In April, aChicago-based company, called ACED Design, introduced the Romphim, a traditional romper rebranded with a “masculine” name to appease male fragility. After posting a few teaser pictures of various frat-bros posing in their rompers on Instagram, the company began raising capital for their vision on the crowdfunding website Kickstarter. What began as a modest project with a $10,000 goal quickly exploded into a pop-culture moment, meme fodder and a successful fundraiser: they surpassed their goal to the tune of over $300,000. Now, although the romper is a relatively gender-neutral outfit (it’s basically a short-sleeve button-up shirt combined at the waist with shorts), it is typically associated with women. It didn’t take long for the idea of men wearing an outfit that was considered “feminine” to ruffle the collective feathers of social media users worldwide. Despite it’s knock-out success, the “male romper” also received insults from people mired in toxic gender role ideology.

It quickly made it’s way to Black Twitter, Ebony, Instagram and the National Association of Colored Facebook Users. Funny memes followed, including one featuring football star (and fashion icon) Cam Newton:

Photo: Twitter

However, the memes quickly turned offensive, mimicking gay stereotypes and advocating violence.

Photo: Instagram
Before long, black social media was full of suggestions that rompers were “gay”, that any black man who wore a romper was gay and that there should be violence against those who wore them. There were even rappers suggesting that black men who wear rompers should be shot. These responses sadly reflect the internalized homophobia, male fragility and gender role constraints that remain a toxic and destructive part of the black community.

You see, early on black boys are taught that being gay is perhaps the greatest sin they could commit—a sin worse than murder, rape or violence in some households. For many black boys, simply living in the truth of their own sexual orientation becomes a fate worse than death. Some families go as far as to disown their gay black sons, and to threaten violence against them. Black boys must follow an obscenely strict gender standard, rooted in exaggerated machismo and emotionlessness. Black boys must be stoic; they are not allowed to cry or to feel. We encourage them to be athletes or rappers, but rarely dancers or artists. Black boys should play with action toys that promote an unrealistic idea of power or encourage violence. They should like “masculine” colors and choose “masculine” careers. Black boys are not allowed expressions of love and kindness—these are forbidden signs of weakness. Crying is sinful. Love is for the weak. There should be no prolonged physical contact between black men. Hugging is against the rules, unless it’s after a sports win. These black boys grow up to be machismo-driven caricatures, emotionally stunted little boys in grown man bodies, who can’t maintain relationships for fear of being perceived weak, and who can’t be what they want or dress how they want for fear of repercussion. It’s a tragic curse of social group-think and programming, that so many would rather defend because they are ignorant of its toxicity.

Furthermore, black boys and black men must wear clothes that are militaristic in nature, because any clothes that aren’t rough and tough would be seen as weak, or "gay." They must wear hoodies that cover their head, loose jeans that deny the suggestion of any physical curvature and boots fit for combat even in the summer. To wear something that is tight, made of soft fabric or that reveals a little thigh would be sacrosanct. It’s acceptable for black boys to wear something tight and revealing ONLY if they are doing so while fitting into the stereotypical black mandingo trope. Black men can wear a tight-fitting singlet for wrestling, because they’re overpowering each other violently for the amusement of an audience. They can wear revealing football leggings because they’re crashing into each other violently on a sport’s field. They can wear the skin-tight quasi-romper of a track suit because they are showing their physical conditioning and superiority. Black men can be naked in an interracial porn movie where they are reduced to the fetishized fantasy of the well-endowed black sex animal-man.

Yet, if a black man wears something revealing or non-threatening for his own enjoyment, then suddenly he is weak, compromised and gay. 

Unintentionally, the male romper highlighted the generationally-taught, destructively-virulent homophobia and male fragility that is insidiously present in the black community. These perceptions are shockingly shared by men and women.

It is said that to test the logic of a system of thought, one should ask “why” until you have reached the base of a thing. Ironically, when the people who think male rompers are “gay” are asked why, they can only provide answers that reflect the very homophobia and fragility that infects our community. After a while, all they can say is, “It’s gay because it just is.” I’ve seen this logic used by people who I generally consider intelligent; it’s amazing how their intelligence does not reveal the depth of their social programming.

If you want to know why the black queer & trans community fights so hard for the right to live and love freely, all you have to do is look at the commentary on Black Twitter regarding the “male romper.” It's time to begin undoing that poisonous and harmful conditioning.

Beloved, wearing a romper will not make a man gay, because clothes don't make a man gay. If clothes made a man gay, then there wouldn't be so many men on the down-low, who wear the socially-acceptable "masculine" clothing, but still sleep with men privately. If clothes made a man gay, then the straight men who insult rompers, but walk down the street with their pants sagging and their butts on full display, would be gay too. Clothes don’t make you gay; being gay makes you gay. Gay is a sexual orientation, not a fashion choice.

Furthermore, being gay is not a weakness. It’s not being compromised. It’s not an insult. It is a state of being that is valid and worthy of respect, equality and human rights.

Finally, black men don’t have to live in the emotionally-limiting, being-disfiguring, stoic trope that they are forced into. Black masculinity is not restrictive machismo. Black masculinity is not defined by the clothes you wear, because manhood is not determined by the clothes you wear. Black men do not have to be mandingo thugs to be acceptable. Black men don’t have to dress like a rapper, athlete or gym guest to be acceptable. Black manhood is not the color blue. Black manhood is not jeans, sweats or compression tights. Black manhood is not boxer briefs with the label showing. Black manhood is not sagging pants. Black manhood is not hoodies, button-up shirts or tank tops. Black manhood is not fitted caps and durags. Black manhood is not rooted in being emotionally stunted and walking around with some exaggerated militaristic gait. Black manhood is not violence, domination or stoicism. Black manhood is not the mandingo trope.

Black men deserve the freedom to wear whatever they can fit into—that includes a floral-print romper.