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Est. April 5, 2002
March 31, 2016 - Issue 647

Laughing at the Absurdities
Black Homophobia

"The play opens with a precocious boy
querying his mother about his genitalia.
Showing her unease in having an explicit
sit-down conversation with her son about
his sex parts, the mother euphemistically
tells him that his penis is called 'bootycandy.'"

For many LGBTQs across the nation-especially those of us of African descent-we have been breathlessly waiting for Robert O’Hara’s “BootyCandy” to come to our cities. “BootyCandy” has come to Boston, and each show has been a sold-out performance.

“BootyCandy” is O’Hara’s thinly veiled coming-out story of growing up African American and gay. And the narrative is told in the voice of the character named Sutter. O’Hara takes the audience on a  journey through his childhood home, church  and gay bars that’s depicted with excessive  flamboyance, ribaldry, and unsettling poignancy.

“BootyCandy is a non-linear narrative comprising of disparate vignettes that’s “difficult for you to find a narrative in this play until the end, and it’s done that way on purpose,” O’Hara told WBUR reporter Jeremy D. Goodwin in an interview. The  structure of the play is a nod to George C. Wolfe’s “The Colored Museum,” which O’Hara admits was a huge influence.

The play opens with a precocious Sutter querying his mother about his genitalia. Showing her unease in having an explicit sit-down conversation with Sutter about his sex parts, the mother euphemistically tells him that his penis is called “bootycandy.”

Sutter is a gender non-confirming effeminate male decked out in full Michael Jackson regalia, complete with one sequined glove.

The mother’s unease to talk about sex and to accept her son’s gender expression is disturbingly highlighted when Sutter comes home one day from school to inform her that a man has been following him. Because of the “politics of silence” in the African American community that chokes a healthy conversation on human sexuality, Sutter’s mother is not only dismissive of his claim she immediately wants to know what Sutter did to provoke such an unsavory encounter.

Her solution, however, for her son’s unmanly behavior is for him to stop reading Jackie Collins novels, stop listening to Whitney Houston albums, and stop participating in the school’s musicals.  The scene is absurdly funny yet poignantly disturbing.

And just when you think you cannot laugh anymore, there’s the vignette with  the hilarious telephone scene between two actresses who play a group of sisters on a phone, one of whom is pregnant and determined to name her baby Genitalia. (I personally enjoyed this scene because it reminded me of when one of my sister-friends was determined to name her new born baby girl Uretha, in honor of the  Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin.) In a later vignette Genitalia is all grown up, a lesbian and standing before a minister with her soon to be ex-girlfriend, Intifada, in an official  break up  “non-commitment ceremony.”

The lesbians’ “conscious uncoupling” (Not my term. It’s Gwyneth Paltrow’s in announcing the separation and then divorce of her spouse, Chris Martin.) vignette is a holds no barred repartee that in the end leaves both women utterly and irrevocably each other’s exes.

You cannot be LGBTQ of African descent and not have a personal yet all to familiar narrative about black church homophobia. O’Hara’s Reverend Benson is your assumed classic fire and brimstone exhorter, especially with his “call and response” homily.  But Benson has a secret of his own.

Preaching a black queer liberation theology that excoriates the church’s gossip mongers (the “I Heard Folks” who congregate and become the “They Heard Folks”) in defense of its gay choir boys, Benson finally discloses his secret by disrobing and revealing what’s underneath his vestment.

While homophobia is a running thread in many of the vignettes, particularly the Black Church and black cultural  brand of it, the story line makes you laugh to keep from crying in order to look at hard and unresolved issues a young gay black male coming out confronts, like racism, homophobia, sexual abuse, rape, poverty to name a few - and at their intersections - and how that might shape one’s self-esteem and further social sexual relationships. 

I surmise the best way to depict “BootyCandy” is to call it a tragicomedy, a play  that uses humor and comedic moments to obfuscate not only one’s painful person journey of coming out, but, also, one’s unresolved pain and trauma from sexual abuse. One of the  dark and most disturbing moments in the play is the last of several gay bar cruising scenes. Sutter and his friend pick up a drunken white “supposedly  straight” male who solicit  the two men  to follow him home to sexually humiliate him. Sutter’s eager and cold indifference to fulfill the man’s request disturbingly suggests both racial and psychosexual revenge for his childhood sexual seduction by an older white man.

In the vignette “Conference” there is a mock panel discussion  between  four African American playwrights, each of whom has written one of the previous vignettes the audience has seen, and a clueless white moderator who condescendingly asks the writers, “I’m wondering what you are hoping the audience comes away with after seeing your work?”

Sutter: I think the audience should choke.
Moderator: Choke?
Sutter: Asphyxiate.
Moderator: To death?
WRITER 1: I don’t want them to digest it easily.
WRITER 2: It wasn’t easy to write it and it shouldn’t be easy to experience it.
WRITER 3: Exactly. It should not melt in yo’ mouth.

You leave “BootyCandy” knowing O’Hara’s journey was difficult -like that of so many LGBTQ of African descent.  O’Hara didn’t touch on HIV/AIDS ravaging our communities, and the Black Church continued silence on it. O’Hara masterfully shows that  only through humor could the absurdities of black homophobia keep you laughing from crying. Editorial Board member and Columnist, The Rev. Irene Monroe, is a religion columnist, theologian, and public speaker. She is the Coordinator of the African-American Roundtable of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry (CLGS) at the Pacific School of Religion. A native of Brooklyn, Rev. Monroe is a graduate from Wellesley College and Union Theological Seminary at Columbia University, and served as a pastor at an African-American church before coming to Harvard Divinity School for her doctorate as a Ford Fellow. She was recently named to MSNBC’s list of 10 Black Women You Should Know. Reverend Monroe is the author of Let Your Light Shine Like a Rainbow Always: Meditations on Bible Prayers for Not’So’Everyday Moments. As an African-American feminist theologian, she speaks for a sector of society that is frequently invisible. Her website is  Contact the Rev. Monroe and BC. 




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