Dear Black Men,
There is no need for RompHim thought pieces. I tweeted as much the other day.
More accurately, we shouldn’t need to think pieces on the RompHim. It should be the fashion-forward, yet slightly goofy, summer fashion trend. It is in all reality the male equivalent of the sundress, light, cute and, if done right, a little sexy. The RompHim should have been the thing of memes and silly Twitter debates. Inevitably, however, it became the latest iteration of black hypermasculinity ruining the party.
At nearly forty years old I have seen all manner of gay panic among black men starting with my father who taught me that real men suck on straws. It’s a lesson so deeply rooted that to this day, despite whatever enlightenment I perceive myself to have, still, sticks with me. I have been called gay for more reasons than I care to count (for the record I am a straight cis male) including my years of bleach blond hair and muscle shirts. I have had my manhood questioned directly and indirectly so many times I wondered if I was deluding my own self. So why should I be surprised that as I consider whether or not the male romper will be a part of my summer wardrobe the straight checking begins.
As frustrating as the inherent homophobic undertones of the “that shit is gay” conversation that perpetuates itself through anything that veers even slightly off the gender normative course is, it’s how deeply rooted in white supremacy and the echoing history of slavery that frustrates me most. It is the root of why so many black men ready to claim themselves the descendants of kings are so uncomfortable in their collective skin that they fear the prospect of their own freedom. We the people who birthed the likes of Michael Jackson and Prince inexplicably find ourselves unprepared for the Russell Westbrooks, Cam Newtons, and Jaiden Smiths. The exuding of frivolity and happiness has, for many black men, became a sign of weakness. How do we shed the heaviness of oppression when we are afraid to be weightless?
For as long as I can remember I have idolized my brother. He’s incredibly smart and has been my north star when it comes to style. I have spent years working through my own insecurities as I watched him navigate life with a confidence I could never accurately portray in words. My brother is a proud gay black man. I couldn’t have picked a better role model if I tried. For the record, the RompHim is a non-starter for him. He just thinks they are tacky.
Male fragility permeates all facets of life. It judges men over their sexuality. It harasses women in persist of there’s and threatens to kill us all for not falling in line. Male fragility has me residing in a space where I am feared and fearful. To wit, the RompHim/gay conversation is less about the garment and more a reminder that we are all being watched and judged.
No, in 2017 the RompHim shouldn’t be a referendum on masculinity any more than masculinity should be the barometer of the value of a person’s humanity. I shouldn’t have to write this letter. It shouldn’t need to be published, but here we are.
To the Black men reading this, specifically those who use things like clothing and style as judgment and derision. Those of you who would rather fight a stranger than battle your own demons I ask this question. What have you gained? Your sense of control is false and the fear you think you have hidden is written all over your face. If you truly want to be free then follow those who are free, or at least freer than you. At the very least let those who are truly living life.
Go on and romp. You just might find happiness in the process.