conforming. . .contradictions. . .reflections. . .and survival

Illustration by Bruce Nugent

As some of you know I currently live in San Francisco, I’m originally from Washington DC. Coming from the ghettos of DC to live in the very capitalist, very liberal, very racist, very sexist city of San Francisco has been a very interesting experience. I have seen myself develop and change in many ways and noticed strange urges and thoughts come and go through my mind in my time here.

I grew up all over DC because my family was very poor so we were constantly moving from hood to hood. That’s why I often list different hoods in DC that I say I’m from. In any case, I was always in the hood and one thing that became very clear to me at a very young age was the way in which I was supposed to behave as a young male, especially as a young Black male. Naturally, I am timid, and very gender neutral in my opinion. I say this meaning that I am not very effeminate or masculine. However, when I was growing up, my lack of masculinity was perceived as feminine. Since I refused to play with the boys, talk like the boys, and walk like the boys I had to be a sissy. I hung out with girls as much as possible because they were more accepting of me but ultimately there are limits in male/ female friendships even at younger ages. So I became in a way anti-social and began to develop those habits. I knew that I was queer before I knew what words existed to describe it. I remember distinctly wanting to have sex with my best friend, who was a male, in 2nd grade and I also knew that it was not something everyone else need to know about, I knew it wasn’t something normal. As I grew an I learned what “gay” was and what I was I began to despise effeminate boys, both out of self hatred and envy. I hated who I was and envied their ability to be so open. I envied the way in which they challenged the gender binaries without any kind of hesitation, know good and well that when they stepped out of the house it would most likely mean conflict, physical and emotional. Naturally I wasn’t very effeminate and felt lucky that my natural self didn’t lend it self to the social taunting that came along with it but I also began to feel as though I was deficient in someway. And like before with the development of anti-social behaviour, I began to act out, subconsciously being guided by a need to purge myself of the contradictions, and consciously guided by a need to please the Christian leadership of my after school program, of which I was a part for my entire life since the age of 5. The climax of all of this being my divorcing of the queer friends I had in school at the time. The part of me that needed to strongly to belong to the church demanded that these connections be severed, out of the fear of being lost in the world and void of love from God. The part of me that envied their flamboyance and hated it at the same time felt sated, albeit temporarily. I could be alone now to think and purge. I could be at temporary peace now that the outside representations of my Waring self were partially gone. I felt a small sense of joy, confused and lost, but still some sad glimmer of joy. I suppose these warring parts of me have always driven me to be very distant from people, for fear of not being accepted because I have yet to accept myself. I suspect this to be one of the chief reasons behind the aloof nature, which until recently has dominated my friendships.

In any case I came to San Francisco queer, but not too sure of what that meant for me, I am still not but 5 years ago it was worse. Immediately I was hit with an onslaught of images and ideas about what queer was and how it should manifest in society. However, contrary to prior years, this time I began to try and absorb it all. I found my self trying to emulate the “snap queens” that I would outwardly despise and quietly envy in the past. It felt strange, temporarily liberating, but alien at the same time. It wasn’t me but I so desperately wanted it to be. I felt lost because for years I had smothered and repressed instead of building and shaping. I was lost. I was scared and twisted from years of battling and conforming to social norms, from years of trying to find some kind of acceptance, some kind of family that would help me escape poverty, addiction, & abuse. I have seen and found that I am not the only person left scarred by this society. We are all walking wounded. For all of us, but particularly people who are Black and queer there is sometimes a difficulty in defining and finding self because of what is expected and projected on us by society. The historical development of the Black community in this country has left our concepts of gender and sexuality limited. The ways in which the white supremacist, capitalist society has exploited, policed, commoditized, and objectified our sexuality has left us sensitive and almost distrusting of it, in my opinion. While our concepts of what it means to be male and female, while influenced by the over all patriarchy, sexism and homophobia of the culture, have been twisted into stereotypes that are violently re-enforced. All the while the pressure of the oppression we face under capitalism and racism forces us to turn on one another in destructive ways. All of this, limiting healthy growth and self discovery. It exist everywhere, because the system of Capitalism and the social relations it manifest in people can do nothing but divide destructively, but it is magnified in the Black community.

It was in the early years of college that I lost myself, as most do during this time, trying to build anew. I was being confronted with so much at once. I sprang into my new life, hoping to find family, and instead learning that all parts of society are interconnected and no part is immune from the ills that affect us all. Being queer and Black, and coming to the realization of the double alienation is akin to being pushed from the proverbial nest. The gay community which I had romanticized and dreamed about joining once I escaped DC was not what I imagined. I found hatred and racism. I found myself lost again surrounded by men who saw me as flesh, frightened and enticed by me at the same time, wanting to kill and bed me at the same time. San Francisco is not the mecca of homosexuals it is proclaimed to be if you are not a white male. Prior to this I had grown up in an all Black neighborhood (for those unfamiliar with DC it is very possible to go on for most of your day without seeing someone of another ethnicity. You have to consciously go out of your way.) This pain was new, strange and new. I dealt as I always did, by retreating into myself. Don’t get me wrong, I was among friends, I was developing a friend circle of queer people of different ethnicities but I felt isolated still in the sense that I was the only “Black” one. My attempts to connect with Black people on campus had failed tremendously. After attending one session of our campuses BSU men’s meeting and being utterly turned off by the patriarchy. Black men talking about how real Black men helped to spread the seed and strengthen the race was not something that I needed to hear, I did not need to be apart of the rampant sexism reinforced but high fives. I felt othered amongst the Black population, which at this time was mostly made up of Nationalists and didn’t look too kindly on my rainbow coalition of friends. Determined not to scare off my friends I kept the internal angst to myself, choosing instead to be a listener of other’s problems.

I suppose that I developed the habit of repressing and self negation as a defense to my external conditions as a youth and my intense longing to be apart of something. I thought it better at times to continue these tendencies in order to be apart of something and also because of the loneliness I felt, because the isolation I felt, not just as a queer Black child but as one who grew up in an atmosphere dominated by drugs and abuse. I have always longed to escape and find my “true home”.

That was 5 years ago. Many habits have changed while some still remain. The reason I am writing this more personal blog entry is partially apart of an excercise of letting go of baggage and accepting that it for what it was. It is important for me to look at the past, understand it and do my best to use my experience to help others. As someone who plans on dedicating their life to changing this miserable condition we are all in, things like this are of chief importance. I can see the ways in which the false masculinity, and patriarchy forced upon Black men combined with the experience of growing up in the drug infested ghettos, that cripple the Black community, have effected me. I know that this is a similar and shared experience. It is a dangerous one and teamed with the larger system of white supremacy under capitalism it threatens to destroy scores of queer Blacks that are in search of a place called home.

4 thoughts on “conforming. . .contradictions. . .reflections. . .and survival

  1. I feel like I wrote this right out of my own life. Thank you for sharing your story. I have been having to deal with the fact that american narratives were not written with my growth existence and health in mind. Like you said, San Francisco isn’t a mecca for me, but it is still known as the gay capital. When people ask me if I have ever been to the Lexington, they are shocked to hear that I haven’t and have no desire to.

    Our survival is dependent on creating community. Thich Nhat Hanh talks about how “the subject of knowledge cannot exist independently from the object of knowledge. To see is to see something. To hear is to hear something…Hope is hope for something…” Our existence depends on being able to connect with others like us. We see ourselves through our reflection. Personally, I have been lonely for another socially and spiritually conscious Black boi in my life. We are all looking for a place called home, a place to be known, understood…safe. While I appreciate what my friends provide for me, my heart get’s heavy thinking about the history of homelessness and displacement the blood in my veins knows.

    I know one thing, though: there are youth coming up behind us. And I’ll be damned if they have to walk alone the same way I did, and most days, still do. I can go on and on (a testament to the greatness of your writing 🙂 but, thanks again for writing, and stay Black!

  2. I love this. critical self reflections is essential in the work that you hope to engage, but in my opinion should be a chief priority/cornerstone of all people’s ness. For me, to question, to interrogate, to analyze is an act with revolutionary implications. To learn to ask the right questions of one’s self and of others can incite pontification, which can ultimately help understand and change embodied racist, sexist, ablest, classest, patriarchal, etc. ideology.

    There is so much substance and power in the words on this page that I can’t even begin to address all the many feelings, thoughts, and “desires to” that arose. One thing that I will say is that life looks very different at different stages…and the reasons that have us bound one day will function as the tools to lead people into deeper critical engagement and liberation. “This thing” is a life long pursuit, with many many implications, and the ingredients that go into creating a prolific and poignant social change agent.

    -In Fellowship,
    Ayo

  3. The historical development of the Black community in this country has left our concepts of gender and sexuality limited. The ways in which the white supremacist, capitalist society has exploited, policed, commoditized, and objectified our sexuality has left us sensitive and almost distrusting of it, in my opinion. While our concepts of what it means to be male and female, while influenced by the over all patriarchy, sexism and homophobia of the culture, have been twisted into stereotypes that are violently re-enforced. All the while the pressure of the oppression we face under capitalism and racism forces us to turn on one another in destructive ways. All of this, limiting healthy growth and self discovery. It exist everywhere, because the system of Capitalism and the social relations is manifest in people can do nothing but divide destructively, but it is magnified in the Black community.

    — beautifully written and true.

    I was scared and twisted from years of battling and conforming to social norms, from years of trying to find some kind of acceptance, some kind of family that would help me escape poverty, addiction, & abuse.

    — you are home, I mean it! Me and Moshi are your family! I love you very much. This piece hurt my heart a lot and made me want to cry so that means it was good. Mostly because its so honest. I forget sometimes how much trauma you have been through. I forget that you were a freshman in SF and gay and black and the rest of it. That must have been sooo incredibly hard. I can’t imagine! I don’t like to imagine. It makes me sad. I forget you have been through as much as you have because you are such an incredibly good person, and such a principled person. Not many people who are hurt so much are able to retain their tenderness. That’s something to be proud of.

    – A & M

  4. Powerful stuff. Reminds me of Baldwin’s account of his youth in the Black church. On one hand it’s sad that these oppressions endure through generations; on another hand it’s relieving to know we’re not the first ones to face them. As you say beautifully, “We are all walking wounded.”

    I was reading a book on queer dharma today, and a poet and practitioner was saying how he wished for particular teachings to emerge for the benefit of gay and lesbian people, whose suffering around sexuality is doubled: both the suffering of grasping desire that everyone endures, and the suffering of being told that our particular desires are sinful.

    When people speak in dhammic terms about transforming spears into flowers, or harm and pain into wisdom, I think about the potential for queer black revolutionaries to convert the tremendous depth of their suffering into infinite compassion for themselves and all beings. Seems like you are well on your way. Thank you for sharing these reflections.

    love,

    katie

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