By Graham Danzer
Special to CSMS MagazineJerry closed the classroom door behind him, relieved at the distance it put between he and the chaos he left at home. Fifty miles away and seemingly made further by the door at his back. Safe from his mother’s insensitive conversation and bloodshot eyes brought on by years of smoking crack cocaine. Away from the screeching tires, blaring stereos, and other remnants of the inner city black community he felt guilty for leaving behind in the pursuit of a better life. He turned on his heels to face a classroom full of excited age twenty-something art students, lost in conversations amongst themselves. A blond haired, blue eyed Barbie doll parading the newest features of her I phone for the world of her peers to see. A group of pretty young girls, seemingly perfect fits for an MTV show, in the front row chattering their latest hopeful catches in men, the answer to whether or not he felt the same as she, how last night one of them waited in terrible impatience for the phone to ring and his name to be there on its screen. Jerry remembered how he too sat up impatiently last night, cast away from the living room by his brother calling him faggot. Retreating to his mother’s room in search of comfort, he discovers her huddled mass, twisted and shivering in the closet, her eyes as big as golf balls. He spent the rest of the night lying on his bed asking the ceiling questions his mind couldn’t answer. The thought of answers brought him back to the present, as he gazed sadly at the bride to be hopeful several chairs in front of him. Did she and her boyfriend feel the same way? Did they understand each other? Jerry smiled bitterly to himself, doubting he and his “peers” could ever understand each other. They seemed so happy and alive. Jerry had never been so lost and alone. Being a gay black man was hard. Standing there in the doorway, hoping for some sign of acknowledgement and receiving none as the lighthearted conversations continued unabated, Jerry was the only black face in the classroom, thereby sticking out like a sore thumb. Yet he was invisible. He left the ghetto to make something of himself, to do better then his male peers rotting in jail or killing each other and selling drugs indiscriminately. He wanted to be gay. He could only live a lie for so long, before trying to be straight became too much for him. Telling the world who he really was felt relieving, freeing. But then the rejection and humiliation he suffered in the aftermath killed him quicker then any stray bullet. The church community he grew up in, always preaching love and tolerance all of a sudden calling him sin incarnate. Jerry’s father has not spoken a word to him since his disclosure. His brother, having always suspected his true sexual identity, seemed to rejoice in the constant torture and anguish he could now put him through daily. Leading the neighborhood crew in chants of “Faggot, faggot,” as Jerry tearfully made his way to school, holding himself together who knows how. Mustering his resolve, he had ruminated long over these experiences as he made his way into the classroom. He had always marked the words of his gospel pastors and swarthy eyed liberal schoolteachers. Life in the ghetto, as had always been, does not always have to be. Go to college, rise above the bondage, and overcome the obstacles. Jerry heeded these words, with some hesitation, and yet faith that school, “the white way” was his only way out. Not just of the poverty and despair he left behind as he had rode the bus miles from his home, garbage in the streets, crowds of people loitering insolently in front of liquor stores, bars on the windows of every house. Jerry prayed his future would be different. But prayer was difficult these days. Following the prowess of his communities most respected leaders, he came out as a gay man expecting the love and tolerance he had always been taught to anticipate. But the black world he had always loved, despite some of its harsh realities, turned its back on him when he needed it the most. His faith, his fellow brothers and sisters, had always gotten him through the tough times. Whenever he fell, he had been hopeful that they would pick him up. Most of the time they had. They were his highest hope for the future, as he believed in his mother black community when he couldn’t believe in himself. Now betrayed by all he had ever known and loved unconditionally, Jerry had nowhere to go. He had come to expect victimization and disempowerment by the larger white world, being seen as a shoplifter rather then a customer as he went into liquor stores, random and unprovoked stop and search procedures at the hands of the police, his school guidance counselor trying to talk him out of arts school and into a chef’s apron. Jerry barely questioned these realities anymore. It was the world that he and other black men had come to know in the totality of its oppression. This expectation of the white world made it challenging for him to pursue Arts school. Having difficulty believing in himself, and further, and in his ability to succeed as a black man in the white world never mind a gay man in a straight world. As he searched the classroom for some sign of his belonging, and found none, Jerry saw just how hard it would be. The black community wouldn’t love his gay sexual orientation. The white world wouldn’t see, let alone tolerate his black skin. Love and tolerance, love and tolerance, he thought there in the classroom. Jerry asked the ceiling questions his mind couldn’t answer. He almost wished he could pray again.Also see Safe Again: The compelling story of Bobby The Powerful Voice of Your Vote: Six-Years and Out Note: Graham Danzer is writer who lives in San Francisco. He wrote this piece exclusively for CSMS Magazine. Mr. Danzer also holds a master’s degree in Social Work. He is our new collaborator.