What happens when you can’t be yourself around those you’re supposed to identify with?
Anti-blackness is pervasive enough. Leave homophobia at the door.
We work to understand who we are. We deserve to be accepted.
In the early hours of June 12, a gunman, Omar Mateen, opened fire in a crowded gay nightclub called Pulse in Orlando, Florida, killing 49 and injuring 53 before he was killed by Orlando police. It was Latin Night, and the majority of casualties were people of color: black, brown and Latinx. I got on Twitter and saw an outpouring of love, prayers, well wishes and support. Still, some saw fit to separate the humanity from the victims. Due to it, my humanity was in the fetal position in the corner. I’d link some of the disgusting tweets I saw, but fuck that.
And fuck them.
I wrestled with my feelings on what the hell was going on. I struggled to understand the deep-seated pain I was unexpectedly dealing with in the wake of the Pulse shooting, and many thoughts came to me.
I am trained to compartmentalize myself. From the first time I heard the word “faggot” in hip-hop, my native tongue, I innately knew it was bad due to the contempt that sat on each syllable. It was at a point when that word had yet to have any meaning for me.
The pastor I loved drained the life out of me when he spoke with such vitriol about a “lifestyle” I would have to one day reckon with. My family spoke ill of my sister’s ex-boyfriend after finding out he was now dating a man. For survival, for peace, for my sanity, I separated myself from an integral part of my identity. I muddied it, turned my back on it, stepped on it. I was passive when comments on “sissies” came up. I’ve only recently forgiven myself for this because I was a child, doing the best that I could.
Needless to say, Identity is a big part of my life.
Figuring out who I am, where I belong, what I’m good at and all that shit has been the biggest struggle of my life. Being simultaneously black, male and gay at the same damn time is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s also the greatest source of my strength. Toxic masculinity has been one of the greatest hurdles I’ve had to jump over. I’m a child of Caribbean parents. My mama Trini, my daddy Guyana, you mix that Judy with that Kevin, make a Brooklyn niggaaaaaa (Sorry, I got caught up). If you ain’t a playa, you betta at least crush a lot. By default, we’re expected to be dominant over women and seek sex as a prize. It’s an everyday struggle, but constantly being exposed to people who celebrate me — as opposed to try to snuff out my true light — is a great source of inspiration.
The source of my identity and the way I viewed myself came heavily from women. It was by default, because most places occupied by black men, the places that I desperately wanted to be a part of more than anything, either weren’t welcoming to me or the conversations and activities weren’t accessible to me. So, I stayed around women because they were accommodating. My archetype of strength and resilience was molded in the image of a black woman.
I connected with female emcees
In matters of raising children, in the face of poverty, misogynoir, heartbreak and various other forms of multifaceted oppression, they remained bent, but not broken. This fed into my love of female artists. Artists like Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Toni Braxton, Janet Jackson, Mary J. Blige, Brandy, Aaliyah, Destiny’s Child. I heavily identified with the pain and strife expressed by these women. Though I may have not experienced any of the pain or heartache they have.
It was a deep-seated empathy that developed. Then, of course, there were the women in hip-hop: Salt ‘n Pepa, Lil’ Kim, Missy Elliott, MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, Trina, Eve, Foxy Brown, Remy Ma. The group who I identified with speaking my first language made me excited.
Themes of agency, power paradigm shifts, pleasure and general messages of “Fuck niggas, get money” lit a fire under my young ass. I walked a little different. My brother left me out of parties with his friends and Trina reminded me that niggas ain’t shit but hoes and tricks. By no means am I saying that some of the women I gravitated toward didn’t possess homophobic and transphobic views (quite a few that I absorbed), but when it came down to it, the manner in which it was expressed (more passively) was, at the time, better for my mental health. I felt like, maybe, I had a place.
Solo, but not alone
In 2003, I was introduced to Beyoncé as a solo artist. Our relationship was on and off for a few years. When she dropped “Crazy In Love,” I was intrigued. I realized that there was exceptional talent in this young black woman. I paid attention. I’m the first to admit that while Bey was someone I loved, my LOVE of her music was in and out. This heifer could sing and I wanted to hear it.
There were extremely bright spots like “Why Don’t You Love Me,” “Ring The Alarm,” “Get Me Bodied” and all of her soundtrack work that were relentlessly played on my iPod, even until this day. But, largely, I didn’t play her albums out. It wasn’t until she released 4 that I finally got in formation. She SANG, and I was sold. Every album since that, I’ve played the fuck out of. Beyoncé is currently the most influential artist on how I approach things in my daily life. If there’s a problem, there’s a song from Bey to remedy that shit. I realized I’m not alone.
When Beyoncé dropped “Formation” at the beginning of Black History Month, and I saw the video, I actually cried. I was in full black-ass tears. The elements of black pride, standing against state sanctioned violence and last but not least, the “fuck you” to respectability politics and calling ladies into formation; I heard that call. Apparently, so did other queer black men. Through conversations with my kinfolk, I found that my story isn’t unique. A lot of us clung to black women because there was a feeling of commonality.
Within the last week, the public executions of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and Alva Braziel have caused national outrage and rightfully so. Black folk stood in solidarity in our outrage and disgust over the state-sanctioned murders of these men.
On Saturday night while protesting in Baton Rouge, LA, Deray was arrested while live-streaming on Periscope. He wasn’t read his Miranda rights nor was he given a reason for his arrest. While a great deal of us were rallying in support, the lotion-deficient were busy saying he got arrested on purpose.
— Errol Barnett (@errolbarnett) July 10, 2016
Something else that was brought up was his sexuality. A Twitter user who shall not be named tweeted that if Deray wasn’t gay, a lot more black men would support him. Well, beloved, ashy Twitter came out in droves to say how much they agree with him. For some reason, black men see queer black men as innate traitors. Somehow, simply by being, we’re abdicating both our blackness and maleness. Black men seem so intent on bonding over their subjugation of women that when there are men who have no inclination to do so, it’s a problem. These are just some of the reasons why I feel more social similarities with black women than black men as a whole.
We sought approval from the men who looked like us to affirm our places in the community and — and we were dismissed.
The same folk enacting misogynoir onto them and perpetuating cisheteropatriarchal ideals were the same ones refusing to acknowledge our manhood through homophobic remarks and actions. When Beyoncé’s country ass called upon ladies, that call applied to me. Being able to shake off the constraints of traditional gendered language but also embracing it by way of redefining it via inserting my big, muscular, fat 6’1” three-hundred-some-odd-pound frame into the call of “Okay, ladies, now let’s get in formation” is just another form of a song by a black female artist being the soundtrack of my “fuck you” to a society that is intent on blocking my black gay ass from a state of everlasting lit-dom.
Intersectionality is a word that so many see but don’t acknowledge. Blackness, queerness and male-hood occupying one body means there’s a high possibility of always being on the precipice of a mental breakdown. The lack of affirmation for all parts of one’s identity breeds a certain contempt.
Being a grown ass 26-year-old man, though, I’m a bit more confident. I’m a bit surer of myself. I’m less concerned about the gaze of anyone who may disapprove of me (save: my safety). I’m more concerned with the young black boys on the steep drop toward adolescence developing a deep sense of insecurity or self-consciousness. I’m aware that part of my purpose is to make that less common.
Like I said, toxic masculinity is a daily fight. I’m glad that it’s one that, pretty recently, I’ve been winning more than losing. I’m just grateful that on those muggy days, when the block is hot, I have a tall glass of LEMONADE to cool me off.
Get y’all asses in Formation.