It feels good to be validated, you know? It feels good to feel like we matter, like we’re a part of something important. I felt that way back in undergrad when I first watched Patrik-Ian Polk’s “Noah’s Arc”. There were people who sort of looked like me, and sort of used the same language I did on this television show that I could sort of identify with- so I ran with it. I praised it and had viewing parties with my roommate in our tiny kitchen in our apartment in southern Connecticut. As time went on and I grew wiser, I realized that this wasn’t my story or a story that was realistic; it was a fantasy or an abstract interpretation of who we are. This brings us here: developing a more nuanced black gay narrative in the space and grand scheme of conventional media and amplifying the voices of those who are telling and crafting this narrative.
In a conversation I had with a friend, he spoke to me about how black gay men who are in positions to create and distribute our narrative to a wider audience for acceptance aren’t doing their due diligence to our community. He posited that we who have platforms, and the people who listen, should push to be premier examples of black gay men and not the trite, hyper-sexed, vapid, monsters that seems to be our M.O. in mainstream media. I immediately thought back to the words my Oklahoma-bred grandmother gave me when I was a teenager; “Just cuz we skinfolk ain’t mean we kinfolk.”
At times folks in marginalized communities (such as the black LGBT community) look for those who will represent us on a national stage in hopes to evoke change in the community. Rarely do we think in our haste and thirst just how damaging that could potentially be. A prime example of this was when Don Lemon announced that he was gay. A bunch of black gays fired up their keyboards and wrote at length of how this was monumental for us, and thanked him for doing so. Interestingly enough, a few months later, Don Lemon has become the polar opposite of what those people (who I lovingly call WordPress Warriors) hoped and wanted him to be: socially irresponsible and out-of-touch with not only blacks, but us black gays too. And it’s not just Lemon, it’s a whole list of people who we feel like we’re supposed to look to for that beacon of hope that just don’t seem to want anything to do with us or have no connection (read: any fucking clue) to who we truly are.
Are these the people we want to tell our stories? Could they even tell our stories if they tried?
Narrative is important. Narrative is our story, our historical record, our progression, our hurt, and our resilience. It’s what’s necessary to change attitudes for a better tomorrow. I’m simply not sure that those who are prominent fixtures in black gay media are able to create the proper narrative to facilitate change. And, to their credit, it’s not up to them to do it. It’s a lesson for us to tell the stories we want to be told, and to paraphrase Gandhi, be the change we wish to see.
Writer Alex Hardy, a dear friend of mine, wrote over at EBONY.com about how black gay men are portrayed as hurt individuals that have to rise above adversity through the usual things people assume from us like HIV/AIDS, intolerant parents, etc. He called for black gay creatives to focus on making content out of that lens, because we’ve beaten that dead horse already. As painful as it is to compare us to our mainstream counterparts (read: white people), why can’t we have a black gay sitcom that doesn’t just focus on the hyper-sexuality, HIV/AIDS, or a scene from a vogue battle? Where is our black gay or lesbian Olivia Pope, “Friends” or even “Seinfeld”?
For us to portray the accurate narrative that will change and bring about the respect, tolerance, and acceptance that we’re all longing for is to create us as normal ass people. Simply because that’s who we are: real people, and not caricatures of what people assume we are. From the banalities of our everyday life to the common issues of career, love, and friendship that transcends categorization/otherization of our stories, our narrative needs to be developed and cultivated by all of us who are in tune with what’s really going on. Instead of us waiting for others, we need to be creating for ourselves.