I AM...

I am whatever YOU think I am until YOU get to KNOW me. This is true for everyone else too, of course.. so don't make assumptions about anyone or pass judgment; ask questions. You might just make a new friend.


Tuesday, July 21, 2015


Throughout my two decades- give or take- years of existence, I have come to compile a short list of things that I have yet to understand, wrap my head around, and fully figure out:
1.   The mechanics of love and relationships
2.   The mechanics of cars
3.   The proper usage of the word “irony”
4.   The appeal of Benedict Cumberbatch
5.   And navigating black male spaces
*Especially navigating black male spaces.
As someone who embraces their blackness, queerness, and presence on the spectrum where masculinity and femininity blur and coalesce, I’ve never felt as though my performance of black masculinity has been congruent to the version of black masculinity that myself, society, and many other black men have been seduced into regarding as “correct, acceptable, and “appropriate”.

I mean, I’ve never been one to pledge allegiance to a specific sports team or express enthusiasm over conversations concerning some athlete’s career stats and recent highlights (I’m more of the type to hype up the Grammys over the Super Bowl and delve into a discussion about Beyonc√©’s recent feminist awakening). I’ve never been one to smother my emotions or put in overtime to become the embodiment of “hard” (I can be incredibly vocal about how I feel, sometimes to the point of being regarded as too sensitive or as blunt as a mallet). I’ve never been one who has felt a need to assert a certain sense of dominance and control (in personality and physicality, I’m quite possibly the antithesis of what it means to be domineering). I’ve never been one to possess the brand of cool that’s so often associated with black men (I mean, I’m not exactly sure if swagger and I have ever met).

While I’ve come to understand what’s touted as being “proper” black masculinity is nothing more than a construction that’s riddled with dangerous stereotypes and assumptions. Understanding this hasn’t stopped me in the past (and even now) from feeling as though my black masculinity was inadequate, lessening my ability to be comfortable in certain predominantly black male spaces.

Even to this day, a shiver of nervousness passes through me whenever I enter my local barber shop to receive my usual haircut. In this almost mythic place of black male fellowship, philosophy-making, lecture-giving, culture-creating, culture-critiquing, and banter, I always feel as though I don’t quite fit in. I feel intimidated by the other black men who seem to execute perfect black masculinity so well, and I feel insecure about what my intersection of maleness and blackness looks like. Without my brand of black masculinity being mirrored back to me and regardless of how others in the barbershop perceive me, something in me feels as though only walk-ins and not my version of black masculinity isn’t welcome.

These feelings of nervousness and intimidation and insecurity and alienation and uncertainty have bled over, and have been replicated in other spaces where I have had to interact with other black men: When I’m in the company of my father (who’s in the Navy) and two younger brothers (who’re student athletes). When I’m within a circle of black male relatives during the holidays. When I’m at university functions that are catered towards the black kids on campus. It’s frustrating to feel varying degrees of discomfort in these moments and spaces because black men are my friends. My family. My–as a gay, black man–lovers. They’re the ones, probably more than anyone else, that I should be able to relate to, see myself in, and feel comforted by.

While I may never figure out how love works or how cars operate or when to use “irony” or why certain sects of the population find Benedict Cumberbatch so delectable, I’m beginning to see, more and more, that understanding how to navigate black male spaces may be less difficult than I’ve always thought. It just involves a bit of work and growth on my part.

For one, I have to see my own idea of what it means to be black and male as being legitimate, versus comparing my black masculinity to a version that I’ve internalized as being more acceptable and more right. There are millions of black men across the globe, and so I have to believe that there are millions of ways of performing black masculinity- including my own- that are valid (regardless of whether or not they come into conflict with what’s preconceived as being ideal black masculinity). Also, I have to realize that black men are much, much more than their maleness and blackness, meaning that my interactions with black men don’t have to be wholly dictated by my being “black” or “masculine” enough. I can connect and relate to other black men on so many other levels. All in all, it’s evident that I have to work to unlearn  and release all that I’ve absorbed regarding blackness and masculinity (via the media, academia, religious figures, various schoolyard bullies, etc.) in order to be at peace with who I am and feel deserving of being in black male spaces. Instead of looking externally for acceptance, I have to give permission to myself to be accepted.


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