(Non)Toxic Masculinity Columns

O’Shae Sibley, We Speak Your Name 

Robert Monson

On July 29, 2023, O’Shae Sibley was stabbed to death while at a gas station in Brooklyn. Sibley was a beloved professional dancer. He was killed while he and his friends danced and vogued at the gas pump, enjoying a moment of Black Joy as they listened to Beyonce and pumped gas. What should have been a fun moment with friends devolved into hatred, chaos, and death. Homophobic and anti-Black slurs were allegedly hurled at Sibley and his friends before he was fatally stabbed. 

What was it about the dancing and the joy that made a group of young men stop what they were doing to express their vitriol?

As a Black man, my heart aches. As a member of the human family. I am sickened. My condolences go out to all of his family, friends, loved ones and all of us who are at a loss without his beautiful soul in the world.

An Apologetic for Black Life?

O’Shae’s killing raises another important question for me: Why do we feel that we have to prove that a Black person was good in order to talk about their horrendous death? 

When Black people are violently killed, people often rush to list every positive quality about the person and their lives. Sometimes, in the haste, it feels like we are trying to collectively make an apologetic for the value of Black life. Black bodies deserve to live and grow old just like anybody else. We don’t need to have a laundry list of every good deed that someone has ever done in order to prove that their death was a tragedy. 

A fitting tribute

O’Shae was existing in his Black Joy in a world that despises that joy. Pictures of his smiling face are etched into my memory. He seemed to be a delightful soul, someone committed to both his craft and to his community. O’Shae, you deserved so much better in this life. You deserved the type of freedom that comes from being worthy of care and protection. O’Shae Sibley, we speak your name. 

Kemar Jewel, a choreographer, posted these beautiful words in honor of O’Shae’s life: “O’Shae was one of the closest things to family that I ever had. We checked on each other. We loved each other and we were always there when the other needed it. We were invested in each other’s well-being and growth and I knew that we were bonded together forever.”

Is there safety for Black men?

Jewel’s tribute to O’Shae raises two important questions that I believe point to the type of world that I want to live in: Where are the refuge spaces for Black men existing in their joyous bodies? Where is the safety for Black men who are divesting from toxic forms of masculinity and leaning into an ethic of love?

I am aware that such spaces are forged fiercely, wildly, and painstakingly by those who inhabit them–we know that Black boys and men that are considered “soft” in any way are even more marginalized in our society.

I dream of a day where we don’t have to speak the names of Black people who have been taken from us too soon. I dream of a future where news headlines tell of how Black people overcame and reflect on lives long and well lived. For now, I hold on to the beauty that resides in our melanated skin and the unique voice that our people possess. 

“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.”

James Baldwin