In the game of love, being Black and gay means being dealt two automatic strikes before you even step up to the plate. Learning to love is difficult for any man born into a world that scrutinizes, rejects and even criminalizes you based on the color of your skin.
Add to that already complicated existence one riddled with shame, self-loathing and fear, courtesy of the hatred society often directs toward men who identify as gay.
How can gay Black men find partnership when we are so easily denied the space to even love ourselves? In a perfect world, we would rely on the acceptance of our family and peers as a guide, but so often, we are tormented, teased or shunned by the very ones who are supposed to love us most.
Still, it is in partnership that many gay Black men find the will to love themselves—and each other. It was love that brought the intersections of my life completely together.
My partner, Juan, and I had what could be considered a fairy-tale courtship—so magical, Walt Disney himself could not have penned a better story line. After exchanging glances across a crowded restaurant patio, we instantly fell for each other. Actually, we didn’t just fall: We unabashedly dove in headfirst, never looking back or listening to the naysayers. Four weeks in, we were using the L-word. Three months later, we found ourselves blending two households into one—breaking leases, deciding which set of furniture to keep and tossing out old appliances—and roommates—to make a space for our new life. And not long after that, we committed to spending the rest of our lives together with symbolic tattoos on our ring fingers. Back then, getting legally married wasn’t an option. ”Marriage” wasn’t even a part of our vocabulary because Black gays simply didn’t “do that.” But time would have other plans for us.
About a year into our relationship, I approached the end of a tumultuous custody battle with my ex-wife. My case was rock-solid, save for one minor detail: I was in a gay relationship. In the end, I was granted full custody of my 8-year-old son under one heartbreaking condition: I could not cohabitate with anyone who could be considered a romantic partner. Cue the confusion, the anger, the hurt.
Shocked and awed, we were smacked by the reality of the judgment. It was the fear of Black gay love in practice: This was what it looked like. It was a reminder that our love was seen as some “thing” that was tainted, illicit and wrong. The state of Georgia discounted and discredited the family unit that we worked so hard to create, one that was built through trial and error because there was no model to serve as our guide, no blueprint for us to follow. It echoed the assertions that gay men were incapable of giving or receiving love, and it screamed in our faces that we were not worthy of it in the first place.
We were being pushed back into the closet, told to live as roommates, encouraged to lie rather than live in our truth. Compliance would have confirmed the assertions of the courts and continued a cycle of shame and fear. That simply was not an option for our family.
One year and five months after we first locked eyes, Juan and I eloped in Connecticut.
Despite the fact that our union would not be officially recognized in our home state for another five years, it demonstrated our commitment and dedication to each other and to our family. Our marriage, finally made legal by last year’s Supreme Court ruling, is the ultimate testament to the beauty, resilience and brilliance of Black gay love. And guess what? I have my son.
I don’t know who I would be without my husband, the way he accepts all of me and how he has allowed (and encouraged) me to grow as a man, as a partner and as a father. Juan helps me live out my dreams. May the strikes against us be damned, because in the game of love, we win.[Read more moving, personal essays examining different facets of Black love n the February issue of EBONY. On newsstands now. Click here to subscribe.]