Sylvester was a chitty collage; there's no denying that. But Sylvester was also me, and there is no denying that either. He wore Duke in his hair and talked with a lisp. He had a country ass that caused his pants to flood, and switched when he walked. He was the campus queen. Sylvester has always been a point of contrition for me, and as I reflect on my life I can't help but wonder how Sylvester is doing today.
Things were much different in high schools when I was a freshman 14 years ago. One thing that stands out is the level of visibility for LGBT youth in the school system. It's not uncommon to see a young man with pencil curls or a young lady dressed like Tupac walking the halls of Chicago public schools these days. But my peers will share the recollection of classmates who you suspected might be gay, but it was hardly something trumpeted by that individual.
That is, unless, you were Sylvester. Sylvester was the one who had no choice but to be the sissy that he was. I remember convening with my friends to cultivate our comedy routine that consisted primarily of roasting Sylvester's honest representation of self. It was hilarious material at the time, but in retrospect I realize how much of a hypocritical fag I was at that point in my development. The fruits of self-loathing had a bountiful crop during those early teenage years, so it was easy for me to look at Sylvester and find fault in his individuality. I mocked his effeminate mannerisms as if they were a license to avoid my own appetite for the consumption of a strong man's delights—a self-hating gay locked in the midst of confusion.
I have since elevated myself from that quagmire of identity, but I've heard the sentiment echoed many times since by those who don't have the dispensation of youth. This is not to say that I subscribe to a blanket endorsement of all things fruity. There are several elements associated with the gay 'lifestyle' that I absolutely abhor and would vomit if I had to encounter on a significant level. However, that has nothing to do with sexual inclination and everything to do with integrity and self-respect. Much in the same way I'm ashamed to be a Black man when I watch VH-1's Flavor of Love or listen to the radio, there are instances of gayness that fall way outside my spectrum of interest or respect. So while I may see a young man walking down the street with arched eyebrows and stretch pants, causing me to cringe, it has more to do with an obvious lack of taste and coordination than with his flamboyant expression of sexuality.
In a culture obsessed with the 'DL' ( down low ) , it's not unusual to find people who will look down on those unconcerned with divulging their sexual orientation. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the Black church, which is littered with queers from the pews to the pulpit. The fire-and-brimstone rhetoric that is disseminated in many houses of worship towards homosexuals should be enough to make the gays find somewhere else to go. I mean, think about it: What would church be without the gays? But instead, you have people saying amen on Sunday and bending over on Monday. Theological beliefs aside, the notion of worshiping and tithing in an unwelcoming venue seems obtuse to me—but it is essential to maintaining the wholesome image of some closet cases. The politics of perception allow choir members to sleep with each other after rehearsal, because Jimmy and Tyrone are 'good Christian men' who would never blaspheme the will of the Lord in such a way. Yet, somehow, this duplicity remains expected and accepted. Those unwilling to make that compromise remain in the margins of faith, often forced to leave their own people in hopes of acceptance in the arms of those less intellectually bound.
I have never expected absolute candor regarding one's sexuality in the public arena. I believe exposing that fact is an intrinsically personal decision that has tangible consequences in a society unable to embrace pluralism. The fact that I write openly about my sexuality is not some radical affirmation. On the contrary, it is relevant to the greater dialogue I seek to engage and, therefore, I reference it unapologetically and without reservation. But I know my position is a unique one, and that my veracity may make some uncomfortable. Thankfully, I'm the type who doesn't give a damn, but that perspective took time to nourish—and it took Sylvester.
So I would like to take this opportunity to sincerely apologize to the Sylvesters out there. My judgment of you was little more than an testimony of my own insecurity. My penance is to live a defiant life not predicated on stale notions of masculinity, but instead rich with the fruit of individuality.
Contact Marcus at firstname.lastname@example.org .