BlackoutUK is committed to supporting black gay/queer/SGL men to sharing their experiences with each other and beyond. In this series, we ask contributors to share tips and advice on creating content
How to start writing
Evidence to support the claim Sylvester is THE Ultimate Gay Icon
During our last contributors’ workshop we discussed ways to help folks write. I thought I would use this space and begin to offer some tips on writing. The first of these tips relate to getting started.
Always have a pen and paper with you!
Writing begins with unorganized and often times quite random ideas which you form into a coherent narrative.
Ideas pop into our head all the time and come when we experience the world through our consumption of art; or through conversations about politics and society; and/or through other kinds of simple and complex human interactions such as hanging out with kids or shopping for jeans. We are always thinking and processing what’s going on around us. Ultimately writing is about capturing our thoughts; thought that result from our interactions with the world. Your contributions to Blackout need not be research driven; we want the evidence of your existence! So the words you need; the ideas; are already within you. While you may need to supplement these ideas with some context and additional information; this – if needed – comes later. Your ideas live in you and are core to whatever contribution you make to Blackout.
Let us take Madonna for example; easy! What ideas come to mind when you hear someone say ‘Madonna is THE Ultimate Gay Icon’? Oh it’s been said! Whatever reaction you have to this statement; the narrative that outlines that reaction isn’t initially coherent. You need some ideas first! Your first thought (mine at least) is #1 she has done well to appropriate Black culture and presents it as her own. Another thought is #2 acknowledge Madonna as an artist who clearly has talent. Another thought relates to #3 individuals whose music and iconic status better reflects my life as a Gay man like Sylvester or Luther Vandross. Individual ideas may not come all at once. But as they come they must be captured so have pen and paper near or even that Notes App on your phone so you can collect the ideas and use them to form your narrative.
When you write down each of these ideas you can begin to see a pathway for your words. And think about the path or the journey in which you want the reader to follow. You may need to move around the ideas for a clearer and more coherent path for the reader to follow. It may be less clear to start with #3 Sylvester as THE Ultimate Gay Icon. You may need to start with #1 Madonna as an appropriator of Black culture. And depending on what you want the reader to feel and what you feel; perhaps you want to be softer on dear old Madge and begin with the idea that #2 Madonna is an artist who clearly has talent before moving onto #1 Madonna appropriates Black culture. And once you see these ideas on the page and you think about the path or the journey you want the reader to follow, you may need to add additional ideas.
Another tip is to give examples and evidence for the claims you make. This is the key to getting your reader to follow and indeed to believe the path you create with your words; your narrative. If you assert Madonna appropriates Black culture; give an example or give evidence to support this claim: VOGUING … nuff said. And if you state Sylvester is THE Ultimate Gay Icon; give some evidence. For me Sylvester get this title (certainly over Madonna) because his creativity and artistry while rooted in his Black identity; transcended race and class and politics. While Madonna’s Holiday has merit as an important gay anthem; it cannot touch You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real). I mean not everyone can take a holiday even for ‘just one day outta life’?
THE Ultimate Gay Icon has to appeal to everyone and not just by giving BODY. THE Ultimate Gay Icon must have street credibility along with commercial success and must live the life, not just reap and cultivate the benefits from lives lived. THE Ultimate Gay Icon has to exemplify how to survive with nothing. While Madonna tells the story of arriving in NYC with $20; she certainly had a whole lot of social capital to ensure her survival; and that which she did not have, she certainly knew how to cultivate from the artistry of others! Sylvester cultivated his survival and his art from within as evidenced throughout his life. On the Gay scene since age 15 Sylvester was committed to The Life and survived it with tenacity and wit oh and BODY as well. In 1965 during the Watts Riots, like many, Sylvester looted; but he stole wigs hairspray and lipstick!
From his early work with The Cockettes who performances were at the forefront of the Gay Liberation Movement and throughout the 1970’s and well into the 1980’s his many talents and his legendary performances were widely recognized and celebrated. He could sing in every genre; gave the eloquence of Lena Horne; the soul of Aretha Franklin and the sadness of Billie Holiday. And he schooled the likes of Prince leaving one writer to say Prince should include a disclaimer with every song he releases: “Apologies to Sylvester”. Sylvester’s unique and powerful vocal range; his drag swagger; and fashion was not only the essence of Disco; it was the essence and of Gay in all it’s diversity and creativity!
His politics were personal as evidenced by his public marriage to a man in 1970. His politics were institutional as evidenced by his strong friendship with Harvey Milk.
In speaking frankly about his marriage on mainstream TV a few years before his 1988 death he was beyond unapologetic. Near the end of his fight with AIDS Sylvester insisted on participating in Castro’s 1988 Gay Freedom Parade in a wheelchair in front of the People with AIDS banner. He was THE ultimate artist to the end; fierce; unafraid and fuck me could he sing!
So when I advise you to include evidence and examples I stress these should come from you as did much of what I’ve expressed here about Sylvester. These ideas derived from my experiences of seeing and feeling; for you the ideas for what to contribute needs to derive from the experiences of whatever it is you wish to contribute to Blackout. Although you may need to do a search on Google for a photo or to nail down a fact or two as I did. And if you want to contribute, we want to hear from you and be assured throughout the process the Blackout contributors’ community will help you create the evidence of your existence.