Suicidal Thoughts, a Rainy Summer Night, and the Power of Frozen-Hands

“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!

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The Transformation of Me: Queer, Black, and Finding Myself Once Again

“Just close your eyes and relax,” he said. “All men do this with their children.”  However, I soon realized these were not the typical actions of men. His distinguishing features continue to disturb my thoughts. His beady eyes still create an un-settling feeling in my stomach. The slightest sound of his baritone makes my skin tremble. This unfortunate experience occurred for nearly two years, and since I was a child, I felt powerless and without a voice. Although I did not realize the value behind this experience at the time, law school and life educated me on its importance. I made a promise to never let anyone silence my voice again, and to always advocate for those who may not feel comfortable. Sixteen years later, I finally have the courage to say, “I am a sexual abuse survivor!” This sexual assault on my human rights was a catalyst for me to declare my commitment to civil rights, constitutional law, and public service.

Hello all – my name is Preston Mitchum and it is true, I am queer and I am black; yes, the two are not mutually exclusive. I have been queer from birth; I came into the full realization at the age of 15 when I was a little more than just physically attracted to someone of the same-sex in my high school. Feelings clouded my head with joy, happiness, nervous energy, coupled with constant fears of going to Hell from what I was taught as an abomination from hypocritical preachers who were caught in other scandals. This high school crush turned into something much more. A “good morning” text at 7:00 a.m., ending with an occasional visit to surprise me at night made me smile from ear-to-ear. Could this be love? It was certainly more than simple attraction and was much more than I could handle; it was the first time, I felt my heart skip several beats the moment I saw a beautiful smile on such an angelic face. But I had to question myself and what I was feeling inside since I only heard young boys refer to women in the same manner I was thought of this young man. So I sat quiet – positive on the outside; attempting to emulate “masculinity” on the outside; but depressed on the inside.

In undergrad at Kent State University, I met several people who I connected with on a multitude of levels. Everyone seemed to essentially like me, and it was something that made me happy. Though “popularity” should have been of no concern to me, I was 18, still impressionable, and believed me admitting my sexuality would get in the way of being elected to student government or being on Homecoming court. Already being Black at an 86% White school, I didn’t want me being queer to have that same or similar negative affect. Still, with homophobia, effemiphobia, and religious fundamentalism running rampant with some members in some Black Greek organizations (you know who you are), it caused me to think – a lot about masculinity and acceptance. Who was I? Who was the person I wanted to become? Again, however, I told a few people, promised them to secrecy, and said I wanted to “come out” own my own terms.

And boy, did I come out on my own terms. During my 1L year at North Carolina Central University School of Law, I immediately felt accepted. I bonded with groups of people and it felt like my new home. Moving from Ohio to North Carolina made me realize that I could be myself and allow people to take me or leave me. I decided to come out on National Coming Out Day that year in October. I felt so refreshed that it did not seem to have a negative effect on people who wanted to get to know. Still, something was missing and I knew what it was – the lack of discussion or race, gender, and sexual orientation in the Black community. Being in law school where we rarely discussed LGBT equality, shocked me and left me isolated and disappointed. Sure, we had Outlaw Alliance, which I was an active member, but that organization still had more white members; and at a historically black law school, I was disturbed. What were the Black students so afraid of? As Tonya Davis Barber and I thought, “straight people didnt want people to think they are gay, and gay people didn’t want others to know they are gay.” This left us in a rather uncomfortable situation. Though I was happier and becoming more comfortable with myself, it was something off-putting about an entire school with only three “out” Black men. Where was our power? Did we even know we had it to begin with? Since I had recently come out, I couldn’t make a “call to action” for others to do the same; that would be pretty hypocritical. So I thought and I thought. Though I have always been a social and political activist, this was mainly around “Black issues” and not “Gay issues.”

At American University Washington College of Law, Professor Darren Hutchinson taught me about the danger of separating the two groups – “they work together . . . intersectionality is important.” Wow, I thought! This is exactly what I needed to hear. This entire time I never realized that the “black versus gay” rhetoric unintentionally isolated one group – the Black LGBT community. This is when I began reading, researching, and writing about the dynamics of the Black LGBT community. Though we are thought not to exist, we do.

Coming from a city and school where being gay was never discussed, imagine my surprise when Professor Hutchinson told me about the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC), an civil rights organization, headquartered in Washington, DC, dedicated to the Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. Months later, the National Coalition of LGBT Health told me they were sponsoring me for the Third Annual “Out On The Hill 2012 Black LGBT Leadership Summit.” Out On The Hill was the most life-changing experience of my young life.

During the leadership summit, I met both “inexperienced” and “experienced” social and political activists, doctors, attorneys, CEOs, politicians, educators, and artists/musicians. One thing was clear – everyone came with a purpose; that purpose was to advance the civil rights and liberties of the Black lesbian, gay/queer, bisexual, and transgender communities. The joy I am now feeling in my heart cannot be matched. From the White House briefing to issue advocacy day to the town-hall discussions to the various panels to the receptions and to our own late night on the town, this is one experience I will never forget and it is all thanks to the National Black Justice Coalition. NBJC works tirelessly to combat both homophobia and racism and has been doing a wonderful job, especially under the leadership of Mrs. Sharon Lettman-Hicks. I am honored and humbled to be sponsored to attend this leadership summit. I learned that though queer and black, it is necessary for me to just . . . BE. Be me. Be fierce. Be all of me. My spirit is full of joy and I have a renewed energy.

To my family, friends, my Creator, NBJC, mentors, and supporters – I salute you. Today, I thank all of you!