Rev Irene Monroe

Malcolm X Was Gay for Pay

Filed By Rev Irene Monroe | April 07, 2011 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, Living
Tags: bisexual, civil rights, Malcolm X, prostitution

Before any of us in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities laud Malcolm X as our new gay icon or461px-Malcolm-x.jpg castigate him for being a black heterosexist nationalist on the "down low," we might need to closely examine the recent revelation that for a period in his life Malcolm X engaged in same-sex relationships.

Also, before any of us in the African American community flatly dismiss these assertions as part and parcel of a racist conspiratorial propaganda machine that is out to discredit our brother Malcolm, we need, at least, to hear these nagging claims.

And this time hear them coming from one of our own - Manning Marable, a renowned and respected African American historian and social critic from Columbia University.

Sadly, Marable died April 1, just days before the release of his magnum opus, an exhaustive and new 594-page biography Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, on April 4th, which also marks the anniversary of Martin Luther King's assassination in 1968.

His assertions in the book - deriving from meticulously combing through 6,000 pages of F.B.I. files obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, records from the Central Intelligence Agency, State Department and New York district attorney's office, as well as his interviews with members of Malcolm X's inner circle and security team - leaves the reader in shock and awe.

For those of us who always thought Malcolm X's assassination, as with King's, had everything to do with J. Edgar Hoover's FBI, we are correct. Marable emphatically states that both the FBI and NYPD had advance knowledge of Malcolm X's assassination plot and did nothing to stop it.

But what will come as a shock is Marable's assertions that the Malcolm X the world has come to know through Alex Haley's 1965 New York Times bestseller The Autobiography of Malcolm X and Spike Lee's 1992 film Malcolm X based largely on Haley's book is fictive. And the spin we have, in part, is due to Malcolm himself.

In creating an autobiographical narrative that would have his book fly off of bookshelves as well as elevate his status to a national - if not world - stage, Malcolm X intentionally fabricated, exaggerated, glossed over, and omitted vital facts about his life. One such fact omitted was his same-sex relationship with a white businessman.

The claim, no doubt, will become a hotly contested topic in sectors of the African American community. With an iconography of racist images of black masculinity ranging from back in the day as Sambos, Uncle Toms, coons, and bucks to now gangsta hip-hoppers, Malcolm represented the negation of them.

As a pop-culture hero to young black males of this generation and as the quintessential representation of black manhood of both America's black civil rights and Black Power eras, a gay Malcolm X will be a hard, if not impossible, sell to the African American community.

And here's why.

At Malcolm X's funeral, held at the Faith Temple Church Of God in February 27, 1965, Ossie Davis, renowned African American actor and civil rights activist, delivered the eulogy stating the following:

Harlem has come to bid farewell to one of its brightest hopes. ...Malcolm was our manhood, our living, black manhood! This was his meaning to his people. ...And we will know him then for what he was and is. A prince. Our own black shining prince who didn't hesitate to die because he loved us so.

For a gangsta hip-hop generation, Malcolm Little - before his conversation to the Nation of Islam and name change - represents for them a lauded hypermasculinity. And their male-dominated musical genre is aesthetically built on the most misogynistic and homophobic strains of Black Nationalism and afrocentricism.

But this claim by Marable, however, of Malcolm's same-sex relationship is not new. Reports of Malcolm X's queerness was first revealed in Bruce Perry's 1991 biography, Malcolm: The Life of a Man Who Changed Black America.

According to Perry, Malcolm's same-sex dalliances date back to childhood where he enjoyed being masturbated or fellated. In his 20s, Perry informs us, Malcolm had a sustained sexual relationship with a transvestite named Willie Mae, and also he had sex with gay men for money, boasting he serviced "queers."

I am not heterosexist apologist, but if we, as LGBTQ, use this era of Malcolm's life to claim him as gay, we misunderstand the art of survival in street hustling culture.

Similarly, if we, as African Americans, use this era of Malcolm's life to dismiss that he engaged in same-sex relationships, many will miss the opportunity to purge ourselves of homophobic attitudes.

When Malcolm came to Boston to live with his older half-sister, Roxbury's Ella Little Collins, he was 16, having dropped out of school at 15. With no job skills and looking for the most expedient route to acquire money, Malcolm peddled cocaine, broke into homes of Boston's well-to-do, gambled big at poker games, and unabashedly serviced gay men for pay.

While it can be argued that Malcolm's same-sex encounters were not solely financially motivated, let us also not dismiss that the only evidence we do have is the context in which he was.

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Incredible analysis. Thank you.

Chitown Kev | April 7, 2011 1:48 PM

Rev. Monroe, that headline!


Wasn't this was alluded to (pretty strongly in my opinion, but of course, not overtly) in the Spike Lee movie during the part portraying Malcolm in Boston?

Paige Listerud | April 7, 2011 6:23 PM

Equally notable is that Malcolm's conversion to the Nation of Islam meant a thorough rejection of his past and his "straightening out" under the proscribed sex and gender roles of that denomination. Who knows if Malcolm could ever have felt positive about any of his same-sex experiences, even the earlier ones that were not a part of any financial transaction. I'm not sure I would want the LGBTQ to rush to claim and ex-gay or ex-bisexual as a role model.

"I am not heterosexist apologist, but if we, as LGBTQ, use this era of Malcolm's life to claim him as gay, we misunderstand the art of survival in street hustling culture.

Similarly, if we, as African Americans, use this era of Malcolm's life to dismiss that he engaged in same-sex relationships, many will miss the opportunity to purge ourselves of homophobic attitudes."

Very well put.

One observation I have is that, if MX did indeed have gay sex with white guys, then I doubt that he got any genuine pleasure out of it -- and thus, the notion that he did it to survive financially makes a lot of sense. Even when a prostitute or hustler gets paid, she or he can still feel raped.

Not to condemn him, but it is pretty clear that MX was a black racist -- very much unlike MLK -- seeing how he made statements such as "the white man is Satan" and the hopelessness he expressed regarding the possibility that white populations in future America could ever overcome the racism of their heritage. Unlike MLK, Malcolm X's rhetoric was much less about changing hearts and more about establishing black political and economic power. In contrast to MLK's dream of brotherhood and sisterhood between white and black, the America of Malcolm's dream would have looked more like the endless contentiousness we see in the modern Middle East.

My own experience is that a big change occurred inside me when I quit having sex with anonymous black men and allowed myself to get emotionally attached to a number of them, most now in my past. (Dare I be either so candid or so innocent as to claim that I "fell in love"?)

I don't think you can have such an experience and come out of it totally racist against the race of the person you love(d). In order to love someone, you have to embrace their humanity. That is why I react with such resentment when historians question whether true romantic attachment existed in inter-racial couples during slavery times, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings being the most well-known example. (Even so, it must be acknowledged that Jefferson continued to own slaves, even after he began his intimate relationship with Hemmings.)

So ... did MX have sex with other men, including white men? Possibly. Was he gay? I would emphatically urge that we conclude not.