
That’s why it is really surprising when someone chooses to rep something that is socially despised or at the very least misunderstood to the degree that people carry negative stereotypes about it. That’s the reality for sexual fluidity/bisexuality/pansexuality/non-monosexual queerness.
If you believe the representations in popular culture and the misperceptions among the less informed, bisexuals are greedy, on sexual safari, hiding from their gayness, the main people responsible for violence against transgender women, responsible for exposing heterosexual women to HIV, slutty, incapable of making commitments, liars, cheaters, etc. Who would willing choose to rep that identity?
Gay liberation activism, rooted in white male middle class sensibilities, has confronted these questions for decades. It created the concept of the closet to encourage people with homosexual desires and experiences into claiming gay and lesbian identity, embracing rainbow flags, and parading pride down main streets around the Western world. The call to come out of the closet was a rallying call to build the power of collective numbers set to resist and challenge heterosexism.
Bisexuals experience something that is slightly different than heterosexism. It’s called monosexism. Whereas gays and lesbians have to contend with the violence of social systems and structures made to advantage and support heterosexuality, bisexuals have to deal with the violence of those same systems and structures as well as the violence of gay and lesbian institutions designed to advantage and support homosexuality. Monosexism is the state of being sandwiched between these two different worlds, neither of which is designed to support your way of life or love.
How does one represent in the context of that mix of social violence? That’s the challenge to bisexual representation. It’s not a matter of having one target on your back but multiple targets. When bisexuality comes in the form of a Black or brown body, target upon target upon target.
I can count the number of living Black celebrities, entertainers, elected officials, cultural workers, content producers, artists, thought leaders who rep sexual fluidity/bisexuality/pansexuality/non-monosexual queerness on both hands. The number of bisexual Black artists, entertainers, cultural workers, and content producers who rep sexual fluidity/bisexuality/pansexuality/non-monosexual queerness and are producing representations of Black sexual fluidity/bisexuality/pansexuality/non-monosexual queerness are an even smaller group. The number of Black elected officials who rep their Black sexual fluidity/bisexuality/pansexuality/non-monosexual queerness an even smaller group. Same for Black policy advocates who rep their Black sexual fluidity/bisexuality/pansexuality/non-monosexual queerness.
While it is also true that the sexual identity politics developed within white gay and lesbian spaces have no resonance for Black sexually fluid people and therefore can not be the basis upon which we represent, the unique realities of being harmed by heteronormative and homonormative forces in straight and gay/lesbian spaces discourages Black bisexuals reppin’ in any context. And so we hide to survive, to live another day. We use the, sometimes insufficient, cover of ambiguity and presumed identity to protect our selves and relationships within a hostile environment. Because the first law of nature is self-preservation.
Black bisexual playwright Lorraine Hansberry is quoted as asking, “How much truth to tell,” which I consider to be the quintessential bisexual question in regard to representation. The answer to the question is that depends upon how much truth can exist in that moment and the consequences for holding a truth too large for the environment. People will hang you for your truth, drown you in your truth, stab and shoot you with your truth. Reppin’ ain’t easy because of those potential outcomes.
This month the Bisexual Resource Center organized the annual campaign, Bisexual Health Awareness Month, around the theme of representation. Advocates, content producers, thought leaders, and activists have shared information on bisexual health and the impact (mis)representation have on it. Through stories, statistics, and testimonials shared with the hashtag #BiHealthMonth, bisexuals and their allies have asked people to consider what representation is and means for sexual fluidity/bisexuality/pansexuality/non-monosexual queerness given the force of monosexism within settler-colonialism, imperialism, white supremacy, and cisheteropatriarchy.
For Black bisexuals, the theme of representation gives us the opportunity to connect with an important part of our cultural heritage–reppin. In so doing, we might find something more useful than coming out, even as we consider the politics of reppin’ in a world not fully ready for the truths we bring.
To help bring more representation of Black bisexualities to life, please make a tax-deductible donation to the documentary film project, No Homo | No Hetero, by going here. No Homo | No Hetero is a production of the Center for Culture, Sexuality, and Spirituality in association with Bi Us Entertainment.
2 thoughts on “Reppin’ Ain’t Easy and Some of Us Are Brave”
For as long as I can remember, there existed this “truth:” All Blacks are homophobic and it confused me because getting into bisexuality early on, I was aware of a lot of Blacks – male and female – that were either bisexual or homosexual. I continued to learn that even though this “oddity” wasn’t as odd as reported to be, the myth that all Blacks are homophobic continued to exist and to the point where I remember, just a few years ago, reading something that said there’s no such thing as a bisexual Black man.
Which, as a bisexual Black man, really got my attention given how utterly absurd such a statement was. Still, repping one’s bisexuality was obviously not a good thing to do given how homosexual men were being treated and I can’t say where the origin of “being in the closet” came from – but I can say with a great deal of certainty that you didn’t have to be a genius to figure out that if you didn’t want to get your head handed to you for appearing to be homosexual, you kept quiet about it and you learned to categorically deny it even when confronted by those who were made aware of your secret – nothing travels faster than the speed of light except for rumor and gossip.
Given all the crap being said about bisexuality – and might I add that I recognize a lot of it as the same crap that was being said about homosexuality? – asking why someone would openly rep being bi does make sense and more so since bisexuality is being seen as being worse than homosexuality just like homosexuality was seen as being worse than heterosexuality. Maybe it’s because some bisexuals just say, “I am what I am… and if you don’t like it, too bad.” Others remain off the social radar because being bisexual brings its own drama to the table as it is so why give someone a stick to beat you with?
Many others are adamant that how they have sex is no one’s business but theirs and whomever they’re having sex with so as the call continues to go out for all bisexuals to stand up and be recognized, nah, it’s not in someone’s best interest to do that. And some of us have figured out how to be openly bisexual without having a target painted onto them. That a lot of Black celebrities have come out and revealed their sexuality has probably helped… but we have a special place for celebrities in our society and their fame seems to insulate them from, bluntly, all the bullshit that regular folks tend to be subjected to. When Queen Latifa came out as bisexual, some folks were shocked… and a great many more weren’t surprised one bit and, oddly, a lot of the folks who weren’t surprised at all were… Black.
If no one else wants to believe it, Blacks do know that we are and can be bisexual; indeed, there are some aspects of the thug culture that reps this as well and to the point where it’s implied that if you’re not willing to give yourself to another Black man sexually, you’re not keeping it real and you’re certainly not a “real man.” Black women are up in arms about those “down low brothers…” and some of those women pitching a royal bitch about this are, themselves, bisexual – but, publicly, stating that they are “strickly dickly” and in no uncertain terms.
It’s an ugly double standard but one that kinda/sorta makes sense when you consider how we, as a society and a culture, react to things homosexual; it just becomes “worse” for Black bisexuals because of that incorrect belief that we are all homophobic and despite the clear evidence that this isn’t as true as thought. At the end of any day, it’s about choice: Do you flaunt your bisexuality before the whole world or do you keep it to yourself and those you’d engage with?