The Sexuality of Malcolm X

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This week we'll have a few threads discussing the new Malcolm X bio by the late historian Manning Marable. I think we should start by going after the claim that getting the most attention--that Malcolm X had sex with men. 


Before we do though, I'd like to be clear about something: There are many who will reject the notion of Malcolm having sex with men, because they think it's antithetical to masculinity. This is wrong, and should be called out as such. Likewise, there will be those who claim it's irrelevant. That's a bit more credible, but I think given the fact that masculinity is often constructed in opposition to homosexuality, and given that many Malcolm's own acolytes have constructed it that way, the matter is quite relevant. 

To the evidence: The notion that Malcolm X was a closeted gay man was first aired by Bruce Perry who, in his book Malcolm, claimed that his subject had several gay encounters, many of them for money. Perry's book was loudly denounced at the time of publication, and I'm sure some of the denunciation had to do with anger at the very thought of the icon of black manhood sleeping with men. For my part, I found Perry's book, which is big on telepathy and small on skepticism, to be pretty worthless. I take any claim leveled in that book with a grain of salt.

The claim by Marable is more limited, and rests on somewhat firmer ground. Marable says that  Malcolm was paid to rub talcum powder on a man and massage him until he came. This is also relayed in Malcolm's Autobiography, but with another man (not Malcolm) doing the massaging. Marable enlists a memoir by Malcolm's nephew Rodnell Collins, who says he heard the story from Malcolm's sister Ella Collins. On the broader point Marable is rather confusing. He doesn't offer any other instances of sex with men, but implies that there may have been when he writes that Malcolm was "not an active homosexual after 1952." At the same time, Marable says that Malcolm's experience with Lennon appears "to have been limited,"

It really wouldn't surprise me if Malcolm, especially during his hustler days, if he had, essentially, massaged Lennon to climax for money. But I don't think marshaling a second and third-hand account proves the case. And I think people who are moving to the much broader point--that Malcolm X was gay--are really stretching. With something like this, it's really important to look at the footnotes.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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