Adventures in unchartered territory



OK I admit it; I don’t know how to do this. There seems to be loads of advice out there. There’s no shortage of opinion, but somehow it doesn’t seem to quite hit the spot. In order to make sense of it, I have to be able to suspend my disbelief for longer than a voter at the ballot box; develop an imagination to compete with JK Rowling; and grow skin thicker than an endangered rhinoceros. I have to develop these skills because my life as a Black gay man in the UK remains undocumented and under-examined. Sans papiers, my identity is seen as a sidebar: blackness compromised; gayness suspect; masculinity denied; and nationality complex. If I want to make sense of my world I have to extrapolate from others’ experiences: others who are often more privileged in society than I; and others who too often fail to even acknowledge my existence. I’m required to imagine a community of shared interest rather than to live in one; a community driven more by the porn site, dating app, health intervention or marketing algorithm, than by black gay men themselves. And when I raise my voice I‘ve started to expect to be told that my concerns are too specific, too niche. Worse, I’ve even started to believe it.

In truth, it’s actually quite exciting not to know how. Not for me; the 2.4 children or 3 bed semi with a garden in Metroland. It’s liberating to write your own rules; to be able to sidestep some of the social expectations that act as constraints for so many.  I operate in unchartered territory and I like it. Should breaking new ground perpetually feel like I’m at the cliff-edge or are there others who have walked this way before; who are navigating similar terrain right now;  and who might be useful guides? So I asked some other black gay men what they thought and we started a conversation. A conversation to liberate, not constrain; to wrestle with the difficult questions, not hide from them; to challenge and support. It is a conversation that builds on those of, Baldwin, Lorde, Beam, Julien and many others and applies their insights to our current situation and futures: a conversation that rejoices in our different experiences because our diversity is our strength; a conversation that looks for solidarity but does not demand conformity; and importantly, a conversation that is public and open so those who identify as black and gay in the UK and beyond can find in it interest, inspiration and ideas. I don’t know how to do this. Let’s talk, I think it might help


Rob Berkeley


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