Preferred Citation: Hawkeswood, William G. One of the Children: Gay Black Men in Harlem. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1996 1996. http://ark.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/ft6t1nb4dd/


 
Editor's Note

Editor's Note

William Hawkeswood died of an AIDS-related illness in the summer of 1992, one year after defending his dissertation and being awarded his doctoral degree in anthropology at Columbia University. I began my graduate studies there a few months later. I was aware of his research, as were many others, and awaited the publication of his manuscript. In the fall of 1992, I attended a departmental memorial service where classmates, colleagues, and friends honored his unique vitality, intellectual passion, outspoken nature, and scholarly generosity. Through them, I too came to regret his absence. Six months later, I was given the opportunity to do a final edit for publication. I lacked the benefit of his further insight, as did all who contributed to the editorial process, but I hope we have improved and clarified what he wrote. Having seen this manuscript in various stages from dissertation to finished proof, I know it shows improvement throughout. I believe he would have been pleased with the final version, and I trust that this is the book William Hawkeswood would have wanted to see in print.

I hope that One of the Children will encourage others to continue the work William Hawkeswood started. By focusing on the lives of gay black men who are, as he noted, "a missing population . . . neglected and relegated to marginal positions" in the social science literature on not only black society but also gay identity, he attempts to make up for these glaring deficiencies (p. 3). In his research, Hawkeswood challenges the legacy of representations of men in studies on black


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society. Glay black men, he argues, defy most of the negative stereotypes, including absent role models and "street corner men," that are found in many classic studies.

Examining the construction and integration of what many see as dual identities, Hawkeswood concludes that gay black men in contemporary Harlem experience no such ambivalence. Choosing to identify as "black men first," he says, they use gay identity "as a status marker within black society" (p. 12). Some may disagree with his assertion that gay men in Harlem experience less social stigma than do gay men elsewhere. Hawkeswood does not deny that gay men are invariably seen as different from other men, wherever they may live. But, given the relative social and economic marginalization experienced by most residents of Harlem, he firmly believes that apart from organized religion's traditional dogma against homosexuality, gayness does not in itself draw condemnation from others in the community. As Hawkeswood notes early in his concluding chapter, "the fact that these men reside in a black community rather than a gay community is significant, especially when one of the world's most famous 'gay ghettos' is located minutes away and when most of them have the [financial] means to make the move" (p. 184). I have tried to clarify evidence for this argument in the text. While some may contest Hawkeswood's claim, he still challenges us to consider that "for most people in Harlem, issues of survival . . . are more important than concern about people's sexuality" (p. 167). Ultimately, he shows that the social, cultural, and economic contributions of gay black men are vitally important to the social networks in which they exist, to the lives of their kin and relatives, and to black society as a whole.

Hawkeswood wrote with great compassion for his informants. He also, I believe, completed the manuscript with a sense of urgency. He was genuinely surprised by the relatively small number of AIDS cases among his informants and their immediate social networks (especially given the disproportionately large number of African Americans infected with HIV in New York City), and he feared that the epidemic would eventually reach these men if AIDS educators failed to make a concerted effort to target gay black men living outside of "mainstream" gay life. In the manuscript, Hawkeswood added several passages about the threatening AIDS epidemic that were not in the original dissertation, and readers may be struck by the detailed recommendations for specific AIDS prevention efforts in his concluding remarks. These comments may seem somewhat out of place, but I saw


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no need to tailor these remarks, which express real concern for the lives of his informants. I am not alone in thinking that Hawkeswood felt this urgency personally, as he grappled with his own AIDS-related illness while completing his manuscript for publication.

This book represents the very beginning of a scholarly career that ended much too soon. With more time, I believe that Hawkeswood would have not only passionately continued this work but also welcomed intellectual challenges to his ideas, and I feel that it is fair to mention some possible areas of contention. While highlighting the deficiencies of previous research, Hawkeswood employs rather traditional tools to construct an alternative. He seems particularly determined to show readers that gay black men lead "ordinary" lives "typical" of those who neither are gay nor live in Harlem. He often seems torn, however, between two goals, on one hand presenting a traditional ethnographic case study of a "discrete" and "special community," and on the other compiling quantifiable data for an epidemiological profile. Attempting both of these things poses some problems for later analysis. Hawkeswood establishes clear criteria for his research sample, stating that participants had to "live in Harlem, socialize in the gay scene in Harlem, and prefer black men as sex partners" (p. 14). While this undoubtedly does present him with a unique group of black men, it makes it harder to generalize about a gay black experience for men who do not fit the profile he has created. Some difficulties appear in chapter 6 and chapter 7 as Hawkeswood struggles to determine how many men actually share the common experiences and perspectives he identifies, particularly with regard to early socialization and the importance of "the scene" in gay life. Similarly, there appear to be some internal contradictions in his discussion of the importance of the church and organized religion for these men and the degree to which they experience anti-gay bias and harassment in their daily lives. Interestingly, Hawkeswood actually saw an apparent contradiction in his informants' accounts of gay stigma, but he saved the comment for a footnote in chapter 6. However, with some qualification, his basic argument still stands, and we are encouraged to consider the experiences of men who appear to regard homophobia as the lesser of two evils when compared to racism.

Hawkeswood's work challenges existing research on the "social construction" of black and gay identities to explore the intersection of the two. But, while showing how these men negotiate their public


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and private identities, we too often see presentations of mere visual "style" in his discussions of "performance culture" and "lifestyle" in his discussions of "being gay." Perhaps other questions would have elicited more complex responses. For readers seeking more material on the construction of sexual identity, Richard Parker and John Gagnon's Conceiving Sexuality: Approaches to Sex Research in a Post-modern World is a useful anthology, especially for the pieces by Jeffrey Weeks ("History, Desire, and Identities"), Dennis Altman ("Political Identities"), and Roger Lancaster ("That We Should All Turn Queer? Homosexual Stigma in the Making of Manhood and the Breaking of Revolution in Nicaragua"). Hawkeswood shows us, on one level, how black identity is fashioned for public display. For another, more philosophical approach to the issues of "body image" and "body-experience" for black men, Charles Johnson's "A Phenomenology of the Black Body," in Laurence Goldstein's The Male Body , may be helpful.

Focusing on social networks, Hawkeswood reveals the ways in which gay black men construct a "family" for themselves. While he concludes that this construction of "family" serves to "enhance a sense of community" (p. 65), we are left to imagine other less symbolic functions of this metaphorical construction: the relationship between material marginality and a very real dependence on alternative social networks, for example. For further insight into gay social networks, Peter M. Nardi's "That's What Friends Are For: Friends as Family in the Gay and Lesbian Community," in Ken Plummer's Modern Homosexualities , provides an interesting discussion of gay and lesbian marginality and alternative "families" as a political and social force.

Hawkeswood is right when he observes a lack of "ethnic minorities" in studies on urban gay communities. As he notes in his introduction, research on gay male identity often assumes that the subject is white. Though the following works do not deal with African-American men in particular, nor with identifiable "gay communities," there are some exceptions in recent anthropological research on homosexuality, including Roger Lancaster's Life is Hard: Machismo, Danger, and the Intimacy of Power in Nicaragua , Joseph Carrier's De Los Otros: Intimacy and Homosexuality Among Mexican Men , Michael Tan's "From Bakla to Gay: Shifting Gender Identities and Sexual Behaviors in the Philippines," in Conceiving Sexuality , Huseyin Tapinc's "Masculinity, Femininity, and Turkish Male Homosexuality," in Modern Homosexualities , and Richard Parker's Bodies, Pleasures, and Passions: Sexual Culture in Contemporary Brazil .


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Similarly, Hawkeswood is also right when he notes that literary accounts of the black male experience in America often assume that the subject is heterosexual. In Herb Boyd and Robert Allen's ambitious anthology Brotherman: The Odyssey of Black Men in America , for example, the contributions of openly gay authors is relatively scarce. (Out of 157 entries, only 4 are by openly gay or bisexual authors.) Curiously, when the editors praise the diversity of men's caring relationships, homosexual ones seem almost incomprehensible. "What's love got to do with it?" they ask. "Everything! Especially when you realize how many deep caring relationships exist outside of the romantic male-female bond. Some of the most dynamic relationships in a man's life occur between him and his grandparents, his siblings, and his children" (p. xxvi). Hawkeswood's work clearly shows that gay black men have these relationships too, but regrettably their primary romantic relationships are too often ignored in print.

Lamenting the lack of "gay identities" in literature on "black society," it is a shame that William Hawkeswood did not live to see the publication of some recent notable literary efforts documenting gay black experience. The issues Hawkeswood begins to explore in the section "Social Status and Sexuality" in chapter 7 are most compelling, yet much too brief. For another, illuminating analysis on negotiating gay identity and black masculinity, see Don Belton's discussion with poet Essex Hemphill and filmmaker Isaac Julien in Speak My Name: Black Men on Masculinity and the American Dream . Two other anthologies are invaluable resources for writings on a variety of issues including social status and homosexuality in black society. In Essex Hemphill and Joseph Beam's Brother to Brother: New Writing by Black Gay Men , see especially Issac Julien and Kobena Mercer's "True Confessions: A Discourse on Images of Black Male Sexuality," Ron Simmons's "Some Thoughts on the Challenges Facing Black Gay Intellectuals," and Charles I. Nero's "Toward a Black Gay Aesthetic: Signifying in Contemporary Black Gay Literature." For other perspectives on the complexities of living with a "double consciousness" as gay and African-American men, see Bruce Morrow and Charles Rowell's Shade: An Anthology of Fiction by Gay Men of African Descent . And finally, for readers wanting more subjective accounts of black gay men's experiences of the AIDS epidemic, Sojourner: Black Gay Voices in the Age of AIDS , edited by B. Michael Hunter and the Other Countries writing collective, is an important resource.

At several points during the editorial process, it was clear that excessive changes would have produced a radically different book, a


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book that Hawkeswood did not write. As it stands, his work is presented with both its strengths to enlighten readers and its weaknesses to encourage new intellectual challenges. My work as editor was made easier with the help of several people. I wish to thank Katherine Newman and Roger Lancaster for their knowledge and insight. I owe special thanks to Harvey Molotch at the University of California at Santa Barbara for valuable comments and suggestions, to Peter Kosenko and Sheila Berg for their extraordinary copy-editing skills, and to Michelle Bonnice and Rebecca Frazier, production editors at University of California Press, for their patience and encouragement throughout the lengthy and often complicated editorial process.

ALEX W. COSTLEY
NEW YORK CITY, 1996

Recommended Readings

Belton, Don, ed. Speak My Name: Black Men on Masculinity and the American Dream . Boston: Beacon Press, 1995.

Boyd, Herb, and Robert L. Allen, eds. Brotherman: The Odyssey of Black Men in America . New York: Ballantine, 1995.

Carrier, Joseph. De Los Otros: Intimacy and Homosexuality Among Mexican Men . New York: Columbia University Press, 1995.

Goldstein, Laurence, ed. The Male Body: Features, Destinies, Exposures . Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1994.

Hemphill, Essex, ed., with Joseph Beam. Brother to Brother: New Writing by Black Gay Men . Boston: Alyson Publications, 1991.

Lancaster, Roger N. Life Is Hard: Machismo, Danger, and the Intimacy of Power in Nicaragua . Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992.

Morrow, Bruce, and Charles H. Rowell, eds. Shade: An Anthology of Fiction by Gay Men of African Descent . New York: Avon Books, 1996.

Hunter, B. Michael, ed., with the Other Countries collective. Sojourner: Black Gay Voices in the Age of AIDS . New York: Other Countries Press, 1993.

Parker, Richard G. Bodies, Pleasures, and Passions: Sexual Culture in Contemporary Brazil . Boston: Beacon Press, 1991.

Parker, Richard G., and John H. Gagnon, eds. Conceiving Sexuality: Approaches to Sex Research in a Postmodern World . New York: Routledge, 1995.

Plummer, Ken, ed. Modern Homosexualities: Fragments of Lesbian and Gay Experience . New York: Routledge, 1992.


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Editor's Note
 

Preferred Citation: Hawkeswood, William G. One of the Children: Gay Black Men in Harlem. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1996 1996. http://ark.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/ft6t1nb4dd/