By J. Tebias Perry
These are my personal observations and experiences.
Change is probable, and there is always hope for it, but do we always use it? In 1997, as I screamed from my balcony at the corner of 10th and Piedmont, “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!,” I reveled in my freedom as a liberated gay man. I was starstruck with how massive the city was, welcoming me as a new fresh face with new ideas and new dreams. Little did I know that the dream that I had of being sexually free and open to be myself came with limits and restraints. It also came with so many boundaries that separated the gay flag to the point where it would make me think twice about even being gay, open, or in the closet.
The real obstacle has never been the fact that I was hated traditionally by “breeders,” but for being a same-gender-loving man who happened to fall in love with the white guy. The real hatred was revealed at that time. And when I dated an Arab. And a Latino. Talking about shit hitting the fan!
Long before I came along with my “interracial infraction,“ Black guys and white guys have been intertwined. Finding creative ways to fuck in an alley, in cars, at the movies, or behind the house while the wife and kids slept. Shhhhhh, be quiet. The gay community’s history is long and rich with the Marlon Brandos that openly dated famous Black men who were comedians, singers, and even writers. There was no shame that Brando was known for his huge pickle and not being afraid to use it as a weapon on black and brown men. The difference is that he was proud of the conquer and spoke of it as trophies. Then you have Bayard Rustin, who was the chief organizer of the 1963 March on Washington. He was caught banging in the back seat of a car during the late 50s, spent 60 days in jail, and was unapologetic.
He exclusively dated older white guys. Who cares? Obviously, some did but not Bayard! This is the type of advocacy that I yearn to represent and be a part of, not smiling, or laughing with the masses. But as a gay community, we can’t even get that shit right!
My mixture of friends would tell me, “wake the fuck up, Tebias, this is the South! Black guys don’t date white guys here. We go to Bulldog’s, The Palace, Lorreta’s, Django, Phase 1, or the Marquette!” Hearing this over and over again only gave me the tenacity to change the narrative.
That unwelcoming feeling was something that I just got used to. I can recall a time standing at the bar in the serving area and waiting almost 30 minutes to be served. The hard part is learning that patience really is a fucking virtue! Racism was visibly present and physically; I only got secondhand messages from the bartenders and other white friends that overheard the names they called me.
A small-town boy with big dreams was used to white privilege and a galvanized perspective on racism. Privilege is a constant, and it’s always reminded me of back home. The South is not the only heavily gay racist populated part of this fucked-up country. The worst times that I have seen white privilege and racism is during our pride celebrations; New York, DC, LA, Atlanta, New Orleans, and Dallas. I’ve witnessed it time and time again as if I can see it like smoke in the air. The fumes of this poison seep into the eyes and ears of my white brothers and sisters from birth. Your privilege is stamped on your skin like a bad tattoo. They are raised this way to see black as a threat and something that must be conquered. This country is built on violence, and they learned it from their forefathers. I’ve always thought that white people would gain more insight if they were forced to learn our black history as we were forced to learn the lies of theirs.
Far too many times, I see our young brown and black people shrink themselves to make white people feel comfortable. The reason they feel so comfortable is because they’ve never had to feel uncomfortable or be forced to recognize it. The ones who regularly exercise their racism and their privilege recognize it and use it freely! No one has ever had to correct them. Now, systemic racism has a hole in it, and the Black Lives Matter movement is draining it dry, pushing comfort to a boil. The world is being force-fed the same slop that made it fat on leftovers that it forced my ancestors to eat. A huge mirror is being shoved into the faces of those who hide behind patriotism and Making America Great Again.
A well-known Midtown bar showed the perfect depiction of the division between the gay community five years ago when they posted a sign in their window on 10th St. The notable depiction of its description pointed fingers directly to our minority community. The list was very long and very descriptive. No hoodies, no oversize earrings, no oversize tank tops, no dark sunglasses, no athletic wear, no headphones, and, more importantly, no bad attitudes. Bad attitudes? I couldn’t believe that it was posted, so I walked over to witness it for myself. I took a picture of it and instantly became very angry! Racial tensions have fueled Atlanta for many years, and I know that there’s room for growth, but the white community refuses to mend this gap.
But we sometimes put our necks in the jaws of the lion. Other cultures have always been fascinated and have capitalized on our black culture, plucking away from it like figs in a tree. The more I noticed their strategy of trying to control our blackness through means of benefits that ends with a “0”, the more cautious it made me of their true intentions. For those shameless businessmen and career “enthusiasts “who populate the 30303 to the 30312, how proud are you that you only entertain us during the hours of 12 AM to 6 AM?
While begging for the biggest “BBC” on Grindr, Scruff, or Jack’ed, your husband is texting you from his business trip in Vancouver. Your secret is safe with an app! Most white guys who are successful, including those that are very rich, tend to compartmentalize our blackness from our speech to our level of our own culture.
In my awareness of myself as a man, I’ve noticed that for Black guys that are successful, there is a level of success the other white guys would dare to date. If I am too successful, they will look the other way. In an attempt to dominate, the question of my career is sometimes the first question. Some would say it’s an icebreaker; I say it’s bullshit.
Think about it: Overtly successful CNN commentators, actors, and fitness gurus have reached a level of success where, in gay culture, ONLY a white man would do. Is that the level of success that pressures their choice or is that their true course of finding authentic love? It could possibly be both, but I vowed to myself that I would never shrink who I was as a black man for no one; black or white. My passion for my blackness comes as a complete package not minus one or two things the others may disagree with. I have come to appreciate the beauty of being different than what I am attracted to yet holding my southern values in the strongest grip. I know what it feels like to be the only one in the room, the only one at the table and the only one in the classroom.
As Black Lives Matter murals decorate our cities, parks, including 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the world is watching like porn. Nothing will change the trajectory of forward thinkers and people constantly educating themselves to rid racism more so than just doing it. So listen up all Midtown white, gay, queer, cisgender males; including a few Karens; your time is up and the time is now for you to educate and empower yourself with what makes us a better gay community.
J. Tebias Perry is an Atlanta-based writer, activist, and leatherman. This article marks his debut as a contributor to Peach.