Shade: Necessary or Not?

IN THE GROUNDBREAKING documentary “Paris Is Burning,” Dorien Corey states, “Shade is I don’t tell you you’re ugly but I don’t have to tell you because you know you’re ugly. And that’s shade…” I often see LGBTQ people tearing each other down.

With all this shade being thrown around, we need to pause to ask questions. Is it necessary? Why do we do this? What is the balance between fun and harm? Why does a community that is already fighting for so many things battle each other?

While shade can be viewed as a form of banter, it can often be taken to the point where it impacts an individual’s mental and social development and outlook on a particular community. I have many times found myself on the negative side of shade. Growing up, I felt alienated from my peers and family because of my sexual orientation, and I felt alienated from a community where being different is supposed to be celebrated, not debased. I quickly found myself feeling more alone than I had before coming out.

At that point in my life, I didn’t feel comfortable within the African American gay community (and truthfully, I still don’t at times) because that is where most of my negative experiences have occurred. As a result, I developed a distrust and found myself feeling alone, not good enough, and like I didn’t meet some sort of gay black standard of acceptance. This led to depression, self-harm, and feelings of being unworthy of love and friendship. I felt betrayed, not only by my family and society, but by a community who I thought would accept differences. Not only did I not have the family support I desired, but I also didn’t have a group of non-judgmental, young African American gay males that I could turn to for support.

In my opinion, shade is often the result of someone being jealous or self-conscious about their shortcomings. I too am guilty of throwing shade; usually it’s because I see a characteristic in someone else that I wish I possessed. For example, when I would see people who were not afraid to be themselves no matter what others thought, I would get jealous. I was not yet at that place in my life, so I would quickly pass judgment or talk about them. Secretly I wished I was that confident to be who Adrian really was.

Talking about someone without money for certain shoes or making fun of someone who happens to sleep with many people is exactly what we shouldn’t be doing. We may find it to be a joke or think of it as innocent fun, but we don’t know the person’s whole story, what their struggles are, and how our “shade” will affect them.

When I have pointed out that maybe the person has been though a deeply traumatic experience, many have responded,“Well, I have had traumatic things happen to me and I got over it.” I think it is important to understand that not everyone is emotionally or mentally strong enough to just “get over it.” Either way, this type of shade is not healthy for our LGBTQ brother or sister– and it is not healthy for our LGBTQ community.

With the growing rate of suicides, bullying, and HIV infections, it is time for us to collectively rise above all this. As we move forward, I implore each person to ask yourself: Am I helping to build up the community or am I still stuck within the narrow confines of my own individualistic concerns?

-Adrian Neil-Hobson

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