Earlier this week, our 50 Shades of BLACK creator, Carlton Mackey, posed a question to all of Facebook and Twitter, asking, “What assumptions have people made about you about your skin tone?” In the past, I’ve written about how, much to my never ending surprise, some people look at my skin and face and think I’m mixed with another brown race. But when I read Carlton’s question, I somehow immediately thought of a conversation I had with a former schoolmate back in undergrad.
It was the beginning of my third year at Georgia State University and I’d just moved back into the dorms, the Olympic Village, and since most of my friends had moved out and found their own apartments, I was left with only a handful of people to socialize with while I got acquainted with the new people in the building.
Luckily for me, an old female acquaintance of mine was still around and invited me over to her place to hang out and catch up on our summers at home. During our convo, I opened up to her about having finally, after years and years of bad acting in the closet, come out to our group of friends, and how dealing with my sexuality had been such a struggle for me.
As I recounted a shortlist of hurtful names that I’d been called in my childhood over my sexuality, I assumed that my friend would offer a sympathetic ear and lend a shoulder for me to lean on. Unfortunately, all she had to offer was laughter at the names I rifled off and a claim that she and all of our friends had already known that I was gay.
I tried to shrug off her insensitivity and continued talking about how I was working to embrace myself as a gay man and somehow champion the LGBT community to the rest of the world. However, my confessions continued to fall on semi-deaf ears and my so-called friend went on to tell me that, although fighting for equality and change was all well and good, I had to choose which community I wanted to fight for. “Are you gonna choose the black community or are you gonna choose the gay community? You can’t do both,” she said to me.
Stuck in something of a state of shock, I struggled to process her question and find the right words to respond. If the 2014 version of myself was a sideline commentator – and I kind of am right now – he’d prolly say that the younger me felt a lot like the character of Lena Duchannes, a young Caster on the verge of new powers and self-discovery, in the book/movie Beautiful Creatures when her evil mother, Sarafine, repeatedly told her that she had to be claimed for the Light or the Dark, and that there was no option outside of the two.
However, there was no side commentator and I had no super cool and relatable movie character to pull wisdom from in that moment. All I had were my feelings and my sense of right and wrong, and with that I was able to respond that I just couldn’t see how her question was right or logical. I told her that I couldn’t see how I had to choose between living life as a proud black men or choosing to live proudly as a gay man. They were two parts of me that were both undeniable and unchangeable and yet she was asking me to sacrifice one to live the other.
I asked my friend to try to understand where I was coming from and how wrong that choice felt, but she didn’t understand me and we simply had to agree to disagree. I soon left her place still feeling just as alone and misunderstood as I had before I ever sauntered through her doorway. All I knew is that I had to walk my own path to finding out just who I wanted to be.
To this day, I still think about that conversation from time to time and it irks me that she had the audacity to ask me such a self-destructive question. Aren’t we all, as human beings, three-dimensional creatures? Aren’t we all a mixed bag of cultures, races, communities, interests and philosophies? Aren’t we all inevitably connected by those intersections? And aren’t we all really fighting for the same thing: The freedom to exist as we are and to be seen and loved as full human beings?
If I were to live by her logic and choose to only be black, as she strongly implied, how could I call myself an activist or simple a good and whole person if I denied a part of myself and ignored the needs of an entire community of people who are suffering from damn near the same oppression and hate as every other minority group? How can the world ever really change for the better if the people in it don’t believe in the simple philosophies of unity and solidarity?
If someone ever had the audacity to ask me that same question that she asked again, my answer wouldn’t change much. I refuse to choose somebody else’s so-called options for how I have to live my life. If anything, I choose myself. I choose the black, the gay, the weirdness, the dark, the light, the checkered middle part and everything else about me. I choose to be infinite within myself and allow whatever makes me me to live.
However, the one thing I would add to my response is this, because this accurately explains how I feel about ANYONE who would DARE tell another person to choose an identity simply for the sake of their own sense of comfort.