Did everyone catch the new season of Black Mirror? If not, you may want to delay reading this article; as I dive into a pool of analysis, regarding the themes within the first episode, “Striking Vipers. There are some spoilers ahead.
Lately, I’ve been observing and pondering on the sexuality of black cis men. I am a feminist of course, and we all know that feminism is for everyone. I want to shed light on how feminism can be used to dissect black male sexuality, and liberate (black) men from the constraints of toxic and fragile masculinity.
To nurture healthy masculinity is to overstand femininity, and as a society, we just aren’t there. Femininity is generally viewed as a weak or inferior characteristic. It’s apparent in our language, the way we police girls and women, and the way society continues to attack and marginalize feminine cis gay men and transgender femmes. Misogyny breeds toxic masculinity. Patriarchal society hates women, and there lies the root of all things anti-feminine. When a certain level of respect for women and femmes is met by black men, then doors can open for balance. While cis black men are expected to be the “most masculine” of all men, there should and can be a healthy amount of feminine energy present within these men, without compromising their own sexual identity.
Homophobia and misogyny are even hurting the straight man. Ain’t that some shit?
Men who are not comfortable with their sexuality want nothing to do with anything that can be perceived as “feminine.” Crying, personal hygiene, and unconventional sex are just a few things some of these men avoid, in order to uphold the standards of masculinity they believe are necessary. These are the men that redundantly use phrases like “No homo”. They refuse to let their girlfriends touch their behinds, because “that’s that gay shit.” They do not want to be perceived as anything other than “manly”; which unfortunately is a hard opposition to what we deem “feminine”. There is no “in between” for black men, and it’s sad. Black men are limiting themselves with their own fabricated expectations for what is “masculine”. Sexuality is a spectrum and their confinements do not leave space for such a nuance to exist. These restrictions are rooted in misogyny and also intersect with homophobia. Homophobia and misogyny are even hurting the straight man. Ain’t that some shit? Feminism is for everyone.
Taking look at the first Black Mirror episode of Season 5, “Striking Vipers”, the segment is a great visual metaphor for just how complex sexuality is. The complexity that creates room to explore within one’s own “point on the spectrum” is erased when men deny themselves certain experiences and relations, just to avoid “that gay shit.” I loved that the episode depicted the experiences of two black men, (a great choice, as they are the ones with the most to unpack, regarding sexuality) it was directly related to all the things I’ve been pondering lately!
Black men are expected to idly stay in defense mode, ready to defend their ego and pride before nurturing their inner desires.
So, there’s this 30-something-year-old black male, named Danny, who is married to a black woman, named Theo. Danny has a long-time friend, named Karl, who surprises him with a new video game at his birthday party. The video game ends up being a Street Fighter style game, requiring players to attach a small technical button to the side of their head, allowing them to consciously escape into a virtual reality. The fact that the video game revolved around fighting stood out to me. In my opinion, it touched on the idea that men are put in these environments where they have to prove how masculine they are and that often includes situations where a violent occurrence is inevitable. It says a lot about how black men are held to the highest standards of masculinity, taught from childhood to keep a tight fist.
Black men are expected to idly stay in defense mode, ready to defend their ego and pride before nurturing their inner desires. In the game, Karl decides to be a female character, named Roxette, while Danny is a male character. They fight for about one round before they start making out and having sex. As my girlfriend and I watched what we understood to be two straight black men hooking up in a video game, our jaws dropped. They were set up to fight, but they ended up making love. It was the ultimate celebratory “gag” moment! At first its weird for the two men, but then they log in to do the same thing the next day. I’m not sure how much of a time lapse it was, but they made dick appointments continuously, child! Karl admits (while inside the game as Roxette) that he loved the feeling of being a woman. I found it perplexing that this man did not identify as a woman in real life, as he was not transgender. For me, Roxette represents the healthy balance of feminine energy that exists within Karl’s conscience. In the video game, he felt the sensations a woman feels emotionally and physically when sleeping with a man, and he liked it. He enjoyed being penetrated, dominated, and stimulated in multiple ways. There was a blurry area between him existing as a cishet man in real life, and him being a straight woman in the video game. He had no desire to bridge the gap or “choose a side”. It was so queer.
This situation is beautiful, queer, and atypical.
Eventually, the virtual sex between these two friends starts to affect them outside the game; as they become desensitized to sexual intimacy and pleasure with the women in their real lives ( which can be viewed as a metaphor for how porn desensitizes people to real sex with others today). Danny is confused because he never thought of himself as gay before. Is it “gay” for a man to have sex with a woman whose consciousness is controlled by someone who identifies as a man? This complicates the scale of sexuality, even more, illuminating how thin the tether is between our conscious minds and our biological instincts. This can be applied when attempting to explain why so many women admit they get off from watching gay men have sex. Black Mirror’s “Striking Vipers” does an excellent job of highlighting how most of our kinks are just expressions of our sexuality, not definitions.
After battling with whether or not they should continue to hook up in the game, be intimate in real life, or stop the virtual affair altogether, they meet up behind a mutual hang out spot to affirm their feelings. They kiss, and both men admit there is no spark between them. However, for some reason; the virtual sex is incomparable to anything either one of them has ever experienced. The episode shows their relationship get even more unconventional when Danny comes clean to Theo about what has been going on between him and Karl. The segment ends with Danny and Theo agreeing to allow one another to live out their sexual fantasies for one night out of the year, on Danny’s birthday. Danny logs into the game to have virtual sex with Karl, and Theo goes out to sleep with a stranger (a fantasy that makes sense, since the episode begins with her and Danny role-playing in a bar during the early part of their relationship). This situation is beautiful, queer, and atypical.
This is a direct juxtaposition of reality, as many black women are shamelessly bi-phobic against men.
Most of the time when black men are in favor of an “open” relationship with their women, they insist on only inviting other women into their bedroom. Straight black men glorify the practice of marrying multiple women (polygamy) but despise the idea of another man touching his wife. “Striking Vipers” gives a brief representation of black polyamory, as both partners opt to sleep with other men (I don’t mean to leave Roxette out, but she is a stranger, as Theo has no way of knowing what she looks like). I find it to be the most perfect of endings because the marriage stays solid, yet everyone is appeased. The question I’m sure most viewers were going back and forth with was “so are these men straight, gay, or bisexual?” In my opinion, the answer was “none of the above”. It was a great depiction of what it means to be queer. There is no black or white, left or right, right or wrong. And where there are no binaries, there is freedom!
Netflix didn’t show us the details of their conversation, but I assume that Theo understood and supported Danny’s expression of his sexuality. This is a direct juxtaposition of reality, as many black women are shamelessly bi-phobic against men. I’ve witnessed countless women admit they would never get involved with a man they knew slept with other men, due to the high risk of HIV, and not being able to “compete” as a woman. Many people who are bi/pan-phobic weaponize our own sexuality to project their insecurities back onto us. I’ve dealt with other women admitting they cannot compete with the men I could potentially be attracted to and men worrying that I was going to leave them for a woman (to be fair, I would choose a woman over a man any day). Nonetheless, while their feelings may be valid, they are also not my problem. Black men are the biggest targets of bi-phobia because they are not afforded the same fluidity as women, to genuinely embrace all genders, romantically and sexually. To most people (even among other LGBT folks), cis men are either gay or straight; its inequitable.
Straight men are being shamed by other small-minded, insecure men for being into pegging, rimming, and all types of ass play.
So, with men not being free to coast in between the gay and straight lanes, limits are also placed on their ability to explore sexually, even with cis women. Society automatically labels men who sleep with trans women as “gay”. This not only strips trans women of their identity as women but also the man of his sexual orientation. Replacing what is a heterosexual relationship, with a “man on man” narrative. It’s transphobic and wrong. However, men can’t even have sex with cis women without being called “gay”. Straight men are being shamed by other small-minded, insecure men for being into pegging, rimming, and all types of ass play. I stumbled upon a Facebook status the other day, where a woman asked, “Is a man gay if he lets his girl peg him?” I scrolled down to the replies, and scoffed in annoyance, as I read them. One comment from a black man said,” No straight man wants anything near his ass except tissue or a washcloth.” I immediately commented “speak for yourself”, and left it at that.
The truth is, I used to date the hardest, most “masculine” (so much so that it was toxic, actually) and aggressive of black men. Even he enjoyed ass play and wasn’t ashamed of it. I shamefully admit I did aim to emasculate him by throwing our sexual endeavors in his face, during an argument once, but he didn’t flinch. He was so secure in himself, and even though I now find him to be a narcissistic ass; that security and confidence were pretty attractive characteristics in him. Black men need to understand that nobody can determine your sexuality except you. Nobody can confine you or group you into a category unless you allow it. A man can be straight, and enjoy ass play with his girl because, sexual acts don’t determine sexuality, no matter how “kinky” they are. I will say it again: most of our kinks are just expressions of our sexuality, not definitions. Another important thing to note: besides the fact that sex between two people of opposing genders is not gay, being gay is not a bad thing. I want cishet men (and women, honestly) to gather their misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia into a suitcase to observe, reflect, dissect, and unpack that shit. I promise the world would be a better place. While you’re at it, be sure to remember that queerness is freedom, and feminism is for everyone.