One thing that took a minute for me to get my brain around was the phrase “mid-life.” Intellectually, I know I’m not a 20-something anymore, but I don’t feel like I’m at mid-life. Lately I feel like I’m right at the beginning of something new and positive. But I did turn 38 this year, and according to recent reports the expected lifespan for black males is 69 years (at least according to figures from 2003). That’s 6.3 years less than white men. However, I’m hoping that healthy eating, not smoking and not drinking will give me an edge. I’d like to be around for 80 years or more.
But that’s a ways down the line, if this is mid-life. On to Bernie’s next question, concerning community.
With whom did you most often socialize, where did you do it, and how did you define “community?’
I don’t remember socializing much, really. In middle school, I mostly spent time with my younger sister, and socialized with either her best friend or mine (also a girl). I didn’t have many close male friends, and had even fewer as we entered adolescence. I was too weird (too bookish, to effeminate, etc.) to hang out with, especially as we were all entering a phase in which most of the other boys were driven by a need to assert their masculinity in order to fit in. In fact, it was kind of a liability to be too friendly with me, in the eyes of my peers. On the other hand, for any boy who wanted to reaffirm his masculinity, I was the perfect foil
Most of my friends were girls. That started probably around the time I entered middle school. I learned very quickly to avoid interacting with the other kids on the playground, as the relatively lax supervision meant I was an easier target for harassment. I was an early reader, and developed a love for books by then. (In fact, it was a book that helped me come out to myself around then. I eventually tracked down a copy as an adult, and it sits on my bookshelf at home today.) I always had a book with me, and when we went out for recess, I’d sit under a tree an read. It was an easy way to disappear, in more ways than one.
I spent a lot of time in the library, naturally, and eventually became a library assistant. So I not only got further way from my tormentors on the playground, but I got to hand out in the air conditioned library. All of the other assistants were girls, and that was fine because girls were safe. They were less likely to reject me than my male peers were, and probably found me less threatening to be around than the boys did. That is, the girls who didn’t already despise what they saw as effeminate in me.
I should add that most of them were white. Most of the friends I had at that time in my life were white. I think that’s because the most vehemently response I got from homophobic response I got (even before coming out publicly at school) came from my black peers. I didn’t experience acceptance from most of them. Nor did I at home or at our church. In those two settings I learned exactly how negatively people would think of me. So, I knew I had to keep quiet or lie to everyone until I could get away.
So, I didn’t really have a sense of community; not in terms of one in which I felt safe being myself and being honest about who I was; not among my peers, at home, or in my “community of origin.” Community was something I waited and hoped to find once I left home.