Malcolm X and His Sexual Past

Illustration for article titled Malcolm X and His Sexual Past

Let me just jump right into it:  a Facebook friend posted an update that read Malcolm is Bisexual. Get Over It.  After I blinked and then squinted, I clicked on the link and I was directed to the Guardian where Peter Tatchell wrote a piece about Malcolm and the "history of his same-sex relations".  You know, in honor of the UK's Black History Month, of course.  Let me provide a sample of Tatchell's thoughts on our beloved icon:

"Perhaps it is unintentional but Black History Month sometimes feels like Straight Black History Month. Famous black LGBT people are not acknowledged and celebrated. Either their contribution to black history and culture is ignored or their sexuality is airbrushed out of their biographies.

A good example of this neglect is the denialism surrounding the bisexuality of one of the greatest modern black liberation heroes: Malcolm X. The lack of recognition is perhaps not surprising, given that some of his family and many black activists have made strenuous efforts to deny his same-sex relationships and suppress recognition of the full spectrum of his sexuality."


I'm not sure what to think.  I certainly believe and advocate for the truth of people.  I believe that men and women all fall under the category of complicated and layered human beings looking for balance and explanation and primal satisfaction, or not.  I guess I'm saying that Malcolm could have had a life layered with a bisexual past.  But I'm not so sure we should acknowledge him as a bisexual icon.  One, Malcolm chose to marry a woman and have a traditional Nation of Islam family.  He chose that.  Two, Malcolm never, to my knowledge, mentioned a bisexual past to the public:  The Nation of Islam doesn't condone pansexuality.  Three, I think a person should be alive on the planet to determine or defend how they'd like to be defined, sexually.  It's about self-definition, not the imposition of communal definition.  No?  I know, I'm a big fat idealist.

Most of Tatchell's outcry is inspired by Bruce Perry's 1991 biography, Malcolm - The Life of A Man Who Changed Black America.  Many feel Perry's biography trumps the Alex Haley-scribed autobiography which Malcolm allegedly controlled content.  Perry allegedly interviewed 420 people who knew Malcolm at some point in his life and revealed his layered past.  In fact, Malcolm allegedly worked as a male sex worker some time in his teens, according to Perry's book.  Mmm, I didn't know teenage sex workers were considered inspiring sexual icons.  Look, I'm certainly not condoning the un-truth of people.  I'm also not denying the possibility of a bisexual past in the phenomenal life of Malcolm X, but bisexual icon?  Not so much.  Maybe Tatchell should honor the UK's Black History Month by writing a piece on the fear of male sexuality in the black community?

Keith Josef Adkins is an award-winning playwright, screenwriter and social commentator.