Would I deny my black son if he were gay? If you were to ask me this question when I was 18, then I would have said yes without flinching. “My son can’t be no batty boy” would have been my exact words.
If you were to ask me that question as a 31-year-old man, you’d get quite a different answer from me. I would shrug my shoulders and tell you: “That’s his sexual preference. I will love him all the same.”
But where did this seismic shift in my mentality come from? You couldn’t simply put it down to my age. There are many black men who I grew up with that were very homophobic when we were teenagers that haven’t lost any of that in adulthood. So what was it then?
Well before I spend the rest of this article explaining why my views on homosexuality changed, two disclaimers first. I know I’ll have a few critics, so I want to address their concerns right off the bat.
Firstly, the purpose of this article is not to advocate for black men to become gay. Nobody “becomes gay” anyway. Instead, this article is an exploration of black masculinity and why homophobia is not only ridiculous but also not an affront to black masculinity.
Secondly, I am not a homosexual man. I am straight, but I have written this article to address why I would not dismiss my child, hypothetically speaking, if he were gay.
Growing up in a hypermasculine world gave me a homophobic mindset
I grew up in East London or the "ends" as it is colloquially known. My environment was very hypermasculine. Raised by a very conservative and traditional Yoruba man, my first experience of masculinity was one of strictness and dominance. Please don't mistake me, my father was and still is an exemplary father, but he was not one for hugs and kisses or openly expressing your feelings. He was a provider and a protector.
At school, many of the black boys (and to be fair, boys in general) were also very hypermasculine. This hypermasculinity manifested itself in several ways. For example, bragging about how many girl’s numbers you had on your phone and how many girls had you had slept with (everyone would double their body count), how many people you’d beaten up and how good you were at football and how aggressive you were.
What it meant to be a black man, growing up, was all through the lens of being a straight man. It was why I was very homophobic by the time I was in my late teens. During this period of my life, the very idea of another man kissing another man was a perversion of masculinity. It corrupted the concept of what masculinity was in my head, and so I thought being gay was a disgusting and despicable act.
Also, the early 2000s was not as openly accepting of the gay community as it is today. Anyone who suspected of being gay would face backlash, more so if you were black. If someone in the ends thought you were a "batty boy", a derogatory term for a gay man, you would be at risk of violence.
Meeting gay people while I was at university
The first time my dislike towards gay people was challenged was when I first attended university. Fittingly enough, my first actual interaction with a gayl person happened when I left East London to attend university in Brighton – considered to be Britain’s gay capital. At the time of completing my degree application, I was not aware of Brighton's reputation, but by the time it was brought to my attention, I was already in my first semester.
It was while living in halls that I became friends with a boy who was gay. To be completely candid, I was uncomfortable around him initially. In my ignorant, small mind, I had unfounded suspicions that he might fancy me or kiss me in the student lounge. God, I was an idiot. However, once I had gotten to know him, he was, in fact, a cool guy. We both liked watching WWE, reading novels and enjoying cheesy 90s action films.
And he never tried to kiss me.
By the time I had completed my English degree, I had spent three years in Brighton and interacted with many gay people, men and women. There was nothing different about gay love and straight love other than how they enjoyed physical intimacy. I had even watched two gay couples fall in love, get together and then break up – just like any heterosexual couple. My strong antipathy towards gay people, hardened over my heart like ice, had now melted away.
Science over emotion and religion
However, the reason why I would never deny my son (or my daughter) if they were gay is not only because of my university experience. It’s also down to science. Much of the argument against homosexuality, particularly within the black community but not exclusive to it, is that homosexuality is unnatural.
But it isn’t unnatural at all.
Firstly, what we must remember is that humans (homo-sapiens if you want to get all technical about it) are mammals (a fancy word for animals). I've heard many people, not just black people, tell me that other animals don't engage in gay behaviour, but that is entirely inaccurate. Homosexuality has been observed in dogs, elephants, baboons, and even lions, to name just a few. Now yes, an argument could be made that you can't compare the sexual behaviours of non-sentient mammals to that of humans who are self-aware. But considering humans have just evolved from animals and the fact that homosexuality is seen in other animals, even if they lack sentience, is proof that homosexuality is as natural as homosexuality.
Another argument against homosexuality, which I once held, was that the sole purpose of sex is for procreation. However, considering how the millennial generations, and the many generations before, have engaged in sexual acts purely for pleasure, going so far as to use contraception to eliminate the "sole purpose" of sex, renders that argument moot.
By the time I had left university, I was no longer religious, as I felt it limited the human experience and naturally made be a prejudiced person. While I still do draw on the Bible occasionally and my empathy and feelings to examine anything, I also look at cold, logical and impartial science. And from a purely scientific point of view, I can no longer see homosexuality as an unnatural act. Human sexuality is complex and scientific studies have shown that the binary idea of sexuality, male attracted to female and vice versa, is only one expression of the broad spectrum of human sexuality.
Black masculinity does need to evolve
Being from the black community, I can say that, from my observation, there are still negative attitudes towards homosexuality. Blatant homophobic attacks have lessened, but this is mainly in the black diaspora, which has been influenced by western society’s embracement of the LGBT community. However, homosexuality is still punishable in some Caribbean and African countries. It can land you in prison or worse.
Black masculinity is still very much tethered to this idea of hypermasculinity –physical superiority, sexual prowess and intense competition. Homosexuality is viewed as the antithesis of all that. However, there are some black men, who you might consider traditionally masculine, that are gay. The 2016 film Moonlight dramatises the experiences of a black male gangster who is muscular, tall, violent - and gay. Some of the most brutal men in history, who many would categorise as embodying typically hypermasculine traits, were gay such as Ronnie Kray, of the Kray Twins. In prison, there are many examples of violent men engaging in homosexuality. Even if our mainstream society satirises it, it still happens.
The strict idea of male blackness is limited, and this is perpetuated by black mainstream culture – in rap music, our fashion and our films. Over the years, I admit that black masculinity, in the West, has become broader. Still, I do feel there needs to be more of an acceptance of homosexuality as being compatible with black masculinity. Of course, this will take much time as religious ideologies are still influential in black communities – both in the diaspora and back at home in Africa and the Caribbean islands.
Would I purposefully encourage my black son to be gay? Of course not. Never would I influence any child's behaviour to prove an ideological point – an issue I have with many liberals, but that argument is beyond the scope of this article. But I would be supportive of my hypothetical gay son and love him all the same because being gay is not a choice – it’s who you are. And he would still be a man in my eyes, in every sense of the word.