Last night, Vivica A. Fox sent shockwaves through the Internet when she implied the rapper 50 Cent, with whom she was previously romantically involved, might be gay. During an episode of Watch What Happens Live, host Andy Cohen asked Fox for her reaction to 50’s assertion that the ratings for the hit show Empire have dipped because of its depictions of “gay stuff.”
“First of all, you know, the pot called the kettle black is all I’m saying… He just seems like he’s got something that’s not quite clear,” said Fox. Pressed further, she brought up an XXL cover featuring the rapper with his arm around the shoulder of a shirtless Soulja Boy, stating, “He just looked like a booty snatcher on that one to me.”
There is nothing wrong with queerness—or “gay stuff,” as 50 called it. That he blamed disinterest in a show (that continues to provoke very high interest, mind you) on the portrayal of the reality of differing sexualities was bad enough. Queer folks deserve depiction just as much as anyone else, and showing our lives alongside the lives of straight people, who remain overrepresented in media, should never be a problem. Fox’s insinuation, which could ostensibly be seen as a show of support given that it was offered as pushback against those bigoted words (an insinuation that Andy Cohen, who is gay, seemed to embrace), is insidiously just as bad, if not worse.
Never mind the politics of outing and the questions of whether or when it is ever acceptable to disclose a person’s sexuality without their consent. What was most disturbing is that Fox’s basis for questioning her ex partner’s sexuality is nothing more than a simple show of casual embrace, and that such a show should be used to attack a man’s self-defined identity.
Fox (Vivica, not the network) is a part of a long tradition of guarding Black masculinity by problematizing affection between Black men. It’s a tradition demonstrated in my own life in my dearth of Black straight male friends. In the past I have had plenty who were much closer, but these days the only straight Black men who are a constant in my life are my brothers and father. Some of this, admittedly, is my doing. Cisgender straight Black men have given me many reasons to keep my guards up around them. But ever since I have lived my queerness openly, straight Black men in general seem to find discomfort in my presence, and I no longer go out of my way to ameliorate their unease.
This is not to imply that Black men are especially queer antagonistic—I don’t have many straight male friends of any race—but I do think we are specially queer antagonistic, with unique causes, perpetuators and effects for our community’s violent history with queer and trans folk. And I am more familiar with those specificities, being a Black man myself, than I am with any other community’s. One of those specificities is our relationship with expressions of masculinity, a relationship that is incredibly precarious with terrible consequences.
Black straight men aren’t allowed to touch, embrace, or otherwise show affection to one another without risking their identity. The mere association with queer or trans folks becomes a direct implication of their own ability to remain straight men. Relationships are destroyed out of fear of being like us, and healthy displays of emotion are ridiculed and denied.
On October 15, 20-year-old Rico LeBlond shot and killed Zella Ziona, a transgender woman in Gaithersburg, Maryland, making her the 21st woman of color to be murdered on the record this year. LeBlond reportedly shot Ziona because he was embarrassed to be associated with her.
That men are so threatened by being perceived as queer that they might go as far as murder to protect themselves is depressingly unsurprising. Their whole lives, straight Black men are inundated with messages that their masculinity must be guarded intensely, and that it might easily be lost. Their whole lives they’ve had Vivica Foxes tell the world they are not who they are if they slip up, even as far as putting their arm over the shoulder of another man. It’s the message behind the trending hashtag #MasculinitySoFragile, which sought to shed light on just how violent one might become to protect their insecurities around masculinity.
This is not to take responsibility off the men who act on the threats to their masculinity in violent ways, at all. If 50 Cent was gay, we should be able to collectively shrug, and he certainly shouldn’t have to feel bad about it or lash out at other gay men for it. But shaming someone for (and attacking) their identity does not contribute to providing any form of safety around queerness. Indeed, it reinforces tragically the fragile state of masculinity by reiterating just how easily it can be lost, and gives further reason to protect it by any means necessary.
Many people who are or claim to support queer folks, like Andy Cohen, applauded Fox and laughed along with her. The logic, I believe, is that if he is bigoted enough to blame queer people for the downfall of a show, his own sexuality is fair game.
It’s as if we wish queerness on queer antagonists so they can feel what it’s like to be on the receiving end of their hatred.
But queerness is not a “learning experience.” As I wrote previously, my sexuality is not a “carceral identity, only differentiated from straightness in that it is oppressed, violated and attacked.” Straight men don’t need to live our lives in order to respect us. They need to be able to live their own without making us a threat. They need to be able to live comfortably in their skin and allow us to live comfortably in ours. Loving us, living in a world with us, seeing us on television, touching us, is not the ultimate threat or their downfall.
Sexuality is not defined by showing affection to other men. We should all be free to show a normal range of emotions and expressions of love. If the world is not safe for everyone to do so, it will never be safe for anyone.
Hari Ziyad is a Brooklyn-based writer and content creator working through gender, sexuality and race. He is the Editor-in-Chief of RaceBaitR, and his work has been featured on Gawker, Out, Mic, Colorlines, Black Girl Dangerous, Young Colored and Angry, The Feminist Wire and The Each Other Project. He is also an assistant editor for Vinyl Poetry.