4 Reasons Why Black Queer Men Code-Switch

This week, The Advocate, a popular LGBT publication, posted an article about Insecure’s newest ostensibly gay character, Ahmal (Issa’s brother), and code-switching.

When I seen the article come across my feed, I was glad that someone was finally addressing it. When I first saw the episode, I clocked the code-switching immediately and just knew that the articles and think pieces would be abundant regarding the topic. But to my surprise, there was nothing. So then I thought I must be trippin’, “Maybe he wasn’t code-switching. I’m just thinking too much into it.” But after seeing someone else peeped it too, I was affirmed.

But then I actually took the time to read the article, and it was such a lazy attempt to draw attention to the practice of code-switching and why queer men, especially queer men of color, feel the need to code-switch. Especially around other men of color and in predominantly cishet spaces.

I think it’s high time to have a conversation about who has the social and cultural and intellectual aptitude to discuss certain issues and practices. The previously mentioned article was written by a white person, for seemingly a white audience, by someone with no cultural semblance of what it’s like for a queer Black man, like Amhal, entering a Black cishet space like Issa’s Wine Down, and why he would feel the need to code switch from when he shook up Tiffany’s husband and greeted him with a “Wassup bro?” vs went he greeted Tiffany with “Tiff-fa-kneeeee!!” with the snaps and all.

And because the writer has no social or cultural awareness of what that experience is like, it made for a lazy article that felt rushed and half-hearted.

For someone like me, I know all too well what it’s like to code-switch. We all do it and we do it in multiple ways for multiple reasons. For example, if I’m telling my mom a story, it might start off like, “So lemme tell you what happened Friday night.” But if I’m telling my best friend the same story, it’ll probably sound more like, “Lemme tell you how ole girl had me fucked up.” Saying the same thing, with the same intended message, but linguistically much different.

Or say I’m greeting my long time, cishet homebody. I’ll more likely than not shake him up, much like Ahmal greeted Tiffany’s husband. But if I’m greeting one of my queer homeboys, I’ll probably greet him with a kiss on the cheek and hug. Culturally, much different.

There are plenty of reasons queer Black men would feel the need to code-switch, especially in cishet spaces. I, personally, make a conscious effort and try not to suppress my queerness to make cishet folks feel more comfortable around me, the same with my Blackness in white spaces. Four potential reasons for Ahmal’s code-switching come to mind immediately:

  1. Assimilation

Some people just want to fit in, so most times, they’ll adapt their language, mannerisms and such to that is predominant of the group. I once heard someone say, “I don’t want to be that gay nigga at the function, I just want to blend in.”

Some of us assimilate to not draw attention to our queerness, some do it to make others more comfortable, and some may assimilate for their own safety. Which brings me to number 2.

2. Fear & Saftey

The possibility of danger is never too far from queer folks mind. Especially those of us who are little more fem than our stiff-bodied counterparts. A lot of queer men, especially Black ones, will quickly, either consciously or subconsciously, slip into a “What’s good, my nigga” out of fear that some ashy cishet man who hasn’t worked out his toxic masculinity, and he carries around like a badge of honor, might attack. Which takes us to our take topic.

3. Hyper masculinity

Culturally, Black men are taught from a very young age that there is a proper way men should greet other men. Whether that be a firm hand shaking or dapping up, that’s the masculine way Black men greet one another. Anything else is “suspect.”

Because Black men are so heavily socialized into pseudo-masculine bullshit, I think, even when unlearning most of it, elements of it are still present.

4. Common practice

Sometimes code-switching is legit subconscious. I’m used to greeting my childhood homeboy by dapping them up. That’s what we’ve always done. There’s no forethought to it. Sometimes we slip into different languages, styles of speaking, or behaviors without realizing or intent to do so.

This is in no way an exhaustive list why someone like Amhal might want or need to code-switch. The reasons are vast and they’re difficult to discern, especially when discussing intersecting identities. There is nuance and tension to this conversation. For some it’s survival for other it’s an inadvertent practice and some don’t even know they’re doing it.

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