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.