I've known I was not “straight” all my life. I was sure I was gay around age 14. And it was challenging being young and gay - and black.
In those early years, when I was discovering myself and attempting to find people to relate to, seeking out in others something that is invisible to the eye, and complicated for oneself to even recognize, felt impossible.
Today, when it comes to LGBTQ visibility, it’s a lot more widespread. There are actors (Neil Patrick Harris comes to mind), major city council members (New York City’s James G. Van Bramer), musicians (Sam Smith is super vocal) and news anchors (hey, Anderson Cooper). It also seems to be a requirement now for new TV shows to include an LGBTQ character. There’s a bit of real representation. Almost.
Those examples are all great and inspiring and stuff, but in real life, where’s the prominent, influential, black LGBTQ figure? And even more inconspicuous, the prominent, influential, black LGBTQ couple?
A few days ago, I went to the world’s greatest resource for answers. Google.
I searched “famous gay couples” and here’s what sprung up in my browser:
Photo: Google (screenshot)
Wanda Sykes makes a cameo with her beautiful French wife, Olivia Lou (she jokes that she’s “a minority in her own home” that includes her 5-year-old white twins), but are you expecting me to believe that there aren’t ANY prominent, black gay couples?!
I’m not talking about the gay couples you see daily on social media sites (that’s too easy), but a preeminent public couple that mirrors a Jay Z and Beyoncé (or at least a John Legend and Chrissy Teigen) level of visibility and influence. A major black LGBTQ couple that isn’t caricatured, drama-filled or attention seeking, but authentic, settled and positively progressive.
Let me slow down and back up a bit.
You’re probably wondering why it matters? Who cares? Or maybe you’re even saying that a public figure’s relationship is really none of our business.
However, to not see gay black couples on major platforms in major mainstream media outlets is unrealistic. There has to be a few out there in upper echelons. I also believe that the representation of even just one would be a huge step forward in the LGBTQ community, and society as a whole.
Most of us operate on social constructs whether we care to admit it or not, and for the most part, it’s not necessarily a terrible thing (racism, or hate of any kind, is terrible though, but that’s another conversation). Social constructs are why most people aspire to attend college, live in monogamous relationships and also decide to get married (often in that order). But I can tell you first hand as a gay man, I have never had that.
A serious desire for marriage? I legally couldn’t jump the broom until a couple of years ago. A homemaking partner of a working, money-making man? That idea is unfathomable. A monogamous public relationship? How, when the idea of holding hands in open view still frightens many black gay men more than Lorena Bobbitt with a butcher knife? To see a major, public, black gay relationship would teach, inspire and strip away negative notions for many. Wouldn’t you agree that the positive image of Barack and Michelle Obama’s relationship has influenced the formation of many strong, loving, black heterosexual relationships? What if there was a black LGBTQ couple representing in a similar way?
Photo: Pete Souza—The White House
Why aren’t there any visible major, black LGBTQ partnerships? The African American community could partially be the blame...
In 2012 when Frank Ocean (sort of) came out, there was a lot of love shown (some might even say that the revelation made him more popular than he already was), but everyone wasn’t with it. More recently, upon releasing his sophomore album Blonde (a full four years after his initial coming out), he still experienced lots of homophobic hate, with plenty of it coming from our own black community.
And in an excerpt from a 2011 New York Times piece, CNN News anchor, Don Lemon, undeviatingly expressed his fear of being a black man and coming out:
“It’s quite different for an African-American male,” [Lemon] said. “It’s about the worst thing you can be in black culture. You’re taught you have to be a man; you have to be masculine. In the black community they think you can pray the gay away.” He said he believed the negative reaction to male homosexuality had to do with the history of discrimination that still affects many black Americans, as well as the attitudes of some black women.
We can point to religion, the push for black men to portray a macho position, or a “standard” he must uphold for the black community, but whatever the case, when your own shuns and ridicules you for living in your truth, why would one take it further and expose their black love to it as well? Sounds like double trouble, and who wants to live through that on a daily basis?
We can’t deny that public figures are powerful emblems that have shaped how we lived and viewed the world for generations. Gay public figures are finally adding to that. We now need to see important, real, black LGBTQ couples to normalize a view of love that totally exists, but is less than barely regarded.
I returned to Google that night some days ago to do a “hetero" version of the search I performed earlier (simply “famous couples” this time).
Here’s what I found:
Photo: Google (screenshot)
Yes. Just a few sprinkles of major, public, black straight love, but unlike its gay counterpart, at least it’s there.