Fighting For You: A Punch to the Face

I went on a date last night. I've never been the type to entertain the idea of seeing a scary movie in a movie theatre. Hearing ghosts and demons around me in surround sound is not something I am accustomed to. However, I put my big boy pants on and thought it might be fun. It was. The Conjuring 2. I'd be the first to tell you I'm a jumper. That moment when everything goes silent and you know that something is about to surprise you and pop off at any second, yeah, my hands are covering my eyes already. I'm peaking through my fingers because you not gon get me demon but also I'm not going to miss this movie that I paid fifteen dollars for. Can you believe that movies cost that much these days? Anyways, that's an entirely different story. Noticing the stress I'm going through, my date, like the sweetheart and the gentleman that he is so far, tells me I can hold his hand the whole time if I need to. I took him up on his offer. Suddenly I feel 18 again. I spent the majority of the movie cuddled up with him and covering myself with a sweater because I decided to wear one of my sleeveless numbers that day. They be making my arms look all strong and stuff. I digress again. As we scoped out the best possible seats upon entering the theatre I can't help but notice all the straight couples and older black women sitting with their friends that surrounded us. I find myself feeling the same feelings I felt when we went to IHOP the other day. The paranoid portion of myself is wondering if they knew. Can they tell that we are getting to know each other romantically? Is it safe to be myself, to smile, to flirt, to look at him the way I want to without someone saying something or provoking me to defend myself and step outside of my cool, calm and collected day to day demeanour? All kinds of stories are going through my head. I'm so ready to call out a bigot should they say something. But why do I care so much? Just have fun Shawn, I try to tell myself. Thoughts become things. I'm remembering all of my root chakra affirmations. I am safe, I am secure. No weapon formed against me shall prosper. All is well. All these thoughts and he still hasn't let my hand go. We enjoy the movie.


I woke up this morning to a text from my aunt whose more like an older sister to me. We grew up three years apart. Her text simply reads, "I was assaulted on my way home last night." Again all kinds of thoughts run through my head. Who? What? When? Where? WHY? I call and text but it's still too early. She's resting. When she finally does reach out to me she tells me a drunk black guy bumped into her in her Crown Heights neighborhood late last night and punched her in her face. This is after exclaiming that he isn't gay. Just like that. Another black man back into the system. This time definitely for a hate crime. My aunt is more gender non conforming in her appearance than I am. Her difference, her identity is more visible to the ignorant eye. She has always been more comfortable outwardly expressing the truth of who she is with style, individuality and grace. I believe that's difficult for some people to see. To be so free this way. She shouldn’t be so comfortable in her own skin. She did not deserve this. None of us do. And yet…

 Deeniqua Dodds

Deeniqua Dodds

Just the other day I read an article about Deeniquia Dodds, a 22 year old Trans-gender woman who was shot and killed in D.C. A few nights ago I read about London Jermaine aka Michael Smith, 22 as well, who hung himself from a tree in Piedmont Park of Atlanta, Georgia only weeks after seeing a message from a sibling which reads, "God doesn't born gay people. You make yourself gay." All of this taking place at a time where we are literally able to see black people being killed on camera by the police. I remember why I have all the thoughts that I do. I remember why instead of just focusing on my date I also feel like a target. I’m black and I’m gay. My aunt tells me that an older West Indian man with locs sat and watched the whole thing. He just shook his head and came to no defence. No, “I got you sister” or “hey, are you okay?”. I remember why the silence of my heterosexual black brothers and sisters gives me chills when things like this take place. As much as I want to fight for you, as much as I want to represent possibility for all of us, as much as I want to be in the room to enact actual changes and policy that liberate us as a people and that give us back the power that is our birthright, when we are home and I am free will you just remind me how much you don't agree with who I am. You tell me that you love me in the same sentence but deep down I know I deserve more love than that. Will you punch me for my freedom to be myself if you get a few drinks in you? Will you watch me be harassed and shake your head too? Will you frown if we are genuinely having a great time and my date kisses me? How come when I see you I see myself. Why are you ashamed to see yourself in me?

 London Jermaine aka Michael Smith

London Jermaine aka Michael Smith

We have work to do in our community. Some may be upset by this. Some may say that I'm speaking on or airing our dirty laundry. Well I am. The Black Lives Matter movement was founded by three black lesbian sisters. They have been at the forefront of forcing the world to engage in conversation about the injustices that happen to our people at the hands of law enforcement. They are literally fighting for us all to be free. My aunt tells me that the young man who punched her passed right by a white man before getting to her. Didn't say a thing. When will we stop taking our pain out on each other? When will we realize that we are actually in this fight together? Yes, we are all a human race but to me that is beside the point. How can black people liberate, protect and fight for other black people? Am I alone in thinking that we need to be a self-sufficient race? Looking out for each other the same way that everybody else does. My goal is the advancement of black people across the diaspora. It's not about white allies. It's about us feeling safe to be ourselves in this world and in our own communities. It is about us healing from the ills that have been historically and systematically set up in this country for us to hate ourselves and one other. I am not interested in a surface kumbaya. A world where we hold hands and say “we are one” but the laws only protect white people. With my blood now boiling I feel as though I need to hit up shawty and go on another date or something. I will love and uplift my people, fight for you no matter how covertly or overtly you may hate me. I wonder if they’ll talk about Deeniquia Dodds, or Michael Smith or about the safety of people like my aunt in church this Sunday. Something definitely has got to give.

“Who Can I Run To?” Killing My Own Silence: Growing Up Black and Gay in America

Last summer I sat in the kitchen telling my 20 year old sister the plot behind the workshop of my one man show (no longer a one man show - writing is re-writing), "America, and The Adventures of Nat Turn-UP". I told her it dealt with the story of a young revolutionary stepping into his purpose and coming to terms with his sexuality. She asked me why I always write about the same thing. I told her I do not. That just because he's figuring out his sexuality and my plays may have dealt with that in the past, that doesn't mean that process looks the same for everybody or that enough of those narratives are even being told in the first place. Although her intention was to inquire and not to sting, it triggered a fire in me that I sometimes forget is in there until things become too uncomfortable. Suddenly from the inside it feels as if my body is shaking uncontrollably. I’m trying to keep my composure and not be too threatening because why should I be angry? My voice begins to somehow bellow up out and out of me to channel the fire I feel into something poignant before it swells and becomes too destructive to myself and others. I'm still mastering how to keep it from shaking me. It's like having to come out of the closet over and over again. Having to maintain and defend your own normalcy to a world who thinks your existence is one of the latest fads, accredited to the flippancy of youth or influenced by the secularism of our times. We have always existed.


In my studies, (scrolling through Facebook news posts) I came across an essay entitled, "Black Gay Shamanism of Ancient Egypt: The GayteKeepers and The Golden Beetle". The piece spoke about gay people as Godly. As representing the androgynous nature of God, embodying both the male and female spirit. The yin and yang that exists in all of us but that gender norms and patriarchy would rather us not speak about for fear of it being challenged and changed. Elsewhere in my studies I've read that among the indigenous people of this land, this country, the Native Americans, gays were looked at and respected as “two spirited people”. Special for their uniqueness and connection to the Divine. What happened?  How did we become an abomination? How did we go from having a spiritual purpose on this planet to being looked down upon and called purposeless because our physical love making doesn't allow for procreation? Does that make it meaningless then? Are we sinners as much as they say we are? And who is they?

 

I think the title of Michael Mumisa's article for “The Guardian” a few years ago speaks to this very clearly, "It is homophobia, not homosexuality, that is alien to traditional African culture". I would venture to say that although like in my life, Christianity has helped to instill many sound values and affirmations within me, you can not mistake the damage that it has done to us as well. Used as a vehicle for control during slavery, we no longer remember what we once believed in, have lost our connection to the earth, we don’t know the African countries that we’re native to, what our native tongues are and in many cases why it’s even important to know these things in the first place. Why it's important to remember the nameless faces we call our ancestors, many of whom lay scattered and forgotten at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean floor. I sometimes think to myself or out loud no wonder why so many of us have forgotten where our power is, why we take it out upon each other. We are taught that it exists outside of us from the very beginning. We are taught a story that dis-empowers us. How many of us know that the earliest remains found were those of a black woman? Why then do we believe her to be made from someone's rib? Are we being distracted from being able to really communicate with ancestors and the spirits that walk among us and around us, who help us, because Christianity has taught us to fear and condemn anything that exists outside the bible? Why am I sweating while writing this? Does God want me to fear him? If we all are birthed through women and she was first why do we insist on calling God a him? So many questions but I digress.


Where are our stories? As a child, merely 16 years old, I would carefully close my door and watch the latest episode of "Noah's Arc" on LogoTV, Praying that my mother wouldn't catch me. I was yearning to attract my very own Wade. Are you kidding me? There are other masculine presenting men out there who would be willing to love me out in the open the way that I deserve to be loved? Well, eventually at least. Wade had his coming out process as well but still, just that example of love, of chemistry, of attraction that can exist between two black men of varying gender expressions that we saw in Wade and Noah threw my whole little Christian conditioned mind for a loop. I didn't know that that was possible. Even today at almost 26, I ponder its possibility. As an actor, I'm inundated with story lines that let alone focus on white people, but even with the ones that do represent my people I still fail to see myself because the characters often don't love the way I do. Where have we ever seen a nuanced, high quality, heartfelt, truthful, sexy and thoughtful representation of what it's like to be a 26 year old gay black man in America? To be a fully realized and spiritual being, not merely a caricature or a stereotype. A love story. On syndicated T.V.! This is why I'm a creator. It's more than just the industry, it's more than just good fun and celebrity. It's documenting my own life. The lives of those I love and the lives of those who I feel kin to. The lives of those I've never had the pleasure to meet in this physical realm with names I may never know. I appreciate narratives like "Noah's Arc" and "Pariah" by Dee Rees. I'm forever grateful for "Just Above My Head" by James Baldwin. Thank you leaders for lighting the torch. Passing the baton. I feel something coming. So long as I have pen and paper and a voice to speak my fire through, our stories, past, present and future will be seen and listened to. I love you and you taught me how to love myself. We will not go forgotten or unwritten.

Letter To A Colleague: Response to the Impact Diversity Initiatives Have Had on White Actors

Colleague: “It’s kind of hard for my type right now (Broadway has finally opened up the diversity, which I think is about time) but that has made things a little slower for me…”

This has been ruminating in my mind since I read it early this morning. I know you don't mean any harm by it so I think it's just something you should consider/think about if you please and if we can honestly continue to be friends. Plus I'm trying to practice being transparent as much as possible, especially with folks that I care about such as my A.R.T. family.

I think it's really problematic when people who are not of color keep bringing up the new diversity that is taking place on Broadway or anywhere else, praising it, while simultaneously implying that in some ways it's holding them back. It may not be what you intended, in fact, I trust that it isn't but in a way it makes it seem as if although progress is good it also comes with a price for you, sacrificing the (no offense) white privilege that you may be used to.  It’s as if to say that if Broadway was not making an effort to be diverse right now, you would be a shoe in for a plethora of roles. It also implies that somehow the acknowledgment of the voices of people of color puts you at a disadvantage. Now you must actually really challenge yourself and give your all to it because people of color are now being looked at to shine and show their gifts and faces too. The world is no longer your oyster.

This business is hard, hands down, so many people want to do it and so many people are gifted, very few get the "big" opportunities that they deserve. I do believe that nothing is coincidental. I hope that in this down time or slow time, even within grad school, you've been able to and are continuing to learn a lot more about yourself, honing in on who you are and what sets you apart from the rest, what is uniquely you from a soul perspective, coupled with your background and experiences. What can you and only you contribute to this industry? I feel like that will be what your calling card is. That will allow your light to shine in any room. I hope that this time has even expanded the possibilities that you see for yourself.

As a black person from the time you’re a kid you’re being told you have to work twice as hard as anybody else to even have a chance at your dreams coming true. As a black gay man, I hardly see my stories being told anywhere on or off Broadway to this day. I don’t say any of this to be like “oh, woe is me”. It’s all made me a lot of a bit stronger and a lot of a bit clearer about what my dreams are and why I want to fulfill them. I have to see the possibility way before anyone else is likely to. I wish the same for you. And I hope that you understand my concerns a little deeper now. I am not the reason why you are not being called in. The limitations in your own mind are.

Best,
Shawn Nabors