The topic of Malcolm X’s sexuality is one that comes up every now and again on social media. The most recent resurgence of the topic came about amidst the peak of the magical hashtag #BlackGaySlay. Some tweets came up giving a shout-out to Malcolm X with the hashtag, citing his alleged Bisexuality. Predictably (because this happens every time the topic comes up), this sent the homophobes into a tizzy (example). Initially, I was largely in on going at the bigots about their biphobia and homophobia, asserting Malcolm X’s Queerness. But after spending some time sorting it out in my head, I had to come to realization that that’s kinda bullshit. Here’s why I’m making the personal call to bow out of claiming Malcolm X as Queer or Bisexual…
It’s known that Malcolm X did make a living as a sex worker for male clients in his younger years, but that doesn’t necessarily equate to an actual attraction to men. Regardless of what Malcolm may have done, he never actually said he was Bisexual. One of the more crucial aspects of sexuality and gender identity is having the autonomy to ID oneself as they feel comfortable doing. I think one thing Queer people can, virtually unanimously, agree on is we don’t like having others try to define our sexual identity for us…and it’s something most all of us have had to deal with at some point. So, why would we turn around and define someone else’s sexuality for them—especially when he’s not alive to accept or decline it? It feels a bit hypocritical.
Additionally, making the assumption that Malcolm X was Bisexual because he performed sex work with men is actually harmful to Queer men, as it perpetuates the false idea that any sexual contact with another man makes one Gay. As I’ve covered, there’s a big problem where men aren’t given space to explore their sexuality without being put into a box. This is one of the things that directly feeds homophobia. So, by making assumptions and forcing Queerness onto Malcolm, we’re actually feeding into that same issue.
Not to mention, this all lowkey reeks of respectability politics…the need to latch onto an iconic, central figure in the Civil Rights Movement and put Queerness onto him, in order to bolster our position as Black LGBTQ folks. It kinda comes off like desperation to gain acceptance from homophobic, cishet Black folks. But the thing is, that’s not even necessary. Aside from the fact that there are already so many great activists who are/were openly Queer, we shouldn’t have to hold up our labor, showing how “useful” we are, as some sort of bargaining chip for homophobes to affirm our humanity. But if we must, then surely there are much better ways to do so that don’t necessitate forcing Queerness onto a man who never openly claimed it for himself.
I do wanna note that absolutely none of this excuses the responses we see from many cishet Black folks around this topic. Similarly to how white people interact with problematic aspects of the Black community, as a whole, cishet Black people are interacting with this topic around Malcolm’s alleged Bisexuality differently. For them, it has nothing to do with nuance around sexuality or protecting one’s right to ID how they wish…they just don’t wanna believe that they could idolize a “faggot.” Their approach to the topic is one of homophobia and Bi-erasure. Therefore, I’m largely uninterested in anything cishet people have to “contribute” to this discussion. Ultimately, they’re still trash.
…just so we’re perfectly clear. ☕
I think, in any oppressed group’s activism, we need to be able to center ourselves in our work enough to be more critical of how we go about affirming ourselves in fighting for liberation. We should be careful of centering our oppressor so much to where we grasp at straws…especially when said straws can actually perpetuate ideas that are harmful to us.
Thing is, I’m not denying the possibility that Malcolm X could’ve been Bisexual. But simply due to the fact that (to our knowledge) he never actually ID’d himself in that way, I can’t, and won’t, do it for him. I just don’t feel right putting Queerness on someone who never put it on themselves. Now, as mentioned, there’s ample evidence that he was a sex worker, and this is something that is absolutely worth continuing to mention and affirm. It further humanizes sex work and shows how silly it is that we stigmatize it.
All of that being said, as far as asserting that Malcolm X was Bisexual, that’s a fight that I’m making the decision to bow out of.
P.S. Happy Black History Month! ✊🏾
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