As a younger man I would have questioned someone’s sanity if they told me they saw in my future the experiences I am living now. I had not imagined that there would be a life in ministry for me, when I had decided not only to accept my sexuality, but to live in that truth as a gay youth and a man. Now I have done so throughout my entire adult life.
There were so few Black gay men living liberated in the 1970s Kansas City, Missouri.
I simply could not have seen this. The desire for what did not exist was placed strongly inside me, but I did not see it around me: healthy relationships, men out and about living free, or large communities of Black queer life. And to be truthful, if I could somehow have seen into the future the life I lead now, I would have considered it fantasy.
By some fate or blessing while in high school, I had gotten a copy of the David Kopay Story. Kopay was a National Football League running back who came out in the mid-1970s after leaving the field, literally. And even in his story, there were no promises of the kind of relationship I have now.
I am grateful for Kopay’s bravery to publish his biography, because it prepared me for my National Missionary Baptist parents learning to see me differently. Kopay’s parents were devout Catholics and were initially traumatized by the change in their vision of their all-star football-playing son as gay.
When my mother asked me the question, “Are you practicing homosexuality?” in 1982, two and a half years after I had come out to myself and my best friends in high school, she was asking the wrong question. She did not ask what I envisioned my life to be. She was grieving the murder of a young Black gay man whom she loved and favored among his eight brothers and four sisters.
This man had lived closeted and tormented about his sexuality and the conflict that caused him with his religion.
His death in all its horror and pain clouded my mother’s vision. Not just how he had died, but the immeasurable grief inflicted upon his family, very dear friends of ours. She had determined this terrible story to be the fate of my existence. This tragedy fit within her biblical interpretation of how death would be the reward for anyone who “chose” this strange, sinful sexuality.
My mother had no vision of my twenty-plus year committed relationship and “marriage” with a professional researcher and physician. She could not see that I might not be murdered for being sexually different from the majority. My mother knew gay men and of that I am certain, she was a beautician. How she knew them is another question?
I surmise that like me, the men she knew to be “that way” had to put themselves in harm’s way to have affection and companionship. And her vision may have been true for the post-depression, post-World War II world she inhabited as a young girl of rural East Texas and a woman in Kansas City.
In the early part of the twenty-first century we are also having to cope with a reality of visions that did not fit my mother’s generation.
It is likely our vision now is similarly being adjusted, as hers was when she saw the world open up with opportunities for African Americans never before seen or accepted as reality until the post-civil rights era. I am sad she did not live to see the election of President Obama.
Remember the pain and humor of watching the late actor, Carrol O’Conner, in Norman Lear’s successful television series, “All in the Family”, portraying Archie Bunker set in the 1970’s. Remember Archie trying to fit the expanding world back into his framework? We are witnessing the same societal and cultural shifts, not just for people who love someone of the same gender, but for people who have transformed from the assigned gender of their birth.
My mother could not have seen this without the same turmoil and some stubbornness as Archie’s. I wonder if many people like Momma are attempting to not see so that their religious and spiritual lives avoid conflict with today’s truth.
I attended a rally of over one hundred people, predominately African-Americans, on Valentine’s Day.
Together, we voiced our support of equal rights to have civil marriage for same-sex couples, standing in the shadow of the Georgia state capitol building’s golden dome. The light of marriage equality must someday shine all over the country. I am a privileged participant in that rally hosted by an out lesbian clergy and her congregation, and a participant in the change. Momma could have not seen this coming.
I left that rally with my husband and drove to Oxford, MS to speak to a liberal religious Unitarian Universalist congregation. I did not fly to San Francisco; I drove to Oxford, MS.
We were welcomed in the home of founders of the congregation, a gracious white Southern couple with two sons, who loved and cared for David and me, the strangers in their midst, treated as royalty. On the huge dinner table was a copy of the local Oxford paper with my photo and the announcement that I was preaching.
My mother, and I dare say even I, along with much of my family, could not have seen this coming, but it has happened.
May our Creator, who has brought us to this tremendous moment in history, help us maintain clear, loving, and hopeful vision, even when it feels in conflict with the old pictures some of us learned from our religious upbringings.
Photo provided by Duncan Teague