Married to Medicine

This past weekend was part one of the “Married to Medicine (Divorced from Reality)” reunion special. The show, which has been incredibly successful for Bravo, featuring two black female doctors who are intelligent, funny, interesting and save lives through gynecology and four doctors wives who are insane harpies that make up the entertainment portion of the show.

They are what makes the show, not doctors Jackie and Simone. After all, it wasn’t super ripped, health nut, fashionista Dr. Jackie who got into a hair pulling smackdown by a pool this season (she wasn’t even at that party because she was on call). It was from-hood-to-living-good come-ups Mariah and Toya, both who claim to growing up in some sort of “ghetto” situation, as if that’s supposed to explain why they don’t know how to behave.

Since the whole season was a hot mess punctuated by Dr. Jackie being above it all, the reunion did not disappoint. But by the time Quad started putting up wooden thought bubbles she’d either had made or made herself it had gone in a whole new direction of shade throwing. More annoying than Kenya Moore’s fan at the Real Housewives of Atlanta reunion, (but remarkably less violent towards poor Khandi Burress who was seated next to that giant fan) the thought bubbles were meant to convey who Quad thought Kari and Toya really were – delusional.

MTM

And while that may be somewhat true. A man-made thought bubble?

As if the “get your life,” “yes lawds” and kiki-ing wasn’t enough. As if every catch phrase from RuPaul’s Drag Race wasn’t enough. These chicks were “extra.”

Extra, a term I use quite a bit, is how I (and others) describe a particular type of over-the-top behavior often expressed by black people. Particularly black women and gay black men, but straight black men can be pretty extra too. Other people who are not black can also be extra, but for the sake of this article, we’re talking about us black folk.

To be extra is to take something ordinary and do it in a self-indulgent, excessive or extraordinary way. For example, some people walk across the street. Other people might strut. Some might switch. Some may sashay. Others might skip. If you did anything other than walk, you are extra.

Being extra isn’t always bad. Sometimes it’s incredibly awesome. For instance, LeBron could do a layup or he could slam dunk the ball. Dunking, invented by basketball loving black people, is extra. If you dunk then hang on to the rim? Extra. If you do it with your tongue sticking out, if you break the back of the rim, forcing the whole game to stop to fix the mess you made? Oh my land, black men can be so “extra” sometimes.

I have many close friends who are “extra”  and they are hilarious and fun to be around. They add flare and flavor to otherwise dull life via fashion, personality and catchphrases. They always have the best stories to tell. Their hair is always fascinatingly laid. They are excitable, but loving. They fall on the good end of the “Scale of Extra.”

The Scale of Extra is also simple. Since this is a reality TV show article, I’ll use the Braxtons for a guide. In the measurement of extraness Towanda is a 1 and Tamar is a 10, then Toni is a 5, being just extra enough to stand out, but not so ridiculous that it affects her work ethic. On that scale, Quad and Mariah – together – are at a Tamar Ten Threat Level of black gay catchphrases and skipping instead of walking.

The black gay catchphrases in particular are fascinating as not too long ago on Gawker writer Rich Juzwiak wrote a post entitled “Go Ahead and Throw All the Shade You Want, Straight People,” that seemed to be a dig at straight people using “gay” slang, completely ignoring the fact that the slang he referenced throughout the article is black gay slang, which by extension is also black lady slang as the cross-pollination between black gay men who are extra and the extra, extra black women they love is at an all-time high.

What is fascinating about this particular obtuseness all the way to Quad and Mariah “throwing shade” all over the reunion show, is how there can be any “pure” debate about ownership of these terms. Many of these terms came out of black drag queen culture. Black drag queens are often creating personas that are homages to the black women they love – both the iconic and the familiar –  leading to quite a few of them sounding like Patti LaBelle meets your profane grandmother. These same men then create something new that’s a mix of black lady tribute and something wholly unique to black gay culture, but now you have straight black women imitating the black gay men who created a slang meant to mimic/give tribute/make-fun-of them.

It’s like someone took seminal documentary “Paris Is Burning” and a RuPaul album and set forth to “give life” to everything and anything around them. But more than likely, people like Quad and Mariah are copies of a copy of a copy. The terms aren’t original and did not originate with them. Yet, there is probably some young gay boy watching “Married to Medicine” who’s never seen “Paris is Burning” and thinks Mariah and Quad are some new, fascinating thing and is now, right now, working on making his hair laid “Blackadeshi-style” just like Mariah, creating yet another feedback loop between the black gay male and the straight black female – both culturally and in vernacular.

You can’t even really get mad. It’s just funny at this point. Shade has been mainstream for a moment now, but black gay men are still in the background. You’ve got white gay men claiming “shade” as all their own, ignoring that black women use the term too, and soon black gay men and women are going to have to go create all new slang because everything cool will be appropriated by the mainstream, whitewashing what was originally there. It’s like how Madonna nearly ruined Voguing. The queens had to blow up the old style and deathdrop into newness.

I can’t wait to see what we come up with once shade gets over run by people using it wrong. (Or just over using it, like dear Quad and Mariah.) I’m sure we’ll come up with something good.

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  • You can’t discuss the cross-pollination of any language [within the confines of this article] without discussing the cross-pollination of Black American culture with the Caribbean culture that brought the word “extra” here. I learned “extra” from my Caribbean friends in college and their parents, who used it regularly. That is not a uniquely Black American phrase at all; it’s an import from the islands and by influence and sheer numbers has taken hold here in the States amongst blacks. I’m sure the origins of it will be a moot point in the very near future though, since we know that nearly everything Black Americans do is eventually commodified by the larger culture.

    • Sona Stew

      Just because you learned “extra” from a Caribbean friend doesn’t mean it came from the Caribbean. LOL But I get your point.

    • Audrey

      lol Sona!!!!!

    • Also, at this point, saying “Caribbean” is just like saying “African”, it doesn’t describe anything but geography. Half of my family is West Indian, yet I’ve never heard them use “extra” or attribute the term to themselves.