Last week, I took part in an event designed to empower men right here in Philadelphia.
The event was informative, educational, and I left with a lot of smart insight to take from what was essentially an all-day event. Open to all, the event was predominantly African-American males with ages ranging from their mid-20s to late 70s. The topics examined nutrition, healthy living and sexual and mental health.
But there was an exercise in the latter that rubbed me the wrong way.
During a mental health exercise, the presenter asked men to sit in close proximity, look into each other’s eyes and explain what they’d do to better the city if they were given $1 million. Easy enough exercise, right? The weird part is that as he told the men to get together and to get real close, he repeatedly stressed and affirmed for them “not to worry,” because the “exercise is not that kind of party.”
Each time he said it, you could hear the chuckle of men in the room, ostensibly normalizing the presenter’s remarks.
“Not that kind of party.”
I know what he took it to mean. Basically, don’t worry men, you aren’t gay because you’re sitting so close to each other staring into each other’s eyes. It’s just an exercise. Don’t feel like this is going to assume you’re gay.
Except no one was assuming that. And I’m willing to wager that if he didn’t feel the need to preface it, corralling together in close proximity wouldn’t have been an issue. In the room, were two HIV-positive men, one of whom was gay. I know this because the presentation followed this presenter’s from members of Philadelphia FIGHT on how it’s possible to live with HIV, the importance of getting tested.
Side note: Did you know HIV can live dormant in someone for 10 years? Really insightful presentation from FIGHT; consider this a shameless plug in checking out the important work happening from that organization.
Anyway, I thought about this guy and what must’ve been going through his head as the presenter repeatedly felt the need to secure masculinity and a light bulb moment for a future story went off:
Are men of a certain age and race still insecure about how they’ll be perceived when it comes to sexuality? And specifically homosexuality?
A recent study at the University of California-Davis, which surveyed close to 400 black men, suggests that while black heterosexual males aren’t predominantly more averse to the notion of homosexual men and women than white males, there is a significant difference in preconceived notions.
In fact, one line in the report reads:
Gender differences in black heterosexual attitudes (men’s attitudes toward gay men were more negative than their attitudes towards lesbians or women’s attitudes towards gay men) appeared to result primarily from men’s greater tendency to regard male homosexuality as unnatural.
But so much so that it’s subconscious even in conversation with other men?
If you sat in this presentation, like I did, it would appear so.
So, this begins the impetus of a new series of pieces I’d like to delve into, and I need your help, Philly. I’m looking for men, specifically black and brown men of all genders and ages who’d be willing to tell me their thoughts on gay and trans lifestyles and their view on it. I’m wondering just how ingrained this is in inner-city communities. I want to know what it’s like in the deep pockets of Black Philly where old school meets new, where you still go to church on Sunday with “pop-pop,” and all connect after to crush the post-church fish or chicken fry.
I’m interested in how it’s perceived in the music world. We got a head start on that courtesy of Cliff Vmir, who told us his aspirations as a gay man of making it big in hip-hop.
Basically, the goal here is to explore how we – me included – as black men in Philadelphia chip away at reversing the mindset of visualizing an LGBT lifestyle as taboo. If you’re interested in exploring how we get “it’s not that kind of party” out of the subconscious as a negative thing or a joke.
In a perfect world, this looks very similar to the summit I attended, we get a bunch of guys in the room to chop it up over some food, drinks, beer, whatever’s clever, but let’s start the discussion, men and see if we can grow this into something bigger.
My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hope to hear from you. Enjoy your week, Philly.