"I write non-fiction, my dirt's already unearthed."
- from the diss track "Alone Again"
There's something really freeing about having no "dirt" for people to expose-in owing all your own stuff before anyone else tries to. It's a shameless act of courage for many black gay men, raised to feel shameful about feelings as natural as next breaths. The gay Negro ensemble, Adodi Muse, has a mantra that supports this modus operandi: "Ain't Got Sense Enough To Be Shamed". This colloquialism is as common a staple in black families as ham hock in collard greens at family reunions. And like that ham hock, symbolic of the flavorful ways we commune and fellowship as family, not all things that taste good are good for you.
I offer a case for re-examining our communal "ham hock"-- owning that this undesirable throwaway that we've re-appropriated to give flavor to our sustenance, IS NOT, in fact necessary. No longer slaves who have to "make do" with the scraps we've been given, we can give it up, find seasonings that approximate the good it offers, eat smarter. This ham hock is not unlike the shame that many black gay men deal with in our communities. It sticks with us like humidity in summer- refusing its courtship with our melanin. But we can be "cooler" than that-- not some machismo driven black cool that is void of vulnerability or an authenticity driven by what most feels natural-- but a realization that we can refuse the heat, seek shelter under the arms of trees, accept that even if we CAN suffer through heat, that we deserve to be "cool", that space of resolve where we accept that we are always already alright the way we are. Since when did shame become something to be proud of? What would it mean to live our lives without having to compartmentalize our truth(s): closeted here, out there, strangely silent about anything personal in most places? To offer an update to the Adodi Muse mantra, I offer a suggestion for Brave Souls. Be(come) Shamelessly self-loving!
Nearly thirty-six years old, I understand why love back asswards is evol. On the verge of another major life shift-- a move to Houston and the creative, professional, and personal joys that await-- I am the happiest I've been in a while. The move, while a shock to some, is business as usual for those who know that I'm a man who'll follow my heart wherever it seems to beat best. The reality is that I've felt a calling to be closer to the red dirt of my origins for some time now; and realistically, considering that I'm a boondock bohemian who has lived in Raleigh/Durham, New York City, Oakland, DC, and Atlanta, Houston's about as close as I can get to Taylor, Arkansas without sacrificing too much of the cosmopolitanism I enjoy as a creative spirit. Still, this prodigal son shift back to this region of the country is significant for a few reasons. I've done some work since I left home at seventeen for college. I have never fully been myself there, save a two-day visit or two around supportive immediate family members. Having decided after my AIDS diagnosis in '99 that I was going to live without fear of becoming my authentic self, all the time, Houston, and the Ark-La-Tex, and Taylor, are in for a treat. I don't have good enough tact or politeness to lie about having a male partner, let people pretend that I need or want a wife (at least in the way they would imagine it), or care more about what others think of me than I care about the resolve of the integrity and truth in which I live. Those who assume otherwise will be kindly corrected. If they gag in disbelief because I've told the truth, the onus of the issue appropriately rests with the person who cannot "face" truth. It's time that we stop apologizing for honesty in a culture that suggests that we "keep it real" for fake. I'm not afraid to seek legal consultation if discriminated against. I'm serious about my full citizenship as a law-abiding citizen who cares enough about our nation to "call out" its hypocrisy. What I sometimes find shameFUL is the second-class citizenship that many accept, because of their fear of seeming political or raising eyebrows. None of the freedoms we now enjoy came by being polite about being oppressed.
I mention shame and disclosure in the context of "becoming" myself, because I have no romance about some pure state of authenticity that I'll someday uncover. As black gay men we don't talk about our trauma. If I had a pure self, he was ruptured in the years of pulpit bashing, sexual abuse, poverty, domestic abuses, or suicidal contemplations. At sixteen, I very much wanted the pain to end-- feeling that I had done all I could to rebuke and cast out the homosexual demon-- to no avail. Listening to the voice of a God in my heart-- a voice I'd ignored for years because it didn't match biblical reprimands, I began to understand that God is love and can do ABSOLUTELY anything. Listening to the love of God in my heart, I was told to be still and find courage to love myself-- however self was showing up for me. I have been resolved since that if there's something wrong with me, that it has little to do with my desire for men. My imperfections are lessons given to me by my creator, as perfectly imperfect as coal under pressure becomes a diamond. As the years have passed, and as I am blessed and fortunate enough to be resilient through life's challenges, I remain unaffected by those who would suggest that I'm anything less than one of God's favorite children. That I am blessed and highly favored is a light in which I walk especially on some of the darkest days. God provides a miracle whenever I seem to question this.
Talking with a group of brothas from Houston while at the 2008 Texas HIV/STD conference in Austin where Brave Soul Collective featured as artists, I became acutely aware of how rare my "becoming" may be in the place I'll soon call home. Our identities as black gay men are the vilified effeminate gay man on one extreme, and the masculine DL straight man (who equates being "out" with pink triangles and rainbow f(l)ags) on the other. While I don't believe in demonizing my effeminate brothas, and in fact thank many of them for their courage to live authentically, I also understand that there are others ways black men can be black, gay, out, and shamelessly self-loving about it. While black gay are quick to say negative things about the DL, such an identity could not exist if black gay men didn't cower to families who don't want to know anything about "that part" of our lives, as one new friend put it. Would the sky fall, if they weren't given the option to ignore it? Would some of these families step up to the plate and love us (better) anyway? What would these black families be like without the love support, nurturing, good sense and good looks of black gay men?
To own that we are NEEDED is to own that we have more power to shape the relationships we have with our families than we sometimes give ourselves credit for. Understanding this, I have educated and cultivated the family I needed in order to become more authentically me. Respectfully, I didn't give them the option to not love all of me. In doing so, I've given others in my family permission to be more authentically themselves. I have so often heard "Tim'm, you can't do that!" Well, I already have; and I'm not blind to the consequences and risks involved. A brave soul, I'm not one for limiting my possibilities. If I limit myself in the personal realm of life, where else might that bleed: my professional life, creative life, or my romantic life? I prayed for and claimed a family who would find the courage to love all of me. It wasn't an instant shift, but they've all pretty much come around. So much that I'll celebrate a family reunion, in Taylor, Arkansas, on my 36th birthday (July 6), with a partner who is already considered the brother-in-law of my sibs and my mother and father's Other son. I didn't even have to push; a reality that surprised even me. Love is powerful when rooted in courage and not fear.
I am walking in a fearless light that I hope will illuminate a new path for black men who love men in America. How can we heal and save our communities stuck in the muck of fear and afraid to lift or feet? Our communities and families desperately need us to be educators, leaders, guides, fathers, mentors, and warriors. I'm clear with my heterosexual brothas and sistas (of all races) that the change WE need, NEEDS me...just the way I am. If I return, a prodigal sun, to red dirt, it is after the flood and rain or hurricane and storms, certain that I bring all my shine and glow and heat with me. I want to grow something healthy, like collards, something we can eat that tastes good, gives us energy, and honors our traditions of love. I return resolved that Houston, and all those places like it where people have told me I cannot be so shamelessly self-loving, absolutely need a brother like me. It feels damn good to be returning home this way: full, free, and bringing all the lessons of the journey before to this place I expect to call HOME with full smile, high hopes, and great expectations.