On Being Black & Gay
“Being gay is harder than being black. I didn’t have to come out black. I didn’t have to tell my parents about what it’s like to be black.”
Before black Twitter comes after me, know that this quote was from a 2009 comedy special. That was before Trayvon Martin, before Michael Brown, before Eric Garner, and so on and so forth. Yet still, for queer POC, Wanda Sykes’ point rings true. A lot of black men in America feel they’re constantly on the defensive, having to present an acceptable version of themselves to the rest of society. But try doing that every time you walk into your own house.
I don’t need to tell you that toxic masculinity and homophobia are constantly pumped into the veins of the black community. You know that narrative. You’ve probably seen Moonlight or at least read an article or two about its heartbreaking subject matter. You’ve seen black Twitter users threaten to beat up men who wear RompHims because the garment’s very existence threatens their manliness. You’ve read it, you’ve watched it, you’ve been told that black dads “ain’t about that gay shit”. I don’t need to spend an entire article tracing the origins of the black community’s aversion to gay people. But I can talk about its effects on me.
“I remember how being young and black and gay and lonely felt. A lot of it was fine, feeling I had the truth and the light and the key, but a lot of it was purely hell.”
1997: At 12 years old, I have an inkling I’m “different” from the other boys. Consequently, I spend a little too much time peeking at those other boys in the locker room before gym class.
2002: I graduate high school feeling pretty secure about the heterosexual life I’ve created: girlfriends, varsity sports, pretending I understand the NBA finals, pretending to like PlayStation One, pretending to enjoy beer.
2005: I graduate college, clinging tightly to my hetero narrative. Despite having a gay roommate who became a close friend. Despite attending a liberal arts school ripe with theater kids (b.k.a. gays).
2007: I move to New York to be gay and find love, but mostly to be gay. I still have trouble saying the words “I’m gay”. I come out to my mom during Christmas vacation, which takes her a night to process. I realize then I could’ve told her I was running away to join Cirque du Soleil and she still would’ve supported me.
2009: I finally decide to tell my dad but the thought of a phone call gives me the heebie jeebies. So, I burn the midnight oil crafting a thoughtful email. Despite being Southern, despite being black, despite being in the military, he still loves me.
2016: I get engaged. Though my dad has had 7 years to process my coming out, my pending nuptials force him to deal with it. He deals with it by telling me to ‘have a nice life’. I proceed to get married and start living that nice life.
Not sure if you caught this in my homo timeline, but I came out at 22. And even then, coming out after 10 years of hiding from everyone else and myself, it was hard to process. It was uncomfortable to say. The words got tangled up in saliva in my throat. They’d slip out in a whisper. My entire life, everyone around me (especially all the black folks), had taught me that being queer was wrong. So, coming to terms with my truth didn’t make me feel any better about myself. Now, I’d always have to worry. I’d been the go-getter in the family. Would I now be the black sheep?
That fear hasn’t magically evaporated.
Some people believe that I enjoy a level of privilege that straight black men don’t. Black gay privilege, they call it. Because I’m not as masculine as straight black guys, I’m viewed as less threatening. Being viewed as less threatening allows me to break through black ceilings in education…and the workplace…and society in general. But somehow, the bullshit theorists behind this ridiculousness seemed to have forgotten about the difficulties we face in our own community. Hooray for us for getting promotions or getting into that Ivy League school or not being suspected of stealing when we go to Barney’s. Because we’ve only had to deal with bullying, prejudice, and a lack of support from other black people our whole lives. For the community to reject us and simultaneously criticize us for transcending its limits seems contradictory.
And for anyone who truly believes in this privilege, tell that to Deon Brown, a 24-year-old black gay man who was murdered, yes in a hate crime, in Nashville last year. Or tell that to Anthony Gooden, Jr. and Marquez Tolbert, who were burned with scalding hot water by Gooden’s mother’s boyfriend. And yep, that was a hate crime.
Where does this “privilege” get us? To the front of the line for assault or murder within the black community? Negro, please.
“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.”
Once, when I was a little kid, probably seven or eight years old, I was visiting family. One of my female cousins and I played with her Barbie dolls. To me, it was no different than when I played with my Lego sets. I was creating and voicing a character, forming a story. But when my aunt came downstairs and saw me with that leggy, blonde doll in my hand, I might as well have been holding a bloody knife. I don’t remember much of what she said except I should be worried about what my father would say.
What my father would say was one of the major driving forces to stay in the closet. I wanted him to be proud of me, and I felt that he wouldn’t be if I told the truth. It took me until 22 to get over that and be real with myself. And then another two years to be real with him. Now, at 32, we’re not in contact, but I’m far enough along in my personal journey to know this isn’t about me.
To be black and gay is to find yourself stranded at a familiar intersection without the directions to get home. But instead of tracing my steps back to where I came from, I’ve decided to make a new home there. Everyone else can just drive around me. And one day, if I’m lucky, my dad will show up and knock at my door.
For me, being gay has been harder than being black. But right now, being me is more enjoyable. And these days, that’s the only thing I know how to be.