OPINION: Allegations of Dwight Howard’s messy sexual affair with trans women begs the question, who gets to define and claim ‘real’ womanhood?

The allegations about Dwight Howard caused a much needed conversation about Black queer people intertwining with the heterosexual community.

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

This weekend, allegations were made by Twitter user @MasinElije exposing details about an alleged gay sexual affair with NBA player Dwight Howard.

Masin claims that Howard is his ex-boyfriend and people in the NBA legend’s camp have threatened him with violence for not accepting “hush money” nor signing an NDA about their relationship. Unfortunately, Masin used this moment in a way that perpetuated many of the worst stigmas about the LGBTQ community. Going public essentially “outed” Howard, adding further shame with stories of condom-less sex and worst of all, posting an image of a transgender woman Howard has also allegedly been sleeping with. The accusations caused Twitter to experience one of the most toxic homophobic and transphobic moments I’ve ever seen.

From the beginning, there was confusion around how Masin identified—we now know that Masin identifies as a man (although, at times presents, as a “woman.”) This initial confusion intersected with the posting of a picture of a trans woman in subsequent tweets sparking a debate around if trans women are actually women. Per usual, Twitter became a toxic wasteland, disturbing for anyone in the LGBTQ community who saw numerous statements questioning the definition of true womanhood.

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I want to be clear when I say that “outing” is wrong. There is no reason to out anyone and it is a dangerous practice that can have deadly consequences. However, threats against queer people by people on the “DL” are just as problematic, and there is no defense of that. People who choose to be on the DL have valid reasons—especially after seeing how men who are perceived as heterosexual, who have sex with transwomen or other queer identified people, are treated. All that said, being on the DL does NOT give you a pass to hide behind violent acts towards the community. That is a risk you take when not living in your truth; one that can’t be placed on those who you choose to be intimate with.

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I must also state the danger in the rhetoric used by Masin, whose internalized homophobia and transpobia became clear in the thread against Howard. There was no reason to shame Howard for being a bottom (the person who receives during anal sex) as if that role and sexual position makes one weaker. Comments made about being “Magic Johnson 2.0” by a gay man is also troubling, seeing that 50 percent of Black gay men are expected to contract HIV during their lifetime. Also, there’s a need to mention that transgender woman, continue to have a life expectancy of 35 percent and face very high levels of violence from the hetero communit

As Twitter seems to became more vitriolic by the day towards trans women, TERFS (Trans exclusionary radical feminists) came out in droves, separating themselves from trans women because of biological anatomy (vagina, uterus), denying trans women the ability to claim full womanhood. The reducing of trans people’s womanhood feeds directly into the dehumanization process we are currently seeing on a political level. From transgender military bans, to memo’s discussing the ability to change one’s gender designation after birth, we are walking a slippery slope and it is our duty to protect ALL BLACK LIVES, especially when it unpopular.

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It is always painful to see members of the Black community turn a blind eye in their support of trans people. The scores of folks who went in as “allies” during Transgender Day of Remembrance were somehow silent during these most recent social media attacks on the community. It is time that we as a community move past this.

Trans women have been here for centuries, and men who identify as heterosexual have and will continue to be sexually and romantically involved with them and other members of the LGBTQ community. We have the power to change our communities’ views on Black identity politics. It wasn’t long ago that Black folks weren’t recognized as fully human, and it’s dangerous for us to do that same to other people in our community.

If nothing else, the allegations about Howard caused a much needed conversation. As Black queer people become more visible throughout various industries and media, so do our stories and the intertwining of our relationships with heterosexual community. It is now that we do the work to change our thoughts—creating a space where transphobia and homophobia no longer exist. None of us are free unless we all can be free, and that starts with the most marginalized. For us that is Black transgender women—women who we must protect if we all want liberation.

George M. Johnson is a Black queer journalist and activist located in the NYC area. He has written for TheRoot, ETHIVequalTeenVogue, NBC News and several other major publications. Follow him on FacebookTwitter, or Instagram.