Until recently, I didn’t even realise I was a Black Gay Man. Gay – yes, but Black – no. Ridiculous, it sounds. I lived in a world in which I thought I was accepted because of my mixed-race heritage, so I had no reason to consciously think about my blackness. I was just me. That was, until I became unwell because of racism and homophobia in my former job as a police detective and started to speak out and stand up for my rights as a gay person of colour. More so, after my employer told me I wasn’t black enough to have been offended by racism. It was after this that I started to discover who I really was. I thought about the kind of guys I dated, and who my true friends were. I then realised, I’ve come to accept and own that my difference as a black gay man in the modern world hasn’t been celebrated, but tolerated. A sad indictment of the times in which we still live.
The real me
It was whilst at university in Manchester that I came out; a place I found I could be myself. Born in Liverpool and raised a Catholic, the last child of eleven, I hadn’t had the courage to tell my family and friends about my sexuality whilst at home. When I eventually did, the fears I had of being rejected by them didn’t transpire. It was my mother’s love that helped to shape my positive journey. However, the road ahead was full of much naivety on my part, including about the gay scene, and wider world. My naivety extended to racism both despite and because of my mixed-race identity, my mother being white and my father black.
I guess for many like me in Britain, you believe and want to, that you belong in a world in which you’re accepted equally even as a visible minority because one-half of you is white. It isn’t until you experience racism and challenge others on it, that you realise you are not. You are black, black.
Although some might argue otherwise, out there in the real world, I have found no advantage card for being mixed-race.
I am yet to be racially insulted by someone who has given me a discount for my interracial heritage. Though, I could list the many who have disrespected me for being black.
The gay scene is one such place. A place in which all LGBT people are not treated equally, especially if you have black or brown skin. I’ve written extensively over the years about the ‘rainbow racism’ that’s exists within the gay community towards people of colour, from social applications to the bars and clubs. I’ve heard and seen much of the ignorance, from “I’ve never been with a black man, what’s it like?” to “I’m not interested in black or Asian guys, sorry”, to the very point that some have felt that they can insult black people in front of me because I’m not really black, but brown.
The dating game
I recently went on a few dates in London with a Spanish guy. He was handsome and I thought intelligent – the sort of person I would normally go for. It was during a later date that I mentioned the word ‘black’, within a conversation we were having. In a heartbeat, he said to me, “you’re not black”. It was said with such disgust, that I was somewhat taken aback. He really meant it. I wasn’t like ‘them’. I’d clearly had no indication or prior warning that he was like this. Then what followed was his outright, outspoken racism towards Asian people. That was it for me. When I got home, I reflected. Why hadn’t I picked up on his views about race earlier? Why on earth did I go on so many dates with him? It was then that it struck me, he is exactly the type of guy I’m used to – albeit, not the racism. I’ve met gay men who think they can behave in a certain way and say what they want around me, because they are dating a person of colour.
For the majority of men I have dated I have been their first non-white boyfriend. For most of these, I have been with them when they have come out to their parents. You can picture the scenario – “mum/dad, I’m gay, and this is my black boyfriend”. In some of these relationships, I have been around the racism of their relatives – in particular, towards Asian people and Muslims. As if I am immune from their selective bigotry, because I’m black. This is more than idle banter, it reflects a deeper societal problem. When I challenged my former employer with racism in London, I was told I shouldn’t be bothered about the racism towards Asians because I wasn’t one.
When I was younger, I didn’t have to think about race. I was a child, with the innocence that comes with it. My siblings and I were raised single-handedly by our white mother. From birth we understood difference. But as I have grown into an adult, the reality is very much different. I am a Black Gay Man surrounded by all sorts of people, yet even some of my closest friends use casual racism towards people who look like me and not. As if it wouldn’t offend me because I am their friend – but it does.
I have some friends who would describe themselves as liberal and declare how passionate they are about inclusivity; yet, I am their only non-white friend.
As a Black Gay Man, my intersectionality is challenging to others. You do not want to not be judged on either your race or sexuality, but often you are. In wider society there’s racism, in the LGBT community there’s racism. It’s tiring. I have no doubt there’s homophobia in some parts of the black community. For me, it’s about finding a progressive place where I am truly accepted, for being me – Kevin.
I’m often asked how can I identify as black, when I am mixed race. My dark skin colour is the first thing people see and most importantly, it’s how I best relate. I can be all the things I want to be, without others trying to fit me in their box. Some say they don’t see colour, but I haven’t yet had the luxury of this world. My blackness, jokingly and not, is often the thing that is mentioned in conversations with the guys I date, and with friends. As my brother said to me not so long ago, ‘mixed race is what we is, black is what we are”.
I’m now woke.
Here’s hoping you too find your self.
Featured image above from @RainbowNoirMCR facebook.com/rainbownoirmcr
Kevin Maxwell is a writer, advocate and former detective of both the Greater Manchester Police and London’s Metropolitan Police. He was born in Liverpool, spent a decade in Manchester and now lives in London. His debut memoir, Blue, about discrimination and depression in the police force is out soon.