Wednesday, May 14, 2008

And now a little bit about gay and black me

In commemoration of my blog reaching over 30,000 hits, I want to do something a little different. In my 20 months of blogging, I have noticed something interesting; our opposition refuses to acknowledge lgbts of color. It's like they are scared of us.

Peter LaBarbera, Matt Barber and the rest talk about the African-American civil rights movement in halting, condescending tones that are designed to exploit the notion that the African-American identity and the lgbt orientation are two entities that can never intersect.

Now I could combat this by preaching about how we are all brothers and no group has the patent on the struggle for equality.

But I won't. I think that it would be best served to give the opposition something that they don't want; the voice and experiences of a gay man of color. By all means, tell me what you think of it:

Let me give you a few facts about myself by way of introduction.

I am a 37-year-old black male and a native of South Carolina. I remember things like the PTL Club, the birth of rap music and Cher when she was hitched to Sonny.

And there is one more fact that you should know.

I am gay.

Sometimes I take an uncalled for pleasure with informing other African-Americans about my sexual orientation.

It’s not like I shout about it from rooftops. I only reveal that part about myself when the situation calls for clearing up incorrect preconceived notions.

Like when I’m asked why I’m not married yet or what young female I’m seeing.

There is nothing quite like seeing the realization slowly creeping across the face of whomever I am talking to when they realize that they are in the presence of a genuine, dyed in the wool black homosexual.

Unfortunately it never leads to them asking for my autograph.

To the African-American community, I’m persona non grata.

It’s always interesting to run into one of my fellow gay black brothers in a public setting, especially the ones who don’t want anyone to know their sexual orientation. We tend to share the same animals trapped in a lab cage look.

It’s not that being gay is a bad thing and we are trapped in our orientation. We are just trapped in our communities.

Don’t get me wrong. I ‘m proud to be an African-American.

But there is a great deal of hypocrisy in the black community regarding homosexuality.

When I attended Winthrop University, homosexuality was one of those subjects you just didn’t bring up amongst black students. It was “a sin.”

Meanwhile, the largest black organization on campus would have yearly town hall meetings geared to deciphering the logistics of relationships between black males and females. These highly attended events would be filled with claims of cheating and long-winded speeches.

I remember one specifically due to its rather impressive title: A man is a dog and a dog is a man but what about the woman he is dogging with?

The implication was clear: unmarried black male and female students were having sex across the campus. But only the gay and lesbian students should be ashamed of it.

This reluctance to talk about homosexuality in the African-American community and the consequences of it do make things interesting.

Generally, when black women discover that I am gay, they work hard to become my friend. I like to think that they feel some kindred with me. The cynic in me though tells me that they are trying to work themselves in my good graces so that in the future I can give them some clues to tell whether or not their boyfriends or husbands are on the “down low.”

And speaking of the “down low,” (or the practice of a heterosexual man having a secret gay relationship on the side) I am so sick and tired of hearing about it.

I wouldn’t mind talking about it. But like so many conversations in the African-American community, us gays can’t get a word in edgewise with all of the books written on it by heterosexuals and words spoken in churches about it by heterosexuals, and all the forums held by heterosexuals.

The “down low” is not a new thing nor is it indigenous to race. The practice of a man with a wife or girlfriend having a boyfriend on the side is as old as the hills. It’s just that the African-American community seems to be the only group that has given it a pet name.

I once ran into two acquaintances talking about this “down low” situation. Both were in agreement that black men who were having gay relationships on the side should come out. But then I pointed out that they and the African-American community in general should do more to encourage them to come out. And they pointed out that they weren’t about to do that. That did not surprise me.

This entire “down low” situation reveals a certain meanness about the African-American community. So many became alarmed when it was presented that the “down low” could be the reason for the high HIV rate amongst African-American women.

The question that no one wants to ask is that if HIV wasn’t affecting black women the way it is, would anyone care about the rate of HIV amongst black gay men?

I am so tired of the distorted message I hear about the “down low.” In the first place, we never talk about the real issue, which is that the African-American community, through its mistreatment of the black gay man, actually encourages this sort of behavior.

History gives us such legendary black gays and lesbians as Bayard Rustin, Lorraine Hansberry, Barbara Jordan, and James Baldwin.

Black society today gives us Fantasia and Venus who fix up our hair, cousin Pookie, Jamal who is in the church choir and tries to be in the closet but just who is he kidding anyway, and that sister down the street with a can of beer always in her hand; the one who wears her pants lower than the brothers on the corner.

How in the hell did it come to this?

I’m no different from any other African-American. I get annoyed at the little subtle digs of racism in American society. I know that when people talk about the “All-American boy” or the “girl next door,” they don’t mean me or those who look like me.

So why is it that in the African-American community where me and my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters are supposed to get support, we either are without a voice or have our voices so muted that no one hears us.

You never see us featured in Ebony, Jet, or Essence. We hardly ever any play on BET except for an offhand mention when people are talking about HIV prevention.

And it always astounds me when a heterosexual African-American says, “hey I don’t have a problem with gay people. I have no problem with anyone’s sexual preference,” then proceeds to overtalk us, generalize about us, and systematically exclude us from all-important conversations of the black community.

I have heard the usual about “you can’t compare being gay to being black.” I’ve heard the usual about gays never riding the back of the bus or gays not going through the same levels of discrimination black folks have.

And it’s all irrelevant details as far as I'm concerned.

All I know is that I have been accosted for being gay and I have been accosted for being black.

And after being accosted for being gay, I never walked away from the situation saying something like, “Whew, I’m glad so-and-so didn’t try to beat me up because of my color. The punches would have hurt more.”