I hope you’re watching HBO’s Insecure. If not, get your life. It’s like Girls but actually funny. And set in L.A. And black.
Based partially on Issa Rae’s acclaimed web series Awkward Black Girl, Insecure offers a dynamic representation of young black womanhood not seen on television since Girlfriends, Kelsey Grammar’s greatest contribution to television (and I love me some Frasier).
Rae stars as Issa Dee, the kind of awkward millennial just doing her best, kinda, that’s easily relatable regardless of race or gender. Her best friend Molly (played by serial scene-stealer and wig-snatcher Yvonne Orji) is, to put it plainly, a hot mess. But her looks are always on point so you gotta give her that.
In the latest episode, written by Amy Aniobi and directed by Debbie Goddamn Allen, the perpetually single Molly learns that the current dude she’s seeing—a real "nice guy" and a departure from the usual tools she dates named Jared—has had a same-sex experience.
At this point Molly has already confessed to making out with a girl at a frat party, as nearly every college girl has done, but she’s not prepared for Jared’s own homoerotic dalliance—even though he tries to assure her that it was strictly a one-time thing.
She then, of course, turns to her girlfriends for advice. Tiffany, who won't even entertain the idea of her man being anything less than 100% straight while admitting that there's a double standard when it comes to men and women, immediately dismisses Jared and his "one time."
However, neither Kelly (the the tell-it-like-it-is-no-matter-what-the-circumstances friend we all have or need) nor Issa are having any of this reductive nonsense. Kelly challenges Tiffany's belief that a man so much as touching another man's penis makes him gay.
While Issa argues that Jared does not "subscribe to the heternomative rejection of sexual fluidity" (come through, that one gender studies class from freshman year) and then asks a question that hasn't been posed nearly enough:
It's a question that has myriad answers, but Molly responds with one that is very telling:
No surprise there, but Issa's reaction to it is surprising, and it's what makes this scene truly remarkable.
Issa challenges Molly's relation to masculinity, while highlighting the fact that if Jared was white, she would just "chalk it up to the game," meaning that a double standard exists not just between men and women, but also between black men and white men.
For example, take New York Giants wide receiver and certified hottie Odell Beckham, Jr. Beckham has been the center of not only gay rumors but also anti-gay harassment because he goes against traditional perceived notions of masculinity, particularly black masculinity. Then you look at someone like Cristiano Ronaldo, who has had his fair share of gay rumors, but no one really seems to be incensed about it.
If pics of Cristiano Ronaldo making out with a dude suddenly appeared on the internet, A.) hooray, and B.) one could easily dismiss it as him being "European" and therefore more sexually liberated, or maybe he was just drunk. Whether you believe it or not is up to you, but if pics of Odell Beckham making out with a man surfaced, A.) also hooray, but B.) he'd be branded gay, no questions asked. Because black men are rarely allowed to view our sexuality, or our masculinity, as a spectrum, which leads to conflicts of identity and overcompensating to appeal to a masculine ideal that does more harm than good.
By Issa confronting Molly with her own homophobia she's taking black women to task for being complicit in the propagation of toxic masculinity. Shows like Insecure and FX's fantastic Atlanta and the critically acclaimed film Moonlight are part of an exciting wave of art challening the very concept of black masculinity, both as an offshoot of slavery—the Mandingo of yore—and as a necessity in a world that treated black masculinity as something to be feared, undermined, or destroyed.
As gay men, we can also challenge what it means to be a man and stand up against the toxic masculinity run rampant in our own culture. So next time someone comes at you with that "masc 4 masc" bull, hit 'em with one of these: