Gay in a Black Family


By Erma BreAnn

As family reunion season begins to wind down, I can’t help but reminisce. The passing down ancestors stories and seeing family who’ve moved far away always touches my spirit. I can feel the heat of the south and the smell of the fish fry. My grandmother's hands in mine as we dance and I sink into a hole of memories. It’s my favorite season and yet the season of my greatest anxiety. 

Around this time, since I came out, I tend to reflect on my relationship with my extended family. Over the years my relationship with them has become distant. Sometimes I wonder if that is their fault or my own. I often think about the last family reunion I attended and this one particular moment comes to mind. I was giving everyone their last hug when my mother’s youngest sister began to cry - it’s a thing she does everytime we part - this time I followed suit. I missed them and I was going to miss them again. As I was walking to the car my heart began to break for something that hadn’t occurred yet but was a real fear of mine. That fear was whether this would be the last time I see my family in this way. When will they disown me? See I’m gay, so it’s not irrational because this sort of thing still happens. Now mind you, I am extremely open about my queerness, so this isn’t news to them. It is apparent they rather not discuss it or have my queer life in their presence. It’s okay as long as they don’t see it.

That seems to be a trend within the Black community. “We love our queer family members just don’t bring it home.” This was the sentiment I received from a family member. She sat me down and said she loved me but would never accept me being gay. It wasn’t a let’s agree to disagree conversation. It was a clear, “you can’t bring your girlfriend to my house.” As if my imaginary significant other would be the one to bring that gay spirit every Black family talks about over to her house. I was single at the time but I knew as soon as I got into a relationship my family and I would break up. It’s like she was telling me, “you can’t have both.” I couldn’t be gay and live my life as a gay person. My fear came true. I almost blamed myself as though I feared it into fruition.

Recently, I sat at an event listening to a gay Black man tell his story about his relationship with his mother. It was beautiful and refreshing to hear how accepting she had been. Then I see friends, who are Black queer women, whose parents and family not only showed up to their wedding but wished them well. There are Black families who treat their queer family members as equals. I am happy to see these stories exist, but I can’t help but feel jealousy because acceptance is not my reality. I have seen these unicorn-like Black families in action. I long for a life where I don’t have to disappear because of who I love.

When I was young, my parents threw me a birthday party. I started crying because one of my friends was late. This was before the era of “where you at?” text messages so I was upset. My mother snatched me up because no Black child of hers will appear ungrateful. She said to me, “You better appreciate those who are here. Now fix your face.” So of course, I fixed my face. There was more than enough people at my party. My best friend eventually arrived but by that time I was already enjoying myself. I didn’t need her but I wanted her present. That’s the lesson I need to apply. Appreciate who’s here now, the rest might show up to the party late or they may not but the party still goes on.

I get tunnel vision in my own story. I find myself circled around queer Black folks with similar stories and we make our own family ties with each other. We forget Black families can be open-minded and can even be taught acceptance. I thought acceptance didn’t exist in my world as a Black queer person. We think the Black family isn’t accepting but what I’m finding out is, they are and with intention and with purpose.

For my queer folks who choose to wait for the coming around of family; be patient with your family members who try and let go of those who are incapable of trying. To Black families; try and keep trying. That’s really all we ask. Life is too short to not fully embrace those closest to you. It can be hard to accept differences but to keep your loved ones close, it will be worth it. Unconditional love doesn’t mean agree but it does mean accepting the person despite your own opinions. I challenge all of you to live freely and love without boundaries or judgement.

Do you accept the gay people in your family?
Erma BreAnn is a queer writer and poet based in Chicago. She is the creator of the blog Basic, Bad, & Bitchie at ermabreann.com, focusing on her journey through life. Follow her on Instagram: instagram.com/ermabreann

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