This essay first appeared on the mailing list glbpoc.
I'd like to share something with you. It's long, but if you have time, please read. I was called by an ancestor (my maternal grandmother) to write and share, so here it is. It's straight from the heart and unpolished. Nonetheless, Enjoy!
by Tim'm T. West
I woke up this morning having sneezed myself awake. I'm reminded, again, that I'm no longer in North Carolina but in Brooklyn. No less beautiful, but just differently so (I convince myself). It may have as easily been the morning rain which compelled me to rise from my bed. Oh well, I say to self, I'm up now and it doesn't matter why or how.
Something about this morning was very different than others. No less beautiful than the usual-- for all mornings I witness: the rainy ones, overcast, those that are sunny and bright-- are evidence that the life force still resides in me.
I reflect on a conversation I had last night with a brothafriend. We are both, in some ways, new to this city. We met as HIV educators in Raleigh/Durham and discovered that we had in common a longing to engage desperately in the loving of oneself. It is a longing that is all too uncommon among many of my brothas and sistahs. We sometimes devote ourselves to political causes, to significant (or insignificant) others, to spiritual uplift, to nurturing of intellect with so little regard for the urgent care of the soul we need in order to actualize self-love. And self-love is more than being able to say one loves self. It's easy to convince oneself of this. Whether or not it is "really" the case can sometime get one in a spiritual funk. It does for me, sometime.
So here I was sitting in this Chinese restaurant in the Village, sharing with my friend how self-love is sooo hard. Beyond the daily messages we same gender loving folk get from society, and even the self-loathing that often guises itself as innocent fun during "reading" sessions when we assemble as "community", many of us cannot even acknowledge how deeply wounded we really are. Like the time I met with members of glbpoc (gay lesbian bi-sexual people of color) and we laughed vehemently about growing up in black churches. What a wonderful kee kee session that was! But afterwards, I thought about it. Thought about all of the wounds many of us carry with us from things said in pulpit, or by parents, or by friends in high school who "didn't know". Remembering often requires that we re-live some of those moments. Remembering is painful. So we, with all good intentions, lighten the mood. We laugh about our desperate attempts to gain acceptance from the families we love so dear, and even their sometimes harsh refusal of those attempts. Most of us identify. And the kee kee is grounded in this identification. O' how wonderful it is to laugh away the pain. Like Negro spirituals which masked wounds still revealing themselves centuries later. "O Happy Day".
The same evening as the glbpoc gathering, at The Edge in D.C., and while among what seemed a gazillion beautiful same gender loving folk (a variety of appearances, expressions, and experiences) I felt as lonely as I ever have in my life.
And the music played. "Deep Deep Inside".............and I danced........"I Get Lifted...I I get Lifted. I danced. I danced until the pain deep down inside got lifted, temporarily. But at the evening's end there was just me. No DJ Cedric screaming "Kick Bitch Kick" (which cracks me the hell up), no more gazes from brothas who seem to wonder what lies under my baggie banjie attire (which causes me to blush inside....though I consciously "frown" to maintain the "authenticity" of the pose I that attracts them), no kee kee. That night I thought about Black Gay Pride.
What a mess this is, I thought! Pride!?! I'm carrying so much shit from a embittered relationship with Dad, scars from a relationship with a man who was very much like my dad, and blocking out the snores of my best friend (who struggles to love self and complete college despite his family's disownment). These things the rainbow flag on my car or my "Everyone Thinks I'm Straight" t-shirt, cannot mask. Damn!
But here, months later, in the restaurant and talking with my friend, things are better. I'm slowly beginning to deal with some of my issues. I am thankful that he, as well as I, can take a moment out to confront what "really" lies behind all the kee kee. Not all the time, of course. I love to have a good uninterrupted and shallow kee kee session. But this friend and I occasionally get a little deep. He'll ask if my relationship with my ex-girlfriend was a gay relationship since she identifies as lesbian and me gay. I'll ask how he's dealing with his recent break-up and his adjustment to New York City. He'll challenge my pessimism about relationships with brothas. We exchange gazes, suggestions of books to read, and end our conversation with hugs. This is really what brothahood is all about, I think to myself. I returned home on the subway. While on the A-bound Brooklyn train it seems that my eyes were affixed to everything that Alice Walker was saying in her book of essays "Living By The Word". How inspiring, I think.
"I get Lifted....I I get lifted".
I'm praising God, the ancestors, and self for the strength to make it through another day. I realize that there a lot about me worth loving. I'm looking like a nutcase-- smiling and singing "What a friend we have in Jesus". I must look like Digable Planets meets the holy spirit. And I'm not even Christian. But the song was my grandmother's favorite. I'm singing louder (though not so loud that I annoy anyone. I ain't crazy). One Christian-looking older black woman acknowledges me with a smile and nod. I actually listen to myself and am sounding quite allright. One would expect no less from the son of a preacher/musician. I want to tell that smiling lil' Christian woman that I love her.....whoever she is. Then they'll really think I'm nuts. But I'm sooo feeling good. So inspired. So thankful.
I was thinking as I left Utica station and walked through the funhouse of this wonderful community I love: Bedstuy. If I had to "go" right now, what better a way than right here on this corner. Peacefully, gazing at the stars and clear sky beyond the trash I lay near. Loving self. The spirit of my grandmother comforting me: "It's all right chile" is what she'd say. And my thumb affixed to some prophetic Alice Walker statement. And I would hope that people made some connection between me and that setting. But I know they wouldn't. And that's why I long to live.
So that the messages and the pain will not be misconstrued as something else. I have so many messages to share with my brothas and sistahs. So much work to do. "It ain't time yet" grandma say. "Chile, don't you be thinking like that.. about death and stuff.....I got more work to do through you. You got lots to do yourself. And you gotta love self to love me. And you gotta write and share our pain and our joy withotherfolk".
So here I am the morning after. Sharing my story with all the folk I think might appreciate or need it. I'm thinking: Ain't God Good. I conclude with a weight in my heart as heavy as my greatest pain..........only this time it feels Damn good. Stay.
Tim'm T. West
July 26, 1996