i am

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harlem, usa
same-gender-loving contemporary descendant of enslaved africans. community activist, feminist, health educator, independent filmmaker, mentor, playwright, poet & spiritual being. featured at, in & on africana.com, afrikan poetry theatre, angel herald, bejata dot com, bet tonight with tavis smiley, blacklight online, black noir, brooklyn moon cafe, gmhc's barbershop, klmo-fm, lgbt community services center, longmoor productions, nuyorican poets cafe, our corner, poz, pulse, rolling out new york, rush arts gallery, saint veronica's church, schomburg center for research in black culture, sexplorations, the citizen, the new york times, the soundz bar, the trenton times, the village voice, upn news, uzuri, venus, vibe, wbai-fm, wnyc-fm & wqht-fm. volunteered with adodi, bailey house, inc., black men's xchange-new york, colorofchange.org, drug policy alliance, east harlem tutorial program, imagenation film & music festival, presente.org, save darfur coalition, the enough project, the osborne association, the sledge group & your black world. worked on films with maurice jamal & heather murphy. writing student of phil bertelsen & ed bullins. mjt975@msn.com.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Friendship, Religion & Sexuality

I recently ended a nine-year friendship with a heterosexual brotha of Haitian descent, ten years my junior. I was unclear how to handle the situation & ignored his calls for months; in fact, when we talked I was cold, distant & indifferent. Loyalty is important to me & he's a decent hue-man being who supported me in different areas of my life. The experience was painful & I shed many tears, yet I was able to stand on integrity. Our emerging conflict centered around my homosexuality & his interpretation of the Bible, which also led us to address issues of cultural beliefs, family values, gender roles, manhood anxiety & spirituality.

We met at the New York City Parks & Recreation gym on a weekday afternoon at their Asser Levy location in Gramercy Park. The two of us established a respectful vibe, later exchanged numbers & agreed to meet up again at the gym. Through diligent communication, I learned we were both Afrocentric, culturally astute, politically savvy, sports-minded Leos not the least bit gun shy about speaking our mind on a wide variety of social issues. Interestingly enough, what bonded us, from my perspective, were the resentments we harbored towards our fathers: we felt misunderstood, neglected & rejected as kids.

I'm not sure at what point in our friendship I disclosed my sexuality to him, though I believe it was less than six months after we first met. At that point in my life, I was struggling with career aspirations, financial unmanageability, health issues, poor self-concept & spiritual decay. Maya Angelou says, "when you know better, you do better." I didn't have a firm grasp on my purpose in life. I lacked confidence, discipline & vision. Fear & failure had become familiar emotional relatives despite my personality. My insides didn't match my outsides.

When I told him over the phone about my same sex desire, he paused & said, "why should I judge you because that's no reason for me to treat you differently." He later shared how he was raised in Haiti to hate homosexuals - by default, not conscious choice or critical thinking - though our evolving friendship has opened his eyes & helped him see things clearer. I was pleasantly surprised & greatly relieved because I feared rejection & become anxiety-riddled when I know I have to take off the mask of invulnerability.

Through the course of time we've socialized at basketball games, cultural events, dinner & movies, as well as spending quality time at each other's apartment. As our lives changed we spent less time in person than we did on the phone. Unlike me who's on the computer everyday, he could take it or leave it so e-mail was not a regular source of dialogue. He has since become a husband & father: the model of social acceptability in our Judeo-Christian based, Western heterosexual framework. But I'm not bitter...

A couple of years ago he became immersed in organized religion, as a Pentecostal, following in the footsteps of his father, ironically enough, as they've slowly mended their ways & found common ground. I was happy for his newfound calling, yet grew angry & resentful with him constantly quoting scriptures & telling me his God was the only God because the Bible is the word & this is the only way to live, etc. As men, particularly Black men, I felt like we were competing for the cross.

One day he came over to talk to me about what he perceived was my "situation." When, in his mind, did my love for another man become a situation? After telling me yet another Biblical story I didn't want to hear, he gently placed a white cotton handkerchief on my table & told me I could use it whenever I felt like I needed God, or, in his case, Jesus Christ, his Lord & Savior, to forgive me for my sins. Perhaps he believed he was doing his Christian duty, but I was pissed! I felt manipulated, yet wore the mask of passive-aggressiveness because I've always feared confrontation, especially with someone I care about. I was deeply conflicted & didn't know what to do about our troubled friendship.

He knows how I feel about religion & spirituality, yet I don't believe he respects how I feel. I don't believe in Communion, Sin, Satan, the Devil, Heaven, Hell or Judgment Day, among other traditionally held religious beliefs. I don't attend churches, mosques, synagogues or temples for instruction, nor do I read the Bible, Koran or Torah. I have an eclectic approach to spirituality: regular prayer, meditation & yoga work for me, as well as occasionally frequenting faith-based, non-denominational institutions I find affirming to my hue-manity, sexuality & soul, in addition to reading books from people with diverse spiritual thought.

My friend was studying to become a pastor. In my experience, pastors feel threatened by folks who embody cultural, intellectual & spiritual assets historically reserved for their place at the pulpit of power. I kept thinking, your blood is red, your heart is love & your shit stinks just like mine does. But how can we resolve these conflicts? Heterosexual men are expected & encouraged to believe marriage & children are inherently sacred to the prosperity of life & the family unit, yet in today's society, there are different ways of being, living & loving. Does my lack of marriage & children lessen my masculinity, or my useful to the community in which I was birthed?
Is manhood defined by one's gender, sexual identity and/or truth?

Admittedly, I didn't handle the issues of our friendship in a mature manner. This was a very new experience for me. I had absolutely no reference point for this situation. The thought of losing my friend was tearing me apart. I worried about being closed-minded, defiant & selfish. Was I accusing him of doing to me what I was doing to him? I was hurting, in pain & no amount of spiritual awareness could take my pain away.
Still, I needed to make a decision about how to express my love for my friend - as well as my self - without compromising my integrity, losing my dignity & shunning my spiritual foundation.

After engaging in daily prayer & speaking with a few trusted friends, the consensus was if he was unable or unwilling to accept all of who I am, I needed to follow my heart, move on & surrender to the God of my understanding, trusting in God to help me form new relationships with people whose values I share. Nonetheless, like a coward, I ignored his phone calls for several months, which did nothing to ease my guilty conscience, until one evening I received a call on my cell from someone who didn't leave a message. The number looked familiar yet I couldn't place the caller in my head. I was curious & dialed the number.

The number belonged to my friend.

He was hurt, among other reasons, that I only called to see who the number belonged to, as opposed to calling to let him - his friend - know I was okay because he's been concerned about my non-responsiveness to his ongoing calls to me over the last few months. The conversation was awkwardly uncomfortable, sort of like a first date, when you have that pregnant pause & don't know what to say, yet are expected to know exactly what to say: like an adult. I had to swallow my false pride & promptly admit I was wrong for neglecting him in this manner, instead of telling him the truth as I experience it in my heart. I felt like such an idiot.

My friend went on to tell me he didn't know, realize or understand why I felt I was being disrespected, imposed upon & judged. He felt slighted & suggested I was being judgmental because I'm unable or unwilling (!) to accept his newfound religious beliefs. I've stated all along, I respect your beliefs, yet I don't share them. He said he was not going to censor or edit our conversations because by doing so he would not be true to the God of His understanding, which I completely understand. We both stood firm in our hearts & beliefs, unwilling to yield.

Finally, after listening attentively to everything he said, in the spirit of unconditional love, I was ready to surrender quietly & let the God of my understanding take care of me. He offered to be available for me whenever I needed him. He said all I had to do was call & he would be there for me. I cried & cried & cried as he shared his spirit. I cried because I knew I was doing the right thing for the right reason, even though it didn't feel good. A trusted friend recently taught me there are no bad feelings only life lessons. And so it is.


ACY said...

What a moving, insightful account of your experience. You must be a writer of some accomplishment..because I found it a "page-turner".
I, too, have undergone similar bouts and wars with friends and associates who felt they were doing the right thing by belittling me and making me feel "less than", using the Bible and scripture as "weapons".
I, now, realize that God loves me so very much, and I am still here to tell the tale...despite what others may say. I know where blessings come from...and they come from no man. I'll be avidly reading your further accounts and ponderings. Thanks. Aaron

navets said...

Wowwww, I loved your writing and felt so moved by the story. I have been in that same situation so many times. . .almost verbatim. I also think you're a very mature person spiritually and emotionally, given your attitude in your profile as well as throughout your story. You put love first. I send you all the hugs I can from here; I'd love to read more and talk with you some day. I would treasure a friend like you. Peace, Stevan

Lorraine M. said...

Hi Mark,

I'm a bit late coming to this account, but I'm glad finally to have seen it. I could see your face (almost hear your voice) as I read your words--sad, beautiful and finally triumphant.

Was it Deepak Chopra or Desmond Tutu who said he thought God must owe LGBT people a resurrection? No matter; always remember you are the phoenix, Cuz. Rise, and rise again.

By the way, I want to mention that I feel almost as moved by the kind and supportive words of your commenters, Aaron and Stevan, as by your own.