How Does Audre Lorde and “The Erotic” Help Us Theorize Black Dating Politics?
By: Kenneth Avery, Jr., (KAVERY)
When one thinks of the phrase “intentional dating”, it is not uncommon to imagine two people going on outings with the intent to get to know one another, eventually entering a romantic relationship and possibly marriage. I’d be remiss if I didn’t add that this dominant perspective on dating leads to what one might consider to be “separation culture” which I speculate is a byproduct of the dominant cis-heteronormative dating culture. As this has often been the dominant perspective and approach to dating, it isn’t far-fetched to assume that this hasn’t historically been interrogated often or questioned as to why this perspective on dating has pressed itself to the forefront to parade around as universal when it is simply one perspective.
Fortunately, in a culture where knowledge production and critiques of dominant perspectives are often being interrogated, it is becoming more clear through ways both the old and new generations engage with the dating world that multiple definitions and perspectives on dating can exist, do exist, and are often deployed; particularly within the Black community. In a sense, I would even argue that Black folks with multiple marginalized identities (queer(ed), gay, lesbian, trans, aromantic, etc.) are finding ways to make sense of dating, partnership, and romantic desire for ourselves in a world that is for one, in opposition to Blackness, and two, in opposition to any identity and personhood that falls outside of white cis-heteronormativity.
I for one, have been asking the questions for a while now: “What does it mean to intentionally date? What does dating look like for me as a non-straight Black perceived man who falls outside of heterosexuality and cis-heteronormativity? What are the alternatives to intentional dating for Black folks in general?” Being from down south in the state of Arkansas, it wasn’t/isn’t that normal to see Black relationships—publicly—that rebel against a “straight Black love”—a Black love that many such as myself, may never know. As often said “You can’t be what you can’t see.”
However, what I love about me recently deciding not to do “intentional dating” anymore but instead, just hang out with people and catching the vibe organically is realizing when I’m not romantically interested in someone, and I’m never confused about it, and I want to talk about why.
Photo Credit: @ajiathegreat
When I was intentionally dating, I realized how often times both parties were showing up on their best behavior. I eventually arrived at the conclusion that intentional dating is really performative, and from a communication perspective, a rhetorical performance at best. Both parties are trying hard to gain credibility (ethos), tugging at emotions through intentional short stories and experiences (pathos), and even logical appeals sometimes—It’s a huge performance; all over a plate of pasta or some other set up (rhetorical situation). Personally, I knew I needed something different.
What works for me now is the “epistemology of the erotic” that Dr. Herukhuti in his essay “Introduction to Afrocentric Decolonizing Kweer Theory and Epistemology of the Erotic” posits that Audre Lorde gives birth to in her Book Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power:
“The erotic is a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self, and the chaos of our strongest feelings. It is an internal sense of satisfaction to which, once we have experienced it, we know we can aspire. For once having experienced the fullness of this depth of feeling and recognizing its power, in honor and self-respect we can require no less of ourselves.”
With that being said, I invite Black folks to queer our dating styles if we are open to it. Dating doesn’t have to look like what we’ve been conditioned to think it has to look like. I posit that maybe one doesn’t have to go “intentionally dating” or looking for someone to be romantically involved with. I am interested in what it may look like for Black folks to initiate their dating life with exploring to make new friends, casually meeting people, getting to know a person without the guards and vigilance of perfectionism being stationed or “best behavior” being performed. How can we be sure our desire of one romantically is authentic if romantic dating is rooted in perfection performances? Personally, I don’t have time for rhetorical performances of meeting folks, only to never speak again after a couple weeks because the performance has worn off.
It makes sense to meet someone and get to know them when dating or romance isn’t the dealbreaker for us—it makes the stakes lower. In that scenario, if a person makes one’s spirit move to a place of “this just feels right” (the erotic that Lorde speaks of), and the rapport has been built, it seems to me the possibilities can be endless.
I guess this method only works if one is okay with making new friends and connections. If you’re one who is only interested in intentional romantic dating, then maybe it does complicate things. However, this is one of the many perspectives that we could deploy as we navigate Black dating life.
Kenneth Avery, Jr., MA (KAVERY) is an educator, Africologist, cultural critic, and the host of #wordswithkavery podcast out of Southeast Arkansas. You can follow him on twitter at https://twitter.com/ktweetedit