Looking for Leroy: Illegible Black Masculinities

Looking for Leroy: Illegible Black Masculinities

Looking for Leroy: Illegible Black Masculinities

Looking for Leroy: Illegible Black Masculinities

Excerpt

I can’t remember exactly when I first saw Leroy. It was likely sometime during that first season of the television series Fame, where the actor and dancer Gene Anthony Ray reprised the role of Leroy that he introduced in the original film version of Fame (1980). As a teenager growing up in the Bronx, I had few available examples of masculinity that didn’t play to basic heteronormative assumptions, though there was the transgendered man who lived in the house next to my tenement building, who always elicited hushed tones among my peers and their parents. But indeed by the age of sixteen—my age when Fame debuted on NBC in January 1982—I had inherited enough fictions about black masculinity to be able to discern what male bodies my peers and others suspected of being “gay” bodies or quite specifically, gay “somebodies.” My peers and I all needed to maintain a metaphoric distance from those “somebodies” that might not have been ontologically possible—Robert Reid-Pharr remarks in passing that deviancy does not disrupt ontology—hence the clear gesture toward unfamiliarity that the term “somebodies” suggests. We needed language that also efficiently marked those gay “somebodies” as cultural and political strangers (or strangeness to my sixteen-year-old mind). Ironically, my own proclivity for wearing pastel-colored polo shirts with matching hosiery and penny loafers (with shiny new pennies intact), in an era when many of my peers were wearing Kangol hats, unlaced shell-top Adidas, and tightly creased colored Lee jeans, made me a target of the very speculative fictions that I was willing to place on the body of Leroy. Nevertheless, my first reaction to Leroy was, “This cat is gay.”

Though little in Fame’s scripts suggested that the character of Leroy was in fact gay (there were clearly sexual tensions between . . .

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