This research offers an innovative qualitative methodology, kiki methodology, centering and understanding the experiences of Black queer people. This article connects to how Black queer people share and express their intersecting identities through Black queer storytelling in a novel qualitative methodology approach. Influenced by components of Queer of Color critique, narrative construction, phenomenology, and arts-based research (ABR), I offer a rich, complex, and communal threading of Black queer life within qualitative research. Kiki methodology utilizes three distinct components: (1) Black queer meaning-making (2) Black queer storytelling, and (3) Black queer artistic expression, situating and positioning Black queer narratives within higher education. Kiki methodology is a critical methodological approach that bridges Black queer ways of knowing, Black queer vernacular, and Black queer artistic expression.

“What have you learned from this dissertation process?”

This metaphorical and introspective question is one that many scholars have been asked during their dissertation defense. It’s a culminating and reflective inquiry that encompasses one’s dissertation experience. The dissertation journey is a critical nexus juncture in a scholar’s experience owning their scholarship, research, and practice. I was asked this poignant question during my dissertation defense. This question from my dissertation co-chairs led me to discern the importance of introspectively seeking and disseminating knowledge consumption and production. I began situating my ontological and epistemological stance to answer this fundamental question that became the impetus for this article. Reflecting on my Black and queer identities, I began to explore what communal and kinship practices retained and sustained me in a world that denies the humanity of Black queer life. Importantly, what does this look and feel like?

Black queer community and kinship are having brunch with my friends, where our laughter is filled with joy and solace. It’s weekly dinners with my best friend, where we discuss combating anti-Blackness and queerness in our careers and other facets of our lives. It’s through my writing group sessions with my mentors that our questioning and judgment of ideas nourished and flourished. It’s attending and presenting our research and practice at professional conferences where we elevate each other’s scholarship and practice in a thriving environment and space where academia attempts to corrode our voice and place in the academy. These reflective moments and experiences allow me to (re)remind myself and my community to continue to be authentically and uniquely Black and queer in any and everything we do. These experiences were a form of a kiki, a brave communal space where Black queer people thrive and exist authentically and fully in their intersectional identities. I use “brave space” to insinuate the notion of spaces for Black queer people are never safe, so it takes an unyielding audacity to exist in a world that continuously fails to keep us safe, let alone alive. This led me to return to how these queer kinship relationships connect to my dissertation research.

Everyone in my dissertation study, which explored being Black, gay, bisexual, and queer in mentorship programs, forged relationships with each other and myself through their innate ability to share vulnerable and distinct moments. These Black gay, bisexual, and queer men (BGBQM) offered grace, authenticity, and compassion to one another while critically examining the mentorship spaces they existed in, even when it was a harmful environment. What is evident from my dissertation experience is that the lives of Black queer people are effervescent, distinct, and nuanced. Every Black queer person has a story within a story. A story that is inundated within the fabric of Blackness and queerness realities and worldmaking practices. There is an intersectional and multifaceted story by every Black queer person who navigates, negotiates, and lives within a society interwoven in anti-Blackness and queerness (Gossett & Huxtable, 2017).

As my dissertation research explored the complexities yet niche realities of Black queer life (Hutchings, 2021), it was a profoundly interconnected conduit for exploring critical qualitative approaches. Engaging in qualitative research through storytelling allows for centering Black queer life in its beauty, imperfections, and humanity. Qualitative research and methods creation calls for the continuation of centering the voices and experiences of Black queer people. Therefore, this work will offer an expansion of centering Black queer storytelling through kiki-ing. Kiki-ing is rooted in Black queer storytelling and cultural manifestation that connects people centering queer joy, laughter, and love. Thus, I began to venture into my ontological and epistemological bag to explore the world of introducing a novel qualitative method from my dissertation research that bridges Black queer narrative experiences, as I coined, kiki methodology. I will begin by discussing how Black queer life and culture have been narrated in film, television, and podcasting. Next, I will introduce kiki methodology and its components to mobilize its utility within arts-based research and narrative inquiry. Through conceptualizing kiki methodology, I will present how to narrate kiki methodology in a podcast script approach, honoring how Black queer people navigate, negotiate, and exist in their Blackness and queerness. I will provide critical thoughts on how kiki methodology is needed within qualitative research and narrative storytelling for and by Black queer people.

The multifaceted ways of Black queer life and culture are embedded within Black narratives and storytelling. Black storytelling and life depictions center Black life with critical qualitative approaches such as endarkened narrative inquiry and story work (McClish-Boyd & Bhattacharya, 2021; Toliver, 2022). Endarkened narrative epistemology and inquiry are situated within the past, present, and future of Black feminist thought. This methodological and epistemology relationship is grounded in Black historical and contemporary homage is connected to kiki methodology and Black queer storytelling. The Black queer narrative canon has expressed historical, social, political, and identity formation in conversations from and with Black queer life (Johnson, 2019; Thrasher, 2019). My fondest memories throughout my life have been storytelling moments and events, learning about and from Black people in my life. I vividly remember sitting at the dinner table where my great-grandparents, grandparents, uncle, and mom shared what it meant to be Black in this anti-Black world. These accounts of historical racism were ingrained in my psyche. Still, through the pain and degradation were moments of reclaiming joy, liberation, and clap backs rooted in laughter and comedy, as my grandma and mom call them, Kodak moments. Black storytelling is a rich cultural and historical tradition that interconnects the lived experiences of Black people (Coles, 2020).

Nevertheless, stories of Blackness and queerness were missing growing up. While there were Black and queer people in my family, their stories were viewed by family members as a supporting perspective, not a lead one. As a Black queer kid in the ’90s, Blackness and queerness imagery through film, television, and music were hyper-visible yet invisible. These images were entrenched in caricatures and stereotypes of Black queer people centered in negative portrayals, distorted realities, and often humor for the cis-hetero gaze. Black queer images, stories, and messages were something as a young Black queer person I yearned to consume in a society that continued to conceal and ignore Black and queer existence and living. Progressively and regressively, Black queer representation in film, television, media, and art has evolved into a realm of centering Black queer life-making written exclusively for and by Black queer people (Bailey, 2013; Johnson, 2011). Black queer storytelling is rooted in exploring, examining, and illuminating the Black queer life through multimedia formats and outlets (film, television, podcast, etc.). Black queer storytelling is a place and space that intertwines expressive artistic ways of knowing and understanding Black queer people’s lived experiences (Boatwright, 2019). There has been an array of films, televisions, and podcasts (e.g., Tongues Untied, Paris Is Burning, Pose, Noah’s Arc, The Read) that reclaims Black queer storytelling that controls how our stories are told and curated in Black queer society and culture.

Marlon Riggs’s film, Tongues Untied, documents the experiences of Black gay men living in the U.S. and uses creative expression to highlight how these men present their perspectives and cultures (Young, 2000). Paris Is Burning exemplifies ways transwomen, femmes, and gay, bisexual, and queer people build community and kinship in ballroom culture (Butler, 1997). Pose continued this storytelling of ballroom culture by highlighting Black and Brown transwomen, femmes, and gay, bisexual, and queer people (Martin, 2020). Moonlight reimagines Black queer men’s identity, intimacy, sexuality, and socialization through a cultural and sociopolitical narrative lens (Abdur-Rahman, 2018). Pariah is a film that explores the deeply rooted ways that Black queer women and lesbians navigate insider/outsider realities within secondary education and societal expectations (Collins, 1986; Daniels, 2013; Lorde, 1984). There have been other films, television, and art that illuminate narratives of Black queer people. Noah’s Arc renegotiated how Black gay and queer men explore kinship among queer worldmaking and meaning-making practices in television (Yep & Elia, 2012).

As these films and television depictions of Black queer life, podcasting has become a Black queer enclave of centering Black queer life-making realities. The Read (2023) is a podcast that integrates popular cultural topics, and the hosts listen to letters from listeners of the show and give “the read,” which allows the co-hosts to share a flaw regarding a particular topic of interest. The Read podcast is facilitated by two Black queer individuals, Kid Fury and Crissle West, who are unapologetically Black and queer. They speak about topics that involve Black queer individuals in society. The Read podcast framework inspired my kiki methodology as an innovative qualitative methodological approach. It is The Read’s innate and vulnerable ability to authentically cultivate Black queer ways of knowing through a storytelling approach. Each week the podcast embodies what it means to navigate, negotiate, and exist as a Black queer person in a complex and complicated world. As I listen to Kid Fury and Crissle unearth and uplift Black queer life, I aspire to mirror their work within qualitative research, primarily in arts-based research and narrative inquiry.

Black queer vernacular (e.g., shade, read, werk, kiki) is omnipresent and influential to the lived experiences of the Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming (LGBTQ+) community. The impact of Black queer vernacular and language has transcended into the larger LGBTQ+ and cisgender heterosexual communities through television, film, media, and social media sectors (Davis, 2019). Scholars have explored notions of Black queer language and communication, such as kiki culture or kiki-ing, among Black queer youth and adults (Blackburn, 2005; Blockett, 2017; Davis, 2019, 2022; Johnson, 2011; Love, 2017). The inception of the kiki scene and culture originated during the 2000s in New York, providing holistic support (e.g., housing, food, shelter) and prevention services (e.g., HIV prevention) for Black queer youth and adult individuals (Harper et al., 2022; Matthes & Salzman, 2019; Smeyne, 2014). The kiki scene and culture cultivate a brave space where social connectivity is a subculture setting within a ballroom, where individuals commune in non-competitive culture within the ballroom scene (Harper et al., 2022).

Kiki culture derives from ballroom subculture that centers expression of gender and sexuality among gender non-conforming individuals (Bailey, 2013). Kiki-ing has roots in Black and Latinx gay and queer culture, where this form of storytelling is seen as a communal social space for communicating Black queer vernacular, arts, and culture (Bailey, 2013). Kiki-ing has notions of Black and Brown queer literacy within a culture owning and utilizing queer linguistic practices (Davis, 2019). As Harper et al. (2022) noted, kiki environments help Black gay, bisexual, and trans youth and emerging adults with an affirming space that aids them developmentally, socially, and emotionally. The following section discusses the components of kiki methodology and their connections to Black queer storytelling.

Kiki Methodology Components

Introducing this kiki methodology and practice aims to center words of the Black queer community that honor their lived experiences through collective narrative engagement. A kiki methodology provides complex, nuanced, and authentic narratives of Black queer life experiences. Kiki methodology has three interconnected components: (1) Black queer meaning-making, (2) Black queer storytelling, and (3) Black queer artistic expression. Black queer meaning-making features distinct ways Black queer people discuss and share their lives with other Black queer people in a space where understanding their lived experiences is centered rather than studied. Black queer meaning-making serves as an invitation and evokes sharing of sociopolitical, historical, and cultural practices within lived experiences of Black queer people. It blends and serves as a qualitative conduit to discuss Blackness, gender expansiveness, sexuality, class, ability, and other social identity markers within the Black queer community. It serves as the focal point of centering Black queer life, not the gazing of it. Black queer storytelling offers Black queer vernacular practices, dialogue, and conversations that are exclusively for us and by us within the Black queer community.

Black queer artistic expression connects with the kiki methodology components, allowing Black queer people to express their intersectional identities through various art forms (e.g., podcasting, photos, art curations, poems, paintings, music). Kiki methodology allows Black queer people to authentically offer ways of queer worldmaking and life practices without fear, ridicule, and judgment of their intersectional identities. This work advances qualitative methodology and methods by providing a brave space environment that often does not happen in society for Black queer people in higher education settings.

I offer that kiki methodology is a sociopolitical critique that is inherently Black queer ways of knowing and storytelling in nature. Narrative construction and arts-based research (ABR) influenced the components of kiki methodology (e.g., making meaning of Black queer lived experiences, Black queer storytelling, and Black queer artistic expression). These qualitative approaches encapsulate the sources, epistemologies, and analysis of kiki methodology. ABR is a qualitative methodology that utilizes artistic sources to describe creative formats of one’s lived experience (Hetland et al., 2007; Marquez-Zenkov, 2007; Raggl & Schratz, 2004). As individuals express themselves and make meaning of their lived experiences, ABR provides a therapeutic, restorative, and empowering approach to qualitative research (Leavy, 2015). ABR in methodology creates narrative depictions of one’s lived experiences through a theoretical, epistemological, and qualitative paradigm (Polkinghorne, 1995). Narrative construction has been used in podcasting through a storytelling lens. Scholars found that people often listen to podcasts to learn about their experiences, specifically those who identify as LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender; Heshmat et al., 2018; King, 2008).

Kiki methodology connects to exploring the importance of intersectional identities, and it examines race, gender, and sexuality within Black queer vernacular, language, and storytelling. Consequently, art uses a complex and multifaceted approach to dismantle oppressive structures while seeking possible solutions to address pertinent social issues (McKenna & Darder, 2011). A kiki methodology provides a thoughtful and critical qualitative methodological insight into exploring the lived experiences of Black queer people through various method approaches (e.g., podcasting and podcast-style focus groups). Podcasting integrates media, art, and storytelling that celebrates Black queer worldmaking and lived experiences (Blockett & Renn, 2021). Podcast-style focus groups use kiki dialogues and conversations among Black queer people, which differs from traditional forms of focus groups.

Kiki methodology is influenced by Queer of Color Critique (QoCC) in ways that explore, examine, and foreground how Black queer people experience racialized heteronormativity and disidentification from dominant Black hetero-discourses and foster Black queer agency. QoCC has been operationalized in K–12 education, using queer of color analysis to center experiences of queer people of color (Boatwright, 2019; Brockenbrough, 2013, 2015; Ferguson, 2004; Marquéz, 2019; Marquéz & Brockenbrough, 2013; McCready, 2013, 2019; Reid, 2022). Black queer people experience oppression due to race, gender, and sexuality (Blockett, 2017; Mobley & Johnson, 2019). QoCC uses a subversive approach to recognize Black culture’s other realities from the dominant narrative while acknowledging the contexts of the intersection of multiple identities in terms of race, gender, sexuality, and class (Ferguson, 2004, 2018). QoCC acknowledges the realities of Black culture within gender, race, and sexual diversity, which does not abide by heteropatriarchy and heteronormative formations, and provides this community with an agency of their bodies and identities (Ferguson, 2004).

Recent work has extended how higher education scholars and researchers can mobilize QoCC through qualitative methodological approaches, data collection methods, and researchers’ positionalities through an equitable lens (Blockett, 2018; Duran et al., 2022; Garcia & Duran, 2022; Hutchings, 2023). Thus, this kiki methodology continues to broaden how higher education scholarship can conceptually situate QoCC by extending how Black queer people experience racialized heteronormativity, produce Black queer ways of knowing, and cultivate agency in the form of Black queer storytelling. Kiki methodology situates the importance of examining Black queer storytelling within sexuality and disidentifying with heterogendered norms in higher education settings (Blockett, 2017). As Black queer people exist and navigate heteronormative and queerphobic spaces, kiki methodology highlights intersectional narratives grounded in Black queer worldview and knowledge practices.

The data findings presented below derive from a larger study (Hutchings, 2021) that explores how BGBQM experienced Black male initiative (BMI) and men of color (MoC) mentorship programs given their intersectional identities. To honor and uplift my participants, I call them co-researchers to center on their unique and rich experiences within this study (Lebolt, 1999). The co-researchers were identified through purposeful sampling (Merriam & Tisdell, 2016); to qualify, they identified as Black gay, bisexual, or queer men; currently or alumnus of a BMI or MoC mentorship program at a 2- or 4-year institution; and currently an undergraduate or graduate student. After receiving Internal Review Board (IRB) approval, each co-researcher completed an informed consent form to engage in interviews and podcast-style focus groups. Each co-researcher received a media link before the podcast-style focus group to serve as a precursor dialogue as I facilitated the podcast-style focus group. The podcast-style focus group served as a brave space enclave where BGBQM engaged in dialogue and storytelling around topics on race, gender, and sexuality. Thus, the podcast-style focus group allows these men to fully express their intersectional identities suspended of heteronormativity and hyper-masculinity norms and ideals predicated within their mentorship programs settings.

In qualitative research, the presentation of findings is interconnected with one’s theoretical and conceptual frameworks, and methodological approaches (Jones et al., 2021). Researchers make intentional choices to illustrate their findings, threading a narrative that represents their participants’ experiences about a specific phenomenon (Jones et al., 2021). A kiki methodology shifts dominant qualitative language practices by humanizing the participants’ experiences as co-researchers as Black queer storytelling and worldmaking practices bridge kinship relationships among the researcher and co-researchers. I use a podcast script to narrate how these men make meaning of their experiences in a written format that mirrors an audio podcast. The kiki methodology findings script uses nonverbal cues to emulate an oral podcast to add to the podcast script’s descriptive effect. Topics from the kiki methodology findings script are emerging themes from analyzing data collection efforts. Each co-researcher quote is cited from a data source (i.e., 1:1 interview and podcast-style focus groups) to interweave the data sources in an analysis format. I used direct quotations from each data source to present their narratives in a cohesive script. Utilizing a kiki methodology findings script provides an organic flow, ad-libbing, and organizational structure to capture Black queer storytelling in an interconnected format. Please see the kiki methodology findings script (Hutchings, 2021) below to follow this format when presenting findings from data sources:

  • Podcast cast

  • Episode notes

  • Sponsor message

  • Introduction

  • Musical jingle/sound effects

  • A longer explanation of what is in store

  • Topic 1

    • Main point

    • Supporting point

    • Supporting data

    • Supporting quote

  • Outro

  • Call to action

  • Sponsor message

  • Musical jingle/sound effects

Podcast Cast

Wayne is a Black bisexual man working at a private predominantly white institution (PWI). He has previous experience creating a Black male initiative (BMI) program as a higher education professional.

Jamal is a Black queer man pursuing his graduate degree. He attended a public PWI as an undergraduate student. Jamal was involved in a BMI mentorship program as an undergraduate student.

Jay is a Black queer man pursuing his undergraduate degree. He attends a private PWI as an undergraduate student. Jay is currently involved in an MoC program at his institution.

Shawn is a Black and biracial pan/bisexual man pursuing his undergraduate degree. He attends a private PWI as an undergraduate student. Shawn is currently involved in an MoC mentorship program at his institution.

Kai is a Black bisexual man pursuing his graduate degree. He attended a public PWI as an undergraduate student. Kai was involved in a BMI mentorship program as an undergraduate student.

Brendan is a Black gay man working in a private PWI. As a higher education professional, he is a mentor within the MoC mentorship program.

Gabriel is a Black gay man pursuing his graduate degree. He attended a private PWI as an undergraduate student. Gabriel was involved in a BMI mentorship program during his transition into college.

Tre is a Black gay man pursuing his undergraduate degree. He attends a public PWI as an undergraduate student. Tre is currently involved in a BMI mentorship program at his institution.

Roger is a Black gay man working at a public historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU) institution. As a faculty member, he created a BMI program as an undergraduate student.

Isaiah is a Black gay man pursuing his graduate degree. He attended a public PWI as an undergraduate student. Isaiah was involved in a BMI mentorship program as an undergraduate student.

Germain is a Black queer man pursuing his graduate degree. He attended a public PWI as an undergraduate student. Germain is a higher education professional supporting an MoC at a private PWI institution.

Quortne is a Black queer non-binary person who is the researcher and facilitator of this podcast. They will be guiding the dialogue today in the podcast.

Episode Notes

Femme-ing, living in a cishet masculine world, and centering Blackness are just a few topics of From the Outside Looking In. This podcast centers on 11 narratives of Black, gay, bisexual, and queer men’s (BGBQM) experiences in men of color (MoC) and Black male initiative (BMI) programs at higher education institutions. Join Wayne, Germain, Isaiah, Tre, Gabriel, Jamal, Kai, Brendan, Jay, Roger, Shawn, and Quortne as they spill tea, throw shade, and read higher ed spaces dominated by heteronormativity and hyper-masculinity.

Podcast Message

From the Outside Looking In is a written podcast that examines the experiences of Black, gay, bisexual, and queer men within MoC and BMI programs in higher education. The narrator’s voice is in italic font.

[This podcast episode was recorded in Zoom.]

Topic 1: Femme-ing and the “M-Word”

[As “The Way” by Jill Scott before music begins to fade, Quortne begins to speak.]

Quortne:

That is my favorite part of that song, I just love Jill Scott. Well, I want to welcome you all to From the Outside Looking In, a digital podcast narrating the experiences of BGBQM within MoC and BMI programs at colleges and universities. In each episode, you will hear about these men’s lived experiences from their own words.

Furthermore, I’ll share my understanding of these men’s lived experiences while interpreting their narrative experiences. I hope that through each episode, you invite yourself into their lives. This invitation centers on their stories. From the Outside Looking In allows readers to center Blackness, femininity, and queerness through storytelling.

Today’s episode unpacks the societal constructs of Blackness, gender identity and expression, and sexuality from your personal, professional, and mentorship experiences in higher ed. Today, we will hear from Wayne, Germain, Isaiah, Tre, Gabriel, Jamal, Kai, Brendan, Jay, Roger, Shawn, and myself of From the Outside Looking In in hearing more about how they define masculinity and queerness. First, I’m excited to hear your thoughts on this question. Can you all share with me, “how do you define masculinity and queerness and how does it show up for you all”?

[As they all look at each other, deciding on which person should speak first. Wayne thoughtfully shares how masculinity and queerness can be complicated terms to operate and express within LGBTQ communities.]

Wayne:

I think oftentimes, society tries to make those two separate entities as if they can’t coexist at the same time. Interesting enough. I was just having a conversation about this with a friend of mine last night, about how even within the LGBTQ community where you would think there’d be a little bit more flexibility in terms of queerness and identity and expression of sexuality.

That there’s still this need to strive for ideal optimum masculinity really been something that I’ve noticed over the years, especially moving from [the Midwest] and purposely working in [the Midwest] to coming out here and seeing how not only is that message very similar in those three contexts, but I was very different in these three contexts.

So yeah, masculinity is a very toxic space to be in. And when you add the level and layer of queerness on top of it, it becomes even more so problematic. And something that I can’t separate out of it is then how much racism then plays into it too. Because then it’s just layer on top of layer on top of layer. So I often think of those three, and just how they’re entangled but how they can also be problematic because they’re striving for something that somebody else has identified for us to utilize and therefore navigate the world, when in actuality it’s a social construct that shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

[Roger gives an anecdote of how he refrains from using the word queerness and how it does not fit how he identifies.]

Roger:

My first thing, I’m queer, I guess I’m not saying that I’m totally opposed to it. I just don’t. And that’s primarily because and this is gonna sound really crazy, because I’m also very black and very Southern, and I use the N word all the time.…Queer has definitely changed. I think now I’ve had I have the language for for my understanding of queer again, not to say that I wouldn’t use it. I have used it. I tend not to, and when I do, it’s kind of like, I don’t feel right.

As a thing of offense to me, it’s for me, I know that people are using it now to sort of as a, in a in many ways, not everybody but sometimes as a catch-all for all of these different identities within the spectrum. However, I would prefer this is also why you shouldn’t tend not to say people of color because I like to also be very intentional about who I’m talking about. So if and if I can’t take out that I said this on Facebook about something else, but if one can’t take out the time to identify and call someone you know, in a very appropriate way and not use a catch-all you got to check it. You I think maybe you got you maybe at times you gotta check you know your intentions.

[Isaiah shares his thoughts on masculinity and queerness. He feels that masculinity is something many people search for.]

Isaiah:

I think when I hear masculine and queerness a lot comes to mind. It’s very hard. I think that I would say, if we look on apps, you know, the idea of certain gay individuals’ queerness. There’s a huge trying search for masculinity, but I feel like if you’re searching for masculinity, it’s a feminine trait. I think then, what I mean by that quote is that so long we’ve been bullied for being feminine or being flamboyant, or whatever or not, per not sticking to traditional hegemonic black masculinity. That it’s hard to navigate some of those arenas sometimes.

And so sometimes masculinity is a double-edged sword you both we both repress it, but we still want it. And we want to obtain it. And sometimes when it comes down to queerness, it becomes it can become pretty toxic that we’re trying to push this image like this is what masculinity is, so nobody won’t pick on me anymore. And as a result, that’s why we look to masculinity. That’s why a lot of I think a lot of masculinity sometimes tries to a lot of images on the media tries to downplay femininity. But at the end of the day, it’s usually always the feminine guys that are the ones doing the work so the masculine guys can reap the benefits that they need.

When we look at Marsha P. Johnson, we look at we look at the individuals that are doing the work behind HIV are and pushing in that are in the in their in that work aspect is the feminine gaze. It’s the trans women, trans men, gender non-conforming, gender non-binary it’s those individuals that we consider quote unquote feminine and not transmits excuse me, but like trans women that we can necessarily consider feminine are those individuals that are meant to work for the quote unquote, masculine, stereotypical white muscle gays to do their thing?

[Jamal shares how difficult it is to define masculinity, due to its harmful connotation of the word.]

Jamal:

Whew. If any, we did talk about this in my class, about masculinity and how we define that also incorporating toxic masculinity. And I think for me, I, it’s hard for me to answer that masculinity question because when I think about it, it is always rooted in a negative connotation. Like, I can’t because to me a healthy man, I don’t I don’t know. I can see a healthy masculinity and I feel like with queerness that’s a little bit of both. I think it just depends on how the person to define it for themselves and for me.

Quortne:

Thank you all for sharing. Does anyone else want to share their thoughts?

[Germain, affirming Wayne’s story, shares how he thinks masculinity operates from cis-white men.]

Germain:

Yeah, so I think masculinity is also one of these things. I think we’ve been taught a very specific understanding view of masculinity, thinking about it as being attributed to male identified folks often folks who are a sex assigned male at birth, folks who have penises, and thinking about like men that are strong men that are able to provide men that are the hunters, the aggressors, able. I honestly aligned a lot of what I’ve learned about masculinity with cis-white maleness.

And so, anything in the category of a white, privileged male, that is what masculinity aspires to be. And so, when we think about communities of color, queer men of color, we’re often not afforded the same opportunities or access that white males are, whether queer or straight, and so we never meet that standard of what masculinity is. And so, I think that is a lot of, well, I won’t get into that, but a lot of the reasons why we have issues with toxic masculinity in communities of color is because of that issue.

[Tre, looking over at Germain and Wayne, shaking his head in agreement, shares how he doesn’t subscribe to masculinity (i.e., “M word”) and how men uphold masculinity practices.]

Tre:

That M word it just I can’t relate to it. It doesn’t. It doesn’t really captivate me doesn’t grab my attention. It’s a word that has been more oppressive to men than beneficial. Holding up men to the standard of masculinity is like almost the same as being oppressed. Because not all men fit up to that standard because we’re not all meant to fit up to that standard. So, the idea that masculinity is something that, you know, was, I didn’t say conjugated it’s something that was like, decided, by society to make men appear more a certain way or look a certain way, or come off a certain way.

[Kai decides to chime in after Tre, expressing how toxic traits have been exposed to Black men throughout their upbringing.]

Kai:

I just feel like not that I grew up in a toxic household when it comes to toxic masculinity, it’s just that I see through my interactions like through undergrad just through just enter like, like mills and all that I’ve seen a lot of toxic traits that most Black males carry because of the way they were raised up and stuff of that nature. Not to blame my parents because you know, I tell people all the time, parents teach what they know.

And so, they know that’s why they’re going to teach it. But it’s up to us to change that toxic mentality. It’s up to us to really change, like, how we go about handling males, and more specifically, how to speak about Black males. So, handling Black males and then growing up in today’s society.

[Isaiah furthers what Kai’s anecdote said how being both masculine and feminine can be challenging and frustrating when he is in different spaces as a butch queen.]

Isaiah:

I’m in that. It’s hard. It’s frustrating. It’s annoying sometimes. But it’s the role that I have to play, whether I acknowledge it today or whether they acknowledge that tomorrow or you know, I don’t know if you’re a religious person or two people doesn’t maybe watch it just, but you know, God, whoever you believe in the Goddess, whatever. They are the same book; they all talk about the same book. But when you look at that full circle, you have to do the work that necessity needed to be sometimes that scary being the first being the first is always terrible.

Why? Because you’re the rough draft, you’re gonna burn, you’re gonna get the races you’re gonna get the scratches, you’re gonna get the right the red mark like this and shit. But you have to continue to push for so that the next generation can do better. And that goes down the line. It goes down the line, and no, I’m not necessarily the first. I’m one of many rough drafts, but I’m not there yet. I think that you make your space, and you make your you make yourself full supported, and you make yourself feel that you belong there.

I think it’s always a constant battle of gayness of Blackness of queer identity of masculinity and femininity, that like for my identity, because as a butch queen, I’m both masculine and feminine. I’m very gender fluid. So, depending on which way I want to take it. My identity as when I’m more flamboyant I have for you stay where you have to just stand your ground. And it’s hard, because you don’t think you don’t think people are going to respect you. Well, you know, they’ll respect you, of course, face value, but are they really trying to understand where you’re going?

[Isaiah continues sharing why he loves to identify as a butch queen in owning his femininity.]

Isaiah:

Because baby, butch queen all day, honey butch queen all day. Now we’re getting to a topic I like, I think honestly, (laughing) femininity. Searching for masculinity is a feminine trait. So, let’s start. Let’s start there. And what I mean by that is that when you have this when you search for a masculine me, Ah, that’s what it is. But I think that femininity is it’s pure, it’s under it’s the Yin to the Yang of masculinity, but it’s much more nurturing. It’s often seen as weak when it’s actually I think more powerful than masculinity.

I think that masculinity is an outward looking that is powerful while femininity is an inward looking that is powerful. Though you, I might appear to be soft and supple on the forefront, I cut your throat, and you wouldn’t even know. Um, so it’s a sense of false bravado. Um, but I think that femininity comes into play with like, again, that’s with the creative side that’s the that’s the I’m, I’m me, and I’m only gonna be me, and I’m gonna force myself to have to express myself in the way that I want. Where masculinity is a strict, rigid rules. Femininity to an extent is more open and freeing.

[Gabriel adds to what Isaiah shares in how he often has to change his voice tone as a nurse when working with specific patients.]

Gabriel:

And you know, just trying to figure out when my femininity comes out when my masculinity comes out, like I remember, I see patients at a hospital. And so, this happened like two days ago. So, I was approached by this patient and voices Hi, Hi, my name is Gabriel. I’m here to help blah, blah. And he looked at me a certain way, and my voice dropped like I dropped out voice immediately. I mean, I did it so quickly. I didn’t even like, I saw myself doing it in a way…well, that didn’t feel good.

I mean, by the end of the ession with me I was as gay as I want it to be, but it’s just seeing how I was like triggered to, cold switch real quick and just give him this blank sort of less dramatic, less nice and sweet tone. Ah yeah. Ah, but yeah, I do I that’s why I picked the [art curation] I did because it just exudes who I want to be and even oh, I’ll show you this even the my [art curation] for when I like block out my camera I’ve just love this picture of me because it embodies who I want to be like moving forward in life like just here present and it’s as feminine as I want to be. Yeah. But it’s been hard. (Podcast-Style Focus Group, June 2020)

[Jamal, agreeing with what Gabriel shared, expresses how he views the word queerness and what it embodies for him.]

Jamal:

I feel with queerness that’s a little bit of both. I think it just depends on how the person defines it for themselves and for me. I believe that queerness is more of a liberation in a sense of I’m able to embody and embrace the feminine energy that I have and not become hyper masculine or toxic in a sense of whatever spaces that I’m in. And so, you know, I’m not saying I’m perfect and every space I go into, I’m like, Oh, I’m just gonna do this.

I’m gonna have this healthy energy within myself, but also do find myself to check myself and don’t need to exert my masculinity. I can just, you know, become or whatever the case may be. So, for me hard to find queerness is more so just liberation and understanding that I can embrace all sorts of energy, that I embody what is masculinity and femininity, I like to have a balance of both.

Quortne:

Thank you all for sharing, whew chile.

[Folxs in the space laughing and smiling at one another]

Outro and Call to Action

Quortne:

So, what I’m hearing you all saying is that you experience tensions within your identities to exist in various spaces as BGBQM. Whether internalizing how you all define and experience masculinity and queerness, it can pose as separate sides on the same coin. While gender and sexuality performance will always inform how you express your intersecting identities, being a BGBQM creates more complex ways of being for you all as you shared Wayne. For you, Germain, you brought up a great point on how we can’t separate masculinity from its construction from whiteness, specifically white men.

Tre, while you loathe the “m-word,” there is a standard that men often have to emulate within a society that operates in masculine norms. Kai, you shared that Black men often are socialized with specific messaging about harmful masculinity practices within the home environment. As you all express masculinity and femininity as Black men, there are times when you experience some dissonance with other cishet men.

Isaiah, I appreciate how you provided some layers of complexity, even within our communities, to express our gender. I’m sure it is cumbersome to express your identity as a butch queen, given how others perceive you complicating existing cishet gender norms. Gabriel, having to negotiate your voice change as a nurse is very taxing to do not only in a health profession but as a Black gay man. You should never have to deepen your voice to accommodate for someone else’s comfortability. Finally, Jamal, its beautiful to hear for yourself, its healthy to balance masculinity and femininity.

This is something I would like to further explore as a group in our next topics. You all speak to how we, as BGBQM, are situated in the context of being hyper-visible in masculine-centered spaces like MoC and BMI. However, at times, you discern when you feel comfortable enough to express your gender performance at others’ expense. That discernment can prevent you all from existing at the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality.

It’s very insightful for you to provide these various perspectives on how you all define these words and experience them as BGBQM. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the next topic that further explores your lived experiences in MoC and BMI. I want to extend my appreciation to you all for sharing your lives with me and the audience.

[You hear claps, fingers snapping, and side chatter between the men in the space.]

Podcast Message

This topic explored the confines of masculinity and queerness for these men in their MoC and BMI program spaces. From the Outside Looking In is a written podcast that examines the experiences of Black, gay, bisexual, and queer men within MoC and BMI programs in higher education. The narrator’s voice is in italic font.

As I illustrated how to present the kiki script of my findings through a kiki methodology approach, I want to conclude by connecting my findings with kiki methodology components. Findings from the kiki script illuminated the distinct and niche ways that media, artistic expression, and storytelling celebrate Black queer worldmaking and meaning-making. As mentioned earlier in this article, kiki methodology aims to explore Black queer meaning-making, Black queer storytelling, and Black queer artistic expression. The findings unearthed how BGBQM reflected and discerned how they navigated, negotiated, and existed within BMI and MoC mentorship programs within their intersectional identities. The findings illustrated how these men shared personal narratives in thick and rich descriptions of their experiences within these mentorship program settings through storytelling. By sharing their stories through Black queer vernacular, the veil of heteronormativity is nonexistent in how honest, vulnerable, and critical they share their lives without judgment. Ultimately, the study centered on Black queer individuals narrating and sharing their lives with other Black queer people, exemplifying the importance and necessity of kiki methodology.

As kiki methodology is an emerging methodological approach within qualitative research, it is essential to offer some critical perspectives, implications, and forms of inquiry. Kiki methodology is meant to be a research pathway into evolving the utility of this emerging methodology and method. As kiki methodology emerged from higher education settings, exploring this methodology in secondary education, gender and women’s studies, and other disciplines must explore, examine, and consider how to actualize its limitless possibilities. As research and theory inform practice and praxis within higher education settings, how can kiki methodology be a space of inquiry and practice in areas other than research and scholarship? Recent research has explored this question using podcast narratives within qualitative research (Hutchings, 2023). Engaging in podcast narratives is an opportunity to mobilize using kiki methodology as a qualitative conduit. Kiki methodology integrates media, art, and storytelling that celebrates Black queer worldmaking and lived experiences. Utilizing a kiki methodology curates and cultivates a complex, nuanced, and authentic narrative of Black queer individuals within qualitative research. The uniqueness of the kiki methodology creates a brave space environment that often does not happen in society. Critical qualitative methods must center words of Black queer people that honor, affirm, and validate their lived experiences without the white and heteronormative gaze. In offering a kiki methodological lens, this pays homage and ode to the endless possibilities of Black queer storytelling and worldmaking practices that honor the ways we as Black queer people exist and live fully in our Blackness and queerness.

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