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Posted under: Opinion

Love & Hip Hop: Hollywood — Race, sexuality, and mainstream media

Each Monday for the more than nine weeks, I’ve glued myself to the television and live-tweeted every moment of the reality television drama that is Love & Hip Hop: Hollywood (LHHH). I started watching LHHH on a recent visit to my parents’ house after feeling like I was in the dark regarding black reality stars (y’all know a Phaedra?). After deciding neither Basketball Wives: L.A., nor Real Housewives of Atlanta were right for me, one curiosity episode of LHHH turned into devouring the entire first season in less than 48 hours. Already hooked and ready for season two, I found myself even more invested when it was revealed that there was going to be a gay couple on the upcoming season. Around the same time, there was also potential talk of Amiyah Scott, transgender model, joining the cast of Real Housewives of Atlanta. All of a sudden, the black online community was up in arms. The comments section on Instagram is always trash, but I found myself actually shocked as I scrolled through a steady stream of transphobic, homophobic and sexist remarks. Coming on the heels of Caitlyn Jenner’s recent television debut, one of the biggest critiques I saw was that these black reality shows were trying to get in on the ‘gay/trans thing.’ I was confused. In my circle of friends and loved ones, the majority of my interactions with black people have been through a queer lens. Literally everyone has a queer cousin, yet somehow when conversations about gender and sexuality come to the surface, discomfort prevails and seems to fuel an arsenal of problematic responses. I prepared myself for the worst as I took to Twitter, engaging in conversations about the show each week. One of the main story lines of season two revolves around Miles and Milan, two rappers who are trying to makes sense of their relationship with each other in the midst of their careers and personal lives. Although Milan is open about his sexuality, Miles is still figuring out what being in a relationship with a man means for him, as well as how that affects his music career and family life. Additionally, Miles is still emotionally involved with his ex-girlfriend Amber and doesn’t seem to know how to tell her about his sexuality. Although Mona Scott-Young might think she hit the nail on the head in terms of an innovative storyline, these narratives are common in the black, queer community. Because of the expectations of black masculinity in our culture, time and time again we see people reject the reality that queerness is a huge part of the black experience, especially concerning black men. As a queer identifying black person, there have been moments where i’ve felt like an outsider in black spaces, or like there were conversations I couldn’t have with black people whose stance on queer issues I was unsure of. Does one then choose between blackness and queerness? How is one expected to choose when the compass of their being is at the intersection of both of these identities? Surprisingly, I haven’t gotten into any arguments on Twitter (I shouldn’t speak so soon, we still have three weeks and the reunion left). Amidst the memes and general exasperation with the casts’ forever dumb decisions (Nia, you really took Soulja Boy back again?!), what I saw was a general lack of education around gender, sexuality, and how to have these conversations. Though there are people who choose to be blissfully ignorant, it seems more so that people don’t have the language to talk about how queerness presents itself in the black community. One great outcome of this season of LHHH was a one-hour special called "Out in Hip Hop," geared toward having a conversation about sexuality in hip-hop culture. In addition to featuring several of the male cast members from the show, moderator T.J. Holmes of ABC News spoke with queer hip-hop and entertainment talents, social justice leaders, and religious thought leaders about the relationship between LGBTQ life and hip-hop. I found myself pleasantly surprised at the depth in which the group covered these topics; they touched on everything from homophobic lyrics by some of our favorite rappers, to recognizing that black, trans women in the United States are being murdered at an alarming rate. Though an hour just isn’t enough time to have a comprehensive conversation of this sort, it was important to have public icons address these issues head-on. At times, people looked uncomfortable and stumbled over their words. This is beautiful and important, for leaving the comfort of systematic thinking is a huge part of progress. Additionally, between the audience and the guest speakers, there was an amazing span of gender expression and representation, which we need to see so much more of in the media. Overall, I appreciate the way in which LHHH has taken a step in addressing the realities of identifying as both black and queer. Although the queer community doesn’t seek validation from mainstream media, it's important that these conversations occur in more than just spheres of black, queer people. I encourage you to join the conversation; whether it be in your own communities or on Twitter during these last few LHHH Mondays. I’ll be there, and yes, you will be entertained. Since they’ve finished filming the season, there have been a series of social media/real-world brawls between Miles, Milan, and other LHHH cast members. Que dramatic, but also intimate partner violence in black communities is real (regardless of gender or sexuality!). Stay tuned for that tea.
Chinwe Okona is a creative culture and content producer located in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. In her spare time, she can be found catching up on the latest pop culture drama, and is fond of sushi, sneakers, and matte finish. To see more of Chinwe’s work, please visit, chinweokona.com. Instagram:  http://instagram.com/chinweokona Twitter : http://twitter.com/chinweokona  
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