What we learned from Malik Yoba’s interview on ‘The Breakfast Club’

Earlier this month Malik Yoba admitted to the world that he was attracted to trans women and found himself in a firestorm of applause, critique and accusations. But in the midst of all that the former New York Undercover star has refused to back down from his stance and has only doubled down on his new role as a trans advocate in the public eye.

Malik Yoba
Malik Yoba (Photo by Roy Rochlin/Getty Images for Paramount Pictures)

Earlier this month actor Malik Yoba admitted to the world that he was attracted to trans women and found himself in a firestorm of applause, critique and accusations. But in the midst of all that the former New York Undercover star has refused to back down from his stance and has only doubled down on his new role as a trans advocate in the public eye.

Given the mixed reviews to his announcement, I was a bit apprehensive Thursday when I heard he was sitting down with “The Breakfast Club.” That is, until I found out that David Johns, the executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC), would be sitting in during the appearance along with Carmen Carrera and Nala Simone.

 — Sisters not just Cisters: Why do we keep failing Black transgender women?

For those who may be unaware, the NBJC is a civil rights organization that is passionately devoted to empowering Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) people, including those living with HIV/AIDS. And I have personally witnessed the transformative work that Johns has done in his quest to advance all Black people.

The spirit of Bayard Rustin is legitimately running all up and through this brother. So if there was ever someone who I would trust to steer such a nuanced and emotionally charged conversation in front of a Black audience no less – it would be him. That in itself was a win.

But then you add the addition of Carrera and Simone and suddenly it became apparent that regardless of what you may think of Malik Yoba, this interview, was very specifically going to be centered around the lived experience of trans people, instead of just becoming an excuse for some radio hosts to make jokes at their expense.

This assumption on my part was only confirmed when Johns chose to start off the conversation by asking the hosts to acknowledge the fact that they had said problematic things about the trans community in the past, and then showed them grace by thanking them for creating a platform to address others in our community who may be speaking from a similar space of ignorance.

As someone who knows what it’s like to be an advocate for a marginalized group in a room full of people who are accustomed to making light of (or dismissing) the severity of the issues at hand, I can not stress to you enough how pivotal that initial moment was. Because not only did it call out the glaring pink elephant in the room, it also set the tone and let everyone know that we were all going on a journey of understanding as allies not adversaries.

And essentially that’s what the next hour or so evolved into. A same gender loving man, two trans women, a cis woman, and two straight, slightly confused (but visibly doing their best) Black men, all sitting down to have a conversation about what they could do to show up better for each other.

For those who didn’t get a chance to see the interview, here are some quick takeaways. But it is my hope that after reading this you’ll be inspired to create time to watch the full conversation for yourself. The lives of our trans brothers and sisters depends on it.

Why is Malik Yoba coming forward now

A lot of people have wondered why the actor is suddenly stepping up as an advocate and ally for the trans community, including those who say this is old news and that the rumors have been swirling about him for years.

“Is this considered coming out?” host Charlamagne tha God asks at one point, to which Yoba answers, “It’s called stepping the f*ck up.”

 — Malik Yoba hits back at claims that he solicited young trans teen for sex

“There are a lot of Black men (and I ain’t gonna blow nobody up, but we all know who they are) that are in situations where they are friends, sometimes lovers and sometimes murderers of transwomen,” he continues.

He then admits that the main reason for the timing of his announcement is because there is a National Trans Visibility March on DC happening on Sept. 28th and he wanted to leverage his platform to create awareness.

Does being “trans attracted” mean you’re gay?

The short answer is: No.

Not to be condescending, but if you are a man who is attracted to a woman that means you’re straight. Therefore, Yoba still identifies as heterosexual man that loves women – be they cis or trans.

The true confusion here occurs when people are more focused on genitals than people’s gender identity. Anyone who thinks Malik Yoba is gay is essentially admitting they still see trans women as men. And that is a whole other problematic ball of wax that deserves its own discussion. But if you truly see trans women as woman suddenly the question answers itself.

At one point, the question also comes up about whether or not the term “trans-attracted” is enough, or if it unintentionally denotes that men who date these sisters are treating them just as a fetish.

“How you determine between fetish and attraction?” asks co-host Angela Yee.

To which Nala Simone beautifully clarifies, “It is about intention and impact. Fetish comes when you only want to be with this person in the dark. You only want to be with that person sexually. Instead of wanting to get to know [them].”

 — Trans actress Angelica Ross shares how Oprah helped her mother accept her

“Our community often times has this rhetoric that creates stigma for particularly men who can’t feel free enough to be their authentic selves and love inclusively. What happens is that stigma creates that fetishization,” she continues.

But the activist balks at the mindset that trans women are at fault for their own demise by not telling every man they meet they meet that they aren’t cis gender.

“I don’t have to deceive anyone to come in my bedroom. It is about trust,” she concludes, noting that trans women have to be cautious and ensure their safety prior to sharing who they are with potential suitors. She also points out that even in cases where someone doesn’t divulge that information, deception is never an excuse to brutally murder someone.

Does he regret coming forward?

It can’t be easy being dragged on social media in this day and age where angry mobs are particularly empowered to attack celebrities from the safety of their homes.

And Yoba admits the the last few weeks have been eye opening, conceding, “When you walk among your own people and you know that they have a question about your integrity and everyone’s giving you the side-eye, the people that used to give you the love, that’s a very interesting feeling. One of things that I’ve learned in my own public persecution and vilification is that no matter how bad it was for me, it ain’t as bad as it is for ya’ll [transgender people].”

But does he have any regrets about stepping out to support a community that is currently being attacked at alarming rates? Not one bit. In fact in at one point in the candid interview he declares gleefully, “I feel like the freest n*gga in America. That was the one secret in my life — the one, that was it. No other shady nonsense, that was it.”

Again, I can not stress this enough, if you ever had a list of “stupid questions” you wanted to ask about the trans community but never found a safe space to voice them, this week “The Breakfast Club”, and their guests did us all a solid.

Even if you don’t care for Yoba personally – be clear that he is merely being used as a trojan horse to get the media to pay attention to a much larger issue. This is much bigger than him. And is also forcing a lot of Black folks – especially Black men – to reexamine how they treat a whole group of people they’ve been taught to see as their enemy.

Trans women are not freaks. They are not a fetish, a hashtag, or a dirty little secret. They are blood and flesh women who deserve to be heard (and loved up on) as much as anyone else. Without them, all that “Black Girl Magic” ya’ll keep talking about is disingenuous and incomplete.

Follow writer Blue Telusma on Instagram at @bluecentric