Agony, Intimacy and Sexual Identity: Letters to Men Who Don’t Know How to Stay

I write letters to people who will never read them.
Friends. Family. The few loves I have lost and the even fewer I got to have.
It is a form of therapy and closure for me when physical contact is dangerous or no longer possible.
I have been writing letters to you since we met.
You are the first person who will ever have the opportunity to soak yourself in my reflections.
Not because you’re special.
Because I can no longer cope with excluding you from my healing.
This goes against every wall I have built to protect myself, every prayer of survival I have unfaithfully said, every smile and greeting I have performed to feign the nonexistence of pain and instability.
This letter is not to convert or convince you otherwise of what you already know to be the truth of your life. This letter is not to punish you either. This letter is to aid my own understanding of this situation between us. Including you in this journey of realisation is important for me. This letter is to help me find that overdue peace. This letter is a symbol of a conversation I have been yearning so long to have with you.

If there is one thing I ask of you, is that you bear with my honesty. My truth.
We both were in this together, so I am holding you accountable with me.
This is what this letter is about.
Let me begin.
There is a part of my personhood and my living experience that has your name on it and will most probably never be tampered with or removed. Not even by me. So I call it love. ‘Love’ is not actually what we had, but I currently do not have the vocabulary nor comparing experiences to know that what we had was actually the strongest twist of wretched affection held together by the violence of secrecy and unrest. So, I will call it love until I know better. I loved you, and that is the first and most important piece of information you need to know about me.
The second most important piece of information you need to know is that I loved you from a bad place. I loved you antagonistically. I loved you while I turned my back on myself. I loved you having lost my mind. One’s first relationship is one’s first attempt at knowing how to choose to be with someone every single day. My relationship with you consisted of me reaching for psychological tapes of what it meant to be young, black and in love with someone who belongs to the same sex. I am a homosexual male of colour. Who I am is already creates a dizzyingly complicated existence for me, to say the absolute least. I did not have conversations with my parents about what it means to be young and in love, or in love with another man. I silently and subconsciously relied on the example set by their marriage. I was educated at an Anglo-Saxon school consisting of only male pupils with an abounding Eurocentric heterosexual cultural. I did not know that the ritualised performing maleness was a necessity for survival, so it was there where I truly learned what it meant to be considered an outsider and what happened to those who were in any way different from the status quo. Outside of school, I mastered the image of being known as that ‘kool kid’ who could dress well, dance uncannily to music and take great pictures. At home, I made a habit of erasing myself as much as possible: dining alone, whispering when I spoke, and remaining out of sight for as long as I could. I did this as a way to avoid the trauma of being persecuted by my loved ones who thought they knew me. As you can see, I have had to do a lot of surviving just to be as imperfectly perfect as I could. I knew I was beautiful. I just did not know who was going to see it, or how it would even show up. That is who I was when you met me. A person who may have seemed confident and in control but in reality had just made a home out of fear.
Until today, I kept telling myself this harmful story about you and me. A harmful story which I could not imagine myself living without. The toxic story I kept telling myself about us is that the past which we share was just a little bump in the road of this thing called ‘growing up’. I kept telling myself that we were young and foolish and, were therefore entitled to handling each other as recklessly as we did. There are fundamental events in my living experience that have taught me to love things and people without holding onto them too tightly or too long. Being who I am (a young Black gay male), my living experience has conditioned me to be silent, pleasing, and palatable at the expense of my intuition and happiness. I kept telling myself that the little I had of you and with you, could not be compared to what you may have had with others, so I would delegitimise my feelings by routinely pacifying my intuitive voice into a numbness. Covering bullet wounds with plasters is how I have been living my life, especially when it came to you.
Although it may appear as though fate forced you against your will into some kind of tragically beautiful destiny you were inevitably going to share with me, I knew that grace would never be on my side. On our side.

“I’m a liberal lover. I love whoever I want, whenever I want. That’s how I was created” is what you said in our last conversation; a man who is comfortably capable of exchanging kisses and commitment with anybody who chooses, regardless of their identity, according to you. I have always tried to refrain from figuring you out without attaching any identitive markers (such as that of your sexuality) because the violence of definition is something I am well-acquainted with. But, all you ever did was use gender-less notions of sexual and romantic liberation as a means to evade me, yet keep me at the same time. What you do not know is that women would ask me all the time about you. The women you had made yourself audaciously available to; the women you allowed to have you. What you do not know is that I defended you every time. What you do not know is that I had a conversation with the women you left me for, she wept for me as I give you over to her like a gift too for me to keep.

What you do know is that you were not confused or confidently ambivalent about your sexuality, my love. Perhaps you were overwhelmed or fearful, but never confused or ambivalent. You are a beautiful man who is capable of calling another woman your companion, and the way you have treated me demonstrates your awareness that the world is a safer place for people like you than it is for me. You are a political and socio-cultural statement existing in aggressively hierarchical society. Possessing a hegemonic identity was still important to you back then. It pleased you, even if it did not quite fulfill you. But, you were not willing to lose me either, so you annexed me to a secret part of your life (of course, at my resentful will).
You see, the story of you and I is as much about how you navigated your feelings for me as a man, as it is how I allowed myself to be disrespected by a man who did not want to know himself well enough to be good to me. The story of you and I is also about how I allowed myself let you get away with your disrespect as a way to protect you from what I knew the world could potentially do to you.

I don’t have much of us to show in physicality, but my emotional, psychological and spiritual encyclopaedias are engraved with your name. It is strange because I never quite had you. You have always something I could reach out for, but never hold on to.
The part that saddens me the most is that I still don’t know who you are.
I know you for what you do and not what you are or what you be.
That’s not a favourable way to think of another human being you once ‘loved’, even if you loved them from a bad place. Idealistically, I’d like to think that human being transcends beyond their actions. We’re both are beyond what were. We’re beyond what we did and said to each other back then. Right?
I would be lying to you if I told you that the energetic legacy of what were to each other still does not have effects on me. I do not hate you, my boy. How I feel about you transcends hate. It transcends love too. I am at a space in my life where I have acknowledged and accepted your impact on my life. Yet, I would pay with my own life just to let you know exactly how much of a hero and a heathen my time with you made out of me. It’s an unfortunate and incredible thing.
But, I am coming around.
I am doing the work of unlearning the burdens social constraints have on our identities as those who are not considered to be ‘normal’.
I am doing the working of learning that the world is not a kind place, and that the world does not have to be kind to you if you fail to be kind to yourself.
I am learning about the hierarchy of sexual identity and internalised masculinity that actually manifests as self-hatred.
I am learning more about romantic dissonance, polyamory, and fuckboi culture and knowing how to call out a thing for what it really is.
I am learning how to know what to do with people who have a difficult time loving me back.
I am forgiving myself for thinking and treating myself as though I was less than what I knew I could ask for.
I have built a classroom out of my own life, just so that I can perpetually learn, unlearn and relearn how to do it all better.
I did all of this for myself, just so that you can no longer be the best story I have ever told.
I hope that one day, you reckon with yourself, if you have not done so already.
I also hope you will be honest, brave and ready enough to be good to the next man you love.
Most of all, I just hope you’re okay.

Feature Image: © John Emonds

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