“Trust your gut.” – Barbara Walters
Nowadays, I have no issue trusting myself. In listening to Lionel Richie’s Master Class podcast while driving to a trailhead in Western Washington a couple weekends back, I felt moved by Richie discussing his journey to adulthood and eventually stardom. I had one epiphany after the next; asking Larry to document them on my iPhone. Richie shared, “for a long time I didn’t trust myself to hear what I was hearing. As I got older, I learned to trust what I was hearing from my soul that allowed me more and more to live my truth.” Having been reared in a highly educated and protective environment, Richie credits musical mentors with broadening his spiritual horizon. He says of these vicarious experiences, “[They] trust[ed] themselves to say what was on their mind. I eventually learned to not navigate the world in a way that others thought I should which was liberating.”
For as long as I can remember – reaching back to the late 1980s – I had done the opposite. I lived my life in accordance to how others thought I should. This largely ended on a June 2006 morning in Clayton County, Georgia. I sat up in bed, saying to myself I was so done with the exhaustion, misery, and unnecessary burden of living within other people’s perceptions of who I should be. Governing one’s life through the claustrophobic guardrails of others’ expectations does not a pleasant experience make, I finally accepted. This is not to be misconstrued with ignoring trusted sources’ valuable advice or refusing to learn from others’ mistakes. Richie’s words were a reminder of a self-imposed call to action I heeded in June 2006 – stop wasting time, energy and money living up to expectations you had no role in setting.
The Terror of Being Gay
Heeding My Intuition
I started kindergarten in 1988. Mrs. Cobb was my teacher – a stout, no-nonsense woman with a Jerry Curl. Each school day after lunch, my classmates and I took naps. I have memories of feeling different during this period about a one classmate. I remember expressing excitement when I was able to position my mat next to his. It was blue, my mat. Anticipating my siesta neighbor’s presence rested on a yearning to be noticed by him. I do not remember feeling this way about any other classmate.
I was too young to fully understand this affection yet knew my life could descend into chaos if expressed outwardly. I am not referencing mannish and inappropriate behavior; I speak of normal things children do to express fondness of their peers. Holding hands. Open hugs. Scrambling to stand next to each other in line. Showing any signs of being gay – I remembered at the time – would have spelled doom for me socially. At six – I was worried about these things deciding to trust my intuition in saying that I should. Be cool. Be normal. And for God’s sake do not be gay.
Growing Up Fast
Because My Soul Said So
Some would argue I may have been placing way too much stress on my little six-year-old moral compass. This is a period in one’s life where (s)he should be unencumbered in exploring the world. High-level decision making such as considering all possible social blunders before doing anything is something for executive leaders, not people who have yet to start first grade. Little kids have crushes on their friends all the time – straight or gay. I am among those who think it is adorable to see children innocently express affection to each other. Think summertime weddings where ring bearers do cuddly things worth timeless photography. Sure, that is different from two kids of the same sex being so happy to be in each other presence because – insert fear and hate-based word salad. In children, affection is affection. None of it arises from a dark place.
Adults in my 1990s’ childhood were not surveilling us kindergarteners with gaydar doohickeys. They were not sussing out emerging queens, twinks and bears. I can recall hearing and being labelled terrible names as a young boy. Sissy. Sissy-ass-ni**er. Fudge-packer. Gay-ass-motherf*cker. Pussy-ass-ni**er. F*ggot. F*ggot-ass-motherf*cker. Yes, the n-word was uttered non-stop by fellow African Americans. I recall witnessing physical abuse, social ostracization, and other forms of mental abuse. Teachers tolerated it. Preachers perpetuated it. Relatives relished it. The accusations of having HIV or AIDS with no proof was a blunt force object used to mentally maim gay people or those suspected of being gay. They deserved the deadly disease, the self-righteous would say. God was teaching them a lesson.
Homophobic African Americans
The Stupidity of It All
As an African American gay person – or just person – I need no heterosexual person irrespective of race “agreeing” or “not agreeing” with my being gay. Agree to focus on your own life. And for crying out loud, stop ludicrously tossing around the term (un)natural in describing gay people. You look and sound foolish. Free Speech does not allow hate speech, so try again. Freedom of religion does not you the right to infringe on another’s different or none expression of religion; so go back to the drawing board. Channel your heeding God’s will into examining the daily decisions you make and actions over which you have not conscious control. Food you eat. Liquids you imbibe. Products you purchase and place on your body. Are those things “(un)natural?” Who defines “(un)natural?” Merriam Webster? With the same First Amendment rights as any straight person, I can define (un)natural however I see fit. In doing so, I am not threatening the straights as they often do us gays.
Calling all selective scriptures screaming black folks! Remember a bunch of elitists white men authored the Bible. Much like the United States Constitution centuries later, the Bible was composed of details, intonations, and subplots beneficial to white fellas and their peers – to the exclusion of people of African descent among others. Certain text therein printed in red and italicized font was deemed the irrefutable words of God because these powerful men said so. How could they know for sure God, Jesus, or any other sacred figure said those exact words with the very connotation they placed in red? Even if paraphrased, how do they know for sure they captured the true essence of said figures’ intentions? God, Jesus, Mary, and the rest did not have printing presses. They lacked stenographers. They were not iPhone dictation enthusiasts. They had no interests in using their words and influence to subjugate throngs of people – especially if we view them through the lens of the text printed in the Bible.
A hunch? A feeling? God told them to translate things the way they did? I have a hunch, feeling and message from God that being spiritual and kind to others as you would like them to be toward me and is far better than adhering to groupings of contradictory texts selected by people with unverifiable intent. So, what makes it okay for hypocritical children of God – especially those of African descent – to gay bash? Oh, it is different? Too nuanced for my gay brain to interpret? Homophobic African Americans misspoke – repeatedly? Everyone makes mistakes – incessantly? Words, phrases, and scriptures selectively slung around in the public sphere to advance hate are misunderstood by “the gays?” Blown out of proportion by our alleged hypersensitivity?
Remember, the most odious of white supremacists in the Deep South hung and lynched their black compatriots Saturday night only to sit in church on Sunday morning praising the Lord. The most deceitful and untrustworthy of public servants worked in the Reagan Administration, proactively thwarted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the National Institutes of Health from curbing the HIV/AIDS epidemic that swept the West in the 1970s – 1990s. Was not Reagan and the Secretaries he chose God-fearing people or at the very least followers of the United States Constitution’s Bill of Rights?
Choosing to be Gay is Idiotic
Heterosexuals – not all yet enough – attempting to control how we gays express ourselves, should stop. You are wasting your time. Instead, ask yourself “why do I care?” My interactions with straight people who are comfortable with their heterosexuality do not fret about my being gay. They see me as a whole person. We celebrate the vast number of other things we in have common. And those of us who do not get along – it has nothing to do with our sexuality. Are you among those fully committed to being straight, bisexual even? Or are you one of those self-hating gays playing a straight person on TV? Do I and other gay people remind you of your insecurities? Irrespective of the answer, see a shrink.
Why in the hell would I or any gay person choose to be a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer (LGBTQ) person just to annoy the straights? Why would we opt-in to receive non-stop ridicule, hate, and employment discrimination? Because we are attention whores? Negative, that is what you would do. Yes, there are people on both sides who seek attention for attention’s sake. The entirety of your gay brethren are not those people. Get a grip.
I trusted myself in knowing homophobia was something I should heed at a very early age, an act of hate that could make my life very difficult. Until June 2006, I failed in not trusting myself to believe being gay was okay. So, I deliberately created different personality masks to get through elementary, high school, and most of college. Along the lines of Richie’s words, I did trust myself to acknowledge and accept hate and homophobia for what they were. I armored myself accordingly – proving to be a solution with mixed results.