I never really understood internalized homophobia until recently. As a comedian, I've clowned some prominent black men like closeted preachers Donnie McClurkin, Eddie Long, and a few others who bashed gay men from the pulpit and while having affairs with men on the side. This hypocrisy is particularly unpleasant, because I've been in churches and other places where I was told how disgusting I was for being gay. I’ve felt suicidal and hated myself because of their words — and then, it turns out they were practicing what they were telling me was so awful. But I understand the self-hatred that motivated their actions. It doesn't make it acceptable, but I get it.
We already go through a lot, particularly as black men in this country. That alone is enough to drive you to outrage. But to make matters worse, the institutions in our community, such as churches and our families, sometimes disown us and tell us that we are unworthy of love. These are two of the most spiritually damaging things you can do to a person who is already marginalized.
One might think black gay men might lean on each other for support. But frankly, we treat each other horribly. Sure, some light reading and shade are fine; I indulge in it every now and then, in good humor and light-hearted fun. But we'll drag each other for mental health, HIV status, homelessness, weight, body image, and a whole host of other things. To be shamed by folks of the same experience, who face the same insecurities and sometimes, the same dilemmas that you do? That sucks.
Dating is despicable. I watch our white and Asian brothers get in relationships and build wealth and families together. Meanwhile, most of us would rather fawn over pictures of Michael B. Jordan. We don't support each other. I see community among many older, black gay men, but not my generation. Rather than affirm each other, we seek heterosexual validation — in the church and from entertainers. This doesn't make sense, because we influence both of those institutions in such a way, that if we didn't support them, they would crumble. Yet, we don't profit financially from, or have a place at the table, in either.
Despite appearances, many of us are lonely and living facades. We may have the perfect body, perfect face, well-paying job, and beautiful house, but we only seem to be able to find affection at 2 a.m. on Jack'd, Grindr, or some other hookup app.
Psychologically, if one isn't strong enough, it's damning. It screws with your self-esteem. Rather than being proud of who we've been made to be, and be able to own it, some of us become careless with our bodies, our health, and our hearts. Others become bitter and angry, wondering how much better our lives would be if we loved differently.
It's not easy being a black, gay man. I genuinely admire those of us who are able to get up every day —despite what we deal with — and are able to not only able to love ourselves, but continue loving others who look like and love and have the same experiences that we do.
As I’ve engaged in conversations with some of my brothers in the community, and even tackled these issue on stage, I’ve realized that we absolutely have a right to air our grievances about how we treat one another. But we have to start taking action to empower ourselves and hopefully change the community around us.
How? We must be honest with ourselves about how we feel. When we leave our homes and go into society, especially social environments where gay men congregate — whether it be at brunch, at a drag show or 11 a.m. on Sunday mornings in those choir stands — we have to face one another, and not with contempt, even if that’s how we personally feel about ourselves. One of the most real things RuPaul has ever said is, “If you can’t love yourself, then how the hell are you gonna love somebody else?” I have, for many years, gotten up every morning and stared at myself in the mirror, and verbally affirmed myself, day after day, until I accepted the reality that I am who I am, just as I am, and that there isn’t anything that I can do about it.
I think that we are conditioned to think less of ourselves, and that has caused us to think less highly of LGBT-inclusive churches, artists, and institutions, which is why we don’t support them. We don’t think that they are as worthy. Yet we give our hard-earned money to a church or a comedy show that deliver homophobic jokes, religious damnation, and gay-bashing. LGBT artists, who speak like us and speak to our experiences, are overlooked by the community and even by Pride festivals, who throw tons of cash at reality TV divas and personalities who show up just to wave at the crowd and then dash off with a check, while never going to bat for our community in any capacity.
Many of us chase meaningless sex and avoid relationships because we want to feel sexy and important. But we really don’t feel worthy of love. Even in relationships, some of us need more than an intimate partner in our corner, because some of us have even deeper issues that just one person can take on alone. We need to stop being afraid of loving, affirming therapy and counseling. We need to be in control of our spiritual and mental health instead of being content with functioning in internal chaos. Watching episodes of Iyanla: Fix My Life is not doing that work. Actually going to see someone who can actually encourage us is. We are capable of it, because we have already gone through so much. But it doesn’t mean that we should be OK hurting ourselves in the different ways that we do that, as well as hurting other people who look and love and experience life just like we do.
These aren’t all the answers, and I doubt that anyone has them all, but it’s an honest start on a journey to healing and self-love, it’s time for us to do better. We are so much more than our hurt, and the weight of the world that we sometimes carry on our shoulders, and the bitterness and anger because of it. In the words of Mo’Nique — I love us for real.