June is L.G.B.T.Q.+ Pride Month, a month in which people in the community affirm their identities, celebrate their culture, demonstrate their solidarity and assert their humanity. It presents a concentrated opportunity to be seen, in jubilation and triumph, to recognize the struggles, to commemorate the fallen and to honor the progress.
But I must say that I have had real struggles coming to embrace — and be embraced by — the institutional structures of the gay world.
(As an editorial note, I use gay and, more often queer, as shorthand for the lettered grouping. As The Association for L.G.B.T.Q. Journalists has advised of the term queer: “Originally a pejorative term for gay, now reclaimed by some L.G.B.T.Q. people. Use with caution; still extremely offensive when used as an epithet and still offensive to many L.G.B.T.Q. people regardless of intent. Its use may require explanation.” I am in the reclamation camp.)
My coming out was unconventional and to many, unacceptable. I came out late, in my 40s, after a heterosexual marriage. I came out as bisexual, which is viewed with suspicion and contempt by gay people as well as straight ones. And I apparently don’t have enough gay-obvious affectations for some people, although there are quite a few people in my high school who would beg to differ.
I was even asked recently in an interview why I wasn’t more gay, or something to that effect, because people who followed me would most likely not know that I was part of the queer community. I reminded my interviewer that I had written a best-selling book about my identity, and that that book has been developed into an opera that will become the first opera by a Black composer to be staged at New York’s Metropolitan Opera in its history. What other queer man can make such a claim? How much more open can a person be?
But again, it was about affectation: I wasn’t projecting enough cultural cues. Being myself, naturally, comfortably, was somehow akin to concealment.
All of this has led to some rather biting pushback, some “How dare you speak for our community?” comments, that took me by surprise. As far as I was able to discern, the resentment came from the fact that my decisions, designation and presentation meant that I had been able to avoid much of the struggle that other people couldn’t, that I arrived in the space after all the hard work had been done, after I was comfortable in my career, after I was liberated from much of what could have caused me pain and did cause others pain.
I had chosen an easy path. My suffering, such as it was, was insufficient.
Here, it is important to say, that this criticism almost never came from the Black gay community, but from the white one. This critique may be divorced from race, but in my mind, a complete divorce is unachievable.
One of the most depressing realizations about queerness is that the racism in it is just as strong and stinging as the racism in the general population.
Indeed, it can be worse, as people who themselves have been marginalized and mistreated become blind to the notion that they have their own biases. So I am quick to remind them: Yes, the hated can also hate. And for Black queer people this means a double demerit.
It is far too easy for people to slip into racist tropes when discussing and considering queer Black men, to fetishize the fear of them, to project onto them a sort of brutish, animalistic, dangerous allure. But, of course, this is all rooted in racism, a fact that I can see clearly, and one against which I constantly rage.
This is one reason I have been perfectly content with living outside the inner circles of gay power and thought, preferring rather to honor Blackness and Black gay people, to lift their stories and write about their struggles.
For the most part, you won’t find me on the gay magazine lists. I won’t be invited to the functions. I am not part of that version of Pride. And I am at peace with that.
My version is that I like to be with the forgotten and listen to the unheard. I like to talk with the older Black queer people, who impart incredible wisdom and give invaluable perspective about how our particular path in the queer space is distinct and our stories are our own.
I have found my own Pride in my own tribe, rooted in racial pride, rooted in a legacy of resilience, rooted in the power of truth and the power of community, my own community, and that community has embraced me, lifted me and loved me.
The Black community’s response to me may seem odd to those who exist outside it, but it was to me spiritually and culturally congruent. What I hear most is, we don’t care, do you, be careful, we love you, we are proud of you, we are praying for you.
I was on a journey to be whole, but it was the Black community, its embrace of my true self, my whole self, that finally made me whole.
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