Dr. Lexx will be presenting SEX+STL’s Homophobia in Black Culture, Sunday, December 6th, 2pm, at Shameless Grounds, co-sponsored by Afrosexology. For our interview with the founders of Afrosexology, click here.
If you’re attending a presentation by Lexx Brown-James, LMFT, PhD, the key word is “comfort,” as in; wear comfortable clothes, don’t get too comfortable in your chair, and be prepared to step outside your comfort zone. The typical format of a lecture followed by a Q&A, isn’t really her style. She prefers a more interactive approach that includes visuals, games, audience participation and movement, hitting as many learning modalities as possible. As the doctor herself will point out, “Not all therapists are educators, and not all educators are therapists,” but with degrees in Physics, Marriage and Family Therapy, Human Sexuality and Education, Dr. Lexx happens to be both.
I attended her presentation, “Taboos of Black Sexuality” at the feminist sex toy store in Cherokee, Box. At times it felt more like an improv acting workshop than an academic lecture.
I met with Dr. Lexx at Sex Positive St. Louis’ unofficial offices at Shameless Grounds to discuss her practice and her approach to education.
SEX+STL: What are the primary goals of your practice?
Dr. Lexx Brown-James: The actual mission statement from my practice is “to help people create safe spaces within their professional and personal lives.” I do target people of color, because I feel that people of color have a limited amount of safe spaces in the world that we operate in, specifically in America, specifically in St. Louis, specifically in Northern St. Louis. It’s really to help people garner the ability to have safe spaces in intimate relationships where they can be vulnerable and take risks and really connect with people, heart to heart. Whether that be professionally or personally.
SEX+STL: Do you feel that there are cultural barriers to people of color seeking this kind of help?
Dr. Lexx: Oh my Gosh! That’s so true! Especially being a person of color from the south. Yes! Often times history has embedded in our DNA that we are supposed to be able to solve everything and that we can’t trust other people with our business. From antebellum slave times we learned that outsiders are not to be trusted, and before from that being taken on slave ships; outsiders are not to be trusted. I think culturally that has been passed down in certain ways.
With our culture we’re very collectivistic, which means we turn in to each other to try and figure out what’s going on and try to solve it. The issue is; things often don’t get solved. They just get perpetuated and passed down, and then you have intergenerational and transgenerational traumas; where a mother, a daughter, a granddaughter, and a grandniece have all had the same sexual trauma, and nobody ever knew about it. So, we do have a few barriers. I think we’re starting to come out of that and see that there can be helping professionals.
That’s why I’m specifically proud to be a helping professional of color. I can say, “I can relate to you. I can relate to the same types of oppression that you experience every day. I understand those. We don’t have to go through all of that first. I don’t have to learn those from you.”
SEX+STL: Do you think think there are particular concerns among communities of color around being queer, or being polyamorous, or part of any alternative sexuality?
Dr. Lexx: For black people, we’re constantly hyper-sexualized. An adaptive response to that has been to present oneself as asexual, so the quintessential term, “a lady in the streets, a freak in the sheets.”
With the coming out of children as gay and queer, younger and younger than it has been – this is the largest precedence of children coming out that we’ve seen so far – in communities of color, we’re still trying to wrestle with “gay” being okay. So, if I’m a “queer identified trans woman who’s also pansexual,” the black community is like, “Okay, that’s too many words! So what you mean? Do you like boys or girls!?”
There’s a lot that the black community has to catch up on, but if it’s not coming through major systems like religion, or music, then we’re not going to get the nitty-gritty about it.
SEX+STL: How have black people been able to define ourselves sexually as opposed to the way we’ve been defined by others?
Dr. Lexx: Most recently by starting to reject the definitions from the culture in power and trying to figure out who we want to be. So, no longer are we just Jezebels and mammies, right? Black women have started to shift to be Sapphires. Now everybody wants to be that strong, dominant, ball-buster, black girl and black woman. That’s who we raise our daughters to be, and that’s who we idealize. We idealize the super-woman. That’s who you’re supposed to be, you’re supposed to be good at sex, pleasing your man or your woman, you’re supposed to be able to carry everything at all times and never be vulnerable and never be powerless. And so, we see that this is the pedestal; this is who we’re supposed to be; where we’re supposed to get to, and that’s an adaptive response to always being a Jezebel, or always being a mammy.
We’ve started to shift from what we’re being told we are, but we still haven’t figured out who we want to be. So, what if I chose to be a virgin for the rest of my life? It’s not that I’m a prude, or I’m deeply religious, it’s just that I’m not interested in sexual interactions. It doesn’t make me strange. Or, what if I choose to sleep with everybody? It doesn’t make me a whore. It makes me in charge of my body; in charge of my decisions. So, I sleep with who I want to sleep with, when I want to sleep with them. As long as it’s appropriate places – no, not the dining room table at Thanksgiving – go for broke!
I think black people still have very strict definitions on what is and isn’t okay. Especially for black men. Once HIV came along, in the early 80s, early 90s, it was like, “Oh, you can’t trust a black man unless he’s banging your back out regularly,” or “You can’t trust a black man because he has a switch in his walk, and that means he’s gay, and that means he has HIV. If he’s black and gay, he has HIV, automatically.” NO! Actually, not really!
Black men specifically have been robbed of their masculinity, they’re still trying to define what it is. Coming in very hard and hyper-masculine says, “you can’t rob me of my masculinity anymore.” My issue is, then it becomes super misogynistic. Then women are the target. “In order to show that I’m more masculine, I have show that women are even more beneath me.” And that becomes problematic, because black women have been trying to support and protect black men since the beginning of time. We didn’t know if you were going to be there or not, and we’re trying to keep you as much as possible, and you’re yanked away from us.
And I feel like that [black male anger] get’s put on black women instead of being put on the system. So it becomes, “Fuck a bitch. She ain’t shit…” and I’m like, “Well, thanks! All my hard work to protect you and build you up, and now I ain’t shit?”
SEX+STL: How did you hone your interactive presentation style?
Dr. Lexx: For me, I don’t want to sit and listen to someone talk for forty-five minutes. You’re not an empty vessel for me to fill up. Your experiences, your values, the things you bring to a space are important. So, tapping into that doesn’t only feel good for your emotions, it makes you a contributing factor to our learning process. So everybody gets to learn from everybody, instead of one person getting to spill just what they know. I know a little bit more than most people about one subject. That’s it! That’s all my Doctorate is.
My mix of technology and interaction – people don’t get that anymore. We’re all shut down, we look at our phones or we tune into Facebook when we’re supposed to be listening to something else. This way, you stay engaged and you get something out of it, because you’re going to remember getting up out your chair and moving. It gives you a spatial, and emotional, and intellectual attachment, all at once.
Back at “Taboos of Black Sexuality” at Box after a night of moving around the room, being quizzed on stereotypes of black women, and breaking up into small groups for discussion, we return to the circle. Dr. Lexx asks each person in circle to say one thing they learned. An out, queer, black woman at the end of the circle, the last to speak, says, “I didn’t think you could get this many black people to come to something like this.” I had been thinking the same thing, but wasn’t brave enough to say it.
And with that, Dr. Lexx, sex therapist and educator, and a procession of black, white, straight, gay, cisgender and transgender omnivores and vegans; marched from the feminist sex toy store to the ice creamery owned by a female tattoo artist, for an impromptu ice cream social. The fact that I can write that last sentence, makes me feel so much better about the world.