How many times have you thrown around that assumptive phrase simply because a male you encountered didn’t fit the traditional definition of a man we often claim is problematic yet still uphold as ideal?
“He’s gay” is a label that’s overshadowing New York Giant’s wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s football career now that people who aren’t even spectators of the sport have become consumed with his sexuality and the media coverage has turned from reports on his stats on the field to questions about whether he was staring at another man’s butt on the sideline.
The problem? No one knows if Odell is gay or not. All we know is he doesn’t sit around raping about f-cking b-tches and getting money, or have a reputation with the ladies (or a habit of disrespecting them), or wear a bunch of gold chains — or teeth for that matter — or start fights on the field, or challenge other men’s masculinity online or otherwise.
So what does Odell do? He dances. He and his blonde puff stanky leg, two step, juke, and nay nay all over the ‘gram in hilariously choreographed routines with his friends and that has led far too many homophobic men and paranoid women to conclude he’s trapped in the closet — a conclusion that can be chalked up to lingering DL hysteria, persistent stereotypes about black male masculinity, and insecurities about one’s own sexuality. Though the latter is a universal issue, the first two are unique to the black community which is why this “witch hunt,” as Rafi D’Angelo put it in an article on Slate, perfectly demonstrates “the difference between black masculinity and white masculinity in a nutshell.”
“White men are allowed a greater range of expression before they are automatically considered gay. The boys in Marvel movies are always flirting and nobody cares. Matt McGorry can say his male co-star has a pretty mouth and nobody cares. Channing Tatum “vogued” and nobody cares. But a black football player dances a little with a male friend and it’s proof-positive.
D’Angelo goes on to say he actually hopes Odell isn’t gay because, although, as he stated, “We need more gay visibility in professional sports, especially hypermasculine ones like football. But more important, we need more black men who aren’t afraid to live outside of the box of black masculinity built for us by society and reinforced by our own community.”
The cries from black men about the way in which people dictate what’s acceptable behavior for them based on their race and gender often fall on deaf ears unless we’re united against the common enemy of racism. We rally against the label of “thug” when it’s applied to a black boy simply because he’s wearing a hoodie. But we don’t do the same when a 23-year-old athlete is called gay because he dances like Chris Brown but doesn’t have the history of physically or verbally abusing women, a criminal record, or a body covered in tattoos to prove he’s heterosexual.
Many of us are just as complicit in the pervasiveness of the hypermasculine black male trope as the confused brothas who adhere to it. And while it’s true we need more men like Odell who aren’t afraid to live outside of the box, we also need more people in our community who won’t try to shove them out of the closet when they do so.