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Being Gay is a White Man’s Game

Black Gay Pittsburgh

In this exploratory series, we ask Pittsburghers to share their stories about being black & gay in the city of black & gold.

I don’t pretend to understand what drives us all to be accepted in a community any more than I understand the state of perpetual adolescence that sometimes seems to haunt gay men.

Being gay is a white man’s game. I know this and can speak to its incontrovertibility because of years of research and countless field trips, some remembered, most not, to the Shadyside Area. Admittedly, this is a small sample group within this city that I love. But, for my purposes, it serves well to illustrate to one and all that, as a black gay male in this city, your lot is to be perpetually ignored until you find yourself in a situation to either reinforce or entirely disabuse a white gay man of his Mandingo fantasies. But, perhaps I come off slightly bitter.

When black men (every single one of us) hit the gay scene in the late eighties, we could not believe our eyes. I believe it was in Akron, Ohio when we all came out at the same time. We went straight to Club Interbelt which, at that time, was the hub of all gay activity in that city. For the first time, we experienced the freedom of being accepted within a community after our preachers and the heterosexual black boys told us over and over again that there was no room for us with our own. Loud music, gyrating and the demon alcohol were all on the menu that night and all of us black men had the time of our lives. We took great comfort in knowing that, at only 18 years of age, we had arrived. We would never have a problem fitting in again as long as we stayed within the gay community and never strayed. We abandoned our churches and the rough and tumble boys who would kick our asses on a daily basis and we headed for larger cities. The caravan was astounding to behold, festooned with flags of every color flying above. The black gay men had arrived. We unanimously chose to come to Pittsburgh and went out to the bars every night, got drunk, and fulfilled Mandingo fantasies for white boys at every opportunity.

We all doove headlong and nipple deep into the milky white Prince Matchabelli scented waters of gay Pittsburgh life, and we suffered no other flavor of male because, to most of us, white boys were the pinnacle. We wore only the most ornate of costumes with lion mane and peacock feather, painted our faces vividly and fashioned our spears with a small bamboo loop for holding our martini glasses. We banged percussively on drums to keep track of how many drinks we’d had with the rhythm reaching fever pitch whenever a white boy would come near; even one who showed even the slightest bit of interest. We were warning the other black gays to keep their distance. We fought ferociously with one another over these spoils and chose to lay down our spears in favor of more deadly weapons. We would use narrowed eyes and sharp tongues, a whispered lie to take down our opponents. Battles were won and lost every night. Some friendships disappeared like smoke into the African sky. But, we all knew and still know now the being gay is a white man’s game and, since you couldn’t be one, it was almost as good to snag one.

No one can really politicize and control what it is or who they are attracted to. But, is it something deeper?

The reality check came later. It was that moment when we all realized that we hadn’t entered into some magical world where everyone was accepted and loved for who they are. We had, in fact, merely entered into a subculture that may have been devoid of homophobia, but mirrored all the racism that our American society holds in general. Perhaps it’s exported in different ways, but it’s there, pungent as ever. People who believe that they’re bearing the same cross as you can often say the vilest of things. When asked which I would rather “give up” if I had a choice, my blackness or my gayness, I usually like to query the interrogator. “Which one of your children would you rather kill first?” Being black ad gay are, to me, inseparable but not the same. I do not know what it feels like to be a woman because I am gay. You don’t know what it feels like to be black just because you are gay. These are things that we should stop saying.

I don’t pretend to understand what drives us all to be accepted in a community any more than I understand the state of perpetual adolescence that sometimes seems to haunt gay men. Perhaps, at one time, we all had a devastatingly unrequited love for the stereotypical captain of the football team and have been chasing him ever since. And from what I can tell, he never looked like me. Its time to apologize to every brother I’ve ever shaded out in hot pursuit of whiter pastures. I know now that every man has value and, black or white, if you cannot see the sheer physical beauty in a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a James Baldwin, a Baynard Rustin, a Langston Hughes or men, then you must just have other things on your mind. Perhaps this is shallow. But, I am an egregiously shallow person.

The Urban Dictionary defines a “Snow Queen” as: “A gay, black male who only dates white men.” I have been one far more often than not throughout my adult life. I’ve chased white men around this city as if my very life depended on it and cried salty tears when told that they were “just not into” black men. Pittsburgh is chock full of us. Snow Queens, I mean. We congregate in the more popular bars and clubs and ignore one another with a ferocity that is almost palpable. It is beyond my pay grade to try to discern whether the phenomenon of the snow queen is simply a case of biology. Maybe it’s learned. No one can really politicize and control what it is or who they are attracted to. But, is it something deeper? I can only speak for myself and can say clearly and without reservation that once I started to recognize the handsomeness in my own coal-colored self: Did the world of men really begin to open up for me and help me to put our value as human beings at the fore?

I can say without hold back that all black gay men, regardless of where we might fall on the snow queen spectrum, need to start loving one another more. And I don’t mean just the “high five” kind of love you get in the club. But, the actual concern and support for one another that comes with sharing a common experience and seems to be a rarity in this city, at this moment in time.

If you are anything other than a black, gay man and this story at all resonates with you, I am glad. Maybe you feel as though you don’t fit in to whatever you think the gay community might want from you and you’ve taken something from these words you can use. I am happy if that’s the case. But, I’d like you to know that these words aren’t for you. They are for the men with whom I share a race and sexual identity. All struggles are not comparable. But, its good to get close sometimes.

I still hold fast to the idea that being gay is a white man’s game. But, once you snap out of it, you can change the rules for yourself. Happy Black History Month.

Brian Broome is an author and M.F. A. Fellow at the University of Pittsburgh. For more info, visit brianbroome.com.