Friday, June 2, 2023

An Impactful Evening Sipping ‘Sweet Tea’ with E. Patrick Johnson

First, I want to start this reflection piece by saying thank you to the ODU Gay Cultural Studies department and the Office of Intercultural Relations for continuously bringing wonderful speakers to our school.

Dr. E. Patrick Johnson is a professor at Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois. He is the Chair of the Department of African American Studies and Carlos Montezuma Professor of African American Studies and Performance Studies. He has written several books including Sweet Tea: Black Gay Men of the South, Appropriating Blackness: Performance and the Politics of Authenticity, and No Tea, No Shade: New Writings in Black Queer Studies. He speaks often about being a black, gay man who grew up in Western North Carolina. His experiences have struck a cord with many and has opened the door to have discussions about the intersections of being southern, black, and queer.

He started out the evening by talking about his new book that is dedicated to introducing stories of black, southern women who love other women. The way that he explained the title was captivating, because he spoke of the differences between gay men and women in this regard. He told a story about his uncle, who once revealed that he had an affair with a woman who was “half and half”. Meaning, she had intimate relations with both men and women. His uncle jokingly said that he was having sex with the half that liked men. But, the wording of this brought to light the a very important part of the culture of women who love other women in the south.

As Dr. E. Patrick Johnson was conducting this research for his new book, he noticed a pattern that was not present among the gay men he was interviewing for Sweet Tea. The pattern was that black lesbian women in the South did not adhere to the same labels that gay men in the South do, which is why he changed the title of his book from “Black Lesbians of the South” to “Black, Southern Women who Love Women”

His new book, Honeypot: Black, Southern Women who love Women, is meant to be a companion piece to Sweet Tea: Black Gay Men of the South. The goal of his book was to fill a void in history where black lesbian’s story was supposed to go. It was also highlight their lives as essential portions of black history. These women, “resist victimhood in ways that inspire and challenge the status quo”, Dr. E. Patrick Johnson stated while talking about the reasons behind collecting and writing these stories.

When he later performed the stories of five of the women he collected stories from, it was so easy to be captivated by him. He stood very comfortable in front of the crowd. His smile was comfortable and his humor made everyone in the room laugh. When the stories took a more serious tone, he easily transitioned.

Dr. E. Patrick Johnson also shared with us the importance of these oral histories. That they be told and shared. He stated, “Story-telling, as a mode of communication is simultaneously a quotidian form of self-fashioning. Honeypot allows women whose identity and/or sexual desires have positioned them on the margins of society, to speak on their own terms.” The oral histories expose integral parts of the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, class, and region.

Thank you, again, to the ODU Gay Cultural Studies department and the Office of Intercultural Relations for bringing Dr. E. Patrick Johnson to come and speak! It was an honor and a joy to hear from someone so impactful.

All of Dr. E. Patrick Johnson’s books are available on Amazon for purchase. I highly recommend picking up, Sweet Tea: Black Gay Men of the South and when it is released, Honeypot: Black, Southern Women who Love Women.

Sarah Hustead is a junior at Old Dominion University majoring in Political Science with a minor in Human Services who hopes to operate their own non-profit and help others in their community.  Until Sarah conquers the world, they are our newest contributor to OutWire757 and we are excited to share their unique viewpoint and voice with the community.

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