School has always been my happy place; it is the place where I feel the most liberated and free. Throughout my academic career, I have had the pleasure of experiencing many wonderful people; however, three people, in particular, are the reason I am here today. Today, I take you on a journey which will happen in both a flashback and a fast forward to moments and people that has laid the foundation for acceptance and manhood.
Flashback- Middle School
Daily, I heard terms that would be used to describe how people saw me. Now, brace yourself because all of these words and phrases are hurtful:
These were terms I heard in class, while I walked the halls of the school. While I laughed them off, these were jabs that crushed my soul every time. I was confused and questioned both the purpose of these words and wondered why other’s want to describe me as such.
Other phrases I have heard:
- I had a dream that you kissed a boy, do not grow up to be gay and break your mother’s heart.
- I do not want a gay son living under my roof, I will kick you out of the house if you live that lifestyle.
- Yo… you better not be gay, I don’t want a gay younger brother.
Every day I heard these words and so In my mind, I could not, under any circumstances, be gay. That would make me less of a young man and a human being, as well as, that would make me a homeless child.
Throughout my entire life, I have always known that I was different. My grandmother would speak to the various injustices that black people faced in America. Therefore, at an early age, I understood that being Black in America was hard because America did not want me and I was a target. To add insult to injury, adding the notion of being queer on top of that would make me even more of a target.
In 7th grade, I was teased so badly that my Shero, Ms. Depena came to my rescue. She was the first person to affirm my queer identity. She told me “LaMar, it is okay to be yourself; it is okay to be gay. I will love you regardless.” Those words were life-changing and gave me the ability to be more comfortable in being myself at school (home was a different ballgame, but that is a different story for another day.) While she planted a seed of acceptance in 7th grade, that rose would not grow until later in college and when people would ask about my identity, I would hear the voice of Ms. Depena say “it is okay to be gay.”
Fast forward: College
Black males that grew up in the “hood” like me are expected to look a certain way, have particular mannerisms, portray a “toughness” that equated to “manhood.” People do not realize that there is not one formula to manhood; the concept of manhood is multidimensional. As I reflect back, I have been around Black men my entire life whether in church, in the neighborhood, and in school. However, because of my queerness and lack of interest in sports or anything that demonstrated manhood, many black men were not interested in getting to know me; I was often tossed to the waste side which is a horrible experience for anyone. However, college was a game changer; the collegiate experience fostered relationships that would later change my life.
In college, I had more of a clear idea about my identity; yet, I had a plethora of questions that consistently went unanswered due to the absence of Black men in my life because I was not that ideal “young Black man.” That crushed my spirit because I wanted to know, I wanted to feel love and affirmation from a Black man; that was very important for me because I consistently felt like a piece of my soul was empty.
I was blessed to befriend this one guy; we became so close, we were more like brothers. He filled a void that had been empty for so long and through him, I met two of his fraternity brothers: Fred and Terric. These two men were Heaven sent because they accepted, loved, nurtured this little black boy and ushered him into manhood. There I was, a 19 year old, feeling like a 7-year-old around these two black men that I admired. From them, I learned friendship and brotherhood between men; they corrected my wrong and celebrated my accomplishments. Fred and Terric brought out the best in me; it is because of them, I can proudly say I am Black, Male, and queer and in that order.
So, Here is my Thank You letter to them:
Dear Ms. Depena, Fred and Shyne,
For years I have wanted to say ‘thank you’ for all you have done for me but I could never find the words; however, I have them now! While you each have experienced the lavishness of LaMar at different periods of my life, you gave me the greatest gift in the world, you gave me affirmation for my identify and ushered me into manhood.
I will never forget that conversation we had when I was in 7th grade; you have no idea how much I was crying inside. Behind my big smile was a child who felt like he was dying a slow death because of his identity. You came into my life at a low point; your support and affirmation towards my identify came early on but the seed fell on fertile soil. I hear your voice daily… “it is ok!” Three words that are so simple yet so powerful to a Black boy coming to terms with his identity at such a young age. Thank you for all you did for me then; I will forever be grateful to you and your love. When my students struggle with their identity, I embody who you were for me; I make sure to love them and support them as you did for me.
My Dearest Fred and Shyne,
You are the reason I am! Meeting the two of you will always be one of my favorite memories that has happened in my life. I used to pray for positive Black men to come into my life, accept and love me for who I am; that prayer was answered the day I met you. I had no idea of my place in the world and the issues I would face and how to walk this life as a Black queer man in America. The both of you were the best models of manhood; with you, I learned how to love, to support, and appreciate others. Fred and Shyne, you stepped in when nobody else would and because of your mentorship, friendship, and brotherhood, you ushered this Black Queer boy into a Black Queer man. You never saw me as one thing but realized that I embodied all three identifies. Thank you for all you did, I would not be here without you!
To All three,
Thank you for making me feel seen and heard.
Thank you for believing in me and affirming me.
Thank you for teaching me integrity and authenticity.
Thank you for fostering the ability to be a creative and intellectual being.
Thank you for creating the Black, Bold, Beautiful queer man I am today.
And for that… I slay!
Love and Light,
This blog post is part of the #31DaysIBPOC Blog Challenge, a month-long movement to feature the voices of indigenous and teachers of color as writers and scholars. Please CLICK HERE to read yesterday’s blog post by Anna Osborn (and be sure to check out the link at the end of each post to catch up on the rest of the blog circle).