On Monifah and White Construction of Sexuality

This AfterEllen (the lesbian sister site to the gay AfterElton) interview of R&B singer Monifah is a perfect example of how the largely white constructs of “gay” and “lesbian” don’t really fit black homosexual people.

AE: I want to talk about the past and I want to talk about now. Did you ever fear being outed back when you were 23, recording your first album?
MC:
 Lindsey, hell no. No! Let me tell you this: I have always lived my life authentically and exactly how I wanted to. I was dating women. People in the industry were very aware of who I was and what I was into at that point. They knew. I never hid it. I didn’t hide it.

AE: Who hid it? I mean, you weren’t out publicly.
MC:
 No! I was out publicly. I would be at parties with my girlfriend. It was very clear. It may be unspoken, but I didn’t feel like I needed to make an announcement. I just lived! You know what I’m saying? I just lived! Like most people I know.

AE: Absolutely. Well have you ever dated anyone that was in the closet?
MC:
 Um — I don’t think — no. In the closet? No. I wouldn’t say in the closet.

AE: What would you call it?
MC:
 Not in the closet, but not necessarily making any public statements.

AE: I guess that’s my question then.
MC:
 [Laughs] What’s your question?

AE: If you are a celebrity and you are gay and you are asked “Are you gay?” by press and media and you choose not to discuss it, to me and to a lot of people, that is in the closet.
MC:
 OK, got it, got it!

AE: So I guess that’s the divide. Do you feel that living an openly gay life or being open and honest, that there is a line drawn at press and media?
MC:
 Well yes because that’s still a personal thing. Your personal life is your personal life. Heterosexual couples do it all the time. Men and women that are in the business or whatever — whatever they choose to do! I am gonna say with entertainers and people in the public eye, I think that it’s a personal choice. I don’t discredit — I don’t have a problem with anyone not discussing certain aspects of their personal lives at all. It doesn’t bother me. What I chose to do was what I chose to do was because I never had an issue anyway. The show was about my life, and my life emcompasses the person I love and who I’m sharing my life with, which means my mom, my daughter, my girlfriend now, and whatever else is going on! I’m in a place where I’m walking in transparency. I’ve been through some struggles and I have nothing — you’re as sick as your secrets. I mean that in the things that can harm us — not with my sexuality; I mean drug addiction, sex addiction, things like that. I have to walk the truth. And so I was fine with sharing my personal relationship, which has uplifted me and given me a great new perspective and has given me such great support. This woman has been such a blessing to me and so I would never even think twice about celebrating that openly.

AE: You talked earlier about how everyone deserves the same rights. And I think that is something we all have to stand up for and I can tell by the way that you’re talking you believe that. So how do you feel about role models. You say it’s a personal choice but if we are fighting for equal rights —
MC:
 Right, I agree. Let me back up on this Lindsey, I got you. I do wish that it wasn’t such a big deal but I think that’s still, again, a private and personal thing. Because I think people are conflicted within themselves. It’s not even about what other people think; I think that’s the second door you have to open. The first door, is the acceptance of self. So if you’re still conflicted with acceptance of self, how do we expect for you to be honest and feel comfortable? I wish people really — it’s a scary thing. I get it, I’ve done it. I’m doing it. It’s an everyday process. It’s not some “Oh now it’s over.” I wish that people would take those steps and move out of the self-loathing pocket and more into the self-acceptance pocket. Once you’re not conflicted within yourself, speak out because this needs to be normalized. It has to stop. We do need to see these images of self. These children do need to see that there’s nothing wrong with them. They do need to see that so-and-so is amazing, talented and is taking over the world, handling his business and so can I. And they’re just like me! We need to see these images. Our children need to see them.

AE: Absolutely. Did anyone ever tell you, even though you were living an open life, did they say you might not want to speak publicly about your sexuality?
MC:
 Oh yeah, all the homophobes in the business. Yeah, oh my God, yes! Mostly everybody who was in control, who runs the industry. It’s a male-run industry, basically. And in my opinion, a gay-male run industry. That’s crazy to me. Overall! It’s Jewish gay males, right? I mean, am I crazy? [Laughs]

AE: No, I think what you’ve seen what you’ve seen, for sure! [Laughs] I think it’s really important to understand the reasons why that someone as famous as you, nobody knew until now!
MC:
 Yeah. I do think that Middle America, across the board, may not have known, but the people that are kind of privy and in the circle you run in – I’ve hung out at Girl Bar parties. I’ve lived my life! And I didn’t really — People would say “Oh she likes girls” especially now with blogs and stuff. It’s way more prevalent with social media and technology is more prevalent; way more in your face. In the entertainment industry, it’s become such a tool. It was definitely out there. People can believe what they like to believe and that’s depends on what they need to believe.

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Conflating ‘Gay’ and ‘the DL’: Omari Hardwick on Playing Carl in ‘For Colored Girls’

I’m not entirely sure why folks are so upset at Omari Hardwick’s comments about how he played the role of a confused gay man in For Colored Girls:

Shadow and Act: In Tyler Perry’s “For Colored Girls,” you played Carl. He was the closeted husband to Janet Jackson’s character. How did you develop that role?

OH: Well, I can’t relate to being gay. It was a challenging role.

Shadow and Act: How was it a challenge?

OH: It was a challenging role for me because I am a black guy. And white guys like Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal can play those types of roles and their audiences will say that the roles are artistic.

Shadow and Act: So you feel that the role was challenging because the black community does not support roles like Carl?

OH: The black culture perceives roles like that one in a negative light.

Shadow and Act: How did you prepare for that role?

OH: I focused on being a deviant person. I focused on doing something wrong. I was lying to my wife. I was lying to these men. I prepared for the role by closing my eyes and thinking of times when I had lied.

Shadow and Act: You did not focus on the sexual orientation of Carl to get into character?

OH: No, because it’s like how could I do that really well? I focused on being deviant.

Shadow and Act: Did you tap into your own sexuality to build the role?

OH: You want me to explain how I used my heterosexuality to build this role?

Shadow and Act: Yes, I do.

OH: Okay, let me know if this is what you mean. There was this one time while we were filming in New York, where I was testing myself. l challenged myself to run through Central Park and behave like Carl. I wanted to see how I would run and live differently as my character.

Shadow and Act: And what did you find out about your character during this run?

OH: I did not get through the run without checking out women. It’s a natural instinct. So, that’s why I solely focused on being deviant. But you know what? Some of the greatest actors have played gay men. Anthony has played a gay man. Jeffrey has played gay. When it’s all said and done, I am secure enough with my manhood to say to the world, “I am a male actor, and its okay for me to play a gay man.”

Rod thinks he doth protest too much, but it seems to me like Hardwick is saying (in an admittedly inarticulate way) that he focused less on his character’s sexuality and more on the fact that he was lying to everyone in his life. That doesn’t strike me as offensive.

Citing Brokeback Mountain I think is telling because it suggests that he’s talking less about sexuality itself and more about the construction of “the DL.” It isn’t just that the black community might respond more negatively to a black man playing gay than the white community does to a white man playing gay. It’s that the reaction Hardwick is talking about is specifically about “the DL” and the reaction of black people in the context of the way that term has been pathologized as a uniquely black problem. Carl is a reviled character because he’s “DL” not because he’s “gay.” Hardwick doesn’t articulate this well because he is likely conflating the two terms (as many people do).

It’s important to remember that it wasn’t Carl’s story being told in For Colored Girls. Carl wasn’t a character, he was an archetype. J.L. King’s DL concoction in full effect. A black woman’s worst nightmare. We weren’t asked to contemplate Carl’s torment, his self-loathing, his struggle, or his humanity. He existed to contribute to Tyler Perry’s weird and virulently inhumane re-working of a masterpiece. Nothing more.

I think we do want actors to put in the best work they can and try to infuse even the flattest and most ridiculous characters with dimension, but I don’t even know what playing Carl more “gay” would have looked like – or what that even means.

It’s easy to get distracted by Hardwick’s inarticulate comments here, rather than sustain a critique of Perry’s bad writing and penchant for anti-homosexual sentiment in his films. But it’s not really the real problem.