JILTED AT THE ALTAR.
Church. Family. Outed.
My grandmother had the best high heel and faux fur coat collection. I have fond memories of waiting for her to leave for work, double locking the door and promptly hosting my own Tottenham Fashion Week. Iconic.
My life was split between London and Birmingham, two families – worlds apart. Most school holidays were spent in Birmingham but my father was as present as Donald Trump’s natural hair-line, so I didn’t see him much. His parents were amazing, they were heavily involved in the church and well respected. I never dared miss Sunday school, my big-ass head in an oversized shirt and shiny trousers, serving all the aunties church-boy realness. As I approached adolescence, my relationship with church began to feel more hostile. I was praising the lord day by day then crying into my pillow, trying to pray the gay away night after night.
As a black boy, who grew up in a working-class family, raised in the church I admired the role models around me, but we all knew I was different and there was no way I could be who they wanted me to be. There was one potential role model; my mother’s older brother was gay, he was my idol. Jazz lover, great chef, interesting mind and he had no idea that I knew where he hid his smutty magazines. Browsing through the pages, I was still too young to understand what it all meant, but I was certain I liked it. The male body, nude, oiled up, staring back at me through the pages.
I was a happy black kid, soft in nature, a bunch of girls as friends and an endless amount of choreo to Missy Elliott and Destiny’s Child tracks. I had no cares in the world – then suddenly the wheels came off. Just as I hit puberty, the archetypal evil step father arrived. If there was ever a human depiction of toxic masculinity, it’d be him. Sadly my mother made decisions that weren’t great at the time, but she realises that now. As for me – well the pressures were extraordinary for someone so young and previously so happy. Fast forward a few years, my mother finally got rid, and I had one foot out of the closet. One of my aunts caught wind (through my cousin) that I was dating a guy a lot older than me, so she thought it’d be appropriate to out me to my uncles and aunties... then my mother. I love my family, but they’re a mess. Everyone has an opinion, all up in everyone else’s business.
On my mother’s side I have a big family of mainly women, all who took a role in raising me. When I started to express myself through drag or was bold enough to post pictures of me kissing boys on Facebook, no one really batted an eyelid. Finally, I felt like I had my family around me, I no longer had to find hide who I was. I was finally allowed to explore my sexuality openly.
I found love in the winter of 2009. We were lovers for a few years before things became exclusive, but we became inseparable. I’d have a birthday party at my mother’s home, he’d come visit and I became a regular face during Christmas with his family. The years passed and as I became more comfortable as a gay black man in love, it suddenly felt like my family foundations around me were being stripped away. In 2015 we got engaged and I was happily settled in my life of work, study and play. For some reason my public commitment and statement of wanting to get married to another man was all too much for my extended family. Three months before our vows, the majority of my family became malicious and ghosted. We could delve into my family’s complexities but this isn’t about that. Eighty percent of my family – those who were closest to me – decided that my gay black joy wasn’t worthy or legitimate enough for them. It was fine when it seemed fickle to them maybe, but marriage? It felt as though my whole world was crashing down around me. Dealing with rejection and abandonment isn’t easy and self care can be difficult during these traumas.
The year that followed wasn’t easy. My mother, grandmother and sister came to my big day and it was perfect, but being an interracial couple it wasn’t difficult to see that most of my family were either sticking to some serious black people time or got their dates mixed up when the big day came.
Throughout my adult years I have definitely created my own family, and I mean that with all seriousness. I think it’s something special that all of us within the LGBTQ umbrella share; our ability to create our own family and sense of community. I have definitely felt that over the past couple of years that there has definitely been something missing since being jilted at the altar – not by my husband, but by my extended family.
Through therapy and tending to my mental health as best I can, I’m starting to understand that as a result of my family sashaying away, my blackness needed nurturing specifically. I’m more than gay, I’m black and gay.
Mental health issues are rife amongst gay black folk and we must do as best we can to fuel our personal growth, support and lift each other up. I know it’s easier said than done and we don’t all share the same privileges. If you’ve been abandoned, the lucky ones find new families as I have – but there are still aspects that need to be a part of my life. My black identity is non negotiable. As a gay black Brit, I’ve always celebrated my blackness in many ways through culture; the literature I read, the music I listen to, the art I choose to put up in my home.
I’ve learned to seek out new cultural black experiences not based on my birth family but truly based on celebrating each other for who we are. Spending more time in queer black spaces has been a nourishing experience. I didn’t even know it was missing till I found myself seeking it somehow. It was definitely a burning desire within me. Our space matters more than I ever knew it would. Sharing lived experiences is so important to me – helping me understand who I am and how I got here.