Being Gay Was Fine With My Family — But Not ‘Acting’ Gay

It takes consistent effort to remind other Black men that we are more than our gender

II came out to my family in 2015. At the time, the Supreme Court was about to make the historic vote that would legalize gay marriage for millions of queer people in America.

Coming out for me was not painful or challenging. I had history on my side: My family already had several members who identified as gay. So it came as no real shock when they welcomed me with open arms. I thought the hardest part of coming out would be stating my truth—but as I learned, the real challenge would be living that truth.

He accepted my gayness because I fit the bill of what made straight men comfortable. I wasn’t flamboyant, and I didn’t bring feminine men around the family.

The first time was at my brother’s graduation party. My cousin decided to congratulate me for not “acting like a girl.” “You have all these guys who are gay and just act like women,” he said. “They wear dresses and don’t even act like guys anymore. I’m glad you aren’t wearing dresses and makeup. You don’t make anyone uncomfortable, and that is a good thing.”

He accepted my gayness because I fit the bill of what made straight men comfortable. I wasn’t flamboyant, and I didn’t challenge heteronormative ideas of manhood, or bring feminine men around the family. I realized I had to challenge that view—as well as the fact that the Black men in my family were okay with my gayness as long as they could forget it existed. So I did; as I finished up my conversation with my cousin, I told him in no uncertain terms that it didn’t matter if I did act more feminine, wear a dress, or identify as something other than manly.

Toxic masculinity is a cultural concept that encourages strength, dominance, and power to adhere to male gender roles that limit emotional states from men. It is pervasive in all societies, but particularly among Black men who use it as a way to project power and defend it against those who try to take it away from them. Toxic masculinity was recently on display with the news that Dwyane Wade’s child came out as transgender and wanted to be called Zaya moving forward. While thousands showed support for Zaya’s courageous decision, many others claimed the child was confused and that Dwayne and Gabrielle should do a better job raising their children.

How young is too young to claim agency over your sexuality and gender? It has always been a debate, and will likely be one for years to come. But Black men need to examine and explore why they are uncomfortable with femininity and the expression of it.

The root cause of this discomfort dates back to slavery. Black men needed to shield themselves from the oppressor, which meant discouraging any forms of femininity and maintaining an image of power and might in a society that viewed them as anything but powerful. But today, our viewpoints on gender are rapidly changing, as more Black men begin to challenge what it means to be a man in America. Toxic masculinity is deep-rooted in the Black community, and it will take a concerted effort to remind those that try to keep it in place that we are so much more than our gender. We are starting to take steps in the right direction; we can’t turn back.

Here’s a message for my family members or anyone who accepts my sexuality with stipulations: I hope you would love and respect me regardless of how I present to the world. The most beautiful way to live is by being myself.

A writer who focuses on pieces about race, politics, culture, and technology — among other topics. Editor-in-chief of Perceive More!

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