“Am I dealing with a demon of homosexuality?” My dad, a black pastor, weighing in at about 220 pounds scolded me, when I was just 11 years old. I was a frail boy, weighing barely 100lbs, and I was terrified at this line of questioning, coming from a man of his stature. He’d just finished interrogating me in front of my mom in the basement, while pulling up all the “gay porn” tabs in the computer history. I was embarrassed in front of them both, and also angry watching my mom cry. She cried as though she were somehow hurt from this finding. It was my life on the line, my reputation, my next days which were forever uncertain… but she cried. Her tears felt like an attack on me; begging for my dad’s fury to peak. As her crocodile tears fell, my dad fury was incensed.
Having something to prove to my mom about his masculinity, my dad decided against parenting me in that moment. I didn’t get questions and answers, or any education regarding sex, porn or puberty. He screamed “What is this?!” I made up a lie about mis-typing in “gray man”, as to see if such existed between a “black man” and “white man”. I feel like he almost bought it, but then realized the different dates and elongated time stamps of the computer’s “gay porn” history. Sick of my mom’s tears and my lies, he grabbed my arm and threw me towards to staircase, “You’re a liar! Get upstairs!” I could feel his hand on my back, rushing me up the stairs, infuriated. I didn’t know what was to come and honestly questioned how bad this beating would be.
Any black child can attest to the regularity of spankings; which no doubt are derived from our history of slavery. My dad commanded me to remove my pajama pants, until nothing but thin underwear lay between me and the leather belt he wrapped tightly around his hand. He grabbed my arm, and lifted it above my head, as to hoist me into a vulnerable position, where I couldn’t block the beatings. He hit the belt hard across my bare thighs and legs. However painful the sting of the whippings were, I couldn’t feel a thing. He pushed me onto the floor because for the first time I wasn’t even running or trying to block the belt. That’s when he asked me: “Am I dealing with a demon of homosexuality?”
Embarrassed and ashamed of myself, I responded a firm “no sir”. He said nothing more and slammed my bedroom door shut as he left. I didn’t sleep at all that night. I found no comfort to do so. I stayed there on the ground, in fear that my dad might return, rip from my bed for more questioning or maybe just a better beating. Internally I was torn. I was so afraid that this part of me had been found out. I curled up on my bedroom floor and cried silently. I remember crawling over to the window, looking up at the moon and pleading with God, “Why me? Please. I’ll do anything for this thing to go away.” I wanted to be straight.
If it weren’t hard enough being a young black man in America, being gay was pushing me into the realm of impossibility. I grew up with my dad and older brother, and now even amidst them, I felt like an alien; a stranger in my own black male body because my affections were different. No one in the family murmured a word to me for the rest of the week. No one asked if I was ok. No one checked on me. I just walked to and from home and school, to eat and then back to my bedroom in silence. Sometime that weekend, early in the morning, my dad summoned me downstairs to testify about sexual abuse I endured as a kid. My brother, I think feeling bad for me, told my dad that I had been molested by an older boy named Maurice. Maurice was 18 and I was just 5 at the time. My dad associated the loss of my innocence with this encounter, which he believed caused me confusion during my developmental sexuality.
I knew he was wrong though, and I hated that he’d even come to know about what happened with Maurice. However wrong and disgusting Maurice was for having touched me at a young age, my being gay was just… me. I knew when I was in pre-k, and met a blond hair boy name Billy. He was my first kiss, behind the puppet stand. It was innocent. Nothing more, nothing less. We thought each other beautiful and so we expressed ourselves as couples did in the Disney movies. I didn’t realize that we had got the gender wrong.
Catwoman: How a queer black boy attempts identity in powerful feminity.
It wasn’t until later that I would learn that boys could only like girls, in vice versa. I remember this playing with my favorite Catwoman action figure as a kid. I carried it with me everywhere faithfully. Michelle Pfeiffer was the most bas ass villain I’d ever seen, and I wanted to be just like her from the Batman Returns movie. I still remember clinching her in my hand at night before falling asleep, but when I woke up she was gone. My favorite Catwoman action figure. I searched beneath my bed, and under pillows. Ripped apart the whole room and checked in every pocket of my clothes. I asked my dad and my brother, what had happened to her, but nothing. I felt deep down in my soul that my dad had taken the action figure away from me, and likely disposed of it. I was heartbroken.
Action figures were everything as a kid. We emulated our favorite characters from those things, and got to pretend exactly what we’d do and be in strenuous situations. I didn’t like the loud, buff and arrogant male characters. I saw strength and bravery in Catwoman’s sharp and simultaneously sexy movements. She fought with a cunning that was sleek, and almost caused the aggressors to fight against themselves. Her whip captured their violent movements, and she targeted it back into them. In many scenes, she protected other women, and talked them out of being damsels in distress. She was amazing. She was an embodiment of feminist theory. And now, she was gone.
Later on, a few summers after, my brother and I favorited the superhero series, Power Rangers. It was our favorite. We went to watch every movie. Some specials movie though were only for rent or sale, via VHS. Our parents would take us to Blockbuster to rent the tapes. My older brother, god-brother Darren and I took turns picking which color Power Ranger we’d select for movie-viewing. They always picked the “white ranger”, “green ranger”, “blue ranger”, “red ranger”, and my dad usually always let them get away with it. This time though, my god-mom, Ms. Venus took us to select the movie, and it was decided in the car that it was my turn to pick. I picked the “Pink Ranger”. My brother and god-brother both started to throw a fit, and exclaim about how they didn’t “wanna see no girl movie”.
I was embarrassed. I didn’t realize until then, that I’d done something wrong. Ms. Venus defended me, “No. If this is the movie Micah wants to see then we’re see it. Hush up about it.” She scolded them both and pursed her lip at my god-brother, Darren, so he knew not to make another sound. We got home and I watched my movie. I marveled at the Pink Ranger, kicking ass and taking names. My brothers were made to sit there with me, but as soon as my god-mom left the room Darren would try and distract my brother with a snarky remark or playful joke, so they wouldn’t have to pay attention. I didn’t care. This was one of the few moments I got to chose myself, and my own media. The Pink Ranger was the closest bit of reflection that I could find to me.
In later years, I recall the little queer things I’d do, like fulfilling a dare to shake my butt on stage after reciting a presidents’ memorization song at church. The coordinator thought it was so bold of me to do. Luckily for me, at just age 7 or 8, everyone laughed and it wasn’t taken too seriously. I do think my dad was embarrassed though. At the same church, a lady by the name of Coach Ann would become my mentor, and sort of help my dad out by keeping my brother and I busy during the summer months. She did what she could to counsel me, and teach me to use sports as an outlet. I played basketball, and learned to manage my attitude. Looking back, I think she knew I was gay and wanted me to be ok. She stayed close to me, and checked on me and my mental well-being in a way that no one else would.
My days of secretly entertaining my friends were over. I used to tie cotton sheets around my neck and waist, and wisps them around like a skirt and cape. Every now and then, when I really wanted a laugh out of folks, I’d tie a pillow case on my head, to resemble the movement of hair, and tie a sheet around little chest, to mimic a gown. I’d strut around and give commands, or sing Celine Dion songs. When my dad bursts thru the bedroom door though, I’d disappear into the closet to stealthily disrobe. My friends knew to distract him also. Kids, at heart, are good and kind. In their own way my friends protected me.
Fight for Your Life: How violence and sexual harassment have shaped black masculinity.
My god-brother, Darren, often picked on me for liking “girly” things. We grew up together and he was a year older than me, so he felt comfortable teasing me. He commonly called me “fag”, ”fairy”, and “gay” to provoke me. We were brothers (at least supposed to be) and so there was no escape. If I ignored him, he’d get louder with the remarks and embarrass me more publicly. If I rolled my eyes, that was “gay”. If I complained about the teasing, he and every other guy around me would say “stop whining”, because apparently that verbal protesting was also “gay”. I couldn’t escape.
When my god-mom started dating a new guy, Vic, he’d encourage Darren and I to fight. It always started as a play fight, that I hadn’t wanted to be in. I’d rather not have anyone touch my face in slap-boxing, or strain my frail body in wrestling. Every now and then, I’d win and Darren would get mad and start to hit me for real. Vic thought it all comical. He’d tell Darren to relax and call him a “punk”, and other times to “man-up”. When Darren came at me angrily, his eyes held the same fury that I’d later see in my dad’s eyes, when I was 11, and got caught watching gay porn. That fury was a fierceness that would physically harm me in order to assert it’s own hetero-masculinity. Hyper-masculinity targeted violence at my queerness, as though threatened by my mere existence.
This became a common theme throughout my pre-teen years. I was bullied in a middle school I attended in Delaware. Many of the kids bragged about being permanently expelled from schools in surrounding states, like Pennsylvania and New York. Gauger-Cobbs middle school was rough, and it had no windows. Rumor had it , that it was originally built to be a women’s correctional facility, before the need for our school was recognized. There were several fights every single day, and needless to say I was commonly terrified. Puberty had just hit, and some of the kids were gaining in size. The guys were getting thicker, and they’d knock each other thru the plaster of the walls when they fought. The girls were just developing butt and breasts, and they’d fight to defend themselves against body-shaming and slut-shaming. It was rough.
In this school setting is where I learned to hide. I almost naturally befriended the popular girls, because I was able to look at them normally and talk to them about anything comfortably. Girls weren’t sexualized in my eyes. In this period of my life, I befriended a few other corky but cool guys, who also were adamant about not fighting. However, here is also the time I learned my distinct distaste for pseudo and hyper-masculinity. Every now and again I was cornered and pressed about whether or not I had sexual relations with any of the many girls I hung out with regularly. I was often teased about whether or not I could fight. This became the theme for black masculinity: “Are you fucking?” and “Can you fight?”
This school is the same one I attended when my parents found out I was gay, via gay porn on the computer. I was ostracized at home, and made to quote the same 2 scriptures to my dad daily: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. (Leviticus 18:22)” “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them. (Leviticus 20:13)” My dad would have me read these scriptures and others about Sodom and Gommorah’s “sexual immorality”. He’d sit me down and ask me what the scriptures meant to me, as though to scare me with threats of hell.
I’d then leave home and feel trapped in the hallways of school by other bullies, who’d threaten me with violence if I didn’t hide well enough. Lunch hour was always the worst: I’d have to walk thru the cafeteria to a table and random groups of kids would watch me, and laugh at the way I walk. I eventually started going to lunch in the arts/ home-ed lab, with a teacher who would let me sit there, with a promise I wouldn’t be any trouble.
Eventually some of my cool, also corky, friends would join me for lunch regularly in that lab. Khalil, Markevis, Stephanie and Amina were my tribe. Every now and then it came up that they knew I was gay, but they didn’t care to shun me for it. I think we each had our own struggles, and found one another for solace and solidarity. We were safe together, kind to one another, and free from the pressures of violence and sexual harassment altogether. I’ll never forget that small group of friends, because without them, I don’t know that I would have survived those years. I was however so elated when I finally moved out of there, and onto school in New York. Starting in New York, I was at least able to escape being bullied at school.
My Gay Family. “The Sinceres”
Fast forward from childhood and adolescence, to adult years, I was disowned from home when my dad found out I was gay. Ironically my older brother called me for counsel, after he got his girl friend pregnant at a young age. I reassured him that everything would be ok, and that I’d be there for him. He then asked me, “How you doing with that thing?” It was code. I knew he was asking about my being gay. I revealed to him that I was actually happily living with and loving my very first boyfriend. In just the first summer out of grade school, at 18 years old, I was living in a dorm room with my first ever boyfriend at Clark Atlanta University.
I had escaped. My brother didn’t know how to take what I was saying. As soon as he and I hung up the phone from having confided in one another, he called and told my dad, and I was immediately disowned. My dad called me minutes later and told me to never come home until the demon in me was gone. He said he’d tell the rest of the family, so no one would help me. He sent me an email, detailing how I’d catch AIDs and die if I did not turn my life around. In it, he said he’d rather have dead son than one living in sin.
I found myself free from his tyranny, but somehow broken once again. All the trauma from my young years informed me of how to hide being gay for most of my life. But now I was outed and experiencing a painful cutting off, which exalted a new form of strife. I cried so much that night, and plummeted into depression.
It took many of painful experience, during those years to reaffirm myself of worthiness. Being disowned from the family made me feel unworthy of peace, comfort and love. I felt to blame for every ounce of turmoil that accommodated homelessness at 18 years old. My gay family embraced me and sheltered me as best they could. They did the work to encourage me thru those tough years, when the world I grew up with turned its back on me.
Queer people of color are who reminded me that I was so much more than my sexuality. They highlighted my character, ambitions, and helped me to achieve my goals of college, by keeping a roof over my head and food on the table. My gay family asked for nothing in return, but that I be my best self. “The Sinceres” were the chosen last name of this beautiful gay family. I am forever indebted to those gay men and trans-women. They took me to and from work, wiped my tears at night, uplifted me out of depression and actualized my dreams of feeling safe and free.
A Daily Struggle Against Toxic Masculinity
Those years are now far behind me. My dad and I have healed, but my fight with toxic black masculinity is still a daily feat. I wake up each morning and actively chose environments where little to no straight men will be. Their fear of my differences presents itself in threatening manners, and I don’t like to fight. I like to be kind, cool, comical and cordial, and live in peace. The idea of physical harm still haunts me.
Most recently I was confronted with it at work. My day job is a as a flight attendant, and my job functions include the safety and the service of our hundreds of passengers. On one of my last trips I was strapped into my jump seat for taxi into the gate, when I asked a passenger to remain in the lavatory, where he decided (against instruction) to go during landing. Both of these are considered critical phases of flight, when the plane is meeting the ground and moving quickly around other large aircrafts.
These are times when the safety of passengers is most vulnerable, and it is unsafe to move about the cabin. The passenger got upset at my request, hovered over me, got in my face, uncomfortably close, and threateningly remarked “what are you going to do?” Aggressively, he pushed the door open to remove my hand, and then stormed off to his seat; again against my safety instructions.
I am disgusted. I’m trained to actively de-escalate situations, so I sat there stunned and knowing only- not to react. However, instinctively my body and hormones already began preparing for to defend myself. My physical space being violated was the catalyst for calling for law enforcement. This is my place of work and I should not be made to fear violence for simply doing my job, giving safety instructions.
Before landing, I knocked on the door, warning that the passenger needed to return to his seat quickly and he shouted “No”, loudly from behind the door. He clearly heard every instruction, during “prepare for landing”, where lights turned on to “bright” during the night flight alerted passengers of the required procedures. He heard my instruction from behind the bathroom door and when he opened it upon taxi-in. He made every intentional effort to ignore the Federal Aviation Administration requirements, laid out to us flight attendants, as safety personnel.
This same man, when met with law enforcement decided to attempt to lie about not hearing instruction, but failed to maintain that lie several times when I called him out on facts. Regardless, he attempted to intimidate myself, other airline personnel and also the security officers (who should’ve been there to make me feel safe) by simply bringing out his recording device.
It took me a few drinks, time, prayer and therapy to resolve the disturbance that encounter had on my spirit. The man in this debacle was black also, and it gave me no joy to see another black man confronted by law enforcement. It shook my soul to make such a difficult decision, but I resolved that it is never okay for this or any man to move throughout the world threatening people’s personal space and safety. I have a right to go to work and not fear threatening encounters like these.
My therapist had me revisit the head space of that moment and recall other times I’ve felt that same trigger throughout my life. It was toxic masculinity, specifically within my own black community, that still beckoned me to a standard of violence. It was me in younger years being made to fight my god-brother as kid, knowing that it would always escalate to his inevitable rage. Being confined to my jump seat during the encounter, reminded was me of feeling smaller as a middle school age kid, and being afraid of bigger guys who threatened me with fights.
The same guy also attempted a brutal ego trip and tried to condescend me and my position in a conversation with police officers: It reminded me of other black guys’ attempts to bully me, when I was just a young queer kid. I was so unsettled that night, my spirit vexed by all this having come to me, by someone in society I’d strangely call “bruh” or “brother” on the street; Someone who’s life, if slain by police, I’d march in protest for. Someone I’d call “cousin” in Philadelphia or “son” in New York City. This experience with my black brother(s) has a different lasting and detrimental impact on me.
In many areas of my life, it was hiding and silence which saved me from violence. Now, it seems the universe is calling me to be a new thing: Deviant. A deviant is someone who is openly and actively defiant of social and sexual norms. A Deviant counters norms because they are like boxes which cage our minds, and keep us from thinking, living and loving freely.
That is who I am, have always been, and now more intently growing proud to be. My admiring the feminine energy and cunning of Catwoman, is not something I am ashamed of any longer. No matter how much the gendered standards of the world have tried to tame me, I’ve still grown to openly love the color pink, and embrace the feeling I get when I wear it like the Pink Ranger. I no longer can be lured into unwanted, unnecessary fights and confrontation. I’ll gladly let an angry man miss me with violent tempers and outrageous behavior. I don’t see that as a show of strength, and no longer envy heterosexual men’s place in the world or on the tv screen. I’ve come to great grips with my own sexuality, and no longer shamefully lie about it or hide it.
I wear hoodies, which display “Gay Uncle” and boldly walk out into a world that has threatened men like me my entire life. It takes more strength to be a Deviant like me, than a heterosexual man will ever understand. I defy gravity, when I look danger in the face everyday by proudly living my truth. I am man, yes. I am black, yes. And I am queer as fuck. However at odds those labels may be in our social world, I am proud to say that they are each authentically apart of me, and at peace.
Just as I am finished expending my energy convincing white folks that “black lives matter”, I am thru with trying to fit into the white and/or heteronormative social structures of the world. I’m done apologizing for my differences or doing things “appropriate” to appease my black community. I am a Deviant and my power exists in living my unfettered truth.
I have opened up the door to a party where others like me may gather safely and freely. We flirt and dance and dress scandalously. We wear harnesses and thongs and jock straps and lace just to defy and redefine masculinity. “Deviant” is a party I started in Washington, D.C. at a well-known black establishment. It was just me and the help of a few friends, who believed in the power of authenticity.
Likewise, I believe in the power of our gathering. It is a revolutionary thing, to be surrounded by other queer men of color, who probably have hidden all their lives to survive, like I once did. It is powerful to come into a space and not feel threatened by the grip of whiteness or toxic masculinity. It is powerful to feel and finally be free; To chose in a sex positive environment, whether or not “fuck the patriarchy”.
Deviant is black, brown, yellow, some white and queer. Deviant is equal parts masculine and feminine. Sometime Deviant is dressed in straps and hard leather and other times it presents lightly in vibrant pink. Deviant is a place free of violence, shaming and ridicule. Deviant does not slut shame nor body shame nor maintain ridiculous standards of beauty. We celebrate one another’s differences, and appreciate one another on the dance floor. Within our doors is a safe place, protection and championing that we each so deserve, and may have never felt before.