JILTED AT THE AL­TAR.

Church. Fam­ily. Outed.

Gay Times Magazine - - ESSAY - Words Dwayne Black

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.

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