On a recent Saturday night I went to see playwright E. Patrick Johnson in his one man performance, Sweet Tea: Black Gay Men of the South. One point he brilliantly made during a monologue has haunted my thoughts,
“We haven’t forgiven ourselves for being gay.”
Why is such a statement so thoroughly true? Why was it obvious and affirmed with head nods in the audience of mostly black gay men, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people? Having spoken with personal friends, members of the church and worked for full equality of gay and transgender people, I, too, know this to be true. Many black gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people find it difficult to forgive themselves.
How has this come to be? Some in the black community view the presence and expression of same-gender loving African American people as a threat to black identity and to the black family. Mommas, Daddies and siblings may experience the tinge of lost dreams and dashed hopes when a family member “comes out.” Pulpit messages raise the specter of soul damnation for those living life as an out gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender black man or woman. Some suggest that life for gay and transgender people is “less than God’s best.” Commonly asked questions are: “Why am I this way?” “I wish it was different.” “What’s wrong with me?” “If I could…” And some have prayed many times then waited to change. It never happened.
E. Patrick Johnson wisely lifts up the fly in the ointment and have black gay and transgender people move past internalized guilt and homophobia. Internal self-acceptance, self-love and self-assurance provide the basis for genuinely experiencing welcome from the outside. There are more and more out and proud black gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. I have been amazed at the Black Pride events held in North Carolina, Mississippi, Texas, and throughout the South. I have witnessed and officiated wedding/commitment ceremonies of black same-gender couples.
All of us – gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and straight – have an opportunity to profoundly celebrate ourselves completely as ourselves.
We do not need to forgive ourselves as much as we need to appreciate who we really are. Our differences and distinctions do not diminish us. In fact, they are gifts. We are not assembly-line-model people, but each of us are designer-original human beings.
As we come to understand that we are God’s children and that God loves and accepts each of us, then we are able to live more and more authentically. There is nothing to be forgiven about who we are created to be. Our sexuality is God’s gift just as love, acceptance and grace.