Amy Andre

Stereotypes about Black Lesbians

Filed By Amy Andre | December 12, 2011 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, The Movement
Tags: bisexuals, black lesbians, feminism, invisibility, mothers, race and sexuality, stereotypes

Invisible-Families-Book-Cover.jpgDr. Mignon Moore, a UCLA professor and the author of Invisible Families: Gay Identities, Relationships, and Motherhood among Black Women, published an article on the Huffington Post last month about black women in same-sex relationships. In my opinion, her work is incredibly important, because it paints a picture of the lives of women of color and the way race, gender, and sexuality intersect in those lives. For example, she writes:

Relative to white couples, black couples are less likely to own their own homes, less likely to be employed, and more likely to live in poverty. In terms of socio-economic characteristics, they have more in common with the black communities in which they live than with the LGBT community overall. For these women, like other LGBT people of color, their sexual orientation does not provide them with a magic pass to the mythical world of rich, white gay affluence.

Much of the article is about the fact that many of the women in her study are raising children with their female partners. The analysis of the route to motherhood, though, is surprising. (emphasis mine)

While Williams Institute analyses have revealed that black women in same-sex couples are more than twice as likely as white women to be raising children under 18, I also found that children in black lesbian households tend not to track mainstream stories of lesbians having children through (often expensive) alternative insemination methods. Instead, they're doing it the old-fashioned way: the most frequent route to motherhood among the women I interviewed is through a prior heterosexual relationship before accepting a gay sexuality.

Dr. Moore is suggesting that the narrative for these women was a life of thinking they were straight but now "knowing" that they are lesbians. I don't buy it. That may be the case for the women she interviewed, but, if so, I think that, compared to information from the Williams Institute, it is probably a statistical anomaly. On top of that, this language feeds into a negative stereotype about black lesbians: that they don't know themselves - don't understand their own sexuality - as well as or as quickly as white lesbians know themselves. As a feminist and as a black woman, that implication doesn't sit right with me.

After all, isn't it possible that these women are - and were - identifying as bi, during both relationships? Isn't it possible that their sexuality has been internally understood and consistent all along?

Data from the Williams Institute shows that the bi community is skewed toward female and toward black and brown. Consider these three findings from the Williams Institute's research:

  1. More bi-identified people are female than are any other gender.
  2. Compared to the general population, bi-identified people are more likely to be people of color.
  3. Twice as many women identify as bi, compared to the number of women who identify as lesbian.

So, it's not a stretch to imagine that these black women in same-sex relationships who used to be in different-sex relationships are more likely to be bi than lesbian. And I feel it is a stretch to say that black women who identify as lesbians somehow lag behind in self-acceptance compared to white lesbians. That might be the experience of some, but it's not the story of all - especially when we allow for the possibilities of bi-identification.

We do these women a disservice by saying they used to be that but didn't really accept themselves for who they "truly" are, and now they are this, because they finally do - when really they might have never have been this or that, but actually have been the other all along.

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