Trade: Sexual Identity, Ambiguity, and Literacy Normativity


  • Seth E. Davis


Black queer literacies, trade, sexual literacies, literacy narratives, Pride, LGBTQ


This article explicates trade as a fierce literacy by critically engaging with literacy narratives of Black queer people who meet with heterosexual men for sexual encounters. I focus on the “trade” knowledges and ways of knowing of Black gay men and transwomen at Harlem Pride 2017. Informed by the literacy work of Eric Darnell Pritchard, I argue that the participants deliberately engaged in corrective literacy practices that speak back to dominant sexual pathologies about straight Black men (and men in general). It is this ability to read and share against dominant scripts that I see as a fierce literacy. Their responses and narratives complicate heteronormative understandings of sexuality based on orientation. Trade is a term used in the larger gay culture that has existed since the late 1800s (predating down low, which I touch on below) but has particular traction in the Black queer community. Building on the works of other scholars (Johnson “Snap!”; McCune; Bailey), I found that my participants’ responses were in line with a larger discussion in the Black queer community about straight Black men who engage in queer sexual acts. Specifically, the participants told stories or literacy narratives to offer a queer-counter narrative, or an on-the-spot oppositional read of heterosexual men and heterosexuality more largely. I critically engage three ideas: (1) trade as a literacy, (2) “the truth about straight men,” and (3) “sex is more than tops and bottoms.”

Author Biography

Seth E. Davis

Dr. Davis earned his doctorate in Composition and Cultural Rhetoric and a certificate of advanced study in Women’s and Gender Studies from Syracuse University.  His research examines practices of reading, throwing shade, and pulling trade as "fierce literacies" in the Black queer community. Dr. Davis is a native of Memphis, Tennessee, and his hobbies include painting, hiking, and fighting White supremacist patriarchy. Dr. Davis is currently working on his first documentary about cruising in the Black queer community.




How to Cite

Davis, S. E. (2022). Trade: Sexual Identity, Ambiguity, and Literacy Normativity. Literacy in Composition Studies, 9(2), 48–66. Retrieved from