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Examining The Politics of “Throwing Shade” in the LGBTQ Community: Why Hurt People— Hurt People & Is Shade Necessary?

In the LGBTQ community there is something called “throwing shade.” A colloquial term used to describe instances when one individual verbally and offensively altercates another. I am not interested in the shade itself, but moreso the reasoning as to why this experience is so common among interactions between youth of color in the LGBTQ community. This is not to say that the politics of shade doesn’t take place in heterosexual and white circles, in fact, it is possible that in those contexts it takes place more, however, on this subject those circles are not a large part of experience, nor my interests. There is something particular about the common experience that LGBTQ youth have to endure while growing up in largely hostile communities and schools. This particularity is what I will explore in the context of shade throwing.

I was speaking to a friend and he wrote the following:

“I’m not like those gays who think they’re superior than the rest. Some of us had it hard growing up with our sexuality so I don’t see why we should diss each other or create drama if we already have enough thrown at us- from the straight community- for being gay.”

In previous blogs I wrote heavily on political resistance inside of the queer community of color (doing a case study on the ballroom scene) and in addition to my own experiences, while interviewing a lot of LGBTQ youth of color I learned a lot more about the hardships that young people go through in this community. Anything from being abandoned by family, to experiencing homelessness, to secondary marginalization through racism and homophobia.

Ultimately I think dialectically about “throwing shade.” Two points:

The first point is articulated through the anger I feel when people who have the same struggle, bring each other down. You would think we’d be trying to help each other out, build each other up, and offer support because we have similar experiences with intolerance from the larger society. Unfortunately, I think the phrase remains true a lot of the time:  ”hurt people, hurt people”…or in others words people that have been hurt by others have the tendency to hurt people themselves. And this is a reverberating cycle inside of the LGBTQ community.

My second point offers another reasoning for “throwing shade.” Beyond just producing negativity and offensive slanderous spewing for the sole purpose of soothing self-pain, the politics of shade can also be understood through a narrative of resilience. Being “tough” or being able to “read” someone by offending him or her can be a defense mechanism often needed to survive while tackling the various vulnerabilities of life. Queer youth are disenfranchised on so many levels; they have very little room for further emotional distress. Thus through the sharp tongues and devious words that conjures up a politics of shade, it allows these young people to create an offense that empowers them to strike back. Although the residual effects of this empowerment often leads to discord among queer youth, I think that any level of power and agency that can be utilized by groups who are truly disadvantaged should be understood as necessary. Yes, I said it, throwing shade, is necessary.