What is it like to be black and gay?
My views come from my own experience, of course, and by no means do I speak for the entire black gay community. I must say that I feel extremely blessed to work in an environment where I am (to use an old cliché) free to be me. Juilliard tries its best to embrace differences within its community. Fortunately and unfortunately, however, life exists outside these walls, and sometimes it isn’t nearly as welcoming or affirming.
My experience as a black gay man is completely different from my white counterparts. In a society where race plays into so many of our interactions, how could it not be so? As a child, it was instilled in me that I have to be better than my white brothers at everything I do, just to stand a chance at getting ahead.
I was also raised to believe that black men are to get married, have children, have good jobs, provide for their families, and be men of strong will and character. Veering from that is considered a blemish, something not to be tolerated.
Growing up, once I learned of my “true” identity, I remember letting my environment dictate my behavior. In larger groups of boys, I was completely out of my element. But get me in a group of girls and I was with my “peeps.” I was everyone’s friend, laughin’ it up, tradin’ easy baking secrets, and dishin’ on Barbie’s latest ’do. Now, fast forward 20 years, and it’s amazing how environment still dictates my behavior.
It amazes me that in a city as diverse as New York, differences are still to be feared, not embraced. Walking through the Village, I have no qualms holding the hand of a date, but that behavior doesn’t fly in my predominantly West Indian and Jamaican neighborhood. There, if I dare traverse the streets with another man—let alone a white man—the epithets start flying. My skin color may be the right shade, but my neighbors’ perception of me makes the air thick with contempt. No man should be judged, especially one wearing good shoes. But it is my manhood being called into question.
For years the black gay community has endured images of what being gay in America means. For me, it was Steven Carrington from Dynasty back in the ’80’s. Even today Queer as Folk attempts to give an account of the gay experience, though I’m not exactly sure whose, ’cause it sure ain’t mine! I often feel that the gay community has missed the boat when addressing the concerns of its black brothers. Many black gay men don’t even identify with the term “gay,” instead using “Same Gender Loving” (SGL) because they feel that it identifies their blackness. Many black gay men, especially younger men, feel that the term “gay” or “homosexual” was put on them. Naming yourself gives you control, empowering you to be who you want. And having felt marginalized (sissy, homothug, and everything in between), many black gay men would embrace such power. For those black gay men who live their existence without apology and with love for their gay brothers and sisters, I say, “work.” And the next time a guy calls you a “sissy,” “punk,” or “faggot,” look them dead in the face and, like Lindy in the movie Car Wash, say: “Sweetheart, I am more man than you will ever be, and more woman than you will ever get!”