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I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Ginuwine, the man who gave us “Pony,” “So Anxious,” “Differences,” “Final Warning” with Aaliyah, “In Those Jeans,” “None of Ur Friends Business,” and so many other iconic bops was doing Celebrity Big Brother out in the U.K.?

Ginuwine, the man who I once saw in concert aggressively dry humping an extremely large speaker (at the time, I was so worried that his sweat or s-curl grease would fall and potentially cause a fire -- which would’ve been his second Michael Jackson cover) in a crowded arena, has gone from double platinum-selling artist to Celebrity Big Brother? Is this what happens when you let Timbaland go too soon? I hope the check for this show is sensational.

Once I got over my shock about that, I returned to the controversy that alerted me about his current whereabouts that will surely show up in his episode of TV One’s Unsung: his refusal to kiss his co-star, India Willoughby, a woman I never heard of but thanks to the Google, I’ve come to discover is a well-respected journalist and BBC presenter who also happens to be trans.

Ginuwine has faced accusations of being transphobic because of what transpired during a conversation with Willoughby about her gender identity and how it relates to her dating life.

Men in the cast were asked if they would date a trans woman, but Willoughby noted her issues with the phrasing of the question. “I feel like a lot of guys would not go out with somebody like me even though I’m a woman,” she explained only to be interrupted by Ginuwine, who said, “Some would, though.” However, the singer did go on to say, “I believe it’s your choice, too. I would choose not to, but that doesn’t make me scared [of trans women].”

Near the end of the segment, you see Willoughby wrap her arms around Ginuwine, and as he proceeds to lean in, she grabs his neck and goes in for a kiss only for Ginuwine to move away. Ginuwine laughs about it, though Willoughby proceeds to say his reactions throughout their exchange lend credence to her point. In turn, some have gone on to accuse Ginuwine of being transphobic.

As I’ve learned more about this show, Willoughby has been subjected to misgendering from her cast mates and overall other cattiness that comes with these sorts of shows. Yet, in a write-up about the segment, Pink News ran with the headline “CBB’s India Willoughby branded a ‘victim’ after being rejected by Ginuwine.” They also referred to him as a “rapper,” the label clueless white people attach to any Black man who is a recording artist whose music they are too lazy to quickly look up.

I cannot speak to the experiences of India Willoughby, but I can say that I do agree with her overall complaints about the stigmatization that trans women and men face and that they do need to be erased. We should respect everyone’s gender identity, and unless you’re some type of soulless cretin, all of us ought to easily agree that no matter who we are, each of us deserves love and sex if we so seek it. And yes, it is fair to question someone’s preferences – namely what informs it, i.e. their prejudices, overall ignorance, what have you. We do have conscious and unconscious biases that each may need to be checked.

Still, I’m uncomfortable with immediately assigning a bigoted descriptor to someone for expressing their preference based on a hypothetical question. Many of us talk about our ideal mates and what we like and then we meet someone who blows all of that away. Life can be funny that way.

So, we didn’t get enough out of Ginuwine from that conversation, and what we did see was a man trying to be empathetic to someone’s plight while maintaining his own set of preferences in a romantic partner.

Ginuwine was respectful, nodding along to Willoughby as she explained that she is a woman. Ginuwine also interjected to say that some men would not have an issue with dating a trans woman, which I imagine was his method of trying to be encouraging to Willoughby and her quest for a bae. After that, he proceeded to cozy up with her while under a blanket – conveying his own sense of comfort and ease with her. Then, Willoughby grabbed his neck and went in for a kiss. He didn’t give her consent to do that, so it wasn’t her place to do so. How might’ve we reacted if Ginuwine had done that to her or any other woman on set? In the same way she wanted to question conscious and unconscious biases in men, some might wonder in that moment, did she feel entitled to the body of a Black man?

This might’ve been a sensitive subject matter, but it appeared to be a constructive conversation. People can have their preferences, but what separates Ginuwine from a real menace is that he didn’t guise a preference for phobia and subsequently use that phobia as a basis for violence against a trans woman. Furthermore, as Ginuwine said himself, some men have no airs about dating trans women. While Willoughby’s experiences are hers, that doesn’t mean other trans women are worrying about what men like Ginuwine prefer in a boo thang. 

Ginuwine may not fancy India Willoughby (it appears he is into another co-star, Ashley James), but perhaps Jaheim, Carl Thomas, Avant, J. Holiday, or one of the other related artists according to Spotify might give her a shot. Either way, none of y’all can be out here grabbing folks’ necks and trying to force a kiss on them. And again, to those across Al Gore’s Internet, be careful about attaching labels based on a man being put on the spot with a hypothetical question. It feels too easy for some to immediately brand him transphobic -- kind of like some outlets over the pond dubbed him a rapper. I’d be more worried if Ginuwine behaved in a way that made India Willoughby feel unsafe and/or uncomfortable.

In this floating clip, I saw no bigots or victims but rather adults trying to have a difficult conversation about preferences and dating struggles that ended rather weirdly albeit nonetheless yielded a surprisingly productive conversation in a medium not typically designed for it. And for the record, India, if you were really trying to hit on Ginuwine, you should have hit a few body rolls and sang a few lines to his track “Tribute to a Woman.” Next time, sis.


Michael Arceneaux
Michael Arceneaux is the author of the forthcoming book I Can't Date Jesus (July 2018, Atria Books), which you need to go ahead and pre-order now.