+Since its inception, the Dear Dad documentary, which explores the relationships between black gay men and their fathers. has taken its cast to places in our lives that we’ve never known or dreamed. But last week the film took us all the way to HuffPost Live for an amazing panel discussion with host Ahmed Shihab-Eldin about the lives and experiences of black gay men and how bettering our relationships with our fathers can better our entire community.
n the interview, Dear Dad creator Chase Simmons explained how his relationship with black men overall was shaped by his relationship with his father, which ultimately helped to inspire his groundbreaking film.
“There was always a certain level of discomfort [with other black men]. I didn’t feel very connected a lot of times. I sort of felt “othered” and a little ostracized so that kind of stems from not feeling really close to him [my father] growing up a lot. And I think that just manifested and rolled as I became an adult,” Chase explained.
“I know that my relationship with my father not only shaped who I am, but also my relationships with men; Romantic relationships with other gay men and also with straight men as well,” added Yoli Akili, author of Dear Universe: Letters of Affirmation & Empowerment For All of Us. “I really see that those early relationships really influence how we understand intimacy, how we are able to connect to vulnerability. Until we kind of do that emotional healing work with our fathers or at least address our relationships with our fathers, our primary caregivers, it’s really difficult to be in love with other men or be in relationships with other men.
Akili explains that part of the difficulty that gay men have in bonding with their fathers and other men comes from our the black community’s strict gender roles and the homophobia that plagues religion, especially Christianity, which is a cornerstone of the black community.
"Masculinity in America is very rigid itself," added Yolo Akili. "When you are African-American, because of the history of slavery and the history of race in this country, that is even more rigid. So when you come out as a queer person, there’s a way in which, historically, that is not connected to ‘blackness’ or 'black masculinity.’”
And as internet blogger Kevin Dwayne Nelson explains, cultural stigmas surrounding the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which has historically been connected to the LGBT community, still influence the way that the black community views black gay men.
“I actually grew up in church, and I still am very much involved in church. Growing up, it was harder. It was being a black person but also I was born in the late ‘80s and so that’s when the AIDS stigma was really starting to push,” said Nelson. “I actually had an uncle who died from AIDS and I got to see at a young age how my family reacted to that. And not to step on anybody’s toes but they kind of rejected him. And I noticed that it was heavier in the black community because they didn’t understand it and they didn’t want to understand it. And then also in church there’s just this whole mentality that you just kind of ex-communicate it and move on.”
For Simmons, those issues are just of things he wants to tackle with the film. But on an even more personal level, he says that he simply wants to help not only himself, but other gay men to heal their psychological wounds and to heal their relationships with their fathers.
“I feel like it’s difficult to have emotional and difficult conversations when you’re not used to it and you’re not taught to do that growing up,” Simmons explained. “We had a lot of things going on in my household when I was growing up so there weren’t a lot of conversations, there wasn’t a lot of emotions exchanged. So as an adult, you just sort of end up doing the same thing and once you get to a point where you’re like, ‘something’s not right or I just don’t feel connected.’ Then you have to start doing the work and it’s really hard and it’s really uncomfortable,”
“I thought the main reason to make this film was to encourage people to heal or try to heal, and to reach out and to take that leap and attempt to try,” said Simmons.
All of the men certainly hit the nail on the head with all of their points and as a fellow cast member I’m proud of their message and hope that their words reached the black gay men who need a voice and an image to relate to. Hopefully, this film and all of our life stories can help other black gay men to, as Chase said, do the life work in dealing with our past, learning to be honest about our thoughts and feelings, despite society’s strict gender rules about men and emotions, and ultimately learning how to be vulnerable and better communicate with the men in our lives.
Watch the HuffPost Live interview here and watch Dear Dad below.