MSM Power Couples: To Be Or Not To Be?, Part 1 by Kyle Phoenix

Recently I was asked a question that I’ve pondered personally, generally and professionally for years.  It was about the appearance and value of Black and Latino male homosexual Power Couples of color.  Now we all know what one is, a Power Couple, by their names---Oprah and Stedman, Will and Jada, Ellen and Portia, Elton and David, Jay-Z and Beyonce, Gloria and Reuben but the question posed was where were the Latino (Ricky Martin and……?), or Black  (James Baldwin and….?)---where were the MSM of color in committed marriages/relationships having and using their credibility and power to publicly better their community and/or society?  Were there even any MSM of color Power Couples?  There are a multitude of singular activists and writers and teachers and even television personalities but are there a comparable Will and Jada that I guess we could look to as an aspiration, a symbol, call on for help and guidance, cheer for and sigh in dreamy appreciation of?  Comprised of two men of color who were in love, with one another, and public and vocal about that? 
Not so much.

 In the examination of that I found that brings into play 4 Factors that I was able to determine impede MSM in general and in the congregation into a Power Couple, that if dealt with, if reversed or traversed would assist, create or make one attractive to meeting a match and creating such a union..

Internal Race Discrimination
Outness and discrimination within our own communities due to the "shortage" of viable men of color as heterosexual partners/breeding stock breeds guilt and stigma to the initial step of being Out and authentic with one’s sexuality and fundamental desires.
This is one of the heaviest shame/guilt bombs thrown at MSM, their lack of “usefulness” to their community of origin, due to their sexuality.  In fact I would argue that the pressure to be heterosexual for their racial/ethnicity community due to that’s communities lack of viable men is one of the major and most prevalent reasons why MSM of color are so conflicted about their sexuality.  Something feels good but different and yet there is The Struggle.  The eternal struggle of “how we’re perceived” mainly by the dominant white culture and how we should therefore act/represent is drilled into us by our families because of the inherent survival factor tied to our race and it’s mobility through society.  One of us becomes responsible for “all of us” which harkens back to slavery when we were controlled as a mass.  If I did something wrong, potentially the whole community would be punished with beatings, starving, less rights and privileges, so we kept each other in check by keeping ourselves in check which in turn kept the community in check.  People and communities kept in check do not grow at the same speed or depth.
               If we were to have an MSM couple of color, Jamal and Jose let’s call them---they would still be in some form of struggle with their family and their community as to what was expected of their manhood.  And no matter how politically voting liberal it might seem on the media surface,  the expectation/allowance of Black and Latino men from their communities of origin is not homosexuality.  Now individuals within their origin community might accept it privately or even publicly---but it’s sort of like coming out to having a disability.  There are accommodations and acknowledgements made of the disabled because there must be, but the standard/the norm is considered the able-bodied.
               This potentiality of Jamal and Jose being our Power Couple for the 21st Century, out loud and proud, owning property, well educated immediately begs the question of what an MSM of color's "power base" would be predicated on.  Sexuality?  Race?  Gender?  All three would be conflict ridden as a couple, perhaps even divisive, whereas generally an individual can decide their own stance without having to consult another person as one must in a couple. 
               But does race trump sexuality? 
               Does a man of color, and all the historical baggage that brings trump sexuality? 
               Which comes first? 
               Which are you seen as first and which are you allowed to present first? 
               Oprah can present she’s a woman and a Black woman, she can even reverse it.  Stedman can be a man or a Black man, first.  But is it no coincidence that the public slurs around them have been to throw into question their sexuality, not being heterosexual?  Isn’t this a way of undermining their choice of how they present themselves?  Has there ever been the suggestion that Bill Clinton is secretly homosexual and his philandering is merely him “trying to cover it too much” (his true homosexuality)?  Or that Hillary Clinton stood by her man because she’s secretly a lesbian and couldn’t survive politically without a heterosexual relationship?
               My point is we don’t account for race, sex and gender the same way for people of color that we do for white people and thereby by co-joining into this framework, we conspire to eradicate the possibility of an LGBT Power Couple.
Power
The definition and accumulation of power must be learned, taught and practiced in order to be effectively used to any large scale end.  Whether that be a music concert, opening a stadium in the heart of Brooklyn, owning a television network, running a multimedia juggernaut, managing an entertainment empire, acting in films, managing real estate, owning resorts/hotels or even a sports team.  These positions and abilities exist within couples and individuals of both African and Latino descent but not in the sheer numbers that it does in white couples of either gender (or their mixed gender.)  The lack of practice comes from limited opportunities to practice power on small and increasingly larger scales.  Power on a national level as a mass or as an individual is new, a new convention/invention from essentially the Civil War forward (about 150 years where we've held swaying economic, social, financial and political power that can be directed.)  The Civil Rights Movement and Oprah Winfrey’s push and lending of her fame and influence to Barack Obama through the primaries to get him to the serious candidate level are some of our glaring examples so far in that history of community usage of power and an individual’s usage of personal/societal power. 
You can see by my examples that I’m talking about power/influence that is long reaching, tangible, sure to effect multiple generations, consumed or joined into by millions, potentially worth billions upon billions and a system/event that is constantly exampled and re-examined as well as used as a strategic architecture for the future.  That’s the kind of power I’m talking about, the power to shift society, to change the world, to deeply and profoundly affect the fabric of humanity.  The list of Power Couples that I’ve mentioned so far fall into that continuum, where in their small but influential domains (entertainment, politics, finance, sports) have the ability to cross multiple domains owing to their talents, largesse, fame, money, social capital, and yes, understanding, possession and usage of power.
LGBT men of color don’t get the same level of opportunities.  Perhaps the closest is to head an LGBT organization of color, to be the Executive Director, the CEO but even that is slightly contrived.  You’re a singer whose leader of the choir---in many ways you’re the leader because your gender and sexuality fit whom you lead.  Real power crosses and transcends simply one’s race, gender or sexuality.  When we seek to quantify an LGBT Power Couple we’re stuck with the fact that they have to exact and enact power outside of one of the prime reasons, sexuality, why we’re including them in the evaluative process.  Being in the choir literally limits one to the choir by the fact that they’re supported wholly, only by the choir.
 
Social Class
               Social class engenders and determines a personalized appreciation of what "advancement" means to you and those around you.  Crassly, where you start suggests how you think until you know how to think differently, generally by exposure to other social classes or studying of how to access the next level.  Most MSM of color (or WSW) are only the 1st or 2nd generation of Middle Class or higher and the assumption, usage and faculty of power requires Middle Class going TO Upper/Rich/Wealth. 
               40% of people of color so far are in permanent generational poverty, another 50%+ are in working class to middle class, it varies by life stage (school, working, unemployed, and the elderly.)  Optimistically a large majority of us are still 1-2 generations away from being solidly Middle Class therefore the accumulation of social, political, economic power is still in process.)  And in order to wield power, you must be familiar with it, in order to be familiar with it you must be allowed to enter the spheres and mingle with the folk who “make the world go around” and in order to do that you must feel comfortable being in the corridors or power and they must feel comfortable with you and your behavior to have you there.  We can blame “The System” for being set up this way or understand that The System is ultimately comprised of people---people who manage the system and those who profit from it and most damningly, those who agree to it because they don’t, can’t or won’t create oppositional systems because of the loss of work, money, comfort.  In many ways The System of slavery sustained for so long because slaves were forced into supporting it.  Their support stemmed from the fact that they lacked they social, economic and educational resources to attack, dismantle and re-create a new system.  The problem is that for African American and Latino people, that mentality still exists.  By this I would point to other ethnic and racial groups that have endured mass holocausts but do not believe that it was a state of being, rather a state of time and situation.  People of color psychologically don’t always see the price of identifying to both the state of being: “I was a slave” and the state of time and situation: “I was in slavery.” By fusing the two it creates a undeviating attachment to both.
               The inherent lesson of how to detach one’s self from the state of being and the state of time and situation would then infuse, as a mass, the ability to do that around one’s family of origin’s, one’s previous and one’s future, social class. 
               One has to release having been a slave, in slavery, to progress.
               To some degree this bespeaks the push around advanced education (or even completing high school) to minority males.  In New York State alone where I live, 70% of Black and over 60% of Latino males do not graduate high school within the standard 12 years.  Only 30% to 40% of males from both Black and Latinos (it’s on the lower end for Latino males) goes to and completes college. 
               This means that if say there are 10 MSM standing in line. 
·        7 of them didn’t complete high school.  (4 of those 7 eventually completed high school/got a GED.)
·        2 of those 10 are in jail, currently or bouncing in and out having got caught up in a life of criminality or were absorbed so deeply into the system through harsh sentencing that they’ll never get out.

That leaves us about 5 MSM who aren’t active criminals, completed high school and maybe half of that 5 completed college.
·        At least 1 of those 5 has active drug or mental health issues that are extreme enough to knock him out of being capable of managing a LTR and utilizing “power”.

That means that there are 4 viable MSM for every 10 that are capable until you break them down by demographics.  Half of all homosexual men of color are not “out”, and our Power Couple requires deep transparency for us to emulate them. 
·        Now we’re down to 2 men, who are ready, willing, able, educated and committed.
But they live across country from each other and may never meet.  They may settle for partners that are present and willing to love them rather than searching for an “equal” to create Power Couple-dom.
White MSM aren’t affected by the same social ills that effect Black and Latino men, especially MSM so they are more able to unify and meet each other.  For the 2 men that men of color whittle down to, white MSM whittle down to 6 comparatively.  (This might also answer why men of color, pointedly MSM, are more likely at a certain point in seeking a partner of equivalent abilities or higher, date and marry interracially.)  However they also have another internalized fission, if you will, that makes power activate.
Privilege and Entitlement
               Internal to then become actualized power requires a sense of privilege and/or entitlement which has so far (yes, it's rapidly changing) been held by mainly white people in America.  This translates down to, we, people of color and MSM of color, are just learning en masse how to identify and codify and therefore coalesce power as individuals.  We had the group experience in the Civil Right Movements---which is why it's such a social and psychological touchstone for us, but Chennault, Parsons, Reginald Johnson, Oprah, Jay-Z, Ann Fudge, Suzanne DePasse, they exist but aren’t wholly accessible to all of us as mentors/teachers/patrons.  There is also a leaning of our Power People into the realms of entertainment/sports---where a level of universalized power would also include finance, real estate, international finance, law, sciences.  We aren’t educated, able to access and self-confident to use the power in as many domains as one needs to truly hold power.  Privilege and entitlement also confers a sense of “I belong”, “I should be heard”, “I am right in my thinking about this issue”---that MSM of color are still learning, testing out, playing with.  And yes, we graduate but it’s only 2 out 10 of us who does.  And it’s a big dance floor/country to find a similar partner.

               Desegregation and education, therefore advancement, is still in progress today. So a Power Couple would look more like a racially mixed couple, as the white person would have a sense of privilege/entitlement (from being white in America) and not be as threatened by a Black or Latino partner feeling or being so privileged and entitled as well.  In many ways, due to historical racial state of being MSM of color also hold or make it uncomfortable to hold and exercise power.  When I've held a political position, attended/taught at an Ivy college, written books, have a TV show, blog, YouTube---to me it's been a process of one brick after another to other MSM of color it can seem like a massive empire that is impossible to not be intimidated by.  I conversely personally am surprised by men of color being intimidated by knowledge and ability because of how I perceive men of color: as capable beyond whatever states of time and situation have wrought.  The effect is that more white and Latino MSM than Black MSM pursue me effectively and authentically.

               I've found myself, at least 10 years ago having to be completely open to all races for some of those power balancing and "allowance issues" as well as racial segregation just based on racially being "loyal" to me is silly when procreation isn't possible to trip through miscegenation with two men over.
               But even that modality of thinking is privilege based.  It comes from being raised Middle Class and higher; it comes from having advanced educated grandparents and parents; it comes from my own advanced education; it comes from coming from ever escalating, liberated people.  Recently I was having a discussion with my mother about the business of publishing and my step by step growth and plans.  She mentioned a cousin who’d we’d both seen recently at a holiday party and their comments about my work.  Not negative, but befuddled.  Essentially they wanted to know why I would write instead of create TV shows like Tyler Perry.  The idea that talent and interests are exchangeable and more importantly immediate in their outcomes.  My answer then had been that it took Tyler Perry almost a decade to go from start to successful plays and a total of 15 years before he emerged with his first film; my explanation being that it takes time to become how others perceive stardom and success.  I also didn’t honestly know what I completely envisioned my full result to be.  My cousin was deeply dissatisfied with this answer.  The next point being then couldn’t I marry a woman or even a man who would accelerate this?  I calmly explained, knowing the stuff in my head from experience that I’ve written above---it’s not that easy to find the appropriate partner.
               My mother in our later conversation heard my frustration with trying to essentially explain myself and reflected back at me something I already knew, she said: “He doesn't understand because he didn't grow up with me and your father reading and starting businesses and going to school so he thinks the process is instantaneous.”
               I saw my cousin clearly prior to but softened again understanding then that I was oddity to him.  Which is probably the last point, power means standing out among your tribe.  It means being a 1 gallon among person 16 ounce family members.  It means that not only do you have to leave them in some ways but that you will become more and more uncomfortable with those that don’t advance and change.  I have a cousin who has spent the past 30 years in and out of jail, he and I probably could have a conversation about the few years I remember him as teenager or maybe relatives in common.  Perhaps even we could bridge some insight into how he got there and I didn't, though I had a brief, checkered past.  But then our conversation would sputter out of places to go.  Not because of my lack of interest but to my perception his lack of depth and to his, my expansive distance.
               I’ll expand this forward to dating and the same issue comes up.  While we might be physically/sexuality compatible we’re both considering the demands of raising or lowering our life to accommodate the other.  I’ve experienced more of the lowering, potentially equal and once or twice my having to raise myself and all are difficult to discuss, to figure out.  How do I tell someone that they aren’t enough?  How do they tell me that I’m too much?  Generally, immaturely, I can see in my past a whole host of other behaviors filled that discussion space because maybe we both had a picture in our heads of what a Power Couple would look like.  A few times I can see that my vision was attainable and a few times I can now see where they realized that they couldn't enact the four or five shifts throughout this article to do so.

               The three times I’ve dated men more established, one was Turkish and the other two white and I wasn't ready to settle for them in exchange for social, financial or business power.  All three didn't go far, more to compatibility issues than to inability for me to handle the shift mainly because I was younger than two of them.  The experiences did open my eyes to the fact that there were different levels, different possibilities and some of the architecture needed to construct a Power Couple.  I would heartily and optimistically say it’s possible but the work isn’t in the merging, it’s in the self construction because that will answer all questions of how, whom and whom not to merge with.

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