Thursday, February 16, 2012

Conversation: Being Black and LGBT, Homophobia, and Transphobia

via HuffPost Gay Voices, by Janet Mock and Clay Cane

Our Voice To Voice conversation series began in January with a collection of interviews between LGBT authors discussing their work, queer life and some of the challenges of writing.

In February, celebrating Black History Month, we've asked some prominent and inspiring individuals to join the Voice To Voice series so we can get an window into some of the issues that define and challenge people who are both African-American and gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

Last week we featured Laverne Cox and her twin brother M. Lamar and on Monday we offered a conversation between two Charlotte, North Carolina lesbian activists, LaWana Mayfield and Rhonda Watlington.

On Tuesday we shared Meshell Ndegeocello and Toshi Reagon's discussion.

Today we're featuring a conversation about identity between Clay Cane and Janet Mock.

Clay Cane is a radio personality and journalist who's contributed to numerous publications such as The Root, theGrio, The Advocate and, where he's the Entertainment Editor. Aspiring to be a James Baldwin with a pop culture twist, he spends his Thursday nights as host of Clay Cane Live on New York's WWRL 1600AM.

Janet Mock is a writer who earned a GLAAD Award nomination for her story about growing up transgender. She's also a Staff Editor at, hosts the relationships podcast "The Missing Piece" and is writing her memoir about her adolescent journey beyond gender.

In 2012, she was named one of theGrio's 100 most influential leaders making history today for "challenging the stigma surrounding gender identity."

Here, Cane and Mock discuss their decision to be out as journalists, the duality of being black and LGBT and dealing with homophobia and transphobia, respectively.

Janet Mock: So happy to finally meet you! I feel I already know you from reading your work and being a fan of your radio show.

Clay Cane: I feel the same way! I’ve wanted to interview you for a long time. I loved your article in Marie Claire because it created such a buzz in the community and sparked a dialogue I hadn't heard in a long time. And congratulations on the GLAAD Award nomination!

JM: Thank you. The outpouring of support is surreal to me. But I'm sure we can spend the hour fan-girling out. [Laughs]

CC: Yeah, I'm sure we could go on and on. Okay, I have a question for you: Having "come out" as trans in such a public way, when you think of gender identity, what does it mean to be a woman?

JM: I can only talk about what it means to be me. I intimately know what it means to be Janet, this young woman who comes from this evolutionary existence having grown up trans.

To be a woman means standing fully in your truth and owning the totality of your experiences -- things that have really nothing to do with gender.

That sense of owning who you are is what attracted me to you. You've talked about the duality of your experience as a black, gay man, quoting Zora Neale Hurston, saying, you're not tragically colored or tragically gay. Can you expand on that?

CC: For many people, they look at being LGBT as having a tragic life: living an existence of shame, rejection and anger. That's not my story and I will not let that be my story.

Actually, being gay saved my life. If I would've been straight, I would’ve more than likely been in jail or dead like the other boys in my neighborhood in West Philadelphia.

Because I was gay, I was introverted. I would stay home and study, listening to Madonna and Prince! [Laughs] I wouldn't be the writer that I am if I don’t fully accept all of the dimensions of myself.

JM: I find that to be fully you is amazing but it's a whole other thing when you do it in your profession as you've consciously done as an openly gay journalist.

CC: I got into the writing industry via other gay men who were closeted. They felt like it would hurt their careers if they were out. Well, from the start of my career I made the decision to be who I am because I didn't want anybody to say, "Well, he interviewed T.I., but he's a faggot!" Being out made me a better writer.

You can't sit down with a stranger and get the truth out of them when you're paranoid about somebody finding out your truth. The truth is, being who I am has never stopped me from getting a job.

I wouldn't have gotten my radio show on WWRL if I had been closeted. What about your coming out as a journalist?

JM: While making the decision to tell my story, I definitely took on other people's thoughts about me, internalizing other people's transphobia.

So when I came out publicly, I was armed for people to say awful things about me. Instead, I was overwhelmingly embraced.

I wasn't expecting the love and light that actually came my way, and the opportunities that arose as well because I chose to be open about my journey.

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