On ‘The Mean Girls of Morehouse’

Having gone to Morehouse’s (unofficial) sister school I feel compelled to comment on this Vibe Mean Girls article and subsequent fallout. In fact it feels kind of good to once again put this “audacity of parenting” thing on the back burner. Y’all ain’t ready :)

If you haven’t heard, Vibe acknowledged the fact that there are queer black folks in the world (more than CNN could do), let alone at the elite single sex HBCU, Morehouse College. The article profiles queer students who actively blur the binary line of gender and look damn good doing it. They wear their fierce so loud, proud and unapologetically they were dubbed “the plastics” by an ostensibly straight Morehouse brother of theirs.

The article title, while again evocative of a favorite literary device of mine, is sensational. It conflates the appropriated “plastics” moniker to girl identity which none of the students interviewed do themselves. They articulate a reveling in androgyny and gender bending that makes a lot of “straight” dudes uncomfortable, even administrators, hence the infamous dress code barring students from wearing women’s clothing (Read my thoughts on the dress code here). One student is interviewed while shopping in a women’s boutique in Atlanta and a store employee makes her shock regarding his attire known, providing a little more drama for an article already doing a lot by acknowledging the harsh realities of these students. What we don’t learn is how they are treated in the classroom or how daily jabs impact their ability to concentrate on their school work. A lot of them leave. Despite President Franklin’s claim of a Morehouse that accepts all identities, students that too obviously flout gender conventions have a nearly impossible time of making it on campus.

Looking at the comments section made me swear off them for good as it was filled with the most hateful language and threats. I attended school when Gregory Love was attacked in the shower with a baseball bat for supposedly looking at another student. My then ally identified self went 30 deep with other feminist and queer sisters and brothers to a panel at Morehouse that disintegrated into violence when folks tried to discuss the issue. This reaction is not unique to black people but the costs of homophobia in groups that are multiply marginalized are so much higher. If we can’t be at institutions that are on some level supposed to be for us, where do we go?

Morehouse may tout itself as a single sex institution but it is not a single gender one, as much as it may want to be. If female-assigned-at-birth students in the AUC can take classes there, hang out there, spend the night there (covertly :) ) etc. why can’t male-assigned-at-birth students do the same in the same heels and make up? If any group should understand the fallacies of looking a certain way to be treated humanely its black people. And yet, black folks are determined to traffic in a politics of respectability that does little but make some of us tokens for a power structure that not all of us can access. People wonder why King’s beloved community has given way as we increasingly limit the criteria for admittance. If the people who decide who has access are middle class, straight, Christian, black folks, that leaves a lot of people out in the cold.

That said, I get the nihilism and “do you” mentality of so many black folks excluded from “proper” blackness. When you know that people think and treat you as though you are  less than human why continually try to convince them otherwise? Why not just go for self?

The cycles of violence created in the name of “uplift” never cease to amaze me. If we truly want a different world it’s going to take seeing people for who they are not what you want them to be. Morehouse has a unique opportunity to engage students around questions of blackness and gender identity, to craft new black men and more, poised to create a better reality for many communities. We can’t afford to hold on to antiquated notions of gender and blackness. The future is fierce.

Pic of three black men queering masculinity at Atlanta Black Pride 2009

moyazb

moyabailey.com

12 thoughts on “On ‘The Mean Girls of Morehouse’

  1. Pingback: On ‘The Mean Girls of Morehouse’

  2. As a morehouse man, here’s my take. The very essence of a Morehouse man has always been for the better making of men. What we as a community of black people, as a country, and the Morehouse community must do is redefine their definition of “man”. I believe a “man” is one who is accountable and responsible for his actions–and has something that resembles a male sex organ and identifies himself as a man. I don’t think transgender folk should be limited from wearing women’s clothes. I happen to believe some of the most innovative thinkers are transgender, so for morehouse to cut them off off would be silly. Anyway, that’s what I think.

  3. thank you for sharing a more balanced perspective on this issue. i agree that we as a black community need to be more open and inclusive, particularly with regard to institutional policies that limit freedom of choice and expression based on gender and sex. sadly, we reinforce this binary of race and sex/gender by maintaining the status quo. if we want real progress, as fredrick douglass’ espoused, there needs to be struggle.

    admittedly, our struggles are vastly different from those of our foremothers and fathers, and in particular, the individuals who establish, administer, and fund our institutions of higher education. but times are changing and we need to either get on the bus (a la spike lee) or get left behind. that means addressing the root of our issues with homophobia, sexism, classism, and racism, and the inherent consequences of each, head on.

    the critical question that you posed bears repeating…what effect is this having on educational attainment for our LGBTQ students? it saddens me to hear of gay, lesbian and trans. students being forced to leave school, transfer, and confront other barriers to completing their education–and this doesn’t even address the toll that this is having on their emotional and physical well-being. seriously, this is not what dr. king fought for, or what the black women’s uplift era and corresponding civil rights movement were all about.

    the future is “fierce” as you say, but not in a good way. that can change if we change how we think about and treat our LGBTQ brothers and sisters at morehouse and beyond. the article in VIBE (although problematic) and your blog are steps in the right direction. so, thanks again for sharing.

    one note re: your statement, “and yet, black folks are determined to traffic in a politics of respectability that does little but make some of us tokens for a power structure that not all of us can access.”

    please give credit to dr. patricia hill collins for the term “politics of respectability,” and encourage everyone to read her book “black feminist thought: knowledge, consciousness and the politics of empowerment”. its sobering and inspiring all at once, and it speaks (from a theoretical and ideological standpoint) to many of the issues that we are struggling to address today regarding the LGBTQ community and higher education. the more conscious and critical food for thought we have on this issue, the better. let’s keep the dialogue going!

    • Actually, PHC didn’t coin the term “politics of respectability.” Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham coined that term in her book “Righteous Discontent.” See the chapter in the book called “The Politics of Respectability.”

      And while Black Feminist Thought is a classic, and one of my faves, Black Sexual Politics is actually a much better theoretical text for thinking through Black LGBT politics and theory than BFT.

      Thanks for reading and for your otherwise insightful comments.

      • Yes. Thanks for correcting my correction. I’m re-reading “Black Feminist Thought” and “Righteous Discontent” and accidently confused Collins and Higginbotham (shame on me). Both are great reads and so necessary. Best.

  4. Often the Gregory Love incident is mentioned with a few key points ignored.

    1. If a guy wants to verify the identity of another guy in the shower stall he simply says “hey so-and-so, is that you?” and the person in the stall answers.

    Common sense.

    Guys don’t peek in the shower stalls to see who it is.

    Unless they want to peek.

    2. Price wasn’t the only person Love peeked at. Other people on the floor could attest to that.

    3. Price is 5’7″. Love is 6’2″. Price was undeniably wrong beating him with the bat. However it’s not rocket science to understand why Price felt threatened enough to get it.

    As for the dress code?

    Black masculinity is constantly under attack, and has had to battle against emasculation for the entire time Black men have been in this country. Escaping the prison of White male patriarchy is extremely difficult. Black men constantly fight to prove to themselves, Black women, and others, that we are just as capable as anyone else. Black men have had to fight harder for their masculinity than anyone else.

    A man must be complicit in his own emasculation in order to be truly emasculated. A person casting an insult is one thing, but a person accept it as truth is something entirely different. Yet many Black men who value their masculinity highly and defend it so vigorously do not agree with that logic. They perceive these men dressing as women as an attempt to emasculate them, and take it personally.

    Morehouse is one of the most traditional colleges in the country, bar none. That’s something made crystal clear to anyone who participates in orientation. Each Crown Forum reflects how deeply steeped in tradition Morehouse is. The fact that Morehouse is an all male HBCU carries more significance than any of these fluff articles are capable of describing, understanding, or appreciating. The fact that a Black male chooses to go to Morehouse, or any HBCU is statement in and of itself.

    That having been said, these men chose to go to Morehouse. They did not choose the institution without being aware of it’s traditions, and if they were unaware, they were educated thoroughly during NSO. This isn’t about them being gay. Crossing dressing and homosexuality are not interchangeable. Identity is constant regardless of what clothes a person wears. This is about them wanting to be in costume on campus and wanting change the reputation of an institution.

    With all of the poverty in this country, and resource discrepancies cross dressing is trivial. People get so animated when it comes to things involving homosexuality but when it’s about being a mentor to a highschool student, doing community service, or giving back to the community people get quiet.

    • Rockmon,

      To your third point about what is generally left out of the Gregory Love incident: “Price is 5’7″. Love is 6’2″. Price was undeniably wrong beating him with the bat. However it’s not rocket science to understand why Price felt threatened enough to get it.”

      For me, it is indeed “rocket science” to attempt to understand why Price would react with such brutality. Even if I were to take seriously your first two points about Love’s “behavior,” why should we consider it reasonable for this to be an outcome? The reason that I point to this idea is the fact that fully clothed straight men, on the street, frequently threaten men who are perceived (perceived being a very important word here) as gay with physical violence all the time. It has less to do with location i.e. the shower and more to do with how the mere perceived presence of gay men seem to shore up this type of irrational will to violence.

      In terms of masculinity, you say: “Black masculinity is constantly under attack, and has had to battle against emasculation for the entire time Black men have been in this country. Escaping the prison of White male patriarchy is extremely difficult. Black men constantly fight to prove to themselves, Black women, and others, that we are just as capable as anyone else. Black men have had to fight harder for their masculinity than anyone else.” Yes, reaching the pinnacle of black male masculinity is quite a Sisyphean effort. However, wouldn’t it be a much better idea to interrogate “White male patriarchy” rather than try to usher in a black male version of it. Many black men feel as if they have a “right” to their patriarchy and it is those black queers, among others, who get in the way of its obtainment. The fact that one has to “fight” for the structure of masculinity simply exposes the fragility of it. If you constantly have to reinforce a structure that means that something is wrong with the structure. So, it wouldn’t be wiser to rethink the strictures of “masculinity” and begin imagining new possibilities for what that category can mean?

      In terms of what I have said read against the dress code that Morehouse College has instituted, it becomes much more difficult for me. As someone who only wears masculine drag everyday (with a tie to boot), I would fit in nicely on Morehouse’s campus. However, I cannot believe that we are simply talking about gender expression through clothing choice. Remember, one of the students tried to conform but was called out as a “faggot.” We are not simply talking about clothing. Clothing is the impetus for the real questions surrounding gender and sexuality expression.

      Moya mentions Higginbotham’s “politics of respectability” and, for me, this is the heart of the matter. Morehouse has a clear idea of what a “Morehouse Man,” is and “The Plastics” simply do not cut it. Rather than be intellectually honest about it, gay men who conform to the dress code are paraded by Morehouse as an example of its anti-homophobic position, when it fact it only highlights the precarious positions of black gay men on a campus where it’s okay only to be “not too gay.”

  5. This may be overly simplistic, but in my view, if you make the grades and the tuition checks don’t bounce, you have a right to wear whatever you want as long as you’re not flashing anyone with your private parts.

    And come on, everyone knows that there are MANY gay brothers at Morehouse! It would be nice if administrators and students alike moved into the 21st century.

    Great post, BTW.

  6. What is disturbing to me is the lack of direct action from students in the AUC (unless I have missed something). College students and young folks in general have been known to be at the forefront of every facet of the movement for liberation in mind, body, and spirit. But in this case, there are no marches, no protests, no walk-outs that I know of. Not even a damn sign or flyer in protest? Any panels or town hall meetings?

    If you don’t like what you see in your institution of learning or general community, it is your duty to do something about it. This is my belief as taught to me by elders in my home community.

    These schools aren’t schooling students for life; we are being schooled for assimilation at schools like Morehouse and Spelman College. It’s f***ing disgusting if you ask me.

  7. The argument that if you pay tuition you have the “right” to express yourself is wrong. If you pay tuition you have a right to respect the rights of your fellow classmates who also pay tuition.

    Every student at Morehouse has the same right to learn in a healthy environment. If one student dresses out side of the norm, or generally acceptable standards, that student infringes on the rights of other students by making them uncomfortable.

    I know this is the me generation and it’s all about who “you” are. But really, why do the rest of us have to deal with you? The world does not revolve around your freedom of expression. Not interested.

    Morehouse has every right to set a standard that projects the image of Morehouse and protects the sensibilities of the majority of the Morehouse student body.

    For example: can I come to Morehouse wearing KKK robes? Or course not, because it is offensive. The simple truth is that men at Moreshouse, just like men at colleges all over the country, must conform to socially-accepted standards. They will find the same situation when they enter the workforce and are male but decide to wear their fishnets and pumps to a board meeting. Of even if you are a banker and decide to wear a purple suit pants with a yellow suit jacket. Nobody has time for you “self expression.” We really don’t. Could care less.

    This is just a basic issue of respect. Respect for your fellow students in a pubic place. What you wear at the club is your business. What you wear in your bedroom is your business. What you wear in public reflects on the entire Morehouse student body. Respect you college and your classmates even if you don’t respect yourself. The world does not revolve around your freedom of expression nor does it care to.

    • @Floyd B:

      1) You’re equating men dressing androgynously to wearing KKK robes? SERIOUSLY?!

      2) What about “goth” kids? Can a Morehouse man wear all black and spikes and a mohawk on campus? Would you deem that “offensive?” There were numerous goth kids at the college (and high school) I attended. I kept it moving and did what I was there to do: study and graduate.

      3) And that segues into the bigger issue: who decides what is “offensive?” No doubt that there are numerous Morehouse men who don’t have a problem with the Plastics. Furthermore, doesn’t respecting yourself and others mean being true to yourself? Which is what the men in the picture above are doing. Yes, it’s attention-grabbing because of the patriarchal mores we hold on to (the same way it would be if it was a woman wearing a tight-fitting revealing mini-dress. Would you deem that offensive?–be honest!), but what is offensive exactly about what they’re wearing? The bright colors? The make-up? What’s “unhealthy” about it? Being unhealthy is living a lie. To me, the most offensive thing is the guy on the far left with the sagging jeans; and that has nothing to do with sexual orientation.

      3a) And let me ask the $64,000 question: Is the issue REALLY the way they dress? Or that they’re (probably) gay? Would they be less offensive if they were gay but dressed in khakis and argyle sweaters?

      4) Finally, if a young person can’t express themselves in COLLEGE for crying out loud, then when can they?! No, the world does not revolve around my, your or anyone’s individual expression. But we are blessed to live in a country where we have the freedom to express ourselves (at least in theory) without being criminalized or punished. So on a legal tip, and I don’t know if a lawsuit is pending, Morehouse could have a problem defending this rule.

  8. Transgendered people are just that !!! They are a combination of two identities and orientations in one body !!! Yes, God has created a wide array of people on this planet we call earth. In our private lives we transgendered people express ourselves in a variety of ways.
    I do it all the time. However, we must be mature enough to understand that we are a part of a larger group called the human race and we must be mindful that our self expression, although necessary to manifest, is not always appropriate in every setting. Not yet at least. Wemust intelligently progress so that one day it will be the norm for transgendered people to dress as we please whenever and where ever we want. It is an evolutionary process. Not revolutionary anymore. Everyone already knows we are here to stay.

Support the CFC! Donate Today!

Thank you to our Generous Supporters!

Email us at crunkfeminists@gmail.com to find out how you can become a supporter.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,750 other subscribers

Follow me on Twitter

Blog Topics