by Faith Williams
In late May, several murders of Black people at the hands of police triggered protests around the world in defense of Black life and condemnation of state violence. At the same time, LGBTQ+ organizers were making preparations for a “pandemic” pride month in June, with virtual celebrations and events. In an effort to continue honoring the movement for Black lives, many LGBTQ+ organizers chose to reorient their pride month events and center Black LGBTQ+ community. As I observed this moment, it became clear that many white LGBTQ+ organizers struggle with understanding and representing the multiplicity of Black queer and trans life. The root of this struggle seemed to be a willful ignorance of Black queer and trans diasporic histories. This observation led me to revisit Keguro Macharia’s book, Frottage: Frictions of Intimacy Across the Black Diaspora. Macharia engages in close readings of canonical Black diasporic texts and uses Black feminism and Black queer theory to (re)locate sites of Black queerness, longing, and intimacy within them. This text completely disengages with [white] queer studies and maps a Black queer diaspora often left out of mainstream LGBTQ+ histories.
The inextricable relationship between Black being and queerness is exactly what necessitates frottage (usually defined as the sexual practice of rubbing against someone’s clothed body) as a reading strategy–rubbing Black diaspora studies and Black queer theory against each other. Macharia takes us to four different diasporic texts that stand out as foundational to the creation of Black studies, texts by Franz Fanon, René Moran, Jomo Kenyatta, and Claude McKay. Analyzed in each text are eroticism, non-normative practices of intimacy, and the pathologized sexual deviance of Black being.
Frottage offers one way of understanding the inextricable nature of Blackness and queerness, an additional example of rubbing theories together emerges in another text within the Black Queer Studies Collection–Evidence of Being by Darius Bost. Bost draws upon Fanon’s theory of Black being and presents Black gay being to express the unique livelihood of particular Black queer artists. The uses of what we consider traditional Black diasporic literature like Fanon and McKay can have expansive modalities when rubbed against Black feminism and Black queer studies. However, Macharia notes that though we can understand Black diaspora as queer through lenses of non-normativity and dominate sexual politics, queering diaspora also necessitates the exposure of cis-heteronormativity heavily mapped onto Black scholarship.
Macharia makes clear that “…this project is not an extended “writing back” to a predominantly white queer studies: writing back recenters white queer studies…” (4). Black queer studies is not merely a corrective lens positioned over the whitewashed and exclusionary field of queer theory. Rather, Black queer studies buries itself within the histories of Black diaspora, using theories and methods developed by radical Black feminists and queer scholars to investigate queer (be)longing as it has always existed through Black being. I recommend this text as an example of the inherent queerness of Black diaspora history as we strive to honor the lives of Black queer and trans people in this particular moment, and always.
Faith G. Williams is a first-year Ph.D. student in African & African Diaspora Studies a UT who previously received her M.A at UT’s Center for Women’s and Gender Studies. Her research is interdisciplinary and situated within Black feminist thought, Black queer studies, digital media studies, and visual culture(s). She is particularly interested in the creative ways visual digital tools are used by Black queer and trans individuals for projects of self-making, refusal, and re-working subjectivities.