The first time I heard the word “GAY” was in the first grade. There was this classmate of mine name “Tim” who none of the boys in my class liked. Tim was a soft-spoken dark skin kid with a high top fade whose mother always dressed him in Bugle Boy T-Shirts and Jeans. Tim often got teased because his voice sounded “too much like a girl” and how he “walked funny.” One day during recess, all of us boys were about to start a basketball game and it was my turn to be Captain and choose my team. The last two choices were Tim and “Fat Ronnie” who used to always lose his breath during games in gym class. Right before I was able to make a decision my friend whispered to me:

Friend “Man you bet not choose Tim”

Me “Why not?”

Friend “Because that nigga GAY, that’s why!!!”

I choose Fat Ronnie and we lost by 7 points because he kept taking breaks to eat a corner store honeybun. No different from my present self I always hated to lose and later wanted to ask my mother what the hell was this “GAY” thing was and why we had to lose because of it. My mother being proud to be the only person on our block to own a collection of Encyclopedia Britannica and a bible size Webster dictionary was never one to directly answer my questions, instead her response was always “Go look it up!” which would annoy me infinity. However if I wanted answers “Look it up” was what had to be done.

GAY: To be lighthearted, happy and carefree

When I read that definition I became Super Saiyan heated with anger. “We lost a game because these niggas is mad that Tim is HAPPY?” I said to myself. The next school day I couldn’t wait for recess and as soon as it came I hit the jumpshot to win captain again, only this time Tim was my first choice.

“Man, what you doing? You trippin!!!” said a kid named Terry whose hairline even at age 6 was so far back that it gave prophecy that he’ll go bald in High School.

“I ain’t trippin!!” I said, “Ya’ll are and I’m not about to lose another game because ya’ll think Tim is too “Happy!”

All the boys except for Tim and I broke out laughing hysterically. I was deeply confused and asked, “What the hell was so funny?”(And yes when the adults weren’t around we all had potty mouths.) Then one boy said “I don’t know what the fuck you talking about, we just know we ain’t playing ball with no GAY ass faggot who likes boys!!!” I was dumbfounded but before I could react Tim walked up to me and said in a quiet tone “It’s ok, I’ll just go jump rope with the girls.” then as he walked away Fat Ronnie screamed out “Yea take yo GAY faggot ass over there like the little girl you is!” I watched Tim play jump rope during recess with the girls for the remainder of the school year.

Detroit a renaissance city was not known for its diversity. Black people make up over 80% of the city’s population that included mostly blue-collar working class folks. At the time to see a GAY person growing up was like watching an elephant come down your block wearing the brand new Grant Hills. A man who may have had slight physical female gestures was hit with the GAY tag. A woman who displayed minor like male mannerisms would unquestionably be labeled a “DYKE.” I had a friend who was often embarrassed to tell people that he was from a neighborhood within the city named “Palmer Park” because it was often said among people that “that’s were the GAY niggas lived…”

Although my household never verbally spoke out against being “GAY” the actions were clear considering that I was the only boy being raised by all women. The stereotypical threat was that me being a young black boy growing up in a house with no males could easily if not watched start “liking boys” which meant my mother would always limited the amount of affection to keep her only son from becoming “Momma’s boy soft.” An example of my mother’s hardknock love was when as a kid riding my recently no-more-training-wheels bike I accidentally hit a crack in the concrete that sent me flying head first into the near flower pot making a loud THUD sound. Everybody on the block stood up and even the toughest street dudes were starting to approach to see if I was okay. In one hell of a dizzy state I could still clearly hear my own mother say loudly “Leave him alone and you BETS not cry or I’ll give you something to cry about!!!” My almost tears retreated in reverse back into my eyes as I stumbled back on to my bike trying not see three of everything.

In the 80/90s growing up nobody within my surroundings would’ve viewed themselves as being “Homophobic” because at the time that word itself was foreign to most people. The adults old and young viewed life hard already as a black person so why would anyone in their right state of mind want to add more stress by being GAY. Plus there always a stereotypical view that a man especially black had to be SUPER masculine and being GAY was the opposite of it. One time around my second year in High school I stopped to talk to one of my Big Homies named “Danny Boy” who was sitting on the porch rolling up a blunt. Danny Boy had a light-skin complex meaning he had a short fuse. He was medium built with strong arms and chest with a small potbelly because his idea of working out was bench-pressing on the front lawn daily. As I stood by the steps I smelled a familiar faint order that caused my nose to twitch. “Yea, if you smell that then that means them niggas is cooking up some solid shit.” Danny Boy said. No secret to anyone that Danny Boy was a big time drug-dealer who would sometimes make his product inside the backyard garage. Danny Boy started to ask me the usual “If I was staying out of trouble?” and “How were my grades looking?” when his 7-year-old son came running down the street with another young boy named “Lil Ricky” and near out of breath said “Dad can I sleepover Lil Ricky’s house tonight?” Danny Boy with a disturbed facial look sat up in his chair so quick that a gun clip fell out his side pocket and shouted, “Who? Ricky?, Hell naw that boy too fuckin sweet and GAY!!! Matter of fact take yo ass from over there and go play football with the big kids!!!” Danny Boy’s son didn’t seem to be affected so he just did what his father asked, unfortunately Lil Ricky was standing right next to him and heard everything Danny Boy had said. I remember watching Lil Ricky’s eyes water up as he stared at Danny Boy with all the frustration and hurt that his 8yr old self could muster as he turned and walked away slowly. Danny Boy then put his gun clip back in his pocket and said “Damn shame that boy’s folks let him switch around like that, he gone fuck around and touch one of these kids, feel me dawg.“ I was still staring at Lil Ricky walk away when I softly under my breath said, “Yea, I feel you.”

Years later I moved to Washington D.C. and the east coast culture shock was in full effect. Men were holding each other’s hand walking down the street and kissing in broad daylight. I saw two women in a restaurant with arms around each other while holding a baby in their arms. A sunny day on The Yard of Howard University exposed me to a huge amount of Gay and Lesbian culture on a daily that I had not been accustomed to. At the time the common political conversation in the classroom, TV or everyday life was “Same-Sex” marriage under the Bush Administration who was against the idea. My usual neutral mindset was constantly being challenged through conversations with those old and young, which was slowly bringing me to a definite stance.

Religion was the final straw that brought me out of the neutral zone. I was never a weekly Church attendant growing up so I decided to switch things up and find a church home. A mentor at the time recommended a Church in Maryland about 20mins from D.C. The Church was lead by an older black woman pastor whom from the moment she spoke I became a fan of. She was college educated with a strong voice that often spoke about her experience with racism and discrimination based on her gender. She became the voice of the working class black women back home like my own mother who constantly dealt with lower pay while training less qualified men to be HER boss. Then one-day at service she began to talk about how then “DC Mayor wanted to allow same-sex marriage as if it was acceptable in God’s eye” she also went into a speech about how “Today’s society has TV shows of men kissing men knowing that homosexuality is wrong and they’re going straight to Hell to burn.Not growing up in a regular Church home this was my first experience of hearing person of God speak about a certain group of people as evil when my entire life I had only seen evil done to them. People in the audience stood and cheered loudly while folks behind me started talking about “Marching down to the Capital to protest against same-sex marriage.” I instantly thought to myself “So ya’ll just gonna walk passed all those crackhouses in southeast to stop two men from being together? This is insane!!!” I walked out of that building never to return again and since then I could count on one hand the times I entered anyone’s church that wasn’t funeral or wedding related. Over the years my spirituality grew more through different teachings however; my silence on the matter was now broken.

As a black man who has had to deal with random racial profiling often it became hard for me to fathom the idea of treating someone else the same way I had experienced. I couldn’t deal with the high level of contradiction that people were trying to feed me. The same people who would state countless times to me that being homosexual is not God’s will were the same ones whom I’ve witness purchased their 3rd Plan B pill within the same month because condoms just wasn’t the cool thing to use. Whenever I hear the infamous “I don’t agree with that lifestyle.” it sends an irritation through my spine as I’m reminded of the young teenager I once mentored who attempted suicide because he was tired of his father who would tie him up in the basement and try to “beat the gay away” daily. I still see the heartbreak in Lil Ricky’s eyes who for all anyone knew could’ve been into liking girls but was mocked because he didn’t fit someone else’s profile. One time a family member ask that if I was so down for the cause then “Should I be expected to attend a GAY pride rallys/parade?” and I replied “No more than I expect to see every “woke” white person at a Black Lives Matter Rally.” I will always speak out against any form of discrimination while recognizing my own experience with it because of skin color. I don’t claim to have all the answers but I am aware that some of those contradictions I was raised around were anything but positive. To treat people based on their character shouldn’t be rocket science. I am thankful that further experiences broaden my perspective on reality but I am only regretful that it didn’t come sooner.

J Hall