A Kiki with Michael Sam

Michael Sam

Let’s Have A Kiki

“I’m sorry; did I answer your question right?” Michael Sam’s voice is not necessarily soft, nor is it smooth, but what it is, is respectful and earnest. This is at least the third time he has worried if his answers to my questions are correct. I, hoping to put him at ease, reply, “It is fine; just think of this as us having a kiki in a cafe.” Instantly Sam’s brow furrows; he briefly squints his eyes and asks, “A what?” The language is foreign to him. Again I reply, “A kiki. It is black gay slang for when friends get together to laugh and talk. Basically it’s shooting the shit.” His brow releases its wrinkles and he slightly smiles, “Oh; I thought you said ‘kinky.’ I was like, ‘what?’A ‘kiki?’ I have never heard of that?” The fact that he didn’t speak the language was not shocking to me; I had suspicions as to why but I wanted confirmation: “Don’t you have Black gay friends? Or are most of your friends straight? Or if they are gay are they…?” I thought better of finishing the question, but Sam answered, “Most of my friends are straight. I don’t have a lot of gay friends but I do have one really good transgender friend.”

Michael Sam had, unknowingly, confirmed all of my inner doubts about him, and he confirmed many of the criticisms of him and many out Black gay celebrities. Criticisms that maintain that Michael Sam and others like him are symbols of pride and progress precisely because they have such fragile ties to the Black queer community (or to Blackness in general except for confirming supposed Black pathology). They are the pieces of charcoal in Frosty’s white face that make him complete, the black top hat that brings his white body to life. Each one of them come to the media table with a story that confirms Black homophobia and the power of self-love, and each reach for their white lover, who becomes an avatar for whiteness. And, for many a Black queer boy, in that moment, the moment of the reach for the white hand, the fantasy reveals itself to be just that, a fantasy, a fraud, or, worse, a confirmation that healthy Black gay love is not loving another Black queer person.  

And, there is reason for this suspicion. If we turn to the world of imagination, sadly, it too fails us. We have a paucity of Black queer characters on television and film; so, often, when we see a Black queer character there is an initial moment of joy. A deep hope once again sprouts and we think, “Maybe this time will be different; maybe this time [we’ll] win,” but then we inevitably discover that our hope is misplaced. Often the Black queer is usually male and subordinate to other characters. If he is the center of an episode of television, he is often, though not always, on the DL.  If he is femme, he is often depicted as romantically and sexually undesirable and given little complexity. If he is “masc,” or simply “not femme,” he may have complexity, but his love life is always one constructed for the white gaze because he, visually coded as desirable, is almost always dating a non-Black character. It seems that even in the collective American imagination, Black queer folk loving other Black queer folk is too strange to comprehend.

DTLA

“David” and “Keith” Six Feet Under

“Jamal” and “Michael” Empire

“Richie” and “Patrick” HBO’s LOOKING

And, if we dare to look at reality, in truth, it is hard to think of a single high-profile out Black gay celebrity who is dating a Black person.  Derrick Gordon, Wanda Sykes, and John Amaechi, all Black figures who have recently came out in impactful ways, each subsequently are attached to a white lover.

As Michael shifted momentarily in his seat, I thought about his lack of Black gay friends, and in turn I thought about the criticisms of Black gay celebs, and then about the depiction of Black gays in the media and Black queer love, and this brought to mind what, for me, has been the loudest criticism of Michael Sam, his relationship with his boyfriend. Often, the questions others had asked Sam about his relationship, centered on his draft kiss with his then-boyfriend, now fiancé, Vito Cammisano, and whether it was planned or for some, in the words of Oprah, “too much.” I agreed with Sam, “Turn the channel; you don’t have to watch.” Such questions are easily dealt with because they address homophobia; consequently, responses similar to Sam’s  to such questions are easy to celebrate. They uphold basic ideas of progressive equality and acceptance. But, what they do not do is take into consideration that, who we kiss, who we publicly love and acknowledge is, simultaneously, a personal choice and a political act. For better or worse, love is political. Loving is an action. So, I wasn’t interested in the act of kissing as much as who he was kissing.

I was more interested in the conversations I had heard in Black queer circles, be it Twitter, Facebook, or kikis; conversations about Michael and Vito that on the surface seem to be about interracial dating in the gay community, but are actually discussions about Michael Sam’s blackness, and, beyond Michael Sam, what does it mean to be Black and queer in public? Just how connected to Black queer culture does one need to be? How connected was Michael? He admitted he didn’t have many gay friends, and other than one trans woman friend, he did not seem to have any Black queer friends. If he didn’t have Black queer friends to kiki with, did Michael Sam know what was being said in many kikis; did he follow the criticisms of his relationship? “Yes, I have gotten criticism from the Black gay community for dating Vito. The thing is, if you know anything about Mizzou it is predominantly white. We are a small group of Black people who are there. Now the Black people can hang out together but athletes are separate. The only Black friends I really had were my teammates and people in the athletic department. There are not a lot of openly gay athletes and most of them are on the swimming or the softball team. So when I start dating someone [openly] gay within the athletic department that person [happens] to be white Italian. If you fall in love with that person I think it is unfair to judge me because I’m dating a white guy.” Apparently Michael knew what was being said, and he had thought about it before, his words came fast and with the sense that the speaker was secure in his convictions.

To a certain extent I agree with Michael; proximity and availability created his dating pool, and after all, as fellow blogger Son of Baldwin has said, as part of larger and more nuanced critique of whiteness/white supremacy and desire, love is where you find it. But, I always wonder, “Where are you looking?” Apparently Michael was looking in the athletic department because of convenience, yes, but also because of fear:  “Also [at the time] I’m still closeted. What if I try to find someone outside the athletic department and they take picture and tweet it and it gets out and I’m not ready? So I think it is unfair to judge me and you don’t know the whole story.” He has a point; there was a lot on the line for Michael Sam, and for any closeted person, one of your greatest fears is for your “secret” to become public. But, couldn’t a swimmer just as easily tweet a photo? Couldn’t a person whose allegedly had other semipublic relationships also make public a relationship with a closeted star football player? it is certainly to Vito Cammisano’s credit that he didn’t, but it would not be disingenuous to say that he has a type, and this feeds just as much into what is not fully explicitly articulated in kiki’s but is certainly part of the frustration. That is, Black gay celebs dating white folk seems to be a copy of what Black women have talked about for years: that, it seems, when Black men achieve a modicum of success they often seek out a white partner. To voice this critique is to risk being labeled as bitter, but, is it bitter when you are trying to articulate the existence of a pattern that establishes whiteness and acceptance by white folk as a prize? Is it really wrong to be a Black person committed to loving other Black people and seeing ourselves as “the prize?” 

The entire time Michael is speaking to me, I keep thinking about the actual event that Michael Sam was the keynote for; so many young Black boys came out just for Sam. I remember their faces, bright with anticipation to meet this man they admired, but also one many of them found attractive. I can also remember the moment some were told that he was engaged; one bold dark-skinned beautiful guy quipped, “I can be a mistress.” He flashed a seductive smile and held it till someone else told him, “He don’t want you; he into the pink meat.” The smile vanished and its place, bewilderment and disappointment spread across his across his face. I got it; I felt him because while Sam’s fiancé possibly placed the idea of hooking up with him in the moral area of grey, it was still a possibility, the best type of fantasy, but the words, as blunt as they are, “pink meat,” killed any possibility and made Michael Sam yet another fantasy not simply out-of-reach but simply not meant for you to even dream about.

Of course all this pivots on a problematic sexualization of Michael, one he did not sign-up for, and people are judging without all the facts because as he said, “When Vito and I broke up I dated all types; Black, White, Latino it didn’t matter. If you were my type I was there.” But this, again, brings me back to,  “where are you looking,” for, if, as he stated on Oprah, he and Vito broke up because he was not open, and, as he told me, there weren’t open queer athletes of color, but, as he maintained, he was worried about hooking up with non-athletes because there was risk of them circulating evidence of his queerness, the fact that he did apparently hook-up with various people from different backgrounds, seems to be contradictory. While it could be as simple as geography and opportunity, it does carry the faint memory of Blacks being good enough for a fuck but not for love, even from their own. But, I must confess, I highly doubt Michael Sam thinks in these terms.

Michael Sam seems quick to embrace a color-blind mentality but it is not naiveté. Growing up as he did, “in the ghetto,” Sam is certainly aware of systemic racism and classism, but he deliberately chooses to believe in the common decency of most people and a sense of shared humanity. When discussing the NFL during his keynote and Q&A he stated that he “chooses to believe that [his] not playing in the NFL is a business decision.” I would not be so generous; I would question, Why am I not good for your business; what is it about me that is a liability? I certainly wouldn’t be so generous when it would seem that my dream was slipping away and few were helping me preserve it; that instead of a player, I was simply a symbol, another pawn in the chess game that is (white) gay visibility politics, but again, Michael Sam doesn’t seem to think in these terms. But, this embracement of, arguably, simplistic, certainly troublesome, beliefs is something that Sam has done since he was younger. He is someone who, as a younger person, chose to surround himself with certain types of people and attached value to characteristics that seemed to be seen in a racialized way. “I have a lot of white friends, cause…I grew up in the ghetto. Now you are who are who you hangout with. I really believe that; you are who you are who you hangout with.” So essentially, Michael Sam has a birds of a feather flock together mentality, but I still didn’t understand why all these birds had pretty white feathers. According to Sam, “I had Black friends who was around me in the ghetto who were gangsters. These guys were up to no good. So I chose to hangout with the more white side. I’m not saying I don’t like or love my race or who I am; I just chose to try to do the right things. I needed to be smart.” Already, at such a young age Michael Sam was engaging in a form of survival politics that were very much tied to respectability politics.

Michael told me this in response to me bringing up Joseph Beam’s essay, “Brother to Brother,” (I briefly explained the thesis of the essay being Black men loving Black men was the revolutionary act of the 80s) and asking him if he saw himself as his brother’s keeper. That Michael’s answer to such a simple question included a confession of deliberately surrounding himself with white folk and immersing himself in whiteness, speaks volumes. So it was unsurprising to hear Sam, by this time slightly more comfortable and open, saying “it’s 2015, it’s a whole new generation. I don’t see black or white, I see the person.” In truth, I am not sure if Sam was responding to my final question or still responding to the questions about his interracial relationship but either way I was a little disappointed.

I wanted him to say yes.

I knew he saw himself as a person who could help gay people in general by being on the field, because as he told me, this is part of his motivation to get back on the field, helping others, Advocacy is a role Michael Sam has begun to embrace. And in certain ways he is good at it.

Perhaps that is why I wanted Michael Sam to say that he felt an extra feeling of responsibility to his Black brothers and sisters. I wanted this because, well because I do feel this sense of dedication specifically for and to Black queer people. I wanted him to say yes because I wanted to think that regardless of who he kissed on draft day he was ours.

But he said no. Maybe, I thought, he isn’t ours. Maybe he is just a snow bunny, a snow flake; I could feel myself dismissing him but there was something about him that I could not shake. In some ways, some very real ways, I could look at him and see a very recognizable Black gay face and story; perhaps I was the one who needed to demonstrate a more generous version of love and caring that Beam spoke of.

There was  a moment after his keynote speech, during the Q & A portion when a woman asked him about his relationship with his mom and if he could lean on her? Michael talked about how he loved her but that he couldn’t lean on her; he said it so plainly, in a way I could never imagine (my parents are my rock). The woman was so moved that she  told him that she was childless but would be honored to think of him as her son; another woman simply asked to wrap her arms around him and give him a hug. Michael consented and the woman hugged him tight and long in what I would call a “home-embrace”; it was the type of affection that briefly physically creates home in a way that I have only known from the arms of black women.

Whether or not I thought he was ours, they claimed him. Michael Sam isn’t who I wanted him to be, and I am struggling with that. I sincerely believe that he sees himself as a man who refuses to allow people to erase his blackness or his queerness. But, repeatedly Sam expressed a desire to be seen as just “Michael Sam”; more importantly, I cannot shake that he is so disconnected from Black queer culture, and he never expressed any sense of ultimate control over his narrative beyond being seen as respectable. I looked at Michael and, at times, I was reminded of the black little boy in an all white class who always raises his hand to answer the question, basking in the glow of the teacher’s praise, but not realizing that what the teacher is expressing is surprise that a black boy is smart, and that, for the teacher, makes him exceptional. I kept wanting him to realize that. 

But, can an icon acknowledge the messy limiting work that goes into creating himself as such?

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42 thoughts on “A Kiki with Michael Sam

  1. vanessa chamber says:

    What a ridiculous article. Whoever “wrote” this should be ashamed.

  2. marvyn88@hotmail.com says:

    This is why many of my “brothers and sisters” are difficult to be around. As a gay black male, this type of victim mentality is painful and frustrating to see and read. It’s 2015 and it’s time to accept that love is love. This perspective does nothing but hurt the LGBT cause, as well as the progress that we as a people have made. The links you provided for those sites and the comments made regarding not only him but his partner as well are difficult to stomach. If I were him and I read this, I would regret giving you the time of day to do this “interview”. What a shame to see our generation still falling into this pattern of thinking. Michael Sam should be admired for being able to see past this mentality and I truly hope you wise up with time.

  3. Spot on. Quite reflective and personal while still being a reasoned and reasonable conversation.

  4. Hari Ziyad says:

    Wonderful and nuanced, thank you.

  5. Nombre says:

    ” Ridiculous article and should be ashamed” type comments adequately reflect the mentality of those who thought and typed them. It is absolutely silly to think that the interconnectedness between race, gender and sexuality are all operative on an even playing field. We have not overcome the isms of such chasms and wishing it were so does not make it. Take your heads out of the sand and be not afraid to include, hear and respect all thoughts in comprehensive dialogue. We each have our story and if we want to be heard, we must be willing to listen respectfully.

  6. swandiver says:

    Reblogged this on swandiver.

  7. natleb says:

    This is an issue with Black men with wealth or fame in general (regardless of sexual orientation) there is a choice in partners they make in order to appease a certain audience or because there is a great element of self hate…..this phenomenon is seen every with black men – from professional circles, to sports and entertainment……larger issue….

  8. JayStele says:

    This mentality is horrifying.

    • JayStele says:

      And you do realize that they have been together for 4 years? He hardly sought out a white person just because he got a bit a fame.

    • blaqueer says:

      What is exactly “horrifying”? Questioning one’s place in black queer culture? addressing interracial dating? Talking about Black queer love including Black queers loving other black queer people? Analyzing an answer that basically presents all blacks as deviant?

  9. Deeon says:

    U Srsly Mad Cause He Didn’t Know What A Kiki Was Lmao Chile

  10. NameName says:

    This is my sort of gut response, so maybe I’ve missed something, but does he need to be connected to “Black queer culture”? Merely because he is black and gay, does he have to symbolize and bear the responsibility of representing all other gay black men? If he were specifically distancing himself for PR purposes, that would be one thing, but if he is merely being Michael Sam, then I don’t think he has any responsibility to change that, beyond perhaps reminding people that some black gay people are Michael Sam and some aren’t. Obviously, black queer culture deserves representation, but that should not involve stereotyping all gay black men as part of that same culture. If that little black boy enjoys algebra and has found the answer, the teacher’s lack of expectations should not stay his tongue.

    • blaqueer says:

      So on one hand, I feel like, yes he should just be able to be Michael Sam, but the reality is no one is just themselves. We all are simultaneously ourselves and whatever else we represent. There is an unfair burden often placed on minority people when it comes to representation, but I do find it funny how within gay politics visibility is an important key part of the push for gay rights but the moment one starts to question what is being made visible, how it becomes important, and how it works, then all of a sudden, especially when it becomes racialized, we want to say, “no; wait just let X be X; you are being unfair.” This is rather odd.

      • NameName says:

        But isn’t the whole point of visibility to announce – and refuse to renounce – your existence? It’s forcing the media/society to come to terms with the existence of (in this case) gay black people, and to start dictating how gay black people can be isn’t really in line with that. It just seems very dangerous to go about obtaining visibility for a group by erasing or denying certain members of that group.

      • blaqueer says:

        You have a very interesting point. It is “dangerous” in that I think, and I’ll include myself here, run the risk of essentialism and respectability politics, but, and I think this where the struggle comes in for some, how do you not critique the way one performs an identity and the note the ideologies he or she upholds and supports, even if unknowingly so? How do you not point to the fire when you see the smoke, or at least, how do you not try to find the fire?

  11. NOTION says:

    As an MU Tiger, I had the opportunity to encounter Mr. Sam on several occasions. I also have white gay friends who know him intimately. Mr critique of Mr. Sam is (and has been since he became an LGBTQ “symbol”) his “weak credentials” (if you will). In other words, as per my knowledge, Mr. Sam never set foot in our LGBTQ resource center. He never attended our QPOC (Queer People of Color) meetings. And it doesn’t appear that (since he’s become a national figure) he’s reached back (or out) to the center in any capacity. Mr. Sam was also not an active member of the black student community. I don’t believe he attended events sponsored by black student organizations, either. Yes, the athlete bubble is a real thing. But the idea that a man with zero on-campus ties to the communities he now “represents” nationally is mind-boggling. Mr. Sam is a Representative-In-Skin-Only- a RISO.

    Blaqueer, you also raised an important question: “Where was he looking?” Yes, Columbia does not have an over abundance of people of color. Our LGBTQ community is predominantly white. Yet, as small as our QPOC community is, we have a unique level of visibility. We meet weekly. We have a university-recognized organization on-campus. We frequent the same queer bars and clubs Mr. Sam attended. And we are certainly active on the same gay dating apps that (I know) Mr. Sam once participated. If he was looking for us – he could have found us. But he wasn’t, and he should just own that. On every occasion I encountered Mr. Sam out on the town – he was accompanied by white gay men – and they weren’t just athletes or folks within that bubble. I just chalked it up to Snow Bunny Syndrome and kept it moving. Furthermore, this fear of being exposed rationale is lifeless, too. Dude, you went out to gay bars, we all saw you, we knew you were family, and no one outed you – this ain’t about no Twitter snapshots. This is about your preference. Own it. In spirit, I support the notion of falling in love with whomever you choose. He has the right to love Vito, and I don’t question its sincerity (I don’t have the right to). In many ways, interracial relationships is also a revolutionary act. What I don’t support is this idea that you can be both a symbol of blackness AND undermine the concept of black love. It’s almost the equivalent of someone being the symbol of the LGBTQ community while dating someone of the opposite sex.

    I also believe Mr. Sam is reticent about attacking the NFL because he still has some faint hope that he can make a team roster. I think that ship has sailed. He can very easily expose how the NFL exploited him (giving him that last minute draft slot for a PR boost), manipulated him (shuffling him to a team while they dealt with the Rice PR disaster), and then formed their sinister plot to disappear him when the media got bored with his story. He can make a lot of money speaking on the NFL – and he should do it, too. It’s a subject (and a sport) he knows a lot about and I’d rather he stay on this topic than continue to inarticulately talk about race and sexuality. That ain’t his bag.

  12. Geraldine says:

    Oh good grief. Can we move past the interracial dating thing? The world (and the LGBT community) has much bigger fish to fry.

    • blaqueer says:

      The LGBTQ’s community’s constant disregard of race is one of the biggest problems in the community. So no, the community doesn’t have bigger fish to fry than discussing the ways race and sexuality intersect.

  13. Geraldine says:

    Oh and shame on you for posting those links to that site. What a way to try and cast shame on his fiance. A “type”? I’m sure he appreciated you suggesting that the reason Vito got with him is because he’ll jump on any black male.

  14. gigi90 says:

    This has to be one of the most ridiculous articles I have ever read. For one thing Michael Sam doesn’t owe black gay men anything nor does he have to date one just to prove that he is proud to be a black gay man. He and Vito love each other and have for a long time, and that is all that should matter. You should watch his speech at HRC convention to see how much Vito means to him. Vito has been with him through the ups and down even when Michael was closeted and they had to hide their relationship even though Vito was out. Just because you and other black gay men are jealous, you shouldn’t take that out on Vito by insinuating things like what you have. If it is true that Michael has a preference for white men than even if Vito weren’t in the picture, you still wouldn’t have a chance with Michael. Just because Michael is black and gay doesn’t mean he has to be attracted or date black men. He can and should do what he wants.

  15. Kiki LaFree says:

    THANK YOU Blaqueer for the article and Notion for your detailed ethnography of Sam’s collegiate life choices. As a former self-hater in recovery I think it’s important to discuss. We all live in a society that tells us that black men are ugly, criminal, Mandingo, DL, homophobic, HIV positive and into unsafe sex, dangerous, and stupid. Our white only grinder choices are reflected back to us in magazines, in Ferguson, and in corporate America. I adore black men and once I got past my own issues with gayness “not being about black freedom” I found it devastating to meet self proclaimed “Oreos” who only wanted to date white boys or who spoke to me in Ebonics because they thought being literate equaled whiteness. Maybe we can move this conversation toward an ideal – Black Love IS Black Wealth. And figure out how to achieve that one person at a time. It is a problem for heterosexuals too who pull off drive-by shootings or believe that a white girl can be a whore and she’s still better than a black woman who you need to take thirty showers after being with. But we can take baby steps. Are you down?

  16. […] more of my interview with Michael Sam, see “A Kiki With Michael Sam ” on Blaqueer.wordpress.com […]

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  18. […] more of my interview with Michael Sam, see “A Kiki With Michael Sam” on Blaqueer.wordpress.com. {$excerpt:n} Read the full story here – A Conversation With […]

  19. […] more of my interview with Michael Sam, see “A Kiki With Michael Sam” on […]

  20. […] more of my interview with Michael Sam, see “A Kiki With Michael Sam” on […]

  21. […] more of my interview with Michael Sam, see “A Kiki With Michael Sam” on […]

  22. […] more of my interview with Michael Sam, see “A Kiki With Michael Sam” on […]

  23. dumbestthing says:

    This is one of the dumbest things I have read in a while. Michael Sam does not owe anyone anything. He is smart enough to realize that race doesn’t matter–the author could take a few lessons from him. “Bitter” seems to be the right word in describing whoever wrote this.

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