Photo by Troy Oraine via The Street Gypsies
Most of my life I genuinely longed for the acceptance of straight black men. I hate to admit it, especially because I tend to act as if I don't care about straight people's thoughts about me, but I wanted to be recognized as normal, as cool. I was a black, queer, skinny, nerd boy, though.
Looking back, it is strange that I desired hospitality from some of the very folk who daily reminded me that my odd ways and peculiar mannerisms were the makings of my becoming a "faggot." I didn't care how many times some of the boys, and men, in my life joked about me, I needed them to love me. And I hated that I needed their love as much I hated the self which worked really hard to gain it only to receive lovelessness.
Maybe my strong desire for love and acceptance from other black men had something to do with my need for my dad's approval.
Perhaps Dad's desire for me to be a strong black son--and my failures to make good on his wish--caused him to disapprove of my girly ways.
Or could it be that our U.S. society's implicit, but evidenced, expectations about black men--who are often imagined as aggressive, hypersexual, sexually potent, powerful, heterosexual bodies--shaped my dad's wishes for me and my desires to become a proper black son that he could be proud of.
I figured my dad, uncles, male friends, classmates, and neighbors--whether straight or gay-- really wanted to be loved and accepted by each other. But they struggled to do so because we were all groomed to believe that affection and recognition were signs of the "sissy," and animosity and rejection were characteristics of real men.
Whatever the causes, I definitely felt an overwhelming sense of relief anytime a black straight man (or boy) decided not to laugh at a hurtful joke. Or if he befriended me despite others' curiosity about his sexuality.
There are men in my life for whom I'm grateful. Charles, my high school play-brother, who ensured that I was always protected. My college dorm suitemate, Quentin, who was the first person that I disclosed my sexual identity to in undergrad and who, in response, told me he loved me. I'm always moved by my uncle, Toni, who isn't afraid to tell people--in the material or cyber world--how much he loves me. In fact, he was the person who encouraged my father to reach out to me via Facebook and get to know his adult son. Of course, I can never forget the day my step father unexpectedly walked into our living room as my first boyfriend laid on my lap. I was devastated, but Lee asked me to join him in private in the basement where he told me that I could talk to him about anything if I ever I needed an ear.
I could go on with heart-felt acknowledgements of the many black straight men who have embraced me, a black queer men, throughout my life, but it's also important to realize that self-acceptance is essential in the lives of queer and trans people.
We exist within spaces that tend to mis-recognize and harm us. In fact, it is often the case that our survival is a result of our willingness to accept the very aspects of ourselves that we've been told to hate. Yet, there is something to be said when people in our lives, strangers and intimates, do the work of demolishing the strong binds that tend to keep them from accepting the invitations to enter our lives. It is a breakthrough, indeed, whenever recognition is reciprocated.
I would be lying if I failed to admit that my need for acceptance has waned. It hasn't. The only difference that I can remark upon now, at 37, is that what was once a need is now a condition of friendship and solidarity. I demand to be fully recognized and accepted because I demand of myself to fully recognize and accept those with whom I share the world.
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