Expressing sexuality is still controversial and sometimes even dangerous, especially for gay men. Let's turn now to something many people still find hard to talk about, which is sexuality.
Add same-sex attraction and it gets even more difficult for many people, something we were reminded of recently when Michael Sam, an openly gay college player was selected in the NFL draft by the St. ESPN was there to document the moment, which included a kiss he shared with his boyfriend upon learning the happy news. The response is still raging across social media with some saying it's about time, others expressing annoyance and anger and still others expressing anger at that anger.
What's that all about? We were thinking about how, at a time when America's laws and much of it society is ever more welcoming to LGBT people expressing sexuality, especially for gay men, is still so controversial and sometimes even dangerous. And now writer Michael Arceneaux is adding even more complication to the story by writing about his own fear of expressing his sexuality as a gay man.
This very personal essay was written for the site xoJane. So with that being said, Michael Arceneaux is with us now. Thank you for joining us. Thank you so much for having me. How does it feel hearing me talk about the piece? I'm really surprised by the reaction I've gotten from it. I really didn't have any expectations, but - I'm not very sentimental - but a warm feeling about, like, the way people have reached out to be about it. It's really humbling and I really have appreciated it.
How have people reached out to you about the piece? Saying it really resonates, that they're seeing themselves in it? I've had a lot of straight people, actually, which is funny.
Normally, when I write anything gay-related, I get a lot of straight reaction, more so than I do gay reaction sometimes.
But a lot of people - either they say that they've been there - gay or straight. Or they just are really proud of me, because I'm a pretty open person, but I'm very cautious about writing about certain things. And especially sex, because for me there's still kind of some complications with family and their reaction and kind of like a pushback.
But I'm really happy that I wrote the piece and I hope to write more. What made you want to write this piece and why now? Years ago, there was a story about two young black boys who committed suicide within the same month. And I know what it's like to be taunted when people have suspicions about you not being hard enough or they're assuming that you are gay.
So that was kind of like the start of it. And I wrote a piece. And I had already come out to myself and my friends, which, honestly, was more important to me at And then I told my mom finally, after the piece got a lot of attraction, at But even now, I just think, for me, I don't necessarily see myself. I don't hear myself. And as a gay black writer, I need to lend my voice to something. That just was the driving force. So let's talk about the piece, for people who have not had a chance to read it yet.
You write that this started - your fear started well before you came out - and it was connected to the way your parents responded to gay people in your family. Why don't you pick it up from there. And while he was a drug addict, he was also a gay man, which is the more likely culprit behind his death.
And for me, my father - his reaction was very much, like, you know - his brother was a faggot. My mom did not - it was many years later that she had acknowledged that he was actually gay. But, I mean, with the use of that word - that's how I learned what it meant to be gay. And, you know, when you're six - and I don't really remember much about the funeral, but I remember seeing him in a casket.
I remember crying and I just remember, like, a lot of anger and shame around it. And for me, that always stuck with me. And as a gay man even now - I just entered I've seen people die of AIDS. So AIDS has always been, like, in the back of my mind. It's been hard not to - not think about it sometimes.
So think that you kind of all locked into this idea that being gay meant being sick? Is that what you think it meant? Obviously, I'm not my parents. I'm not 60 years old. But sex can still lead to death if you're not very cautious.
And this is especially true for a lot of gay and black Latino men. It's hard not to think about it, because it's always around you, even if no one says it. You can't help, but - you know, people drop off like flies every so often.
I still see that on Facebook. So it's always there, but I'm learning not to let that control me and how I pleasure myself. Well, but, you know - but the fact is that that is the argument that many people who are hostile to same-sex relationships, particularly same-sex relationships involving men - that's the argument that they've made. It's that this is how you know this is wrong, right? Because people get sick and die.
That is one of the political arguments that's been made against advancing the rights of LGBT people. Do you think that's the part of it that you heard? Or do you think it's more like a visceral - people you saw around you? What do you think? I don't really particularly care anymore - and haven't for a while - about what other people thought about me being a gay man.
Because, I mean, by now, most people know you can easily die from being straight. And I think, even with respect to a lot of the young gay black and Latino men dying now, that's more about people not necessarily being able to reach them with the resources and education that they need.
And I think, frankly, a lot of people are still very ignorant about sex. You know, we're only now lowering the teen pregnancy rates. So in that respect - you know, we just don't really talk about sex. So I'm trying to put this in a nice way, but I just generally don't care what people think, as far as that goes, like, the fodder. Yeah, the politics of it is Well, I got to be honest with you about the piece.
I think that that's what struck with me is that - just what a personal pain this was to you. And it wasn't that you weren't having sexual feelings. It was that - it was something else. So tell me as much as you can, as appropriately as you can, if you would Bearing in mind that we have a very general, you know, audience, how you think this affected your life?
I mean, you still sought relationships, right? How did it play itself out in your life? I'm going to keep this BG - Beyonce before partition. I am like many people, many men.
You know, I have sexual desires like anyone else. I think about sex a lot. And in the piece I acknowledge, it's not that I didn't necessarily act on those emotions.
But a lot of times I would initiate something and then stop it because, again, that fear of intimacy. The fear of the consequences of my actions, it would stop me, and it would make a lot of people angry. And they had a right to be angry. But, I mean, you know, the same way - I grew up with alcoholism in the home, but I drink. You know, sometimes I get drunk. But it's kind of like the same principle.
Like, sex can be dangerous, but if I protect myself and if I'm cautious, if I ask the right questions, if I'm doing what I need to do, why not enjoy it - the same way I go to happy hour. Probably might go to happy hour later. Probably might have sex later. But you never know. But I just know that I'm preparing myself the best way not letting a fear kind of, like, continue to kind of debilitate me. If you're just joining us, we're having a conversation some might find sensitive.