Faggot As Footnote: On James Baldwin, ‘I Am Not Your Negro’, ‘Can I Get A Witness?’ and ‘Moonlight’

Max S. Gordon
151 min readJan 18, 2018

by Max S. Gordon

(This essay originally appeared at The New Civil Rights Movement, February 25, 2017)

“People invent categories in order to feel safe. White people invented black people to give white people identity…Straight cats invented faggots so they can sleep with them without becoming faggots themselves.”

— James Baldwin & Nikki Giovanni, A Dialogue (1973)

“Have you ever wished you were queer?” Rufus asked suddenly.

Vivaldo smiled, looking into his glass. “I used to think maybe I was. Hell, I think I even wished I was. But I’m not. So I’m stuck.”

Rufus walked to Vivaldo’s window. “So you been all up and down that street, too.”

“We’ve all been up the same streets. There aren’t a hell of a lot of streets. Only we’re taught to lie so much about so many things, that we hardly know where we are.”

— James Baldwin, Another Country (1962)

“Nothing can be hidden; secrets do not exist.”

— James Baldwin, Just Above My Head (1979)

PART ONE — WITNESS

1

Several years ago, I was introduced to a woman at a friend’s party. She and I got along famously, and at one point in our conversation, she said she wanted to introduce me to her husband who would be arriving any moment from work. She excused herself, and about a half hour later, they approached me together as I was finishing a conversation with our host. Holding a fresh drink in her hand, she presented her husband to me with great flair. “And this,” she said warmly, “is Edgar!”

I took in the shock-white hair, the thin mustache. Edgar and I shook hands, and I smiled and made my eyes friendly, yet blank — making a herculean effort not to reveal that not only did I already know her husband, but less than a month before I’d had sex with him.

He wasn’t an actor by profession, but he might have won an Academy Award for the performance he gave that evening. Edgar managed to actively engage in, but not overdo, the enthusiasm of making a new acquaintance. He feigned…

--

--

Max S. Gordon

Max S. Gordon is a writer and activist. His work has appeared in on-line and print magazines in the U.S. and internationally. Follow Max on twitter:@maxgordon19