Reflections of a Punk







            Quite possibly, there is no other word in Black American vernacular that continues to work me like this word.

            Nigger pales in comparison!

            Even the most casual use of the word triggers that dreaded stab in the pit of my gut that permeates my entire being. And let's face it; you haven't been called a punk until a black man calls you a punk!

            I had, no have, the exceptionally asinine notion, that if I am able to write it, and look at it, and write it, and look at it, it doesn't hurt as much.

            I am wrong!

            Sissy is bad enough but, strangely enough, unlike punk, usually does not strongly suggest that as the lowest form of civilization, violent and permanent expulsion from decent society is imperative.  Sissy, very slightly, acknowledges tolerance but at the exorbitant price of relinquishing one's dignity.

            What on earth could I be suggesting?!  Sissies and dignity are contradictions in terms!


            I think punk is to the black homosexual what boy is to the black man.  Both misnomers are unnecessarily dehumanizing as well as emotionally debilitating.  Faggot and queer were not so widely used and consequently don't elicit as strong a response.

            For the longest time, I believed that the sincerest (and only) mode of expression for me was singing, totally discounting my affinity for writing and my love of literature.  However, cigarettes, coupled with countless personal diversions (all of which are now grist for the literary mill) blew that all to hell!

            Once upon a time, I entered a short story contest sponsored by Ebony Magazine.  The losing story, included here, "Anatomy of a Graduation" was actually a variation on a story I wrote in college for the publication for Black Week, a very popular event among black students on white campuses in the seventies.  Since the contest, I haven't been able to stop.

            While writing is quite fulfilling, it is also most difficult.  Even shrouding actualities amid fiction doesn't seem to ease some of the more sensitive areas because I end up reliving those same fantasies and pains and triumphs and failures all over again. I am surprised at how fresh they are after all these years.

            I remember how we would laugh like hell at Robette, a very dear cousin to whom this first effort is dedicated, who would sit in her favorite chair in Mama's living room engulfed in millions of sheets of notebook paper, all of which she had written something on, clearly indicating, at least to me, that she had a statement to make.

            Girlfriend thought nothing of casting her pearls before swine and anxiously offered her work to even the most casual reader.  The most endearing thing about her was that she appeared amazingly oblivious to the possibility that a potential reader would dislike what she had written.  Even more remarkable was that she remained undaunted; the more we laughed, Robette included, the more determined she became.  She is now a remarkable woman who has been encouraging me for years to start writing and whose friendship as well as kinship is indeed precious to me.

            No one should be totally defined by any one aspect of his or her life. The only difference between heterosexuality and homosexuality is sexual behavior, which should be strictly a private matter.  What else could there possibly be about me that separates me from the masses?  A basic human need is to belong in spite of rather than because of individual differences.  However, a very sad universal constant is that the simplest desires in life are exasperatingly difficult to fulfill.

            I'd like to think that the catalyst for my re-awakened literary interest was a burning desire to take my place among such inspirations as James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, Tennessee Williams, Gloria Naylor, Irving Wallace, Jackie Collins, Armistead Maupin, Terry McMillan and last but hardly least, Jake.  (I'm sorry but that man could write love letters, okay?!)

            Writing has always been the only way I could ever get to the heart of the matter.  Furthermore, there are some people I desperately need to address.

            I would first and foremost like to shake my parents until they could truly believe that my homosexuality does not (and more to the point should not) suggest a serious flaw in my upbringing.  I am keenly aware that this is difficult for parents to accept and in the case of mine, doubly.  I have never expected them to accept in a few minutes something I have to deal with on some level every day.  I will always, however, expect them to at least try because I am their child.

            But even as of this writing, I feel, somewhat estranged from my mother because I sent a manuscript of "First Love," included here and a story of which I am quite proud, to her to read and for months I didn't hear a word from her.  When I finally did talk to her again, circumstances forced me to reveal that I had tested positive for AIDS.  She took it much better than I had anticipated but requested that she be the one to tell my father.  (This later proved to be a serious mistake.)

            I honestly don't expect the strain to last forever, but I cannot shake the sinking feeling that the only way the ever-present discomfort between my parents and myself will be truly dissipated will be upon my death.  I honestly do believe my father is trying and my mother is coping.  But that is exactly the point!  Their whole the-less-I-know-the-better attitude is simply too stifling an atmosphere to foster an honest relationship.  Moreover, no matter how much I love them, there is an underlying resentment for all this effort it apparently takes for them to have to deal with their own child.

            I have always been family-oriented but realized that because of who slash what I was, I would have to get over that in a big way.  My having tested positive for AIDS has heightened that awareness, if that is possible.  I only want to bridge some gaps before it is too late and will never accept the fact that this may very well be an impossibility.


            (It has been months later and exactly as I predicted, the strain is truly dissolving and it appears my parents and I are becoming closer.  We have made remarkable strides and though the catalyst for this progress has been dire emotional upheavals on both sides, I remain Machiavellian by acknowledging that the end justifies the means)


            I must admit, though, that we still have a ways to go.  It is one thing to become aware of AIDS via the media and live in an area where AIDS education is sadly inhibited simply because the prevailing regional attitude is reflected through such a profoundly annoying asshole like Senator Jesse Helms.  Compound that with the fact that two of your own sons are dying from a disease that many doctors are refusing to even treat for fear of losing other patients and you get an inkling of my mother's mental state.  She maintains that she has never seen anyone with AIDS and she just can't handle it in her own children.  I am honestly trying to give her the benefit of the doubt; that is easier said than done.

            I'm sure Mama is ultimately ashamed of what we have contracted.  She is probably too preoccupied with how we got the disease instead of simply dealing with the fact that we have it.  She doesn't want certain people to know.  At this point, neither my brother nor I give a fat baby's ass who knows!  She insists she would rather come to San Francisco rather than have us come there.

            Well, my God, she could have fooled me!

            She would be forced to confront our lifestyles and   for THAT, she's not ready.  My brother and I came all the way across country to live to avoid an almost certain life of undue suppression and to spare our family unnecessary notoriety.  Unless there are remarkable and expedient medical advances, death hovers uncomfortably close.  We only want to be home once more before that happens.

            `Alas, we make two steps forward and five backward.  While I realize that this is the norm in the evolution of relationships, this does take its toll on those involved.  Perhaps my previous statement regarding bridging gaps before it is too late is disconcertingly accurate.  I certainly hope not.

            Secondly, there are countless young black children growing up who are horribly confused about their sexual identities and I'm afraid in many cases their families or their communities are incapable of understanding or simply refuse to acknowledge these situations.  I am hardly suggesting that other ethnic families/communities do not have the same problems or handle them any better or worse than the black community.  This is simply my point of reference.

            Many black men like myself have been sadly represented and misrepresented via the media.  Even when the subject was broached, it reeked of either pathos or ridicule.  These caricatures of the black homosexual weren't considered detrimental by their respective producers. (Hell, you were already a punk - how much worse could it possibly get?!) However, these presentations didn't exactly help matters either.  To date, among the best treatments of black homosexuality have been two anthologies, In the Life  and Brother  to Brother edited by Joseph Beam and Essex Hemphill respectively and the film "Tongues Untied" produced and directed by Marlon Riggs.  On the other hand, one of the most controversial depictions was the presentation of characters, Antoine and Blaine on Keenan Ivory Wayans' TV production of  "In Living Color."

            One cannot overlook one glaring benefit.  At least gay black men, especially those of us with an inclination toward literary expression, can now thoroughly clarify ourselves in whatever fashion we deem necessary.  Far too long we have had to be either abjectly outrageous or abjectly discreet in order to survive.  Whether society is ready for any form of black gay expression ceases to be a consideration.

            Make no mistake about it.  I am not deluding myself.  Perhaps I can only speak with qualification about myself.  But as much as I love living in San Francisco, for example, there are people here who are just as ignorant as people anywhere else are. While this is by no means a utopia, it ranks among the better places for gays and lesbians to live.   Many homosexuals period still live in fear of being exposed and there is no place ON EARTH where lesbians and gays can escape the censure of the heterosexual community on some level at some point in their lives.  Notwithstanding, like any other movement, every progression, regardless of magnitude, has to be acknowledged in the uphill battle for respect.

            Everyone has a story to tell and if given half a chance, can write it as well.  I sincerely believe that there are as many legitimate writing styles as there are readers.  While I have been influenced by established literary figures, and I use the term quite loosely, I no longer feel doomed to copy any of their styles.  I am aware that these influences merely represent a standard from which to work and it is imperative that is kept in mind.

            On a much more fundamental level, it is most exhilarating to ignore grammatical conventions that were established with absolutely no regard whatsoever for the various dialects prevalent in American society.  Moreover, there have been no grammatical adjustments either to reflect the cultural diversity of this country.  If you claim to miss my point because I refuse to adhere to certain grammatical standards, I would eagerly offer you my ass to kiss while you, mouth agape, would regard me as rude, crude, and socially unacceptable.

            As a former English teacher, I taught many students whose grammar was quite unconventional, even from my own, and who had also been taught that their manner of expression was wrong as opposed to different.  This continues to be a seriously damaging judgment call for it implies that if the manner of expression is wrong/inferior then so are the thinking processes and nothing could be further from the truth.  Besides, we all know how dangerous it is to fuck with the thinking process.

            For the sake of a possible publisher, however, I would just love to make some "cush" on these reflections, as it were.  As you read and breathe, I have more bills than a flock of geese.

            My primary objective is quite simple.  I genuinely hope to help other "punks" in their struggle for survival and to strike an empathetic chord in those who didn't think us worthy of any positive considerations in the first place.


            Since my last addition to this essay, my brother, Sammi, has become seriously ill with AIDS and living in a hospice.  From the looks of things, he won't be around much longer. (I seriously hope not.)  At the same time his ex-lover and my best friend, Kevin, is languishing from the disease in a hospital.  I am not well at all!  I think I'm doing okay under the circumstances.  I also am stupid enough to think that I am prepared for the death of my little brother and my best friend which threatens (promises?) to happen around the same time.

            Daddy came out to see Sammi and be with me and the time spent was so precious and uplifting and positive I simply will never forget it for as long as I live.


            It has been three weeks later.

            On September 14, 1992, my best friend Kevin, died after a harrowing three-year struggle with AIDS.  He was determined however, to see that Sammi was taken care of before he surrendered.  The Sunday before Labor Day, Kevin insisted on a pass from the hospital to see Sammi in the hospice.   Kevin himself was emaciated and weak from chemotherapy treatments he had been receiving.  The hospice Sammi stayed in was a beautiful Victorian flat with many stairs – at this point Kevin HIMSELF was too weak to walk.  His father LOVINGLY carried him up all those steps, he hobbled over to Sammi who could barely sit up, and I could not stop crying as he tried with all his damn might to give my brother his medication. Yeah, this one worked me….


            On September 22, 1992, Sammi died peacefully at the hospice.


            I cannot begin to explain my hurt, my horror, my frustration, my hopelessness, my despair, and my profound rage at a government who manufactures a disease and then simply refuses to provide even a modicum of relief much less a cure!  Forgive my cynicism but weren't these the same motherfuckers who intentionally injected several black men in Tuskegee, Alabama with syphilis, told them it was something else, and REFUSED TO TREAT THEM!  Why is it so far-fetched to believe they could apply the same principal on a much larger scale especially with technology being what it is today?!

            What works me so is that the medical and scientific communities would have us believe after all this time that the sexual exchange of bodily fluids and the use of intravenous drugs are the major contributors to this disease.  My biggest question is why the fuck did this show up in the latter half of the 20th century?!  People have been having unprotected sex for CENTURIES with the worst case scenario being intense cases of venereal disease that would surely lead to death but nothing like this brush fire!  It just strikes me odd as hell that a synthetic disease has no remedy! 

            Simply stated, many of my friends have already been murdered!  My brother was murdered!  My best friend was murdered and I am being murdered!  To add salt to the wounds, the majority of people in this country just don't give a flying fuck!  Hello!  People!  This simply has to stop!

            (!!GOD, that felt good)!!



                             COPYRIGHT NOTICE:    Jackie D. Gray, 1993,  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED