Trapped in the Closet

Not R. Kelly’s Closet…


I don’t really like to bring attention to the fact that I identify as gay – not because I’m ashamed, rather, there are more attributes that make up my personality than just my sexuality. Aside from the fact that I am a man who is attracted to men, I’m pretty “normal” (mind you, there is no such thing as normal) as far as gender expression is concerned. There is a story, though. It’s a difficult one to share, so if you’re triggered by any violence, this may not be the post for you.

I remember making sense of the word “gay” when I was in sixth grade. I always knew I was different from the rest of my peers when it came to attractions – hell, I was attracted to my best friend’s older brother, who was in high school. I thought he was a beautiful man. When I came to make sense of my identity, I really wanted to share it with friends, but I was terrified because I wasn’t normal. There was no such thing as being “gay” in the community I was in.

I did have a friend who was a girl. I thought it would be easy to tell her because she also likes guys and I felt she would keep quiet about it. When I called her on the phone, we talked for a while and I told her, “yo, I think I like guys.” There was silence for a few seconds and I thought to myself, you fucked up. She then proceeds to say, “I’ve always wanted a gay friend!” I smiled – this went a lot better than I went. We talked for hours about everything. Hell, I even told her that I had a crush on my best friend’s older brother. We got off the phone and I went to bed feeling great about myself.

The next day, I went to school feeling great; however, the demeanor was really weird. I felt that people were staring at me like I had done something wrong. I walked up to my best friend and smiled, “People sure are acting weird today.” He blinked at me and quickly turned his body back towards his locker, “I don’t speak to faggots.” (side note: Ironically, based off of what I’ve seen on his Facebook, I am SURE he is gay). That one friend had spread to the entire 7th and 8th grade class that I was gay. I was shocked, but I was more shocked at how I was treated.

7th grade was a year of hell – it was when I really first started seeing my depression play out. People would call me names: faggot, pussy, queer, bitch, cocksucker, booty muncher. They would yell these so loud in the hallway and would throw pencils, erasers, and any object they could find as I would walk down the hallway. If we were outside and we were going to gym, people would throw sticks, rocks, dirt, and anything else at me. I was truly baffled.

TRIGGER POINT: There was one day where I had asked my teacher to go get a book from my locker because I had forgotten it in there that morning. She nodded and I left – the hallways were empty. I opened my locker to get my book and as I was looking towards the direction of the locker, I felt something behind me; it was that sixth sense when you just knew someone was right behind you. When I went to look back, I looked down next to my neck and saw a knife. The knife was thrown into the locker as soon as I looked back and the owner ran away. I, to this day, still don’t know who it was. The school had no way of figuring out who it was, so it was neglected. I also didn’t want to bring too much attention to it because I didn’t want my parents to figure out I was gay. It’s something that haunts me every now and again.

When it was time to go to high school, I decided to go to the high school where no one went to so that I could start over. It went great for a while, until people started suspecting that I was gay because I didn’t have a girlfriend. I pretended to be madly in love with this one girl, but her and I both knew that it wasn’t real. Rumors started again.

Then, my parents decided to move (not because I was gay, but because they were tired of cold weather). I was cool with it because it was an opportunity for me to start over. I am glad that I did – I changed for the better. I became more social, I started becoming involved in more programming, and I learned how to love myself.

As far as coming out to my parents is concerned, I came out to my mom in my therapist’s office when I was in 8th grade. She was very affirming and she said, “as long as you are an upstanding citizen, I have no problem with what you are.” That made me feel great and it was a secret we kept from my dad for so many years.

I didn’t want to tell my dad until I lived on my own and I was able to support myself. I always thought that he would be the type to kick me out. When I told him, it was the year after I graduated from undergrad – hell, I told him on a Sunday after I was inspired by a church service, and I called off work on Monday and TOLD my supervisor why I was calling off. It was time. I’m glad I did it, but he wasn’t thrilled. Actually, he still isn’t very thrilled and he doesn’t get it – but he’s also old school. I don’t think he’ll ever get it.

With that, I would like to close by saying that I admire and love ALL types of people in the LGBT community, but I love those who go beyond their gender expectation and express themselves in an “atypical” way. You all are SO BRAVE. My heart extends to you and I will do whatever I can to support all types of people: from the “flaming,” to the drag queens and kings, to the studs, to the trans-everything and anything – the bravery you all have is immeasurable. Continue to be strong – it’s people like you all that allow me to walk in my truth.


The Fantasy Isn’t Final for Black Men


Alright, I’m about to be showing you all my super geeky side, but trust me, this is an article you’ll want to read because it isn’t something people typically think about, especially Sociology scholars: The Portrayal of Diversity in Video Games. While I can go on and on about different aspects of diversity, such as gender, socioeconomic status, disability, religion, etc., I want to hone in specifically on Black Men in the video game series Final Fantasy. 

I’m about to lose you. Please don’t get lost – I’m going to give you a bit of background information first and then get to the meat of it all.  Final Fantasy is what is called a “Role Playing Game (RPG),” which focuses heavily on personal character development through random encounters and story-based fights AND has a huge narrative pull to it. It is not your traditional “Save the Princess, Crash Bandicoot,” type game – it’s more of a story/movie wrapped into a game. If you like reading texts with substance (no shade at Fifty Grey, wait. Total shade, pun intended) or you like well developed movies, then you’ll probably like RPGs. This is, by no mean, a plug for you to start playing RPGs (Well, maybe just a little bit).

The Final Fantasy franchise began in 1987 with the release of Final Fantasy on the Nintendo system. With it’s popularity sparking in Japan, the series was then brought over to the United States. The earliest memory most people have of Final Fantasy is Final Fantasy VII (The stories are not interconnected, each installment has its own set of characters and story lines that follow FF conventions), which was released in September of 1997 for the Playstation system. It’s important that we remember 1997 – it gives us a feel of the time era. For more Final Fantasy history, I would recommend you watch this video. You don’t have to, seeing as I’ll be giving you information pertinent to the content of the article, but you may want to watch it if you’re curious to know more.

Barret Wallace from Final Fantasy VII

So, let’s start with Barret from Final Fantasy VII , who is, to my knowledge, the first Black man to appear in the series. His description is as follows:

“In his original appearance, Barret is a heavy-set, muscular dark-skinned man with a dirty brown vest, green pants and large brown boots. His right arm was mangled in the loss of his hometown, and has been replaced with his weapon, the gun-arm, which lets him interchange various weapon attachments to it. Barret has several bands of metal around his waist and his remaining arm, and a tattoo of a skull surrounded by flames that form the image of wings on his left shoulder. His hair is cut similar to a hi-top fade and he has a thick beard and a dog-tag around his neck. He has three scars on his right cheek. This appearance has humorously been compared to actor Mr. T, a comparison also somewhat shown through Barret’s character” (“Barret Wallace”) . The fact that the Wiki page had links for “Hi-Top Fade” is hilarious. But let’s take a look further into this description that I find problematic.

“Compared to Mr. T” is the most alarming of this description – As Mr. T is known for his brute, lack of intelligence, and egotistical way of being. Barret’s character in FFVII acts very similar. When Barret gets angry, he spews such horrible profanities that they are not even acceptable to the human eye:

The other issue in Barret’s portrayal of anger is that it becomes uncontrollable – he starts cussing substantially and then starts shooting from his arm uncontrollably and, often times, without purpose. Barret now falls into the archetype of a stereotypical black man. He uses intimidation to get what he wants and will resort to violence if he needs to. Now, Barret is a BAD ASS character and is a great member in your party, but he’s portrayed as a gangster. I’m pretty sure members of the SHINRA corporation refer to him as such in the earlier Midgar section of the game.

But the other thing that one needs to consider is the time period. This game was developed during ’95-’96, and released in ’97. Socially, the world is not as accepting of non-archetypal portrayals of different cultures. Additionally, the Japanese don’t get very much interaction with Black men, so they go with what they know: Mr. T.

However, one of the aspects of Barret’s character development that I LOVE is his reliability and his loyalty – he is the best leader for the AVALANCHE underground group. Also, he is represented in the game as a GREAT father. His daughter, Marlene, is mentioned, seen, and saved quite a bit. For example, Barret got into it with Cloud, the game’s protagonist, over Cloud’s pay, saying something along the lines of “I can’t give you that much money, it’s for Marlene’s schooling.” Barret realizes the value of education and is wanting his daughter to be the best she can be. With a dad who is working hard for her, why wouldn’t she be?

Here are two portrayals of Barret, one in the original game, and the other in the Spinoff Film: FFVII Advent Children. Notice his dialect in the original game.

This idea is fatherhood is important – it connects us with the next and only other Black protagonist, Sazh from Final Fantasy XIII. 

Sazh Katsroy from Final Fantasy XIII

I really liked Sazh as a character in Final Fantasy XIII – I didn’t get the sense that he was “othered” as much as Barret was, but also consider the fact that FFXIII came out in 2010. Sazh seems to be more of a loner, with his overall objective being to see his son again. Listen, I am LIVING for this portrayal of caring parenting from Black men. All I need now is for them to come out with a video game version of DJ Khaled and his son Ahsad – literally, the cutest Father/Son relationship to this date.

The FFWiki describes Sazh: “Despite being physically the eldest of the Final Fantasy XIII playable party, Sazh has a youthful, carefree, and lively personality. Sazh is a goodhearted man whose relationship with his son, Dajh, serves as his drive. His selflessness is shown when he considers sacrificing himself to keep Dajh from becoming a Cie’th, a monster a l’Cie who fails his Focus becomes. He is silly at times, mostly when he is in near-death situations, but Sazh has a strong will of justice and is always willing to help his teammates. Through his friendship with Vanille, Sazh is revealed to be forgiving, and through his quest to rescue Dajh, generally (but not always) hopeful.

In contrast to the rest of the party, Sazh is more level-headed and mature, often serving as the voice of reason and interjects his opinion when someone is on the verge of letting their emotions get the best of them. He thinks of the rest of the party as “the kids”, though seems to respect Lightning and Fang.” (“Sazh Katsroy”).

One of the problematic issues is the developer’s choice of weapon for Sazh: a Gun. I would love to see a Black man wielding a sword or taking on a mage role.

I do like that he is almost a foil to Barret, being considered to be “level-headed and mature, often serving as the voice of reason.” Through this, he is seen to be as dependable as Barret AND really well-respect. Plus, his relation with his son is ADORABLE. Please watch:

I’ve played and completed FFVII various times, but I have only completed FFXIII once – I can’t give much more insight into Sazh and his character aside from what I’ve given you. However, it seems that the Japanese are working on their perceptions of people of color, and progress is really what’s important.

For fun sake, let’s look at Barrett in battle and look at Sazh in battle.

Some would argue that people like Barret more as a representation for Black men than Sazh, as Barret’s dialect seems to be “more in line” with vernacular that is present, even today. This can go either way – all I have done is given you one side of the argument. If it makes you feel better, Barret was almost always in my party and I rarely used Sazh.

If you’re interested in Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy XIII, you can purchase them on the Playstation Network on your Playstation 3. (FFVII you can buy on PS4, as well. FFXIII is also available for XBox 360). You can get them both at relatively low prices and you’ll get a dope ass story from both.

The “Taboo” in Communities of Color

“You’re a man, not a punk. You handle your shit on your own.”

Yes – this is the first posting and, yes – I am about to get real deep on y’all. Hold on to your favorite wigs, clutch those shiny pearls, and place your best tea cup on top of your most sturdy tea saucer because the cup is about to spilleth. Get ready, get ready…

Let’s talk about mental health, particularly revolving around communities of color. As a man of color, there are a plethora of issues as to why it is so taboo to claim being “depressed” or “possibly having ADD,” but there seems to be one overbearing factor that seems to echo, at least in my mind, over and over again: “You’re a man, not a punk. You handle your shit on your own – others don’t need to get involved in your shit and see your weakness.” And this message, ladies and gentlemen, is the reason why men of color can sometimes be seen as irrational or seemingly “crazy.” Let me go ahead and establish this credibility “right quick.”

I have depression. I know I have depression – I don’t need a counselor to tell me that (however, I do need a counselor to talk to and work through some issues). What you’ll see, most of the time, is that depression can be passed down. You know how your daddy is telling you to “man up?” I bet you that, behind closed doors, daddy goes through depression, too. I KNOW that is the case with my father, but he refuses to acknowledge his mental state – he’ll mask it as “concerns” and not attribute it to his mental health. My mother, on the other hand, takes ownership of her depression and anxiety problems. As a matter of fact, within the past two days, I have helped my mother abate panic attacks that just came randomly (which happens, y’all – these things can be inexplicable). I am positive that I obtained these qualities from them and I recognize that I need help. That’s the big thing here: SEEK OUT HELP.

So, what does my depression look like?  It includes:
– Not having the energy to do anything. I will legitimately lay down and not do anything for a long period of time.
– Feelings of hopelessness.
– Feeling that I am alone, and while I have a great support system, feeling like no one truly understands what I’m going through.
– Anxiety will flare up from time to time (very rare).
– Mind is constantly racing, unable to focus on a single task.
– Dependency on indulges (e.g: food, sex, alcohol, drugs, etc.) to feel better about yourself. My indulgence was sexual interaction – I needed it to make me feel better about myself.

Notice that I didn’t mention suicide. Depression and suicide are not always interrelated – people commit suicide because they are depressed, but do not have to feel suicidal to be depressed. I love life and I love aspects of being alive, but life gets TOUGH. Shit gets REAL. Don’t allow others in your community to obtain the power of telling you that your problem isn’t worth it. Here are things that I have done to make myself better – these may work for you and these may not. These solutions are not blanket solutions and you should be seeking out professional help.

This is a tough thing to do, especially if you are struggling with money. Me, I don’t have insurance, so it’s difficult for me to find mental help without having to fork over money. There are solutions to this though:  This link will take you to a website that allows you to search for health centers that can do income based treatments. Next, if you are feeling absolutely awful and just need someone to talk to, suicidal or not, called the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

This might sound really stupid, but watch a funny show. Make sure that it is a show that does not require you to think too much and make you feel any other emotion but happy. I love Golden Girls and it makes me laugh, but some of the drama in it makes me sad – that’s not what we want. If you like animated stuff, shows like Bob’s Burgers and Family Guy are good, mindless humor (I’d argue that these shows are incredibly satirical in nature, but don’t allow your mind to go that far – enjoy the surface humor). Also, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is another good show to watch. In the first season, there was a scene that had me CRYIIIIIIN. Allow yourself some happy tears. As I provided you with a preview of this hilarious moment, I started crying laughing again.

If you’ve never seen Dude, Where’s My Car?, then you probably don’t get the “AND THEEEEEN” allusion – do us all a favor and go watch that. But seriously, go find things you love that don’t require you to leave the house. For example, I really like video games and when I was heavily focused on my career, I never had time for it. There was a period of time where I just played video games for two weeks straight and I was as happy as a clam. Also, I find solace in writing (hm…I get to educate the masses and use this as a form a therapy, WINNING). Allow yourself to indulge in these things without judgment. I know that if you are living with parents, they might find these activities to be “lazy” or “unmotivated.” Personally, you know your life better than they do. If these activities keep you mentally grounded, that’s dope.

WHAT NEXT: Break Unhealthy Indulgences
Try to do your best to get away from bad habits. If you eat too much junk food, find healthy food that gives you just as much enjoyment. If you drink too much when you’re depressed, find a drink that you really enjoy and limit it to once or twice a week and ONLY when you’ve done some great things (condition yourself to think of alcohol as a reward and not as a depression assuaging substance). If you have sex too much, cut yourself off from sex and stick to a healthy masturbation schedule. Weening away from these things will force you to find better ways to make yourself happy. If you are religious, try to learn more about the roots of your particular system of belief – it will definitely make you firm in what you believe in.

Nah – I don’t mean escape interracial dating, although, in Pocahontas, we were warned that these white men are dangerous. What I mean is, get out of your normal environment from time to time. Link up with one or two people who you are close to. Go out for a drive with the windows down and the music blasting. Even if it is just running an errand or two, get out of that room and try to force yourself to do something. Chances are you’ll feel better just getting out of the house and putting yourself in a different mindset. Exercising is said to make you feel better (exercising is the devil, which is probably why I am still depressed. LAWL!!!).

Moral of the Story: There are plenty of things YOU can do to overcome your depression, but the number one thing on that list is to GET HELP. Shit – you don’t have to let your people know, just DO IT. Be discrete, if you have to. Don’t let money be an excuse, there are people there willing to help people who don’t have money or don’t have insurance.

You got this. Don’t let members of your community hold you back – you will come out better in the end.