To All the Queer Black Men I Forced Into Closets

I apologize for judging you This essay is a reflection of how Black women and Black communities force brothers into closets because of inability to understand the complexities of sexuality.

To All the Queer Black Men I Forced Into Closets

This morning, I was reflecting over my nearly 2-year relationship with my partner. It’s been quite a journey getting here, but I am finally becoming comfortable with who I am now. I have beat myself up for a long-time about coming out. It was done quietly, with no fanfare and definitely without anyone’s permission.

I feel guilt at times because finally living my truth meant I had to disrupt a few lives in this process.

I also took the time to reflect in a different way. I reflected on how similar my life was during this journey to closeted Black men living on the down low (DL). Although we were one in the same (we were not out just living in the shadows due to fear and condemnation), I believe I have judged closeted, gay, questioning and/or bisexual men living in the shadows as being greedy or as cowards. It was unfair, and unfortunate.

I felt like they didn’t have the balls to live out, and they were putting Black women, married and single women, at risk of contracting HIV. Black women were (and still are) contracting HIV more than any other ethnic group in the U.S from Black men. No one talks about it. As far as I was concerned at the time, Black queer men were killing us. Black women were in the trenches, yet again, fighting for our own lives.

The complexities of being a queer Black man in America are to blame. Nobody’s voluntarily signing up for that shit!

I had several friends, men and women, who had contracted HIV. All are Black, and all contracted HIV from a Black man. One HIV positive relative had a child born with the disease because a guy she dated forgot to tell her he liked men and was HIV positive. I was real salty with brothers fucking Black women recklessly on the DL because they were in denial about their sexuality.

For the majority of my sexual life, I lived as a heterosexual woman. I would have to say I knew I had an affinity more for females than males as early as middle school. I had secret crushes on girls. The older I got, the more I pushed my feelings into a deep, dark closet. I wanted to be liked by boys because society said I should be. Although I eventually grew up and chose the “socially acceptable” life, I pined silently for decades to know what it was like to be with a woman. I knew who I was, but chose to live safely hetero instead.

This in my opinion makes me a hypocrite. I lived the same way DL brothers were living, which was in a state of constant emotional turmoil. I judged Black queer men unfairly, and I was so wrong. It was hard living in denial. I learned this lesson from the school of hard knocks. It wasn’t socially acceptable to be gay, so it was easier for me to live a lie, just like it was for Black queer men likely. So that’s what I did.

I took the easy route, then judged Black queer men who did the same. That makes me a hypocrite.

The hypocrisy of being Black, gay, questioning or closeted, and how I had a sort of conscious/subconscious complex about the fact there were men in our communities who could actually enjoy having sex with a man and a woman separately, yet simultaneously. I personally took issue with men who led “double” lives with no regard of how complex sex and sexuality is in the Black community. I felt like it was an insult on my womanhood.

A man living a heterosexual life public life, and a homosexual or bisexual private life without being honest was living a sham to me.

“Why couldn’t they be honest with us?” I thought. Why couldn’t he just choose which side of the fence he wanted to be on? Does he want a pussy or a dick? It’s was black or white to me, so make a decision already.

I was so immature, so selfish, so naive and so unaware of the complexities of sexuality. Besides I hadn’t dealt with my own. In the South, sisters couldn't even say they enjoyed giving blow jobs let alone like another women. I’m sure my attitude aided in keeping closeted gay and bisexual men in closets. It was so unfair.

It was also so none of my business.

I was angry that Black closeted queer men had chosen to act on their feelings, needs and desires secretly. I didn’t approve of it as if it were my call to make.

I despised men who would have sex with men and women, without telling their female partners the truth about their sexual preferences and identities.

I disliked these men without taking into consideration the oppressive state of the Black communities we live in.

For as long as I can remember, I have heard stories about Black men who were gay or bisexual secretly exploring their sexuality while being in relationships with women. Sometimes the men were simply unattached, and other times, they were married or in committed heterosexual relationships with women.

Some of these men where even very close friends of mines, though we’d never discuss anything whatsoever in regards to their sexual preferences or sexuality.

Being Black, from the Bible belt, and living in the deep South…being gay was a no-no! Being Black and gay was a no-no-hell no!

Black queer men where I lived were forced to conform or be disgraced/disowned, so they hid instead.

I remember being angry when I discovered bisexual rumors about a guy that I’d once dated and confronted him about it. It was a small town, and anything like that happening spreads like wildfire.

I can remember the guy being so dismissive about the bisexuality rumors that it made his denials unbelievable to me. I’m sure I put him on the spot. My demeanor wasn’t exactly welcoming. As I think about it now, I could have possibly played a role in someone’s sexuality being closeted because of my own fears, jealousy, insecurities, and feelings of inferiority.

If it were true. Was he still dabbling? Should I be afraid? Was he HIV positive? I needed to protect myself.

I expected to compete with other women, not another man. I was always adamant about if a guy ever told me he was gay or bisexual, it was a deal breaker for me (other than friendship).

All of this fear and hypocrisy was happening around the same period Oprah was on her “down-low” grind... spilling all the gay Black community’s tea about how our men were “closeted” on the DL, living heterosexual lives.

I was so petty. I was influenced by Oprah’s show producers’ and their thoughts on gay Black men. I liked being around gay men, as long as they weren’t engaging in secret, sexual relationships with straight men I liked. The audacity of me.

Now that I think about it though, what Oprah did was fear-mongering. Her shows made Black women unnecessarily hyper-vigilant, pushed Black men deeper into the closets of our communities, and barely scraped the surface on much needed conversations about sexuality in the Black, queer community. She turned a problem into a super-sized problem

While I realize now Black women were dying at a higher rate than any other ethnic group from HIV/AIDS (especially in the South), forcing men to conform to rigorous and unrealistic social norms in the Black communitywas wrong. It made things worse in fact. Fear and lies prevent real dialogues about sexuality in our communities.

I never got that until I began to unpackage my own issues, helping me to understand my own sexuality.

Working With the Gay & HIV Community Changed My Perceptions About Homosexuality

Once I got involved with the gay and HIV/AIDS communities, my entire view of Black gay men changed. I began to see how complex sexuality truly was. Mentoring and counseling gay and HIV positive men gave me opportunities to see how much hurt Black women had inflicted and how Black rejection had harmed them. I was able to see how vulnerable these men really were. I learned how men had to sneak around to be gay. I also learned how many closeted men there really were in our small area. In their minds, being queer and closeted was worth all the risks.

Even if it meant their deaths, and mines.

It was such a revelation, I was compelled to start advocating for gay and bisexual men. I even began to use the mantra “Life ain’t always black and white,” to admonish those who were unable to see sexuality is as private and personal as the underwear we buy, the condoms we choose, or the God we choose to worship (if we worship at all).

A person’s sexual preference was (and is) none of our business, and we have no right to place our values, our views and our preferences about sex on anyone. Not even our own children.

I felt good about my new level of understanding, but I still had not transferred what was learned to my own life yet. I had some falling, failing, and getting back up to do first.

Unpackaging My Bags

During the last few years of my 10-year marriage, I for some reason began to go over all of my regrets. I felt like I was on a long, slow journey preparing for my funeral.

I scoured all of my failed relationships with men, as well as my aversion conforming to America’s Puritan (and prudish) views about sex. What was revealed during the scouring of my life was that I had indeed conformed myself. I did not have the right and freedom to explore my whole sexual being and I had some deep-seeded regrets. In the Black community like many other ethnic communities, we are deeply religious, and sex is rarely discussed in pleasurable ways. We’re prudish (at least in public anyway) on steroids.

I knew deep down I had never dealt with my own sexuality because our community polices other people’s private parts and sex lives like pussy and dick Nazis. I had long died to myself in order to please my people.

Who was I? What did I really like? Do I even really know?

I only had hetero, vanilla sex in my life, all of my life as a matter of fact (well, except for one planned, anonymous brief hookup in my 20’s which isn’t abnormal I’d learn later). I knew I had an affinity for women in ways that were not normal for women.

I desperately desired to explore, but I had no one I could share this with. All of my friends were hetero, and we didn’t have any lesbians or bisexual women among us. I would surely be judged. The very thing that I had done to men who were likely in my same situation 20 plus years earlier I now feared. Boy was I a hypocrite.

I began to think back to my gay friends and how sexually liberated they were. They lived vibrantly without borders, even if it meant being alienated from their families and friends. They had their own community that supported each other and understood the complexities of navigating their sexuality.

Taking Action With No Fucks to Give

I found solace in the fact I wasn’t alone with my feelings. There were lots of women living like me. They were also hiding like me. It was time to stop hiding.

As I began to feel comfortable with who I was internally, I realized it was conflicting with who I was externally. I was living as heterosexual, middle-aged, married woman. That’s when death started to beset me. I could have just died…literally.

Things were already bad between my ex and I for a number of reasons, but questions about my sexuality just added icing to the cake. A separation was in order, and we did it. The time away gave me peace. I could think, and choose my path forward. Or so I thought.

I went back. I liked the safety, certainty and predictability of being married to man in a traditional relationship. Things were fine for a few months, and then the same feelings re-appeared. Plus, my spouse had become emotionally abusive. I made a choice to split from my husband for good. It was easy this time.

He suggested counseling, as if I was broken in need of repair. I was making the wrong decision leaving him (a man), and he just didn’t understand. It was an assault on his manhood (sounds familiar right?). I wanted to live my best second life, authentically.

I needed to explore openly, freely, and I needed to do it without anyone else’s bags, fears and expectations attached to my life. I packed my bags headed towards the town of uncertainty, economic instability and perhaps persecution, but I didn’t care anymore. I was too old to be living my life to please people.

In living my truth and coming to the realization there are so many women like me within the Black community, I also realized my hypocrisy regarding my past feelings on Black men and their sexual preferences/identities. We were in fact now one and the same.

I’m Sorry

I had no right to require you to conform for my benefit, or to ask you to pick a side/team to play on. Life doesn’t always work like that. That’s not how any of this queerness works, and it’s taken me nearly half of my life to figure this out.

I was judgemental. I was selfish. I was self-centered. I was ignorant. I was a hater. I was a bigot. I was a prude, a damn Puritan. I became what I hated the most. And for that, I’d like to formerly apologize to all Black queer and closeted men.

To all the men who must hide their sexual preferences in a tidy closet…

To all the men in relationships with women beating themselves up inside for questioning their sexuality…

To the men who were “found out” by their girlfriends or families and had to lie in order to maintain your family’s social norms…

To all the men disowned by their parents when trying to live your truth…

To all the men in relationships with women questioning your gender…

To the men who have to creep into the God-forsaken places (alleys, online hookup sites, sex shops, adult toy stores and movie parlors, massage parlors, random hookups, cars, prostitutes) to have your sexual needs met because we women, just wouldn’t understand…

To the men who must lie at work, from church pulpits, at home, at family functions, among friends, at college, at grandma and grandpa’s house…

To all the men caught up in lude and lascivious acts stings in public places with other consenting men by Puritan sex moderators because you must sneak in order to keep your dirty little secret.

To all the men trying to conform to unimaginable, unrealistic and unattainable sexuality standards causing you to have an unsatisfactory life…

I’m sorry. From the bottom of my heart, I’m sorry. I now realize the harm that I and so many other people with mindsets like me have done to you. We have no right to your sexuality or sexual identity.

Very Apologetically,

Marley K