Laughing at the absurdities of black homophobia

For many LGBTQ people across the nation – especially those of us of African descent – we have been breathlessly waiting for Robert O’Hara’s “BootyCandy” to come to our cities. “BootyCandy” has finally come to Boston, and each show has been a sold-out performance.

“BootyCandy” is O’Hara’s thinly veiled coming-out story of growing up African-American and gay. The narrative is told in the voice of the character named Sutter. O’Hara takes the audience on a journey through his childhood home, church, and gay bars that’s depicted with excessive flamboyance, ribaldry, and unsettling poignancy.

BootyCandy is a non-linear narrative comprising disparate vignettes that’s “difficult for you to find a narrative in this play until the end, and it’s done that way on purpose,” O’Hara told WBUR reporter Jeremy D. Goodwin. The structure of the play is a nod to George C. Wolfe’s “The Colored Museum,” which O’Hara admits was a huge influence.

The play opens with a precocious Sutter querying his mother about his genitalia. Showing her unease in having an explicit sit-down conversation with Sutter about his sex parts, the mother euphemistically tells him that his penis is called “bootycandy.”

Sutter is a gender non-confirming effeminate male decked out in full Michael Jackson regalia, complete with one sequined glove.

The mother’s unease to talk about sex and to accept her son’s gender expression is disturbingly highlighted when Sutter comes home one day from school to inform her that a man had been following him. Because of the “politics of silence” in the African-American community that chokes a healthy conversation on human sexuality, Sutter’s mother is not only dismissive of his claim she immediately wants to know what Sutter did to provoke such an unsavory encounter.

Her solution, however, for her son’s unmanly behavior is for him to stop reading Jackie Collins novels, stop listening to Whitney Houston albums, and stop participating in the school’s musicals. The scene is absurdly funny yet poignantly disturbing.

And just when you think you cannot laugh anymore, there’s the vignette with the hilarious telephone scene between two actresses who play a group of sisters on a phone, one of whom is pregnant and determined to name her baby Genitalia. (I personally enjoyed this scene because it reminded me of when one of my sister-friends was determined to name her new born baby girl Uretha, in honor of the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin.) In a later vignette Genitalia is all grown up, a lesbian and standing before a minister with her soon to be ex-girlfriend, Intifada, in an official break up “non-commitment ceremony.”

The lesbians’ “conscious uncoupling” (Not my term. It’s Gwyneth Paltrow’s in announcing the separation and then divorce of her spouse, Chris Martin.) vignette is a no-holds-barred repartee that in the end leaves both women utterly and irrevocably each other’s exes.

You cannot be LGBTQ of African descent and not have a personal yet all too familiar narrative about black church homophobia. O’Hara’s Reverend Benson is your assumed classic fire and brimstone exhorter, especially with his “call and response” homily. But Benson has a secret of his own.

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