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“Once You’ve Blended the Cake, You Can’t Take the Parts Back to the Main Ingredients”: Black Gay and Bisexual Men’s Descriptions and Experiences of Intersectionality

Abstract

Although Black gay and bisexual men have written eloquently about the intersections of race, gender, and sexual identity in anthologies such as Brother to Brother and In the Life, empirical studies of intersectionality with men, and Black gay and bisexual men in particular are rare. This qualitative study examined descriptions and experiences of intersectionality in individual interviews with 12 U.S. Black self-identified gay (n = 9) and bisexual (n =3) men in Washington, DC. Participants ranged in age from 21 and 44 (M = 36.33) and were predominantly highly educated and middle income. Research questions were: (1) How do participants describe and experience intersections of race, gender, and sexual identity?; (2) How do social processes shape their social identities?; (3) What are their challenges due to intersections of race, gender, and sexual identity?; and (4) What are the perceived benefits of these intersections? Analyses highlighted four key themes: (1) explicit and implicit descriptions of intersectionality; (2) the primacy of identities as Black and/or Black men first; (3) challenges such as negative stereotypes, racial microaggressions in mainstream and White LGB communities, heterosexism in Black communities, and gender role pressures to act “masculine”; and (4) perceived benefits such as psychological growth, liberation from traditional gender role or heteronormative expectations, and the freedom that being outsiders or “never being comfortable” confers in terms of exploring new opportunities and experiences. These findings imply that intersectionality can be expanded to incorporate the strengths/assets of intersectional identities in addition to oppression based on interlocking social identities.

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Acknowledgement

I am especially grateful to the study’s participants for their candor about their lives and experiences as Black gay and bisexual men. Also, I am indebted to David J. Malebranche, MD, MPH of Emory University and Lee Carson, MSW of the Public Health Management Corporation who, as peer debriefers, evaluated the credibility of my analyses and interpretations, and provided critical and invaluable feedback on the manuscript. I appreciate the assistance of summer intern Brogan Piecara who provided research assistance with the references. I also owe a debt of gratitude to Jalia Tucker, MPH who assisted with coding to establish inter-rater reliability. Last, but certainly not least, I am supremely grateful to my ace Project Director Jenné Massie, MS for her tireless dedication to troubleshooting Nvivo’s coding comparison feature.

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Correspondence to Lisa Bowleg.

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Bowleg, L. “Once You’ve Blended the Cake, You Can’t Take the Parts Back to the Main Ingredients”: Black Gay and Bisexual Men’s Descriptions and Experiences of Intersectionality. Sex Roles 68, 754–767 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-012-0152-4

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Keywords

  • Intersectionality
  • Black gay and bisexual men
  • Resilience
  • Racism
  • Social identity