Shady Shade: Are Straight Black Women Stealing Gay Black Male Language?

December 26, 2013  |  

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Rashid Darden, author of Birth of a Dark Nation, the first in a series of novels about African vampires brought to America during the transatlantic slave trade, as well as black LGBT novels Lazarus, Covenant and Epiphany, has penned an interesting piece about what he feels is misappropriation between black women and black gay men.

In a post for the blog Dopalicious District, titled Culture Shock: How Straight Black Women Steal Black Gay Men’s Slanguage, Darden writes:

This week’s Real Housewives of Atlanta was quite eventful, and other blogs will give you a proper recap.  For me, seeing Cynthia Bailey give Mynique Smith an “education” in gay black slang made me uncomfortable.I am a black gay man and for years I’ve seen our culture and language appropriated by white people and by women.  On one hand, I can’t be too mad because that’s just the way culture and language works.  On the other hand, stop stealing our sh*t.”

To add more perspective, Darden, as a “straight-laced, conservative and somewhat square,” who only learned in junior high school how to say “y’all” in the right context, said that his first exposure to the black gay culture was at a D.C. black gay pride back in 2000. And it is through his exposure to gay black media like Noah’s Arc and The DL Chronicles, which he first understood black gay language. Darden explains the negatives of too much exposure:

How many of us have spent hours watching vogue balls on YouTube? When I first discovered them, I called it black gay capoeira. We had traditions. We had our own heroes. We had a language. As black gay culture entered the mainstream, during a period where I feel it was at a zenith, our culture was on display for literally millions of people. And because we were just so f**kin bada**, our culture became emulated by our allies and by strangers. When you look at Real Housewives of Atlanta, you sort of see what’s happening with black gay culture and language personified.”

As Darden points out, both Porsha Stewart and Kenya Moore have engaged in some pretty homo-antagonistic behavior, particularly publicly shaming their ex-lovers for being allegedly gay. Likewise, all the gay characters, which made up the RHOA supporting cast in the first few seasons, have been virtually erased. According to Darden, this form of misappropriation is an “insidious form of homophobia.”

He also writes:

I see it in my daily life also, not just on RHOA.  I see the most virulently homophobic black women pepper their language with “yes gawds” and “hunties” and more, all the while being unaware of the black gay origins of these terms, and clearly not respecting the culture from which they arose.

Say what you want, of course.  I am not here to be the language police.  But definitely think about what you say.  What you think you casually picked up in a hair salon full of women was likely dropped there by the baddest gay man you’ll ever know.

I will say (and have written before) that television, particularly reality television, has a particularly noticeable theme of “othering” gay black men in much of the same ways black folks are often “other-ed” on predominately white television shows. I feel that in many respects, the treatment of gay black male characters on television is dehumanizing as it doesn’t allow for them, as human beings, to have rich and full romantic and sexual lives, like the rest of the cast members. And let’s not talk about gay black women…rarely, if ever are they seen as “friends” on any of these shows (unless they can have hot bubble bath fondling scenes, a la, Erica Mena and Cyn Santana on Love & Hip Hop: New York).

But I have to say that I am intrigued by his thoughts on heterosexual norms, misappropriation and language. And I’m not certain if I buy into it completely. As someone who has lived mostly in predominately black communities, among black folks of various religious, ethnic, class and sexual orientations, my view is that since black men and women, for the most part, are raised in the same environments and in the same households, the creation of culture and identity becomes a shared experience. I can’t speak for “throwing shade,” but I, as a black woman, have been pointing out and engaging in “shady” behavior for as long as I can remember. Who is to say that what Darden might believe was birthed in primarily gay and black circles, wasn’t influenced by what their mothers, aunties, female cousins and grandmothers – or better yet, their heterosexual fathers, uncles, male cousins and granddaddies – used to say?

But who knows? I’m open to be “read.” Do you think that black women misappropriate black gay male language?

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