Meeting My First Black Gay Mentor : Essex Hemphill

By | April 13, 2013

When I came out, it was black men and being with them emotionally and physically that gave me such hope and excitement regarding my future.

I was 20 and full of longing and the belief that a great deal of the torture and “not enoughness” that came from the mouths of men who looked like me (with my grandfather being the only exception)would all be a thing of the past now that I could be honest and claim my desires.

I became heartbroken repeatedly when I met young black, gorgeous men who flat out refused to challenge their thinking and truly examine their allegiance to a patriarchal, imperialist culture that provided a few rewards but offered no love in return.

While love is powerful, it has its limits.

As black men who are targeted in a particular set of ways, our healing needs to be addressed in a particular set of ways.

After surviving the initial five years of dating black men, I began reading Essex Hemphill. When I stumbled onto his most prolific statement : the most radical/ revolutionary things black men can do is love each other, I was hooked.

The first time I heard this brilliant solution to so much of what menaces us, I was thrilled and frightened. This concept seemed so simple and so foreign. Didn’t sleeping with black men mean that you loved them ? After reading a conversation between bell hooks and Essex Hemphill, I realized that sexual partnering and true love where not identical.

Essex helped me define what I wanted to be and transformed my thinking regarding what it meant to be black, gay and male. Essex showed me via his writing that to be handed the gift and power that comes with being black, gay and male was indeed an honor and nothing to be ashamed or apologetic about for any reason at any time.

To combine these most delicate and profound entities would require a warrior like spirit and the guts to walk tall in a world that often sees us as either dangerous or sexual and nothing more. Months after discovering him via my voracious appetite for reading,I was able to meet and talk with him in person.

Essex Hemphill didn’t choose an identity. He created one.

This was extremely important for my younger self who was being schooled in very White Supremacist Self Hating ways. Creating an identity was very important for a young black queer who wanted to dream, create, evolve.

Essex Hemphill said you can do all of this and more.

Using his life as an example he illustrated to us younguns that we could dare to be fabulous, outspoken, clear, unashamed and committed to evolution by loving ourselves and those that look like us fully and healthfully.

My desire for a certain type of man was solidified when I met and critically engaged with the great Essex Hemphill some twenty years ago.

My love for black men was solidified.

Essex Hemphill was the ideal black man :brave, brilliant, self reflective, gentle and committed to constant and unapologetic growth.

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