Being Black, queer, & hopeful for our future

Finding my identity and breaking stereotypes

For Trevell, one of the greatest challenges has been reconciling his Blackness with his sexual orientation.

I found it difficult to connect with other men during high school because I didn’t feel masculine enough to fit in, even when we shared similar interests. Nonetheless, I was still able to make some male friends and I’d like to imagine we had fairly decent relationships.

But I faced a significant issue when trying to relate to Black men. 

There’s an excessive number of depictions of Black men within the media, our own community, and in neighbouring communities, as individuals who are overly masculine, have a natural capacity to excel at sports—particularly basketball and football—and who dress in a certain manner. 

These qualities failed to align with my own personal identity. Besides being awfully mediocre at certain sports, I wasn’t particularly masculine, and neither was my clothing style. I was the opposite of the caricature. 

The crux of the issue was many of the Black men I encountered failed to identify themselves outside of this rigid box of masculinity—dressing a certain way, playing sports, and being sexually dominant. 

To them, being a Black male was synonymous with adhering to this depiction. In many cases, I believed so too. This ultimately led to a myriad of issues concerning my own identity as a Black man and what that meant, if anything at all. But this doesn’t mean I stood on a moral high ground where I superseded the confines of race and the stereotypes that emerge from it. 

On the contrary, I constantly felt the effects of my race growing up, but I most prominently felt them when interacting with other Black men. I was unable to connect with most of them, sometimes leading me to imitate their actions and styles of dressing to more easily fit in.

I constantly felt the effects of my race growing up, but I most prominently felt them when interacting with other Black men.

At the same time, I felt I needed to engage in discussions with them about negative media portrayals and the ways they sometimes became real life manifestations of those portrayals. 

I didn’t see myself in my Black male peers, but I also failed to see myself anywhere else in the media. In cases where I saw gay men, they were usually white. When I saw characters with interests similar to mine, like watching anime, writing for fun, and jamming to The Smiths, they were never Black.

I began to believe this stereotype about Black men, and I even began to detest those who fit into it.

Eventually, I realized it was misguided wishing to confront these men about their stereotypical actions. While there were cases where the Black men I interacted with held similarities to the tropes in television and movies, it was also true that there was—and still is—an important distinction to be made between people and portrayals.

Black men are real people within the world who possess multifaceted personalities, identities, backgrounds, and interests. Portrayals only abstract an individual without accounting for the realities of having a lived experience.

And, like every Black man has his own experience, I have mine. As I explore my own personal identity, I often come to realize that one of the greatest challenges I’ve faced thus far has been trying to reconcile my Blackness with my sexual orientation. 

Often, I’m concerned about which identity to give priority to. Sometimes, in conversation, I’ll disclose my sexuality to others, either immediately or progressively without discussing my race. Other times, I speak mostly about my Blackness with little regard to my sexual orientation. I’ve tried to distinguish my Blackness from my sexuality, as if it were possible.

It’s tremendously difficult to recount my experiences as a Black gay male because I regularly failed to account for the unique ways in which both identities intersect. This includes recognizing the ways this intersection has positioned me within my own community, and the social structures of the world.

But I was approaching these issues in an entirely unproductive manner. I don’t need to grant one identity primacy because distinct parts shaped into one singular form of my identity.

I’m not gay one day and Black another. I am a constant conjunction of both amongst other things, like my seriously unhealthy love for philosophy, that comprise the whole of my identity.

However, on many occasions, I’ve felt excluded from the gay community due to my racial identity. There have also been times I’ve felt excluded from the Black community due to my sexuality. As a result, I regularly found myself bearing feelings of isolation and seclusion. 

However, I’m not the only gay Black person, and I won’t be the last. It’s an experience that needs to be accounted for in comprehensive fashion.

 I’m not the only gay Black person, and I won’t be the last. It’s an experience that needs to be accounted for in comprehensive fashion.

We need to create spaces that Black bodies can occupy, but we also need to construct those spaces in ways that permit the existence of marginalized individuals within our own Black community.

Our social position greatly impacts our experience and serves as our starting point. It helps shape the lens we see the world through while informing how the world sees us. 

Sometimes these lenses keep us from acknowledging the reality of being placed in a different location. Other times, or so I hope, they allow us to recognize that there are subjective experiences people have, experiences which are valid even if we don’t have direct access to them ourselves. 

There’s no singular experience, even for those from the same group. Sometimes, our own communities are where the greatest amount of diversity occurs. 

Even with our individual identities, most groups still have lots of common ground. We all have goals, and sometimes they differ, or even conflict with each other, but one basic goal we all share is the desire to flourish. We all want to grow and succeed, and we want to see our loved ones do the same.

A roadblock to flourishing is a lack of cohesion. If the Black community is to thrive, we must protect those within our community who are most marginalized, and we must do so immediately. 

The only path to success is solidarity, and the only way forward is love and support for our Black brothers, sisters, and everyone in between; love for those who exist within the centre of the fold and love for those who exist along the margins.

Not only must we love those sidelined, we must also bringthem to the forefront of our movements and vindicate their realities.

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