There is a feeling that holds him like a deep breath, a scattering, a madness inside him from the top of his head to the soles of his feet, a great buzzing of bees whenever he considers his place in the world.
In a world of Black African gay boys, he is not properly Black because his most streamed artist on Spotify is the cast of Glee and he has never posted a Black square on his social media or used the hashtag #BLM; while the world stormed over George Floyd’s tragic death, he sat in his bed 7,886 miles away, deliberately oblivious inside a copy of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye.
He isn’t properly African because he hates God, his country, and his Ugandan parents’ ideas. And he isn’t properly gay because even though he wears makeup and crop tops, sports long hair, and speaks with a feminine twang, he never ‘came out’ in some public performance of emotion, and he never will, because the idea is a ridiculous pressure upon anyone’s existence; those who don’t matter don’t need to know.
After all, he has been African and Black and gay in Uganda, where he could be tortured into repenting and submitting to a godly lifestyle, or he could be found lifeless in a swamp somewhere, wearing ill-fitting women’s clothes and makeup in which he did not leave the house. He always thought that when you come to terms with your LGBTQ+ identity, you don’t need to ‘come out.’ You can just decide to kiss whoever you want and call your best friends to gossip about it afterwards.
This boy managed to escape Uganda after four years of severe depression that his parents diagnosed as the sprouting seeds of sinful disobedience and disregard for the healing powers of the one true Christian god — because where there is light, there cannot be darkness, and he just wouldn’t let the light in.
This light had healed his father of a cancer that would have killed him in 2005 and propelled his mother to the top of her field after a decade at home raising three sons. It had made blind men see and given children to barren women. There was nothing too great for God to handle, not if you let him in — believed and obeyed.
But soon enough, this boy got a scholarship to the University of Toronto instead, where he could be free and brilliant, and carve a fortress for himself away from the horrors of Uganda. At last, he thought, the storm had passed.
In Canada, he observed and practiced his liberation. On his first night at a gay bar on Church Street and Wellesley, he met another boisterous Black gay boy, who commanded the dance floor with the fervor and charisma of a televangelist in thrall to the Holy Spirit. He told him that they would be friends forever, and the new boy said yes. Be careful around these other Toronto gays, though, the new boy warned; “I might be gay but this community ain’t really for me, chile.”
The boy was curious but asked no more, only laughed too loudly, saying us Black folk gotta stick to each other like white on rice. As he walked to his bus stop the next morning, strutting to the rhythms of Glee’s “Bust Your Windows” along Bay Street, the boy wondered why the words of his only Black femme friend had struck a chord. He thought back to the ease with which their friendship fell into place, as one falls in love with a precious thing they had lost and found anew.
In Canada, the boy’s African-ness no longer mattered because he became only Black. As he explored sex and dating, he questioned whether his non-Black LGBTQ+ friends saw him, whether they truly saw him. His femininity threw people off — his desire for other feminine bodies, to sometimes be the little spoon, and his distrust of obtuse masculinity confused them.
Some people sought to colonize his femininity, his charisma, to make him exist on their terms. Because the boy was new to the land and just as rare to it, he supposed other people knew better how he should be himself. Because he lacked a teacher. He let them weaponize his flamboyance for their social currency because it felt safe, because he needed to be good for something and not another waste of six feet of muscle and a perfectly big black cock.
It saddened him that Black men seemed to only desire him behind blank profiles on dating apps, where he would go to them in moments of deep self-loathing and lie face down in their beds as they shed their shame, remaining nameless and barely human in their hunger, as they performed sex as an act of self-flagellation.
God came to him like a relapsing illness. He listened to gospel music because his heart sometimes ached for the sensation of churches and worship, but he would cut off a song in the middle because his hatred for the church would rise suddenly like a wave of vomit. He only thought of his father when he orgasmed on top of men who were nearly his father’s age, and never thought of his mother.
“Just be yourself,” his friends tell him when he says his parents do not accept gay people. The truth is that he couldn’t care less about politics or philosophy because, in the place he comes from, life is fleeting and there is no time to ponder its meaning when there is money and merriment to be made.
He has many friends here, but none of them know his secrets, why he refuses to drink, that there are scars on his body, not from riding bikes into rose bushes, but from the tender hands of his father. He finds Black girlfriends and they see him with stark clarity, but their Christian faith makes them awkward and makes him cautious. There is a feeling that holds him like a deep breath, a madness from the top of his head to the soles of his feet, whenever he considers his place in the world.
As he gets off his bus and walks to Roy Ivor Hall, his residence at UTM, he plays his favorite song from Glee, a rendition of Florence + the Machine’s “Shake It Out.”
“Shake it out, shake it out / And it’s hard to dance / with a devil on your back / So shake him off”
For it is a beautiful day that the Lord has made, to rejoice in and be glad.