Sweet Lad, Tender Lad
A Pictorial History of Afro-American Gay Couples
Sweet lad, tender lad,
Have no shame, you’re mine for good;
We share a sole insurgent fire,
We live in boundless brotherhood.
I do not fear the gibes of men;
One being split in two we dwell,
The kernel of a double nut
Embedded in a single shell.
(From ‘Imitation of the Arabic’ by Afro-Russian poet, Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin)
Playwright & historian, Trent Kelley, has curated these photographs from his personal collection documenting love and affection among African American gay male couples. The essay is entitled ‘Hidden in the Open: A Photographic Essay of Afro-American Male Couples.”
Kelley has written in the Huffington Post:
Afro American same-sex loving gay men who were coupled with one another in the distant past walked the streets, ate at the dinner tables, and generally participated in their larger ethnic community out in the open, their relationships known only to those who were consequential to their everyday lives. In this respect, they were out in the open but hidden to those who didn’t know about their sexual proclivities. Hence, the title of this series of pictures dating from the mid 19th century to the late 20th century is “Hidden in the Open: A Photographic Essay of Afro-American Male Couples.”
Some of these images are sure to depict gay couples, whereas others may not.
The end result is speculative at best, for want in applying a label. Not every gesture articulated between these men is an indication of male-to-male intimacies. Assuredly, what all the photographs have in common are signs of Afro-American male affection and love that were recorded for posterity without fear and shame. Friendships where men often wrote romantically to one another, walked arm in arm were not uncommon to straight and gay men alike during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Depending on economic situation, many even slept together and this may have precluded or included physical intimacy between the sheets.
But there were past generations of Afro American gay men who lived and love bravely. They exist in these photographs. Like today’s gay male of African descent, the majority of them were never victims who whined nor required rescuing. Their presence here defy a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community often wanting to make them an impotent footnote absent of any self-empowerment within gay culture and those vocally homophobic pockets within a black community wanting to write these men out of the narrative to Afro-American history.
See the rest of this outstanding collection here.
Me and most of the guys that I end up with.
Uganda’s president is expected to sign a controversial anti-gay bill that allows harsh penalties for “homosexual offences”.
The Uganda Media Center said on Monday that President Yoweri Museveni will sign the bill at 11am local time (0800 GMT) at his official residence, the Reuters news agency reported.
The bill is popular in Uganda, but rights groups have condemned it as draconian in a country where homosexuality is already illegal.
The law punishes first-time offenders with 14 years in jail. It also sets life imprisonment as the penalty for acts of “aggravated homosexuality”.
The bill originally proposed the death penalty for some homosexual acts, but that was later removed amid international criticism.
US President Barack Obama has urged Museveni not to sign the bill, saying doing so would “complicate” the east African country’s relationship with Washington.
Bob Paris & I
I don’t know Bob Paris. You probably don’t either, at least not in person. Bob Paris is a Canadian-American writer, actor, and now public speaker, activist, and former professional bodybuilder. He was also a former Mr. Universe.
He’s also gay.
He was also a person who showed me I could live my best life by living truthfully.
He was on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 1989, with his then partner Rod. He had come out as gay in an issue of Ironman magaine. Quite the bruhuahua back then. On the show, they were saying things that blew my mind. Civil rights? Gay marriage legislation?? What the hell?! Bound together in one moment, I thought “these are the bravest men I’ve ever seen on TV”, and “they are crazy for doing this!” But they were so matter of fact talking about marriage (and even divorce), adopting children (apparently only 5 gay couples had successfully done that to that point). They were so normal. There was nothing “alternative” or perverted about them. Just two guys who loved each other greatly, and wanted the same courtesies that others, who were straight, had in life. Bob lost a lot of work because of his honesty. In 1989, people were barely using the words “HIV” or “AIDS”, much less just accepting people as they were. (Bob’s not HIV+; I’m just making a point about the extremely conservative mood in the U.S. at that time.) They sure weren’t going to have a gay athlete among them. Of course, today we have young men like Michael Sam coming out, and although it’s not a huge deal, the fact that it’s anything at all shows there’s still work to be done.
The things asked in that interview, and the things said have stuck with me twenty-five years later. I have adopted some of their statements as my own, and for anyone I’ve talked to about lgbt issues, they’ve probably heard those same statements that Bob and Rod were telling Oprah in 1989. The truth is eternal, no matter where you hear.
That interview, and others Oprah subsequently did, always stayed with me. They were part of the ringing bell in my head that kept alerting me to the fact that I should be more honest and truthful with who I am as a gay man. Most of you know I went through years of pray-the-gay-away therapy. It’s incredibly damaging to one’s psyche, temperament, and self-esteem. It fucks with you in the worst ways. It took me until I was 40ish to resolve all of that, and just be me. I was a rat bastard up to that point. I realize a lot of the conflicts in my life probably stemmed from that fight I had in me. I just chose to fight others instead of paying attention to my own battle.
Finally I just adopted a “who gives a fuck” attitude, preparing myself for any loss of friends, or even family, that might not “agree with [my] lifestyle choices”, and went with it. Ain’t no lifestyle going on here. It’s just folks trying to live their lives, just like Bob Paris was doing then, and is doing now. (PS I had very little resistance when I finally said the words “I’m gay” to people that I hadn’t really told before. Of course most of them said, “Yes Ernest, we know. We’ve met you.” Fuckers.)
Many people I’ve seen on TV, or in real life face to face, have affected my journey. Heck, that’s probably true for any of us, isn’t it? We’re all products of our experiences. But Bob Paris was one of those people who really lit a match for me. I never knew his name (people, it’s been twenty-five years, cut me some slack). I saw a Where Are They Now? follow up on OWN this morning, and it all came full circle. So thanks to Bob Paris, a random guy on a random TV show, who really planted some seeds of truth that have endured with this here out & proud gay man.
The Little Mermaid was written as a love letter by Hans Christian Anderson to Edvard Collin. Anderson, upon hearing of Collin’s engagement to a young woman, proclaimed his love to him. He told him ”I long for you as though you were a beautiful Calabrian girl.” Edvard Collin turned Anderson down, disgusted. Anderson then wrote The Little Mermaid to symbolize his inability to have Collin just as a mermaid cannot be with a human. He sent it to Collin in 1836 and it goes down in history as one of the most profound love letters ever written.
Most scholars and psychoanalysts concluded that Anderson was bisexual; however, he never acted upon his homosexual drives.
The Little Mermaid, as it was originally written, did not have a happy ending
Open Letter To Frenchie Davis
Dear Frenchie Davis,
Hi there. We’ve met briefly in person at Gay Pride in 2009 in Albany, New York. I don’t expect you to remember it. I was a face in a crowd, but we do have a picture today, and you signed a fan for me, both of which I was appreciative of - thanks. But I have to confess to you, you have me a bit perplexed today.
You recently ranted on some social media about gay people comparing their struggle for equality to that of the black civil rights movement, and how it wasn’t the same.
I have news for you, it is the same. And before you stop reading, I encourage you to read to the end. See I believe that equality - true equality - doesn’t see a color, an orientation, sexuality, gender, religion, or otherwise. In fact, it acknowledges those differences, and exists in spite of it. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his most famous speech, mentioned having every type of person at the table. And listen, I get that you can’t tell that every gay person is gay, but you can tell when a person is black. I get that face-value judgment that minorities face. But the debate is more than that. The fights are as similar as they are different, but they are still looking toward the same goal. So where’s the problem?
You asked why Matthew Shepard’s life is any different. It’s not. He became a symbol of the fight for equality for the gay community. You asked why he’s more important than a black child who’s suffering. He’s not. One can ask why Rosa Parks is a symbol of equality and fighting back, yet so many people (read: black and white people) seem to forget about a woman named Claudette Colvin. She was a black woman who refused to give up her seat on a bus, a full nine months before Parks refused. So why was Parks chosen over Colvin in the annals of history? It just happens. That’s why Shepard is a stand-out figure. His family, friends, and the gay community pushed his face forward to stand for many. The idea of a hierarchy in faces of any movement is a bit silly, but it helps people stay focused. The same thing applies to Ellen Page. It was a surprise she came out (to some, apparently, but not to others), and it made news for a couple of days. By Tuesday, people will go back to their cubicles and forget about it. But therein lies the challenge, doesn’t it? People forget that there’s still a fight for equality among all people.
Black people have been lynched, burned, dragged behind pickup trucks, chopped into pieces, and shot in the head for being who they are - black. Obviously gay people have suffered the same atrocities in life. When a heart stops beating, and blood spills into the earth, it’s ugly. Death doesn’t care if it’s a gay person, a black person, Hispanic, Asian, genderqueer, or anything else in between. Death doesn’t care, yet the person inflicting the pain does. That is who we have to reach. We being you, and me, and everyone else.
Why there are conferences on LGBT equality but not for blacks? Well, that answer is two-fold. One, there are conferences, gatherings, speeches, marches, rallies, and more to push the true idea that black people should be equal to everyone else. (Frankly, to be having this concern in 2014 is insane, I think we’d both agree on that.) Two, anyone can start their own revolution in the world, one person at a time. That person would be you. Gandhi said it best, and God knows it’s been overquoted, but you really do have to be the change you wish to see in the world. Lead by example, and all that.
It’s great that you’re black, female, and lesbian. You have an opportunity, that I don’t, to represent many people, and their struggle for human equality. What a great chance you have to speak to many people, all of which can identify with you on some level. Black? Check. Gay? Check. Female? Check. You’re as multifaceted as anyone else, and it’s up to you to let those facets shine. People gravitate toward light, so it’s all our choices to be salt and light to the world. Now, I’m not one to say, “I don’t see color”. I’ve learned that those sort of ideas aren’t equal. They’re white-washed, and divisional. I see your color, but I also know it’s not all of who you are as a person. I’ve often told people, “Me being gay should be the least interesting thing about me.” That goes for anything. We can celebrate diversity, but let’s all remember we are still in this fight together. There were white people, other non-white groups, and gay people that march with black people during the marches with Martin Luther King, Jr. and beyond. There were many different people on those bus rides, and who walked miles from work to home during the bus boycott. Gay people have always recognized the fight for equality, and are often the first to support other groups in a similar fight. It surprises me that black people march for equality, but want to segregate their part of the fight. It defeats the whole purpose.
Ultimately, this isn’t about black equality, or gay equality. It’s about humanity. It’s about humans treating each other with dignity, respect, and compassion. Yes, let’s recognize who each other are as gay or straight, as black or white, as male or female, as tall or short, as whatever. But then let’s unite in our differences, and push toward a similar goal. You said as much in your social media statement, so I’m not really sure where the problem is right now. You can’t speak to all the gay community, and assume they’re all ignoring this, or only doing that. You speak of the inequalities of black youth. Some of those youth are gay, too. Some are straight, but they’re all in need of the same thing.
This in-fighting, and loathing, and jockeying for a position of importance is exactly what the government wants. It keeps people distracted from its oppression, keeps them bogged down in details, and the fight never really gains any noteworthy momentum. I get so weary of it. “This is OUR fight”, “no it’s OUR fight!” Everyone is correct, as much as they are incorrect. The fight can be won, if people would stop drawing lines in the sand, and start grabbing the person’s hand next to them, and walk with them.
I hate the word homophobia. It’s not a phobia. You’re not scared. You’re an asshole.
Gay people, who want to marry the person they love, have absolutely no desire to redefine marriage in any way.
When women got the right to vote, they did not redefine the act of voting. People still walked into a booth, and pulled the lever.
When black people got the right to sit at a lunch counter, alongside white people, and have dinner, no one redefined what went on the day’s blue plate special. They were simply invited to sit at the table.