Love After Moonlight: Romance and Cultural Sexualization of Queer Bodies of Color
Growing up in my colored and queer body, love was different - it felt different. Fleeting at times, for one reason or another, but a liberatory undertaking, knowing that if I did not love myself, how in the hell was I gonna love anybody else? With so few representations of queer people of color in media, it’s hard to imagine feeling worthy of love and belonging when every image you see is White, blonde, and hard-muscled - everything I’m not and nothing I ever want to be. Thankfully, with the success of movies and shows like Moonlight and Sex Education, we are starting to see queerness in all its beauty, brimming with flamboyance and golden melanin. In this vein, we now see more queer people of color romanticized and centered in sexual attraction. It is exciting and familiar to me, but again, the love feels different. In truth, I wonder, what does it mean for queer bodies of color to experience romanticism and sexualization in mainstream culture?
The widespread success of Moonlight brought many firsts to the film industry; a movie created and directed by Black gay men that centered a Black gay character growing up in South Florida. The optics of the narrative alone were unprecedented at the time. Before Moonlight, there were glimmers of Black LGBT representation on shows like Noah’s Arc, the L Word, and independent film and documentary such as Paris Is Burning. While iconic by all accounts within my upbringing as a queer man from the South, these representations were often on the fringe of mainstream, not to be desired or overtaken by audiences of popular shows like Will & Grace, Queer as Folk, or even Looking, in most cases. For queer people of color, this is an important distinction to make. As one comes to explore their identity and form a sexual and romantic attraction towards certain physical characteristics, when all you seen on your screen are queer people that do not look like you or identify with any of your experiences, that impacts what you view as attractive and worthy of love. This phenomena has been known for decades by queer folks of color, who often encounter transphobia, racism, and sexist remarks by White-passing, White-identified, and White-seeking LGBT people on dating apps and in real life.
Now, with the help of diverse directors and producers telling stories that represent and emphasize the perspectives of trans and queer people of color, there has been a sudden shift in acceptance and welcoming attitudes towards media and entertainment that promotes QTPOC people as main characters. However, as a critical consumer and productive skeptic of popular culture, a part of me wonders whether this is a genuine trend towards inclusivity or a potential cultural shift that sees the culture, experiences, and influence of queer people of color as trendy, and therefore now capable of being loved and romanticized as White queer people have been for quite some time (read: forever).
To be clear, there is duality in this scenario; I would like to believe White people are becoming more aware of their privilege even in queer and trans spaces, however, I also know that sexual and romantic objectification of Black and Brown bodies is also a reality. Indeed, there is a thin line between a preference that is based on stereotypes and assumptions of a person’s skin color and sudden enamoration because of a market-driven shift in the display of queer and trans people of color that makes it exciting, exotic, and dare I say spicy, to find Black and Brown bodies more attractive than before. What lies in the thin line is an opportunity to address how LGBTQ history and practice is largely absent of the narrative, voices, and experiences of trans and queer people of color and how these harms can potentially be perpetuated in the way we romanticize and sexualize QPOCs because they are more popular and visible than before.
As the trend of representation in media and entertainment ticks upward towards more inclusive, equitable, and diverse representations of queer voices, this is one of many areas of critical analysis we must consider, reflect on, and trouble, so that when we see QPOC being loved on screen, we will know it because their are worth more than the tv ratings, box office dollars, or trending hashtags on social media.