December 31, 2011

I'ma be me Gay vs. Black

Happy News Years Eve everyone!

I recently had a conversation with another black queer student at Duke, and it caused me to ponder a question that I had never thought about before, but yet was always there. He was explaining to me why he doesn't feel as comfortable in the gay community, as he does in the black community. He is very active in the Mary Luo center for black culture, but I don’t think he has ever set foot in the LGBT center. For me I’m almost the exact opposite. I feel much more comfortable within the queer community than I do the black community, and I frequent the LGBT center regularly, while I can count on one hand the times I’ve been to the Mary Lou.

So the question is why? Why do I associate with one part of my identify so much more than the other? I find it particularly interesting because 1. My Blackness is visible unlike my gayness, and 2. I was raised black, while I have only recently learned what it means to be gay.

I think one reason I’m more involved with the gay community is because I feel that it is harder to be gay than black. As the black lesbian comedian Wanda Sykes put it “ it’s harder to be gay than black, because you don’t have to come out as black”. When I was having this conversation with my black queer friend I told him that I feel the LGBT community needs my support more. The constant attack on the LGBT community by conservative politicians and religious leaders has help shape my self-identification. My Grandparents had to struggle for their rights as African Americans, and now I have to fight for many of my rights as a Gay American. In my home state of North Carolina I can’t get married, give blood, and I don’t have protection from work place discrimination. These things stem from the fact that I am gay, not because I’m black. The fact that more people have a problem with my gayness is one reason I identify more with it. This may seem Kinda odd but it’s one of the ways I’ve learned to empower myself…. or maybe it’s just me trying to be controversial and tick off homophobes (my friends often accuse me of being purposefully controversial) but either way it works for me.

Another reason I think I identify more as a gay man is because of the guilt I still harbor for not coming out sooner. Sometimes I wonder if I am trying to make up for lost time. Whether right or wrong I do feel that I owe something to the gay part of myself for the 19 years I spent living in shame of it.

With all of that said, I still whole heartily embrace and celebrate my African American identity. I am proud to be black, and I m proud to be gay. Both shape who I am, and the way I live my life. Truth be told, I think that my identification as a gay man needs more attention at this part of my life. I’m still learning what it means to live my life openly and proudly as a gay man, and so to a certain extent one part of me is playing catch up with the other. It is my goal to one day find a balance between the to largest components of my identity, but for now I think it is ok if I pay a little more attention to a part of myself that I have neglected for way to long.


  1. Denzell! I am so excited that you wrote about this-awesome! I really liked your last paragraph-that since you came out in college, you feel like now one identity is playing "catch up" with the other one.

    But ahhhh I love reading about identity intersection on the blog. Thanks for writing this!

  2. I'm also a part of the "go to the LGBT Center more than the Mary Lou" crowd. I feel pretty bad about it, but I look at my actions and realize that I'm comfortable and happy with being black, and don't need support for that because I've had my entire life to experience all of the hardships and wonderful moments that are directly related to my race. On the other hand, that's not the case with being queer.

    Excellent post, Denzell.

  3. One of the things I really don't like about duke is how all of the black kids are expected to "act black" and be all about the black culture etc etc...thank God for people like you Denzell!

  4. I really enjoyed reading this post, Denzell; thank you!! To the author of the comment above me, could you elaborate a little bit more on what you mean in your observation of black culture on campus? Do you mean that embracing black culture seems to require blacks on campus to act in a hetero-normative way?

  5. Ditto to all of this post and Ebony Way's comment! I've struggled about the same thing before. I think I rationalized it out the way Ebony Way put it. People look for support and community in the areas they need it. I feel very strong about my black identity. My gay identity, however, is a totally different story. Amazing post, Denzell!

    To anon 12:16,

    I can't speak for anonymous commenter 5:00, but I can say that from my experiences it seems as though you have to be totally immersed in all things black to be accepted as a member of the black community here. I was once asked by another black student if I knew certain other black students. I did not and that person told me that I must not be really black because all the other black people knew them. From my time here, I've gotten this sense that you have to hang predominantly around black people, know who's who in each NPHC organization, and stay up to date on current black culture. If you don't, then you're not really considered a part of black culture as a whole on campus. On the other hand, I still have a lot of black friends on campus so it's not to say that you get shunned from the black community. I just had to learn to stay strong and be proud of who I am and not change because some people think I don't "act black" (whatever that means)(It also doesn't help that I joined a predominantly white fraternity. I've actually been called a traitor to the black community for that one).

    I would say that acting in heteronormative manners is a part of the black culture. The combination of the words that Denzell so admirably proclaims, gay and black, aren't so widely accepted in black culture. Black culture's rejection of all things LGBT kinda forces a heteronormative culture, in my opinion.

  6. Aanon@ 12:16

    Aj hit it right on the head. Everything that he said is exactly what irritates me about most of the black culture at duke. I just grew up without race mattering that much so the pressure to act black is really offputtin for me

    -anon @ 5