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Sunday, 29 May 2011

Homosexuality in the Black Family

Will they still want to know me?

Black and homosexual; here lay two identities that are often difficult enough to wear separately, let alone when combined together.

A conversation with a friend the other day got me thinking what it would be like if I had to tell my family and friends that I was gay. How do you begin to explain, where do you tell them, who do you tell first? Will they accept that you are still the same person you were before, even if they do not necessarily 'understand' what you're sharing with them. Only, the scenario seems to distort and deepen even further when I think about having to tell my black family and friends - why is that?

Families of African-Caribbean heritage tend to be familiarised with the church, cultural and family traditions, expectations of your elders etc, which can at times come with extremely judgemental views of right and wrongs, or acts that are 'sinful' and 'evil'. This must put many people who are considering sharing their secret in a position of added difficulty. 

So why is it that in terms of women leaving the home and taking up prominent positions, Irish and Blacks drinking without restrictions in an English pub and divorces left, right and centre are all now an acceptable part of modern Society but some African Caribbean families still refuse to encourage its members that they are accepted and loved for who they are and despite 'what' they are? Hailing from the African side, it still astonishes me how easy it is for someone to use the Bible in a context that they happen to be preaching against; "he who is without sin cast the first stone" (please imagine that in an African voice lol!) - so who in this world has the right to judge any other person's will or actions? I know that the Bible I read explains no one sin is greater than another so who's to say you're not topping the leader-board yourself?? It’s the same with having a child below a certain age or out of wedlock, or even having a termination; there was a time where these things were considered unacceptable or carried out in secret but it seems as though this mentality of acceptance in black families doesn't really extend to homosexuality.

Over the last century or so, homosexuality has gradually emerged out of hiding and integrated itself into society. Many argue that they did not 'choose' to be this way and that if they did have a choice, why on earth would they decide to be anything other than 'normal'. Admittedly, this is a compelling argument.

I am straight so I can't pretend I understand what being gay is like but despite my own beliefs, I can imagine just how lonely someone may feel at that point of having to disclose such information to loved ones with such deep-rooted beliefs. To know that after this moment, you may not have a family to turn to as you did before or in extreme circumstances, you may face being run out of town with threats of violence and in some cases death. 

There is also a interesting difference between men and women when discussing this subject. Maybe 95% of men I have spoken with would have a whole heap of ignorant and derogatory things to say about gay men, but ABSOLUTELY entertain the idea of lesbians, from they are involved! The women I have spoken with tend to take more of an empathetic approach and a view about one tends to be the same for the alternative.

I have known some families to go on stink just because someone has brought home a partner from the wrong tribe/ethnic group/borough/class/status - my mere existence has been frowned upon by some African family elders who weren't exactly pleased at my mother's choice of a Caribbean man! So imagine having to share something so big with your family that you may face never being acknowledged by them again - how do you start such a conversation?

As much as I would have my own preferences for my children, I would like to think that to stay true to them as their mother, I would rear and guide them the best I can, then acknowledge and support all of their decisions in life - whether it's to my agreement/understanding or not (and from they're not running around killing people, obviously!).

I mean no offence to anyone reading this post (gay or straight) but thought it would be interesting to explore what makes black people so rigid in moving forward and accepting the things our loved ones share with us. What do you think BDSSers? Is it not admirable for someone to potentially risk everything and everyone they ever knew for a secret that has most probably been tearing them up inside? Maybe you are gay and are yet to tell your family and have no idea of how to approach the topic? Or maybe you've wondered why it took you so long to tell your loved ones since they were a lot more supportive than you ever imagined? Either way, it would be really good to hear these perspectives and tips for those in turmoil.

BDSS does not discriminate (unless we’re in a heated debated about the differences between men and women :D) and we try to remain open minded about things we do not necessarily understand. Africans & Caribbeans; surely it’s possible to agree to disagree and continue on in mutual harmony - or should I pinch myself and wake up?!


  1. Great post Debs. It is a tricky one as I too have not really had that experience or known anyone close to me come out to his or her family.

    I would like to think as a mother if my son one day comes to me and tells me he is gay that I will be accepting of it and love him no different to how I love him now.

    But probably in all honesty (I’m talking in general) it would not be that simple partly I think because in society we are all conditioned with certain expectations and nowhere are these expectations more defined than heterosexual black masculinity.

    I'm glad you brought up the different response's you have got regarding male and female homosexuality because I think it's important.

    I really think the difficulty accepting homosexuality in the black community stems from ideas of masculinity and femininity. What I mean by this is that a lesbian does not necessarily threaten the idea of femininity (or masculinity) as I think is demonstrated in your male friends response: ‘as long as I’m apart of it, its ok…" they can still be the ‘man’ in that scenario their masculinity is not threatened, in essence they can still be the ‘giver’ which I think is ignorance at it’s height!

    It does not surprise me that 95% of the males you asked could find something detrimental to say about male homosexuality because unlike maybe their white counterparts heterosexual black males for so long have had this hyper masculine identity.
    Black males are meant to be super sexually potent, super physically fit, just super masculine! Which I think goes against the stereotypical ideas of the homosexual male as ‘limp wristed’, almost feminine and ‘the giver and the taker’ rubbish.

    It’s so rigid because I think it goes deeper than just the church, but also slavery where the black male was not in control of anything. This idea of hyper masculine black male rose up as a way of countering not having any control and still lives on to this day.

    I think slowly it will change once we start to develop new ideas about what it is to be a heterosexual black male.

  2. Thanks Si and I hear that; you cannot mistake a heterosexual black male as even where there is no perceived threat, some still feel the need to exaggerate the fact that they are not, and never will be!!

    Well said about the hyper masculine identity, and I don’t think that this is helped by certain role models or people of status (namely dancehall or bashment artists) actively encouraging bad mind mentalities.

    That’s an interesting point you raise about taking it back to slavery days and being stripped of control; yet again, this could very well contribute to the need to overemphasise the need of masculinity. The same can be said for feeling threatened by an independent black woman – because we can do certain things for ourselves, many black men also consider this to be emasculating and loss of control. Sure, we want our men to be ‘men’ but I suppose it shouldn’t be at the extent of others happiness and confidence – be it gay or female.

  3. Well done Ladies for addressing this issue; i have read your blogs and glad to see you are trying to address all types of issues. However I'm surprised that you all being so young :) say you don't know anyone gay; i thought it was all the rage amongst the younger generation. Not sure i agree with you about black community etc having more problems with this issue. I know of many gay black people and their families are most accepting, so i think we need to be careful when writing such things, as it's what's expected of us, so please don't fall into the trap of portraying us in a negative light. And it's not only black men that are more likely to be more accepting of lesbians, all men are the same in that respect. There are plenty of white men willing to have threesomes with two women, as long as they are involved they don't care what goes down, lol!I think the black community is a lot more tolerant and accepting of a lot of things than we give ourselves credit for; yes there are those willing to 'run their mouth' but that does not represent us.And to end, it's not all depressing and tragic being black and gay; there are many gay, bi and all shades in between out there happy and getting on with their lives as normal ,so it would be good if the topic could be covered in your usual light hearted, fun style like many of your other articles.

  4. Thanks Anon and welcome if this is your first time commenting!

    We like to mix it up on here; the good, the sad, the heartbreaking, the funny, the absolute waffle and the empowering - just as we do in person and as it says in our blurb!! So sho nuff, you gon' get you some light hearted posts LOL!

    I must clarify that this post is my own personal perspective, following on from a conversation with a friend that prompted me into asking certain questions. It's possible that Bi or Sel may share different perspectives or experiences to Si and I.

    The focus became more so on the black family as this was the subject of the conversation that prompted the subject but your right, a lot of the issues are not at all race specific.

    Re: negative light - I hope you will see that I'm not in any way trying to depict the 'life of and struggles of being gay', I'm genuinely hoping to encourage our followers to be open minded. We try not to generalise in our posts and try to do so by using terms such as 'some', 'people I have spoken with, 'I have known' or 'I would like to think'; all a means opening it up to our dear followers for not only commenting but discussion also.

  5. all i can say is it is extremely hard to just reprogram the mind to a state of it must be even more difficult for these guys to come out their shells..its a very sticky subject and will not be easily dealt with. cmf

  6. Hi all
    I am a Christian, black, heterosexual, married father of three girls. I won't pretend to understand the issues of a gay person battling with feelings and fears of rejection at the prospect of telling those closest to them about their sexual orientation. I would however say that I do have some kind of understanding of the concept of sharing some part of your life with someone who may not understand. I'm familiar with being the man of the "wrong" race AND the wrong faith (religion) for the father of my wife. I also think that the negatives described in the topic are still common to lots of people for different reasons in different countries and cultures. Many people live in societies where telling those closest to them that they are of a particular religion could lead to them being disowned, beaten up or killed. So I think a lot of people could see the difficulties (and relate to them) if they would just lose the judgementalism and hypocrisy. I have my own thoughts about homosexuality, but they remain my own and I don't think my views would be very popular (I'll leave it to your imagination to decide if you think I'm for, against or neutral).
    The Christian Bible is quite clear about homosexuality. However, It's quite clear about lots of stuff and most of it get's ignored when it suits the people who want to live according to their own desires. Some of these same people will then fish out the bits they can use to condemn someone they want to convince that God is on their side in "crucifying" the target of their judgement. Jesus wasn't saying "because everyone has sinned, there are no consequences", He was saying that none of us humans have the right to judge each other as if we are sin free. You will probably find those people that speak out loudly about other peoples’ "failings" probably have multiple skeletons they themselves would hate to be made public. I think sometimes (mostly) people operate out of fear, whether it's fear of being seen as a failure (the gay person or their family members), fear of being ridiculed by friends or extended family (again, the gay individual or family), fear of not being understood, fear as a result of lack of knowledge, fear of being the odd on out and various other things that make us uncomfortable because we're afraid of what we think will happen or how we may be perceived.
    Jesus also said "Love one another", while I recognise the obvious pun, we are called to give each person we encounter the love and respect they deserve as a being created in the image of God. That should be the case irrespective of a person's perceived "sin". In some cases the sin is more than we as imperfect humans can cope with (like maybe a violent crime against a loved one), which is why victims and their loved ones are not best placed to deal with those who have offended them because they are too emotionally involved.
    I do think that the biblical influences in black families are at the root of some the condemnations that are inflicted on people for lots of "crimes", but I also think that the problem is less about the Christian Bible being at fault and more about people imposing their own will on others for their own selfish reasons.
    Applying the "love one another" commandment to everyone you meet in whatever capacity can be a difficult thing to do in practice, but if we can all try, whether you're of the Christian faith or not, there's less likely to be judgemental misunderstandings and hypocritical condemnation.
    Even if you see homosexuality as a "sin", you're still called to love the "sinner". So kicking off and making them feel less than your equal is failing to do the main thing Christians are called to do.
    Disclaimer: I'm fully aware that not everyone that reads this will be Christian and not everyone will agree with my views. Nothing I've written here is intended to offend anyone and if it does I'm sorry for that.

  7. Andy; thank you so much for your comments and sharing your thoughts which even if I tried, I could not have summarised any better.

    In a nutshell, you've described exactly the message I was trying to demonstrate; we all have those moments in life where we have to find the strength and right approach to open up about difficult subjects to our close ones - and we all would hope that we're still accepted and loved nonetheless and even if they don't necessarily agree with our movements, right?

    It's just sad that many of us in society (regardless of race of culture) can apply and adapt this attitude, or the bible, to other scenarios only when it suits us to.

    It definitely isn't easy knowing and doing the right thing but a genuine effort could go a long way.

  8. Ohhh Debs this is a complex one! Since I was very young I've known homosexual people of all races and they've always had their families support and that of the church (if they attended), but I do know not all denominations are like the Church of England and are not accepting of homosexuality. To be honest I have never spoken to anyone who had major issues when it came to how they were treated by others, many people I have known were ctually surprised at how their families took it. But in saying that they were born in this country, I think if these people were born in Africa or the Caribbean it would be a totally different matter, and I do admire people that are able to assert themselves in this way, and are proud regardless. Like it's previously been said people do use the bible for their own purposes and ignore excerpts that they don't want to focus on and people do this alot with homosexuality.

    A gay friend did say to me that people assume that because he's gay they can speak to him a certain way such as "Hey girlfriend" which he hates, because they think gay = camp which isn't true! A straight friend told me a few years back he must have bucked up into a black gay nightclub and started to cuss a few gay men, put it this way he regretted saying what he said by the time they had finished with him! Gay men are still men, and I think because like you said Debs they feel that the stereotypes are that they may be weaker, some feel forced to go on the 'Down Low' and live lies.