Lan­guage of Trauma is Si­lence: Part 2

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

GA Voice - - Out In The Wind - By Charles Stephens

We be­came big broth­ers with­out first be­ing lit­tle broth­ers. El­ders with­out first be­ing youth. This is how I think about those early years. We were still kids and yet we weren’t. In my cir­cle of young black gay men: activists and artists, not even 25 years old, we fought and sur­vived ho­mo­pho­bic fam­i­lies and aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions, be­ing marginal­ized, be­ing invisible, poverty, and the racist white gays. How­ever, the one bat­tle that we were never quite pre­pared for was when we had to go to war against each other.

My beau­ti­ful friends, they were boy-war­riors. And yet there will never be streets named af­ter them. They will not be recorded in history books. Their names will never be spo­ken at aca­demic con­fer­ences. Their faces will never be placed on stamps. Their lives will never be de­picted in the cin­ema. It’s as if they never ex­isted. And this is why I in­sist upon writ­ing about them. Not just be­cause I want to re­mem­ber, but be­cause I won’t let you forget.

Of those early bat­tles that we en­dured and that we wit­nessed, the one that haunts me to this day was one of the last times I saw Ke­iron. I was in Mid­town; the old Mid­town. This was fall 1999. It’s im­por­tant to make a dis­tinc­tion be­tween the old Mid­town and the new. The old Mid­town was dark, dan­ger­ous, fun, mys­te­ri­ous, alive and sexy; back then we named build­ings things like “Vase­line Tow­ers.” The new Mid­town is gen­tri­fied and ster­ile, with con­dos, strollers, yup­pies and such. But in the old Mid­town I hap­pened to be walk­ing by the At­lanta Lambda Cen­ter (which was where many of our LGBT meet­ings took place), and as I was walk­ing past the build­ing, Ke­iron hap­pened to be walk­ing out.

Ke­iron Wil­liams had been one of the founders of My Brother’s Keeper, the young black gay men’s group I had been politi­cized in, and also a stu­dent at More­house Col­lege. Did I speak first? I don’t re­mem­ber. Maybe he did. I do re­mem­ber him say­ing “I just got fired.” Sec­ond Sun­day was the black gay men’s dis­cus­sion group that was the sort of “par­ent or­ga­ni­za­tion” to My Brother’s Keeper. Ap­par­ently dur­ing its board meet­ing, that he was leav­ing when I met him, they fired our en­tire lead­er­ship, in­clud­ing Ke­iron. The lead­er­ship po­si­tions were vol­un­teer, though I think Ke­iron might have re­ceived a small stipend. The stated rea­son for the fir­ing, I be­lieve, was an ad­min­is­tra­tive er­ror. Ke­iron sent a re­port to a fun­der with­out first get­ting Sec­ond Sun­day to re­view it.

I think the real rea­son Ke­iron was fired was that he was a fem­i­nine, bril­liant, de­fi­ant, black sissy and many of our el­ders de­spised him for it. He was a big mouth. He re­fused to be invisible and he re­fused to as­sim­i­late into ab­surd no­tions of re­spectabil­ity ac­tivism. As he told me about the fir­ing, his face looked calm, even serene, but now I know that face well, be­cause it’s also a face I’ve learn to make. A mask I’ve learned to wear. This is the mask you wear when your broth­ers hurt you and you try to con­ceal it. Trauma isn’t just about si­lence; it’s also a per­for­mance.

He then told me that he was leav­ing ac­tivism to fo­cus on his life’s pur­pose (which I imag­ine he no longer saw as ac­tivism). He was, I think, 25. He would die maybe two years af­ter we had this con­ver­sa­tion, and it still haunts me to this day.

So this is why I write about the past. Not just to re­mem­ber, but to memo­ri­al­ize. So as I fin­ish this, my last col­umn for Ge­or­gia Voice, I’m think­ing not about death, but about life, about how lan­guage is life and life is mem­ory.

“My beau­ti­ful friends, they were boy­war­riors. And yet there will never be streets named af­ter them. They will not be recorded in history books. Their names will never be spo­ken at aca­demic con­fer­ences. Their faces will never be placed on stamps. Their lives will never be de­picted in the cin­ema. It’s as if they never ex­isted.”

Novem­ber 13, 2015

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