Living Proudly by J'son M. Lee
I am a proud black gay man. For many years I couldn’t say that because there was such shame and condemnation associated with those three, simple letters—GAY. As I reflected on the Pride edition of the magazine, and in light of recent news articles, I was reminded there are countless people living with a dirty little secret. They can’t live in their truth because since the time they have been able to understand language, they were taught that being gay is nothing to be proud of. In fact, it’s an abomination. It’s a demonic possession, and you should seek deliverance from it. It’s the greatest of sins, and will certainly lead you to the pits of hell.
I knew there was something special about me early on. I knew I had an attraction to the same sex, but in my family, that was unacceptable. I heard whispers about my uncle, Jimmie. “Don’t turn out like your uncle. You know he’s that way,” my aunt would say. As she said “that way” she’d hold her hand parallel to the ground and pivot it left and right. “You don’t want to get that disease,” she added. Uncle Jimmie was flamboyant. He moved away from our small rural town to pursue a better life, and surround himself with people who were not trapped in the Baptist rhetoric that saw homosexuality as this nefarious sin greater than any other.
His life fascinated me. As the artistic director of a small modeling troupe, he was surrounded by beautiful people and beautiful things. I remember seeing pictures of my mother and grandmother at lavish parties in his home. They looked so glamorous. On the rare occasion that he’d come back to North Carolina, I’d stare at him in awe. He always had some tall, handsome man with him. I’d sneak and stare some more. I knew then I had something in common with Uncle Jimmie.
He seemed proud of his life, but why did everyone else act as if something were wrong. I wanted to be like him. I wanted his life. I wanted to live as freely and comfortably as he seemed to live. I think he picked up on my yearning. “If you stay thin, you can move to DC and be one of my models,” he said.
He would leave, as he always did, and I would go back to hating myself and feeling as if something was wrong with me. There seemed to be no one else like me. One thought kept me strong. I knew that if I could only hold out until I graduated high school, my problems would be over. I could move away…become a model…surround myself with people like me. I clung to Uncle Jimmie’s offer.
In the meantime, my great-grandmother would take me to Weeping Mary Baptist Church each week. Sunday after Sunday I sat in that pew and listened as the pastor condemned gays and lesbians from his pulpit. I was a precocious child; I read the dictionary for entertainment. I knew he was talking about me—I knew. Even at that young age, I knew. My family reinforced these teachings and it was psychologically damaging to my development and self-esteem.
Before I got the chance to move to DC and become that model, Uncle Jimmie succumbed to AIDS. Even in his death, I heard the whispers. Back then, AIDS was the “gay disease”. At his funeral, the casket remained closed—how symbolic. Everyone speculated on how he died. I think “cancer” was the buzz word back then. His life, as amazing as I perceived it to be, was reduced to something no one should be proud of.
I remember telling my best friend later in life about my favorite uncle and how he died. “How do you feel knowing he was such a good person, but went to hell because he was gay?” she asked. By this point in my life, I was learning to be proud of who I was. Admittedly, I wasn’t quite there yet, but I was close enough that I was able to formulate an argument in my uncle’s defense—in my own defense. She knew I was gay, and I thought she accepted it. How dare she condemn me!
I was one of the lucky ones. I was able to work through my pain, my self-esteem issues, and my shame with my life intact. My heart aches for those who never got to realize their pride—people like Josh Pacheco, Tyler Clementi, Seth Walsh, and Carlos Vigil. All of these beautiful, gay youth took their lives. This doesn’t even speak to the countless gays and lesbians who are savagely beaten or murdered—people like Mathew Shepard, and most recently, Brittney Cosby, and her girlfriend, Crystal Jackson. Matthew didn’t deserve to be pistol-whipped with the barrel of a .357 Magnum. He didn’t deserve to be hung—barefoot, freezing and barely alive—on a fence, in a pose resembling a crucifixion. Whose sins was he crucified for? Brittney didn’t deserve to die from blunt force trauma, and Crystal didn’t deserve to be shot to death—possibly at the hands of Brittney’s father. Certainly, neither of them deserved to be left behind a dumpster. We. Are. Not. Trash. These are our children.
Why is the notion of being gay so hard for people to accept? They taunt us. They tell us we are possessed by demonic spirits. They cause us to take our lives. They even kill us. Yet some of us miraculously make it over that hurdle and find a semblance of pride in our existence. I’m here to tell you, I will continue to speak out—LOUD and PROUD—as long as gay youth are killing themselves because someone instilled in them they are not enough. I will continue to speak out—LOUD and PROUD—until others realize our lives are worth living. We were molded with the same care and precision as our heterosexual counterparts. We are unique, and we are worthy. God has a special plan for each of us that only we can fulfill. But we can only do that if we choose to live our lives—PROUDLY!