QUEER, MY DEAR

A PEUXETIC RETROSPECTIVE

Tariq Saint-Sankofa, Ph.D.


“QUEER”

When “queer” is used in academic discourse, its meaning often seems
immediately apparent, but when asked to define the term, people’s responses vary widely. Queer’s ambiguity is built into its dictionary definition, which, consistent in the Oxford English Dictionary since the nineteenth century, reads:”strange, odd, peculiar, eccentric; also: of questionable character; suspicious, dubious” (OED, s.v. “queer,” adj. l.a). This definition is the one used least in twenty first-century English. A second definition, more familiar to modern discourse, appeared in the OED for the first time in the 1970s and simply reads: “(slang, especially of men) homosexual. Also, of things: pertaining to homosexuals or homosexuality”. The current use of queer by academics usually marshals both of these meanings, but the weight and interpretation of each constitutes a crucial aspect of its sense. To most readers, “queer” does have something to do with lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender authors, artists, themes, or representations. And indeed, in the actual structure of higher education, departments or programs in queer theory or queer studies usually exist in place of gay/lesbian studies, rather than alongside them, suggesting that this remains the primary usage of queer in practice. Yet queer theory, as formulated in the 1990s and practiced today, has used the term to refer to topics outside the range of lesbian/gay studies, employing it instead as a kind of position against normative or dominant modes of thought. A tension or gap thus exists between the way queer is theorized and practiced and the way it is usually interpreted by more casual readers or structured by institutions.

Whittington, Karl. “QUEER.” Studies in Iconography, vol. 33, 2012, pp. 157–68, http://www.jstor.org/stable/23924280. Accessed 18 Apr. 2022.


“QUEER, MY DEAR…”

…is a celebration of queer freedom

presence

voice

amplified

or silent

an open love letter

to muted black men

of musical mastery

who gave us

memory

&

re-memory

of the divine feminine within

at the expense of soul

speech

&

sometimes

sadness

who challenge dividing lines

blur boundaries

&

transmute private diamonds

to ea-rings


PRéCIS

One of my earliest childhood memories is of my Sony cassette radio alarm clock. For several years it allowed me to record mix-tapes from the Quiet Storm evening radio show. I distinctly remember the first time I heard Prince come over the radio singing “Do Me Baby.” Though I had no idea what the words were about, I was quite aware of who Prince was—the funny little man who wore makeup, frilly clothes, and high heeled boots, who also sang effortlessly in flawless falsetto. Pretty … he was pretty to me, and pretty looked good on him. But I knew I could never look like him or mimic his style.

None of the men I knew could dress like that.

Music was a huge part of my youth. The singers I paid attention to expressed a depth of feeling that I identified with, but didn’t yet have the experience to match. Whatever the pain was that they felt, I understood it in my own way, I felt it. Though I’d never been in love, they made me miss it.

This year I decided to focus my ear on a single musician’s catalogue to familiarize myself with the artist more substantively. I chose Marvin Gaye, and along with listening to his catalogue, I read his biographies. What a ride! I got lost in the music, the madness, the chaos, the drugs, the sex, the paranoia … everything that made Marvin.

Each time a book ended, I wanted more because I developed a closeness to him that I didn’t want to relinquish. What I found most interesting was his relationships with his father and his mother. His father, a former pastor, took to wearing women’s clothing and affecting feminine mannerisms at home, or wherever he chose to do so. To our knowledge, he was not “gay,” but certainly “queer” in his transvestism. Marvin did the same privately, but in interviews publicly owned his love of soft, frilly women’s garments. Despite this, he remained a Lady’s man of unparalleled popularity.

Like Luther and others, Marvin was “queer.” The title of this performance, “Queer, My Dear…” is taken from his 1978 album Here, My Dear, which was produced in order to settle his divorce and tax debt, as well as to commemorate his final separation from ex-wife Anna Gourdy. Playing on that title, this performance aims to let the collective queer expressions of four black male R&B singers whose music has in one way or another impacted my own emotional connection to music, and to my own queerness.

One of the things I love most about this set is that it is … fat , skinny, masculine, effeminate, androgynous, audacious, fearful, private, public, and unarticulated genius—so many of the things we are, and queer is. It is an immersive experience in layered artistry made viscous by their unmentionables. It showcases a range of queer possibilities, challenges stereotypes, and expands the landscape of black male visibility and being To name the queer thing “queer” is to deprive the power of normativity; to snatch back from it the ownership and body autonomy that society notoriously weaponizes against black men. In this way, all of these artists allow us to see—even if we can’t hear—queerness in presence, passion, and person. The work they have done humanizes queerness in ways that are necessary and urgent.

Queer, My Dear … is a sonically immersive poetic rumination on what silencing & erasure does to the human spirit, implicating spirituality as a contributor and proffering that sexuality is not in an antagonistic relationship with it except the ones we create. It locates sexuality, in fact, as one source of genius and spiritual advantage. QMD… is reparational in that it asks us to consider the debt of grief we owe to those who fed us while dying before our eyes. It confronts the dishonesty we consent to participate in when it suits the purposes of our private fantasies, and the death before death it brings.

QMD seeks to undo “difference,” highlighting that assumptions of homogeneity work bidirectionally—inasmuch as it is practice to assume the prevalence of normative sameness, we should also assume a prevalence of queer sameness if humanity is the level playing field on which the stakes of these terms may be rightly defined. That is to say, there is as much queerness in the world as “normative” conformity; that our performances of normativity are at best costuming , or just a different kind of drag.

ORDER OF PERFORMANCE

I. INTRO: FLATLINES AND FAULTLINES

II. (INTERLUDE): “Anger”

III. BREAKING NEWS: “Marvin Pentz Gaye is Dead”

IV. POEM: “Sexual Healing”

V. OUTRO: “POC”


VI. (INTERLUDE): “IO41N”

VII. AUTOPSY: “Luther Vandross is Dead”

VIII: THE OUTING: “The Open Secret”

IX. POEM: “It’s No Disgrace”

X. OUTRO: “AHINAH ” (Acapella)


XI. (INTERLUDE): “IIWYG”

XII. BREAKING: Prince Rogers Nelson IS Dead

XIII. POEM: “Dirty Mind

XIV. OUTRO: “SISIA”


XV. (INTERLUDE): “Infant Child”

XVI. BREAKING NEWS: Tevin Campbell Arrested.

XVII. POEM: “Child of God”

XVIII. OUTRO: “KMS”

XIX. INTERVIEW


MOVEMENT I: “QUEER, MY DEAR … ”

MARVIN PENTZ GAYE

(April 2, 1939 – April 1, 1984)

KNOWN as one of the worlds most renowned balladeers, Marvin Pentz Gaye II, remains one of the most gifted singer/song-writers of our time. In addition to ushering in the famed “Motown Sound,” Gaye also lead R&B music into consciousness with his famed album What’s Going On (1979), addressing the ills of government, society, and war. Privately, Marvin battled undiagnosed mental illness, unaddressed sexual trauma, and drug and alcohol addiction. Eventually, his drug addiction became public knowledge as he often canceled more shows than he performed due to extreme social anxiety and addiction. Marvin fought his demons internally, but often took them out on other people. Secretly, both Gaye and his father liked to dress in women’s clothing, though neither identified as gay. Marvin was somewhat horrified of the idea that people might think he was Gay to such an extent that early in his career he added an “e” to his name as an affront to the mockery he endured as a child. I situate Marvin in this collection of queer artists in due to his fetish for transvestism, which is a nebulous aspect of both his identity and his celebrity. To understand it requires a deep dive into his relationships with his mother and father. His proclamations of love for one and spite or the other may be read in reverse. Psychologically, it also speaks to a profound Oedipus complex at work beneath his queer and kinship antagonisms.

Additional Info: https://www.amazon.com/Divided-Soul-Life-Marvin-Gaye/dp/030681191X

“PIECE OF CLAY” (LYRICS)

Father stop
Criticizing (criticizing) your son
Mother please
Leave your daughters alone
Don’t you see that’s what wrong
With the world (with the world) today (oh)
Everybody wants somebody
To be their own piece of clay (oh)
Everybody wants somebody
To be their own piece of clay

We all talk about kindness
But it’s only only a word (truly)
Brother turned on a sister
In this cruel, cruel world
That’s what’s wrong
With all in this world today
Everybody wants somebody
To be their own piece of clay
Oh!
Everybody wants somebody
To be their own piece of clay

Aah aah (woo)
Somebody to play with
Wanna to mold you, wanna mold you
Shape it like they wanna
Wanna to do their thing

Children are told
To give not just to take
If we were all children
You know the world will be a better place
Oh, everybody wants somebody
To be their own piece of clay

We should all love each other (each other)
Love not hate one another (one another)
We should all love each other (each other)
Love not hate, oh

Everybody wants somebody
To be their own piece of clay
Yeah, everybody wants somebody
To be their own piece of clay
True, everybody wants somebody
To mold them (to be their own piece of clay), shape them own way
(Oh) aye, everybody wants somebody
Try to make it (to be their own piece of clay)
Or do their, do their thing (want to)
Everybody wants to take somebody (somebody)
Got to make ’em, make ’em like their self (piece of clay)
(Oh) everybody wants somebody (somebody)
To be their own (somebody, somebody, somebody) piece of clay
Yeah, everybody wants somebody (somebody) to be (to be their own piece of clay)
Somebody, somebody
Somebody (somebody), somebody (to be their own piece of clay) (somebody somebody)
Somebody (somebody), somebody (to be their own piece of clay) (somebody somebody somebody)

“ANGER” (LYRICS)

Up and down my back, my spine, in my brain (oh)
It injures me, babe (anger)

Anger, can make you old (anger)
Yes it can (oh)
I said anger (anger)
Will make you sick children, (oh Jesus)
Anger (anger) destroy your soul (ooh)

Rage, there’s no room for rage in there
There’s no room for rage in here
Line up some place to go to be mad
It’s a sin to treat your body bad

When anger really gets the best of us
We’ve really lost our heads
We often say a lof of things, oh darlin’
Wish we’d never said

Oh, reason is beyond control
And the things we do for spite
Makes me ashamed for my meanness, baby
Makes me want to do things right

Someday soon I hope and pray like Jesus
I’ll reach that wiser age
Hope I will learn I really never never profit
From things I do in rage

One more time anger, more anger
When it’s flaming hot
Anger burns to the bitter end
Know what I’m talkin’ ’bout, woo
And when it cools I find out too late
I have lost at love, love, love, dear friend

I said, anger (anger)
Will make you sick children, (oh Jesus)
Anger (anger) destroy your soul (ooh)

I ain’t gonna let you get the best of me, babe
I’m gonna go somewhere and cool
This is not the way my head’s supposed to be, babe
You’ve got me feelin’ like some silly fool

But I know a real nice place where I can go
And feel the way I’m supposed to feel

I don’t want to be mad at nobody
(Oh-oh-oh-oh) I don’t want to be feelin’ bad
(Oh-oh-oh-oh) up and down my back, my spine, in my brain
(Oh-oh-oh) it injures me, babe (anger)

Anger, can make you old (anger)
Yes it can (oh)
I said anger (anger)
Will make you sick children, (oh Jesus)
Anger (anger) destroy your soul (ooh)

Anger, ooh-uh-uh
Anger, uh-uh-uh
Anger, uh-uh-uh
Anger, uh-uh-uh
Anger


MOVEMENT II: “IF ONLY FOR ONE NIGHT ”

(April 20,1951 -July 1, 2005)

LUTHER VANDROSS

In a 2017 interview with Andy Cohen, host of Watch What Happens Live, singer Patti Labelle reveals how she met Luther Vandross. She also discussed her conversations with Luther about his sexuality, stating that Luther wanted to “come out,” bu resigned that he never could do so as long as his mother was alive. The tragedy of it is that Luther was never allowed to live his truth and he also died before his mother. Luther died of a heart attack while his mother, Mary Ida, died of natural causes. HIs father, died due to diabetes in 2005 when Luther was only eight years old.

Luther finds himself in this discussion of queer artistry for obvious reasons. There are numerous moments throughout his catalogue where he seems to express his queer desire, but on muted terms. One example is his 1994 cover of Roberta Flack’s 1973 “Killing Me Softly.” There, Luther sings the song but does not change the gendered lyrics. The sadness of the song is augmented all the more by the fact that it seems to amplify Luther’s lived experience as expressed across numerous other tracks, namely his cover of Brenda Russell’s 1979 “If Only for One Night” and Dionne Warwick’s 1964 “A House is Not a Home.” Both songs give voice to his longing and intense desire to be loved.

I wanted to write a love story for Luther. I wanted to imagine the “If Only For One Night Scenario,” but that poem wouldn’t happen. Instead I developed a strong focus on his heart, most especially in relation to him dying of a heart attack. The irony wouldn’t let up, giving rise to “It’s No Disgrace,” taken from a line in the song in which Luther declares that he feels no disgrace pining for his unrequited love. Disgrace functions in the poem as a signifier of his mother’s silent disapproval, Luther’s own concept of self as shameful, and his imagined lover’s disgrace-filled decline to love him in return. The poem ruminates on queerness as socially aberrant and consequently romantically disrupted by notions of disgrace rooted in respectability politics.

“IF ONLY FOR ONE NIGHT” (LYRICS)

Let me hold you tight
If only for one night
Let me keep you near
To ease away your fear
It would be so nice
If only for one night

I won’t tell a soul
No one has to know
If you want to be totally discreet
I’ll be at your side
If only for one night

If only for one night
Your eyes say things
I never hear from you
And my knees are shakin too
But I’m willing, willing to go through
I must be crazy
Standing in this place
But I’m feeling no disgrace
For asking

Let me hold you tight
If only for one night
Let me keep you near
To ease away your fear
It would be so nice
If only for one night

If only for one night
I tell you what I need is
(One night, one night oh)
What I need is
(One night, one night)
Of your love, of you love, of your lovin ooh
I’m asking

Let me take you home
To keep you safe and warm
‘Till the early dawn
Warms up to the sun
It would be so nice if only for one night

If only for one night
If only for one night
If only for one night, night, night, yeah one night
If only for one, night


MOVEMENT III: “DIRTY MIND”

PRINCE ROGERS NELSON

(June 7, 1958- April 21, 2016)

I am situating Prince within this ecology of queerness by reason of his turn toward what is arguably transvestism—arguably only because his presentation challenges notions of effeminacy and androgyny for adoring fans. Prince’s identity, however undefined, certainly goes against the grain of what is considered “traditional” black masculinity. Added to this, his flawless falsetto, physique, and even sometimes his ambiguous lyrics leave plenty of queer speculative space open for exploration of how and why we distribute sexuality “passes.” Of note, sexuality has little to do with a sole focus on who one has sex with or how they choose to have sex. Rather it is the collective expression of the individual’s sexual understanding of themselves irrespective of whether or not that understanding. may be neatly categorized or named. This makes it all the more interesting that at a point in his career Prince dropped his name and opted for a “love” symbol that combined the male and female symbols for gender identity. Though conversations about his sexuality and identity were had during his lifetime, the degree to which those conversations were willing to honestly tread in theoretical waters is lacking. There persists a desire to keep the name and legacy “clean” that overlooks the genius of the “dirty mind.”

“Dirty Mind” explores the genius brilliance of anti-normative expression. It asserts that that which we marginalize often holds threatening value, and that doing so would—as evidenced by this assemblage of black queer genius—deprive us of magic-level black queer art. It calls for acknowledgment of the willfully overlooked, and recognition of the full tapestry of black genius.

“IF I WAS YOUR GIRLFRIEND” (LYRICS)

Look at the bargains over here, ladies

Ooh, oh
Ooh, hoo, oh yeah
Ooh, hoo
If I was your girlfriend, would you remember
To tell me all the things you forgot when I was your man?
Hey hey, when I was your man

If I was your best friend, would you let me
Take care of you and do all the things that only a best friend can?
Oh, only best friends can

If I was your girlfriend
Ooh, hoo, ho ooh
If I was your girlfriend

If I was your girlfriend, would you let me dress you
I mean, help you pick out your clothes before we go out?
Not that you’re helpless
But sometime, sometime those are the things that bein’ in love’s about

If I was your one and only friend
Would you run to me if somebody hurt you even if that somebody was me, yeah
Sometimes I trip on how happy we could be, please

If I was your girlfriend
Ooh, hoo, hoo
If I was your girlfriend

Would you let me wash your hair?
Could I make you breakfast sometime?
Well then, could we just hang out
I mean, could we go to a movie and cry together?
‘Cause to me baby, that would be so fine (that would be so fine), ooh

Baby, can I dress you
I mean, help you pick out your clothes before we go out? (if I was your girlfriend)
Listen girl, I ain’t sayin you’re helpless
But sometime, sometime those are the things that bein’ in love’s about

Sugar
Sugar, do you know what I’m saying to you this evening? (If I was your girlfriend)
Maybe you think I’m being a little self-centered
But I, I said I want to be all of the things you are to me (if I was your girlfriend)
Surely, surely you can see

Is it really necessary for me to go out of the room
Just because you want to undress?
We don’t have to make children to make love

And we don’t have to make love to have an orgasm
Your body’s what I’m all about
Can I see it?
I’ll show you
Why not?

You can do it because I’m your friend
I’d do it for you
Of course I’d undress in front of you
And when I’m naked, what shall I do?

How can I make you see that it’s cool?
Can’t you just trust me?
If I was your girlfriend, you could
Oh yeah, I think so

Listen, for you naked I would dance a ballet
Would that get you off?
Tell me what will
If I was your girlfriend, would you tell me?

Would you let me see you naked then?
Would you let me give you a bath?
Would you let me tickle you so hard you’d laugh and laugh

And would you, would you let me kiss you there
You know, down there where it counts
I’ll do it so good, I swear I’ll drink every ounce
And then I’ll hold you tight and hold you long
And together we’ll stare into silence

And we’ll try to imagine what it looks like
Yeah, we’ll try to imagine what, what silence looks like
Yeah, we’ll, we’ll try to imagine what silence looks like
Yeah, we’ll try


MOVEMENT III: “Can WE Talk?…”

TEVIN CAMPBELL

(November 12, 1976)

Tevin Campbell enters this conversation partly due to his recent decision to come out on social media—a confession many expressed not being surprised by. He did not comment on why he hadn’t come out sooner. Campbell’s career began at a very young age. In 1999, at the age of 22, Campbell was arrested on charges of soliciting oral sex and drug possession involving a male undercover police officer. He was sentenced to attend Narcotics Anonymous and AIDS Awareness classes. Campbell has done very few interviews so he gives us little to contemplate. I’m interested in his silence and his solicitation. Without a complete narrative of the event it is difficult to know the circumstances under which he would have been brought to this event But the palpable amount of suppression and repression around his identity, whether from the public or as projected by Campbell himself makes him an interesting object to me. In so many ways he aligns with singers like Chaka Khan, Whitney Houston, and Rahsaan Patter. on. Most especially Houston and Patterson, who notes that in the music industry, male singers are discouraged from using certain “color” or emotion in their voice if it is perceived as feminine. Unlike Prince, Campbell didn’t play with lyrical androgyny or performative. He does often, however, mix the interplay of spirituality and sexuality, as resonant in his voice choices and lyrics. “Infant “Child” speaks to Campbell’s declaration of enduring humanity and spiritual certainty despite whatever identic shifts he may experience. I like the piece as an entree to exploring queer spirituality and respectability politics. “Child of God” exploits queer exploitation and affirms the already-alright inherent spirituality of being queer—a kind of sexual/spiritual balance of presence. In my thoughts on black queer spirituality, I am most interested in black and queer people finding God in themselves, and returning to indigenous practices that align with who we are and how we should see ourselves spiritually as whole beings.

https://www.thereckoningmag.com/the-reckoning-blog/the-curious-case-of-tevin-campbell

“Infant Child” (LYRICS)

No mater what I’ve become
I will always remain
My lord supreme Infant child
Child
(repeat)


TARIQ SAINT-SANKOFA

 is an instructor at East Carolina University. His teaching career spans eleven years and collectively includes teaching composition, literary studies, and gender studies courses. Roberson is a research as well as creative writer, currently compiling a book of poetry entitled Outside of Honor.

SANKOFA SERVICESLLC 

is a parent entity, a Humanities & Healing Arts (HHA) collective that aims to foster opportunities for creative and artistic development as well as intuitive wellness engagement practices. We provide high quality assistance in concept to construction project management and targeted artist mentorship. As well, we offer a range of services geared specifically to wellness and spiritual arts as modalities for individual self-care. SANKOFA SERVICES, LLC, upholds the well-known West African, Akan principle, “Sankofa,”which means to “Go back and fetch it.” The core principle upon which this entity was founded teaches that the artist lives within us, the art is created with each experience, and our job in the present moment is to mine the moments for their past contribution to our current artistic truth.