You see him standing/walking/lounging at the bar, at the gym, in the aisle at the bookstore, at a coffee shop or wherever else you like to frequent. Or maybe you see him while scrolling through Scruff, Tinder, or another app. Where you first notice him isn’t important. What is important is that you’re immediately drawn to this melanin man. You muster up the titanium-laced nerve to talk to him, and he seems to dig you just as much as you dig him. After a few minutes/messages into the conversation, you feel undeniably compelled to mention something about how you adore black men, have never been with a black man sexually, or something else along those race-infused lines. His smile drops. The messages stop.
What happened? You just paid him a simple compliment, right?
While there’s nothing at all wrong with letting a person know you’re attracted to them (as long as you do so respectfully), your endeavors can quickly sour into a malignant fiasco when you bring up something that has to do with the other person’s race as one of the leading reasons for approaching them. Rather than touch on the subject of racism in the gay community, as so many have already, I’d instead like to offer some insight on the unique struggles of black gay men that our … gently-melanated brothers might not be too terribly clear on. Yet.
We all have certain types that we’re attracted to, certain physical features and personality traits that send waves of desire threading through us. There’s absolutely no fault in that. The equation starts to become unbalanced when your attraction is molded by stereotypes related to black men’s sexual prowess, cultural upbringing, or physical features (#notallblackmen). We all like to be complimented, but none of us like to be/feel objectified, reduced to physical features that some of us have struggled (and sometimes still struggle) to make peace with since we first realized what it means to exist as a person of color in America.
Before offering up what you think are blush-worthy compliments or fragrant flatteries, try to dive deeper than the surface of the skin. Even Cupid knew he had to pierce the flesh to make love take root and blossom … or at the very least make the person want to engage in the dance of the two-backed beast (y’all Shakespeare fans know what I’m talmbout). Trust me when I say a little effort goes a long way when you’re spittin’ game.
Another unique struggle of the gay black community is that of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. While advances in medical technology and medicine have made the virus more manageable, those advances aren’t accessible to everyone everywhere. According to The Guardian, black men in the U.S. who have sex with men have a one-in-two chance of contracting HIV while white men who have sex with men have a one in 11 chance. Read that sentence again; marinate on it.
While the black community doesn’t have a monopoly on toxic masculinity, the expectation for men to be emotionally and psychologically strong and in total control is magnified, which I feel is tied to slavery, a time when we were barely considered human let alone men or women. When you combine that cultural expectation with the black community’s traditional and oftentimes unwavering religious views, realizing that you’re anything other than heterosexual can completely eviscerate your mental and emotional being, especially if you grew up in the South like I did.
Depending on the availability of resources, gay black men might not know where to go or whom to talk to about using condoms and learning about sex and STIs. And even if those resources are available, the stigma attached to being gay in the black community could prevent someone from seeking accurate and reliable information or treatment, especially if the individual lives in a small town and doesn’t want to be seen going into the only local STI clinic. There’s also the fact that the amount states and specific geographic areas receive to help treat those who are HIV-positive isn’t equal across the country. This all boils down to the fact that the LGBTQ community and our allies have to become and remain aware that while HIV/AIDS impacts us all, that impact is often more devastating for the more marginalized among us.
One final unique struggle I’d like to touch on is that of representation; specifically, how black gay love is portrayed in movies. “Love, Simon” and “Call Me by Your Name” have been critically praised, and the same can be said of the movie “Moonlight.” The main difference between the two is that the former films focus more on romance while the latter examines the stigma and mental/emotional turmoil the main character endures. How many movies can you think of with a black, gay male lead and a plot that focuses more on his romantic life and less (if at all) on his personal and familial struggles? I’m not suggesting that such movies don’t exist, just that they’re rare af for us.
Just as there are struggles unique to the LGBTQ community, there are also struggles unique to the different races and cultures that make up our community. For us to be a true community, to be truly unified, we have to not just understand our brothers and sisters of color, but overstand them. You see and taste the fruit, but can you trace it back down to the roots.