30 March 2007

Walking Alone After Midnight

Today, Prancilla sent me a link for a video causing a lot of chatter online. It is of a young black boy, perhaps 7 or 8, singing and dancing along to a Beyoncé song, choreographed cleverly including splits, dips, “booty drops,” and chair-kicking.

The mimesis is what makes it funny, touching, and embarrassing all at the same time. From the forwarded email text, it was sent to Prancilla with the tag line from another Queen that said “Born, Not Made,” the implication being this little boy was a natural-born Queen (or maybe a Queen-born Queen, to borrow the nomenclature of trans-resistant feminism). But while glamourous gay men in chic urban apartments may have been chuckling over the innocent reflection of themselves in the delirious Diva-worship of a remarkably cute boy, the comments section for the video has come alive (1845 as of this writing) with the sort of homophobic and heteronormative ranting that makes all LGBT folks cringe and fear for their safety (not to mention sanity), as if slowly waking from a dream to discover that, in fact, yes, we are naked, on fire, and falling all at the same time.

Comments like these (all in the original):

“This is the prime example of why women can't raise boys to be men!!You can't tell me that he has a positive male influence in his life!”

“who in their right mind would let their child boy at that get up on this camera and do all this stuff twisting poppin splittin heck no thats so gay you need to be checked out real talk”

“His parents need to put a stop to this immediately. Oh course, we all have done some silly things at that age, but this kid is headed straight to the other side if he is not taught that what he is doing(switching,dropping, popping and ect.) is inappropriate for boys.”

“There is nothing wrong with letting a kid be a kid, but if this was my kid he would be geting help. Everybody wants to say ohh its nothing wrong but in fact there is this child has apparently been around to many woman or not enough BLACK MEN. Mom don't belive the words from some of these people they are crazy get him some help QUICK. If your ok with him being gay so be it but that's where he's headed. I have not met one little boy his age and BLACK doing splits listening to Beyonce and mimiking her in this manner. PLease MOM get him too a pastor quick for prayer and intervention. Involve him in more boy things football, basketball, even dirt bike riding he needs a mentor BAD.”


“This lil nigga did the booty drop more than once! Sorry if it sounds insensitive (actually, I'm not sorry) but he's gonna be gay as hell. This is learned behavior, all you people who say that you're born gay- thats a lie and an excuse so if it makes u feel better to think that, then fine. That lil boy probably working on a christina Aguillera video right now.”

“You write as though people who engage in gay activity are well balanced....ha- look through out history and you'll see how screwed up some the gay Roman Emperors were and how sadistic they were. In fact a lot of people who engage in gay activity have serious problems and are involved in some twisted violent things just like people from all walks of life. Ain't nothing wrong with judging someones actions. That's what people on this thread are doing judging this boys actions and the actions of the person who video taped this kid. Yeah I'm a black man and I have a father and he and my mother raised me into manhood and I know plenty who have had the same traditional two parent mother and father upbringing. Breeding is good it,but gay activity is eqaul to death cuz that activity cancels each other out of existence. Anyway that kid might be straight yo. He just needs to know twisting like that looks to girly.”

The critique here is not on the propriety of either sexualised dancing for children or posting said dancing on the Internet, which I suppose could be legitimate questions if anyone gave a fig over "appropriate" sexualisations (they're too busy uploading video of Janie "kissing" Tommy or Janie doing a cooch dance to the Spice Girls to care). The question of the vicious voyeuristic Internet culture is largely moot, since most of us watch it, if not participate actively within it. No, these troublesome elements are not questioned. Rather, the adult-defined sexuality of a prepubescent boy who likes to dance like his favourite star is what is on order, and how! Interspersed within these hateful comments are voices of dissent, including my own, which I will reprint here to avoid repeating myself —

“Talk about a heterosexual panic! Regardless of whether or not this child is gay (and I certainly hope he is, because he is too, but TOO fabulous, hello! Yes, there, I said it, GASP: Gay is GOOD-- Z-snap!), the unexamined faith in role modeling and appropriate gender behaviours is distressing here. How we become who we are to become is so complicated, so individual, so idiosyncratic, that it is impossible to predict, much less determine with any true faith beforehand. There are some of us who were raised by women, and others in the maw of tribes of fierce straight men. And here we are. This little boy is in for a whole lot of trouble, but not because he is "gay" or "acts gay" or has a little school boy crush on the Beyoncé or whatever, but because elements in our society think it is perfectly fine to violently degrade and police gender in ways which hurt kids. And that is really what is at issue here: these attitudes hurt and damage our children!”

Looking at it tonight, it strikes me as a ridiculously intellectual response to a somewhat colloquial thread, reinforcing a sense of alterity and strangeness to the whole thing, both in the language and tone as well as by insisting on the essential goodness of gayness. Another poster responded to my statement, saying “I can't beleive (sic) OsoRaro could wish a child was gay that is so sick. I don't judge people for being gay, but don't try and recruit young impressionable minds. Why does he want the child to be gay? Does it validate OsoRaro in any way?” Very good question. In fact, it does validate me, by not wishing and hoping to wipe gay men off the face of the planet, through neglect, violence, repression, or denial. Gayness is many things for me: community, joy, pleasure, fulfillment, identity, history, attitude, perspective. It isn't a disease, a condition to be cured through cheesy television marathons and sad faced appeals to guilty consciences, or worse, the subject of charlatan psychotherapeutic schemes to "cure" homosexuality.

I do not necessarily want this child to be gay. I mean, whatever. Mazel tov! Unlike panicky heterosexuals, who worry every time their boy does something “feminine,” I know from my own experience that queeny behaviour does not necessarily lead to the state of grace we would describe as Gay. Am I gay because I am so inclined, or because I was effeminate as a child? Am I gay because that is my inchoate social and sexual proclivity or because I lip synched Diana Ross for my appreciative grandmother? The relentless sexualisation of our children is deeply problematic, and almost exclusively a heterosexual sexualisation. LGBT people are generally not the ones directing their sons and daughters to act out sexual roles at inappropriate ages. We generally are not forcing our children to ape the garish behaviour that we deem proper and normal (if only!). Wake up and smell the balsamic vinegar reduction! And we're the ones accused of corrupting youth! As Prancilla would say, "Girl, Please!" In my book, heteronormativity is the true menace to those "young impressionable minds" we portend to protect and nurture, simultaneously berating and damaging children by forcing them to live our collective social lies.

The simple and horrifying fact of the matter is that it is gender atypical behaviour that leads directly to a pariah state, and gender normativity and its enforcement by heterosexuals (mostly, but not exclusively) is the weight that crushes us while growing up, especially those of us who, like this little boy, had a Diva fascination and were marked early as “effeminate,” “gay,” and “queer” by peers and parents alike, before such terms had any practical sexual meaning. They don't call it heteronormative for nothin'. Someone needs to stand up and say: Gay? Super! I mean, hello! That was the true meaning of Gay Lib, and we need some of that now, rather than another appeal to spend our money on the latest gay-friendly vodka. And while on one hand this may strike us as a moment with the intelligentsia interacts with the rabble, I do wonder if across all educational, political, and socio-economic spectrums the fact of a gay or lesbian child brings joy or panic, happiness or disappointment, and not only for the reasons/excuses we sometimes hear: difficult life, no weddings and grandkids, blah blah blah, all of which has the tendency to make heterosexual parents seem like strangely narcissistic pod people. There are lots of difficult heterosexual lives out there, enough to make a careful observer wonder about the collective sanity of heterosexualia. But it’s clearly one thing to “accept” people the way they are, and a whole ‘nother when those differences are closer to home, closer to the hearth. Is there still that acceptance? Why isn’t there joy? Yes, JOY! For some of my most joyful moments come when I am with other LGBT people and can appreciate the subtlety, the refined nature, the exquisite pleasure of our communal and collective self. And if there is disappointment, why? It is no coincidence that PFLAG receives practically a standing ovation at every Gay Pride: it affirms that we are, indeed, someone's children.

The spectre of the comment thread, with its complicated interstices of race, gender, and sexuality, makes for chilling reading for LGBT people, not the least of which is the implication, that old saw, that LGBT identity is white contamination. The thread underscores the struggle of LGBT people to emerge as whole persons from the vicious jaws of rabid heteronormativity. It can also make us feel that whatever we have done to survive has not been enough. This is not the 1980s, and gay men, on the whole, do not feel as endangered (perhaps foolishly) as when HIV was allowed to run rampant and spread within the community by the negligence of the government and the queasiness of doctors and the media to utter the words “anal sex.” We are purportedly better now, with our HAART therapies and healthy living and Will and Grace and Ellen on the Oscars and Queer Eye and our one pathetic stab at a crumb of marriage rights in lonely Massachusetts. We are almost normal.

Or are we? My course readings for the week were focused on the Civil Rights Movement, and a critical point the readings made was that the civil rights gains made by Black Americans in the 1960s were fought back, in part, due to the lack of a social movement maintaining the pressure for social change. Sexuality is not transparent to race in this regard, but this moment of public commentary on a cute but fairly banal piece of homemade videography reveals the extent to which rigid boundary and notions of normalcy remain deeply ingrained in our experience of race, gender, and sexuality. It is far too easy for sophisticated gays and lesbians in the urban enclaves we call home to think we are in an enlightened age. It is also far too easy for heterosexuals, even liberal friendly ones, not to examine their notions of what constitutes normal gender behaviour. I’m afraid the wolf remains at the door, and we still walk alone after midnight, risking it all to become ourselves. So, for the time being: Dance, Girl, Dance... like your life depended on it.


spn88 said...

I feel sad to know, that he'll be punished for who he is. I hate the people, who will try to pin him down to gay or straight way too early. Just because he can be seen by the world, he will be told to be ashamed for who he is from now on. People being shallow like the writers of the terrible comments to the video, should realize, nothing is wrong with the boy, something is wrong with the way they think of him.

adjunct whore said...

awesome post...all of our lives depend on it, indeed, whether hetero or homo. i live in an overtly homophobic town now, very new to me as urban dweller, and this is the aspect of new digs that disturbs me most. it is not too general to claim that some regions reify normative gender roles more than others and especially as a parent it is terrifying. when i teach wms classes i always make sexuality and heternormative conditioning a key aspect of the course.

2 things: i think well-meaning liberals, despite their educational, cultural, socio-economic status (or maybe because of it) often cause more damage than good by making it all less visible; and i love me vie en rose. that boy!

Mr Gordo said...

Excellent post, OR.

“Yes, JOY! For some of my most joyful moments come when I am with other LGBT people and can appreciate the subtlety, the refined nature, the exquisite pleasure of our communal and collective self.”

Yes, joy…joy…pure joy. I think that jolliness comes from being in tune with one’s self, and not necessarily from the sense of being part of a community. It is a beautifully complex game: performing Beyoncé you have a glance of what would it be to embody yourself. It is a celebration of the individual not necessarily of the tribe.

Sorry if this is too esoteric. Blame it on The Wooster group. I just saw their Hamlet, and I’m still trying to recover.


Anonymous said...

I like this blog a lot. You've written here on Willi Ninja and Paris is Burning. I'm editing a book on the film for the University of Minnesota Press. Have you written anything on the film aside from what you've said in the blog? If so, how might I find it, or you?


Rufus said...

I also love this blog, for the record. But, you know, it's not a jealous love- I can share!

Anyway, this post reminds me of an article that Salon just ran about the vitriol that women experience on the internet for being women basically. It's here:
It's also pretty easy to find from the main page.

GayProf said...

Another great post.

Anonymous said...

Maybe those people who think young boys shouldn't be doing that, expect young boyx to be doing this...http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IC-7_sQNINA

Yeah...thats how young black youth should act!!!! (sarcasm intended)

cultivating said...

I had a comment about the video, but it seems more productive to post it here than with the video.

I actually have no opinion about whether the kid dancing around may or may not be gay. I do have a problem, and OsoRaro discusses this, with sexualizing children. I got the impression that the piece was choreographed or coached in some way, and if it's not, then he is extremely talented. Nonetheless, my guess is that he takes dance lessons, and for some reason, boys taking dance lessons seems to set off all kinds of alarm bells for society as "so gay" until they get to junior high and they get all the girls because they can dance. At any rate, thanks for your analysis Osoraro. I found the thread under the video unbearable. A kid dancing becomes a rant against gay's and the kid's mother.

Now that I think about it, they should be trying to make sense of that Beyoncé song! "I can have another you in a minute." Why would she want another him? He cheated on her. It makes my head hurt to try and make sense of it.

Tenured Radical said...

Yes, a great post: I would like to invoke Alan Young, from his essay, Out of the Closets, Into the Streets: "We will not go straight until you go gay!"

It's kind of amazing that a video like this is something people go berserk on, when few people seem to know or care that white college students routinely go to parties dressed in blackface and think it's just another "costume."


Anonymous said...

So, how's the book contract coming along? All your fans are waiting to see the "Memosoraroirs: On Coming of Age as A Queer Latino in the Reagan-Bush Years" (or was that the Ford-Carter years, mija?)

Oso Raro said...

To JML and Others,

Readers may always reach me via the email link in my profile.