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The Importance of Black Gay Visibility

gayblackvisibility

Have you ever felt excluded from everything? You come home from work or school, where you’ve been wearing a mask all day, and you want to just be okay with yourself for a few hours. So you pop in a videogame, you watch your favorite TV show, or you read the latest literary craze, but something’s still missing. There are no characters like you represented in a way that reflects how you see yourself. African-American LGBT characters are frequently unseen, and when they are included, there’s usually some old stereotype attached. It’s maddening! How can you completely unwind from the crazy world that doesn’t fully accept you when your source of refuge and escape doesn’t welcome you either. What are you left to do?

Street Fighter and DBZ Black Characters
Balrog (left) and Mr. Popo (right) Credit: Street Fighter Wiki, Dorkly

I’ve had that experience. At an early age, a realization dawned on me: anything I enjoyed would not include the type of character I could see myself in. It’s tragic, in a way. I was one of very few black kids in my small Catholic school, and I was different. I didn’t even know I was gay at the time, but it was apparent from being ostracized by classmates and misunderstood by my father that something was off. I remember coming home from school and rushing to my computer or game console and jumping into somebody else’s shoes because my own did not fit into society’s rules. Yet, playing Street Fighter II, watching Dragon Ball Z, or reading Ender’s Game didn’t do much to help my self-image. While these things were very entertaining they did more damage than I was aware of. You get token, stereotypical characters with Balrog or Mr. Popo, respectively, or completely left out of the book. And these are just three of the many instances where I experienced this. All of that adds up to not being an important black man unless you’re an athlete, otherwise you’re a joke or just not worthy at all. The same can almost be said for being gay. You weren’t important enough to be included, and when there was a character, it was a caricature. Those were the messages silently repeated to me for years and years from my sources of entertainment. I know I’m not the only one. Cue all the brokenness we see in our community today.

Things have gotten better, however. Shows like EmpireBeing Mary JaneLove & Hip-Hop: Hollywood, and The Real Housewives of Atlanta have put us in a position previously left unoccupied. While there are many reasons why the ways we’re represented on some of these shows is problematic, there’s also some good we can get out of just being present. It’s funny how just a handful of TV shows can get people to panic about some false conspiracy to feminize black men. People who subscribe to this belief will say we need less, but I don’t think the 5 or so characters we do have represent the full range of our experiences. More needs to be done.

Needless to say, the way some people see entertainment as nonsense or a waste of time is not a view I hold. I think it’s an extremely important part of our culture that has the power to shape how we see ourselves and each other. I’ve defined my artistic mission long ago, but to see what’s going on these days from people like Beyoncé, Kendrick Lamar, and Jesse Williams only emboldens my resolve to be unapolgetically me. My goal is to create characters that add to the representation we so need. It is my hope that when you read these characters, you will connect with something in them and finally have a source of escape that actually serves as one. In life, you may still feel excluded from time to time, but in art you should be able to feel like a part of the whole.

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My Stories

Aw, Nuts!

aw nuts
Writers' group prompt: (30 minutes to write) You are a figurine brought out because you symbolize a holiday or a season, and you stand for
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Writing

Free Write It Out

Free Write It Out

 

A tweet came across my screen with a quote from Stephen King: “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us get up and go to work.” This is from his book, On Writing. I read the book cover to cover one time, but it wasn’t until I saw this tweeted out recently that it hit me in the gut. Its impact missed me on the first read-through. I retweeted the quote and asked if this were true because I felt guilty of waiting for inspiration. A gentleman replied basically stating that sometimes you just have to start writing to get the ball rolling. So I put this into practice and the result was fantastic.

“Just start writing” could mean different things to different people. For one, it could mean write a journal entry, while for another it could mean “just get through the scene and don’t worry about perfection”. I took it as an opportunity to free write – a stream-of-consciousness form of writing where you just keep going non-stop. I opened a new document and started typing whatever was on my mind. Now, I have done this before with little success and that may have been why I stopped. I see now that the more you do it, the better able you are to get over your self-criticism.

I had an idea for a science fiction story and didn’t know where to start. Every time I thought about it, something just seemed corny, overdone, or too complex. However, through this exercise I was able to get the first page done. Now I am currently writing the first draft of what could be flash fiction, a short story, or possibly longer. Here’s a taste of what I have so far:

I saw the barrel of the gun in between my eyes flash. The sound was loud, but quick. No echo. Everything shifted to black like a light switch was flipped.

I got all that from writing about how I doubted freewriting would help. I was wrong. If you’re stuck at the beginning of a story idea like I was, free write it out. And if you’re in the middle of a story and hit a wall, shut down that critical voice in your head and just keep punching away at your keyboard. It may take some time to get past it, but you’ve got to keep moving.

What are some techniques you use to get past writer’s block? Show yourself and engage in the comments below!

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