From Tue Jun 26 06:24:43 2001
Subject: [BRC-NEWS] Homosexuality in Black Communities
Date: Tue, 26 Jun 2001 00:34:58 -0400 (EDT)

The Greatest Taboo: An Interview with Delroy Constantine-Simms

By Steven G. Fullwood <>,, 11 June 2001

Unlike this writer, Delroy Constantine-Simms, editor of The Greatest Taboo: Homosexuality in Black Communities, is heterosexual. It is an issue that has more than a few of my peers up in arms. A heterosexual edits a book about homosexuals? Why? I decided to ask Constantine-Simms that and other salient questions.

Published by Alyson Press, the book's 28 essays explore the competing identity politics of blackness and gayness, and the influence of black gay creativity on music, literature and the arts. Contributors include well-known writers bell hooks, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Earl Ofari Hutchinson, along with upcoming talents Jason King, Laura Jamison, Seth Clarke Silberman and Toure. British by way of Jamaican immigrants in London, the editor is a journalist and academic. I caught up with him on his current book tour.

Steven G. Fullwood [SGF]: According to your studies and experience, what is the origin of the concept of “taboo”? Does it have any real roots in black history and culture? If so, where are the roots to be found?

Delroy Constantine-Simms [DCS]: “Taboo” is a term that basically means not to be discussed, frowned upon, unacceptable. I believe it has its roots in religion. The context in which I have used it is based on denial. Those who do attempt to step outside this moral framework are considered as going against this framework. This behavior is considered taboo as it is not endorsed or accepted within that cultural context, often leading to that person being ostracized, condemned and excluded from certain activities within that cultural framework. For example homosexuality, which is very near the top of the list next to atheism, which is itself a taboo among blacks.

[SGF]: Did you attempt to get black publishers to pick up the book? What responses did you receive?

[DCS]: Truth be said, I had no intention of approaching black publishers because I knew what the response would be. So I didn't bother to try. Given that Alyson are allegedly the big boys in terms of gay and lesbian literature, I saw it as a positive move. In fact, I will write for them again. But if a black publisher were to come along and promise not to editorially interfere with the work, I would make that move. I can't see that happening, but that's my criteria.

[SGF]: What role has sexuality played in your own life? How do you define your own sexuality?

[DCS]: I am heterosexual, but that should not even be an issue.

[SGF]: Ah, but it is. What would you say to critics who accuse you, as a self-identified heterosexual studying non-heterosexual communities, of the same kind of intellectual imperialism and anthropological colonization that has been characteristic of white academics studying communities and cultures outside of their cultural and personal framework?

[DCS]: [Laughs] In response to your question: First and foremost, my sexuality should not even be an issue. If members of the gay and lesbian community have an issue with my heterosexuality, then they need to address their “heterophobia.” To follow that line of reasoning, that my heterosexuality precludes me from making a contribution to changing the hearts and minds of those who continue to have homophobic views, is dangerous. The one thing that I have recognized in life is that when you are a minority you need allies from the majority group. I am not saying I am some sort of hero or savior; I am just making my contribution in the way I see fit. What I will never do is write a book as a sole author on issues of homosexuality. I would rather have a multitude of voices that represent various gay and lesbian interests. Moreover, I have made it my business to ensure that I consult with gay and lesbians regardless of my academic abilities to ensure that I get the editorial line right.

If there are folks out there who have a problem with my heterosexuality, that's fine. But what these critics have to take into consideration is this: Black gays and lesbians are part of my community and do not fall outside my personal cultural framework. Just because they are not self-identified in the same way that white gays and lesbians are doesn't mean that they have not been identified. The manner in which they negotiate their blackness and their sexuality is extremely important and cannot be ignored, and will not be ignored by me…. So for those critics to suggest otherwise is nonsense. I would understand the above argument if I was white, but I am not. Steve Biko said, “I write what I like.” I may not be in the same league as him but I am of the view that “I edit what I like.” In reality, I have not had any negative responses from the gay or lesbian community as a whole because of my sexuality. However, this doesn't change my view towards those who think otherwise.

[SGF]: And what about the brothers on the street who are waiting for you to announce that you are not heterosexual and who view your involvement with this project as a part of a personal coming-out process?

[DCS]: If I was gay I would shout it out loud and proud. However, I am very comfortable with my heterosexuality and I don't see my involvement in this project as part of any coming-out process. When white folks write about black issues, does their involvement in black issues mean they are coming out as blacks? Does this mean that they are in search of that one drop of blood that would make them black? I am not the kind of person that really cares what people think about my sexuality. I don't have time for those critics who are busy trying to focus on my motives; they should pay more attention to the issues in the book, as opposed to indulging in street corner or canteen gossip. In respect to the brothers on the street, as long as they don't attempt to physically attack me, things are fine. If they do, I may have to forgo academic discourse and get very ghetto, Jamaican style.

[SGF]: Based on your research, how does the DL (”down low”) phenomenon affect the black community as a whole?

[DCS]: I keep on hearing this term, “down low,” and as far as I am concerned it is basically another use of hip hop phraseology to describe closeted gay and lesbian people. This is nothing new. I believe that African American vernacular has never fully embraced the term “closet,” which is why I believe this phrase has now become common currency to describe so-called heterosexual people who engage in homosexual practices. Who knows? It could be argued that what the DL really means is straight up bisexuality.

I would also argue that the influence of prison culture might have inadvertently assisted in the proliferation of the DL. That is, by virtue of experiencing forced or involuntary gay sexual practices many ex-prisoners may have crossed that psychological barrier which has allowed them to seek that form of solace only another man can provide. Without doubt, the impact it has on the black community is multifaceted, and therefore difficult to identify. But my concern is the level of unprotected promiscuity among these practitioners and how it impacts on their allegedly non-down low heterosexual partners. Not only in terms of socially transmitted diseases, but the psychological impact of deception for all those concerned. While it is easier said than done, honesty is usually the best policy.

[SGF]: How do you respond to critics who would say that such visceral subjects as sexuality and blackness are ill-placed in such traditional academic discourse?

[DCS]: Simple! They need to address their academic homophobia and racism first, before they even attempt to define what they consider practical traditional academic discourse. As far as I am concerned, there is a lot of so-called traditional academic nonsense masquerading as traditional academic work…. But I do respect what people have to say, and what they have to write. So for those academic critics to even attempt to marginalize my blackness and sexuality because they feel uncomfortable is pathetic and racist, sexist and certainly homophobic, to say the least. If one looks at slave narratives and the whole slave experience, I think it is important to recognize that there were a variety of forced and involuntary sexual experiences that do not always support the “Black Heterosexual Mandingo” theory that black folks love to accept.

[SGF]: Why is it important for the black gay and lesbian community to have a presence in the academic community?

[DCS]: Given the sad state of the black academic community, we need to put aside heterosexuality [as a] qualifying criterion for academic credibility. At the same time I would go as far as saying that there is a very strong gay and lesbian influence in academia, it just so happens that they are very academically versatile, in that they often function and work in areas that have nothing to do with sexuality. Regardless of sexuality, any one who is black should not be excluded from making a contribution to the black academic community. More importantly, issues of sexuality should not be marginalized.