Abstract and Keywords
This chapter takes up the position of the prototypically moral good Christian girl-cum-woman. It considers what the correspondence between morality and immorality reveals about the constraints under which sexuality is often put in the black Christian church by way of, first, an interview conducted between former gospel artist Tonéx and Christian talk show host Lexi Allen in which Tonéx effectively outed himself, and, second, “No More Sheets,” a recorded sermon of popular televangelist Juanita Bynum.
There is no music like that music, no drama like the drama of the saints rejoicing, the sinners moaning, the tambourines racing, and all those voices coming together and crying holy unto the Lord. There is still, for me, no pathos quite like the pathos of those multicolored, worn, somehow triumphant and transfigured faces, speaking from the depths of a visible, tangible, continuing despair of the goodness of the Lord. I have never seen anything to equal the fire and excitement that sometimes, without warning, fill a church, causing the church, as Leadbelly and so many others have testified, to “rock.” Nothing that has happened to me since equals the power and the glory that I sometimes felt when, in the middle of a sermon, I knew that I was somehow, by some miracle, really carrying, as they said, “the Word”—when the church and I were one. Their pain and their joy were mine, and mine were theirs—they surrendered their joy and pain to me, I surrendered mine to them—and their cries of “Amen!” and “Hallelujah!” and “Yes, Lord!” and “Praise His name!” and “Preach it, brother!” sustained and whipped on my solos until we all became equal, wringing wet, singing and dancing, in anguish and rejoicing, at the foot of the alter.
Growing up, I was primarily raised in Baptist churches. My mother, grandmother, and that entire side of the family, so far as I knew, were Baptists. So was my stepdad and most of his family. My biological father would refer to himself as Pentecostal if you asked him. But given that I had never known him to set foot inside a church unless it was for a funeral or a wedding or, (p.41) at my request, the occasional choir concert (although, as the story goes, at one point in time he was quite the Christian soldier), my dad’s supposed Pentecostalism didn’t much concern me. It wasn’t until I was in fifth grade and became best friends with a girl who lived a few blocks down the street from me, whose entire upbringing had been Pentecostal, specifically COGIC, that I began to gather that there was something different, at least superficially, between our faith traditions. (Testament to the particular demographics of Peoria, we eventually learned that both my dad and my friend’s mother had migrated from the same community in West Memphis, Arkansas. It turned out that they and many of their siblings had attended the same high school.) Both my friend and I were consummate church girls, raised to believe wholeheartedly in the tenets of Christianity and to understand that church was not just a once-a-week pastime but the bedrock of our very existence, and we were both preacher’s kids—my stepdad accepted “the call” to ministry during my youth, and her father was the pastor of the church her family attended. We were both indoctrinated into what it meant to be good Christian girls who would evolve into virtuous Christian women: we must keep our bodies and our homes neat and clean at all times (we both gave our parents absolute fits due to our messy bedrooms; I, at least, have since been redeemed); we must be respectful of all authority figures and obey the rules they handed down (in this case the only real trouble I ever got into had to do with my per sis tent “attitude problem,” while my friend was, shall we say, a bit more adventurous in her troublemaking); we must remain strong in our spiritual walks, taking dedicated time out for God every day (which we did with varying degrees of success, depending on what else we had going on); and we must absolutely, positively, beyond a shadow of a doubt, ceaselessly, prayerfully, and with all our youthful vigor, keep our legs closed—to men indefinitely and to women eternally.
So it was with my best friend, tucked away in a corner of our South Side neighborhood at her father’s tiny church, that I had my first personal experience with the Holy Ghost. Now, despite what some of your Pentecostal friends might tell you, Baptists do actually know a thing or two about the Holy Ghost. I had often seen folks shouting and jumping and running and whooping and hollering in the churches my family belonged to. I had known them to speak in tongues and prophesy and participate in the laying on of hands—all of that. But it wasn’t until I attended one of my friend’s midweek services that I began to get an inkling that “catching the (p.42) Holy Ghost,” or what the saints also call “getting happy,” was, for some Christians, of fundamental importance. I believe I was prob ably an adult before I understood just how important the indwelling of the Spirit, and the evidence of that indwelling, is to Pentecostalism, but as a grade-school outsider at my friend’s Holy Ghost–filled church, all I could really comprehend was that there seemed to be a marked sense of urgency to their shouting and dancing and laying on of hands. And so there was. In a church that had no more than fifteen pews and just a few handfuls of members, I couldn’t hide my twelve-or thirteen-year-old self that day. The praises were going up, the blessings were (hopefully) coming down, the Spirit was high, and my best friend had abandoned me—she was off somewhere playing the drums (my girl is an awesome percussionist) or banging on a tambourine or jumping up and down on a wall or something—when they came for me. Much of the memory is hazy, but what I do clearly remember is suddenly being surrounded by women beseeching me to “let go,” “give in,” and “let God have His way.” It was apparent they wanted something not just from me but for me.
I am tempted to front and say that it is only because of my training as a rule-abiding good girl that I “gave in,” that it was all a bit of a put-on for the sake of the imposing church women who were so desperately crowding around me, but that wouldn’t be quite truthful. What is more true is that one minute I was minding my own business, sightseeing and clapping along neatly as the organ thundered and the shouting music raged on, and the next thing I knew I was the one jumping up and down, shouting and crying—getting happy. It felt like I’d had a momentary blackout, because it wasn’t clear how I’d transitioned from one stage to the other, how I, who has never had much of an affinity for losing control of anything, anywhere, at any time, ever, was so abruptly taken over by something that was outside of myself, or inside of myself, as the case may be. In any event, when I came to, I knew that I had experienced something altogether different than I’d experienced in all of my previous churchgoing years (or that I have experienced since). Had I asked the congregants of my friend’s church, they would prob ably have told me that what they wanted so deeply for me was salvation, which, I suppose, would have been most radically manifested by my speaking in tongues, at which I ultimately fell short, although according to my own tradition I had been “saved” since uttering the prayer of salvation in front of my home congregation some years prior.
(p.43) The point is, in spite of the doctrinal differences between our respective denominations, throughout our childhoods, our teenage years, and into our adulthoods, my friend and I continued to be shaped not just by the faith traditions we had been individually born into but also by each other’s experiences of those traditions. While the strictures placed on my friend were in some ways more severe than those placed on me—for many years she was forbidden to wear pants or makeup, and even things like playing games involving dice or going to the movie theater were off-limits for a time—we both knew the confines of Christian religiosity intimately. For my part, I was always particularly resistant to the restriction against secular music. Many were the days I sat crouched in front of the little television in my basement bedroom watching music videos on BET and MTV (back in the days before YouTube created videos on demand and you had to actually keep your station of choice on lock if you hoped to catch your jam of the moment), the volume turned down low, my hand resting inches from the knob just in case a parent unexpectedly came to the door and I needed to quickly turn the channel. For years as an adult I struggled terribly with the effects of the churchgirlism that caused me to have to play catch-up with some of the more significant moments in 1990s popular music history that I missed in between channel flips.
The agony over my restricted music catalogue aside, there was prob ably nothing my friend and I struggled with more than the all-important abstinence mandate. While her father was a bit looser in this area, telling her that while he wanted her to remain abstinent, he understood the temptations of the flesh and cautioned her safety, my stepdad’s way was to scare me into submission. I specifically remember him summoning me to the kitchen table, where all of the serious family conversations usually took place, and being warned against premarital sex with the ominous prediction that if I did not wait until I was married, I would undoubtedly get pregnant the very first time I had sex because “I knew better.” (In his defense, the youngest of my stepdad’s three older daughters had been, like me, a bookish honor roll student growing up and because she had gotten pregnant while in high school, he always seemed to have a lingering fear that I would somehow end up sharing her fate.) Still, my parents had always made it very clear that they would never, under any condition, abandon me, that even if I did something as “foolish” as to get pregnant while still a teenager they would continue to love and support me. And so it was at least partially (p.44) because of their unwavering support and the consistently high expectations my parents always had of me that I went through an abstinence program and publicly took the abstinence pledge at my church while I was in high school. For if there was anything I feared more than my parents’ anger, it was their disappointment.
It is against this sort of background, one that is my own but that I would venture to say a significant percentage of black women have at least a passing familiarity with, that I want to consider the relay between what Baldwin refers to in The Fire Next Time as the “pathos” of the black church1 and the church girls-turned-matrons he references earlier in that same text. While speaking about the severe religious transformation he underwent at the age of fourteen, Baldwin notes his acute awareness of the changes that were also apparent in the “holy girls” who surrounded him at the time:
In the case of the girls, one watched them turning into matrons before they had become women. They began to manifest a curious and really rather terrifying single-mindedness. It is hard to say exactly how this was conveyed: something implacable in the set of the lips, something farseeing (seeing what?) in the eyes, some new and crushing determination in the walk, something peremptory in the voice. They did not tease us, the boys, any more; they reprimanded us sharply, saying “You better be thinking about your soul!” For the girls saw the evidence on the Avenue, knew what the price would be, for them, of one misstep, knew that they had to be protected and that we were the only protection there was. They understood that they must act as God’s decoys, saving the souls of the boys for Jesus and binding the bodies of the boys in marriage.2
Ten years earlier, in his autobiographical first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, Baldwin had used the four women central to its narrative, Elizabeth, Florence, Deborah, and Esther, to elaborate on the condition of “God’s decoys.” Whether they represent the epitome of Christian womanhood (Elizabeth and Deborah) or are the prototypes of fallen female virtue (Florence and Esther), Baldwin’s women are boxed in by the church, hemmed in by the mandates of a strict black charismatic tradition that assigns them to particular roles from which they must not depart (dutiful mother, all-suffering wife, faithful witness, chaste servant) lest they be consigned to the realm of the wicked, a place where there is neither reprieve (p.45) from, nor remedy for, the disreputable harlot. Even Elizabeth and Deborah, God’s holy vessels, were once fallen women—Deborah because she was raped by a group of white men when she was just sixteen and Elizabeth because she bore her oldest son, John, the story’s protagonist and Baldwin’s correlate, out of wedlock—who were only redeemed from their dishonor by way of marrying Gabriel, whose own sins are carefully safeguarded by all four women.
Despite the unbridled oppressions of this regime delineated by Baldwin, I am interested in two specific, albeit fleeting, moments in the text that register Baldwin’s own conflicted relationship to the church and are, I submit, the opening onto a more expansive view of black women’s complex relationship with the church and Christianity more generally. The first of these moments comes when Florence, Gabriel’s prodigal sister who has avoided the church for the better part of her life, kneels at the altar of the Temple of the Fire Baptized in search of an elusive healing for an illness that is threatening her life. There she begins singing “Standing in the Need of Prayer,” a song, the only song she can remember, that was her mother’s, and “kneeling as she had not knelt for many years, and in this company before the altar, she gained again from the song the meaning it had held for her mother, and gained a new meaning for herself.”3 The second moment comes at the very end of the text when John is talking to Elisha, the seventeen-year-old musician and minister whom John finds himself deeply drawn to, about his religious conversion, and Elisha’s laughter causes John to “observe with some wonder that a saint of God could laugh.”4
Taken together, these moments give utterance to something I could only wonder at as a grade-schooler caught up in the religious fervor of my best friend’s church. When Florence is compelled to the altar not by her own faith, which has long since evaporated, but by the faith of her long-dead mother, with whom she had a complicated and not always loving relationship, and then is able to find something for herself there, she is attesting to this thing. And when John comes to the surprising revelation that God’s people do laugh, he is attesting to it too. Baldwin himself attests to it when, even long after he has taken his leave from the church, he acknowledges the unrivaled majesty of the saints in the throes of the Spirit. What they collectively confirm, in essence, is that you don’t have to believe in prayer to know that it works. In other words, black religiosity far surpasses doctrine or individual beliefs or behaviors, and it resonates far beyond the confines (p.46) of the church itself. Relatedly, the experience of getting happy is not contingent upon religious affiliation or adherence to particular ideological regimes.
In what follows I consider both the conditions of possibility and the socioreligious consequences of those whom Baldwin names “God’s decoys” and whom I interchangeably refer to as virtuous Christian women. My concern is with thinking about what the strictures placed on black churchwomen enable discursively and materially and how these same women go about negotiating these constraints in ways that simultaneously affirm their legitimacy and challenge their authority. At the same time I want to be careful to attend to the otherworldly capacity for life yielded by the faith that Baldwin and his interlocutors attest to, which, although it perhaps surpasses all understanding, if taken seriously can help us contemplate what black churchwomen find for themselves and how it is they can get happy in conditions that might seem to predict other wise.
The Lexi Show
My conclusion is that I’m waiting to see what God wants to do because I don’t know who he’s allowing me to experience this walk of life to minister to later on. The church has completely faggotized every body who’s gay, sends them to hell over the pulpit and the church literally screams hooray, and are happy about that. And yet we celebrate the pastor who has the clean record and the clean look but yet he’s still doing the same thing that the same-gender-loving people are doing but yet he has the look. And so I feel that that’s a community that has kept gospel alive. They’re within the gospel community. They are human beings. And I believe that God loves every body. And I believe that there are Holy Ghost–filled, fire-baptized, gay people.5
In September 2009 the artist formerly known as Tonéx caused a holy brouhaha when he effectively outed himself on The Lexi Show, a now-defunct Christian talk show that was hosted by gospel-singer-turned-journalist Lexi Allen on The Word Network, a Christian television network based in suburban Detroit. In the one-on-one interview Tonéx, who has since renamed and rebranded himself as indie artist B. Slade, responded to ongoing speculation about his sexuality in the affirmative, admitting that, (p.47) yes, he had “experienced gay sex before” and did “lean more towards the same sex.” Though he had always been controversial, Tonéx had also by that time become a very successful mainstream gospel music artist, winning or being nominated for numerous industry awards, appearing on concert billings and recording with established gospel acts such as Kirk Franklin and Trin-i-tee 5:7, and signing to major gospel music labels on which he released critically acclaimed albums. Yet ever since first coming to national attention with the release of his inaugural major-label album, Pronounced Toe-Nay, in 2000, the San Diego native had dodged, dismissed, and sometimes forcefully renounced accusations that he was gay or bisexual. Though such accusations are not uncommon in an industry that is relentlessly committed to the proliferation of a certain brand of hypermasculinity, in the case of Tonéx, who was frequently referred to as gospel music’s version of Prince, the allegations could hardly be dismissed as mere occupational hazard. Both on stage and off his theatrics did more to inflame his critics than to quiet them. He quickly became as known for his extravagant costuming, which included top hats, feather boas, wigs, platform shoes, elaborate head wraps à la Erykah Badu, multicolored hairpieces, mohawks, and prominent piercings and tattoos, as he was for his genre-defying music. His penchant for yodeling and unabashed exhibition of his multioctave range, including a particularly strong falsetto, added an additional flare to his often highly choreographed, highly produced, stage and video performances, and his musical oeuvre was admittedly as influenced by gospel music heavyweights such as Fred Hammond and The Clark Sisters as it was by pop icons such as Prince and Michael Jackson.
The accusations regarding Tonéx’s sexuality are thus part of what is at issue when during the interview Lexi begins to question him about lyrics referencing sexual molestation in “The Naked Truth,” an angry, profanity-laden song he first released online in 2007. Tonéx admits to Lexi that while, yes, he had been molested as a child, he does not blame that abuse for his later “sexual explorations,” including those with other men. This is a direct challenge to claims made by other Christians, gospel artist Donnie Mc-Clurkin chief among them, who claim their same-sex liaisons were the consequence of sexual abuse they suffered earlier in their lives, which then allows them to claim they have been “delivered” from homo sexuality because God has “delivered” them from the psychological trauma of the sexual abuse, thereby extending the Christian notion that it is somehow (p.48) possible to “pray the gay away” and that homo sexuality is either an assumed or traumatically coerced “lifestyle.” Following this revelation, Tonéx, ever the performer, coyly dodges Lexi’s more pointed, if inartful, questions about his sexuality.
Is … being attracted to men under control?
You said you were attracted to men at one point.
So … do you practice?
Like piano? [He laughs.]
Homo sexuality. I don’t know how to put that. I’m trying to put it as—I’m literally trying to put this the best—do you sleep with men?
I don’t sleep with men.
You’re making this real hard for me, and you know exactly where I’m going. Um, you say you don’t—when I said, “Do you struggle with homo sexuality?” you said no, it wasn’t a struggle.
It’s not a struggle. No.
What are you doing, man? Who are you dating? Are you considering dating men? Are you considering dating women? Is homosexuality—a thing of the past for you?
Is homo sexuality a thing of the past? I think that when someone understands who they are sexually and they know that they’re a free spirit and they understand who they are as a person, it’s really difficult to label that.
Just as Tonéx refuses to be labeled musically, at one point in the interview claiming he is neither a gospel artist nor a secular artist but simply “an artist,” he resists having his sexuality labeled or pigeonholed by Lexi. By the time the interview ends, he has made it quite evident what he is “doing,” and attempting to “put homo sexuality in the past” is not it, for he insists there is space in the Kingdom of God for every one, including someone like himself.
Given Tonéx’s prominence on the gospel music scene at the time, his revelation, quite expectedly, did not go over so well with the saints. Immediately following the airing of The Lexi Show interview, concerts and appearances Tonéx had lined up were canceled, his friends and colleagues in the industry (p.49) grew distant, and his critics took to the Internet, radio airwaves, and pulpits to advocate the need for his Divine deliverance.6 Before long, Tonéx had closed down his once-prolific social media sites and virtually disappeared from the public spotlight. Lexi was also careful to distance herself from her interviewee. In a postinterview segment of the show just before the final credits roll she is shown sitting alone in what is ostensibly the show’s control room, where she looks sedately into the camera and provides the following disclaimer: “I would like to take this time to thank my friend and brother Tonéx for a very open, honest, and candid interview. It is my belief that a man is made for a woman, and a woman is made for a man. I believe that the Bible speaks very clearly about this. However, as a journalist it is my job to tell the story. And as a Christian it is my job to love absolutely every body, and I do that, unequivocally and unapologetically.” Thus any semblance of journalistic neutrality Lexi might have seemed committed to during the interview with Tonéx is quickly disavowed as she aligns herself both theoretically and theologically with the “hate the sin, love the sinner” rhetoric that often permeates Christian teachings.
Lexi’s disclaimer after the interview is essentially the explicit manifestation of her implicit positioning within the interview. Whereas Tonéx is the morally deficient backslider, she is the righteous Christian who does not affirm Tonéx but in interviewing him is responsibly fulfilling her duties as a journalist and simultaneously following the mandates of Christian law. The narrative arc she cultivates for herself suggests she is aware of and devoted to the appropriate roles for Christian women and men, that she is responsible and committed to her work, and that even when she disagrees with the men in her midst, she remains loving and embracing toward them. Lexi’s professed naivety about even the terms of homo sexuality attests to the adulterated virtue of the übermoral Christian woman, and even her grooming adds to the narrative. She is positively feminine, her nails are manicured, her makeup is flawless and understated, her long blondish-brown hair (weave) falls down to her full breasts, which are appropriately, but stylishly, covered by a denim jacket and gold necklace, and her long black dress falls to her ankles. She is thus physically attractive without being so overtly sexual as to distract or tempt any (straight) Christian man she might come into contact with or who might be watching the show.
Consequently, Lexi’s posture toward Tonéx foregrounds the intense gender dynamics that undergird the notion of Christian virtue and demonstrates (p.50) the conditions under which both of them have constructed their lives and are, in their respective ways, attempting to reckon with. This dynamic is perhaps most evident in the opening segment of the interview, during which Lexi and Tonéx discuss Tonéx’s styling choices and religious background.
So people ask me all the time, you know, “What’s up with this guy?” You know, you have to know that you’re controversial.
Okay. And what I mean by that, just, let’s give some specifics. I’ve seen you come to the Stellar Awards with the spiked hair, with, uh, earphones, you know, huge around your neck. Uh, you’ve been known to wear a boa.
You have been known to, uh, wear makeup—
—in a video. Uh, you have been known to—I’ve seen you with a lollipop ring, uh, on your hand.
Yeah, the lollipop, yeah.
We could go on and on. Platform shoes. Uh, wigs. Uh, bobs. And nobody ever knows what vein you’re gonna come in. They never know if—what is he gonna wear today? Is he gonna wear a bob today? You know, so it—that’s controversial, and you have to know that. You grew up, what, PAW [Pentecostal Assemblies of the World], COGIC [Church of God in Christ]?
PAW. You know, I grew up COGIC.
So you know.
And COGIC we’re—ya’ll was worse than us.
Hunh. PAW was Jesus only.
No, ya’ll was the ones; we couldn’t see past ya’ll’s hats.
Well, excuse me, PAW—the women couldn’t wear hats cause they had doilies on they heads.
Not at our church. That’s more the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ or Apostolic Assembly. We didn’t wear the doilies.
Oh, you didn’t do that?
Uh-unh. But still no makeup?
Skirts down to your ankles, elbows covered.
Never a piece of cleavage ever?
Never? No. Yeah, you were pretty strict. And for you—for you to come up through that upbringing to go all the way to the opposite side of the universe with this.
Is this guy bipolar? Is he crazy? Is he doing this on purpose? Are you doing it to make people angry and—what are you doing?
I guess it’s just I really don’t know what else to be. It’s really me. Like—
It’s really you?
It’s always been me. Um, I don’t know, it’s just, I think it’s not fair that because I’m black that I can’t do the things that, you know, white cats do.
I don’t think it’s because you’re black. I totally do not believe that. What I do believe is that … when you grow up in the black church … you can’t do that.
You know. We frown upon that. You—come on, you know how we do. You can’t do anything outside of, you know, wearing a suit, and you can dress down these days—
We grow up in arrested development. You know. I thank God for those cornerstones and those statutes that we came up under because it did become an anchor. And I was talking to a good friend that I just met, and he was telling me how ships always have an anchor, but they’re not meant to stay down. They’re always attached to the ship, and whenever you go off to foreign places, whenever it goes too far out there, that anchor is still there and you know where to drop it. And so that’s what I have. No, undeniably and unequivocally people cannot deny the Word and the anointing.
But you knew you were pushing the envelope a long time ago. You knew that.
(p.52) This exchange between Lexi and Tonéx alludes that women are primarily responsible for the maintenance of Christian morality. The tight control of churchwomen’s bodies, in this case via their clothing and physical appearance, is indicative of a widespread theological framework that posits the female body—and, by extension, the effeminate male body—as the prevalent source of moral and social decay. The most compelling aspect of this exchange, however, is in what goes unsaid. Lexi does not seem to find it at all odd to discuss Tonéx’s styling wholly in relationship to the stylings of women, and, apparently, neither does Tonéx. They take it for granted that the prohibition against makeup, and the long skirts and covered elbows and cleavage mandated for women, which they have both, to some extent, rejected, had, or should have had, a cognizable effect on Tonéx. While Lexi defines Tonéx’s style as “controversial,” she never does comment directly on the topsy-turvy gender dynamics at play in Tonéx’s costuming that ultimately serve to make it so controversial. In a video interview he granted blogger Darian Aaron in the weeks following his appearance on The Lexi Show, Tonéx contended that he was officially “a grown-ass man” as a result of his revelations. “You can’t be a punk or a sissy or what ever other colloquialisms are being used and be that up front and bold and translucent, transparent, without having a—a pretty big pair of cojones,” he insisted.7 Tonéx’s gendered (mis)performances, which are styled around the aesthetic conventions denied to the women in his denominational affiliation, are thus buttressed by his own forceful claim to a quasi-macho masculinity conceived of as courageous and truthful but simultaneously at odds with the heterosexist machismo often identified with Christian discourse.
The unspoken correlation between Tonéx’s queer sartorial displays and the constrained bodily aesthetics of black churchwomen suggests the black female body both marks and is the boundary of normative sexual behavior and desire as it is evinced within the black church (a form of demarcation that, as we will see in chapter 4, Lindon Barrett takes up by way of the “grotesque”).8 That is to say, under the church’s regulatory regime the black female body sets in oppositional relationship the moral and immoral, and becomes simultaneously the receptacle and purveyor of patriarchal desire. Under this mandate, not only is the virtuous Christian woman “God’s decoy” in the sense that she must save the souls of Christian boys and men, per Baldwin, but she conditions all appropriate Christian behavior. When Lexi urges Tonéx to admit that he is intentionally pushing the envelope (p.53) through his styling choices, telling him “come on, you know how we do,” she is subtly critiquing the edicts that govern, or attempt to govern, them both and simultaneously confirming her relationship to Tonéx’s plight, even as she works to distance herself from it. And though she never strays too far from the moral high ground, her ability to find common ground signals the complex entanglement between deviance and righteousness as embodied by presumptively heterosexual women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or, as Tonéx would have it, same-gender-loving people in the black church.
Accordingly, what is most provocatively demonstrated here is that “the negative, the expended, the excessive invariably form the ground of possibilities for value,” and negativity is value’s “essential resource.”9 In other words, while Lexi will not, indeed cannot, affirm Tonéx, she is affirmed by the very fact of her denial—he is the open secret that allows her denial to adhere. Tonéx’s fugitive existence, to the extent that it is fugitive, relies on and is fundamentally conditioned by his co-option of the female form, and it is against this very fugitivity that the virtuous Christian woman attains meaning. In short, Tonéx and Lexi confirm each other’s place in the socio-religious hierarchy and consequently reveal the correspondence between “defilement and the positive structure of which it bears a concealed relation.”10
In C. Riley Snorton’s analy sis of the “down low,” which he uses not just as a term to identify black men who have sex with men and do not identify as gay, bisexual, or queer but as a framework for conceptualizing black sexual representation more generally, he contends that, “drawing on the pervasive stereotype of homosexual contagion and the reiterative coupling of hemophilia and homophobia, the putatively queer black figure stands in as the one we fear and blame, as the personification of black moral and sexual capability, as an irreparable failure in practicing personal responsibility.”11 By outlining the anxieties surrounding men who exhibit nonnormative forms of masculinity in the church, particularly musicians and choir directors, alongside the fallout from the scandal that broke around Bishop Eddie Long in 2010—during which the megachurch pastor was accused of sexual misconduct by four young men with whom he later settled lawsuits—Snorton posits the down-low figure as one who “threatens the black church’s representational claim to moral legitimacy and authority.”12 In the current instance Lexi is both the embodiment of the “moral legitimacy and (p.54) authority” that Tonéx puts at risk and the antidote to the sexual pathology he represents, not only because of her assumed heterosexuality but also because she adheres to the appropriate gender norms and behavior befitting God’s decoy. She is, in effect, the “proverbial salve”13 to Tonéx’s “wounded” sexuality. But while Lexi represents a study in unsullied Christian virtue, what I take up next is a discussion of someone who unreservedly presents her failures as the admonishment to virtuous Christian womanhood.
No More Sheets
The abstinence pledge I took while in high school continued to be a monumental thorn in my side throughout my college years. Especially given that I was no longer under the watchful eyes of my parents and was instead living in a place—the university residence hall—that at times seemed wholly dedicated to the rampant production and even more rampant release of sexual tension, I struggled with it programmatically (What is one actually expected to do about their hormones? Is masturbation a viable option? Can one engage in oral sex and still proudly proclaim one’s virginity? Sure, true love is supposed to wait, but just how long is it expected to wait if marriage is not actually a top priority?) but also in terms of what it meant for me as a young black woman who was desperately trying to figure myself out racially, sexually, and other wise. And so it was during this period that I attended a “No More Sheets” party hosted by one of my friends in the Young Adult Ministry that I was a part of at my Chicago church home.
“No More Sheets” is the title of both a sermon and a book by Juanita Bynum, who rose to prominence in the late 1990s initially due to her association with Dallas-based “neo-Pentecostal” megachurch pastor T. D. Jakes, one of the most, if not the most, high-profile black preachers of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.14 Jakes’s expansive empire was largely founded on a diverse network of ministries arranged around the leitmotif “Woman, Thou Art Loosed,” which caters, in particular, to women in need of spiritual, emotional, and physical healing. What first began in 1992 as a Sunday school group-therapy session at a church he was pastoring in his hometown of Charleston, West Virginia, eventually morphed into a lucrative franchise featuring a national best-selling book and several corresponding books including a Bible, a Grammy-nominated CD, a 2004 motion picture directed by Michael Schultz, and an annual women’s conference (p.55) that attracts as many as eighty thousand participants each year.15 It was to one of these early conferences, which was configured specifically for singles, that Jakes invited Bynum to preach and where she first delivered “No More Sheets” the sermon, wherein she boldly attests to being delivered by God from a sexually promiscuous past. After releasing “No More Sheets” to video and publishing the corresponding book, No More Sheets: The Truth about Sex, in 1998, Bynum quickly began to draw thousands of her own devoted followers. Before long she was following in the mode of Jakes, publishing best-selling books, headlining major conferences, and eventually becoming a fixture on TBN, a Christian-based television network that advertises itself as “America’s most watched faith channel.”16 However, in 2007 a very public domestic-abuse scandal involving her then-husband, Thomas W. Weeks III, a pastor she had married in a televised million-dollar ceremony five years earlier, dealt a severe blow to any hopes she might have had of becoming Jakes’s female counterpart.17
Despite Bynum’s eventual public decline, she is significant for becoming one of very few black women to break into the heavily male-dominated network of televangelists and high-profile religious leaders who hold rank in black Christendom. This is due in no small part to her ability to connect with her audience by using her own life as the basis of her message, thereby exposing her vulnerabilities and, most notably, her sexual indiscretions in ways that have historically been very difficult for black women generally and black churchwomen in particular to do publicly. Theologian Renita Weems admits as much when she claims, “I wouldn’t say her preaching or theology is revolutionary. But living a promiscuous life, it’s not that women haven’t heard that message, it’s just they’re not accustomed to women in ministry admitting to that in the pulpit.”18 Indeed Bynum’s claim to fame and the force of her moral proselytizing inheres in the slut-to-saint narrative she deftly weaves around herself in “No More Sheets,” which, for the sake of discussion, I break down here into three parts: the exposure, the exhortation, and the divination.
Part I: The Exposure
The prophetess stands in the middle of a stage where T. D. Jakes, his wife, Serita Jakes, and several other ministerial types are positioned off to the left. As the camera pans out into the vast arena, we see thousands upon thousands (p.56) of people standing on their feet clapping. There is the occasional man, a white woman comes into view every now and then, but the thousands gathered here are primarily black women. After settling the audience and dispensing with the preacherly formalities, Bynum, who is dressed in a formless pink suit, its ankle-length skirt and a white scarf tied around her throat concealing any possible hint of forbidden skin, begins to talk solemnly about the “awesome task” and responsibility that has been set before her for this occasion. This God-given task requires that she exhibit “no flesh,” and just as she has endeavored to conceal her literal flesh, she must conceal, or defeat, the human, fleshly limitations that would other wise thwart her from her task. It is Divine irony. For the mandate that she exhibit no flesh ultimately demands that she reveal her fleshiest desires. And so she says she could not dare speak at a singles conference about being single “without dipping into [her] own business” because, as God put it to her, “How can you help somebody if you don’t tell anybody where you’ve been?” Accordingly, Bynum reveals that “where she’s been” is single, raised in the Church of God in Christ to remain a virgin until she was married, which she did, but since getting married and then divorced has had to experience singleness differently, as a woman who understands the pleasures of sex firsthand. What this has consequently occasioned is a fierce spiritual battle:
Even today I’m struggling with a couple of things right now. You don’t want me to tell the truth, right? You want me to stand up here and act like because I got this mic in my hand that I’m just so sold out for Jesus that don’t nothin’ bother me! I’m just all in the anointing! And I don’t never get frustrated! I don’t never wanna fall and have some sex! I don’t never wanna do nothin’ wrong! But the devil is a liar! Come on here somebody! Every day of my life, I’m struggling, to kill, the flesh! …
You know what, ya’ll can beg to differ to me if you want to, but I find it very difficult to listen to anybody preach to me about being single when they got a pair of thighs in they bed every night! You know, when you rollin’ over in the sheets and you keep telling me to “Hold on, honey, sanctify yourself!” and you goin’ home to biceps and triceps and big old muscles and thighs; you got somebody giving you back rubs! No, no, no, you go sit down! I want to hear “hold on” from somebody who is really holding on! I want to hear “hold on” from somebody that knows my struggle!19
(p.57) By this time the place is thundering. As far as the eye can see women, and the occasional man, are on their feet shouting out their “amens” and “go ’heads.” And ahead she goes. Bynum contends that she’s been to all the singles conferences and taken all of the religious advice and tried all of the righteous remedies, including buying herself flowers and pretty pajamas and pampering herself, and “it didn’t satisfy nothin’.” Then she claims there are those people “that’s not really saved and consecrated” who have suggested masturbation to her, but she’s not trying to be in the situation in which she has to go to the altar and repent because she “took care of herself.” If she has to go to the altar anyway, she’s going to go because she “had it all night and all day.” That shouts ’em.
Part II: The Exhortation
Now they are ready. Bynum has formulated her entire opening monologue around the question that presumably motivates the majority of the women in the room and is, apparently, the only viable solution to their collective struggles in the flesh. That is, “Why am I not married?” The answer: because “you’re not single yet.” Here again she uses her own story as leverage for the lesson she wants to impart. She contends that every time she had sex with a man she was engaging in an act of “consummation” and was effectively marrying him. Thus when she went to God with her frustrations about being single, He told her she could not get married yet because she had already been married too many times. Further, there is a “penalty” to be paid for every person slept with outside of marriage, and the spirit of each person the unwed person has sex with stays with her until she is “processed” by God and thereby “purged” of those spirits. Bynum’s point, then, is that the problem with single women is not the men but the women themselves. They are not married because they have not dealt with the spirits from their pasts that are holding them in bondage. What’s more, not only are they spiritually unprepared for marriage, but like she herself once was, they are emotionally, financially, and domestically unprepared as well:
I wanna get married and you can’t even cook! I wanna get married and your nails too long to make a biscuit! I wanna get married and you can’t even wash clothes! I wanna get married and you here at the conference and your bedroom at home is tore up, and your house is nasty! Aw, ya’ll (p.58) ain’t sayin’ nothin’! You in debt and can’t pay your bills, every dime you get is on your back right now, Ms. I Wanna Get Married!
“I love you” don’t keep the gas on! “I love you” don’t keep the bills paid! See, let me help ya’ll with something. I wanna tell ya’ll this right now. And I’m just gonna tell you the truth. We always talkin’ ’bout, “all our black brothers is goin’ out and gettin’ all these white ladies. What’s wrong? We ain’t good enough?” Naw, we too needy. We ain’t got nothin’. Come on, ya’ll ain’t sayin’ nothin’. I’m supposed to be a helpmeet. Come on here somebody! When you get ready to get married what are you bringing to the table, Ms. SistaThing, besides eyeliner and lipstick? You ain’t got no savings account, all of your credit cards is charged up, and now you want somebody to be a rescue, engine engine number nine, and Zorro in your life, and he gotta come and wipe out all of your mess! The devil is a liar! God is calling you to accountability today! “It’s time,” as the man said last night! Get yourself together.
Bynum calls on the women to “prepare themselves” for the ministry of marriage, suggesting that if they aren’t prepared, then they shouldn’t “mess over the man of God.” She takes them to task for not owning property, for having too many credit cards, for not having necessities like soap and laundry detergent stocked in their homes, for, essentially, being “divas” and not modeling themselves after the woman of Proverbs 31—the virtuous woman par excellence.
Bynum eventually asks someone to bring her a stack of white bed sheets that she begins to tie, one by one, around her waist. The sheets, she says, represent “layers and layers of junk” and “wrong ideas.” In order to be freed from the sheets, a process is required. Bynum claims that her own processing, which was prolonged and repetitive, started only once she started praying and fasting and asking God to remove anything in her that was not like Him. It required that she enter into a life of consecration and submission. As she is saying this, she begins to remove the sheets from around her waist until they are all strewn across the stage. She goes on to say that she once had a “sugar daddy” who provided for all of her material needs but that when God “dropped her last sheet,” she decided to end her reliance on men and voluntarily entered into a period of destitution:
I got poor five years ago. I had holes in my shoes. I had to go through McDonald’s drive-thru to get a soda and ask for extra napkins so I could (p.59) have toilet paper. I used toilet paper for that time of the month; I was poor. I’m telling ya’ll I lived in the projects and I suffered because I was determined. [She begins to cry.] I was determined. I got tired of people kissing on me! I got tired of people with they hands in my underwear! It was too expensive! I got tired of people sleeping with me and telling people how it was! I got tired of coming to church and seeing brothers that I had been with and I couldn’t lift my hands up because I knew they were saying, “I know what you like.” And I told God, I said “Lord, I want to be beautiful again.” I wanna—I was so ugly to myself. After that I started saying I don’t wanna wear sexy clothes. I don’t wanna wear—and that’s why I don’t. That’s why I don’t wear anything to show my shape or anything because I don’t want nobody to choose me because I have a nice figure or I have nice legs. I want somebody to see my heart! I want you to be able to look at my eyes and see the spirit of my soul and know that I’m a chosen vessel and I’m a queen! Oh, I wish I had somebody—I just couldn’t take it anymore! And so I was willing to become poor.
Bynum finishes telling the story of her fall from grace and what it took for her to “get her body back” by admonishing the women to recognize that until they too have been freed from their sheets and are finished being processed by God, they are not ready to be, and ultimately unfit to be, wives. To this point the enthusiastic audience has been completely captivated by Bynum. They have been on their feet encouraging her and cheering her on, even as she has reprimanded and scolded and “set them straight.” But for all of their active listening it isn’t until Bynum begins to close out the sermon that the place starts, as Baldwin would say, “to rock.”
Part III: The Divination
The weight of the anointing that’s on my life have [sic] severed every dead relationship that has ever been in your life right now. And whether you are in here and you want to let it to go or not, it’s too late—I done already cut you a loose! Because I know what is the will of God for your life! And what you need to do, you need to get out of that place that you standin’ in and run right out of it because you been cut free, it’s been cut out of you, every sexual experience, every intercourse, every memory, (p.60) the Lord has cut it out! It’s out! You will not be able to go back to the bedroom! You will not be able to go back to the same sheets! The Lord! You better praise Him right now, He’s delivering you from the memory! I don’t mean stand there, I mean sho nuff praise Him! The memory! I loose you from it, I loose you from it, I loose you from it, God’s got something better for you! He’s got something better!
By the time Bynum declares that the “stench and residue” of sin has been peeled away from her listeners and proclaims to see the spirits of lesbianism, homo sexuality, and perversion flying out of the walls of the arena, the audience is in a state of spiritual ecstasy. Some of the women are standing with their hands raised toward Heaven, tears streaming down their faces in a posture of worship, while others are jumping up and down and crying aloud; and still others are in a full-on run around the perimeter of the seating area. The praise going up is as communal as it is individual. At one point Bynum tells every one in the audience to grab a neighbor by the hand and begin to praise God for that person. Later she instructs every one to get a tissue in their hands and begin cleaning “the mess” off of themselves. Immediately thereafter she tells them to praise God for sixty seconds so that He will “detox their bodies” and then has them each grab someone and hug them—“and I mean hug ’em”—so that they will be “intertwining their spirit with a right spirit.” The ninety-minute sermon finally ends with Bynum looking directly into the camera, the vast audience panned out behind her, as she decrees that she and the audience are “standing in agreement” with “the whole United States and across the water” that there will be no more sheets in any of their lives.
Between the Sheets
Soon after “No More Sheets” was released to video circa 1998, viewing parties of the sort I was invited to as a college student began being held throughout the country. Bynum’s fan base grew as both women and men, regardless of sexual orientation or denominational affiliation, grappled with the tough-love message that was a staple of Bynum’s ministry. The frank, rare-for-the-pulpit, pull-no-punches discussion of sex, coupled with the powerful rhetoric of forgiveness and healing, along with her willingness to lay her own skeletons bare, made Bynum something of a Christian phenomenon. (p.61) This was not just another finger wagging from behind the cover of a Bible, not another male preacher raining down his wrath on fallen women or another married person talking self-righteously about the ills of premarital sex. Here was a single woman, a God-ordained prophetess, openly admitting that she often wanted “to fall and have some sex” and that she had done so, repeatedly, in the past. She was like them. Moreover, she was giving instruction that was based on her own struggle and was the outgrowth of her own need for healing and “consecration.” She understood their pain. Even as Bynum worked to codify the notion of the virtuous Christian woman into existence, she utterly exploded and complicated that same formulation. And at the same time that she subscribed to a version of what Candice Jenkins calls the “salvific wish”—an aspirational “preoccupation with propriety in the realm of intimacy” by, primarily, middle-class black women that is bound up with self-control and self-denial—she violated its tenets by exposing her “dirty laundry” and, by extension, the “dirty laundry” of all of those who aligned themselves with her message.20
As indicated earlier, Bynum’s message is not particularly novel. According to her, the final answer to the temptations of the flesh is solely prayer and supplication. The individuals ultimately at fault for their singleness are single women themselves, and no part of the blame is meted out to their prospective (male) partners. And, per the custom of many megaministries, televangelists, and Christian teachings more generally, the emphasis on personal accountability and self-help far outpaces, and in this case totally obfuscates, any discussion of the structural, systematic, or societal bases for the very things that are said to be the reason for black women’s singleness (which, it should be noted, is always discursively rooted in and read as failure), including financial insecurity, sexual promiscuity, and mental health issues. Further, there is no room in Bynum’s theology, which is constructed around a no-count black female figure who is as fictitious as the welfare queen and Sapphire and Jezebel mythologies to which her rhetoric is deeply indebted, for a robust conceptualization of sexuality that not only does not revolve around marriage but does not revolve around marriage as enshrined in law (at the time “No More Sheets” was recorded) as between a man and a woman—this despite the fact that the tremendous response to “No More Sheets” attests to the acute need for just such a conceptualization. Neither is there room for a conversation about singleness that does not always see it as a problem to be solved or that takes into account the densely interconnected (p.62) patterns of in equality and harm that make marriage less of an option and, in some cases, less desirable for black women and their partners.
How, then, does one respond to “No More Sheets”? How do we make sense of a message that resonates so strongly in the lives of so many black women even as it seemingly works to circumscribe those very lives? If “No More Sheets” is an illustration of a larger theological stance toward black women, and I submit that it is, what can be said about the continued presence of black women, as a critical mass, in the black church? Note the purposeful use of the present tense. Although Bynum is significantly less popular now than she once was, and although “No More Sheets” parties are largely a thing of the past, check out any of the YouTube pages that host the sermon and you’ll likely find that a fair number of the comments are, one, relatively recent and, two, testifying to the goodness of Bynum’s message, the substance of which continues to prevail in many a church.
In Ashon Crawley’s discussion of the “black queer(ed) subject” in the black church, he gets at the “why do they remain” question, in part, by addressing the relay between the black church and the gay nightclub as first elucidated by E. Patrick Johnson.21 Crawley suggests that the distinction Johnson makes between the church as a pre-scripted “place” where the “rhetorical discourse of the service censures and confines the body,” and the liberatory “space” of the club that “frees rather than captures the sexualized body” rests on a troubling assumption.22 Using Johnson’s own example as evidence, Crawley argues that “the club, through invocation of the same language and ideologies of God and religion, can do the same sort of violence [as the black church] in another location to black queers.”23 Essentially, the notion that one can simply “escape” the oppressive logics of the black church but still maintain its cultural rites (the music, dancing, shouting, and so forth) by going to the club doesn’t quite wash. That is to say, you can run from it, but you’ll still be in it.24 Moreover, Crawley contends, plenty of queer black people don’t attempt to run from it at all but “continue to go to church, continue to cite it as a means for freedom and liberation.”25
I am particularly interested in taking up Crawley’s argument here because it is animated by a question of agency that is foundational to my own foregoing consideration of black churchwomen. Like Crawley, I am not content to dismiss the continued presence of my subjects in the black church as merely the consequence of false consciousness. Instead, I want to consider the possibilities inherent in the “collective enunciation of pain and (p.63) burden”26 evinced by black churchwomen in the space of the sanctuary and those spaces where black churchwomen gather in the name of sanctuary. Crawley posits the black church as a site of catharsis wherein “redressive performances of the body seek to repair the breaches, abjections, objections and subjections” attendant to black life.27 The responses of black churchwomen to Bynum’s message in the form of ecstatic utterances, spiritual dance, and communal praise—getting happy—are, I submit, a form of redressive performance at the same time that they are emblematic of “that power which arises from our deepest and nonrational knowledge,” or what Audre Lorde other wise terms the erotic.28 That is to say, getting happy is both backward-looking, or concerned with redressing the pains of the past, and forward-looking, or concerned with striving toward a better future, even as it affirms presence: the shared self-connection that is, as Lorde puts it, “a measure of the joy which I know myself to be capable of feeling, a reminder of my capacity for feeling.”29
For as much as we might critique Bynum’s message and all that it stands in for, there is something to be said for what her informality makes possible. The communal spaces where black women can go to lay their burdens down are rare indeed, but even more rare are the instances in which black churchwomen can openly address their stigmatized sexualities. Lexi can only hint at, or use Tonéx as the scapegoat for, the spiritual-sexual “indiscretions” that Bynum lays bare. It is therefore insufficient to charge Bynum with the rhetorical oppression of black women and leave it there, because what she simultaneously lays claim to are the feelings of loss, rejection, and failure that are the unspoken detritus of so many black women’s lives. In so doing, she opens up a space for getting happy—a space wherein the shout, an “unexplored and undesignated [site] of meaning,” and the dance, “a singularly important activity in which immanently resistant communality is expressed and achieved,” significantly coincide.30 Thus what “God’s decoys” help us to understand is that for all of the shortcomings of the church and church folks that could be and have been enumerated, what the faith gives Believers is, in the words of Baldwin, “a zest and a joy and a capacity for facing and surviving disaster that are very moving and very rare.”31
(1.) My use of the term “black church” herein is not meant to reference a specific institution but a particular tradition that “possesses distinctive characteristics and constitutive elements, including key questions, symbols, rituals, ideas, and beliefs that are always subject to adaptation, improvisation, reinterpretation, and (p.154) even abandonment.” Stacey M. Floyd-Thomas, Juan Floyd-Thomas, Carol B. Duncan, Stephen G. Ray Jr., and Nancy Lynne Westfield, Black Church Studies: An Introduction (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 2007), xxiv.
(2.) James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time (1963; repr., New York: Vintage, 1993), 17–18.
(3.) James Baldwin, Go Tell It on the Mountain (1952; repr., New York: Dial, 2005), 60.
(5.) Tonéx, interview by Lexi Allen, The Lexi Show, The Word Network, September 5, 2009.
(6.) Kalefa Sanneh, “Revelations: A Gospel Singer Comes Out,” New Yorker, February 8, 2010.
(8.) I am mindful of Roderick A. Ferguson’s argument in regards to black sexuality as conceived within the American social order that holds that “as figures of nonheteronormative perversions, straight African Americans [are] reproductive rather than productive, heterosexual but never heteronormative.” Roderick A. Ferguson, Aberrations in Black: Toward a Queer of Color Critique (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004), 87 (emphasis in original). Thus my use of the word “normative” here is strictly relative to the black church context in which it is operationalized.
(9.) Lindon Barrett, Blackness and Value: Seeing Double (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 21.
(11.) C. Riley Snorton, Nobody Is Supposed to Know: Black Sexuality on the Down Low (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014), 98.
(14.) Shayne Lee defines neo-Pentecostalism in his book on T. D. Jakes as “the con temporary form of the Pentecostal movement that emerged in the latter part of the twentieth century”; it puts less emphasis on puritanical asceticism, speaking in tongues, etc., and more emphasis on “the power of the Holy Spirit for healing, prophetic utterances, vibrant worship and music, and prosperity for believers.” Shayne Lee, T. D. Jakes: America’s New Preacher (New York: NYU Press, 2005), 34. For a concise discussion of the history of black Pentecostalism in the United States and its relationship to prosperity gospel, see Fredrick C. Harris, “Entering the Land of Milk and Honey,” in The Price of the Ticket: Barack Obama and the Rise and Decline of Black Politics (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 70–99.
(15.) Libby Copeland, “With Gifts from God,” Washington Post, March 25, 2001.
(p.155) (16.) Apparently all was not always well between Jakes and Bynum, however. A legal dispute over royalties arose between the two after Jakes began selling tapes of Bynum’s sermon, and this reportedly resulted in Jakes temporarily blacklisting Bynum from preaching at prominent black churches and venues. The matter was eventually resolved after Jakes invited Bynum to another of his conferences and Bynum issued Jakes a public apology. Lee, T. D. Jakes, 149–50.
(17.) Denene Millner, “I’ve Come This Far by Faith,” Essence, December 2007; Denene Millner, “Dawn of a New Day,” Essence, January 2008.
(18.) Rosalind Bentley, “For ‘Prophetess’ of Romance, Marriage a Mess,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, August 26, 2007.
(19.) Juanita Bynum, No More Sheets (Waycross, GA: Juanita Bynum Ministries, n.d.), DVD. All sermon quotes are from this source.
(20.) Candice Jenkins, Private Lives, Proper Relations: Regulating Black Intimacy (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007), 12–16.
(21.) E. Patrick Johnson, “Feeling the Spirit in the Dark: Expanding Notions of the Sacred in the African-American Gay Community,” Callaloo 21, no. 2 (1998): 399–416.
(23.) Ashon Crawley, “Circum-Religious Performance: Queer(ed) Black Bodies and the Black Church,” Theology and Sexuality 14, no. 2 (2008): 217.
(24.) See Fred Moten, The Feel Trio (Tucson, AZ: Letter Machine Editions), 65–93.
(28.) Audre Lorde, “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power,” in Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde, rev. ed. (Berkeley, CA: Crossing, 2007), 53.