Queer Black and Brown Men are more than backup dancers and makeup artists.
By Dr. Jonathan P. Higgins
White women generally are not genuinely interested in my experiences as a queer Black man, they see me as something that now connects them to a resource they may not have. I often wonder if white women enjoy having queer Black/Brown male bodies in their presence not just because of the power it presents them, but because of the privilege that lies in being able to uphold white supremacy.
Cisgender heterosexual white women see queer Black and Brown men as commodities instead of people with valid experiences and humanity. In various moments where I’ve engaged with white women about my queer identity, the conversation often veers towards them wanting me to help them with something and very little about what they can do to protect me and the LGBTQIA+ BIPOC community.
It’s a tale as old as time: heterosexual, cisgender women want us as their best friends and confidants as soon as they learn that we are queer. Add to the equation said queer male being a fantastic dancer, hair stylist or makeup artist and you are no longer just a friend, but an accessory to their lives. Take for instance the multitudes of celebrities who continue to use LGBTQ+ BIPOC as props. Cher did it. Madonna, Britney, Christina and Lady Gaga still do it and now Katy Perry and Taylor Swift are on the same wave.
But while there are several conversations about why women are comfortable around queer men, the question that seems to rarely ever be addressed is why white women often feel the need to surround themselves by queer Black/Brown men.
In watching the documentary, Strike a Pose about the queer Black/Brown dancers on Madonna’s Truth or Dare tour in 1990, I saw a common thread. Many of the dancers who were on that tour saw Madonna as both leader and a provider. They saw her as their savior because many of them came from rough backgrounds and the tour provided them an opportunity to live a life that they may not have had access to otherwise. Many of them shared how they loved how strong Madonna is, a common rhetoric that many white women use in the context of feminism to sell or market their material. But keep in mind that white women often use their femininity and feminism as a way to absolve themselves from doing real harm to the BIPOC community.
A great example of how queer BIPOC are used as accessories came when the Truth or Dare tour footage was released. Two of her male dancers were filmed kissing prior to them coming out and asked relentlessly to not have the footage included in the documentary. The footage was still included in the film and after several meetings and lawsuits, Madonna was no longer interested in being a part of the lives of the men who were outed by her documentary.
A more recent example of queer BIPOC being used as accessories came when Taylor Swift released her new video last week for the song, “Look What You Made Me Do”. During one of scenes in the video you see that see that on her left side she keeps a mix of non-black Latino and white dancers while on her right, she has five queer Black men standing in v-shaped line. In one shot of the video you see both her and the various queer Black/Brown men emulating a Beyonce Formation-ish stance, giving off the idea that Taylor is not only in one in charge, but possesses the power and support of queer Black/Brown friends to solidify her role as a leader.
But we don’t just see these type of tropes music. We also see queer BIPOC being used as both accessories (and comic relief) on shows like Will & Grace and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Having one or several queer BIPOC at the side often means being seen as more talented and stronger, while offering an “in” for an untapped resources.
When talking about why white women are drawn to queer Black/Brown cisgender male bodies, the conversation goes beyond white women being culture vultures. (Keep in mind that Katy Perry did use elements of Black/Brown ballroom culture for many of her performances this year for her new single, Swish Swish.) The reality is that Queer Black/Brown men are extremely talented and are often hungry for an opportunity to shine. Many want to make it in the industry and are willing to work for pennies just to be able to say that they worked with a well-known pop artist. Because, you know, exposure and capitalism.
Celebrities like Katy Perry and Taylor Swift are often drawn to this as a marketing ploy because even though queer Black/Brown cisgender men are often struggling to make ends meet, we as a community are often extremely loyal and will work extremely hard to support something or someone we love. We will also spend our last dollar to support an artist that we feel supports us.
Entertainers like to keep us around them because it is profitable for them both inside and outside of the industry. By painting this picture that they are “inclusive” and supportive, it provides them access to the queer Black/Brown dollar. In addition, by using the long history of resilience and resistance that queer BIPOC carry as a form of armor, it makes it easier for artists like Taylor Swift to use their status and privilege to make them seem less racist. But in turn, what is actually happening to BIPOC is in fact one big macro-aggression. By having queer BIPOC as tropes and accessories, it makes them less accountable for having or needing to do real work for marginalized people because as we all know, ally theater is always in season.
While it would be unfair to cast a wide net and say that all white cis-gender women who befriend or work with queer Black/Brown artist are suspicious, I would challenge white women to show up more for the community than just offering us a spot on your dance team or your makeup squad, specifically in times like these.
We are more than backup dancers and makeup artists. We need the same support that we often give you. Queer/trans/non binary bodies are highly expendable and we deserve more than just being recognized for the resources that we can provide.
Author Bio: Dr. Jonathan P. Higgins is a speaker, writer and activist. His work focuses on the intersections of Black and queer identity and ways to eradicate systematic oppression. Follow him on Twitter: @DoctorJonPaul.