Wade: Recently, a video of the wedding of Robert Brown and Nathanael Gay, two black gay men, went viral. I almost cried while watching it but was saddened by the negative reaction the two gentlemen received for having a "Kappa-themed" wedding. How did you feel about the wedding itself and the negative reactions it received?
Darnell: The grooms eventually noted that the wedding wasn't intended to be a Kappa-themed wedding, but the video was moving particularly because of the community of witnesses that was present as the two affirmed their love. So many of my friends were moved by the video, but I wasn't surprised in the least by the negative reactions. Sadly, there are large numbers of people who remain committed to heterosexism; witnessing a beautiful wedding will not deliver them from their animosity towards LGBTQ people.
Wade: Agreed. What I also found interesting was the number of people who claimed not to have a problem with a "gay" wedding but objected to the couple using Kappa colors in their wedding, as if Kappas hold a patent on the combination of the colors crimson and cream. If a heterosexual couple used the "Kappa colors," do you think the backlash would have been the same?
Darnell: Fraternities are imagined as groups only comprising straight men, so it makes sense that folks would respond negatively because they refuse to accept the fact that non-heterosexual men are also members of fraternities. We know better. If it were a heterosexual marriage, folks would love it, indeed. But, you know, all this marriage talk has prompted me to consider, again, why marriage continues to be upheld as the highest good in the lives of straight and LGBTQ couples. The video of this marriage, like so many other representations of LGBTQ folks marrying, seems to be so moving because some folks understand marriage as the ultimate goal in relationships. However, that view obscures the possibility of other forms of relationships, like multiple-partner commitments, long-term unmarried relationships, sexual relationships (long-term or short-term) that have more to do with sexual attraction and nothing to do with love, etc. If we follow the rules -- that is, find someone, get to know him or her, get engaged, and then get married -- that doesn't necessarily mean that love is going to be evident in those relationships. And if we decide that love and marriage are not what we desire, some folks will refuse to even acknowledge other forms of relationships.
Wade: Well, I must admit that I dreamed of getting married as a youngster and still have those same aspirations today, but I don't believe that marriage is the only way that two people can demonstrate love and honor their relationship. For me, a wedding is a celebration of love between two people. Individuals should have the right to express and name their love in any way they choose, but I don't believe married people have a greater connection than unmarried people just because they decide to express their love in a different and more traditional way. Love is varied and vast, and there is no correct way to demonstrate love. Do you see a wedding in your future?
Darnell: I agree that folks should have the right and option to express their connection and love as they please. As for me, I am not invested in the idea of a wedding. I could definitely envision a gathering of loved ones, some family and close friends, at a dinner or something like it, but I am not interested in spending thousands of dollars to host a wedding ceremony. Beyond marriage, though, what about love and hurt as feelings that we experience regardless of the relationship type? We can love with all our heart and still hurt and be hurt in relationships. Have you ever experienced heartbreak that almost caused you to give up on love or hope for future relationships?
Wade: I have had my heart broken, fortunately. I say "fortunately" because I have learned and grown so much because of those moments. My first same-sex relationship started like a fairy tale, and I went all the way in. When we met, I was playing in the NFL and was not ready to disclose my sexual identity. I never expected to meet someone and feel comfortable enough to love him somewhat openly, but I did. We purchased a house together, and I thought, "Wow, being gay isn't all that bad. I can find love even in what seems to be a hopeless place." I never loved anyone the way I loved him. We never discussed the fact that we were dating. It was just understood, and I loved that I never had to say the words, "I'm gay," because I wasn't ready, but I knew I wanted to be and feel loved. He provided that without the pressure of verbalizing it. There was so much pressure placed on me because I was an athlete who was away for days and months at a time. Neither of us was mature enough to talk through our issues. Silence brought us together and tore us apart. When we broke up, I thought that I would be single forever, because I assumed no other gay men in the world wanted what I desired: a monogamous relationship. So I swore off men for about six months. But as I matured, I came to realize that relationships (gay and straight) come with their own sets of challenges, and I need to be mature enough to fight for and through the bad times, because that's what makes a good relationship great.
Darnell: I actually think that silence, or, rather, a lack of communication, contributes to the breakdown of so many relationships, and, dare I say it, especially those shared between men. I may be over-generalizing, but most men aren't taught to be communicators unless we are using our voice to defend ourselves or demonstrate power. Many of us (certainly not all) won't cry in front of others (even those we are close to), and some won't disclose personal issues when they arise. It has taken me some work to communicate, to break the silence, when I am sad. It's easier to do when I am infuriated, of course.
Wade: I can remember watching my parents communicate. When there was an issue, they would just ignore each other in hopes that the problem would work itself out. I used to recreate their modeling in my earlier relationships. I've learned that relationships are kept together by communication. Communication is a key ingredient to keeping us together. Now my partner and I communicate regardless of how difficult the issue is, and I honestly believe those difficult conversations have been what has kept us together over the last six years.
Darnell: I have learned how to be a better communicator in a range of relationships, not just those I've shared with partners. For instance, I can recall having a two-hour conversation with my mom about some of my most protected secrets several years back. I told her things that I had held them in for years, and she listened and affirmed her love for me. I have sister-friends who have traveled with me to the depths of some hard life issues. One of my friends would not let me travel alone when I needed to see my doctor and get results from a medical test, for example. I was really nervous and in need of support that particular time, and I would have tried to handle things on my own, but she stood by my side. I talk with you about everything. I can shed a tear, laugh aloud, cuss or sit in silence in your presence. In all these instances, communication requires vulnerability and transparency, ways of relating that men are taught to reject. I am growing because of these various relationships and am a better partner because of it.
Wade: I firmly believe the support that we can access in community can shape the ways we express love regardless of sexuality.
Darnell: I agree. If these conversations are to happen in community, between young people and older folks, whether parents, guardians or others, then we also have to address sexism (and how it shapes the ways we are taught to act as men and women) and racialized gender scripts (and how it shapes the ways we are read by others and model for ourselves some aspects of black masculinities). All of the above has everything to do with our silences and modes of communication. All of the above continues to shape our responses, whether good or bad, to the ways others relate and love, like folks' responses to the video of Robert and Nathanael's wedding. And things won't change in our various communities until we deal with all these issues.