When I was eighteen, I finally admitted something to myself that I didn’t want to: I’d hit the opposite of the genetic jackpot. I was the minority double whammy – black and gay. We’ve hit a progressive peak in society where race and sexuality are talked about more openly than they were forty, twenty or even ten years ago. But we’ve failed to think about intersecting identities, and as a black gay man, intersection is at the heart of who I am. Black voices aren’t heard loudly in the gay community and gay voices don’t seem to be heard at all in the black community.
It’s no secret that in Black America, with our roots in the conservative Christian South, gayness is condemened, hidden, ignored and delegitamized. Coming out in some black families is the equivalent of ringing a death knell; it was this reality that forced me to crawl into a dark closet, lock the door, close all the latches and swallow the key for twelve years. It also created a sense of resentment and self-hate toward blackness. When I left my majority black community for college, I wanted to relieve and release myself; I wanted to assimilate. I walked the quad of my pristine liberal arts college with a “diverse” (read: all-white) group of friends, convincing myself that my own people would never accept me for who I was.
Throughout the twentieth and the twenty-first century, gay men have been made to feel ashamed. From the church sermon to opportunistic politicians to law enforcement to the denial of our basic rights and freedoms as Americans, shame has played a constant theme in our existence. And it’s not that we naturally feel that shame because who we are is “wrong” — we were and are taught that shame everyday in a world that arbitrarily privileges heterosexuality. It should come as no surprise then, that my sexual experiences between 16 and 20 were a slew of shush-shush hookups with none of the love, warmth or romance I saw in Brokeback Mountain. None of the seven men I slept with in that time ever called, texted or contacted me in any way — and worse, I didn’t expect them to. Part of it was that I knew what I was signing up for. The other part was that deep down in my non-Freudian subconscious, I didn’t feel that I was deserving of the love or commitment that I’d been taught was only reserved for heterosexual couples. I internalized everything negative I’d been taught about homosexuality and homosexuals, and it was an everyday battle to accept, reject and finally, fight back against those internalizations.
Which brings me to the present – finding love as a black gay man is quite a bit harder than we’d care to admit. By now we know about the “down-low” phenomenon of closeted black gay men married to women, but engage in sex with other men. According to the CDC, gay and bisexual black men under the age of 24 made up 4,800 of new HIV infections in 2010 — thats twice the number of our Hispanic and white counterparts. So yes, the dating scene within my own race is pretty bleak. But dating outside of my race doesn’t seem like a possibility.
Within my small, close-knit circle of black LGBT friends, I am the only one who has no reservations with dating outside of my race. For now, that seems like more of a declaration on my part than something that is actually going to happen. Thumbing through profiles on gay dating and hook-up apps such as Grindr and Jack’d, white men unapologetically say “no Asians” and “white guys only.” My “hellos” and “how are yous” to many white men are denied or ignored. Two years ago I had a hopeless crush on a Brazilian linguist. Sitting across from him at lunch, he said to me, “I don’t find dark people attractive. As friends they’re great, but I don’t like them in that way.” Ouch.
We can chalk all of this up to personal preference, which is just a really nice way to avoid talking about the larger issue of racism in the gay community. That’s the dirty little secret no one wants to talk about, because the LGBT community in 21st century America is supposed to be the beacon of equality, the victims of discrimination and the holders of the moral high ground. But what we forget to talk about is that regardless of who we are sleeping with, gay men and women are still products of America, which has the sin of racism surging through its veins. Blackness in America is devalued, critiqued and excluded daily. We struggle for adequate and accurate media representation, our political participation is constantly endangered and even if one of us becomes president, we will never get half as much respect as we would if were white.
Black beauty gets limited praise in magazines, movies and television. Despite living in one of the most racially diverse countries in the world with so many beautiful colors with beautiful people behind those colors, we still only recognize one color as beautiful and worthy – and that is something we all need to be ashamed about.