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Are You Black or Gay?

By on December 9, 2012

Being both Black and gay (or bisexual) in America presents our brothers with a unique set of personal and social challenges. In a recent study published by Lisa Bowleg, PhD in Sex Roles, the ways in which individuals experience these aspects of their identities are examined.

In this study, Dr. Bowleg applied the concept of intersectionality to elucidate both the positive and negative circumstances that Black gay men have to manage. Intersectionality posits that social categories like race and sexual identity are not one-dimensional and cannot account for social inequalities without taking into account the way these categories intersect one another. For example, Dr. Bowleg cites the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s analysis that, as of the year 2000, heterosexually-married Black couples earned $2,000 more than Black same-sex couples. And by comparison, Black gay couples earned $23,000 less than their White counterparts.

Moreover, intersectionality has proven to be a useful tool in uncovering some of society’s biases from the way they are manifested through individual experience. A good example of how this works comes from one of the study participants’ initial response to a question about being a man:

“Interviewer: ‘What would you say about your life as a man?’

Daniel: ‘As a man?’

Interviewer: ‘As just a man.’

Daniel: ‘Um… It’s kind of… Will you give me something else?’

Interviewer: ‘What it means to be a Black man?’

Daniel: ‘Oh, okay.’”

This excerpt from the study says a lot about Black men and the society in which we live. It is common knowledge that men have certain privileges and advantages in our society. However, when we look at the intersection of race with gender we see that, for Black men, these privileges are weighted against the penalties of being Black. And in everyday experience, the cumulative weight of gay and Black self-identities often outweigh the significance of being a man.

The study also brought to light many of the issues of racism that Black gay men face in the largely White gay community as well as the heterosexism they face in the Black community. Eighty-three percent of participants who ranked their identities as Black (or as Black men) above their identities as gay or bisexual.  Interestingly, one man cited his experience of racism in the gay community as his reason for this ranking. Still, Dr. Bowleg notes that viewing race as the primary constituent of self-identification likely comes from the visibility of race and race issues, even from an early age. In contrast, many of the participants noted that they make efforts to pass as straight when in the Black community. Here, we see once more how Black gay men are faced with challenges on two fronts.

However, it is not all bad. The study also focused on the advantages that the participants perceived with being Black gay men. They reported benefits such as personal and psychological growth, freedom from conforming to normative conventions surrounding sexual-identity and gender, and being met with new opportunities as well as chances to develop new strengths.


Source: Bowleg, L. (2012). Once you’ve blended the cake, you can’t take the parts back to the main ingredients: Black gay and bisexual men’s descriptions and experiences of intersectionality. Sex Roles, 66(1/2), doi: 10.1007/s11199-012-0152-4


This research article was originally published by Dr. Lisa Bowleg and has been translated for healthyblackmen.org. Luvaire Murrell is a writer and editor for healthyblackmen.org and our monthly newsletter. See source link above for original study article.


One Comment

  1. Bennie

    January 1, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    Its some how labels either limit or make us expand. In most cases it seems to limit. I going to take action and release the labels I put on myself…because it seems that labels can consciously or unconsciously define what you can or cannot do, achieve, and receive acceptance.

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