She's Not "Just A Tomboy": The Void Unfilled By Closet Black Lesbians
To our idols that have yet to claim us..
June 16, 2017 at 4:37 am
When I was young, I was convinced that I would grow up to play for the Cowboys. My favorite outfit was an Emmitt Smith jersey with long shorts and sneakers. I was the fastest kid in class, so who, but me, would make the most sense as an NFL receiver?
People didn’t see my vision though. Whenever I would tell an adult my career aspirations, they would smile like they knew something I didn’t and tell me, “you’re just a tomboy, you’ll grow out of it.” Maybe because of their reactions I knew better than to correct them when they assumed that I wanted, and they would buy me, Disney princess memorabilia and toys. Secretly, I was more interested in pretending to be the Prince.
Like many other queer and lesbian black millennial women who experienced being pegged as “unfeminine,” but still a work in progress, it left us in a peculiar situation. Unlike our counterparts—young black boys who preferred to stay around the women at the cookout, or were caught painting their nails with their sister’s polish or showed any signs of potentially having “sugar in their tank,” and so assigned their fate as a gay man—young, black lesbians simply didn’t exist.
The belief in our community was that with time, a nice young man’s attention, and some eventual good D (because bad sex never changed anyone’s mind), we would one day come to our senses and take our (hopefully submissive) place in a heteronormative world.
But if there was a saving grace, it was hip-hop. The imagery and attitude was masculine and androgynous, allowing women to wear exactly what men did, and still be considered sexy, desirable and, most interestingly, straight. Us would-be-lesbians exploited the opportunity to camouflage ourselves, while inexplicably zoning in on a few select artists (you know who they are) that we saw ourselves in. They were ours. If gay-dar is a thing (and it is), we figured that these young women we were so fascinated with, were maybe camouflaging themselves too…
Or maybe 20-plus-year-old women who wore du-rags and fitted caps with baggy jeans and Air Max sneakers really are completely straight, and we too could grow up to be completely straight just like them? Maybe multi-talented superstars who could present any way, but chose to rock backwards caps and leather jackets on TV, really did have boyfriends?
Maybe we really did need a roughneck?
Or that was the implication by omission. It was all so convoluted as you could imagine.
In Lena Waithe’s beautifully written "Thanksgiving" episode in the second season of Netflix’s Master of None, Waithe’s character, Denise, comes out to her friend Dev. He responds that he should have known she was Lebanese, as she acknowledged she'd be dressing like Da Brat. I couldn’t help but smile fondly. I had that poster too.
If white lesbians searching for affirmation had Melissa Etheridge openly singing for another woman to “come to her window,” K.D Lang in a suit getting a shave from bikini clad Cindy Crawford on the cover of Vanity Fair or maybe 4 Non Blondes running around the bay area in plaid and top hats, we had no one.
Or, no one who wanted to claim us, anyway.
From Waithe’s work, informed by her lesbian experience making a pop culture mark, to the scene-stealing Samira Wiley sharing an epic bridal photo (that no one will ever be able to compete with, lest we get married in ball gowns covered in diamond dust), Young M.A. making same-sex club bangers with heavy radio play, and even, in the case of Queen Sugar, where two brown women engaged in an actual relationship sans raunchy, shock value tactics, it’s possible the understanding of what it’s like to have no visible examples of what life could be, is a driving force in what appears to be black gay/queer women being very clear that what you are seeing is indeed not a test. They are in the room. This approach is incredibly refreshing with an unmeasured influence on the current generation. But we have to ask, why have none of our generations idols come out yet?
We’ve listened to their music, learned to dance from the videos and watched their shows. We've supported all new business ventures. We've sent well wishes during legal troubles. They’ve become legends in their respective careers. The stigmas since the 90's have softened, and the bag, at this point, has been secured 10 times over!
But, I get it. Kinda.
It took me some years, once I grew out my perm and did away with most tank tops, to understand the social limitations and potential mind f*ck of being a masculine presenting woman—of not being a lesbian, but LOOKING like one. There was one moment in particular where I recalled seriously debating if I should blow out my hair for an upcoming interview, and wear a skirt suit. Much like that moment when you have to decide if you’re going to up your voice an octave to be considered “professional” in white spaces, there’s a question of “ just how gay can I afford to look?"
I went out and got a temp fade instead.
In an increasingly absurd social climate where anything goes and anyone can be attacked for something as trivial as standing in line while not being white, there’s strength in numbers, and there’s power in visibility.
Conversations about the closet, or discretion by omission, has always been a delicate subject. To that, if these women ever decided to change their mind, there would still be value in their openness, and there are so many amazing, necessary conversations that they could still be a part of.
On this Pride season 2017, under the egomaniacal rule of chief lady parts grabber, we will continue to leave the light on for them—our idols who have yet to claim us—and hope that they make it in one day.