Those are the formative years in this past decade that I have coveted with the upmost reverence. Each year marks a time in my life where I have experienced a spiritual awakening into a world that I believed to be unfit for a boy like me. A black boy who grew up in the Baptist church, singing in the choir since the age of six, would have never thought that those years would be the actual holy ghost that was running through my body as I shake and gyrate with glee. No, I am not talking about the sermon the Pastor just declared in church on the first Sunday of the month. I am talking about my queer heroes and vigils that have ignited me to the person I was always meant to be. This past decade has taught me one valuable lesson, that I have the power to forge my own path to greatness. With every heartbreak, unforeseeable panic attack, and irrational mood change, I witnessed a young boy grow into the queer man that God, The Universe, or whatever you believe in, had for me. Let me explain:
2011, Born This Way
I was 16, doing what all 16 year old boys do. I was attending high school, an all-male catholic institution to be exact. I was falling in love with a straight boy, and I was coming to terms with my sexuality. I was in the trenches of despair with no one to communicate any emotion with. My mother? There was no possible way I could express this unlined sickness within my gut. I was realizing my gayness was inevitable, and there was no denying it. My father? I think not. I was better off, what I believed to be, alone with my thoughts. Every twisted, dark, deviant, lustful, desirable thought was bottled in and kept corked impermeably.
I had already considered myself a Little Monster. I remember listening to “Just Dance” for the first time on the radio, on my way to school. I illegally downloaded it on my mp3 player (this was before smartphones). Poker Face followed and I was hooked. I was also realizing her stance on LGBTQ+ issues with the slightest grudge of denial. Even though, I considered myself not part of her gay agenda as of yet, I stanned. My mom even bought me a ticket to see her Monster Ball Tour stop in Cleveland. That show was unforgettable, electric, and gay as hell. I felt loved, special, and inspired as soon as she projected, “It doesn’t matter who you are, or where you come from, or how much money you’ve got in your pocket, because tonight and every night after, you can be whatever it is that you want to be.” Of course, the only way I could get there, to find that “inner sense of fame,” was to follow the glitter way. I glittered my way throughout that whole show unscathed.
That summer of 2011, Gaga’s anticipated album, Born This Way, was released. With fourteen tracks, eighties inspired synth-pop, and body-pumping anthems, Born This Way made its way to the top of the charts and in our hearts. Our? All of us queers. I was finally able to accept my queer identity before “queer” was deemed the official umbrella term. “Black Jesus” was my concrete poetry. “The Edge of Glory” was my deliverance from all evil. “Judas” allowed me to accept my darkness. “Heavy Metal Lover,” was my lustful desire. The quintessential self-titled track, “Born This Way,” was my gay anthem. This album was more than just a compilation of synth-pop heaven. It was a revolution. Born This Way will forever hold sustenance in any queer connotation. There is a reason it is proclaimed in every Pride event. I was learning to not be a drag, but a fabulous queen.
2013, Kinky Boots
Cyndi Lauper, Harvey Fierstein, and drag queens? That was 2013’s Tony-winning hit musical. I remember hearing Cyndi Lauper was working on a new project, writing the music to a new musical comedy. I didn’t think much of it except for the fact that the name was intriguing. I wasn’t able to see the stage production until it toured in 2016, but I previously listened to the cast album. I heard the infectious “oomba, oomba, oomba” of the bass and Billy Porter’s voice declaring his rightful place in the “Land of Lola.”
Cyndi had done it.
Three years later I would see a black, queer man playing a leading drag queen, saving all the white people. It was the first time I saw myself in a character, on stage. It was the first time I saw a black queer character being more than just the comic relief. It was a three-dimensional human being. That was I in that mini red dress. That was I in that purple pencil skirt and fedora hat. That was I in that suit scared shitless in a room full of toxic masculinity. That was I in lola’s kinky boots.
I finally saw the stage production on a date with my partner. I was glued to my seat. I don’t think I moved once. I remember recalling that I could have slayed that role, if the show came out 10 years earlier with the rights available to high school productions. Damn. I was furious that this didn’t exist when I was an adolescent. Where were you Kinky Boots? I needed you six years earlier! It made me realize that a “man” isn’t one identity. There are many forms of creative expression and it does not have to be what society tells you.
In 2017, I saw Kinky Boots on Broadway with the incomparable Billy Porter as Lola. I was also lucky enough to see the closing show this past spring. I cried like a baby during the curtain call. It was coming to an end, but I knew that 2013 production was the catalyst to my queer expression.
2017, Call Me By Your Name
Imagine finally being out and doing your research on LGBTQ+ history. From film, literature, music, and theatre, I studied the ones before me who implanted the seed of queer artistry. Through that research, I quickly realized that the only representation of queer people in most mediums were tragic. The gay man is shunned by loved ones, living below the poverty line, and dies from AIDS. The End. Better yet, most of these gay men where white, skinny, and conventionally good-looking. It wasn’t until my discovery of Andre Aciman’s Call Me By Your Name novel that I ran into queer characters who lived……..beautiful lives. With a coastal Italian city and a perfect summer season radiant enough to produce fine peaches, this novel was every queer boy’s fantasy (along with having a summer fling with a slightly older man). What brought it to life was the 2017 film by Luca Guadagnino, starring Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer. The lighting, the shots, the props, the pacing, all created this world of desire and freedom. I wanted to experience that. It was the first time I saw a queer film that didn’t end in tragedy, except for Oliver’s departure and marriage announcement. Overall it reminded me of a world where queer people can exist without any judgment, fear, but boundless love. It made me think the unthinkable.
I know I just talked about how I was tired of seeing queer people battle AIDS, but FX’s Pose series offers more than just that. Yes, many of the characters battle HIV, but they continue to live to the fullest. With every strut and sashay, they command attention and respect. In a world filled with hatred, discrimination, and corruption, this marginalized group finds themselves amongst each other and created families, or houses, to overcome those barriers. Did I mention this show broke records being the only TV series with the most trans actors? Did I also mention that Billy Porter stars as the MC? This show was/is everything to me. Now that I have fully embraced my queerness, I am continuously elevating myself to my full potential. Sure, I can learn how to be fabulous from RuPaul’s Drag Race, but Pose offers more. It offers authenticity. To round off the pleasure of this show, I witnessed history this year seeing Billy Porter win the Primetime Emmy for “Best Leading Actor in a Drama Series.” It was the first time a gay black man won the category, and he was playing a gay black character. I saw myself on that stage accepting the honor. What that moment did was awaken my spirits and enlightened my soul. Porter started his acceptance speech by quoting James Baldwin, “It took many years of vomiting up the filth I was taught about myself and halfway believed, before I could walk around this Earth like I had a right to be here.” At this moment, from looking back on this past decade, I can surely proclaim that I have the right to be here.