Aaryn James: 'I'm a minority within a minority'

Attitude reader Aaryn James opens up about life as a young black gay man - a 'minority within a minority'... My life right up until this point has been a race to find my identity. Who am I? What do I stand for? What type of man do I want to be? I don’t feel any closer to finding any of the answers, but I remember asking those questions a lot when I was in secondary school. My father has never been a part of my life, so I never had a positive black male role model. All I was faced with was the stereotypical black man shown in the media. You know the one I am talking about – the major sports stars, hardened criminals or gangster rappers. Growing up as a minority is confusing enough, but when the type of man you are doesn’t fit the stereotype, it becomes, well, difficult. IMG_0114 What made it even harder was the fact that most of the black boys in my school were captains of sports teams, champion boxers or hardcore grime MCs, and all dating the hottest girls in our year. So the fact I didn’t fit into any of these moulds made people very suspicious and my ‘friends’ (well, people who I thought were my friends) executed a plan to out me to our entire school year. I was publicly humiliated. After that traumatic event, the black guys in my year (and the years above and below mine) felt it was even more acceptable to humiliate and bully me, alongside people of every race and gender. I was frequently asked the same questions by the black boys in my year AND some black members of staff at school: ‘But, WHY would you want to be gay?’ ‘HOW could you let the team down?’ When I heard questions like this, I felt guilty, as if I had brought shame to the black community. I felt like an outcast, a ‘black sheep’ as it were. I felt disowned by my own race. It was almost as if being gay discredited me as a black man and they could not and would not tolerate or associate themselves with a flamboyant character such as myself, therefore I had to be cast out. The looks of disgust from members of my own community, young and old, would haunt me for years. But then one day, things started to change. I remember coming home after yet another day of public humiliation and ridicule. I walked into the kitchen to wash out the ketchup stain on my blazer that was lovingly left by one of my tormenters. I glanced over at the table and saw that my mother had strategically left one of her magazines open on a picture of a B-E-A-UTIFUL black man. Picture, if you will, a 6ft mahogany god, his ebony skin greased to perfection and gazing at you with love-hungry eyes as dark as the night. His name was Darryl Stephens and the article that was attached to his photo talked about an American TV series that he starred in called Noah’s Arc. But wait a minute… This man – this beautiful BLACK man – was GAY! I found out that Noah’s Arc was a series which predominantly featured gay black and Latino men. The next day in school I dedicated my entire lunch hour to finding and watching this series online. I became addicted to that show, it became like a drug to me. It was the first time I had ever seen a gay man who looked like me. I could see different aspects of my personality within each of the lead characters. It didn’t make the bullying and discrimination any easier to deal with but it gave me a sense of hope for my own future. After school I attended art college – filled with queer personalities and quirky kids, I couldn’t have been more at home. It was there where my personality and sexuality flourished and although I still hadn’t come out under my own steam, I felt confident and comfortable within my own skin for once. I was free from the peer pressure at school and was welcomed into a world where being strange earned you credit. I am still from time to time probed with invasive questions. And now all I do is either ignore the question entirely or snap back: ‘I don’t know, why don’t you GOOGLE IT!’ I’d encourage you to do the same if you find yourselves in the same situation. To this day I don’t feel 100% accepted within my own community. I still slightly flinch whenever the ‘gay’ topic comes up in a room filled with black men and women. But what matters most to me is that I am on the road to accepting myself for who I am and that’s the most important thing. No matter what race or ethnicity you are, if you fully accept yourself first it doesn’t matter what others think. Read more readers' stories in the current issue of aTEEN: www.pocketmags.com/aTEEN