- Homolatent Masculinity & Hip Hop Culture
Audre Lorde tells us that naming is important. When she introduced herself as a “Black lesbian feminist mother warrior poet,” she was deliberately situating herself and her perspective in a context of co-constitutive identities.1 Nikki Finney says, “Repetition is holy.”2 Lorde’s continual refrain of her many identities became an incantation of protection in all the spaces she entered, grounding her and signaling to others who she was.
I identify as queer. When I call myself queer I do so with similar intention. My favorite definition of queerness comes from the ‘zine Towards the Queerest Insurrection:
[Q]ueer is not a stable area to inhabit. Queer is not merely another identity that can be tacked onto a list of neat social categories, nor the quantitative sum of our identities. Rather, it is the qualitative position of opposition to presentations of stability—an identity that problematizes the manageable limits of identity. Queer is a territory of tension, defined against the dominant narrative of white-hetero-monogamous-patriarchy, but also by an affinity with all who are marginalized, otherized, and oppressed. Queer is the abnormal, the strange, the dangerous. Queer involves our sexuality and our gender, but so much more. It is our desire and fantasies and more still. Queer is the cohesion of everything in conflict with the heterosexual capitalist world. Queer is a total rejection of the regime of the Normal.3
It is this definition that motivates my consideration of who and what gets placed under the umbrella of queerness. I am concerned about the way queer is deployed in relation to hip hop because patriarchy, misogyny, capitalism, and other forms of kyriarchy often remain key ingredients in the lyrical production [End Page 187] of artists purportedly queering the genre. I want to be deliberate in identifying phenomena that we see in hip hop that trouble our notions of what is imagined as the project of straightness, but also remain critical about the attachment of queer or queerness to that behavior.
In wanting to name the particular homosocial behavior of black men in American (U.S.) hip hop culture, I offer the term homolatent: “homo” to foreground the same gender orientation of the behavior and “latent” to foreshadow the “pathological” potential of queer desire’s rupture into the real. Additionally, afrofuturist Octavia Butler’s Patternist book series hosts characters with supernatural powers that are activated through a painful transition process. For those who are unable to transition successfully, their “latent” powers manifest as a penchant for violence and nihilistic destruction waged on those closest to them. The violent nature of homolatent interactions sets it apart from traditional nomenclature used to describe same-sex attraction. Unlike “queer,” “homosexual,” or “same gender loving,” homolatent attempts to address the abjection of desire.
In Butler’s Patternist series, a group of humans with special powers evolves alongside the rest of humanity. These human beings are mostly the progeny of the powerful spirit Doro, who is on a quest to find a permanent home for his spirit in the body of one of his breeding program stock.
In the process of breeding humans with special powers to find his permanent body home, Doro creates many “failures,” magical human beings who are unable to come into their powers. At the moment they should transition they do not. Latents are depressed, self-harming, and violent individuals whose inability to express their powers turns them into both imploding and exploding creatures that enjoy causing pain. It is this idea of latency, as repressed and thus pressurized power, which informs my thinking about intermasculine interaction in hip hop culture.
We are introduced to latents in the first book of Butler’s series. Latents have superhuman powers but don’t transition into harnessing them or don’t transition well. Doro uses them to sire more children with special abilities, but because they are never in control, he is not invested in their survival. Clay is a latent and his brother Seth is not. Clay is jumpy, often angry, and unable to hold down a steady job. He gets flashes of what other people are thinking and cannot control...