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.