The Greatest Taboo:
Homosexuality In Black Communities experience

Q: The Gayteway To South Africa
April 20, 2001
Original link for this article:

An interview with Delroy Constantine-Simms, editor of "The Greatest Taboo: Homosexuality In Black Communities"
Ayson Publications, the USA's premiere publisher of books for the gay, lesbian and bisexual communities, announces the publication of Delroy Constantine-Simms' eye-opening take on the relationship between black gay men and lesbians and others of their race. Does homosexuality remain the greatest taboo in black culture? Is homosexuality a European cultural imposition on Africans? Are you black first or queer? Delroy Constantine-Simms has compiled 28 powerful, provocative essays from academics and writers of all ethnic heritages, genders, and sexualities, including bell hooks, Eric Garber, Seth Clarke Silberman, Gregory Conerly, and Dr. Gloria Wekker, to explore the often volatile relationship between black gay men and lesbians and others of their race. Inspired by what Simms sees as a lack of explicitly black homosexual perspective in academic literature, he set out to find those unique insights that would provide illumination into such areas as identity and sexuality, religion, cultural perspectives, African perspectives, black lesbian perspectives, black male homosexual perspectives, black literature and homosexuality, homophobia and black popular music, and mythologies surrounding black sexuality.

The sweeping scope of The Greatest Taboo runs from 19th-century slave quarters to post-apartheid South Africa, from RuPaul to the Wu Tang Clan, from 1920s Harlem to 1995's Million Man March on Washington, providing a clear-eyed societal, cultural, political, and historical view of both the transformation and continued repression of black lesbians and gay men. Academically rigorous yet intellectually accessible, The Greatest Taboo seeks to stimulate a lively discourse and foster greater understanding of this internationally important, vastly misunderstood, and fascinating topic.


Q: What encouraged you to compile the essays for The Greatest Taboo?

There are two reasons:

I was asked to write a feature article on Homophobia in Reggae Music for a Black British publication called the Voice Newspaper, after the Boom Bye scandal with Buju Banton, Shabba Ranks, Marky, Mark had broken out in Britain and eventually USA, after Shabba Ranks declared on a popular British television programme called "The Word" (1993) that Gays deserve to be crucifiction because the Bible says so" It caused a national outrage and a lot of friction between the Black and gay community in Britain. In that the Black community considered the white gay back lash to the comments and racist, because the very same white gay activists were not so quick to condemn Guns N Roses, when they spouted the same homophobic nonsense.

Which is the reason why Buju Banton, Shabba Ranks, received so much support. Not because they supported their views it was because of the manner in which the white gay press were perceived as demonising the Black community in Britain, without acknowledging the fact that a number of white gays and lesbian live in Brixton, which happens to have a very large black community. Simply because many argue that they feel safer in this area as oppose to living in very white areas of London, such as East London for fear of being gay bashed. That is not to say that they don't experience Black homophobia, they certainly do. But it is a well known fact that homophobic Black folks in Britain don't organise themselves to go bashing like many of the British based fascist groups such as the National Front and Combat 18, or those drunken mainly white hooligans that come from East and South East London. Black folks like elsewhere are to busy killing themselves to worry about organised or spontaneous attacks on gays, unless they are visible and appear to have money.

Matters were not help when Peter Tatchell of Outrage asked the Director of Public Prosecutions to ban the record. While the legal Black radio stations capitulated, the illegal radio stations played the record more often than usual, some even took to playing a host of homophobic rock records as a means of inform the White gay organisations that they were being highly selective and possibly racist as previously stated. I didn't finish the research or the article because the paper claimed they no longer wanted to run the story, the editor argued that my article was homocentric!!!!!!!. I would have accepted the argument if he had read it. He never did!!!!!

Black History Month (Feb 1994), I witnessed a gang fight between black and white gays in Greenwich village, I was even more surprised when these mainly African-American youths were chanting Boom Bye Bye, lets get those queers" I was shocked, given all the work that Donald Suggs had done for GLAAD, in terms of effectively closing down, Marky Mark, Shabba Ranks and Buju Banton, it was a shock. Not because of the chants, but because those doing the chanting were themselves Gay. At was at this point when I decided to re-visit my un-read article and do something more constructive than the typical feature article, which is read to day and dumped tomorrow. After speaking to people like Cleo Mango, Kheven LaGroane and my very good friend Michelle Escumbise, I put out a call for papers, in every medium possible. The response was overwhelming, sadly, the response from my British counter parts was virtually non existent.

More importantly, I was not prepared to restrict contributions from writers because of their race. I was more interested in what they had to say, and how they were going to say it. Gladly, they have all said it well.

Yes it sounds as if it was easy, but I have been working on this project off and on since 1997. I had other commitments, more importantly, I didn't have a publishing deal. !!!! So I had to pay the bills some way or another. Yes you could argue that it's just a bunch of essays put together. Not so. It's a very long process. But I am so glad that the contributors worked with me as a team. I must thank them and the publishers or else they will make NOISE !!!!!1.

Q: Why is homosexuality the greatest taboo in black culture?

It must be made clear from the outset that black culture is as diverse as every other culture, but in respect of homosexuality, the general perception within Black culture is that homosexuality, like Christianity is another cultural imposition on Africans by Europeans. It must also be made clear that Religion, specifically Christianity! Plays a very important role in reinforcing this taboo. However, one has to remember that mythical perceptions of Black sexuality and prowess are centred on heterosexuality, not homosexuality. Therefore any deviation from this norm is seen as unacceptable in many sections of the Black community, except the arts to a certain degree.

In reality the Black community knows that homosexuality exists but the unspoken rule is we may know it but don't flaunt it. "Open Expression Of Homosexuality Can Seriously Damage Your Health" If it not expressed in the right context among the right people. In many cases these people are usually white!

More importantly, universal stereotypes regarding Black sexuality are so strong that Black folks world wide have come to believe the hype about their own sexuality. To the extent that anything outside heterosexuality is dismissed and not allowed to be openly portrayed or displayed in Black culture( with a few exceptions of course)

One only has to look at contemporary black music, film and literature to understand that expressions of diverse sexuality are not tolerated. If it is expressed it is more likely to be in terms of lesbianism. Imagine this, suppose DMX declared his love to LL Cool J, image what would happen. Some one would be dead within the week !!!!!

Q: In regard to gay literature, what's missing to you? What would you like to see more of? How would you encourage it?

I don't think anything is missing other than the fact that it needs to be culturally diverse and more accommodating to other ethnic groups. I would like to see more culturally diverse gay literature, in order that the audience irrespective of their background has the opportunity to at least identify with one book that reflects them. However, I am encouraged by the fact that more and more publishers are being very pro-active in this direction. At the same time, these respective communities need to take the initiative and not expect others to continuously support them. I am also of the view that more of literature should be directed to the non-lesbian and gay community rather than writing for the converted.

Q: Why do you think there is so little written about gay black culture and gay black writers?

I think there is a lot of work out there written by many Black gay and lesbian writers, but at the end of the day publishers ask obvious questions Is the work any good? How can we market this project? etc. I must also make it clear that it's tough enough for European American gays to get a publishing deal, so it may be even more difficult for an African-Americans. While the issue of race may be a consideration, there are too many other factors to consider.

It must also be noted that the misguided general perception is that Black folks do not read. So it goes without saying that as Black gays are themselves black, then it also safe to assume that they don't read either. So why should publishers print books that will not be bought by Black gays and lesbians, let alone anyone else.

Q: How did you find the contributors to this book?

Bruce Morrow did the ground work for me in New York, while Steven Fullwood of "One Step Further" sat down with me at the Schomburgh Library in Harlem and helped me put out a call for papers on every gay and lesbian website that we could find. I received so many responses to the point that I have enough material for a second edition. It took me so long to read the material and was even more painful telling people that I would not be able to use their work. Now can you see why it took so long to finish this book. However, the biggest coup was when Henry Louis Gates Jr, agreed to do the foreword for this book.

Q: What writers do you consider some of the most significant contributors to gay black culture today? Why?

When you read a book you never are sure about the sexuality of the person so to commit myself to any specific person is not something I would do because we never know who is who. Which is why, I don't have any favourites gay or lesbian writers. Bu I would argue that any openly black gay and lesbian writer who puts pen to paper is making a significant contribution to Black gay culture and Black culture as a whole.

Q: Where do you see the future of gay black literature?

With the advent of new technology and digital publishing, the opportunities are limitless. However, I do acknowledge that mainstream Black gay literature has got a long way to go. Fair Enough, there are always going to be a few mainstream successes, E. Lynn Harris, James Early Hardy, but there should be more Until Black Gay and Lesbian writers decide to set up their own publishing houses then they will continually struggle in terms of not getting their published. More importantly, if Black gays and lesbians don't buy the book, why should any one else?

Q: What do you think are some of the common myths, stereotypes and misunderstandings the white queer community has about attitudes toward homosexuality in the black community?

Homophobic, intolerant, sexual beings nothing else. These are the common points.

But I would also argue that the stereotypes held by white gays and lesbians are not much different to their heteroesexual counterparts. It must also be noted that African-Americans are not known for specifically targeting Black gays and killing them to the same degree as white homophobes, this is a trend that many Blacks associate with white homophobes, the examples are too many to mention. I am not saying that Blacks are not as hostile to black gays and lesbians, but the response is a little but more subtle than most white gays and lesbians realise. The type of abuse is different. It is more about isolation, exclusion. In the Caribbean, it' s a different story. Your life is in danger if you are too openly gay!!!!! However, in general it has to be said that Blacks kill each other for less political reason. Wrong neighbour hood ; wrong colour clothing; you know all those intelligent !!!!! reasons.

Q: How did editing this book change your own views about "identity politics"?

It's difficult to give a sound bite response to this question because identity is relative. It depends on the context in which I find my self. Moreover, my views on identity haven't really changed it's just that I am more aware of the fact that my identity is often in the eyes of the beholder. How I negotiate that identity depends on what is at stake. Especially when it's your life !!!!!!!! However, I am hoping that this book will allow every one of us to recognise and acknowledge the diversity of Black sexuality and move away from the shackles of religion as a means of reinforcing homophobic views in order that we can unite as one against oppression no matter what ISM it may come under..

Q: If you could wave a magic wand and right the wrongs that have been done to black gays by the black community, what would you change first? What would you change to start righting the wrongs that have been done to black queer people by the white queer community?

If I had a magic wand their would be no wrongs to be righted by any community for any reason whatsoever. But in response to the question . Make it illegal for preachers to use the bible as moral battering ram to justify homophobia under the guise of an abomination, as I have intimated in my contribution on the Bible and Black Homosexuality.

Q: Why was it important to you personally to make this book happen?

I want this book to be a ground breaking book. I want it to be know that Black gay and lesbian writers are not merely about erotica and coming out, in that the can also deal with the academic as well. More importantly, I was tired of reading the obligatory affirmative action type scenario in which many Anthology's or Readers only included essay's on Black Gay and Lesbian issues because they had to. I want that to change which is why, I have focused specifically on Black issues.