This article was originally published here.
15th December 2018
It isn’t the legal definition of privacy that has ever bothered me as a black queer femme man, it has always just been the public practice of it with regards to me and my community. From a time that I can remember, very little of anything has remained exclusively mine. I’m that little kid that went around showing everyone the green mucus on their handkerchief. I knew that it wasn’t something fun, I’ve grasped the seriousness of the (t)issue at hand but showing even this muck from out of myself to everyone has made me feel regular on occasion. (Though, just between us gurls, I’m not always certain that reaching for the regular has helped with all of the other days.)
It isn’t the legal definition of privacy that has ever bothered me as a black queer femme man, it has always just been the public practice of it with regards to me and my community.
In a manner of speaking, I was that green glob of mucus on people’s handkerchieves, that gaping wound they were trying to hide, that secret they didn’t ever want getting out. There was something within myself that had to be exorcised, expunged and erased. At the age of six, a very grey-haired matriarch with a talking African Grey in my neighbourhood told me, “if you flap your wrists anymore, young man, you’ll take off before him [pointing to the parrot]. We might need to get you a pair of splinters and quickly”. At the time, I didn’t understand the meaning of those words, I’d been visiting her to stare at the parrot, suddenly I understood that something about me was upsetting her. She was to be the first soloist in a growing chorus that has accompanied my every gesture, gait and goings-on my entire life, constantly reminding me that my presence isn’t wanted.
TRYING TO SWIM FOR TWO
Very quickly, I grasped if I didn’t want to upset anyone, or feel smaller by their reactions then I had to buff out these extra bits of myself. I got that my presence made public the private desires of everyone else around me. I am a sexual act. And might not ever be seen beyond these entanglements. I began to hide: draping myself in sarees, lip-syncing to the female parts of hit songs, walking with the sway of a village belle heading to the water pump and so on but only on the occasions that I was home alone. (I grew up in the 90s, we were left on our own much more than kids nowadays. And I’ll always be grateful for that.) Though in these moments, to quote the cliche, I did feel closest to myself and it had nothing to do with the sexual act. These were the times before the stirrings.
I got that my presence made public the private desires of everyone else around me. I am a sexual act.
As a queer kid, it was easy to figure that girls could be invited into these special moments but boys could never even know anything about them. I joined the theatre club in an all boys’ school and that changed for me. (Oh! God! My story is the same as yours, right?) I realised that the I didn’t have to hide it with the boys either. It was just that I had to pitch the tone of the performance differently for them. They might have never been a participative audience interested in interaction but they could be made into an appreciative one. In a way, it might have been eventually getting them to react in a manner that made me more appealing to them that has been the basis of my all my flirting. Has rejection reframed romance for me? Would I have learned another way of loving men if he wasn’t the symbol of all of my oppression?
I’M YOUR PRIVATE DANCER
In truth: I never had a sense of privacy. Or at least not in the way that the others think of it is their birthright. (Like even notions of data security, which I’m willing to agree are important, seems like a much, much later battle for me.) I’ve actually never felt like I just deserved something. (I completely believe the surprise in the face of black actors, male and female, when they win an award.) I’ve had to squirrel it away for myself – too shy, too ashamed and too sad to reveal to anyone else ever. Also since the only way I’ve been seen has been through the lens of sex – an act that we could all agree might be one of our most private. Everyone’s always asking or wondering: How do you have sex? You must have a lot of sex? You must want to fuck every man, no? Everyone else seems to have more of a stake in my existence as a sexual being than I do on most days.
I never had a sense of privacy.
And since, even the sexual negotiations I make with my partners aren’t my own, so shouldn’t the shame of sexuality be shared with everyone too? And since, that’s the foundation of my politics, then how can I claim this privacy? Unless the concept of privacy has also come to mean something else altogether? Does it still mean that cisgender, straight men’s lives will never be scrutinised, shamed and shaped? Does it still mean that the more we pass off as our oppressors the more likely we to get more pie? Does it still make privilege the all-access pass to public spaces?
For so long, private has meant a place that I was forced to create, claim and carve out to hide away from the public violence. And if I’ve been allowed to further wallow in it then I don’t want to – thank you very much. But if private has come to mean that my personhood will be treated with equity, then I can be teased to the table. And that’s a change that can’t ever be captured by the law, it must be a change in the spirit of society. If and when that happens, then the law can be the arbiter to see that contract is honoured by all of us.
But, really, I’ve never had a sense of privacy, I always feel watched. It’s like I’ll be caught out for just being, or not for being properly so. The policing seems perennial, permanent. Unless all the eyes that are up, down and all around agree to catch some shut-eye occasionally, so I can blossom in peace. Actually those worse off than even me that would be mean privacy for all. But till then, it is too much for a gesture – one that might have to be buffed out too.
The policing seems perennial, permanent.
AND NOW I WANT SOMETHING MORE THAN YOU
After little more than three decades of constant unravelling in the attempt to find the boundaries that divide the world from me, I’m going to stop undoing just this once and lean on another’s words. Like Chris Maker in Sans Soleil, I might have to copy a few lines from Samura Koichi to give you the colour of this melancholy too: “Who said that time heals all wounds? It would be better to say that time heals everything except wounds. With time, the hurt of separation loses its real limits. With time, the desired body will soon disappear, and if the desiring body has already ceased to exist for the other, then what remains is a wound…disembodied.”
With time, the desired body will soon disappear, and if the desiring body has already ceased to exist for the other, then what remains is a wound…disembodied.