I was very young when I realized how different I was. I have often wondered if it was too young. I was very observant.
Part of watching closely was my natural curiosity and the other part preservation. My father and his brothers
were really into sports. I looked up to them - both literally and figuratively. I wanted to be more like them.
That wasn't my destiny, though. I was born in a Black working-class town to Black working-class people.
The kind of folks you want to do right by, because they are committed to doing right by you.
Growing up different, as I did, I didn’t so much have to code switch
as much as figure out the parameters to stay within.
1. Walk this way, not that way.
2. Add this amount of bass to my voice.
3. Know man code backwards and forwards.
There was one lesson I never did learn, however. I never learned how to quell my pursuit of freedom.
One day I discovered what freedom looked like to me. It’s a peculiar story. I can’t remember the first song,
but I definitely remember the time frame. That vision of freedom came in the form of Diana Ross’ hair circa
1981 or 1982. It was the era after the Diana album when she was in the stratosphere of pop fame. That hair!
That hair was big, bouncy and Black. This was freedom to my 4 year old brain,
so naturally I proceeded to act like I had hair too.
Picture it, I was a little black boy with a record player in my room and my own records to play (or scratch up, depending on who you ask) with a t-shirt on my head. The left arm of the t-shirt acted as the “bang,” because what’s freedom without a hot bang, and the rest of “hair” (or t-shirt) acted as the tresses cascading down my back. I was Ms. Ross. I wanted to swing the hair, dance and sing to gods!
“Tell me mirror, mirror, mirror on the wall. Thought you said you had the answer to it all. Never told
me I was gonna take a fall. Tell me mirror, mirror, mirror on the wall.”
The brush was my microphone and I was singing my heart out.
Until my father came in the room. I won’t lie, I don’t remember what he did or said, but I do remember knowing very clearly that what I was doing and the way I was doing it wasn’t what he wanted. He was angry, and I knew it. I knew I couldn’t be that free.
Curiously, he never stopped buying me Diana Ross albums.
By the time I moved to Atlanta in 2010, I was many years out of the closet. In fact, the only reason I could have moved to Atlanta when I did was because I was pretty secure in who I was by then. If I’d moved to Atlanta when the thought first crossed my mind after high school, I’m not certain I would have survived it. Atlanta, while slow and Southern, had a reputation for eating young Black gay men if
they weren’t ready. I was unsure, fat and insecure. It would have been easy for me to get swept up in things - all wrong and all bad.
I wasn’t happy. With Atlanta. With life. None of it. Yes, I’d found a loving community, but something was missing.
I couldn’t put my finger on it.
One night I attended an event and everything changed. The music, the art, the people. I was electrified. I think I was with someone. I don’t remember. After that night, though, I began to roam the streets alone. I was searching again for my freedom.
I was searching for the thing I most needed, so that I could feel whole.
The second time I discovered what freedom looked like, I danced to house music in Atlanta. There was this beautiful abandon about it. I could dance alone. I could close my eyes. I could get lost in the music. It was that same feeling I had when I saw Diana’s hair. It was Black, it was big, it was joyous and it was communal. It was on those dance floors where I could be sensual, and daring.
It was just me and the music. There was no place else I wanted to be.
That was the magic.
My destiny wasn’t the destiny of my father and my uncles. It was through them that I gained the strength to follow my own path. It’s because of the lessons from them that I get to be able to be whatever version of myself I have evolved into today.
I am always supposed to pursue my freedom. However it shows up.
It’s a never ending journey, because freedom - it comes and it goes.