Rahsaan Patterson is certainly one of the best independent artists and his most recent album, Wines and Spirits, is wonderful. But ever since Patterson officially came out in 2007 some of his comments on sexuality—he has called it a "spirit"—have been cringe-worthy.
In a new interview with The Daily Voice's Mark Corece, a talented young writer and performance artist in Chicago, Patterson amplifies earlier comments that alluded to childhood sexual abuse. Patterson believes this is the primary reason he is gay.
In 2007, you did an interview with BET and you talked about your sexuality. You discussed your childhood and "spirits that attached to you." Is sexual abuse a fair interpretation of this?
Oh, yeah definitely. That is what I intended to express without making it an excuse for...
Do you feel like it is an excuse for homosexuality?
I think it is a reason for a lot of people's lifestyles that they choose. At some point you choose for that to be what you're into and what your lifestyle is--for some. To a degree, I think we have a choice for a lot of things. I think people who are straight, who are homophobic, choose to be homophobic. It is what it is and things happen in life and particularly when you are a child you don't have control over it. That is one of the things I was trying to express.
Do you think talking being open with your sexuality has negatively, or positively, impacted your career?
I don't really know, but what I do know is that I've never been in the closet or hiding anything. For me, it has always been maintaining the privacy of what I do with the people I do it with, whoever it is. Just because you don't know what I'm doing doesn't mean that I'm trying to keep something from you. The people that know me like my family, my friends and the people I am intimate with, they know, and that's what matters to me. I really don't care about the next person two blocks from here that wants to know and because they don't, they think that I'm keeping a secret--no. We all possess sexuality and we all possess the ability to be sexual with whoever we choose to be and that is not all of who we are. It doesn't necessarily define someone's character. I think sometimes people get hung up on that and it takes away from someone's true purpose. You know what I'm saying? A spirit is bigger than all of that.
Artists should not be looked at as spokespersons—and Rahsaan Patterson is only speaking of his own experience—but his explanation is sadly more of the debunked "molestation makes you gay" meme. It does not. There are gay survivors of sex abuse, as well as straight survivors. A majority of gay men do not report abuse, and, the majority of abused women are not lesbian.
Patterson's comments are causing alarm across the black gay virtual community, which has been very supportive of his work and coming out. "Hearing Rahsaan Patterson describe his sexuality as 'a spirit that attached itself to him' and the use of the word choice is very problematic for me," says Darian Aaron. "it's sends a potentially dangerous message. It's the kind of message that ex-gay ministries prey upon and gives false hope to parents who are struggling to accept their gay children."
Darian is spot on. It doesn't seem very likely that many people would "choose" to be gay, especially if you are black and growing up gay in the rabidly homophobic culture of the black church. Patterson, who did grow up in the church and has a gospel background, seems to have somewhat adopted the church rhetoric of choice and demonic "spirits." That's too bad.