I know what it means to feel as if parts of yourself are missing. You look in the mirror and see a brown face, full lips, and a crooked smile. You listen to your mother when she tells you to keep your hands out of your pockets for fear someone will mistake your disinterest for danger. You listen to your father when he coaches you on facial expressions.
“They’re gonna think you’re giving them attitude, so keep your lip in your mouth.”
I understand what it meant to see Trayvon Martin’s face displayed across every computer screen in the nation and to fear walking outside. Danger enveloping you like a net. You wake up thinking your father would never come home because his dark skin—the skin he gave to you—meant he was too dangerous to be allowed to breathe.
And in this story, you see yourself. You see how the shades of your skin and the browns of your eyes tell a tale of strength and rebellion.
But even now you’re still an outsider.
Because you remember the church sermons your parents dragged you to. The hollers of how God’s son did not die for men to love other men. How the pastor slammed his fist against the pulpit as if he were trying to wake Satan himself.
“This is not God’s way.”
And you remember how you met your first crush in kindergarten. How he shared his lunch with you and made you smile, and you did not understand what that tight squeeze in your chest meant. You were too young to understand the fullness of the human heart.
You grew older, and every moment your heart raged against what your head told you was normal. You fell in love with your karate teacher, how he would change your stance, move your arms, and grin when you got something right. You crushed on your friend who sat in front of you in history class. You’d always ask to borrow a pen just to get him to glance your way. You loved that kid in yearbook class, tall and slender, a young River Phoenix. You taught him how to waltz in the empty classroom when the teacher wasn’t paying attention.
But the teachings of the world around you did not coincide with what your heart wanted. You were Black. Black men could not love other men. Being gay was for white people.
You felt as though you had betrayed yourself twice over. Who were you supposed to be? A Black man who wanted what was best for people like him, or a gay man whose heart fell too far and too fast.
When Prop 8 was passed in California, gays blamed Black people. When you downloaded Grindr, every profile you saw said, “No Blacks. Sorry.” When you go to church, you’re afraid someone will pick you out, smell what you are on your skin and banish you from the pews. When you walk into a club of dancing men, rainbow flags waving in the air like arms, you can only sit at the bar as guy after guy says, “Sorry, you’re cute but I’m not into Black dudes.”
And you feel like a stranger all over again.
And all you can do is learn. Learn of Bayard Rustin, who helped Dr. King reach his dream. Learn of Marsha P. Johnson, who raised her voice at the Stonewall Inn. Learn of the Black queers who made ballroom culture because their beauty could not be removed. You watch Paris Is Burning and you smile. You read Countee Cullen and you cry. You listen to Wanda Sykes and you grin.
And for the first time since you dreamed of tasting another boy’s lips, you don’t feel as though you are at war with yourself. You are whole. And always have been.
So you begin to write about boys like you. Boys who learn what it means to feel the stubble of another man on their lips. You write stories of wrestling matches and anticipated dates. You learn to vogue and try to replicate the beauty of Black movement in your words. You place yourself in the story, and one by one you begin to fill in the holes the world has left behind.
I know what it means to feel as if parts of yourself are missing. But remember: The world is missing a piece without your voice. Dear Black Queer Boy, your voice is needed to guide this world to be greater than what it once was. Don’t deny it that.
We need your voice with us.
Myron McGhee earned his bachelor’s degree in English literature from the University of Central Florida. He lives in Orlando, Florida.(Photo: Gina McGhee)