What’s the Real Danger Here?

Imagine a 15-year-old black boy sucking dick on a staircase while his mother thought he was at the library. Or a 15-year-old boy going to Pride to have sexual encounters with random men on the street. Or even a 16-year-old boy scared to go to the supermarket out of fear that he might see the meat packer he slept with a few weeks before. All of these events seem pretty dangerous. But I guarantee you that these were little in comparison to my main danger at the time: coming out to my family.

I know what you’re thinking: What about the fear of living with an incurable STD? But what harm would a little HIV do? I would still be alive if I took pills the rest of my life. And no guy was that evil to give me a life-threatening disease. Anyway, it was all media hype, a negative portrayal to suppress the gay black man, right? I didn’t even want to get tested. I felt that my body knew if it had HIV because I would experience symptoms. I thought going to hospitals was going to give me HIV. I thought doctors would either inject that shit into me, or trick my mind into realizing I had it, like the placebo effect, or not telling a patient he has cancer out of fear that his mind might catch up to it.

That’s also why I never used protection. I found it pointless to suck a guy’s penis and then have him put a condom on to penetrate me. What sense would that make? If I was already going to get a disease, I would have gotten one during oral contact. So that’s why I never asked a guy to put one on, and when a guy asked me, I always tried to seduce him not to. I just continued these high-risk behaviors and never thought about them. They began to become subconscious. Sometimes, I didn’t know I was having sex. I thought I was just getting the validation that my homophobic family couldn’t give me, or that my homophobic high school couldn’t give me, or that my homophobic life couldn’t give me.

I found it pointless to suck a guy’s penis and then have him put a condom on to penetrate me.

I guess you could say that sexual dangers never really bothered me. But the danger of coming out was too real to handle at this point in my life. I would think about the stories people who were identified as LGBTQ would tell me. I would hear everything from a gay Catholic boy who was afraid of coming out because his father was a preacher and might kick him out of the house, to a bisexual Jamaican boy who had family that told him that they would kill him if they found out he was gay. Hearing all of these stories made me think that my family would do the same, especially since I grew up in a Baptist household and would go to church every Sunday. I remember one Sunday when I was around 15, sitting in an uncomfortable leather chair while my southern pastor would preach. I vaguely remember part of his sermon on homosexuality:

“What world do we live in where men are marrying men and women are marrying women? We are approaching the last days and we need to stay as holy as possible. And I know you may love your sons and daughters, but you have to let them know that they are going to hell if they don’t get right with God.”

I thought that I would never come out after hearing all of those hurtful, homophobic statements. But I did, and I came out in the most dangerous way.

I was visiting my uncle at his house, along with my grandma, aunts, and other uncles. We were about to eat family dinner when a conversation broke out:

“So what’s this about you having unprotected sex?” my grandma said.
“What are you talking about?” I said.

“You know exactly what I’m talking about James. Your uncle told me that you were having unprotected sex with women.” My heart began to beat less rapidly, even though I still had to resolve this situation with my grandma.

“You don’t understand grandma. It’s not even like that,” I said, trying to get control of the conversation.

“No, I do understand. You wanna end up just like your father, having unprotected sex and getting girls pregnant.”

I became enraged. How dare my grandmother ever compare me to my deadbeat father! I was never like him, nor was I ever going to be like him. The room was silent. All of my uncles and aunts were looking at me with disappointment. I felt that they were judging me; they didn’t understand all of the pain and heartache associated with living a double life. So I decided to get back at them with the only thing I knew how:

“Well, you don’t understand because I’m gay. So I’m not sleeping around with girls, but I’m fucking guys.”

I began to cry and ran upstairs to my uncle’s bedroom. As I now reflect on that experience, I not only was glad that I came out of the situation alive, but I was really not in the right frame of mind, neither when I was fucking guys, nor when I came out to my family. I realized that the root of everything was a lack of self-love. I was trying to suppress all of the fear and danger, and making excuses for not loving myself.

“Well, you don’t understand because I’m gay. So I’m not sleeping around with girls, but I’m fucking guys.”

I never wanted to actually commit suicide since my Christian background declared it a sin, but I didn’t realize that by having risky sex, I was playing Russian roulette with my life, itself a form of suicide.

I was looking for belonging in dark places full of men that only wanted me for my body. I felt alone and unloved, so I therefore had strange men touch me and tell me that they loved me so I could finally receive the validation I wanted my family to give me. I now use protection and am more conscious of the interactions I have with men, especially since I’m now old enough to actually give consent.

But, I am still fighting to trust people and really figure out people’s intentions, family included. I still get weary when people either stand too close to me or stare at me for too long, but I now have the tools to navigate encounters that I have with new people in general. And I am happy to say that I am utilizing these tools, and am in a better place than where I was before.

By James Fisher

James Fisher is Associate Editor at Abernathy. He is also a student at the University of Pennsylvania and a human rights + social justice advocate who uses his day-to-day interactions to influence his work.