“A few slits to the wrist in the right direction will make this all go away,” I thought on one humid, summer night. While it would not erase my ‘blackness’ and ‘gayness,’ it would erase the thoughts in my head that I was neither black enough nor gay enough. When I was younger, I repeatedly heard comments from white people, mainly teachers, on how surprised they were to hear such articulate words come from my mouth. What shocked them so much about the way I pronounced the same words they were using? Was it that a little black boy from the hood of Youngstown, Ohio understood the use of syllables? Were they shocked that I never uttered the word, “yo’” and other ‘hoodisms’ they saw presented through the lens of the media?
Growing up, I always wondered “am I black enough?”
Let me be fair – the same black folk they saw on television were similar to the ones that chastised me in elementary and middle school for being a little too “proper.” I was no stranger to the, “you are trying to be white” attacks, coupled with the “no one from Youngstown talks like that.” Sadly, “like that” meant “proper,” which, in turn, meant “white.” You see, where I come from, if you speak proper English, you are not black because many believed that the only black person that spoke properly, were the ones attempting to assimilate into a culture, dominated by white people.
Since I concluded that I was not black enough, when I accepted that I was gay, I immediately thought if I was gay enough.
It was completely my fault for believing that the gay community was all accepting. Let us face it; it is not. I blame myself entirely for believing that a group angry about discrimination would not blatantly isolate others in the community. But during my “questioning” days, I assumed I was going to be in this LGBT community and everyone would love me, because after all, we are gay and have that in common. Wrong.
When I first “came out,” I was nervous, overjoyed, and felt empowered. I felt fire burning deep inside me, but unfortunately, this fire began to simmer once I realized that I did not (1) have my eyebrows arched; (2) the newest Steve Maddens; or (3) a fantastic murse (man purse). The one thing Will & Grace did not teach me, you, or the rest of society (maybe besides that one episode with Taye Diggs), was that blacks, too, can be gay. The LGBT community is a lot more divided than people may think – some are rich, middle class, and many others are very poor. Just like Democrats and Republicans, we fight for our individual interests instead of, unfortunately, considering the community at-large. Do not get me wrong. I love my LGBT brothers and sisters, but we have a lot of work to do because we suffer from a deeply entrenched hierarchy of oppression.
Though we should not judge one another based on stereotypes, my life experience has taught me that some do hold true. On one hand, I did find myself isolated in the Black community for not wearing baggy clothes, the newest Jordan’s, or not being able to relate to things I simply did not like that many in my community did. On the other hand, many of my new LGBT friends always had a peculiar look when I said, “I don’t have casual sex.” Where was my strong Black community that fought against white supremacy? Where was my all-inclusive LGBT community? This internal confusion and isolation went on for years. This, in turn, led to arguments; the arguments turned into depression; depression turned into suicidal thoughts. As hard as this is for me to type, on June 16, 2006, at 2:00 a.m., I considered taking my own life. Outside of my friend’s house, crying in the rain, stood me, a bottle of vodka, Vicodin, and a knife. All I could think was, “do it right, Preston . . . don’t cut in the wrong direction.”
As you can see, I am still here. Still standing and stronger than ever before. That is because, at that moment, my hands literally froze and I could not move them for a brief moment in time. I would have to be silly not to understand that my Creator was telling me that he/she was not done with me yet. I just wanted to know that someone cared for me. I wanted to know that I was not alone – that I could be Black and LGBT – that I did not have to pick between the two. I needed to know that I was put on this Earth for a purpose! I still have a life to live! My friend came outside, saw everything surrounded by me, picked me up, and brought me inside. We never spoke of that moment again. From that day forward, I made a re-commitment to change my life and instead of “thinking outside of the box,” I would fix the box; I would change my worldview.
I am a fan of therapy. The problem with many communities is that people advocate for “praying things away” as the sole answer. They preach that “God will find a way” when problems are not about religion or faith. Some issues are much deeper than prayer can answer; this is where I found myself on June 16, 2006. So, when I the fall semester began, in secret, I enrolled in therapy sessions. In addition to praying, I would seek professional help to tell my story about being a victim of sexual abuse, discuss my suicidal thoughts, and the feeling of isolation and abandonment. Were it not for her, I am not sure I would be here today. It is important to seek help for our problems, but first, we have to admit we are suffering from a problem. I am here to tell you that suicide is not a white problem, a rich problem, or a gay problem. It is something that anyone can experience and I urge you to seek help if you are having suicidal thoughts and know that you, too, have a life worth living!
My experiences have taught me that no group is monolithic – though we may share a common identity, we think differently, feel differently, express emotions differently, but should not be treated differently. Thank the Creator for saving my life that humid summer night. My “box” may not be fixed, but I am living and learning every day. That is a reason for me to smile!