A major hang-up

Walker, Curtis Lee

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A MAJOR HANG-UP Ilve spent 22 years in maximum security facilities where the culture has a texture unique to that environment. Extremes are embraced when moderation would prove the more productive path. Violence, dominance and emasculation are the languages which most cons come to believe that they must be fluent in to communicate our strength and declare our manhood. I've been here in New Lisbon, a medium security facility for 2 years now. It's not nearly as yiolent as max because many here have prospects for release in the near future. one thing which remains as heavy here as in other more secure facilities is the hang-up on sexuality, the visceral homophobia whiph rears its head everyday in most interaction between the men and the c/o's. I would reckon the between 30-15% of the population here is gay. It may be higher than that. I wouldn't be surprised if it were. I use the word "gay" in the widest sense of the A word. That would include any sexual contact or attraction between men. Homosexual, bisexual, experimental, whateverxtitle one may feel the need to give to it.: For all of the bravado and chest pounding with the tough fronts, insecurity about one's sexuality and homophobia plays a dominate role in the throughout the prison system. This was well illustrated yesterday as a group of us sat in the dayroomp getting philosophical about the issuesyof the day, when a homo- sexual guard walked by. He is a very effeminate fellow, with his hair cut and styled in a way that is difficult to describe except to say that it is stereotypically homosexual. Everyone, including other guards, speak openly about this one guard's sexuality. It bothers some people to no end just‘ having this particular guard around. So the topic of our conver- sation turned to this guard and other gay people. We all had a little laugh at the expense of the openly gay folks around us. Had they overheard us they would have no doubt considered us to be cruel. We were callous in the way that has become normal for us without thinking about it. Initially I took a shot or two in what I thought was a bit of harmless fun. As everyone chimed in, the tone of the conversation got harsher, crueler, more hateful. We were no longer speaking about other people who either choose to live their lives in an alternative way, or feel so compelled. We were speaking about subhumans who repel 3 us simply by their presence among us. Having no commitment to that attitude I sought to change the temperature of the conversation. Surely I wasn't the only one there who thought that the talk had gotten to vitriolic. Surely our inclination to be a part of the crowd didn't distance ‘I us from our humanity so much that we'd even begun to use the same language in speaking about homosexuals that racists use to dehumanize their targets. I had to explore this a bit more to see just how deep those sentiments ran. J.B. was the most strident with his opinions. He said, "The reason why they (the state and the prison administration) -2... got these fags in here is to turn the brothers out. That's why they got us out here in the boondocks, they took away the porno magazines, they keep us from keeping in touch with the world 2 and they want us to give in to all of this gay shit. They want people to become fags to stop us from reproducing.". It is not uncommon to hear hateful speech and conspiracy theories that seem not to be rooted in reality. To challenge those nations would leave you open to the charge that you are, a sympathizer or an apologist, subject to the same ridicule and scorn as the original targets. which is why many of us are silent at best, and worst, we condone those ideas and sentiments. I decided to point out a clear flaw in J.B.'s logic. "Why would being in the presence of homosexuality persuade men to engage in it? Wouldn't that mean that that person had it in them all along?” K with men who have been in prison for a long time certain things can become attached to your name if you do not take care to defend against it: 1) that you secretly informed.for the guards to get yourself out of some jam; 2) that you'd engaged in some gay activity. These things happen often. By unspoken rule you must respond to any aspersions cast your way, lest they be taken as truth by those who hear them. For those of us who have guarded our reputations by not engaging in anything that could be misconstrued as anything other than the actions of a heterosexual. unbroken convict, we speak freely without being concerned that a negative jacket (reputation) might be attached to us because we would be quite willing to fight anyone g who tried to attached such a jacket to us. It is difficult to tell what's in the hearts and minds of men, especially if they grown particularly adept at concealingv their true selves. Cicero said if you simply observe a man, his passions, his desires, that he will reveal himself. It is tempting to think that those people who are so hung up on dehumanizing homosexuals are trying to conceal or repress some frightening urges within themselves. That may be true with some but not with most. with most our insecurity is more likely born our of fear of how we will be perceived by others, especially our peers, and may not be confident in our understanding of what homosexuality is or if it is a threat to our manhood. "Kurt, what are you saying bro", J.B. asked me, "you think that somebody can be around a sissy and not become one?" "Man, that's crazy. I know some stomp down cats who area gay, who'll tell you straight out that they are and won't accept any disrespect from anybody", I explained. "I respect them, they respect me, no gayness has rubbed off on me. Go figure that." Another brother, D.E., said “I don't care if they're trying to make people gay like them, I just don't want the nasty motherfuckers around me. They always looking and always got some bullshit on their minds." "Why'is this even an issue among straight men if we have no personal interest in it", I wanted to know.’"why do you feel it's necessary to spend so much time on the issue when nothing new is ever said? we're straight, we're cool. They're gay; they're less than we.are. What the fuck is our hang-up?“ This was not a flippant question and everyone understood just what I was asking. I was asking everyone to look inside themselves to see if there was something in them or their history which created some insecurity in their character which compels them to react so strongly, so negatively and so hatefully toward homosexuality. I said, "This is necessary to understand what's really moving us. How we treat any section of society reveals a lot about the nature of our own character, especially when we're dealing with people who the majority thinks of as being inferior L and weak." L.B., a brother who I'd been studying with for the time that I'd been here sat there looking at me with eyes that I'd never seen on him before. He seemed to be stunned by something that I said, but I couldn't put my finger on it. I know him to be a thinking man, as politically aware as anyone else here. We'd explored and debated many political issues of the day. And though we disagreed often on different issues;‘we both approached issues with unconcealed sympathy for the oppressed peoples of the world. I assumed that he would be on my side of the issue and would lend his ability to articulate my intent’ in another way that might be easier for others to understand. I was mistaken. Even being aware of the depths of homophobia among us, I was confident that a thinking man such as L.B. would see as -5- I saw, that to dehumanize any person or groups of people, diminishes humanity itself to some degree. I was mistaken. This‘ disconnect between our ability to think and feel, from the way ” that we ignore reason and compassion in favor of piling up on a minority required me to write this. "Kurt, man, what are you on“, L.B. asked. The implication being that I must have some hidden agenda, that I was priming the brothers to accept something that goes against our nature, something profane. How could this brother misjudge my intent and fail to see where I was trying to lead the others to? This is not a question of intelligence or logic. It is a matter of courage and cultural hang-ups. The truth is that everyone but J.B. undertsood what I was getting at, and I suspect that they all agreed. Still they were bound by our cultural hang-ups and fear that either they might be judged by others as corrupted by homosexuality in some way, or that they might discover something about themselves that might not square with their idea of their manhood. J.B. has a mind not only capable of retaining facts, but also capable of manipulating those facts, driven by his insecurity and paranoia. His is one of the extreme cases. The extreme is not uncommon in this regard. one of the authors who J.B. thought highly of was James Baldwin with his "Notes on A Native Son" and "The Fire Next Time". so I asked him, "What's up with James Baldwin, do you put him in the same category as other homosexuals?" The brother sat there looking at me as if he knew that -5- a joke was being.told but couldn't figure out the punch line. It then dawned on him that I was implying that Baldwin was gay. This fact is no secret to most anyone familiar with Baldwin's life and work, but it'd apparently escaped this brother. J.B. was skeptical. "Naw bro, James Baldwin wrote "The Fire Next Time", he aint gay, man you tripping", he said. I paused the conversation and retrieved my copy of "Soul On Ice" from my cell. Its author, Eldridgge Cleaver, tore into Baldwin for ideological differences, but the sharpness of his critique was honed by Cleaver's explicit disgust for Baldwin's sexuality. This resolved J.B.'s skepticism and it brought me to an unavoidable conclusion about the nature of the conversation that we were having, because instead of pushing the issue of pushing Baldwin's sexuality aside and continuing to embrace his literary contributions, J.B. did as Eldridge Cleaver did and tore into Baldwin as if Baldwin was an enemy of manhood in general and Black consciousness specifically. Hearing this reaction from brothers who I am certain knows me better caused me to withdraw from the conversation. Reason was being surrendered by otherwise reasonable men under the pressure of herd mentality and homophobia. There was no hope for the others to have an epiphany and alter their point of view even if L.B. fell in with me and argued the point. For men such as us, groomed in hostile environments, our ‘hoods and prison, with such vague demarcations between our manhood and the perceived threat to it - homosexuality — hostility toward -7- anything that can be'perceived as gay by our peers must be expected. Strange, since our peers are always waiting for us to signal what is acceptable and what isn't. Hope can be held in that not everyone will go along with the crowd and that it is a matter of eventual evolution for most of us. To be triggered by the right influences which may allow us to look past the reactionary restraints of insecurity and address an individual's humanity rather that their sexuality. The interim danger lay in the amount of harm that may be caused to others and our growth should we fail to evolve. by: Curtis L. Walker

Author: Walker, Curtis Lee

Author Location: Wisconsin

Date: August 31, 2018

Genre: Essay

Extent: 8 pages

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