Learning to Float

unlearning is a part
of the journey.
relearning is a part
of the blessing. —alex elle

Note to Readers:

I’ve been praying through journaling this past year. I have a massive document filled with prayers about many things—mainly faith, love, relationships, and purpose—and I want to share a few with you. This is deeply personal and I had some reticence, but a great friend let me know that I should be writing about what gives me pause. The beauty that is Moonlight encouraged me to share because it inspired me to practice radical vulnerability. You will find that the sections don’t connect or flow; each entry is meant to stand on its own. While each entry is rooted in Christianity, I’ve themed each entry in a way all of us can identify with. All names have been edited for anonymity. Hit me on Twitter if any of this resonates with you.

Wishing you peace along your journey,

lie back.

put your arms out.

let your body rise to the top of the water.

i could not do it.

i followed all of the instructions to the letter.

i looked around in the water —

all the other kids were doing it effortlessly.

my throat got tight.


floating was the swim class lesson of the day.

i never learned.

the other day i finished A Lesson Before Dying. what struck me the most about the book was its discussion on manhood and what it means to be a man. the character on death row believed what the prosecutor said about him–that he was a hog. i didn’t want to believe that he really did, but when i think about it more, why wouldn’t he believe it? why wouldn’t we believe it even now? everywhere we turn we are struck down, killed, jailed, imprisoned, sentenced to death row, rendered invisible in spaces that work to liberate everyone else. So why would we feel like men? but what is the definition of manhood? is it the ideals set forth by white supremacist america? if that’s the definition, should we even aspire to be that? what would it really take–i mean truly take–for us to imagine and to dream. like really, what does it take for the black imagination to be cultivated, supported, and for it to thrive? when i finished the book, i cried like a baby. some of the tears were because of the book, but many of them were for myself. how i’ve been policed, restrained, and sentenced to death row since the day i was born. i’m tired of fighting and proving the value, worth, and genius of who i am, but more importantly of my stock. Black people are so lit. we are everything and more. we have a strength and resilience that is unmatched. what other people can survive what we’ve survived?

i came all the way to cambridge for a man. i was on a bus for five hours for a man. when i hugged him, it felt like impending doom. there was no spark, no flame, no adoration, no excitement. all he could talk about was his blackness. i’m ‘woke’, but that’s not all i talk about. the ride to cambridge was a social commentary on life in boston. we got to his apartment. there was a single candle burning, an old (like, early 1900s old) student bulletin from fisk university, and a single, Harvard-branded bar of chocolate on the bed. he gave me the chocolate, he sat at his desk, and the silence ensued. the way he looked at me wasn’t like the way he looked at me when we met that night in harlem. when we met we were enthralled with one another. our eyes ruminated wonderment, sexual tension, and untapped potential. but i should’ve believed him when he told me the truth. he spoke of the other guy with such love, adoration, and respect. he always wondered with me. this wonderment was a double-edged sword, and i tried to only look at the positive. as he sat at his desk in cambridge, he stared at me. but he wasn’t staring with the same look in his eyes. i knew it was coming. the next thing i know i found myself sharing experiences from childhood. from therapy. he stared at me. there was no more wonderment. there was judgement. judgement because my ‘problems’ were not issues of survival. now the questions ensued. did your parents pick you up from school each day? did you have a fireplace in your house? it felt like his eyes pierced right through me. that was when it happened. he was done. i’ve had enough experience to know when it’s over, and it feels like reading your favorite book for the hundredth time. every time bigger thomas strangles that white woman, i cringe. i know what’s coming; his doom is approaching. the feeling doesn’t change, no matter how many times i experience it. i’m tired of what affects me most being relegated to unimportance and i’m tired of my privilege being thrown in my face. or am I just mad that this man who told me he liked me, showed me that he loved his boyfriend?

i remember when my dad would travel when i was a little boy. his job required him to be in Springfield and other parts of illinois a lot. it was only a few hours away, but for me he might as well have been in another country. when he would leave, he would tell me that i was “the man of the house”. i never told him how much anxiety this patriarchal notion had on me. not only did it encourage a feeling of incompleteness or lack of safety when he wasn’t in the house and my mother was the only one in charge, but it also made me feel bad for not being ready–able even–to act were something to occur. what if i really did have to act on my role as the man of the house? even at that young age, not feeling “man” enough was in my lexicon.

i’ve been thinking a lot about love lately; how to give it, receive it, internalize it, and show it. earlier this week, i read a tragic story about a young man who fell in love with his best friend (who later ended up getting killed by the police). other than the tragicness of the story, what stuck with me were his thoughts on love; the fact that is requires vulnerability. however, i’ve been thinking a lot of about being “ready” to love someone. i constantly tell myself that i’m not, that there’s more to do, more to work on – and there is. but, folk can also join you along that process. isn’t that what a partnership is all about? i’m choosing to shed the fear that i’m less than perfect, because i am. i’m choosing to pray about and understand what it means to be vulnerable in a partnership. i’m choosing to edify my friendships and employ similar structures there. i pray that i’m open to receive whatever you have for me – man, woman, white, black, asian, etc. i’m open to you and your promises, Lord. i have a purpose to fulfill here on earth and i know this is all apart of my journey. i prayed last night for my hope, and my joy, and my patience. it seems that everybody is building relationships; folk who were confused yesterday are in relationships today. yet, when i find an ounce of “great” (let’s problematize that) in someone, it seems like they’re snipped from me. from “you’re too middle class”, to irrational behavior, to friend-zoning me automatically, i’ve experienced a lot in the dating realm. i pray you keep me during this time; keep me focused on you and your goals for my life – personally, professionally, relationally. i pray you continue to allow me to have revelation, meaningful conversation, and healing. i pray you make me uncomfortable and tempt me; i need to learn my own measures and limits. i pray you mold me and shape me, like the clay pot that i am. darnell said something to me the other day: “you want a different result, but you aren’t doing anything different, you aren’t working for it.” well, lord, i want to do something different. i want to feel your presence. i want to feel the unrequited joy that comes from being in your kingdom. do with me what you will; i’m yours.

i haven’t done this yet, but i also want to pray for keith. i pray for his hurt from his previous breakout. i pray that he is able to deal with his own insecurities. i pray that he doesn’t project them on the next guy he comes across. i pray that he begins to understand what he wants and needs in a partner. he’s an amazing guy, who’s talented and passionate, and he deserves all of your promises. i pray that he turn to you in his time of need. i pray for kenny. i didn’t think there was anything to forgive him for, but i forgive him for his desire, set by society, to reify heteronormativity in his relationships with men. he’s a man who’s been through a lot, and it’s evident that his upbringing has defined him to his core. i apologize to him for not loving him with all of me, but i couldn’t; i wasn’t in a position to love anyone because i didn’t fully love myself; i was barely on the path to doing so. i’m sorry, kenny, and i ask for your forgiveness. i did the best that i knew how to do. you’ll always have a special place in my heart. further, i forgive you; for encouraging me to be in the “feminine” role in our relationship, for using your age and perceived “wisdom” to attempt to let me know what was best about my life. as i truly believe, you were operating the best way you knew how. i pray that in your next relationship, you’re able to take the lessons we shared, we cried over, and we fought for, and re-purpose them for better. i pray for dion, and thank him for being a wonderful friend; thank you for showing me the essence of friendship. thank you for lifting me up, for showing me love and affection, and for being my sounding board. thank you for indulging me, laughing with me, traveling with me, because you love me. i realize now it’s not because you liked me romantically, but because you know how to be a true friend. i appreciate, value, and respect that.

there are times where i go through an intense, overwhelming loneliness. no, it doesn’t usually cause me to stay at home and go to bed, but it’s more than can be remedied by just “encouraging” myself to be okay with my own company. when i look back, i realize i’ve come a long way. from feeling like i’ve been living “out of body” as a child, through exploring my sexuality through sex and feeling rejection, from coming out in a place that wasn’t affirming, to coming of age in a place that values appearances and coins more than values–it’s certainly been a challenge. and what i need are strategies to cope. but… it’s not only that i only want to cope, but i want to thrive. i want to set goals for myself to reach. i want to be encouraged (from within) to move forward. God, it may be more than praying; i may need help. i am asking you for a good therapist and a correct evaluation. i am opening myself up to the people and resources you send me. we were created to love and to be in community with one another; i’m going to start living that out. i am praying for strength, guidance, and wisdom as i bark on a journey of self-healing; i pray for an absence of fear and a warrior’s spirit as i fight for my happiness, my joy, and my well-being. there is abundant life for me.

i put myself out there and got burned. i really enjoyed connecting with malcolm. i felt like, in some ways, we were on the same page. i hit him up because he was attractive, but i wasn’t expecting the conversation we had to happen at work that day. he has a lot of substance–that he recognizes himself–and has actually done some work in learning the inner workings of him. that is an extreme turn-on. one of his flaws, however, is letting folk in. maybe i did too much by wanting to be in his “in-crowd” so early. sometimes, i tend to push people into vulnerability. i’ve thought about that before. once i identify that i can build with someone, i sometimes push them to define what it becomes at the same moment i do. i wonder if this is another way that i’m not trusting You to order my steps, order my thoughts, and for Your will to work in my life. this need that i have to ‘engineer’ everything has been a battle for me ever since childhood. as soon as i get a taste of a good friend, a good partner, or good sex, for example, i want to automatically bring it to a place where i’ll be sure it’s everlasting. but connection, love, trust, commitment–they all take time. so i pray that i begin giving these things time. i may have lost a friend in malcolm last night. he told me how difficult it is for him to be vulnerable, which i get. we both shut down after. i am praying for your will to be done. if he needs a friend, and i need a friend, i am here. if that was the end of the road due to my pushing, i have received the message of patience and i vow to practice it–again and again.

i am a child of God.
i love myself–radically.
i am saved.
i am free.
i am loved.
i am beautiful.
i am capable of loving.
i am a good friend.
i am a conduit of love, education, salvation, Blackness,
and freedom sans anti-Blackness, homophobia, heteronormativity,
transphobia, and attacks on Black effeminacy.
my purpose on Earth is to help little Black boys heal and become free–as i step into my own freedom.
i am a work in progress.
i am in position for God’s glory.

there are many things that are important to me: compassion, integrity, authenticity, honesty, kindness, communication and spirituality. spirituality is your guiding light; you realize that you–and your family, background, money, resources, individual will–are not responsible for your success to date. there’s a supernatural, omniscient being that’s directing your path. i’m christian, and i’d prefer my partner to be, but spirituality, in its totality, is required. compassion is a direct result of empathy and the recognition that the world is bigger than any one person (you). it allows you to have the desire to take action. integrity enables you to be truthful, take responsibility for your actions, and say, “i’m sorry”. authenticity means you’re on the path to being unapologetically you; you understand that you were made the way you are–with every flaw, imperfection, and narrative–for a purpose. instead of running from that, or operating out of fear, you embrace that and live your life to the fullest. honesty puts the truth before all else; you understand that the truth will, indeed, set you free and issues can only be worked out once everything is out on the table. i can only operate within the truth; dishonesty breeds emotional and spiritual death. kindness enables me to see your light; it should be bright, gentle, and giving. communication is key; it means we can talk about any and everything; both serious and silly. i love to ask questions and find out information; i love eye contact and attentiveness. i’m admittedly trying to be more discussion-forward myself, so your openness will help grow. your heart should be open, but doesn’t have to be fully healed. there’s work that we can do together.

i pray for my interactions with black gay men. i rebuke the spirit of failure and loneliness that i feel when there’s no spark, or when it’s evident that i’ll be just friends with someone. instead, i want to re-purpose those feelings, rooted in fear. it’s subconscious fear that i’ll never find a partner, never have children, and never be “whole” enough to be in a happy, healthy, relationship. i reject that, with everything that i can muster. i am everything god created me to be. i am brilliant. i am intelligent. i am caring. i am empathetic. i am an asset. i am important. i am valuable. i am capable of loving with every fiber of my being. i am worthy of being someone’s everything. not only am i worthy, but i deserve it. why? because love is an integral part of the very reason we have breath. we are on earth to love, to be loved, and to feel. i would not be here if i weren’t capable. the work that encompasses my purpose on earth is rooted in loving; loving the tapestry of difference that connects us as human beings. friendships and romantic relationships fail because of a host of reasons; some are a result of my doing, others have nothing to do with me. but i believe, with everything in me, that there is someone out there for me. i believe, with more than everything i have, that i am important. Victor, i love you.

higher ground.
it’s been awhile since i’ve come to you in prayer. i come to you with my heart full–full of fear. for so long, i’ve tried to couch my fear in other emotions: sadness, anger, resentment, and even joy. i’ve put my trust in false idols, like sexual encounters, ‘relationships’, and engaging with folk i have no business engaging with. today, it hit me like a ton of bricks: i’m afraid; afraid to truly step out and be exactly who i am, no matter the people, the setting, or the social consequences of doing so. so, this evening, i pray that you allow me to step out on faith. allow me to believe that if i give you just a mustard seed size of faith, you’ll give me more strength and courage than i ever imagined. thank you for loving me and for choosing me for a purpose. thank you for instilling in me the passion and ability to work on behalf of our communities each and every day. give me the strength to counter fear with love; to walk in dignity and in faith; and to conquer my demons. the longer it takes me not to do this, the longer i’m postponing what you want for my life. i’m tired of looking through a looking glass; tired of watching other people learn, grow, and experience as i remain stagnant. help me to grow. audre lorde lets us know that growth is change, and change can be painful. ready me for the pain, the struggle, and the tears–cause i’ll know i’m growing. i thank you in advance for the restless nights and frantic prayers–cause i’m teasing things out. i thank you for the feeling of helplessness that draws me to your arms–cause you are the answer. i want to live the life that you have set out for me. help me to continually be in position to receive direction and instruction for you. i made a significant step when i admitted–by my own will–on Sunday that i’ve been trying to do many things myself. i’ve always been that way because i thought i was all i had. regardless of the the earthly truth of that statement, it’s not true in you. i’ve always had you, and i thank you for being a light in my darkness–even when i didn’t know it was you to thank you. i pray that you put me in the armor of the word, of my prayers, of anointed folk, and of service as i begin a journey of discovery. i’m ready, God. take me higher.

i still can’t float.

but at least i’m willing to try.

By Victor Scotti

Victor Anthony Scotti, Jr. is a New York-based diversity specialist at a major tech company. He’s now a proud Harlemite, and you can usually find him having brunch or at a street festival in the city. Born and raised in Chicago, he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in Sociology, Urban Education and Africana Studies. Victor is passionate about creating institutional safe spaces for Black men and boys.