JWilliamsJeffrey Williams our social commentator brings us "Feeding Love with Hate"

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Coming out of the closet has gotten easier in the last couple of years.  Back in 1997 when Ellen DeGeneres came out during her primetime sitcom, it made headlines all across the world.  It was one of the bravest moments in history of Hollywood, and today, thanks largely to Ellen along with other strong gay influences in Hollywood, many television stations and movie executives are looking to the gay community.  With the success of such hits as “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” “The L Word,” and of course, “Queer as Folk,” it is apparent that the gay representation isn’t going to die down any time soon.  I say it is about time.

Being gay today, although still painfully treacherous depending on where you live, is a little easier.  The laws are beginning to change and hopefully so are our president and his administration, meaning that they will no longer be in charge.  Many gays, however, are not so happy with being gay.  During the last few weeks, I have been talking with three gay males.  Jerry Thomason, a sixteen year old junior at Boys and Girls High School in Brooklyn, New York, Casey Rhodes, a twenty eight year old advertising executive, and Marcus Briggs, a forty year old manager at Macy’s department store.  These three people were all born in different times, at different places and with different family values.  They all have come from loving homes, but were taught that being gay was a sin.  That is where the problems began.

Jerry is a black honor student at Boys and Girls High School, the largest African-American high school in the city.  He is from Bedford Stuyvesant and currently plans to attend college at NYU to study business and economics.  He aspires to be the first black Donald Trump.  Jerry’s story is not unlike many others that have been told before.  He is from a lower class family but grew up with the love and support of both of his parents (which is rare in this day and age in lower class neighborhoods), and has had great grades all throughout his school years.  He was a student of the bible, believed in the teachings of Christ and participated in sporting events all across Brooklyn.  He loves going to the beach but hates the beach at Coney Island proclaiming that it is far too dirty to enjoy.  I happen to agree with him on that one.

So far this is a ‘no story,’ that is until you consider the fact that Jerry, along with Casey and Marcus each has a common bond in that they are gay and hate it.  In one of my chats with Jerry over the telephone before we met in person two months ago, Jerry told me that he is very much attracted to guys and that he even found me attractive (blush) but that it disgusts him to think that he may be gay.  It makes him angry to know that for the rest of his life, he will have to hide something from his family that they consider to be a major sin, an abomination to God and good ole family traditions.

Jerry says, “I hate this thing in me that makes me gay.  I don’t wish to be this way but I am smart enough to know that there is nothing that I can do to change that.  This is who I am.  But I choose to not act on it.  I remain celibate because in this area [Bedford Stuyvesant], I don’t have much of a choice.”  Jerry distressed me greatly.  I understood what he was going through and knew that his age coupled with his newfound sexuality has provided for him a lot of weight on his shoulders.  I know that the prospect of coming out for him was not an option.  Boys and Girls is a very good school but they are not sensitive to gay and lesbian students.  Last year at the gay and lesbian expo at the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan, I spoke with a former teacher there who worked at the school for over twenty-five years.  She quit a little over a year ago when she learned that the principal, Frank Mickens, and the rest of the staff were not permitting the gay and lesbian students to wear their pride colors citing that it would “spark a violent act.”  After several unsuccessful attempts to get the staff to understand what the colors mean, this teacher, who asked that I not publish her name, left the school and now works for PFLAG, (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays)

Jerry told me late last month that he was a huge “advocate” for gay and lesbian rights, however, he would never participate in gay and lesbian events such as the pride parade or attend gay and lesbian clubs or bars.  Though he said to me that he was an “advocate” for gay rights, I must say that he is not an advocate at all since that term describes someone who actively supports and argues in favor of a cause; Jerry is merely a passive supporter.  Hey, can’t win them all.  He never wants to be associated with our community.  That prospect saddens me, but to date, I have been ineffective in changing his mind or getting him to see the other side of the coin.  I think it is important for him to see that there is a world outside of Bed-Stuy that is sensitive to his struggle.  Plagued with anti-gay rhetoric, his environment both at home and at school is homophobic, and this has laid the foundation for his insecurity and self-hate.  I can only hope that he one day, understands that who and what he is can and should only be judged by his character and not his sexuality.

Casey Rhodes is a twenty eight year old advertising executive from an upper middle class suburb of Long Island New York.  He is the only child to Martha and Pete Rhodes, two prominent attorneys.  Casey grew up very different from Jerry, though religiously he was taught the same.  His parents were very republican.  Always to the extreme right, his parents instilled in him the theory that this country will burn in hell without great presidential leaders teaching the will of God and aiding us in the direction that God wants.  Like other dictators to the extreme right, Falwell and Buchanan, Mr. and Mrs. Rhodes taught that being gay was a sure-fire way to get into hell.  Casey knew that there was something different about him when he was in high school.  He recalls, “During my gym class in eleventh grade, I remember looking at my fellow classmates’ buttocks.  It was turning me on the way I never have been turned on before.  I wasn’t allowed to watch television unless it was a speech by the President or a religious program so there was no stimulation for me there.  But when I saw his package, I felt the blood rushing from my head to my penis.  I finally, after years of speculation, had confirmation that I was a homosexual.”

He continues: “I don’t like it though.  When people look at me and think that I am a homo, they hiss at me or shout out names to me.  I hurt because I am as straight acting as they come.  I do not have a girlfriend but I have slept with many girls and never with a guy.  I don’t want to sleep with a man.  However, I do think about them before and often while I am having sex with women.  It is the only way to keep my erection.”  I asked him why he was ashamed of his sexuality and Casey then began to point out to me the stereotypes that perpetuate gay hate.  He is not a fan of the Showtime smash hit “Queer as Folk” because it depicts, he says, “gay raunchy and sadistic masochism at its absolute core.”  He also states that he has never been a fan of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” because, “It is telling straights that they cannot dress, act, perform, be civil, or even dance.  Would that be accepted by our community had the show been reversed?”  Casey states that his only hatred for his sexuality stems from, and only from, the way Gays are portrayed in society.  He says that gays and lesbians cannot just blame straight society for their stereotypes when we act on those very stereotypes for our own personal exploitations.

Although I agreed with his comments, to a point, I must also state that his parents, whom I have met, have also aided in his bigotry.  I spoke with them briefly over the phone pretending to be a newspaper reporter gathering information on what people think about the proposed ban on gay marriage.  Shockingly, I was stunned to learn that they were no longer Republicans.  They were turned to the left by President Bush and his evil ways.  Mrs. Rhodes told me that though she is not an advocate of gay marriage, she thinks it is unconstitutional to propose a ban on it.  She said, “There are far worst problems to deal with, like the debt we are in to China for this war that was based on lies.”  I had a hint of a smile for a moment.  I knew we had at least one more vote for Kerry.  As I spoke more with Casey, I asked him what it would take for him to reconsider his discontent for homosexuality.  He said, simply and straight to the point, “More respect from the straight community.”  My response to him was, “How would the straight society respect you if you cannot respect yourself.”  Our conversation was ended after my comment.

Marcus Briggs was a devout Christian when he was a child.  He participated in anything and everything that was faith related.  Never denying his true sexual identity, Marcus never had a problem with being who he was.  That is, however, until his twenty-first birthday when one of his friends was beaten badly.  Marcus was staying with relatives at a family owned cottage in Omaha, Nebraska when one of his old friends, a gay male, asked him to go hang out.  The two went to a café for coffee and then to walk along the long stretch of road that lead nowhere.  Upon heading back to the café, the two friends were taunted by three bullies.  They were yelling gay epithets at Marcus and his friend, Nathan.  Nathan, a proud homosexual even in a state where gays are rare, turned to the guys and yelled back at them.  He told the men that they were cowards and that we gays are better in every way.  That angered Marcus because he never openly came out to Nathan.  He never wanted anyone to know about his sexuality because it was something that he thought of as a deeply guarded secret.  Marcus grew enraged, so much so that he slugged Nathan right in the arm and demanded that Nathan never, ever call him or refer to him as gay again.

Later that evening, Marcus and Nathan separated and went to their respective homes.  Unbeknownst to Nathan, he was being followed by one of the men who had taunted him.  The unidentified man pulled Nathan to the side and beat him for several minutes before cowardly running off into the dark night.  Nathan never reported the beating to the police; however, he did call Marcus and told him what had happened.  Marcus said, “On that night I was so angry that I didn’t care about him.  I was so angry that I just hung up the phone.  I haven’t heard from him for twelve years.”  A few years ago, thirty-four year old Nathan gave Marcus a call out of the blue and told him that he had forgiven him for not helping.  He also said that he knew that they could never be friends again and he thanked Marcus.  He thanks Marcus for allowing him to see the light and to get on the path to his current career, a civil rights attorney in Los Angeles.  He is also a member of several gay and lesbian organizations.

Marcus never felt the same kind of success as Nathan.  Although he makes pretty decent money at Macy’s as a manager, he still rents a small apartment in SOHO.  He never finished college due to what he calls “personal and professional difficulties,” and he, like Casey, has never known the touch of a man.  But, unlike Casey, he vomits at the sight of two men kissing.  He said to me in one of our final conversations: “If a man ever approached me, I would beat the living hell out of him.”

Being gay has never been easy, but being born gay is not a choice that any of us made.  It is something that was predetermined through genetics and DNA.  It has nothing to do with where we were raised, what religion we learned, or whom we were raised by.  Being gay is a deeply rooted internal mechanism that has no ability to change or alter itself on demand.  Being gay is not something that one should be ashamed of, but something that one should embrace.  Our culture, history and love of arts and creativity that we so often showcase, is what makes us not better, not worst but just as good, valued and special as everyone else.  Self-hate in all forms, whether that hate is due to one’s race, creed, class or sexuality, is never a positive thing.  Regardless of the reasoning behind anyone hating themselves (or others) because of something they have no control over, it should be immediately addressed and cured as it can only lead to negativity and definite misery.

"There is always some madness in love.  But there is also always some reason in madness.

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 - 1900), "On Reading and Writing"

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