‘Grown-ish’ Tackles Homophobia and Toxic Masculinity Among Black People

‘Grown-ish’ Tackles Homophobia and Toxic Masculinity Among Black People

You may have come across them: all those behaviours that straight men say men are not supposed to have – such as properly wiping their ass after taking a dump, having manicured fingernails and showing vulnerability. Usually, these characteristics are invalidated on the basis that they’re “gay” or “not manly”, hence dismissing anything that isn’t considered masculine as an attribute of homosexuality. This is problematic, and in the latest episode of Grown-ish, it is addressed.

Freeform’s Grown-ish follows the lives of college-aged Gen-Z’ers navigating their way through the journey of adulthood. The show, a spin-off of the hit ABC comedy, Black-ish, follows Zoe (Yara Shahidi) and her circle of friends.

In the latest episode, ‘Know Yourself’, one of the male characters, Vivek (Jordan Buhat) confesses that he and his girlfriend, Heidi, had experimented with a threesome after doing a round of molly. The threesome had involved another guy; Vivek had kissed the other guy at one point, but decided it “wasn’t for [him].” When he mentions the threesome to his friends, Aaron (Trevor Jackson) and Doug (Diggy Simmons), they are at first congratulatory (“My boy!” Doug exclaims) — until they find out the third participant was another man. And then, despite Vivek insisting he’s straight, Aaron and Doug are convinced the experience means he is “bisexual, or at the very least bi-curious.”

At some point, they even point out all the ways that men cannot be considered straight if they did these things: sipping a drink with a straw and eating a banana whole. (“Unless he’s gay, he should be using a fork and a knife to eat that [banana],” Aaron asserts when they find another male student eating a banana in the corner.]

When the larger crew convenes, Ana (Francia Raisa) opines that Vivek’s threesome “definitely sounds gay adjacent,” and Aaron doubles down, adding that if his lips touched another man’s lips, that would definitely mean he’s gay. He adds that while “a girl hooking up with another girl is like a rite of passage” and “hot as hell,” two guys hooking up is just “gay as hell.” Jazz (Chloe Bailey) even insults Vivek, saying, “I don’t see how Heidi can mess with a man who’s been messing around with other men.” And what is Aaron’s defense of the group’s homophobic views (even though they maintain they’re not being homophobic)? They don’t “make the rules.”

l-r: Aaron, Vivek, Sky, Jazz, Doug and Ana

When they protest that they are not being homophobic, flinching from Vivek’s persistent call-outs of their bias, with Aaron pointing out that he “supports gay marriage” and “has tons of gay friends”, while gesturing to Nomi (Emily Arlook) who is actually bisexual, Nomi rebuts this by saying, “…there are varying degrees of homophobia, and I’m sorry but you’re really treading some casually homophobic waters.”

She goes on to read the guys for “perpetuating outdated social constructs” that she called beyond problematic. “Look, you guys are my friends, and I know this is just coming from a place of pure ignorance and not hatred,” Nomi said. “It’s mainly just toxic masculinity.”

Ana and Nomi

In 2019, the New York Times published an article about toxic masculinity, and since then, the phrase has become part of everyday language and culture. While all the aforementioned male leads on Grown-ish identify as heterosexual, the assumption that one participated in a threesome involving another male was not on the list of what is deemed “straight” man behavior.

“I wanted to tell a story about a heterosexual that had this experimentation and came out of it saying I’m still very confident in my sexuality and I’m a straight man,” the episode’s co-writer Des Moran, who is Black and queer, reportedly said. “This story is something that I pitched early on in season three because queer stories are important to me. I feel like there is still this huge stigma around sexuality, and especially male sexuality, and it goes even deeper when you factor in Black men.”

Doug, Vivek and Aaron

In listing out the things straight men – stereotypically speaking – don’t do, the episode mentions using a straw to take a drink, eating a banana, and saying, “I love you” without adding the word pause as indication that the love isn’t a gay love. The lesson to learn here is that people are complex beings, and that there is no strict way for one to be a man or anything that is too homosexual to be considered masculine. Society may think that these constructs help preserve this romanticized idea of what it takes to be a man, but all it does is restrict people from living the full potentials of their lives.

In the words of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie during her The African Freedom Prize 2020 speech: “The problem is not that masculinity itself is bad – that is, masculinity being the idea of having certain expectations for men. The problem is what we have decided that masculinity must look like. We can make a choice as a society to do it differently. We can remake masculinity. And it starts with what we teach boys to be ashamed of.”

Check on the clip below to see parts of the Grown-ish episode that tackled casual homophobia and toxic masculinity:

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  1. Delle
    February 27, 09:17 Reply

    That banana one cracked me up 😂😂😂😂

  2. Francis
    February 27, 11:12 Reply

    Thanks for embedding the episode ❤️❤️

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