Black gay men living in At­lanta

Charles Stephens is the Direc­tor of Counter Nar­ra­tive and co-edi­tor of ‘Black Gay Ge­nius: An­swer­ing Joseph Beam’s Call.’

GA Voice - - Outspoken - By Charles Stephens

Ev­ery year young black gay men, and some not so young, make their way to At­lanta for adventure, for ro­mance or to fol­low their dreams. Many of them come here for school: More­house or Clark At­lanta or even Emory, where they be­come English, Psy­chol­ogy, or Span­ish ma­jors. They are from places like Birm­ing­ham, Char­lotte, Au­gusta and Mem­phis, though my per­sonal fa­vorites are the ones from Jack­son, Mis­sis­sippi. They al­ways seem the most sin­cere in their de­sires. Then there are those from larger cities: New York of course, and Detroit (so many black gay men in At­lanta seem to be from Detroit th­ese days), St. Louis, Los An­ge­les, Philadel­phia and Chicago.

The broth­ers from the North­east are usu­ally dis­ap­pointed the quick­est. They will com­plain about the slow­ness of the city: The pace is too slow, peo­ple walk too slowly, peo­ple talk too slowly. They even claim our ac­cents are in­de­ci­pher­able (I say this as some­one who doesn’t re­ally have a South­ern ac­cent ex­cept for when I get ex­cited or an­gry). And yet they ar­rive, and they re­main, leav­ing bad win­ters and bad mem­o­ries, to rein­vent them­selves here. They will rem­i­nisce about sub­way sys­tems with 24hour ser­vice as if such a qual­ity is the defin­ing mark of civ­i­liza­tion. This sort of per­sona was de­picted per­fectly in the char­ac­ter of Joshua from the Tarell Alvin McCraney play, “Mar­cus; Or The Se­cret of Sweet.”

Not all of them come here for school. Some have part­ners with jobs that bring them to At­lanta. In the 1990s they might have moved to East At­lanta, Litho­nia or Stone Moun­tain. Now they are more likely to move south of the city: to East Point, Camp Creek, South At­lanta or West End. They get con­nected to the house party cir­cuit. Buy gym mem­ber­ships. Go to the Do­mini­can Repub­lic for va­ca­tion. Th­ese are the men E. Lynn Har­ris de­scribed in his nov­els.

Then there are those of us from At­lanta; those of us who grew up poor or work­ing class. We come from Bankhead, Adamsville, Pitts­burgh, De­catur or Litho­nia, and went to high school at Wash­ing­ton, Dou­glass and Open Cam­pus. The mid­dle-class black gay boys who grew up on Cas­cade Road or in one of the south­west Dekalb sub­di­vi­sions at­tended Mays, West­lake, North At­lanta, or Stephen­son High. We would find each other on var­i­ous chat lines, web­sites, or just out and about.

When I came out as a high school stu­dent in the late 1990s, back when At­lanta wanted to be New York, rather than Hol­ly­wood, the sen­si­bil­ity of the city seemed a bit dif­fer­ent. Then, the most vis­i­ble black gay men were ac­tivists, writ­ers and or­ga­niz­ers, and if you wanted to be vis­i­ble you be­came an ac­tivist, writer or or­ga­nizer. Now the most vis­i­ble black gay men are re­al­ity stars. So if you want to be vis­i­ble, you try to be­come one of the many “At­lanta celebri­ties.” This is a very im­por­tant shift.

Be­fore, you could go to Outwrite book­store, sit on the pa­tio and make three new friends in a night. The same might be said of In­novox Lounge, the 24-hour cof­fee shop that was in Mid­town back in the day. Or you might find your­self in one of the end­less dis­cus­sion groups and join a com­mit­tee. I think at some point ev­ery­one was on the Sec­ond Sun­day Top­ics Com­mit­tee, for ex­am­ple.

There are still traces of the old At­lanta. The dreams that bring black gay men to At­lanta are the same, even if the city isn’t.

June 12, 2015

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