I do not know when I knew that the term “gay” applied to me. I do recall the moment that I was made aware that I was different, that my previously held conviction, and it was a conviction mind you, that all boys felt like this for other boys was in fact wrong: I was 6. C.J.’s mom caught us playing our version of Trouble (it was the 80s); in our version if you lost you had to give the winner a kiss. I kissed often. I made make mistakes on purpose. I liked kissing. I liked kissing C.J. and our friend Marcus. I could lose all day. My kisses were easy. C.J.’s mom gasped at the sight of her boy and me lip to lip. She told me: “Boys don’t kiss boys!” She said, never do this again. She said, “I won’t tell your mother.” I was 6. We continued to kiss quietly in closets, bathrooms, and behind closed locked doors. I liked kissing. I liked boys. I was 6. She wouldn’t, couldn’t tell my mother. I felt ashamed.
I do not know when I knew that the term “gay” fit me but I do remember where I was when I suspected that it might: church. Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church in England. I sat in the pews and listened to ministers preach; I would stare at the pastor’s son, Everett and wondered what his mouth tasted like. CJ was back in Texas and Marcus was in Spain and I had kissed many other boys out of loneliness; I was now doing more than kissing. I wondered what it would be like to sleep with him all night long. Slumber party. Amen. I learned in Sunday school, at the back of the church, about Sodom and Gomorrah and about how laying with another man as one would with a woman is an abomination. I stopped wanting to sleep with him; Everett would not need to spend the night; we could just kiss and do other things in my shed. I was 10. I was negotiating. I heard Sodom whisper my name.
I can’t tell you when I knew I was “gay” but I can tell you when the idea of “gay” filled me with fear. Philadelphia came out. It was big. Everyone talked about it and I had to wait to see it on video. I looked at Tom Hanks, Josh from Big, on the witness stand. Thin. Frail. Death’s property. He unbuttoned his shirt and mirror was held in front of him. In the mirror were his lesions. Big. Black. Hideous disease. Proof he was gay. Gay. Sick. He died. I watched other movies. All about AIDS. Everyone was infected. Everyone infected was gay. Everyone gay was sick. Everyone sick died. Unspeakable deaths. Unwatchable deaths. I had been kissing other boys. Holding other boys. Touching other boys. Sucking other boys. Taking other boys in my shed and saying “deeper, deeper.” Sodom whispered my name. I picked up a boy at the youth center and felt happy. He kissed me. I kissed him. He touched me. I sucked him. I let him in me. He smiled. We parted. I was 11.
I picked up a boy at the swimming pool. He smiled at me. I smiled at him. He touched me. I touched him. He kissed me. I kissed him. He looked at me. I sucked on him in a shower room. He entered me. I said no. He kept going. I said no. He finished. I grabbed my clothes and ran out the door. I went home. Locked the door. Showered once more. I told no one (C.J.’s mom’s voice had never left me). I looked in the mirror. I saw a black dot on my upper right corner of my forehead. Andy Beckett’s lesion. Proof of what I had let be done. I didn’t know that it had been done to me. I didn’t know that I should have told some one. What I thought I did know was this was a punishment for Sodom calling my name and me turning my head. I had Andy Beckett’s disease; my “lesion” told me so. It was 1994. Mariah Carey’s “Without You” was one of my favorite songs. I was 12. All-4-One’s “I swear” played on the radio. I thought I had AIDS. I told no one. I feared every cold. I didn’t get my first HIV test till I was 20.
I still can’t tell you when I knew I was “gay” but I do remember when I was told I was a “faggot.” I had been back in the states for only two years. America was still new to me. Illinois summers were still too hot and Midwest winters still too cold. I no longer referred to “fries” as “chips” but I still missed fried fish in white paper (hold the malt please). My voice hadn’t changed so I was treated with suspicion. At first nothing too bad; I even learned a thing or two.From their gestures I learned how to give myself pleasure. In the dark. In the bathroom. In my bedroom. Like any boy I became obsessed. Touching myself while looking at Marky Mark, Antonio Sabato Jr. and other white fantasies. Then came high school, freshman year and I was on bottom. Roumors, laughs, teases, threats, one day on a bus ride home “R” decided to pay special attention to me. Not sweet attention like the boys in England but a concentrated effort to point out all the ways I “failed.” My walk, talk, stature, posture, and clothes were brought forth as evidence; proof that I was gay. Not just gay but a new thing—a faggot. To be a faggot was not to be a boy who liked boys. Boys frequently often seek comfort anywhere from anyone, any body–we all know this; our community is littered with the tissues of straight boy-cum from fooling around “just once”–no, to be a faggot was to suck dick and like it; it was to take dicl; it was to be “less-than.” To be a faggot was to be perfect for taunts, hits, pranks, a hole of pain which others, anyone, could publicly fuck-over, laughter was their cum. All this happened. I was hit. I was teased. Every bus ride took me to a new circle; the distance from Mascoutah to home on the Air Force Base was not short. My torment was daily. My torment was not short. My torment was public. To this day I hate yellow school buses.
No one helped. “R” made games out of it; a favorite involved my clothes. He would steal a piece of my clothing and toss it around the bus. One time my hood that he ripped off my coat landed in the hands of a girl I had been friendly with just the year before; I thought I would get it back; I looked at her, tears in my eyes, and she slapped me, laughed, tossed the hood, and snuggled in closer to her new boyfriend .
Kindness was not my right. Boys would corner me in school halls and ask “how much for a blow;” apparently to be a faggot was to be a whore. Once, I was alone on the bus with “R” and one other boy, “D.” “R” approached me; my pulse raced; I looked out the window and hoped that avoiding his eyes would spare me–it would be as if he did not exist. He existed; he grabbed me by the neck and squeezed. The world was going black. He began to push my head lower. Pass his belt buckle. I said no. I hit his face. He didn’t stop. Sweat started to form on my forehead He held me there. He was still squeezing. For the fist time, but not the ast, I wished I could die. Finally the bus driver came on and he let go. I gasped. I moved to the front of the bus that day.
Most of freshman year is all a haze. Various things happened including the threat of being raped. I had stopped fighting. Eventually the principal was informed of what was occurring (my father made me write a letter detailing everything that had happened to me, I left out quite a bit). His solution: I was told to shake “R”’s hand and agree to “get along.” We moved to another city, not because of me but I was nonetheless relieved, and on one of the last school days while leaving, “R” walked behind me. He spoke: “You know what I hate?” and then leaned close for me to hear: “Faggots. Fags. I really hate faggoty niggers.” I was a “faggot” and a “nigger;” I had been boiled down. I said nothing. I had loss my tongue. I no longer owned my body. When I started my new school no one called me a faggot but the boys weren’t much better. Chad took my name and used it as a source of mockery and entertainment. Justin would touch my chest even if I said no. Matt, my “friend,” bent over at a weight bench, told me, out of fear, not to stand behind him. My body–not mine; my name–not mine, my neck–not mine, my voice–not mine. I was 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 and nothing. I was simply breathing, existing. I was 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 and a “faggot” and a “nigger.”
I can’t recall the time when I knew I was “gay” but I can remember the moments I tried and failed to kill myself. I swallowed pills. They were Tylenol nothing happened. I was going to cut my wrists but my brother came home and saw me holding the knife. He cried. I said I wouldn’t do it and swore him to secrecy. I was 14. When I was 15 I was ready to die. When I was 16 I wished I were dead. When I was 17 I prayed I wouldn’t wake up. I was 18 and hated my family for being the reason I was still living and unable to die. I tried to hang myself when I got to college. To put “R” out of my mind. To erase Justin’s unwanted touches. To stop memories of a banished shower from coming forth. I was too tall. I had to slope and make a concentrated effort to hang myself. I was dedicated. And right when I was slowly starting to feel slightest bit light, a knock on my door. They heard me, knew I was inside and they kept banging. I sighed, stood up, took off the noose and thought: this dying is too much work.
I do not remember the moment I knew I was “gay” but I do remember the moment I knew I was okay. My father is a pastor. My mother a first lady. My brothers are devoted Christians–Baptists. This revelation is usually met with a blink by black people and a condescending look of pity from white people. This is my family. In my parents house is an altar and on it big bible; I once thought it sacred. We have paintings of angels, and the phrase “god bless” is in at least 4 different spots throughout our home. I never feel uncomfortable here. I have brought boys here. I have brought Robin, the only man I have ever loved, here. He and I laid in my bed many nights. He held me in my bed as I cried myself to sleep when my cousin was murdered. We have kissed here and shared secrets here. But, once, before all of that, my father and I had a discussion.
We were sitting at the breakfast table (truthfully it was the everything table because we never eat in the dining room) and discussing my “being gay” as if it were simply a series of actions and not an identity as intrinsically woven into me as my race.. I told him I had prayed to God to give me a sign that being gay was either ok or unholy, for I could not fathom the idea that I would go to hell for a desire I had known all my life, a desire I had expressed before I knew it had a name or was “forbidden”; a desire I had before I knew what was “desire.” I had asked this of God and unlike my fevered prayers for God to “take away the gay, make me like women, save me, make straight please lord, anything but this in Jesus’ name Amen,” I received an answer. Peace flooded me; drowned me. All in me was quiet. I still liked boys and all in me was settled, quiet, and at rest. I told this to my father, my pastor, my daddy and he said, “That was not God.” The rest of what he said matters not; I don’t remember. I remember that peace being so strong, the first moment of bliss and quiet in over four years–I would not let that go. I could not let that go and live. If that wasn’t God then it was I; I was my god, I am my center. I gave myself permission to be. I stopped believing in god that night. The quiet peace remains.
Memory is an odd thing, a device of shadows. Certain events loom larger than they should and other events become “moments” so abstract that they seem more like dreams. I can’t remember my first kiss but I can tell you who I kissed; I cannot recall when I came to the realization that I am gay, nor can I recall the moment I knew I am black or boyish or tall. These parts of me–so important to the essence of me–were pointed out to me from others; I was informed that is was “the other” by those other to me. Yet, the crucial matter is not the moment when it happened; the moments my memory chose to seize onto were the moments of pain and via collapsing time and space, as memory has the power to do, and marrying those times to moments of light and rebirth my memory gives me a narrative where I am the center. My memory protects me and casts me not as solely as victim of a boy in a shower, of schoolyard bullies, of religious intolerance but as a survivor and the creator of my own freedom. Creator via words, language, pen and thought; a transformative creature in the world, and I came to the realization that I am indeed that thing that goes bump in the night; a creature feared by the norm, an entity that threatens heteronormativity; I am a gay boi, a queer boy forged in blackness with a mind, a memory, and a voice. And though the quiet peace remains, I am silent no more.