Yes, it's time to have this conversation.
To all my gay black brothers who are free and open with their sexuality, it's time to let go of dating the men in your lives who are not.
It's time to drop that "down-low" hook-up you met online who would not unlock his pictures until you met at a private location. No more chasing "trade" who will spew homophobic slurs in the day and then privately text you late at night.
I'm not cautioning you about the obvious dangers that these habits might hold for your physical safety and health; trust that our straight friends and elders badger us about this all the time. I'm saying this because it's time for us to really challenge our community and each other on our self-worth.
Two years ago I made a new year's resolution to stop dating down-low men. It was a difficult decision because I found myself caught up in the allure and suspense of being desired by closeted men. There was something rebellious and tempting about receiving a whispering cat-call from a guy no one suspects is gay. The idea and cockiness that came from knowing that I was the apple of many of the football players' and frat boys' eyes was a guilty pleasure.
In our culture, Greek life and athleticism are at the pinnacle of black masculinity. If you are a black gay man who has faced rejection and disrespect for not fitting into this narrow definition, to tangle with anyone who does may feel like a personal victory.
But at what cost? For one, I didn't believe that I could maintain the security and confidence to have a sincere openly gay relationship that didn't have any real risk. There was a suspense that came from being a secret lover, and for some reason I thought this secrecy defined my mass appeal. Was I this damn sexy that someone would risk their reputation just to have me? Oh, the illusion.
Reality would hit, and it would suddenly end all the same. The blocked numbers, the swift denial, the abrupt disappearances -- these men would just come and go, literally.
It was New Year's Eve of 2012, and I realized that I was ending the year alone and with no real clue of what love meant and actually felt like. I had achieved some professional milestones but no true understanding of real intimacy and self-care.
That was it. I decided that I was entering the new year without the temptation to pursue men who still wanted to have their cake and eat it too. No more late-night notifications from bgclive.com, no more going to the back of the room to respond to the guy who was too scared to flirt with me in public. I had to demand my self-respect.
Since then I have been fortunate and grateful to be in a long-term relationship with a man who loves me openly and freely without any shame. To think that this would be me two years ago would have been a fantasy. But I had to make the first step for myself and no one else.
I say all of this to my fellow men of color because our community is far behind when it comes to openly embracing us at all levels. Sure, homophobia is a global issue, but let's not act like this isn't something that has set us back within our own families and neighborhoods. When they say #blacklivesmatter, I often wonder whether that includes me and others within the LGBT community.
We have yet to truly address the intersectionality of race and sexuality within our community, and this constant secrecy around sexual desire only confuses and defames us all. We are a decade and a half into a new century, and we still have a community where married men would rather live a double life than be the man they still believe they can be. This rigid definition of black masculinity needs to be revised immediately.
But gay black men must not help perpetuate the cycle. If we truly want a society in which trade do not exist, we must actually stop encouraging the behavior. We can no longer aid in the hypersexualized homoerotic fantasy of men who want us as their private concubines but not as humans who deserve real love and affection.
We have to encourage our gay friends and each other to value ourselves more, not to succumb to the easy temptation of quick, cheap ego boosts that will actually set us back socially, for we are not just satisfying sexual cravings when we indulge down-low men but committing self-betrayal and hypocrisy. We spent too much time gaining the courage and strength to come out the closet to our families while facing societal discrimination to just give ourselves up to men who are ashamed to do the same.
The day I decided to stop responding and enabling the internal fear and shame that many down-low men who approached me had was the same day I gained a higher sense of personal respect and values. It would be a miracle to see all gay black men succeed and excel within society so well that those men who felt it was still necessary to have double lives would find it pointless and join us. But we will not get any step closer to this until we reevaluate our role in this problem.
Yes, the black community overall needs to step up in recognizing that gay black lives matter equally as those on the heteronormative spectrum. However, we can also not give society any distractions from why we should not be treated as anything less.
If it has not been already, let your 2015 new year's resolution call for the end of your wild trade chase and down-low rendezvous.
I'll promise you it's worth it, because you are.