Growing up Gay and Black*

For most of my life, I thought my race was simple. My father is a black, Jamaican immigrant. My mother is white British. I’m mixed-race. However the older I get, the more I realise it’s more complicated. There are privileges I gain from my English heritage; my lighter skin brings me closer to western standards of beauty. My features, perfectly balanced between Celtic and West African (via the Caribbean), are more digestible for the mainstream. And my accent, inherited entirely from my mother (my dad’s is a middling-to-strong patois), doesn’t evoke the racist fear that my cousins face for their patois-inflected dialect. But being a descendant of slaves has had a bigger impact on my life than my English heritage. The generational poverty that our people face. The total lack of opportunity that my father grew up with, along with his sisters, his parents, and every black relative of mine from the day my ancestors were stolen from Africa. The knowledge that they broke their backs through hard labour, and inherited nothing is a dull ache. Knowing that my opportunities have been limited because of this is a much sharper pain. Being black and gay is complicated in many ways. So here’s my complicated little story.

They’re lookin’ at you, boi

I understood my hyper-visibility from a young age. My dad taught me to behave, because “I would be seen first”. He never spelt it out to me, but what he meant is obvious. My brown skin, curly hair and big lips set me apart from the other kids at school. And when push came to shove, “one of them was black” was always going to catch me out – not my friends. There was hyper-visibility from another angle too. I was co-opted by our one black teacher as the black beacon. Being fairly bright and interested in the arts, I remember being told repeatedly that I had to represent black boys. There were countless sermons where Mr Brown would relay the statistics of black and brown boys and their educational achievement – and tell me I “bucked the stereotype”. Knowing my fuck-ups would be scrutinised more intensely, and being taught that my achievements were essential to the success of all boys who looked like me was a lot of pressure. Being gay intensified that pressure.

“Oh yeah I’m only part black. I’m not like other black guys though”

I never felt black enough. I played the violin, and the piano. I sung in school musicals. I loved chemistry. I was nothing like the other black kids I know. They were cooler, funnier, more vibrant than me. In many cases, I arrogantly thought I was the bright exception the the hopeless rule of black people. I didn’t like black things. I thought they were simple, easy. Primitive. I’d been hoodwinked into believing white was right. And black was not. I was just lucky that my interests lay with what society approved of – and that subconsciously I was rejecting my black heritage. It was only when I was much older that I realised there was nothing inherently less valuable about black cultural products. It was just society – and my old self – that deemed them unworthy.

Coming out

Rejecting my black heritage is what brought on such a huge fear about coming out to my parents later in life. My siblings were no problem. I knew my mother would be supportive. But despite 19 years of support and love from my dad, I couldn’t reconcile it with what I thought about his culture. The beauty of the reggae he’d listen to every Sunday, the generations of creativity and resilience that lived in his patois; every wonderful thing about his culture had evaded me, whilst every negative trait stuck to the colour of his skin – and to my consciousness. Looking back, it’s obvious that I was self-hating, and projecting it onto him. After a year of middle-class university, where I’d tried gin for the first time, forced myself to like olives and found acceptance as a gay guy, I was ready to risk coming out. But when the day came, I was crapping it. I had gathered my siblings; and my best friend was parked outside, ready to whisk me away when my dad inevitably disowned me. Honestly, a small part of me almost wanted to have everything I’d thought proven right. Spending 12 months without my strict, loud and always embarrassing Jamaican dad had made me even more wary of my roots. This was the universe’s chance to tell me in no uncertain terms that white was right. And I had my new family of university friends ready to adopt me once I’d been liberated from what I had tried to escape my whole life. So it was strangely anticlimactic to hear both my parents say “we know”. No shouting, no arguments. It was the most bog-standard coming out you could imagine. Mum threw her arms around me. Dad was quiet, stifled. Like so many equally mundane families. Over the next two weeks I watched my dad’s love for me battle with what he’d been taught by his parents, the subjects of a colonial Jamaica that had entrenched homophobia into its people. And I saw it win. It was difficult to process. Suddenly I wasn’t the progeny of two binaries. I couldn’t reject who I was anymore because my biggest fear about my heritage had been dismantled. Coming out – that awful, exposing and unjust process that I want to live to see eradicated – had reconciled me with who I was. The gay son of a black man. For the first time in my life, I was proud.

Yeah, I’m black. Well I’m half white, but, you know…

I explored my culture more. Until I was 19, I had assumed black people didn’t write novels. Then, I read some of the most beautiful literature I have ever read in my life. It was from the Caribbean. It fulfilled me, and I’ve never felt the need to read an English book again. But it wasn’t just new discoveries. I revisited my brother’s hip-hop, and heard the most sublime poetry in it. The things I’d learned playing classical instruments helped me understand the technical magnificence of the music, but that almost didn’t matter. It was a visceral understanding. A connection. All that “rap is like the modern Shakespeare” stuff was bullshit to me. This didn’t need to be Shakespeare. It was it’s own entity, and it was incredible. But connecting with my black culture made me all too aware of the racism I faced. Sure, I’d had the n word thrown at me before. But I’m talking about structural oppression. The microaggressions. The sideways glances, the look of shock when I mentioned I studied English and Drama for my degree. People always wanting to touch my fucking hair. But what’s stuck with me most is the shock on people’s faces when I’d tell them that no, my Jamaican father did not beat or disown me when I came out. It’s not to say I’m naive to Jamaica’s issues with queerness. But I’d realised that people are more comfortable hearing a violent narrative that justifies their stereotypes, than my story of acceptance and love.

Big black dick.

The closer I got to the gay community, the more I realised I would never truly fit the ideal. On Grindr, “not into black guys” and “white guys only” made my blood boil. Hairstyles that my kinky curls will never achieve went in and out of fashion. I was never going to be the blond twink. Gay porn had taught me my place. That ugly, insidious term that permeates gay culture. “Ebony”. The gay community made it very clear that I was lumped in with black and brown men of all shapes, sizes and looks. And you were either into Ebony, or you weren’t. After a couple of years trying to get into it, I retreated from the Soho scene. I didn’t want to be someone’s fetish. Someone’s “once you go black, you never go back”. Gay media and the queer community it represents so rarely acknowledges the many shades of beauty within the black gay community. We’re just noses, lips and big black dicks. Mainstream media is worse. On the rare occasion a gay man is welcomed into the mainstream, he’s always, always white. Either the media are too busy depicting people like me as thugs, or by the time their black man quota has been filled, they’ve filled it with straight black men. So, by around age 22 I’d given up on the gay community. But because of my past conflict with black culture I’d never made any lasting friendships with black people. I was surrounded by wonderful friends, all straight and white. They’re still my best pals. But what I also needed was people who could truly connect with the experiences that derived from my race and sexuality. I had a good year being fully conscious of who I am, but not having an outlet to express it.It’s only been in the last 12 months that I’ve discovered social media’s ability to bring disparate people together. But it turned out that I didn’t need to find representation through talking to other black gay men. Instead, I listened to black women – and discovered something that pretty much sums up why I started this blog:

The world isn’t going to just let me have my identity. In a world where society is built on racism, and patriarchal hetero-masculinity (which defines itself against gay sex), my humanity will very rarely be accepted, let alone placed on equal footing with white, straight men. If I want the world to listen to who I am in the fullest sense, I have to fight against the structures that oppress me. I am proudly black. I am proudly gay. I understand how these two aspects intersect, for better and for worse. And i’m aware of my privilege.

Now, I’m using that privilege to give a platform to other marginalized voices in the queer community. I know that being a man helps me. That identifying with the gender I was assigned at birth helps me. That being able-bodied, and lighter skinned helps me. I don’t have to think about many of the things that people in our community worry about thanks to the luck of my birth. So with my own story in mind, I want to do my bit and help tear down the world’s narrow view of queerness – and build a community that we can all be a part of, by helping other voices be heard. So stay with the blog, because there are going to be some awesome stories told on here.

5 thoughts on “Growing up Gay and Black*

  1. Fantastic post! Your voice and perspective are much needed! I am always searching around for gay blogs with unique journeys and lessons. Please keep at this. You are intelligent, well spoken and fascinating. I can learn a lot from you, your story, and your thoughts. I’m very happy I stumbled across this blog and I thank you for being brave enough to share yourself with the world.

    Liked by 1 person

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