(And yes, confession: I have a massive crush on Jamal, fueled by his honesty.)
Please forgive me for the singing in the beginning but I was in a mood!
Text of the poem:
Smoked and Jaded Orals:
There is fire in this here mouth
connected to this here brain
producing words laced with honey
infused with smoke
sounds juggled in this here throat
falling out over these here lips made of jade
don’t you wish they were making moves to say your name/at night?
begging you to stay
during the day?
calling you my one and only?”
Note: This reflects how I felt about 3-4 weeks ago.
“Ever since this world began
there’s nothing sadder than
the one-man [fella] searching for the man that got away”
Perhaps it was the blue dress suit, or those red lips, or the way her face contorted with, pain, anguish, melancholy, or the fact that she was giving it all in just a rehearsal but I connected to Judy in that moment and knew, just knew her song was true I have loved and lost and loved and lost and loved and lost the same man for three years. Quite frankly it was, is, pathetic. I watched one too many movies and identified with one too many tragic divas who pursued their men at all costs. And the cost was high.
I met “Allen” in the summer of 2008 when I was in my mid-twenties (at 25 and up, we gay boys never reveal our age) and he was 19, but we didn’t start “talking” romantically till 2009 when he was 20 and I was still in my mid-twenties. I told myself the age difference didn’t matter, nor our backgrounds, or my education, or his lack of education. All that mattered was that he once told me he liked me—emotionally, romantically, I was 13— and when I liked his friend “Cam,” he still liked me, stood by me ,and told me that “Cam” passing on me was his loss. I, to “Allen,” was a prize worth waiting for, woth trying for. Eventually, one day, I looked up and saw what was in front of me: I fell for the wrong boy. “Cam” was just a friend but “Allen” was the right one all along.
I had cast myself in my own romantic movie: he was the golden-skinned Stix to my fat boi Keith. Alas, even without an Amanda Jones or Hardy Jenns the path to love would not be easy. His insecurities over my education, my previous feelings for his friend, and his own cloudy history reared its ugly head; when I came to him, heart on my sleeve, like Meredith Grey to Derrick Shepard and did my own rendition of “pick me,” he said “let me think about it,” and then he said “let’s go with the flow.” I wish I could say I said no and went into detail about my worth but I didn’t. I went with the flow.
“Back in the day when I was young
I wasn’t afraid to love…what was I thinking of?”
Eventually one night, in late 2009, when I was undressing in the dark, (“Allen” had spent the night a few nights at my place by then, splendid nights where we just talked and got emotionally closer, and this was huge for me because I never let guys spend the night; I was a come over, slip on a condom, slip in me, slip out kind of guy, but not with him, never with him; we didn’t try to push sex, I thought this meant he respected me; now I know: respect can be a weapon) holding a blanket in front of me by my chin, he asked me, “Why are you covering yourself up?” I could not look at him, and he reached out from my bed, pulled on the blanket, causing it to fall. I was exposed, my giant belly hanging in front of me, my man-boobs, which would be epic breasts if I were a cisgendered woman, hung, alert. Gooseflesh was rising, I was flushing red from fear. And he grabbed my belly, and then moved his hand onto my stomach and said, “This doesn’t gross me out, this doesn’t bother me. You are beautiful.” That was better than a kiss for me, and at that moment, I could not let go. It did not matter that we were not official, one day I knew we would be, and all I had to do was hold on. I was wrong. A few weeks later, when I asked him about a guy he kept texting, he threw “You are not my boyfriend” in my face; jealousy was not my right, and he could talk to other guys.
Oh the guys. Skinny guys. “You’re beautiful” echoed in my head but sounded hollow. And every time a guy would do him wrong, I was there, waiting like a mammy, to tell him, “I love you; don’t you know what you are worth?” And he would smile, and I would think, this is it, this time will be different.”
“Maybe this time
For the first
It was never different. We would talk, flirt, kiss, act like a couple, and then I would want more, he would pull away, we would fight, then after some grand gesture, we would fall apart and stop talking. There was the time I cried to him that I needed space and he decided to block me on Facebook. There was the time he abandoned me on my birthday because he felt uncomfortable around my friends; then that next birthday when I found out, by a friend accidentally letting it slip, that he had indeed slept with someone he claimed he hadn’t and never would, a person to whom I confided my feelings about him; oh and last year’s birthday when he stopped talking to me after making out with me. He shamed me for my sexuality and then held it against me when I was tentative. There were the numerous times he would tell me how I deserved better than him but if I mentioned another guy’s name he would quickly tell me how they were not good enough for me, or if they were undisputedly wonderful guys, like a boy I had a crush on in NYC at a prestigious school, he would sulk and become short with me and sullen and jealous. Oh and that time last October when he asked me to be his boyfriend in the middle of an odd conversation and when I hesitated, he took it back, and within a week he was dating someone else. And I kept holding on. And I paid.
Love cost me dinners, movies, gas, Aldo Shoes, Express pants, Express sweaters, a designer watch plus inscription. I spent on him, money ear-marked for trips to NYC and Chicago to visit my brothers. Few people know that. Without realizing it, I had made him the most important aspect of my life. I lived on the hope of “I love you,” a touch, an acknowledgement. “ I thought love had to hurt to turn out right…” I was almost dismissed from my doctoral program, twice, because I struggled to get out of bed; I was worthless, not good enough, he would not be mine, he would not claim me in the light. I drank more than I should. A bottle of wine day. It helped me sleep. I called our friend “Cam” and always asked about “Allen” repeatedly every week; I stumbled through conversations, pretending to care about “Cam” and his life until I got the inevitable “Have you heard from ‘Allen’?”; “Is he with you?”; “Is he flirting with guys?” I wore “Cam” down, abusing our friendship for information. I needed the information, pain signified connection, dues being payed, a fix. I think I vomited on six separate occasions when I found out “Allen” was out and I was in.
“You don’t know what love it
Until you’ve learned the meaning of the blues
‘Till you’ve loved the love you’ve had to lose
You don’t know what love is…”
I don’t know how I picked myself up that last time. April of 2012. I was two years behind in my program. I cried every night and day because I thought I was going to lose it all, and I had nothing to show for it. Even then, I saw “Allen” as my light; if I had him, then whatever, the outcome would be worth it. Truthfully, I didn’t pick myself up then. Between the stress of graduate school and “Allen” drop kicking me to the curb right after making out with me on my birthday (and accusing me of a lie on the phone), I would burn myself to get through from one hour to the next, to face each new day; eventually I took a knife, heated the blade, placed it on my arm and smelt the sizzle. There is still a faint mark of the “x” on my forearm.
“If it brings me to my knees
it’s a bad religion
this unrequited love
to me, it’s nothing but a one-man cult.
And cyanide in my styrofoam cup.
I could never make him love me.”
Foolish boy. I wasn’t in my twenties anymore but I was still just a boy. This is what comes from looking to the world to love you when you have obsidian skin and extra flesh and large nostrils, and wooly hair. You cling to the first one who comes along and smiles; you don’t see him as the iceberg that cuts and sinks the ship; you mistake him for the raft.
“The Greatest love of all
is easy to achieve
learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all…”
I love Whitney, lord knows I do, but she was so wrong. It is not easy to love yourself. It is not easy to be honest with yourself and others about your failings. To say, “I was pathetic over a boy who didn’t know my worth” is not easy, but if it is true, it is necessary to speak it. It is mandatory to be honest with yourself and admit that you loved a boy who asked you to be his boyfriend and because out of fear, bred from a messy past you share with him, you hesitate, he shuts down and dates a random boy four days later. You must face the mirror and see that you allowed yourself to apologize for him to everyone.
This past week I proposed my dissertation project and my department approved. I am officially a doctoral candidate. I smile writing that. All those close to me in my life called me to wish me well. But not “Allen”; even though we still talk, and he had admitted he loved me, that I was the only one he ever had loved, and we supposedly had a bond, and I left him a message saying how nervous I was, he never called. When I called “Allen” to tell him I was ABD, he reacted as if I told him I just bought a brand new pair of trousers. I pressed him and he exploded at me. I tried to assert myself but once I got of the phone old feelings resurfaced. I felt guilty and wrong. So I called back to apologize. He answered the phone, I think just to let me hear how annoyed he was. He said “Maurice I can’t do this right now, I am about to be rushed and I gotta fry twenty tacos.” He hung up on me while I was speaking. And it hit me. That was, is, us. He hangs up on me because he can, because I have taught him he can; I come crawling back; each time I crawled back to him, acting as if it is all okay. Each crawl came, comes, back to me, out of time because each wound is still immediate and fresh:
You lied to me, that is fine; you slept with someone else while we were trying to make things work, that is fine; you let me confess my emotions about you to that person you slept with, that is fine; you told me you cared and then you lied, that is fine; you ruined my birthdays for three years even though I went all out for yours, that is fine; you told me you loved me and then dated someone else, that is fine; I wrote poems about you and read them in front of crowds, wooed you, made you feel loved, and you couldn’t even take five minutes to read to for yourself; you just said I don’t like poetry, and that is fine; you told me no one ever celebrated your birthday or made you feel special so I created a picnic for you on a cloud, I showered you with affection; you said you had no one to confide in, to depend upon, so I made myself open for you; I said I needed you and you never showed up; it took my cousin being murdered for you to be there for me just once, and when you were supposed to have been with me at his funeral, you stayed and went on a date with your ex who left you to fuck around with different guys, and when I called you that weekend, crying, in pain, you didn’t answer my call because you were busy fucking your ex in your car, and that is fine; when I confessed, after you told me you loved me, that I had never slept with a man who loved me and I wanted you to be the first (at the time, only), you told me you couldn’t sleep with me b/c it would be too serious, but you didn’t really want to let me go, and then, that night when I massaged you, and respected your words and didn’t make a move to sleep with, despite your erection, you held it against me, my actions and, i suspect, your erection, and that was fine. Everything was fine because it had to be, for us to stay. But, when I called, expressing joy, wanting to share it with you and you only care about frying 20 tacos, that is not fine.
It is not that he has to fry twenty tacos and I have to schedule meetings, and try to do research. Nor is it that I want to talk about jazz, films, wine, books, and everything bougie under the sun, and he hates reading, doesn’t care for jazz, and finds poetry a waste. It is that words are not important to him. I was not important to him, my success, my joy did not trump frying twenty tacos. I thought about when he told me, “You deserve better than me” and realized he was right. I am fat, smart, dark, and beautiful. He has to fry twenty tacos. I thought of my ancestors and cried because I am fat, smart, dark and beautiful; I am what they dreamed for. And he has to fry twenty tacos. I thought of what my mom always told me: “Baby, you are worth your weight in gold.” And he had to fry twenty tacos. I thought of what my Baptist pastor daddy told me: “I can tell you love this boy, but not all love, be it straight or gay, is good; you can’t lose yourself. You gotta love yourself more.” And he has to fry twenty tacos. I love myself more than twenty tacos.
I’m worth more than twenty tacos.
“And if I loved myself
as much as I loved some
that would be revolution.”
Song Lyrics cited:
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.