“As long as we reject ourselves, as long as we continue to harm our own body and mind, there is no point in talking about loving and accepting others.”
Thich Nhat Hanh – Teachings on Love
I wasn’t expecting to see anyone who looked like me at the orientation of my master’s program. But there he was: another Black man around my age. During the mingling period, I tried to walk over to talk to him, but I could tell he was actively avoiding me. It would be months later before I confronted him.
“I didn’t want people to think that just because we were both Black men we would click.”
I was confused. Who cared what they thought? And if it worked out that we were close, would that be such a bad thing?
At the first adult video company I worked for, my boss gathered all the models and staff for a holiday dinner. Our flagship bottom was there and we never met. He wouldn’t say anything to me the entire night. It would be several more times at work before he even felt comfortable talking to me.
I was at a birthday party in September with about a dozen Black gay men. It started off rather cordial, but after everyone had a few drinks, the shade was flowing as well. Another guest and I discussed after the affair how uncomfortable we felt. How could you be so disrespectful to someone you just met?
If you’re an avid reader of this blog, you know I have plenty more stories like these. It has taken me the last few years to accept most of the interactions I’ve had with other black gay men haven’t been positive. But this post really isn’t about me.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my work in HIV. Thinking about what’s kept me negative, what I wish were different, what it would take to actually end the epidemic.
I was in one of my high level meetings; the power players that make decisions. One official from [that other city I love where my 2nd future husband currently lives, redacted] got up to present and was like:
“We have a problem with older Black men infecting young Black men.”
I sat with it for a minute. My first thought was, that makes sense: if I were 50 years old, beat down (literally and figuratively) by racism, poverty, etc. I could see myself splashing off in a nineteen year old every so often just to cope. Using condoms or getting an undetectable viral load would be the last thing on my mind.
My second thought was, that’s not really a problem public health can fix.
And it would help if the White people in charge cared, but they don’t. Most of them are very smart people, some are actually very lovely. But to most, this is just a job. They collect their paycheck and go home to their privilege where none of these problems exist.
Then what is the solution? Take matters into our own hands of course!
But we can’t even be nice to one another.
To be clear, these problems I speak of are not exclusive to Black gay men. And I’m sure there’s a myriad of reasons why all of this is so, even legitimate ones like trauma. That came up in that GMAD meeting. I’ve been trying to be more mindful of my privilege growing up and how lack of trauma was just as important to access to resources.
The problem is we don’t have the numbers; the loss of one exponentially affects us in ways it doesn’t other demographics. Whether it’s one organization folding, one leader quitting or one more infected.
And I don’t want to be too jaded. There are many doing great work and fighting the good fight. If they even help one, I guess it doesn’t matter if it’s a bandaid on a gunshot wound.
Speaking of, it didn’t occur to me leading community prevention work in the largest city in the country would be a big deal.
…until I realized there hasn’t been a Black gay man in this role in over a decade.
…until I realized I was the youngest Black man in the huge meeting in Atlanta at [that federal agency, redacted]. Which is a problem considering I’m going to be 33 very soon.
And every other time I’m in one of these spaces/situations. I’m proud of the work I’ve done, I just wish it were enough.
The draft of this piece has been written for years now. I keep saving it, revisiting it and hoping I have a better ending each time.
…but I’m still stuck on we can’t be nice to one another.
So if Black men loving Black men is the revolutionary act, I won’t hold my breath. Cause the revolution won’t be televised. Not anytime soon anyway.
P.S. This isn’t the blame game. I had a role in all the above situations. I’ve hurt other black gay men too. I’m working on me every day.