“Masc only.” “Unclockable.” “DL.” “Not out.” Check any internet dating site aimed at gay black men, and you’ll find these words over and over and over again. Seemingly, no one wants a man who admits to being “out” or who even seems openly comfortable with the sexuality he obviously shares with the men he’s sleeping with! It’s 2012 and gays can marry (in some states) and openly serve in our military. Andy Cohen, Neil Patrick Harris and Ellen DeGeneres are happily out and proud and all over our televisions today; so why is it so hard for an openly gay black man to find love?
I think Don Lemon said it best when he publicly came out as gay last year: “in the African American community, it’s about the worst thing you can be.” While much of America is becoming – or attempting to seem – more tolerant of gays and lesbians, the African American community is not, and traditionally has not been, as supportive of homosexuality. I’ve heard it all, from theories about homosexuality being something introduced by Europeans to ridiculous assumptions about all gay men being effeminate or wanting to be women. It could be because of the great influence of good old-fashioned Southern Baptist beliefs, or it could just be ideals of black masculinity, but being black and gay and male is a whole different ball game – and by no means a fun or easy one.
Homophobia is, and has always been, a common sentiment in African American communities. Whether physical or verbal, I don’t think many people have experienced growing up feeling that it was totally acceptable to be gay until we ourselves forced others to accept it. Unfortunately, many a gay boy can fight with the best of them because he’s been forced to protect himself once or twice. I’d say that while white America tries sometimes to put up a façade of being politically correct, many black Americans still find no qualms in calling out a “sissy” or a “faggot.” Often when there’s not blatant homophobia, there is blatant denial. Whether black parents, the church or us, many African American communities would rather simply deny that their son, the queeny, constantly single choir director, is gay. No one is stating the obvious and everyone is just fine, as long as no one says the words.
Denial and internalized homophobia are by far the worst problems gay black men face. Not too long ago, the whole “down low” phenomenon hit the media. Gay black men were sleeping with men and not only denying being “gay,” but also leading seemingly heterosexual lives. They did not consider sleeping with men as a part of who they were. Black America was genuinely shocked that gay men could appear and pass as straight! They had never seen a gay black man who wasn’t stereotypically or “obviously” so. Or had they? For whatever reasons, these men decided to separate themselves from their sexuality and all things associated with it…that is, besides the having sex with other men part! Even worse than denial of their own sexuality is the prevalence of internalized homophobia among gay black men. Many would rather say terms like “mess around” rather than actually say the words “gay” or “bisexual” in reference to themselves. Largely, gay black men reject or won’t associate with anyone who they consider to be too “out”. They associate being out, or openly gay, with being feminine or less than a man. Or they associate it with negative stereotypes of gay men. I’ve personally known single men over the age of 30 who would rather be alone forever than have anyone close to them know they date men. One told me he’d never go out with to eat with a man for fear him sitting at a table across from another man and appearing gay. Another told me he’d happily enter into a relationship but would never want to meet or know his partner’s friends or family for fear of those strangers knowing his identity as gay. Another was simply amazed when I told him I was going out to a gay club with my gay friends. He asked me a million questions and seemed both terrified and intrigued. I may as well have told him I was going to Mars!
As you can imagine, attitudes like the men I’ve mentioned do not make the dating pool easy for those of us who do want to go out to dinner and have our best friends actually meet our live-in boyfriends. Sure, I know tons of openly gay black men but I’m already social or platonic with so many I already know! I’m still surprised when I meet a (new) man and he tells me he’s “not out” and doesn’t really ever intend to be. It’s more common sense than personal discretion to me. My mom knows I’m gay but I’m not gonna vogue at the dinner table on a first date! One doesn’t have to be “out” to do what you want and enjoy your life. Once you’re comfortable with yourself, sexually or otherwise, who wants to deal with a grown man who’s still deathly afraid of what strangers think of him? In fact, I’ve never once said that I’m “out” to a man I was interested in, but I don’t pretend that no one in my life knows. If you can’t even be honest with yourself about your sexuality, then why pursue relations or relationships with another man?
Coming out is a very personal experience. It’s better if you have some sense of a support system behind you, be it an accepting family, friends or – even better – gay friends. However, coming out is not the experience some people think it is. It’s personal. Once you’ve truly accepted yourself then everything else falls into place. One doesn’t need to write a letter or make a declaration to your mother. Whether you do or not you’ll still be gay! Chances are she knows anyway! The reason so many black men choose to be “DL” and live their lives lying and in secrecy is because they seek acceptance from others who may never be willing to accept who they are. Acceptance is great, but you have to accept yourself before anyone else can. Lying won’t make it any less true. Alienating yourself from people who are gay won’t make you less gay. It’s actually less about admitting than it is about no longer constantly denying. Being black and gay is hard sometimes, but it’s easier to be out than to be 38, trolling the internet, scared of your own reflection and eating all alone.