Gay BBC reporter Evan Davis, in recounting his coming out story earlier this year in The Independent, quipped his brothers’ wry reaction was ‘Thank God you’re not black!’ It was this comment, admittedly satirical rather than racist in any way, that led to the creation of The Rainbow Intersection event.
What does this tell us? Firstly, for the ‘satire’ to work it has to come from the perspective a person in our society is usually seen as gay or black, but not both. Problem. I am black and I am gay. How does a black, gay person receive this? Imagine if a disabled gay man heard ‘at least you’re not disabled!’ or a lesbian heard ‘at least you’re not a woman!’ or a working class gay man heard ‘at least you’re not working class!’
In truth being gay is multifaceted and we all have other perceived identities, in addition. And we are not all the same!
As a black, gay man, the majority of the images I saw, whilst in the closet and soon after coming out, in films, television and on the front cover of magazines were of people who did not look like me.
To be honest, at the time I did not feel too bothered by it – I was simply grateful there were other gay people out there. Despite the differences in race, I was still able to transport myself into the lives of the characters from Tales of the City, The Lost Language of Cranes or Simon and Tony from British soap opera EastEnders circa 1996.
But after awhile that was no longer satisfactory, I wanted to see people like me – gay and black. During those early years of my coming out, it often felt like I had to look to the US for those images of people like me.
I remember watching the 1996 Spike Lee movie Get on the Bus, featuring a black gay couple, and longing for more images like that. Subsequently I was introduced to the books of African American writers James Baldwin and E Lynn Harris, along with a variety of anthologies featuring gay men of African descent. Those introductions helped me to start integrating the different aspects of how I perceived myself.
Things have certainly changed in the UK over the past few years in terms of a more diverse representation of lesbian and gay minority ethnic people on our screens, from characters in Hotel Babylon, EastEnders to Holby City. I was really encouraged when earlier this week I saw the Stephen Fry documentary Out There, which beautiful showed the diversity of the LGBT identity as he traveled around the world exploring homophobia – in terms of visibility, we have certainly come a long way from my early days of coming out. Those images now need to be shown consistently, not just on our screens, but also across print media.
Dating, relationships and sex is an area that brings with it a myriad of complexities when it comes to the thin line between preference and prejudice. I have black friends who have said they’d never date or have sex with a white guy and I have come across some white guys who have said the same thing about black guys. What lies beneath the surface of these attitudes? What I do know is that having such ‘preferences’ does nothing to create and nurture an emotionally healthy and inclusive LGBT community. It is an issue we will be looking at during The Rainbow Intersection discussion.
During my early years of coming out, I remember the sense of isolation, I not only wanted to share stories of what being gay meant, but I also wanted to talk about race and culture. Many of my white gay friends at that time saw it as a non-issue and would often say things like ‘color does not matter to me’, ‘I do not see color’ or ‘gay is gay’.
Many of those would also talk about how ‘black culture was very homophobic’. It often felt like I had the impossible task of attempting to divide myself – I could be gay with my gay white friends, and black with my family and other black friends.
It did not bode well, for in addition to being gay, I also wanted to talk about what it meant to be black in the UK. I wanted to talk about why coming out in my culture was seen as a ‘no, no’. I wanted to talk about the normalized family pressure to get married, have a child and carry on the family name. I wanted to talk about how my cultural heritage was more about the community or collective approach, rather than the British individualistic approach.
It was only after meeting my first gay black friend a few years later I was finally able to have those conversations with someone who simply understood and could relate. Yes, we are not all the same and being gay involves all the various aspects of how we perceive ourselves.
These are some of the issues we will be exploring at The Rainbow Intersection – A Dialogue About Race, Sexuality and Culture. The event will be looking at the broader landscape of LGBT, and we have selected a diverse panel to reflect this.
Whilst the event will be focusing on race and culture, we know that there are many other LGBT intersections, which include, age, disability, HIV status and much more. We hope this event will be the first of an ongoing dialogue.
Ade Adeniji is a coach, group facilitator and storyteller. He is co-founder of The Quest for Gay Men, a social enterprise delivering personal development workshops and events aimed at transforming the relationships gay men have with themselves, others and the world they inhabit.
The Rainbow Intersection – A Dialogue About Race, Sexuality and Culture is organized by The Quest for Gay Men and Bisi Alimi Consultancy as one of the 2013 UK Black History Month events. It takes place on Friday (25 October) at UCL, London (6.30pm – 9.30pm). For more details and ticket information click here. Gay Star News is the event’s media partner.