“Shine a light through an open door/love and life I will divide/turn away cause I need you more/feel your heart beat in my mind…”
It hurts to be disappointed. It hurts to hurl your expectations onto a time, place, or person and watch as those projections disintegrate before you, leaving behind the full, naked, nuanced truth. Even though I know that “expectations are resentments under construction*,” I have found myself still harboring them, still longing for someone(s) to be that which I can only, really be to myself. I have found myself doing this with black queer men more than any other group. There is something about someone who shares your face, your identity, and many facets of your experience that makes it easier to obscure their individuality and subconsciously inscribe onto them your private judgments and unrequited desires.
I have gone through a time when I really wanted—and thought I needed—a group of black queer men to be something to me. I longed for a space where I did not have to verbalize, but just feel. A space that could mirror the communities I had seen and admired (and as someone who can only exist at the periphery of them, eroticized) among queer and lesbian feminist women of color. From my vantage point, those communities seemed to be more adept at holding the nuances of human behavior, the dichotomies of desire, friendship, and betrayal while still maintaining connection. This is not to say that women of color communities were utopias of healing, nor that violence or disconnection did not regularly occur. Goddess knows this is not the case, and I want to be careful in not spreading this idea, as I feel it has helped the continual minimization of violence within these communities. However, it is to say that from where I stood as a queer male looking into queer male dynamics, these spaces appeared to have counter narratives, whether in use or not, that had the potential to be more healing and whole.
In my time engaging in feminist queer men of color spaces, I found that we were often too busy trying to be fierce, read each other or engage in intellectual dick fighting to be of much use to each other emotionally. These combative narratives combined with sexual predatory socialization, intellectual worship, and patriarchal ownership seemed to rule our spaces, too often in the absence of a competing narrative to counter those dynamics. My perception of this led me to participate in many attempts to create feminist-inspired healing communities with queer and gay men.
The first time I tried to be part of the creation of such a group was in Atlanta. Though we were not all black, this was the first space where I found camaraderie in not just political philosophy, but in mutual support and love. We met and cooked together, wrote together, and shared stories about our lives.
Our group was not without its challenges. Most hurtful among them for me was the choice of one of the members to leave abruptly. In his leaving, he offered us a short email where he said that he wasn’t sure he believed in what we were doing anymore. There was no deeper explanation, and he declined our attempts to create a conversation or learn more about what he meant. His leaving, while clearly a part of personal challenges he was dealing with, created a chasm for some of us. It was not spiteful, but still It reminded us how quickly men—fathers, loved ones, partners—can disconnect and leave us without explanation or accountability. It was in my opinion, a part of a small wound that escalated into other challenges that made it difficult to maintain the collective.
A few years later, I left Atlanta and moved to New York. Looking back, I realize that I left partly because I was looking for black, queer, feminist, male community.
While ATL was not short on black gay men, black men who were feminist, queer, radical, of my generation, and residing in The Bible Belt South were rare. Googly-eyed, I saw the many amazing queer men of color in New York as potential members of the space I longed for. I even expressed with many of those men my desire to create such a community. In my naiveté, I didn’t stop to consider that I was entering a dialogue that predated me. I also didn’t realize that even though we shared similar ideas and political philosophies, those commonalities did not always mean we shared an emotional connection or that we even liked each other. I also quickly learned that the things that had been imbued in us as men— competitions for power and control, sexual exploitation, inherent distrust, and an inability to connect emotionally without ownership—was not easily abdicated. I also learned that though my own ideals were high, I was hardly free from these dynamics.
In respect to black queer men, New York has definitely had its lessons.
One lesson came during a dinner. At this dinner, several black queer men and I talked openly about our fear of being vulnerable with each other. We talked about how we still, as queer men, look to women to be our emotional caretakers and nurturers. Even seeing the inherent sexism in this, we admitted our dread of being emotionally close to each other and of trusting each other. I shared that even though I have close queer male friends, they are not the first people I call in times of crisis. They are instead the people I speak to after the storm has passed. They are the people I call on once I can reflect and discuss the lessons I have learned, not the people I call when I need to cry.
Reflecting on this conversation and many others makes me realize that my past experiences have hardened my heart. I realize how that wounding has led to fear. I know I am afraid of what we are capable of– I know I am afraid of what I am capable of. I am horrified knowing that I can be cut, stabbed, and beaten emotionally without any compassion or remorse. I am horrified at how easy it is to hate each other and how hurriedly we can rush to condemnation. I am frustrated with the lack of emotional courage to express grievances directly. I am scared of being left when it gets too hard, or when it’s not “cute” or “trendy.” I am scared of being used as a token or a trophy to be carried around as a symbol of someone else’s socio-political relevance. I have a lot of fear.
I know releasing my fear means I must forgive. It also means that I have to ask myself: What am I getting from my fear that supports my allegiance to it? How does my fear serve me? The answers are sobering.
I recognize my own addiction to these unhealthy narratives. Believing that no black queer men are emotionally available has helped me to keep a “woe is me” attitude. The belief helped me pretend that it was others who were not available, instead of looking at how I was making myself unavailable to others. I was so busy viewing others through my idealized projections that I wasn’t seeing them for who they were. Just like a stereoptypical Libra, my disappointment came when my image of them no longer could be rationalized through their actions.
Although it’s hard, I know I have to forgive myself for expecting black queer men to be anything other than who they are. I have to forgive the choices they made and have compassion for the consequential trauma and wounds. I have to forgive myself for having unrealistic expectations of me. I have to forgive black queer men for all the times they were absent when I needed them. I have to forgive myself for hurting black queer men. I have to forgive black queer men for hurting me. I have to open my heart, petal by petal, and let out all of the pain. I must pull back all of the projections, and see the world as it is, not how I wish it would be…..
A long time ago, I made a ridiculous promise to myself. I promised myself that no black gay/queer friend of mine would pass away the way Joseph Beam reportedly did. I told myself I would work tirelessly to try to create a community where no black queer person could rot away and never be missed or decay and never be called. I told myself that only a feminist and womanist inspired black queer community could make such a reality possible.
Now at a crossroads, I recognize the implausibility of such a reality coming into being any time soon. I know that while we can write grants, papers, and establish non-profits to try to save our lives, learning to be consistently tender with each other, transforming our emotional narratives, and taking care of each other is another task entirely. I know my own limitations and I have serious questions about how committed we are to our patriarchal emotional norms. I am skeptical and unsure if our programming will always undermine our potential.
What I can say is that even in my own pain, I have hope. I know that we are loving each other everyday in the best way we know how. I trust that we all will continue to grow in love with each other everyday. Even when things get hard. Even when things in this world and with each other seem hopeless. I know we can and will continue to find love in all its forms. I know I will continue to try to keep my heart open. I hope we all will. Not just for ourselves, but for Joseph.
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*As stated by Author Anne Lamott
© Copyright Yolo Akili Robinson 2012