The Death of Devon Wade, Mario Williams and Black Gay Intimate Partner Violence
There was a murder in Atascocita, Texas on Sunday night. Devon Wade was killed by his partner Mario Williams. The police reports say there were two arguments. One resulted in Williams asking Wade to leave. Williams obliged. The second, and final argument, also concluded with Wade asking Williams to leave. He did leave through the back door, but not before delivering two bullets to his romantic partner’s head. Wade’s twin brother was found holding him, begging someone to call for help. It was, unfortunately, too late. Devon Wade had died. And in a way, I’m sure Mario Williams is now dead too.
Not too long after this piece of local news hit, Trump did a terrible thing. I’m not quite sure what. Later that same week, a powerful, famous man behaved heinously. I’m not sure who. Just yesterday, a wicked dictator threatened violence and war. I am not sure if I should be scared or not. I am sure the culture and media that patriarchy produces is constantly in conversation with our real lives. Domination is constantly crafting us from the outside and inside. The mourning I witnessed over the death of Devon Wade, and I think in some ways of Mario Williams, was quickly absorbed by the dailyness of our own lives and the noise of the media machine. The moments close to us and far away from us in 2017 have been both disgraceful and venomous.
I did not know Wade, but his story did haunt me. I read all that I could about him, his life, his death, and the reactions to those close to him. Most of the narratives around his life is how he beat the odds. Both of his parents were imprisoned, and despite this disadvantage, he managed to overcome it all and arrive at a respectable status, despite queerness, despite blackness, despite poverty, despite intimate relationships with systemic racism (re: mass incarceration). He was a fierce advocate for social justice and he was gaining his Ph.D. at Columbia. All of these structures stacked against him and still he met his demise by the hands of his reflection: another black gay man.
Black gay men do not know how to touch. We see it in our own lives, in our history, in our pornography, in our prefered media representation, and casually in our social settings. It is easy to read Wade’s story as an individual and be overcome by the senseless tragedy. It is more difficult to read about Wade’s story as a member of a collective; to bare witness to what happened on Sunday night and think of all the ways that we approve of the spiritual and social deaths of gay black men. It is difficult, but necessary, to think about what we are silent about and how it might have emboldened Mario Williams to take the life of Devon Wade.
The sad fact is gay black men are often trained to know terror as a type of lovemaking. Predatory behavior is romance. Consent and rape are not solids, but optional and debatable and mutable things, that move like liquid. Some of our first spiritual touches were hands placed on foreheads and lower backs to cast out demons that pulled you to the revolutionary thing of loving other black men. And in this case, that violence, even murder, is a mode of love and expression.
I am brought to Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved, where she wrote, “Love is or it ain't. Thin love ain't love at all.” Black gay men have been trained to love thinly. There are countless reasons why. It can be because we had a generation taken away from us due to the HIV epidemic, so the trauma of losing nations of black gay men have left us in fear of knowing, loving, and risking losing. We are also a part of a white supremacist capitalist system that has enticed black gay men to commodify ourselves as characters, not multidimensional humans. We are often reduced to the eroticized stallion or the desexualized femme mammy-like figure. It is difficult to love thickly when these tropes turn us in comic book characters. Our pornography, what many black gay men use to shape their imaginations on what romance and sex looks like, erases communication and ideas around consent. I have watched pornography and clearly witnessed an actor in pain, asking for his partner to stop, and it not happening. I begin to wonder what the younger black gay men using these films as pedagogy will then begin to believe about rape, consent, violence, romance, and touch. We may also only know how to love thinly because those of us born into religion watched the God they served reject them via pulpit and scripture. Many black gay men have been rejected and abused by their parents once their queerness was discovered, which might also inform why our love is so thin. If the ones who are supposed to love us the deepest, the thickest also disposed of us the quickest, how does one approach love from that space?
These are just some of the many, many theories as to why when black gay men are asked to touch, we only know how to annihilate, metaphorically or literally. However, what we do not have to theorize about is how the death of Devon Wade shined a light on the monster that is intimate partner violence.
Once we see the monsters, it then becomes our job to name it. It becomes our duty to discipline it, to know it. We can not simply name Mario Williams a monster, but must recognize him as a manifestation of various systems and realities colluding together to create a horrendous action. We have to realize both Devon Wade and Mario Williams are now dead. When one gay black man decides to kill another gay black man, a singular physical death happens, but multiple lives including the killer are taken or at the least forever stained by that night of horror.
And if this death is ever meant to be seen as anything outside of a tragedy, it must start conversation and actions amongst the black gay community. Senseless tragedies are most honored when they are transformed into social and spiritual catalysts, but that does not happen naturally. It takes intentional labor. And I do hope and I will work to transform these mournful moments into pedagogical opportunities for black gay men to finally learn how to touch one another.
Myles E. Johnson is a black, queer writer and editor existing at the nexus of race, sexual identity, gender, feminism, and justice through content creation and cultural critique.