These black weirdos taught me that gender roles can be broken, your clothes don’t dictate your sexuality, and that eccentricity is just fine.
Growing up black in some cities and towns is harder for some of us than it is for others. Especially if you’re one of the many black weirdos who feel misunderstood or alienated.
Some will have you believe that it’s not the case, but come on, that’s bullshit. I was one of those otaku kids who, despite desperate attempts to fit in, failed, and then felt worse because I knew I wasn’t showing myself for who I really was. Some will have you believe it’s because we’re all assholes and the people who didn’t understand us were projecting whatever vibes we were giving off, but that’s not always the case. It happens, but that wasn’t the case with me. I was too quiet and reserved for anyone to think I was an asshole. Being a foreigner probably didn’t help either. I mean, being a weird, eccentric, and/or geeky kid is tough no matter who you are or your race. But, some areas were just harder than others for kids of color. Seattle (or Skyway in Renton, Washington to be more specific) was a crucible.
Luckily, as the Nineties got fully underway, diversity seemed to be everywhere in media and pop culture. And I no longer had to lay all my hopes on Slash (Guns N’ Roses) rock the fuck out for little girls like me and the culture. Thanks to BET’s Rap City and Yo! MTV Raps devotion to creating spaces for black kids and teens to see artists like themselves; artists they could relate to, and my family’s affinity for Soul/Funk, Old School Country, and House/Techno music, didn’t hurt either.
So, it was through artists like Grace Jones, Missy Elliott, George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, Busta Rhymes, Lil’ Kim, and other celebrity black weirdos that I came to see that, while they weren’t super common, it was okay to be weird as fuck, even if it puzzles others.
While I think I was naturally inclined towards creative pursuits from the beginning, seeing these different entertainers bend gender, social, and sexuality norms to convey their message was vital, especially growing up in a strict household. Watching the latest Missy video was an event that inspired me for years to come. Yeah, I wanted to wear the latest fashions like anybody else, but there was part of me that knew the minute I could go where nobody knew my name that I would go on to express myself in more avant-garde ways.
This doesn’t make me a special snowflake. There are many others just like me. What it does make me is sympathetic and open to others who express themselves outside of what society expects of them. Take Young Thug, for example. His fashion sense has been relatively unorthodox for a black man from the south who raps for a living. He’s not the first, mind you. Andre 3000 and Cee-Lo Green are just two southern rappers/lyricists that come to mind. However, Thugger’s doing this in the 21st century, not the 90s where all of us were a little more on the hippier side of things. In some ways, hypermasculinity has become far more pervasive in the last decade or so, making Young Thug quite bold in his choice to don a gender neutral dress on the cover of his latest album,
Not everyone’s going to agree that Young Thug’s way of expressing himself is okay. I understand that. However, I can’t be mad at it considering it was artists like the aforementioned that showed me that things do and will get better; that somewhere it will be okay for me to wear or like certain things freely without having to answer to my family or anyone else around me. And that maybe, just maybe, I’ll find others just like me.
Geeky rap lyrics, female emcees donning huge plastic outfits blown up to epic proportions, Lil’ Kim being a carefree black fashionista, and the intersection of comics, wrestling, and other pop culture staples that provided me an escape when conformity was beating down on me. They still provide an escape for me to this very day, unfortunately for more depressing reasons lately.
Rock on, Thugger, and rep for all the young black weirdos who are on the fringe and feel like they won’t ever be able to express themselves freely. I ain’t mad at ya.