Just good friends

Lisa Respers

July 23, 1993|By Lisa Respers

I HAVE a good friend who is intelligent, talented, spiritual, attractive and funny. He encompasses many of the qualities that I am seeking in a mate. The only thing stopping me from pursuing a relationship with this beautiful black man is that he is gay.

He and I have shared many confidences. I turn to him for comfort when my latest relationship has ended amid salty tears and angry words, and he empathizes with my search for a "good man." We have spirited discussions about everything from religion to politics. I can express my views and emotions to him and feel confident that he will not judge me. I hope he feels the same about me.

Recently I read a magazine article to him involving a frank discussion between a black heterosexual woman and a black homosexual man who had been friends for 10 years. Her questions and comments mirrored my own feelings toward some of my gay male friends. More and more, I find myself grappling with the fact that some of the most interesting and dateable men I have met are men who are unobtainable.

These men have shared with me their bittersweet stories of "coming out" to family and friends, whose reactions have varied from unconditional love to disgust and disownment. Some have been living President Clinton's policy of "don't ask, don't tell" for years because they fear for their jobs and personal safety.

The worst part, they say, is the lack of support they have experienced from the African-American community. They feel that they have been stereotyped, caricatured and ridiculed at a time when they most need strength and unity.

"When you add being homosexual into the equation of being a black man in America, it equals a whole set of problems," said one of my friends.

Mixed with my compassion for my gay male friends is frustration. According to the 1990 Census, the black male-to-female ratio in Baltimore is 100 to 108.3. Included in this number of African-American males 18 to 34 years of age are homosexuals, drug dealers, drug addicts and men who are incarcerated. It is a very discouraging statistic for single black women who already are barraged constantly by media coverage of the "black male shortage."

Some black women are blaming gay men for "stealing all of the good ones away." The scorn that was once reserved for interracial relationships is now being directed toward gay couples. A girlfriend and I recently were chatting on Charles Street while we awaited the arrival of our dinner companions. As two attractive young men approached us, we exchanged glances.

The two stopped a few feet from us, glanced around, quickly kissed, and parted. "I'm so sick of that," my friend said, as she sucked her teeth in disgust.

At times I, too, have shared her sentiment. It is not always easy to separate the reality from the conventional wisdom. I grew up hearing comments like "a good woman could change all that," and "he don't need to be like that" from older women. From them learned that homosexuality was a disease that could be "cured." I believed that all a gay man needed was the right woman to "save" him -- to, in essence, love him into heterosexuality.

African-American gay men angered me because they were effectively removing themselves from an already shrinking mating pool. Some of them flaunted their sexuality in rebellion, and a few acted more feminine than I did. I felt they had no right to do that. They had no right to be so different.

The truth is that my homosexual friends are not much different from my heterosexual friends. They worry about paying bills, finding life-long partners and about the depletion of the ozone layer. They are concerned with social issues, and some are actively involved in fighting the real threats to black men -- drug abuse, lack of education, unemployment and AIDS. They are, collectively and individually, exceptional people.

Their sexual orientation does not make up their identity. They are artists, professionals, caretakers and, most importantly, my friends. They are, without shame or apology, themselves and they have taught me that true strength of character comes only when one is true to oneself and one's ideals.

They have taught me that it is not what you are that counts, but who you are.

Lisa Respers writes from the Carroll County bureau of The Baltimore Sun.

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