This article first appeared in Attitude issue 290, December 2017.
Gay men of colour often find other people make sweeping assumptions about their masculinity based purely on ethnicity. In our new issue – available to download and in shops now – we spoke to gay men from a number of different backgrounds in an effort to see just how this behaviour impacts their lives.
First up, we spoke to British MC and singer Niyi Adelakun, who opened up about his experiences as a black gay man, and revealed that stereotypes placed on him by society are far more harmful than you might think…
Read his story below:
Whenever I’m asked to write anything remotely connected to my big penis — and I must confess, this is the only time — I have to be careful to make sure that any musings do not come across like the grumblings of a former child actor. We have all read that they found success far too young, and, alas, young they are no more. “I am now a serious property investor,” he or she says, but complains that nobody takes them seriously.
I want to show sympathy, I really do. After all, the lament of the child actor is not unique. The black male surely goes through something similar.
Society says we are big, society says we are brutishly strong, society says we always have very large penises, and at various points in the black man’s life he has indeed enjoyed the stereotype of all three — sometimes all at the same time. However, it is when these stereotypes don’t serve us well (which, might I add, is most of the time) that they can be exhausting. When these expectations become the limitations society places on us, both hindering who we are and what we might want to achieve, we are compelled to complain. And rightly so.
Furthermore, one has to ask, has society’s belief about our supreme masculinity and the penis size that goes along with that actually ever served us well? I would argue not. White supremacy has created the society we all live in, thus making our society inherently anti-black; this fact must be acknowledged — and reiterated.
The lens through which the black male is gazed will always be a negative one. I remember coming home one day from PE and getting all excited telling my mother, “Guess what? Mr. Crabtree said I should try out for the basketball team.” Now, I wasn’t very tall, and I did think at the time that it would be a rather curious career trajectory for me, but it was a compliment from a teacher so I was happy.
My mother wasn’t. “No other teachers say that to you. They never say you could be a mathematician.” Which was a good enough point, but it wasn’t entirely true. My science teacher had told me I would either end up with a Nobel prize for my contribution to chemistry — or it would land me in prison!
I didn’t really understand the joke at the time, but my mother did. I was consistently in detention at school for being “naughty” and “disruptive.” I was suspended for an “aggressively short” haircut. A white friend, on the other hand, was given extra art lessons because he was “bored” and “gifted.” When he dyed his hair (also against the school rules), he was seen as expressing himself. Was I naughty? Well, probably. Was my white friend artistically gifted? No, definitely not. He was as dull as dishwater.
Then along comes society with a pretty barbed compliment — the “you are so masculine/you have a big penis” thing, and I’m flattered even though I know I shouldn’t be.
I remember years ago, when I lived in South London, I was having a conversation with my (black) flatmate. He was going on about how difficult it was for him being a bottom, and how men were always disappointed when he wasn’t feeling particularly dominant that day. I remember the conversation well because I didn’t think there was any other way for a black man to have sex — I had been sold the lie that we are all tops, and even I was inadvertently perpetuating the stereotype.
Intentional white supremacy or unintentional white supremacy, complimentary racism or otherwise, all forms exist to serve everyone but us. By placing the large penis and masculinity as central and integral to our identity, society now has to negotiate its uneasy obsession with something it loves, hates, fears and envies in equal measures.
Pornhub charts might show that society loves black penises, or more specifically how it imagines the black penis to be, but everything else shows us that society hates black men. The two are not mutually exclusive, and the latter is as visceral as the former.
Former Scissor Sisters singer Jake Shears stars on the cover of Attitude’s Masculinity issue – available to download and in shops now – in which he talks about everything from working as a go-go dancer to his experiences with bottom shaming.
You can also see the results of our eye-opening survey that delves deep into the masculinity crisis that is plaguing gay men.