Recently there has been much ado about the viral video showing a brother allegedly delivered from same-sex attractions. The video was passed from facebook activist to facebook activist, with few stopping to note the humanity of the brother depicted, the violation of his privacy, the violence of our shared, public ridicule and of course the long-term effect that racial-cultural violence porn has on the viewer, as well as the viewed.
I’ll certainly admit that there were moments that I found myself giggling. At first glance, I thought it was a joke. I hadn’t noticed the “COGIC” moniker in the bottom right corner and simply thought it was another Tyler Perryesque, blackface/poverty-laced performance of our people–bittersweet, with just enough sweet to not contort the face or spirit. However, just seconds into the video, I caught myself–rather–I saw myself. I was this brother a decade ago, at 14. I wanted nothing more than to be loved, especially by God, and of course by those deemed as God’s annointed people, the body of Christ, the Church.
By age 14, I had already survived years of molestation by an elder cousin–ages 2-11–rape, sexual assault and the emotional and economic effects of having a Jon Doe father and a mother fighting her own demons as a survivor of multiple sexual assaults, domestic violence, racism, sexism, poverty, learning disabilities, deafness and the twin diseases of alcohol and drug addiction. To boot, I had three younger siblings that needed my support. We often went days or weeks without seeing my mother. My grandmother was physically sick and I was suffering from a cancerous pride. I illegally worked 25-40 hours per week at various odd-jobs, hiding the money from my mother less she sell it, in order to make our ends meet. My siblings were always dressed and their clothes were pressed. Their homework was done, as their tutor, I made sure of it. The lights usually stayed on–even if that meant I’d have to engage in sex work to guarantee it. I learned to hustle early, reading people and their desires, particularly when they didn’t want me too. It was how we survived.
The Church of God in Christ was my sanctuary. We lived on a col-de-sac, and the trailer-like Church was located on the end. We had recently moved to the area, from rural Kansas. I threw myself into the Church instantaneously. I’ll never forget my first appearance. I felt isolate and at home. I had never been among so many well-dressed folk, so many black folk, so many latin@s. I felt at home and loved. They began with a welcome song to welcome me specifically.
“the jesus in me
loves the jesus in you
the jesus in me
loves the jesus in you
It’s so easy
so easy to love
i love you
you love me
we’re a happy family
So easy to love”
I felt that love. You see, when you can’t remember the last time someone tells you, that they love you, lyrics like these have a certain power to intoxicate. In that moment, I became drunk in the spirit of love. My eyes welled at the sight of seeing so many faces singing directly to me, only to me, professing a love that my mother was unable to muster. The hugs, the kisses on the cheek, the smiling children running up to me holding my left saying “I love you mister we’re family.” It was too much for a heart even as cold as mine–I hadn’t cried since I was 7 when my grandmother died–to handle. I melted.
After the service, the Pastor was standing by the door, as became his custom, and looked me directly in the eyes, put his hand on my shoulder and called me son. The “First Lady” gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek and promptly implored me to join them for dinner, so that they might get to know me better. I felt special, not for what I could provide someone or because what I could accomplish, but because my presence alone was being valued. For a child, there is nothing more valuable than the utterance and affirmation of an unconditional love that pivots only on your continued existence. I wept again and nearly ran out of the Church in embarrassment, until I was caught by the pastor’s son who embraced me in a deep hug.
From that day on, I became a quick study of the theology presented by the Pastor and the Church of God in Christ. I removed my earrings, cut my long, natural braids–I wanted to be a real man of God–and adorned the suits given to me by the pastor. My bible never left my side. I knew the Bible like the back of my hand. I fasted early and often. My school locker was adorned with scriptures, holy oil and holy water. I started and led a Bible study at school, every day at 6am, that grew to nearly 40 students at it’s peak. Folks started calling me Reverend. I stopped fighting. My grades soared to perfection. Then it all clicked.
It was the junior revival. I was asked to give “A Word of Expression” that, though I and others thought it was last about 3 minutes of babbling scriptures, amounted to a 30 minute sermon that had the entire Church and visiting Congregations on their feet and some rolling between the pews speaking in tongues. I felt at home again. Since then, the podium has always had a calming effect on me. It seemed that I had found my purpose. My calling. My anointing.
Matthew 22:14 “For many are called, but few are chosen.”
Then came the hands. The Pastor was first to come and proclaim my anointing as a preacher of the Word of God. A young elder, an Evangelist, one whom he would “take under my wing and protect under my anointing.” This was a seminal moment. Not only did I see myself as gaining a mentor, but a physical and spiritual father; a protector I’d always yearned for and yet feared to desire, openly. As the oil poured down my head and lips and he prayed for my strength and blessings, there were also other hands, hands roaming in private places, recalling fears locked beyond years of suppression. As I tried to see myself behind a podium, free of my scars and current limitations, the hands roamed my psyche, my thighs, my ass, my cock and I flashed between hopes of a future of spiritual redemption and a past of sexual devaluation. I wept and I knew not which tears were flowing. In hindsight, it’s clear that I was crying for the little boy who had still not escaped his nightmare of violent black men and I wept for the death a freedom I thought had long last arrived.
Days later, I’d receive a text message from him–a visiting minister of music. It seems he had gotten my number from the Pastor. He told my pastor that he wanted me to preach at one of his concerts. He sent me a picture of his. Then another. Then another. Then another. I wept. I found myself at the alter praying that the thorn in my flesh be removed. That I’d no longer be attracted or tormented to men–he was 100% tormenter, no attraction was there.
“And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.” 2 Corinthians 12:7
In the mind of a child, bad things happen because we welcomed them into our lives. This feeling of guilt was only exasperated by the day’s sermon.
“Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” Galatians 6:7
I emerged from my shame on the altar. Begging to be delivered. I confessed to no one but it seemed that everyone knew. They knew I was a sinner. A fake. A sodomizer–though I’d only been sodomized by force and never by choice or desire. However, I had long known that there was a secret desire within me that would soon land me in hell. So I prayed. I shouted. I danced and ran about the Church. I proclaimed myself delivered–though of course not saying from what–and claimed victory. This happened every Sunday. I began fasting. Often. I lost 15 lbs in 2 weeks. I had gone from a varsity runner and football player to barely being conscious on the field or in class.
“But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:4
By sixteen I had become a professional actor. I realized I couldn’t suppress my desires, so I tried to control them. I met seven other young black, gay men on the sites hi5 and Tagged. We were all struggling. We wanted the love of our family, our God and most importantly–and unsaid–ourselves. We promised to be accountability partners to manage the “thorn of the flesh” we were all afflicted by. We met daily, at 5am to pray for God’s mercy, our strength, our abstinence and our deliverance from the homosexual lifestyle. In retrospect, we were really praying for a circumcision of our selves; a division of our blackness, from our maleness, from our sexuality. We realized we couldn’t be true to all at once, in our minds, and remain spiritual or emotionally whole. We chose to exorcise our intersections in order to exist, or subsist, at the margins.
After those two years of prayer and two suicide of attempts, I could bear it no longer. The breaking point came at Church. I was to lead a sermon that day after the Pastor’s call to prayer. However, I had made a pact to myself. If the Pastor’s message hinted at any vitriol or homophobia, I would stand and leave quietly, and never return. To my shock, he took the podium and preached about the horrors of homosexuality, it’s threat to men, the black community, women, black men and the Kingdom of God. He proclaimed that all “sodomizers” were doomed to hell fire. He then called my name. I sat frozen, unblinking. He called me again. I shuddered. I stood. I walked up to the podium, broke into tears and ran down the aisle in my grey suit and black Stacey Adams, I ran for 6 miles, past my house, past the school, to my best friend’s house…a tall, lanky, goofy white boy with curly Afro from the suburbs and confessed my sexuality to him. I cried in his chest. He held me. I stayed there for the night. I vowed to never return to the Church. I tore the page out of all of my Bibles and supplements, burning them each in tight bundles. I enjoyed the burning. It felt as if I were burning the chains from my soul. I felt free. Frightenly so.
At times my soul longs for a spiritual practice and the familiar, familial settings of the Church. However, when I attempt to enter a service, I remember the scars. Conversations about Christ, the Word of God, et al ring hollow upon me. I pray at times but I believe in my soul that the High Power I pray to now is not the same entity worshipped at the Churches of my youth. This divorce from the Church freed me, but also pushed my blackness–with it being so universally colored by religion–into an isolated land without relatives. It seems even now, something has been stolen from me. A pure relationship with the spiritual realm has been tainted and the scars run too deep; causing a distrust of all those who call themselves Christians. Many, if not most are well-meaning, but few are capable of the healing work necessary for true holistic healing and restoration. At best, they speak of us as “sinners” noting that “No sins are greater than the other” and “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” On their face, these proclamations seem like a sexuality-blind, equitable politic within the Church. However, in noting our nature as sinful, they imply that our design itself is faulty and it would be best, God’s will, if we were to be changed and made clean. This translates to a direct condemnation of those of us in loving relationships or practicing self love–because these acts of critical love ethics are active rebuke to their god’s will for us.
So I don’t laugh at the brother. I understand the desire to fit in. I understand the violence of remaining in the Church, as well as the costs of leaving the fold. Our reaction to this video, particularly the ridicule and our propensity to chop it, replay it and share across the internet are a form of racial-sexual terror. We have trapped this young man in a controlling image and suspended his attempt at psychosocial and socio-cultural survival in a never ending loop of homoantagonist, violence porn. We, as queer men of color, have indeed committed the modern equivalent of a high tech lynching. It is time we leave the mob and remember when we too swung from the spiked noose of othering.