Being Gay: An African-American Perspective - Easton Mountain Interviews Ken Dean
What’s it like being an African-American guy in the gay community? They used to say that ten percent of the population is gay. Being in a subgroup of that ten percent can be challenging. Religion and faith, dating, and invisibility have been part of my experiences as an African American guy who has sex with other men. That phrasing is for those who say, “So you’re the gay Black dude”.
Tell me about your religious practices.
Some gay men condemn me for attending church. One (ex-)boyfriend was growing distant and getting weird and finally said, "How can you go to that church?" I told him that church and my faith, not my religion, transformed my life. I was born to a parent without a partner and that was my reality. I managed to graduate (and graduate on time) from an Ivy League school. It could be that I'm great. Or it could be that the love, hope, support, and money, from that small African-American church made the difference in my life. I treasure every junior choir rehearsal, youth meeting, and Bible study. It was the faith that was nurtured at that church that made the difference in my life.
What about dating?
Years and years ago, Whoopi Goldberg, Oscar-winning actress and now host of ABC Television's unwatchable "The View", was asked "Why do you date so many white men?" She replied, "I go out with the guys who ask me out". That has always been my policy. Unfortunately, I have learned that after being asked out, it's important to ask a few questions of my own. I used to say, "In America, land of the free and home of the slave, what are you doing talking to a Black guy?" I listened carefully to the replies because it’s important to know that I’m being seen as a person, an individual, a human being.
Some guys wanted the "BBC". It has astonished me over the decades that I've never ever talked about my penis, but many around me, straight and gay, friends and acquaintances, assume that I have a big penis. For a while I responded to the question "How big?" with "Two inches. But remember--even a paper cut hurts". While "weeding out" the guys with a fetish for African American men, I had to go through a second process where I couldn't date a white guy who was "Blacker than I am". Their conversations, music, and friends made me think that "I need to Black up" and that was exhausting.
On the other hand, there was the painful realization that some men hate African-American guys. On Grindr, Gay.com, Cruisingforsex.com, Adam4Adam.com, and in other places, I have seen racism that saddens me. We are a community with similar and sometimes shared experiences. Can we be kind to each other? Can we be pleasant? I was chatting on Gay.com, with a face picture on display, and a guy's final message to me was "Not into BLK guys". Apparently, that was enough. Recently, there was an ugly debate on A4A about racial preferences. It amazes me that kids who are kicked out of their childhood homes, called names on the streets by strangers, bashed, ridiculed, and laughed at, don't see the need to be kind to others. In court cases, “gay panic” is used as a defense. It's still possible to be fired for being gay. Surely, we gay men can extend "the milk of human kindness" to each other. Perhaps it's time for those online profiles to delete "No rice, no spice" and other insanity. It's simple--treat others better than you've been treated.
Where have you felt invisible?
Those online profiles that exclude me make me feel invisible. And sometimes movies and television shows do the same thing. “Hate” is the only movie I remember in which a Black guy kisses another Black guy. When a gay Black man shows up on television he almost always is sassy . . . Or kissing his white boyfriend—unless he’s in drag. Thanks RuPaul. “Queer As Folk” was on Showtime for years, set in Pittsburgh, and I can’t remember there being any People of Color.
Reel Affirmations is the gay film festival in Washington, D.C. and there are certain movies that ALWAYS sell out--the movies starring African American actors and actresses. I guess I wasn’t the only one starving to see myself on screen. The almost exclusively Black crowds go crazy for these films.
Any final thoughts or comments?
There are times when I feel as if I’m part of a community that is welcoming, supportive, bold, strong, and hilarious. For instance, I did the Landmark Forum last year and ended up going to dinner with three other gay people. Someone in the car said, “We gays have to stick together”. That’s community! Unfortunately, there are other times, such online and dating, when I feel as if I’m an outsider.
Ken Dean was born in Louisville, Kentucky and has lived in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area almost all of his life. He graduated from Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island with a Bachelor's degree in English and American Literature. He worked for the federal government for more than twenty-eight years. In 2014, he completed the 200-hr training and was certified as a yoga teacher. Currently, he works at Down Dog Yoga in Bethesda, Maryland. Ken resides in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. He is one of the facilitators of Gay Men of African Descent, April 22-24.