I don’t write often on here about my sexual orientation because this blog focuses on my journeys through African American food history. I came out when I was 16 years old in my school newspaper, and I was scared but I was ready to stand up for being who I was.
Wow…I’ve been out for 23 years….
Over the years I waxed and waned in how open I was about my orientation because frankly there were people around whom it wasn’t particularly safe to be honest about who I was. But this is a moment where the word irrevocable is in order. I will never do that dance again to accommodate the weak sensibilities based on prejudice. Prejudice it has been said, is nothing more than an emotional commitment to ignorance. If you know anything about my work, I can’t countenance that. For the most part I have spent the past few years as an openly gay food writer, historical interpreter and activist–but now let’s make it official–I’m gay and that’s not going to change–and its a part of not merely my erotic or romantic sensibilities but also what I believe makes my soul’s recipe unique and powerful.
This isn’t about Michael Twitty, but I can only speak to you from my gut as a Black, Gay, Jewish man who loves his people. We have over 100 people dead or wounded because of one man’s (nation’s?) inner conflict–over his sexuality, over cultural identity, nationalism and masculinity–problems he (we) resolved (resolve) with a dangerous semi-automatic weapon that shouldn’t be on the streets. We are reeling–we are living in a world that is being ripped apart at the seams by baseless hatred and the human cost–in the lives of elementary school children, club goers, movie attendees and everyday people is real. We have thought it a luxury to study how we got here (knowing our history, being culturally literate and aware) –but in the meanwhile–the ancient prejudices, hatred and misunderstandings passed down through centuries of blood vengeance and angst have come to roost in a very 21st century way. We are not only an audience to tragedy but we are participants in a ritual of horror, disgust, shame followed by cycles of numbness, amnesia and nostalgia for pain. It is our special insanity that only technology and nihilism in a bitter marriage can produce.
The people who were murdered and injured were not as some demonic pseudo-pastors have suggested—“pedophiles,” and any suggestion from someone that human beings are trash to be taken out removes all doubt that the individual speaking is not only no longer themselves human, but has forsaken the gift of being made in the image of G-d. Among the dead were mothers who supported their sons, young men committed to the loves of their lives, women who loved women, transgendered people who were standing tall, productive members of society, straight friends and allies, bartenders, bouncers, people who sought the love and humor and light of their community space to sustain em through life’s troubles and the stress of another week. They were human. They were American. Many were Puerto Rican in heritage or Black American and Lord knows we cousins….have faced our trials… Those who did not fall face a lifetime of post-traumatic stress and depression, physical healing therapy, permanent mental and physical damage and the cyclical mourning of lost friends and family.
Before I say another word—I want to ask peace and healing upon the living and wish peace on those who were murdered:
–Stanley Almodovar III, Amanda Alvear, Oscar Aracena-Montero, Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, Antonio Davon Brown, Darryl Roman Burt II, Angel L. Candelario-Padro, Juan Chavez Martinez, Luis Daniel Conde, Cory James Connell, Tevin Eugene Crosby, Deonka Diedra Drayton, Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, Leroy Valentin Fernandez, Mercedez Marisol Flores, Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, Juan Ramon Guerrero, Paul Terrel Henry, Frank Hernandez, Miguel Angel Honorato, Javier Jorge-Reyes, Jason Benjamin Josephat, Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, Anthony Laureano Disla, Christopher “Drew” Andrew Leinonen, Alejandro Barrios Martinez, Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, KJ Morris, Akyra Money Murray, Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, Joel Rayon Paniagua, Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, Enrique L. Rios, Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, Yilmary Rodriguez-Solivan, Edward Sotomayor Jr. Shane Evan Tomlinson, Martin Benitez Torres, Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, Luis S. Vielma, Franky Jimmy DeJesus Velazquez, Luis Daniel Lestat Wilson-Leon, Jerald “Jerry” Arthur Wright.
May your names be etched forever upon our hearts with those of all who have been martyred for simply being themselves. We wish only peace and love and light on all those you have left behind, and we ask of us that we would be responsible for our brothers and sisters to come that such a thing will never happen again. We will do this not through merely words of faith but by action, activism, taking a stand and being courageous–our dedication to permanent positive change will be our prayer.
Lo’ ta’amod al dam reyecha! THOU SHALL NOT STAND IDLY BY THE BLOOD OF YOUR NEIGHBOR!
I will confess that nearly 400 years of lynchings, assassinations, targeted murders, domestic terrorism and the oppression of my people prepared me for this. That’s not bragging–that’s horrific–but it is my circumstance of birth. 300 here, 200 there…Fort Pillow, Rosewood, Charleston, Tulsa, Washington, Baltimore, St. Louis… I want you to understand I had a grandmother who remembered seeing the body parts of lynching victims displayed in store windows in Alabama as a grotesque and gruesome reminder to “keep the niggers down.” I had a great-grandfather who was jailed and almost lynched for being a Black man in a soldier’s suit in a town where a white woman had accused “a Negro” of being her assailant. I am the product of the children of multiple rapes against Black women by slaveholders and overseers. We were denied equal access to education, opportunity and the right to the wealth this country was built on. I was prepared for this moment by being a son of the African Diaspora, cast into the Atlantic world by circumstances beyond his control and beyond the control of those who came before me. Our story is not just our wounds but our armor–our resistance (in the words of William D. Piersen) too civilized to notice–of problems stated in terms of music and solved in dance–of thundering speeches of moral suasion, triumph despite adversity–strong women making strong daughters, strong sons with a charge to keep—of an enslaved people who turned the tables on their enslavers and with wit, humor and courage–enslaved the cultures that enslaved them with the breath and verve of ancient, enduring Africa–how she loved, how she prayed, how she danced, sang, spun words, walked, talked, felt and cooked.
I am by blood and by choice of a son of Israel. I cast my lot with a people who have wandered the earth driven by a will to survive the hatred against us for placing our faith in a singular, individual G-dhead. We were told we were destined for extermination not long after we were born, and many tried and often did exact terrible and bloody attacks–and still do–against us—none so awful as the Shoah–when nearly 6 million of us died, many of us affirming the oneness of our G-d and the oneness of our people. We are a long list of men and women, few in number with an impact as incalculable as the stars. Moses and Jonas, Jesus and Mel, Bella and Gilda and Golda and Julius and Angela and Juan and Ofra and Asenath Barzani and The Maid of Lublin…. We persevere–we place ourselves in the shoes of our Ancestors and reenact their footsteps across the globe in search of the days when Isaiah’s prophecies will come true and humanity with live in ethical and moral balance with the basic principle that we are indeed betzelem Elokim–made in the image of the Lord.
I am gay, I am a homosexual, I am a same-gender loving queer cisgendered nearly perfect Kinsey-6. I come from people burned at the stake, I come from people who were stoned, I come from men and women who were forced into loveless marriages, I come from hidden loves and love that dares not speak its name. I come from Michelangelo and DaVinci and James Baldwin and Bayard Rustin and Alexander the Great. Bessie Smith and Audre Lorde and Joan of Arc and Sappho and Lily Tomlin. I come from Rabbis who secretly wrote poems about how they wish they were born women and blues men who sang about having “sissy man” blues and berdaches, drag kings and drag queens. I am the burned out nightclub in New Orleans that left 43 dead, I am the Oscar Wilde going to jail and special ordering gay books by phone as a teenager, picnics at Roosevelt Island, kisses at the rain at the National Zoo, holding hands at an art museum, making dinner for his family, I am dancing at the gay club–and voguing–and walking runway and attempted death drops and blowing a whistle at 20, VIP at 25, dancing until I almost died at 39, making a happy fool out of myself at Pride.
Many wear the moniker of oppressed, of marginalized and downtrodden. We are not our scars, we are not our wounds, we are not bruises and broken parts–we are the healing after these, the strength assumed after centuries of defeat—the marches that paid off, the dream of praying without pogrom, kicking our legs up and scaring the hell out of the NYPD in 1969—that’s our culture–that’s our identity–that’s who we really are–we are getting back up one more time.
Do you feel better now, do you feel magnanimous and heroic, do you feel stronger and proud? Well I’m about to make you feel like shit, not because I’m a jerk–but because I have to.
Intersectionality is not just some buzz word that came from the trickle down from a liberal college’s syllabus…it is my life. I live this word everyday. You probably do to…
It is a reality many of us live–including the negative one responsible for this tragedy–may his name be erased. Our ability to navigate and negotiate the fine lines created by our bordercrossing is what keeps us sane or causes us to lose all sense of truth.
I have been on this planet about 40 years. I am green–and in the long stretch of cells, rocks, patches of sky and tree rings–young, an infant, insignificant.
I was born 8 years after Stonewall. I was born 5 years after the New Orleans club arson attack. I was a kid when AIDS first reared its head. I have seen and touched the quilt on the national Mall–I have marched with people who didn’t know me—I remember the big march in 2000–I was at the national vigil for Matthew Shepard–I remember both Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and its repeal. I was there when that bastard child DOMA was born. In the shadow of the Charleston church attack I remember the day marriage equality was finally achieved. I hugged Margaret Cho in a DC dance club, saw Willie Ninja work a ballroom floor, and stuck dollar bills into the jockstraps of many of my favorite——well–“actors…”
I know we can vote, I know we can fight for gun control laws, I know we can advocate that anti-discrimination laws be codified and that parental equality and bathrooms be resolved. We can shout from the rooftops we are mad, angry, heartbroken and sad. We are reeling and hurt and feel as though we personally have been affected. But then there’s tomorrow and the day after that….and we are right back to…..
NO BLACKS ITS JUST A PREFERENCE DUDE. SORRY, GOOD LUCK….
GAYS ARE JUST WHITE MEN TRYING TO GET OVER ON US.
ITS GETTING TOO DARK IN HERE–TOO MANY BLACK GUYS IN THIS CLUB>.
HOMOSEXUALITY IS FORBIDDEN BY THE TORAH IN FACT A HOMOSEXUAL IS LIKE AN ORANGE ON A SEDER PLATE…
NO ASIANS, NO FATS, NO FEMMES.
AIDS IS NOT A BLACK PROBLEM.
THESE PEOPLE ARE IMMORAL AND THEY ARE TRYING TO TAKE OUR CHILDREN, NO JEW WAS EVER GAY.
CAN I SEE TWO FORMS OF ID BEFORE I LET YOU IN OUR LILY WHITE GAY CLUB?
LETS MAKE A STONEWALL MOVIE THAT DOESN’T REFLECT AT ALL THE ETHNIC DIVERSITY AND GENDER SPECTRUM THAT WAS ACTUALLY AT STONEWALL…
GAYNESS IS A WHITE SICKNESS SENT TO DESTROY BLACK MEN AND TURN OUR WOMEN INTO MEN.
IN AFRICA THEY DIDN”T TOLERATE HOMOSEXUALS, LESBIANS AND FAGGOTS–THEY WERE PUT TO DEATH.
MASC FOR MASC ONLY, QUEENY GUYS AND LEATHER GUYS ARE AN EMBARASSMENT–WHY CAN”T WE JUST BE NORMAL AND STRAIGHT ACTING AND APPEARING?
WHY SHOULD I CARE ABOUT BLACKS–THEY ARE ALL HOMOPHOBIC ANYWAY…THEY DON’T SUPPORT US AND THEY ARE BACKWARDS ANYWAYS…
THE JEWS ARE JUST WHITE PEOPLE CLAIMING TO BE HEBREWS.
YOU’RE NOT REALLY JEWISH–YOU”RE JUST A CONVERT.
JEWS-AND THEIR BOOK OF JEWISH FAIRY TALES AND THEIR SILLY MADE UP GOD AND ABUSIVE PRACTICE OF CIRCUMCISION IS THE REASON WHY. ..
I LOVE BLACK WOMEN BECAUSE THEY ARE SASSY AND FUN AND COOL BUT BLACK MEN ARE DIRTY AND THEY HAVE AIDS AND THEY STEAL YOUR STUFF…
I LOVE GAY HAIRDRESSERS AND CHOIR DIRECTORS, ITS A SHAME THEY ARE GOING TO HELL.
WHAT ARE YOU DOING TALKING TO THAT BLACK GUY–PEOPLE MIGHT THINK YOU LIKE “DARK MEAT….”
SOME OF OUR BLACK WOMEN HAD TO BE THE MAN OF THE HOUSE SO LONG THEY BECAME LESBIANS.
JEWS ARE JUST BLOODSUCKERS…
“SCHWARTZES” (YIDDISH FOR BLACK) ARE NICE WHEN THEY KNOW THEIR PLACE.
WHO CARES IF THEY HAVE TO MOVE OUT OF THIS NEIGBORHOOD?–WE MAKE IT BETTER.
HEY MICHAEL—“So are you actually Jewish? Why can’t you just be Black?”
HEY MICHAEL—“You’re the whitest Black guy I know….”
HEY MICHAEL—“You’re not really a bear–because you don’t have enough hair–and besides thats why I don’t find African American men as attractive…”
HEY MICHAEL—-“ARE YOU SURE YOU’RE GAY BECAUSE I DON’T THINK YOU’RE GAY ENOUGH…”
HEY MICHAEL—“You’re too smart to be that fat.”
HEY MICHAEL—“WHY DO YOU HAVE TO BE THE F_____ING ODDBALL OF THE FAMILY” (Signed Mom 1994)
HEY MICHAEL—“What do you want me to do to support you? Buy you a dress?” (Signed Dad 1995)
HEY MICHAEL–“PEOPLE JUST AREN’T GOING TO ACCEPT YOU–YOU’RE JUST NOT AN OFF THE SHELF TYPE JEW…”
HEY MICHAEL—“WHY ARE ARABS BEING BROUGHT IN TO TEACH OUR CHILDREN ABOUT ISLAM” (Concerned parent on my first day teaching in a Hebrew School high school program…note I am not Arab or Muslim…and neither are a negative.)
HEY MICHAEL—“You can’t be Black, gay and Jewish–America isn’t ready for you.”
HEY MICHAEL—–“WHY ARE YOU WITH THAT WHITE BOY?”
This is what also has to stop.
I come from three of the strongest peoples on earth–and I’ve heard variations on hate like you wouldn’t believe. And its not just us–its the whole planet. It’s the mood of our country–we honestly believe we have to hate to be whole, to stand up, to be counted.
Don’t just be angry at homophobia that kills–be mad at white supremacy that kills–about homophobia in the Black community that isolates and destroys families and corrupts houses of worship into houses of hate–honor Black ministers and civil rights leaders and promote their profile of those who work towards bridging the gap and bringing us all together. Be angry at racism in the gay community and stop telling me to get over it. Be angry at gay misogyny and universal transphobia and work against anti-Jewish attitudes and beliefs and the silencing of Jewish diversity–because Jewish people of color exist and we don’t have to get your validation–be furious at homophobia in the Jewish community and racism in the Jewish community, cut that nonsense out that says Black people belong in a box and can’t be anything we want–cut that nonsense out that says gay is or can only be one thing and everything else is useless–cut that nonsense out that posits over privileges only one kind of gay person of a certain class and color and look and appearance.
You can throw in gender and sex, Latinx, physical ability, economic class, creed, nationality, language, ethnicity, religion, absence of religion, politics–and people will find a way. STOP IT.
If you say love wins over all–then do it–mean it–live it. Stop the lip service. Stop being apolitical and apathetic, lazy–nope–stop making excuses for internalized hatred and outward expressions of chauvinism.
We have to pledge to work on ourselves–not just shouting down the neighbor whose voice we don’t like. We owe it to the many dead and the many wounded to be better to one another and to ourselves. If we are truly all Orlando then our shoulders must be willing to bear the serious burdens of complexity and the willingness to give up our emotional attachment to ignorance.
I don’t have all the answers–but when this news begins to fade–I want you to have a take-away that you’ll never forget–and never forget to act on. Love thy neigbor as thyself, and don’t forget to love thyself. How we have survived our oppression is our greatest form of cultural capital–and the greatest gift we have to tell each other.
I don’t want this tragedy to ever happen again, to anyone.