by Daniel Harder
(Daniel’s story was collected for IFD’s Black Community Spotlight. Learn more)
From the time I was 4 or 5 years old, I knew that I was gay. I can even remember my first crush at that age. I don’t know if I had a true understanding of what being “gay” meant, but I knew that I had an attraction to the same sex. Yet, I was not comfortable and accepting of myself. I wanted to be like other young men I saw: macho, proud, strong, and attracted to women. Especially as a little black boy, these are some of the ideas that many people made me believe defined being a man.
I was taunted a lot throughout my early academic years in school. My voice was softer than other boys. I didn’t necessarily want to engage in the same activities that other boys did. Although, I did play football and basketball with my male friends and was quite good at it. However, five minutes later you could find me jumping double dutch and braiding hair with my female friends, and in complete heaven. I knew I was different, but the teasing and harassing that “friends” put me through, made me feel like I couldn’t be myself.
Now don’t get me wrong, growing up was a wonderful time for me. I had two parents and two step-parents who were extremely loving and supportive of me. I mean, our family could rival that of the Cosby’s, we’re so close. Yet, for some reason, I didn’t think that my family would be accepting of who I was; the true me. My family and I would have many discussions about loving me and accepting me for who I was, but I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin. I would hide my feelings; lie about them. Keeping them a secret. Why? I don’t know. Unlike many other families (especially in the black community), I wasn’t being shunned. Not once was I told I would be kicked out of my family’s house, or better yet, condemned to eternal damnation. Yet, I just couldn’t find the strength inside me to be as open and honest about who I was. First with myself, and then with others.
As time went on, I continued to hide my feelings. I “dated” girls to save face. Actually, the only time I kissed a girl was in a game of Truth or Dare. HA! By the time high school arrived, my focus shifted. I had found my true calling which was dance and enrolled in a performing arts program where I was surrounded by others who were different: lovers of the arts, other gay men and women. Everyone had a story, but loved one another exactly the way they were. I didn’t realize it at the time, but dance would become my medium to share with the world who I truly was.
Senior year rolled around, and something happened to me. I met someone. Not a girl, but a boy. We became completely enamored with one another and started dating. Secretly. Somehow, all of those feelings that I grew up with came flooding back to me. The teasing and taunting I had grown up with made me feel like I had to keep this man that I was in a relationship with hidden. I prayed a lot. Asking God to help me find the strength to accept who I was, but also to find the courage to be able to share who that person is with the world. I don’t remember exactly when it hit me, but with those prayers came understanding, acceptance, peace, and forgiveness. I eventually sat down with my family and closest friends, and shared the good news with them. I WAS GAY HONEY and PROUD! Tears were shed. Not because I was gay, but because I had finally come to a place where I could feel free.
As time has gone on, I’ve learned more and more about myself as a black gay man. It is a constant work in progress, but I’ve discovered I can be macho, proud, strong, and gay! I’ve learned not to define myself as how others see me, but only by how I see myself. As a performer, our goal is to always be as open and honest with our audience every night that we hit that stage. I don’t think that I would be able to do that night after night had I not found acceptance and love for myself first!
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