As a child, I never had the guts to run. I was only brave enough to look outside my window, dream and wait for an escape. My bedroom floor was littered with magazines and books—each piece of literature piecing together the life I sketched out for myself in my head. I studied Studio 54, Warhol’s Factory and the club kids of the 90’s, waiting for the moment where my body and imagination would finally meet. The moment when I would be free.
At 18, I departed rural Hiram–the sleepy Georgia city where I’d just completed high school–for the place that was supposed to be the answer to all my questions. Folks called Atlanta the “gay Black mecca.” And as a gay Black man, I was dying to finally meet God amid the rainbow paradise. In Hiram, I tried to piece together what this new world would be like via reruns of Noah’s Arc and videos from the thug/ebony sections of my favorite porn sites. Yet even as as teenager, my vision of who I should be and what I would do once I arrived in that fabled city was so much grander than what those images promised me.
Yet, my life in Atlanta would remind me less of my boyhood dreams and more of a beloved Langston Hughes poem: “no crystal stair.” I quickly realized my life would be no Patrik-Ian Polk production, though I can say I experienced the strange sensation of feeling like I was living out a plot twist in my very own television show. Atlanta found me miscast, left to discover that I was too much, too complicated, too big, too loud, too intelligent, too ambitious, too ugly, and too Black for any role that I’d covet. Men that have loved me told me, at the height of our romances, that they desired something more tame and smaller. Queer creative peers informed me that I was too complicated for my own dreams. The white and non-Black POC scenes in Atlanta let me know how I moved in the world was so Black that it was intimidating and hideous. I was prepared to be Polk’s darling Noah—armed with ‘classically’ good looks, loads of charm and a softer voice—but discovered I was Goliath.
I quickly learned that I was too much, too complicated, too big, too loud, too intelligent, too ambitious, too ugly, and too Black.
I got used to being the person that disrupted gay Black spaces in ATL. I even utilized it. I found confidence in declaring my own beauty and wrapping my thighs around men without sucking in my belly. I began to live inside of my own brilliance, instead of trying to dim it. I held on to the radical Black, feminist way of life my mother modeled for me since birth and began to be less concerned about being too Black or too loud.
The more I embraced all of me, the more magnetic I became. Alas, that’s not as exciting or healthy as it sounds. Now in my 20s, Atlanta has found me positioned as some sort of spectacle, as opposed to recognized as a multidimensional, feeling human. I am rarely someone whom the community should engage and invest in, but rather something the community should use and gawk at.
Atlanta might be a Black gay Mecca, but it is truly a Black queer hell for the likes of me. If you are a Black gay person invested in cis and heterosexual normative behavior and lifestyle, it is a fabulous place to be. If you are a Black person that fails gender, sexuality, and romance norms and wants to find pride in that, it can be incredibly isolating.
The more I embraced all of me, the more magnetic I became.
Far too often, I have been tokenized as the radical, offbeat thing that certain groups need to check off a few boxes. I have gotten gigs and creative opportunities simply because I seem like a placeholder for all things queer, left, and radical. I’ve been complicit in this, sometimes. I’ve been surprised and hurt by this also when I thought I was in a space where I could be me and not a symbol of what people wanted me to be. There were times when I thought I was being tapped for my knowledge in a certain subject matter and my genuine talent, but discovered I was just a vehicle to earn diversity points. My loneliness felt deeper than any I had felt before.
Magazines and books are sprinkled on the floor of my midtown apartment, my computer screen is on and that feeling in my stomach signaling my desire for something new has returned. I feel; like a twenty-something teenager at that exact moment, energized by the same wicked desire to run away from home. I needed to be around people like me. I was thirsty for something queerer. I didn’t just want a reimagining of the straight world’s fairytales and expectations with the same-gender bodies. I was tired of feeling like the strangest or most radical thing for miles; I wanted to feel seen. I wanted to be in New York City. So I moved.
I’m waiting on my bus to roll, and not run, me away from home. And the romantic inside of me can’t help but hope between rats and sky-high rent I find the strange and beautiful things I have only known through the literature scattered on my floor and Elton John songs. It is something I can’t see or hear, but feel. The feeling lives somewhere entangled in the breaths between Biggie Smalls lyrics and the horns of a Frank Sinatra song, and the sweat that splatters on the floor of a ballroom battle.
Or so I hope.
I feel my naivete with every stroke of my fingertips, the silliness to think perhaps my tokenized oddness can turn into sacred gold just by a change of scenery, but I can’t deny the feeling of hope living underneath my skin as I prepare to leave. My little town blues are begging me to paint the concrete jungle red, and I can’t snuff it out. So, finally, I’m running away from home, or maybe finally, I’m running into home.
Myles Johnson is a writer (who is finally) living in New York City. Follow him on Twitter: @HausMuva