June is the month of pride and also my birth month. To be honest It has not been something I have ACTIVELY paid attention to, because quite frankly the first couple of weeks of June, I spend it trying to figure out what to do for my birthday and I spend the remaining weeks of June recovering from said birthday. If I did came across information about Pride or people who identified as homosexuals (referring to gay people and lesbians), I would engage purely to educate myself and keep myself abreast of world perspectives.
However, a few weeks ago I came across a post that made me stop and think about what it means to be a black gay person, purely because it gave insight into what one of my close friends who is a gay black man could potentially be dealing with.
When it comes to my friends, I don't play. I want to make sure as much as possible I am being the best friend I can be to them. This post made me pause and gave me food for thought on what potentially my friend could be dealing with that I had not thought about.
Before I continue I would like to recognize that this is a deeply sensitive topic I am touching on. I do not pretend to be an authority or expert in anything to do with bisexuality/homosexuality. I only know what I know based on the experiences of friends, or what I have seen through the media. If I do make a misstep, I apologize in advance, I am always happy to learn more and be better. I also ask that you do respect my perspective and views even if they are contradictory to yours. I would always respect anyone's view so long as it causes no harm to others and I ask that you do the same for mine.
In addition, Before I am a Canadian / British black woman. I am an African woman from a very traditional background. I am also a Christian, a religion that does not accept the concept of homosexuality. Due to this, when I was much younger and i didn't know better, I was for lack of a better word, homophobic. I saw things in black and white. I did not understand that being gay was NOT a choice. I thought people who were gay were frivolous and chose the lifestyle for the fun of it.(Silly I know).
After I left Nigeria in my teens and I moved to the United Kingdom, I started to come across individuals who were openly gay. I really didn't understand it. I dealt with it by maintaining someone's preferred gender was quite frankly none of my business. Unless we were friends or I needed to meet their partner. I viewed it the same way I didn't really care if someone was a vegan or not.
At university, I had a flatmate (who was British) Let's call him Ben. He was truly one of the loveliest men I had come across whilst at uni, he did my first photoshoot for my birthday as a gift, and I absolutely loved the pictures. Ben was gay, but again I didn't think much of it until some of my Nigerian friends at uni (due to our background) would be a bit negative about him. Saying things such as "what? he's gay.. that's weird though" whenever I spoke about him. At the time,It was just a lifestyle I didn't quite understand. I actually found it fascinating that there could sometimes experience the same drama that would typically take place in heterosexual relationships.
Then I watched Brokeback Mountain, the movie. I believe this was the turning point for me where I started to think that maybe this wasn't something that was actually an "option" for people who identified as homosexuals. Frankly, I did not see how humans would consistently risk their lives for something that was a "fad". I realized it was something much more serious and real than that. I started to pay attention and actively listen to people's stories. One thing that stuck with me through the times was, I don't necessarily have to understand it, but I could respect it. This is what I'd like for so many people who are not necessarily onboard with it. To respect the choices, respect the lifestyle and accord them the respect you would any human being. That really isn't asking for too much, is it?
The concept of homosexuality came lot closer to home when a friend of mine of over a decade "came out" (cue Diana Ross's I'm Coming Out) I had, had a passing suspicion for a while but when he came out, I was like wow this is real. I was so intrigued, especially how he had handled it considering he came from a very similar background to mine. It was really really an eye-opening to hear his story.
Following the post I mentioned earlier that made me think, I shared it with him and we spoke about it.
I'd like to share is what it means to be a Black Gay Man (from his perspective). With his permission, I would share some of the excerpts of it here. His alias would be "Mark"
What is it like being a black gay man?
Navigating the world as a black gay man has been a journey and a half. There's another layer to navigate being African as well. A while ago I was invited over for breakfast with others by an acquaintance. We ended up being a few black gay men and it was really nice to just talk to people about living as a black gay man. we talked about life, love, dating, experiences with other gay men from other races, and the fetishization of black men, we talked about careers, hopes, dreams, ambitions family, etc.
What does Pride month mean for you?
As for pride, I am still navigating what that means for me, maybe because as an African there isn't a lot to be proud of just yet, despite being very comfortable in my skin and being largely unapologetic about who I am.
I was pleasantly surprised as to how mature some of the discussions we had at the breakfast were. Sometimes gay men in a large number tend to result in a bit of drama.
Due to this, I would like to be more intentional about interacting with other black gay men and probably vacation at a resort that is queer-friendly and POC-focused as most queer spaces are white and racism thrives quite well even within the gay community. This is something I really detest and it rubs me off the wrong way.
How have your friends that you grew up with reacted to you being gay?
It has mostly been positive, as I naturally wouldn't be friends with people that were outwardly homophobic. I would have distanced myself from them a long time ago. 80% of them were kind and accepting, the other 20% had nothing to say but I started to notice distance appear as I guess it conflicted with their personal beliefs. This was fine as I had gotten to the point where I'd rather be myself with people close to me. Pretending was no longer an option. I did however understand them, considering we come from a very strong and religious background. I tried to reach out a few times but eventually, I let it be. I have no hard feelings from my end as living life fully is the only way forward for me.
It took me a long time to accept that I was deserving and worthy of finding love and now I'm keeping an eye out for that whilst living my best life!
Having this conversation with my friend opened my eyes to several things.
Firstly, the lack of community or safe space for gay black people to talk about their hopes and dreams in a context where they can talk to others similar to them. This I can 100 percent relate to as I didn't know anyone who was hearing impaired. Whilst well-intended, a lot of people did not REALLY KNOW what it was like or the little nuances of the struggle of being hearing impaired. Whilst I was glad that my friend had found this community, I wondered why on this day and age of awareness, it took so long to find a safe space of like-minded people? A lot of landmark monthly events are largely performative, it is important in our day-to-day lives to create space for people to talk about their shared struggles, I mean maybe being open enough to connect them to others, who may be going through the same thing. Trust me, it makes a world of difference. We can only do that if we live in a context that truly respects someone who is a homosexual and do not treat it as a fad, as I once did.
The second thing that struck me, was he really just wanted to vacation in a resort that was queer AND black friendly. As a person that relates to one half of this equation, a black person, I totally get it. There's a huge difference between a resort tolerating black people (I've seen this so many times) and a place that is truly black-friendly. Imagine having that being further narrowed down by adding the queer equation to it. Maybe this is something for us to think about, are you tolerant or are you friendly? There's a huge difference. I insist that even though individuals may necessarily not accept or understand it, individuals must respect it and understand that people can live a life different from what they can comprehend, especially if it causes no harm to them. Even as Christians, we are called to love others.
The third thing that struck me was racism within the gay community. No shade, but you would think that a group of people who know what it is to be marginalized will NOT marginalize others but here we are... the irony of humanity, right? I thought this was a shame.
The fourth thing that struck me and I would not spend too much time on, was the fetishization of black men. On some level, I can understand it. As any black woman could tell you, being fetishized is very disturbing. I can't even imagine how it would be for people like "Mark". All I can say is - but why though?
Finally what I loved and appreciated was that "Mark" has come to a place of self-love and acceptance. He has come to a place where he knows and accepts that he is worthy of love. This is something some people would struggle with on a regular day, so I can't even imagine how much more pronounced that feeling would be, as a black African gay man, where your whole life you have seen people like you treated as an abnormality. The strength required to overcome that and realize that you are enough is remarkable.
This post is for you "Mark" I am rooting for you and cheering for you and thank you for sharing your story with me. Thank you for educating me on what it is to be better and helping me to understand that respect and love are much important than having to understand. Accepting comes naturally when those are in place.