Inevitably, the conversation last week turns to homosexuality. That MTV show, Date My Mom, was on and the mother’s son was gay. I feel the little warning bells go on, and I sit back silently to see how both my new hairstyle and this conversation will turn out. My hairdresser and the peanut gallery did not disappoint.
The peanut gallery was appalled that this young man’s mother was so OK with him being gay that she would actually come on this nationally-televised show and not only tolerate his sexual orientation, but also facilitate him – *le gasp* – getting a date with another man. For shame!
Why, she should be trying to convert him (straight from the peanut gallery, that one). The age-old “none of these guys look gay” came up, to which someone else said, “Have you seen that black guy on the Real World? I was so surprised that he was gay. And that’s so sad, because he is so fine.”
As the TV show continued, one woman got so agitated that she just burst out, “I can’t listen to this anymore! I cannot listen to this!”
This amused me, and suddenly I was torn. Here we were, my girlfriend and I (we share the same stylist and had made appointments on the same day, and were there at the same time that day), and these Good Christian Women were talking about gay folks like we are switches that can be flicked/converted – on, off, on, off.
Without even realizing it, I was shaking my head before I got halfway through the post. Of course, like a lot of us, I’d been there in some way, shape, form or another. Different location , different time. Same shit, different day. Maybe it was the young black woman I met in college who was sure I had “a demon.” Maybe it was my mother, who threatened to have my father cut of my money for college. (I told her that if she did, she’d never see or hear from me again, and she backed down.) Countless, countless times.
Sometimes I pushed back, and sometimes I didn’t. Why? Because sometimes I just didn’t have the energy, and at other times it just didn’t seem worth it. I guess that, being a black gay man, it hits me a bit differently. I remember hearing or reading once, a long time ago, that for the African American, the black community of his/her origin serves as a sort of refuge from the racism of society at large. I don’t imagine that’s changed much. But being black and being gay or lesbian really means not having a real refuge, because you still have to deal with the homophobia of the black community. Try to escape it by turning to the (still predominantly white) gay community, and you’ll soon miss having that refuge from racism. No matter where you are, you have a battle to fight, or at least a choice to make as to whether to engage. Having a tenous hold in both places can make one less likely to engage, but also less likely to ever be at home It means being homeless at home.
Anitra, of Sister Outsider writes:
It’s a weird feeling. You’re sitting among your people, and things like this come up, and it feels like you have to choose. How far out in the margin am I going to be today? You have to decide if this is even the right place and time to speak up (should you always speak up, being the fundamental question), and if it is, what you will say.
Maybe it doesn’t make sense, and maybe it’s wrong, but for me hearing stuff like that above from those who are supposedly one’s own people hurts worse than hearing it from the Jerry Falwells and Pat Robertsons of the world. Maybe it shouldn’t, but it does. And maybe it’s that rejection, that bone-deep hurt, that I just can’t get past.
This afternoon, during the flight home, I was perusing my latest read when I came across some words from Joseph Beam which I’d read years ago. I was struck by just how much they still hold true today.
I too know anger. My body contains as much anger as warter. It is the materieal from which I’ve built my house…It is what pulls my tie and gold chains taught around my neck; fills my loafers and my Nikes; molds my Calvins and gray flannels to my torso. It is the face and posture I show the world. It is the way, sometimes the only way, I am granted an audience. It is sometimes the way I show affection. I am angry because of the treatment I am afforded as a black man. That fiery anger is stoked additionally with the fuels of contempt and despisal shown me by my community because I am gay. I cannot go home as who I am.
When I speak of home, I mean not only the familian constellation from which I grew, but the entire Black community; the Black press, the Black church, Black academicians, the Black literati, and the Black left. Where is my reflection? I am most often rendered invisible, perceived as a threat to the family, or am tolerated if I am silent and inconspicuous. I cannot go home as who I am and that hurts me deeply.
It wasn’t until the mid 1980s that I read those words, and other words written by black gay men, after just escaping the constellation of family and church in which I grew. Mind you, the black community at my university wasn’t much more open or tolerant than the folks back home. Eventually, I just got to the point where I said to myself “Why even bother?”
Anitra wraps things up along similar lines.
Sometimes, when I’m sitting in beauty shops, listening to conversations like the one I heard that day, I feel like being gay and black is never gonna work out in the minds of my people. It’s just never gonna gel. We are just going to continue to shut it down and deny and hurt and isolate and marginalize in some sort of obstinate refusal to accept that not only do black gay folks exist and thrive *second le gasp*, but that it’s not for any one group of us to decide what blackness gets to be.
At this point in my life, I have few real, tangible ties to any black community. There’s my family, though my contact with them is infrequent at best, and is rather strained with my parents. Beyond that I have a handful of friends, who are also black gay men and who keep in touch with each other via email since we’re rather scattered, and I belong to a listserve for GLBT people of color. I’m willing to bet I’m not the only one in such circumstances. I’ve reached a point in my life where I don’t honestly see much in trying to “go home again.” I no longer see the incentive to try and be a part of people who don’t want me to be a part of them. There are, I think, more rewarding ways to use my time, energy, and efforts. Like I said, I’ve reached a point of asking myself “Why bother?”
I wonder how many there are out there like me, who have pretty much washed their hands and walked away. I wonder how much of a difference those hands might have made in how many different communities, if only they were welcome.