It always amazes me how upset, accusatory, and ready to go in for the kill black folks get over the allegations that Malcom X could have been bisexual.
But that only illustrates how Malcolm continues to be appropriated since his death, and especially since the heady Afrocentric days of the late 80's.
The discomfort actually seems to be more about negative presuppositions concerning human sexuality than it is about any facts that exist. Yet, in the last few years, there have been a lot of indignant black folks over these allegations, and more than a few (usually white) gay activists have told them to get over it!
There were always whispers, but I think the first time anyone had ever outright questioned Malcolm's sexuality was in the Bruce Perry biography, Malcolm: The Life of A Man Who Changed Black America (1991). To say the book was "controversial" and ruffled the feathers of many who admired Malcolm is an understatement. Since then, the term "sex worker" has been thrown in the mix to add a more modern connotation to what probably went down back in the 1940's when Malcolm Little was also known as Detroit Red, the street hustler.
Malcolm Little was a bonafide street hustler! And where I come from, that's what street hustlers do - hustle for a dollar. They rob! They steal! They try to pimp. It's a well-known fact that Malcom Little did all of these things. He said so! In addition to dope slinging, many hustlers also sling dick and hustle "fags". I've seen it happen repeatedly and they never call themselves gay or bisexual because often they aren't. At least not at heart! Some say that the proclivity already has to be there before it can even go that far, and I agree, but that's where they draw the line and the denial kicks in with "at least I got paid for it" and somehow that seems to make all the difference. At least to them!
I once met a young brother on the street who expressed quite an admiration for the shorts I was wearing that particular night. As we stood, talked and negotiated, he became quite animated in his excitement to the point that he wanted to touch that which he thought he might get. And just right at that moment - BUSTED! One of his "boys" turned the corner and saw the whole thing.
"Damn, how do I get out of this?" he worried.
"Just tell him that I paid you for an 'encounter' if you have to say anything" I replied.
I recognized a potentially bad situation where dude could have turned on ME to make himself look less suspect, and that simple suggestion was all that he needed because all THREE of us understood the game - if you want to mess with rough street trade, it's yours for a price!
Everyone has an agenda. Bruce Perry interviewed 400 plus folk for his book including people who knew Malcolm at various stages of his developement from petty criminal to Black Liberation Leader. There's the recollection of a childhood friend who reported a mutual same-sex activity common to most little boys. Big deal! But it gets a little steamier when a former roommate remembered how Malcolm Little liked to creep down the hall to stay with a transgendered woman named Willie Mae Jones, rather than sleep in the same room they paid rent on. Supposedly, Malcolm confessed to two other friends that he was servicing "queers" at the local YMCA, but these informants failed to reveal why Malcolm supposedly shared that information - presumedly so they could get in on it and get paid, too!
Nowadays, most gays don't have to pay for sex from so-called straight men because everybody gives it up for free now - and that's the premise on which the argument turns - that, for Malcolm, it wasn't always about getting paid!
While working as a butler for a wealthy white "bachelor" some of Little's "extra duties" are hinted at in both his own autobiography (with Alex Haley) and even in the Spike Lee movie if I'm not mistaken. It's here that those who've been influenced by Perry build their argument for bisexuality, if not latent homosexuality. At the time of the book release, there was a renaissance of all things Malcolm on campuses across America, and Perry's book is thought by many black critics to be nothing more than a knee-jerk hatchet job on the leader's life, fueled by an agenda to discredit his hero status, particularly among young African American males.
However, within the last few years, white gay activists have also jumped on the bandwagon trying to claim and repackage Malcolm for their own purposes. Their message seems to be "Enough already! Get with the program and forget all of your homophobic foolishness because even your hero Malcom X was, at least, bisexual if not a straight-up homo."
In his now-infamous article, Malcolm X Was Bisexual (Get Over It), Peter Tatchell, gay rights activist, admits "Right now, there is not a single living black person who is a worldwide household name and who is openly gay. Not one! That's why the issue of Malcolm X's sexuality is so important. Having an internationally-renowned gay or bisexual black icon would do much to help challenge homophobia, especially in the black communities and particularly in Africa and the Caribbean where homosexuality and bisexuality are often dismissed as a "white man's disease."
He didn't lie about that! But is Malcolm the poster child? Most Black folk aren't having any of it! To them, it's all a conspiracy, an effort to malign Malcolm's legacy and memory - something which really cannot be done. The dope, pimpin', and armed robbery - they understand that aspect of the game and sometimes even glorify it, but they act so offended at the mere suggestion of the "sex" of it. It's only been in recent years that African Americans have been able to admit the gory details of men who have sex with other men in prison. I would like to think by now that we're familiar, at least with that one brother who when incarcerated, assumed one sexual reality to survive, and upon release, then assumed or resumed another.
The thing is when Malcom Little went to prison, he became Malcom X. The street life was no longer a part of his existence. Later on, Malcolm X went to Mecca, he changed his identity and philosophy again! However, if bisexuality was truly his sexual orientation as some claim, that didn't change in prison, at Mecca, or through marriage. Seemingly, he was a man in constant metamorphosis, but the record indicates he was quite steady and firm in his role as husband and father. Some people's motives are questionable, and I'm not ready to jump on their bandwagon. I'm also not in denial like some others! It would be great to claim Malcom in the LGBT Hall of Fame, but the evidence isn't that concrete because the demarcations of sexual identity often aren't.
Detroit Red's later greatness and as Malcolm X could never be discredited even if the charges were true. And apparently there is SOME truth to the charge! But his lessons in pride, his leadership and brilliance cannot be diminished one iota. He'd still be our shining black prince! He was all that, and remains all that whether he was once bisexual, secretly bisexual, latently bisexual or not bisexual at all. He was only human.