I'm much more aware of my identity as a black man than my identity as a gay man. I don't think of them as competing identities, but in the context of perception and the world, they are binary. Even as a young boy, I remember my mom telling me, "Sometimes you will be treated differently, and it will not always be right." I didn't exactly get it then, but as I grew older, I learned that my mom was trying to teach me about awareness.
There's a certain type of painstakingly sharp and "always on" relentless awareness you just have to have as a black man in all spaces. It doesn't matter how many degrees you hold. It doesn't matter how much money you make. It doesn't matter where you live or what kind of car you drive; to some you're still a nigger, and that is the cold, hard truth about the world we live in today, and it's what my parents had to teach me growing up. I don't experience this with my identity as a gay man.
At any point and in any space, I can choose not to disclose my sexuality, and thus be perceived as "straight." My sexuality isn't integrated into the rest of my life unless I allow it to be. But I can't wake up and say, "I think I want to enjoy being a white man today." Good luck. I don't superimpose my race into all circumstances and spaces, but unlike my sexuality, it's integrated. The difference is that "superimposing" implies that I'm making the circumstance and/or space about my race, whereas "integrating" meaning that I'm aware of my race in that circumstance and/or space. I wasn't raised to lead with my race, and I don't care to think of myself as some galloping unicorn. But I'd be a fool to not be aware of my race and other people's responses to it. It's this unwavering sixth sense that makes me feel much more connected to my race than to my sexuality. For instance:
People don't cross the street to avoid that scary gay man walking toward them.
I don't fret over being labeled an angry gay man if I'm seen as too opinionated.
If I move into a certain neighborhood, I'm not concerned with residents thinking, "There goes the neighborhood and my property value; gay men are moving in."
Even beyond that, statistics tell a not-so-comical, chilling story about LGBTQ people of color and violence. According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Program's (NCAVP) Hate Violence Report, people of color, transgender people, and gender-nonconforming people experience higher rates of homicide, with 73 percent of the victims being people of color in 2012, with an overwhelming majority of those victims being black/African American (50 percent). Also, according to the report, LGBTQ people of color are 1.82 times as likely as white LGBTQ people to experience physical violence. So, yeah, everything is not so super when you're gay, at least gay and black.
As I've stated before, I don't navigate through the world with my race as my compass, and I don't use statistics as an exclusive benchmark, but they do create a heightened sense of awareness. I'm not a little boy anymore and realize that my mom wasn't just teaching me a lesson in race dynamics. She was also protecting me, because if I'm not aware, it could cost me my freedom or, worse, my life.
This piece first appeared on blackyouthproject.com.