My television raised me. I’m not criticizing my mom here. A single mother, she worked tirelessly to give her only son whatever he wanted and needed, and that meant she was busy. Often, the TV stood in for both of my parents. I began to look to it for anything I needed to know about the world.
Carl Winslow and Synclaire James taught me tools to ease my temper by either counting to 3 or saying, “Woo-woo-woo.” Chandler, Ross, Rachel, Phoebe and the rest of the gang taught me what my friends should act like and look like. Claire and Cliff Huxtable taught me all about marriage and family and not to let all my kids live in my house past age 18. But when it came to coming to terms with being gay, there was nothing that connected or clicked for me.
As for the reality of what it meant to be black and gay, TV offered mixed signals. I knew that I could turn it on at any given moment and catch Cliff and Claire in a warm embrace, see Martin and Gina with her big head on his shoulder after a bigger misunderstanding, or laugh at awkward-looking J.J. Evans pursuing ladies and randomly shouting, “Dyno-mite!” There were plenty of images of straight black love, and plenty of images of white gay men—lots of them—being free, throwing glitter and just being happy. But on all the hundreds of channels, I couldn't find any black gay male couple.
This was even more distressing as I came to realize that the square electronic parent I’d come to know and love was more than just a source of entertainment. The media shapes ideas, and its depictions can color our reality.
Why couldn’t my biggest influence show me anyone who was just as happy but who looked like me? Why can’t it, even today, when so much has changed?
Overall, we’ve seen improvement when it comes to realistic, thoughtful, well-developed African-American images in the media. My beloved black folks are re-creating our narrative and showing the world that we are here, proud, in love, nappy and happy. As elated as I am by this, I’m also concerned because I—and the rest of my black LGBT brothers and sisters—are left out of the reconstruction of our narrative.
This hit home for me when Michael Sam, new defensive end for the St. Louis Rams, was drafted in one of the final picks and his reaction aired on ESPN. He displayed a brave and rather tender moment that, arguably, a lot of men who watch the network might not agree with: Sam was seen kissing his white boyfriend, Vito Cammisano, and crying tears of joy before a national audience.
I also felt something I didn’t want to admit: I realized that the image of black gay couples that I’d been craving for years was still absent, even during this groundbreaking moment, and it made me feel, sadly, unwanted. Sam, of course, is free to love whomever he wants. But his personal moment and the reaction it evoked was just one more reminder of the dearth of positive images and narratives of black gay men who love other black gay men.
Derrick Gordon and Jason Collins—other high-profile, brave gay athletes—are also in relationships with white men. While that is perfectly fine, it just makes me, and a hell of a lot of people like me, long for something that reflects us.
The absence of black gay male couples in these widely publicized true love stories and in fictional storylines makes it seem that our love is not worthy of being celebrated like everyone else’s. I desperately want more for us than playing the proverbial “good gay friend” to reality-TV divas who are just as passively homophobic as we are desperate to tell our stories the way we’d like.
Although I’m an adult now and no longer parented by my TV, I still look to it from time to time to tell me what’s what. It clues me in on what’s going on in the world and points me toward characters on Love and Hip Hop to laugh at to make me feel that my life in the struggle isn’t so bad. It still hasn’t shown me any images of love that I crave, but I have a feeling that it’s teaching me an important lesson: to create my own story, live in my truth and love fearlessly despite what anyone else says.