“You can’t have that! Boys not supposed to have the same things as Girls!” My ex-Stepfather blared that pronouncement as he handed me a can of root-beer whilst all of my girlfriends got cool bottles of flavored water. It didn’t matter that I had asked for the flavored water first. It did not matter that I hated soda. All that mattered was that, at age 12, I was male, they were female, and I couldn’t have a bottle of water because of that difference. That moment left me feeling completely: humiliated, invalidated, and invisible. I actually cried in my room over that shit (My X-Stepdad was a stupid nigga, grimy, and no damn good. He is dead. I don’t miss him). While this was not my first encounter with the monster nicknamed Black Male Machismo (more popularly known as toxic masculinity) it is this experience that stands out to me most from my childhood. I learned then–as a black gay preteen–how inconceivably different I was from everyone else, not just my peers.
Growing up all of my friends were girls. I envied them as we got older. As we moved into our teen years I suffered in silence as I began trying to fit into the mold of what a “real man” was supposed to be (because being myself was getting me ritualistically antagonized by the testosterone driven boys in gym class), whilst grappling with my burgeoning sexuality and impending adolescence. Meanwhile, I watched all of my female friends just be, blossom, and become.
Girls were allowed by everyone to: laugh out loud, dance, be sassy, be sexy, be overtly feminine, dramatic, flirty, switch when they walked, be silly, flirt with boys, talk anyway they wanted to to boys, hold their hands the way they wanted to, and everything else that is taken for granted by society at large. Girls could wear the clothes they wanted to wear, regardless of colors, regardless of style, and make their affections known if they liked the cute boy that sat in the back of the classroom. I loved the freedom that they had to just be themselves so completely. In a way I lived vicariously through my former girlfriends who were no longer my friends, imagining how nice it must have been to be that unencumbered.
However, that was not to be my reality, not for a very long time. As a young gay boy already struggling with issues of low self esteem while trying to navigate within the confines of a horribly abusive home life (which was more like a prison than a safe space) and being bullied at school my goal was to be as inconspicuous as possible. I relinquished my freedom for the shackles of a masculine facade that could never truly be mine. It fit me as well as a XXL sweatshirt and size 38 waisted jeans (Basically, it did not. If you’ve seen me in person you know I’m a rather petite fellow). Still I tried to wear it. I wore it because I wanted to disappear. I wore it to survive. It was for my protection.
I changed myself into something that I probably wouldn’t recognize all of these years later. It was me but not really. I spent my entire Junior High and High School career in my bedroom because I so profoundly hated who and what I was. Society forged my prison and I sentenced myself willingly, despite not being guilty of anything.
I learned early on that Freedom is not for Black Men.
I wound up on little league baseball team just because my family was embarrassed that I liked playing violin (they stuck me in left field. That’s how good I was at it). In retrospect my entire childhood felt like a lie because it was performance, boxing myself into what I needed to be for everyone else and never truly knowing myself.
If I wanted to be free I had to take it. I had to fight for it.
I was reading a very brilliant article today by journalist Terrance Craft on the male Romper craze (which caused a huge brouhaha on social media) which led to a more serious discussion on toxic black masculinity in the African American community (here is the LINK.). Reading the article nearly brought tears to my eyes. Retrospectively, I cannot believe I was ever that person but yet I remember being that guy so clearly.
The irony is that I never truly hid anything. Everyone knew that I was a gay man and the more I tried to fit into the confines of prescribed black masculine sensibility the more obvious that fact was. Yet, I was threatened with physical violence, ostracization, and every other manner of terrorism (and I do mean terrorism. This is emotional terrorism) if I ever did make the decision to come out and be my truest self. My adolescence was a nightmare for me. Confusion, doubt, shame, and fear were my collective bane.
It wasn’t until I came out (first to myself and then to everyone else) that I truly began to know freedom, the freedom that I had longed for my entire life.
Now I’m finally able to be: fun, flirty, sassy, and openly talk about all of the boys that I like with my friends, in addition to exploring myself sexually with those same boys that I like. My favorite color is Magenta (and lavender) and I like to wear it occasionally (sometimes in floral patterns). I love to moisturize, wear nice fragrant scents, and everything else associated with being “Too feminine” or a “sissy.” Someday, I wanna grow my hair out and wear a flower in it. I vacillate between the masculine and feminine and it makes me the wonderful man that I am now. But I often wonder about the little boy that I could have been had I just been allowed to be free?
Black folks stop abusing our black boys. Stop terrorizing your sons in order to assuage your internalized homophobia. Please let our boys and men be our beautiful selves be we: straight, gay, transgender, or what the fuck ever.
This was on my heart and I just had to write it.