by Bernard Tarver
I am a 37 year old man of African descent who loves other men of African descent.
At the time of my youth, people of my race called ourselves Negroes. In the late 1960's, as social and political consciousness was raised, we started proudly calling ourselves Afro Americans or Blacks. Today some still use the latter term, while others embrace African American. However, throughout my entire life those who have disliked us always called us Niggers, a term which some younger people of African descent say they have now reclaimed as their own.
I am a man who loves men. At the time of my youth, people like myself usually kept information about our sexual identities a deep secret. Many were in complete denial to themselves and outsiders and may have publicly tried to pass as heterosexuals. For lack of a better term, some reluctantly used the very clinical word homosexual. For most of my formative years, the only words I heard to describe those who had feelings for the same gender--words commonly used by those who despised people like me--were faggot, dyke, sissy, punk, homo, bull dagger, cock sucker and queer, a term some younger people say they have now reclaimed as their own.
It wasn't until much later in life, around high school, when I first started hearing the word Gay. Being in complete denial about my sexuality, I didn't know if I was Gay or not. However the images of Gay people then (and still today), put forth by the media in movies, television and news reports were so limited. At worst, they seemed to be effeminate men, oversexed, almost always white, wracked with self-hatred but often living it up at a party, and usually residing in Greenwich Village or San Francisco. At best, they were people willing to come out publicly and proudly acknowledge their feelings of love for the same gender. Since I don't know how much of a role Gays had in shaping those media images, I never knew how accurate the former depiction was.
I knew for certain I wasn't heterosexual. I knew also that I didn't fit the predominant media-created image of the homosexual. I am attracted to, love and enjoy the company of women, although I have not experienced nor do I seek sexual relations with them. I don't feel comfortable with the term bisexual. For most of my life I didn't know who I was, sexually and emotionally-speaking, and I had no adequate word to describe what I was feeling inside.
As I grew in self acceptance, I sought the company of people like myself; Black men who loved other Black men. I found out that finding such individuals was a very difficult task, not because they weren't around, but because they were not easily identifiable. Some faced the same situation that I had; lacking in descriptive adjectives to describe their emotional-sexual status, they were presumed to be heterosexual and were cautious in their dealings with others. Still many were in serious denial and remained closeted.
It became apparent that in order to make connections, I had to identify myself to others. I needed a verbal shorthand. I chose the word Gay. To me it was my way of standing up and publicly acknowledging my feelings for those of the same gender. My self-identification with this word was not connected with popular media-created images I had seen. Calling myself gay wasn't because I had suddenly gone out and joined some group of stereotypical "sissies" marching in a Pride parade. That has never been a part of my life, nor has the white Gay community played any pivotal role in my development. To make the automatic assumption that a person can't claim a word and redefine it for their own individual use without being compromised by a white Gay power structure, is simply erroneous. I have done it. Gay was the best available term to let other Black men know in brief who I was. An instantly recognizable word that left no doubt as to the fact that I was NOT heterosexual.
But Gay is not the only word to describe who I am, nor does it even begin to describe all that I am. It is verbal shorthand. A device for OTHERS to use, to gain just a glimpse into who I am. They will need to spend considerably more time than a single conversation in order to know the whole me.
Last updated: 28 June 1977 by Chuck Tarver