Saturday, November 04, 2006

Some of My Best Friends...???

A long time friend of mine offered me a book to read; Emily Bernard's "Some of My Best Friends: Writings on Interracial Friendships". I finally got around to opening it up, and the book's contents have really hit home for me.



You see, I was raised in a working class, racially mixed neighborhood. In high school, the crowd I associated with was also very multicultural. In fact, my close H.S. friends and I gained the title "Rainbow Coalition" because we were so ethnically mixed. Imagine a black guy and girl, a hot mess of a Nigerian girl, a self proclaimed "Thai princess", a seethingly blunt Chinese girl, a mixed white/Filipino guy with an affinity for hard alternative music (booo!), and a crazy lil' filipina all running in the same circle. Man, we would crack up at all the attention we got while in public. Wake up people, this aint 1955 and we ain't in the Deep South!

The high school crew:



Sure, we (and our extended network of friends aka. the 'smart' kids) all took more than enough shit from our respective ethnic communities for not being "down" enough, but we didn't give a damn about others' perceptions. We were friends, down for each other, and destined for success. I always though of my multicultural friends as a huge blessing...I grew a much stronger sensitivity to others, learned real quick not to make snap judgments of other ethnic groups, and I appreciate my blackness and Black culture even more having been exposed to other cultures.

As I headed off to UC Davis, I kept that sense of multiculturalism close to my heart. When I arrived on campus, I found myself ethnically isolated in not one, but two ways. First of all, there were hardly any Black folks on campus, especially brothas. Second, the existing Black community was happily segregated and out of reach. Although I was making friends and acquaintances with the White, Asian, Indian, and other folks, I felt something was missing not having a bond with the Black and Latino community.

It took two full years to form some kind of connection to the at-large Black community on campus. And when I did, I felt as if I were enduring an internal tug-of-war match. On one side I had the Black community I had been yearning for, which did not look too kindly of me associating so extensively with the "others". On the other side, I had the network of Non-black friends who I'd grown to love and appreciate despite our ethnic differences, but were clueless to my struggle as a young black man in America. I was indeed "sittin on the fence". I couldn't make up my mind which way to go....I felt such a strong connection to my fellow Black folks, but I couldn't fathom the thought of forsaking the friends who accepted me as I was. In the end, I decided to just DO ME, and BRUSH THE HATERS OFF. And wouldn't you know it, I gained the respect of the open minded black folks, maintained the other friendships that were open to learning about the Black experience, and got written off by the others. Whatever. Even though I found peace within my friendships and acquaintances, there was still this invisible line that separated the two groups, which really bothered me.

The Homies from Cow-Town (UC Davis):



I bring this up because I feel the same thing happening again, but with different circumstances. Now, there seems to be a growing separation between my gay/SGL and heterosexual social networks. Up until about 2 years ago, an overwhelming majority of the people I socialized with were heterosexual (or I assumed were). Now that I'm settling into my identity as an 'out' black gay male, I have a yearning to form bonds with gay folks, particularly black gay men.

As I become more involved in connecting to the gay community, I feel some of my old friendships slipping by the wayside. One of my best friends, Nan, actually put me on blast about this a few weeks ago. It's not that I don't love them any less, it's just that being black and gay presents a very complicated set of challenges and circumstances that many folks who aren't black and gay can understand. My straight friends, for the most part, are accepting of my sexuality, but don't seem to be open to knowing more about the experience. Again, the damn tug-of-war...and my behind is getting tired from sitting on this sharp ass fence.

Can a happy medium be made here? Or is this something that will always be present if I decide to associate with both heterosexuals and SGL folks? I hate having to divide my social time between the two.

Do any of struggle with "sittin on the fence" in some capacity?

Can y'all help me get off this damn fence?


***By the way, for those who don't know, SGL means "same gender loving"***

2 comments:

Dusty Boot said...

Don't look at it that "I'm sitting on this sharp ass fence" (funny, got me gigglin'). But look at it as, "I'm enjoying both sides of the fence". Hrmm.... yes, I know, ironic.

I think it's a really good thing that you're very open about this sort of thing, that you can have best friends from all kinds of ethnic backgrounds (and sexual orientation). It makes for a well-rounded person.

This is easier said than done, but don't feel like you have to choose sides. Integrate them.

I'm assuming that your str8 friends are open-minded 'cuz they know you're gay and they're still your friends. And you have a set of gay friends. This is what me and Dave would sometimes do, every now and then, randomly:
Go out to dinner together. The str8 friends and the gay friends. Introduce them to each other. They don't have to become the best of friends (it can happen, tho), but civilized people (they're all civilized people, right?!) will usually find something in common to talk about, and at the same time, it gives each side a better experience/understanding of/about you. They get to see the other half of you. They (the str8 ones) may not seem to be open to know more, but it's a scary thing for str8 people. :) Give them an opportunity. Pick the ones that you'd think would respond best when introduced to a couple of your gay friends (and vice-versa, lord knows the gay people can be close minded, of all people....)

Labor Day BBQ has become a huge production at our house because of it. Yes, it's free food, people don't refuse free food. But, all kinds of our friends participate, and now it's just a given that they come here on Labor Day. Some of them extend the new friendships beyond the BBQ. Hell, my attorney (str8, has a wife) and my painter (bi) are now good friends. They barter professional services. Now I have to WAIT to get my house painted, dammit. lol. Then there's the doctor and the general construction guy and his wife. Even the kids know each other.

In the end, there'll always be some division. You'd have to juggle your social time to a certain degree, that's just a given, but the option also exists to integrate each side of your friends, or at least some of them. After all, you're expanding your horizon and have a group of friends worthy to be called the U.N. They can, too.

I've rambled enuff.... :)

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