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Eric Glover

Source: Courtesy of Eric Glover / Eric Glover

By the time I crossed paths with him, it had felt like a lifetime of preparation. An endless rehearsal of rage at the ready: chest puffed if he said the wrong word, clenched fists if he made the wrong move—and carnage if he threw the first punch. Hundreds of hours at the gym to look formidable, dozens of shirts selected to assist. When he approached me, I wanted him to see someone he should fear. 

Even if he was just a stranger.

I was war-ready with most strangers back then. Ever since coming out as queer, I felt I had to be. If I was wearing something related to pride, or just walking with my boyfriend, it seemed like common sense to wear that armor. The hate crimes I’d read about haunted me—so much so that the possibility of becoming another victim became a kind of half-reality: a constant whisper in my ear that passersby meant me harm. Especially if they looked like the man approaching me: because being Black meant he’d hate me the most. 

He’d said something to the effect of, “We don’t allow that in this neighborhood.”

I don’t know when, exactly, I first started seeing homophobia as a significantly “Black” problem. I’d certainly never read any hard data to support that view. According to a 2018 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, a majority (or 65%) of black Americans, like the majority of Asian-Pacific Islander Americans (73%), Hispanic Americans (70%), and white Americans (69%), favor laws that would protect LGBT people from discrimination in jobs, public accommodations, and housing. But at some point, I adopted the assumption that Black folks were more impatient with queerness than any of their counterparts—a belief that, when I look back on it, had multiple roots.   

One of them was the fact that the homophobia I was often exposed to came from the people I was often exposed to: members of my Black family. I remember an implied threat from a cousin that our relationship would never be the same if he found out I were gay. I remember cutting comments from a parent as my sexuality increasingly came into question. A maddening conversation with a sibling who refused to support me. A phone call with a grandparent that ended without a goodbye. A dialogue with an elder that made reconciliation feel impossible. And on and on. If this was the best I could get from people who insisted they loved me, I didn’t know what chance I had with Black people who’d never met me.

And Black strangers were indeed another root of my belief. I remember a Black boy in high school asking if I was a “fruit,” getting a laugh out of his friend for embarrassing me. I remember a Black man muttering to another in disgust when my boyfriend and I touched foreheads. I remember walking by a Black school, hearing kids screaming a familiar slur to insult one another, and knowing where they’d learned it from. I remember a Black man using that same slur against me and my boyfriend on a subway platform. 

My belief was rooted in a media imprint of Blackness tied fundamentally to homophobic norms. Over the years, some of my favorite rap artists made it clear they didn’t want me as a fan. Even today, as I continue to explore their material, I discover lyrics that would have left still more wounds—and would have only made that constant whisper in my ear more deafening. I saw TV and film that venerated Black masculinity and posited it as the strict opposite of homosexuality, its most repulsive alternative. 

There didn’t seem to be many places to turn to escape this idea: that Black folks, as often as not, were ready to hurt me. That as much as I loved them, that sentiment was often unrequited. So by the time I crossed paths with him, a Black stranger on a street in Brooklyn, walking toward me as I held hands with my boyfriend, I’d reduced him to little more than a detonator. And when he finally muttered something in my direction, I might have comfortably assumed the worst about his intentions. 

But instead, I thought I’d heard him greet us good morning. 

“Good morning, man,” I said, smiling at him. I resumed my conversation with my partner, pleasantly surprised by the man’s greeting—and relieved that I’d been wrong about what to expect. 

But moments later, my boyfriend told me he’d heard the guy clearly—and that he hadn’t uttered kind words. He’d said something to the effect of, “We don’t allow that in this neighborhood.” He saw us holding hands, and he wanted us to know that we weren’t welcome on his block. 

Historically, this was the part where I was supposed to see red. To fume over what a stranger had done, seethe over what he wanted me to feel. It was all there on paper: the reasons I should have despised him. 

But completely by accident, I didn’t.

Against everything I’d trained myself to anticipate, I’d projected good intentions, and I’d greeted him with the version of me that came most naturally. All of that anger — all of that catastrophizing — dismissed the second I thought I could go without it. I remember my relief as I processed it all: That man had meant me harm — but I’d discovered, despite myself, that I was free to wish him none at all. 

I’ve looked back at that moment often over the years, as I’ve tried to unlearn mental habits that diminished my own humanity, as well as the humanity of others. The efforts I’d made to harden myself, to mimic the exact strain of masculinity I was protecting myself from, have been difficult to reverse. But living in an endless state of rage is the more exhausting option. And seeing my entire community through a lens of anger is more exhausting, still.

Queer Black men, both inside and outside of my family, have welcomed me and proven to me that I don’t have to choose between Blackness and queerness.

Admittedly, I’ve had some present-day moments of categorizing homophobia as an acutely “Black” issue. But thankfully, I’ve had help in outgrowing those assumptions—even from the very people in my family I used to struggle with. I’m still in touch with the cousin who once threatened our relationship, years after coming out as queer. My once-reluctant parent offers support for me and my partner in ways I never expected. My sibling treats me as an equal in every way. That grandparent I formerly clashed with now demonstrates happiness for me with generosity. The elder I had a difficult dialogue with has never wavered in her love for me, even as I’ve remained outspoken. 

And on and on: Scores of relatives, close and distant, have been supportive of me from the very start. One out Black cousin— and several friends of his—guided me into life as an out man. Queer Black men, both inside and outside of my family, have welcomed me and proven to me that I don’t have to choose between Blackness and queerness. And a changing media landscape—including Todrick Hall, Moonlight, and Lil Nas X—keep proving that they were never at odds in the first place.

So much so that now, if I’m ever again confronted by someone who seems like the man I met in Brooklyn, maybe I’ll have different tools at the ready. Maybe I’ll respond with a better side of myself.  

And maybe it will even be on purpose. 

Eric Anthony Glover is a feature writer, TV writer, and graphic novelist who studied screenwriting at Sarah Lawrence College. After his sci-fi feature script earned him a fellowship through Final Draft, Inc., Eric went on to write his first drama pilot, which earned him representation. Eric was selected for the 2020 Humanitas Prize New Voices Award, NBC’s Writers on the Verge 2020-21 Fellowship, and the 2021 Sony Pictures Television Diverse Writers Program. His graphic novel, BLACK STAR, was just published as a title in Abrams ComicArts’ imprint, Megascope.