In my inaugural column I talked about paving a road for myself and my career despite adversity. (Pardon me if I can’t hit the brakes on vehicular puns to explain the frustrating intersection of being Black and “gay.”) Sexuality is a topic that always jams me up, especially when I don’t see it coming.
It’s like the signal that stays red, even when there is no traffic flowing in front of you. Cars line up behind you impatiently waiting to move forward… the traffic signals that make no sense.
Being Black, and defining myself as gay is an intersection of minority-ism that becomes daunting to live with when reality hits this is still an issue, particularly within some sections of Black culture.
I recently had an office in downtown San Diego, and a lease that can’t end fast enough. I was cooped up, spending inordinate time inside working day and night. Miles away from my office, driving down a road I frequent, my curiosity eventually led me to a quiet park teeming with nature, and even a lake. Accompanied by my iPad and docked keyboard, I had spent the last few weeks there when work called… enjoying fresh air, watching the squirrels, rabbits and ducks coexist. I enjoy good conversation, and many times the person on the other end of it finds me there, if I don’t happenstance find them first. I met one of those people, I’ll call her Zoey, during a conversation with someone I met the week before whom I’ll call Calvin, who immigrated here from Africa. In this instance, I roped Zoey into a timely discussion with Calvin as she was passing by on her walking routine. I was trying to help Calvin pivot from his bleak outlook on American life as an outsider into something more positive, and I suspected she was a kind Black woman who had wisdom to share. She turned out to be an excellent addition to the conversation, especially as a college educator. I’ve since run into Zoey a few times, and even as heavy as our conversations might sound to an unwitting passerby, they usually remain light and positive.
On Thursday, things took an unexpected turn.
In the middle of a conversation about the time she spent with her grandson on his birthday, she asked if I had any children. I offered her the same answer I usually give everyone without reservation: “No, I’m gay.” (Yes, gay men can have kids but it’s highly uncommon as a single man today.) She shared how she wasn’t surprised and understood it was a possibility, but with minutes to spare, the park shutting and the sun setting, her personal opinions went 0-100 mph and didn’t let off the gas pedal. She unloaded her ideas about how “unnatural” “homosexuality” is… how “Greeks” introduced my sexual orientation and implied (without restraint) that Black men and everyone else are just following along. “People don’t have gay, they have trauma in their lives.” If that didn’t seem far enough, words like “anal sex” (and blood!) transmitting disease was the screeching halt for me. I felt visibly uncomfortable and couldn’t take anymore.
I was D-O-N-E!
It was a car wreck that didn’t end with any smiles or mutual understanding, even as I was subduing my annoyance in the vain of pretending to remain open minded. She hogged up the entire road — I could barely edge a word of agreement or refutation because espousing her contrary beliefs about homosexuality and transgender people (which has no connection to me or my sexual orientation) was more important than respecting my thoughts and feelings.
It was enough to make me want to swerve off a cliff.
How did I get here? What were once pleasant discussions about spiritual fulfillment and cultural integrity between two Black people from separate generations careened into an invisible divider — my sexuality has no impact on anyone’s life. The previous conversations — absent of discussing sexuality — were a joyride. Now, literally, we were headed off in our respective vehicles… our lingering thoughts were reluctant passengers on our journeys to the next destination.
It would only be 48 hours before I flirted with another close call.
Calvin, who proudly hails from the DRC, knew I was gay — I made sure he was aware during our first conversation. Everything was fine, as I expected. Calvin is very social and comfortable with his sexuality as a “straight” man, so I didn’t have to spend any time I didn’t want discussing my sexual orientation. (To be honest, I prefer no conversation about something irrelevant.) He popped up as I was writing notes for this column, and I shared how Thursday’s crash was my inspiration. My peripheral vision needs to be checked because I didn’t expect Calvin to skirt close enough to pushing me into someone else’s lane I have no business in: transgender. It’s a topic I also have no onus to, nor expertise in. He talked about not understanding it and how foreign it was to him, which is plausible given his background — Congo isn’t exactly progressive. Calvin had a lot to say. After the exhausting “conversation” with Zoey, I was prepared to let this one ride out since it didn’t offend my ears as much as Thursday’s disaster. I also wanted to preserve my peace of mind and not get invested in case this episode suddenly looked anything like what I saw on Thursday. The more I allowed him to speak uninterrupted, the more my vision started to clear: “LGBT” is viewed as a movement but for those who aren’t properly educated, it’s a widespread buzzword that has to be dissected… and that’s exhausting for me. I can’t escape the collisions for as long as I pronounce “I am gay.” Not right now. In today’s society, where LGBT is routinely attacked — and justifiably criticized in some respects (more on that later) — it’s no wonder how hyper-politicizing sexuality and gender identification, which are perpetuated as sharing the same umbrella, fuel my conundrum. I increasingly find myself saddled with the responsibility to drive up a steep learning curve when under-informed people learn my sexual orientation. Being a Black man compounds this problem. But let me be clear: there is a fundamental difference between race and sexual orientation, and that affects how Black gay men traverse society. White gay men don’t feel the heat of discrimination as much as Black gay men. That’s a starter.
Despite my work advancing gay rights as a teen — a time when you had to get off your ass because simply owning a keyboard and social media account doesn’t get shit done — without hesitation I turned in the rainbow flag stuck to my backpack. I saw how pervasive racism is within the gay “community” and mirrors mainstream White America. It was very White-centric, and unfortunately, still looks a lot like it did 25 years ago when you could call me a fag and nobody would bat an eye. (Try that now, and try that with them!)
I was reminded how far we have not gotten as I was walking back to my office one night. I grabbed a bite from the grocery store on Market Street because I was out of better options. I was wearing a black hoodie, jeans and a Dodgers baseball cap adorned with my headphones. Unfortunately, this didn’t scream “gay” under the cover of night. I had just turned onto Broadway from Fifth, and the sidewalk was barren with the exception of two sharply dressed White men holding hands… smiling. Date night? (A casting agent should have booked them for a gay travel commercial. That’s how picturesque they were selling their moment.) One of the happy hand holders was almost directly in my path when I turned onto Broadway. They saw me, and I saw them, and we had quite a stretch ahead… plenty of time to alter our moves. They were comfortable taking as much space as possible and didn’t gesture as if they were planning to move… Fuck me! With my grocery bag secured in my right hand, my shoulders were already stiff as boulders, so it wouldn’t be a good idea if they felt them. I knew what they were broadcasting. The chief message: I didn’t matter. As we got closer to our showdown, they didn’t break hands, shift positions, or even try to get closer to each other to make a normal accommodation for another human being. As the guy closest to me entered my personal space, our shoulders met and he got a hard nudge that forced him to collide with his twin. He or his man muttered something I couldn’t interpret wearing my headphones. I stayed on course, and I didn’t care. They didn’t matter at that point because you get what you give.
If discrimination and bias I have directly experienced with gay men isn’t enough, there is the offense I take at every opportunity they have used our civil rights struggle to frame their arguments for equality. One example that should be telling was during the 2016 Democratic primary. I recall when then-Presidential contender Pete Buttigieg tried to compare hardships LGBT face in America with the conditions of Black people. No… no… no! After making his publicized remarks, a sharp-eared journalist asked fellow candidate Kamala Harris, one of the only two Black candidates at the time, how she felt about his comments. Harris, actually in her element, gave a wise and careful warning about Buttigieg comparing the pain of others. He, like other gay White men, would never know. It’s the fundamental principle about being a minority in America that gay White men ignore because advancing their agenda is much more important than parity for Black people. (I doubt this will be the last recollection of gay White men trying to hijack Black pain.)
These are just a few of the reasons I will reconsider how I share “I’m gay” moving forward.
James Baldwin, whose name I cautiously invoke with this column, came to mind as I considered how I could live with what has become a label to the rest of the world. When asked by Maya Angelou about his response to a question regarding his own sexuality, he handled this with the poise and honesty that should probably not come as a surprise given who he was.
Angelou: “A man had a question to you about homosexuality, and you had a response to it, and I would like to hear it again, and again, and again…”
Baldwin: “I said it’s such a weary, weary question. I said ‘homosexual’ is not a noun. It might be a verb, transitive. It is certainly an adjective, but it is not a noun. To ask the question says you don’t know anything about human experience, where it can take you, what it can do. If you categorize the world in that way then you lock yourself out from so much. I’ve known boys… I swear to you sweetheart… I’ve known kats, I’m talking about White kats too, football player types who went on the needle (used drugs) and then finally died because they were afraid someone would call them a faggot… All I know about human life is if I love you, I love you. And if I love you and duck it, I die.”
An eloquent response only Baldwin could deliver.
It was part blessing/part curse that I grew up in such a bubble I had no idea gay people existed or that men had sex with men up until I was probably 11 years old. (I harbor no qualms about this at my age now.) My family had no issues with me coming out during high school, as I’ve said before… I had the freedom to be me. (Frankly, I would have taken my freedom anyhow.) Outside of the safety of the family circle, that’s when the cars can pile up and the jaws of life are called in; Lord help you if you are Black and gay, and find yourself trapped alone with a group of people who look like you and have strong, adverse responses to your sexuality. I pray you were driving a tank.
It’s certainly not limited to Black Americans, but it is unique for us because our condition and situation is like nothing any race on the planet has ever experienced. We should want to do better.
I started BNN as a mission, and described it as a road I paved for myself that also serves Black America, because the truth is I love Black. I love me. I know our greatness and all of the things we can be, even if others can’t see it yet. And I will continue to shine my light, as I have said before.
But the ignorance of my feelings or any person’s feelings is off-putting, coming from a loud section of Black culture. I can’t, and won’t, mince words about it.
It’s difficult to desire building a better road to share with Black people who don’t try to understand there are other people who won’t even make room for me on a sidewalk.
It gets us nowhere.
Black America, there are people who try to push me out of society for something I have no control over. Sound familiar?
I am a double minority. And if I wore my sexuality, days like Thursday could be Friday, Saturday and so on. Not fair!
I don’t accept this, and I will vigorously fight for my humanity, like I fight for our parity. I am you, and you are me. I understand the pride we have, and the shame we hide, but I hope we work on learning to look within and remember our own humanities because when we try to reduce others, we diminish ourselves.
Corey Washington is Founder and Editor of BNN. He has worked in TV, Print, and Digital media as a Freelance Writer, Content Producer and Digital Producer. Some of those media outlets include CBM, SCNG, CBS5, NBC4, and ABC7. He is passionate about the Black Press and advocates for the advancement of Black America by highlighting racial disparities in the U.S. and abroad, as well as great achievements in the Black community. When he’s not writing here, he’s writing somewhere else, somewhere in between, and probably in his sleep.