I was born this way, but I didn’t always know it. I called myself bisexual until my mid 20s owing to a discomfort with being gay; and not only a discomfort in my desire for men more than women. Identifying as bisexual was part of my process of accepting my desire for the intimacy of men more than that of women. Coming to terms with my sexual identity as gay meant engaging with queer spaces and developing a network of gay friends and eventually lovers. My gay age starts; my gay birth if you will; from when I began to accept my sexual identity more deeply; when I began a more complex negotiation and linkage of what I desired sexually and my role in society. In those early gay years, I was trying to get into my stride or my mince as it was at times. Despite an increased comfort and confidence in who I was as a gay man I didn’t know what my identity meant for my sexual relationships.
Before I fully accepted my sexuality identity; perhaps during those years when I still struggled to even fully acknowledge my sexual and intimate desire and specifically within the context of my engagement with my Chicago Black community, I came to be accepted as the Nerd or the Smart one (which was actually code for gay); not an athlete; not hip hop; and certainly, not a thug or a gangsta. Ironically when I came into my adolescent stride and carried myself with a certain confidence in my Nerdy academic articulation and disposition; I became more attractive to girls and eventually I lost my virginity.
In those early gay years, even with the sexual freedom I felt when I first arrived in London; I carried shame in being identified as gay across the deep waters of the Atlantic. I also carried the label of Nerd but I lacked confidence that Nerds were attractive or desired among gay men in London. I wanted to appear straight and this shaped my desire for conventional and stereotypical masculine types; the athletic homo thug and the creative sexy artist who didn’t act too gay. My attractions were a projection of my sexual aspirations. They carried themselves in a manner I envied. I wanted to be them; the athletic gay boy; the gay boy who skated or the gay boy who created art. While their bodies turned me on fleetingly, the aesthetic could not sustain my desire.
At that stage I hadn’t fully come to terms with my actual sex role; give or take crudely. The popular narrative affords Black gay men less flexibility and fluidity in this area and at times I played to stereotype and performed homo thug to meet the expectations of men I desired. Although I was never completely comfortable with my performance of this sexual role I had plenty of popular material from which to draw that ensured a level of authentic accuracy! Less homo thug but still carrying the ‘shame’ of being identified as a feminine gay man I inhabited the role of athletic gay and in the process of becoming a professional academic described myself as a writer; inhabiting and performing artistic creative gay.
The problem with performance; authentic or otherwise; is the ability or inability as it was in my case, to sustain the charade. While I could perform a (less than) convincing homo thug, athletic gay or artistic gay; eventually the younger men I was meeting saw the Nerd; a measured sensible maturity with a slightly feminine disposition, one compounded when intoxicated. Young men work hard to hide what they don’t know and I was no exception. I was naive about sex. I performed confident, intellectual sensibility Nerd but this proved less sexy when coupled with an apparent uncomfortable in-habitation of certain sex roles and a broader confusion of what sex role I most desired. The men my age I dated just after arriving in London while initially attracted to me physically, came to view me as intellectually mature but sexually naive.
Social life is performance. Identity is formed and strengthened when one believes that performance to be a true depiction of who you are. In my gay ‘teenage’, I lacked real belief in my performance as the Nerd, reinforced by a lack of faith that I possessed the less-feminine, authentic masculinity of the athletic or artistic gay; the ones I admired. Perhaps this disbelief led me to exclusively date older men by my late 20s. I felt safe in the emotional maturity of older men who didn’t reject me for what I didn’t know sexually; in fact, my naivety endeared me to them.
In my late 20s and early to mid-30s my relationships with older men were to become a place of learning and growth where I fully came into my stride and believed in the Nerdy, slightly feminine, performance that eventually became my identity. When my confidence improved; when I understood myself more; and when I felt safe for long enough; I no longer solely desired older men. By that time, I had become the ‘daddy’ in both my actual and in my gay age. Being out is not the final step in our gay maturing for change surely follows the public declaration and subsequent exploration and experience of being gay. Perhaps there are stages to gay maturing and growth that can be identified and used to determine a gay age?