painting by Patrick Stelien
Growing up in Brooklyn and Harlem from early 2009 till late 2015, I was fortunate enough to have a small group of friends who were like-minded and had a similar aesthetic to mine. They were black, openly gay, believed in no cages for fashion and had strong “feminine qualities.” Most importantly, we all shared the burden of loneliness. Collectively, we couldn’t figure out why people didn’t find us attractive or would date us at the least. Not to toot my own horn, but we were/are some sexy motherfuckers.
It wasn’t long before we noticed that gay black men as a whole were mostly interested in masculine, ‘straight acting’ gay men whether they themselves were masculine or feminine. As time progressed, my friends began to adhere to those masculine fashions, mannerisms, and ideologies that once made us feel lonely and unloved. They switched up everything feminine about them that made who they were. They changed not because they were in the midst of a personal revolution, but because they couldn’t take the pain of loneliness. That switch came at the high price of becoming someone that they weren’t. That’s a price I’m never-ever willing to pay.
I’ve been on many dates that ended abruptly because when I showed up in my glorious fashions they would immediately tell me, “You’re not my type” or “You remind me of my aunty,” like that’s a goddamn compliment.
The longest relationship that I’ve ever had was with a down low black man from Carver projects in Harlem. He was so fine; he was tall, caramel, handsome with waves in his hair, he played basketball in the gym with the other hetero guys in my high school. He had such a way with his words, that he could’ve convinced me that water wasn’t wet and I would’ve believed him. He and I were sexually committed and emotionally involved for three years, yet in order for our relationship to have succeeded I had to follow his rules, which were:
1. Never come over to his house before 11pm.
2. When walking in the streets, I walk a block behind or in front of him.
3. When on a date to the movies, (which always was in the less popular far out movie theaters at night) don’t sit next to him until the theater lights went down.
4. And most importantly, never tell anyone about us, not even my closest friends.
I was happy to oblige to whatever he wanted and needed; it gave me a sense of belonging and cured my physical needs. I was his diary, I listened with intent and intensity as he spoke, I held every secret he shared but he never once inquired about my thoughts, ideas and feelings. Our relationship revolved around him and his needs. I still haven’t processed what the dynamics of our relationships did to me, mentally and emotionally. A month before I left for college, I found out he had got a woman pregnant. I couldn’t believe it! Years of playing background, being his secret and this motherfucker could do this to me! I felt such rage but never acted on it because I never felt entitled to it. In the back of my mind I thought, “she was a woman and naturally she comes before me,”—not to mention I still wanted to protect his image and his feelings. I waited for an apology from him but it never came. Once again, I was back to the loneliness and dare I say, I’ve been there ever since.
From that day on, I’ve asked myself everyday, “What is so unattractive and shameful about finding beauty in black feminine gay men? What is it about me that makes me unlovable on a romantic level?” Still, I have no answer.
I understand the basic need to feel loved and give love, but what I will never understand is changing yourself in hopes of someone liking or loving “the false you.” I believe the standards of beauty must be erased entirely. I don’t have time to wait on the evolution on the standards of beauty to commence being relevant to my true self in order find love.
I’m still examining. I’m still correcting.
When he appeared at the doors of love no signs welcomed black femininity into there.
In to the loneliness, into the halting sounds of self-esteem.
In to the false smiles, into the silent cries.
However, the divine upon his right impels him to pull forever at the ladder of love gates.
Strangers claim the glory of his Love.
Iniquity has bound him to his bed.
Still, he has the unmitigated gall to give love openly without receiving it equally.