‘Him or Her’ or Something Else Entirely: What I Need from Travon Free and Issa Rae’s New Project

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I’ll say it, maybe I’m more bored with Black [hetero-normative] Love than I have a right to be, yet I am. Actually, let me back up a bit; when I read the news that Issa Rae and Travon Free had a new project coming out on HBO about a Bisexual Black man I was, and still am, fairly excited. I am a Black Bisexual man and it’s rare that I see anyone on TV who holds that intersection, and by rare I mean that sometimes I see Frank Ocean while I’m flipping through channels, and that’s how it seems to go too often, three notes of a familiar song, a boy and then a brief static before the next thing.

I read that the show was greenlighted while I was sitting in a painfully obvious metaphor. It was late and I was waiting for a train to take me to Brooklyn, I’m not from New York and if it hadn’t been for the friends I was with I probably would have gotten on the wrong train, gone the wrong way. That’s maybe the thing about being underground, maybe the same problem as simplicity there’s only but so many directions that you can go. Around the time the train arrived, the rest of the article beyond just the celebratory headline loaded. And so as I stepped onto the train I learned the show was called “Him or Her” just as electricity yoked me into one direction, another fading into possibility.

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The first thing I think I need from this show is a name change. I get the sentiment; this is how the siren call goes out to let the theoretical “us” of Bisexual Black people know that we have arrived. But I think also that this is a bad leg to start on, the idea that this is the central choice of my other Bi people’s life. From where I am now it seems almost silly that this would be the title to any of my days. But before I came out to myself and to the people around me I might have been down. Before I could call myself what I was; Bisexuality sounded like that Manhattan train station, a train in either direction going towards the light and the central choice was which direction you were going. If that was the case then something else was true, no choice came without consequence and indecision was to be left alone in the rusting, humid dark.

Thankfully, the choice between a partner who uses her or him pronouns is not the axis around which my world orbits. And maybe now we’re back at love or its absence when I say I am populated by other more urgent desperations. This is something else I need from the show, a Queer Black man I can recognize. I am looking to my people, our dashiki print hoodies loose flags in a Philly breeze, ashless and glistening with laughter at a brunch we can’t afford in Brooklyn. I am looking at us hyperventilating over our maybe-could be careers, our students who want to be us, ourselves who can scarcely imagine why. I’m looking at the mothers we forget to call, the soaps we buy, the museums we intern at, the bosses that we can’t stand, the degrees we stack and stack until we wonder if something loses its meaning past a certain height. We are all so brilliant and desperate, I’m looking at each and every day, and more often than not Love isn’t even a B Plot.

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I’m not saying Black Romantic Love isn’t important; I personally have resolved that I want no love that is not the fierceness with which Rose loves Noah and vice-versa (Side note: we need to save Underground in 2018 because I have questions that need answers). But I’m looking at how often this past season of Rae’s Insecure that I was watching a never-ending relationship carousel while other aspects of Issa’s life settled into B or even C plots. In season one of Insecure Issa’s growing relationship to her students contrasted with her relationship with her politely adversarial coworkers complemented the growing relationship tension between Issa and human-grey sweatpant hybrid Lawrence; it felt like seeing a full person, it felt almost like seeing myself. In the second season the kids were gone and, while we got more of Issa’s homegirls, too often it was a protracted Issa vs Lawrence plotline that I enjoyed *enough* but always thought, “There has to be more than this, I know there is.”

Similarly, I felt, among *many* issues, that part of how She’s Gotta Have It hamstrung itself was centralizing the pursuit of Black Love as Nola’s primary characteristic. It seems throughout She’s Gotta Have It that nearly every character is so desperate to be loved that any plotline that does not center love (Nola’s relationship to her students, the ongoing gentrification of Brooklyn) seems starved for space to spread its wings. I’m glad to see “us” on TV, I’m glad to see us loving, I believe that representing our love matters but I just don’t believe that a show about a Black Bisexual man can truly succeed on TV with Black Love and relationships as its central question.

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I want from this show numerous plotlines that challenge beyond #TeamDaniel (which I am) and #LawrenceHive (who I troll regularly and unabashedly). I want a character who is worried about coming out to his boss because the company that owns where he works is sympathetic with laws where Queer people can be fired for being Queer. I want a Black Bisexual who forgot to call his mom because he had a panic attack after a long day at work. I want some kind of discussion about how you can be bisexual and not be alternating on a schedule between Hims and Hers like a queer Danny Phantom.

I want a lot of things, I won’t get most of them, I may not get any of them; regardless I want a lot of things because I am, in fact, a lot of things. Even while sitting in the obvious metaphor of the train station, I was and am sitting in the impossible self, finding a new path up and into the complexity of the light.

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