“You need to get your faggety ass out of the mirror!” “Give me that nigger dick!” These are a few of the dehumanizing insults Anthony Thompson has endured throughout his life. The constellation of indignities launched his direction floating permanently as vociferous reminders that his identity is worthless to society. Anthony, as a gay black man, feels “I have three strikes against me; being gay often feels like a crime and being black I’m often thought of as a thug or gangster.” In a patriarchal society, hypermasculinity is king and the slightest deviation from “acting like a man” causes disgust. And, as a Black American, our history has run juggernaut over the rights of its darker hued citizens.
Anthony came of age in Albany, New York, the capital of one the most progressive states in America. Yet, “I faced racism at every encounter, whether it was on the street or in the classroom where teachers who didn’t care if I did well, because I was just another dumb black boy.” For most Blacks, when institutions and society bombards them with messages of inferiority, home serves as a succor. Anthony had no such privilege. “My mother, I believe, was very bitter and angry at the world, often us children had to figure out what mood she was in and wonder if it was safe to be around her.” The mercurial matriarch was burdened by the strong black woman syndrome which according to Valerie Brown, JD, MS, ACC, features stifling authentic self-expression, authentic identity, and one's true self. Adopting these characteristics can become a 'suit of protective armor' to mitigate the damage from a hostile world that assaults African American women with degrading images and stereotypes. Anthony’s mother endured traumas from her life which detached her from her son, and his need for validation and affection provided the perilous underpinning for his future relationships. “I went from relationship to relationship with baggage, I was searching for love and compassion, the things my mother never gave to me, I think that need pushed people away which caused more loneliness”. Anthony’s various relationships were withered and emaciated from the lack of nurturing compassion, a fundamental element that allows one to see their lover as they are and be willing to love them as they are and perhaps love them more for their flaws.
Anthony’s collective family was a hungry ghost feeding on his self-esteem. Some members of his family at different points of his life vilified his nascent identity. “I’ll never forget it, when I was fourteen, I had a new outfit on and went downstairs because we had a large mirror. And you know, I started checking myself out, spinning around, I felt beautiful and then my mother saw me and said, ‘you need to get your faggety ass out of the mirror!” A part of my spirit died. I felt like a piece of plastic melting in a hot room.” Finding your true self is usually a rapturous moment for people. In the mirror, Anthony found the man he was to become, one with confidence and joy in his identity. From reality to illusion, his identity became a totem for condemnation, an opportunity to deny an intrinsic part of his nature. Anthony didn’t have the gift of unconditional love, as Ram Dass says, "unconditional love really exists in each of us. It is part of our deep inner being. It is not so much an active emotion as a state of being. It's not 'I love you' for this or that reason, not 'I love you if you love me.' It's love for no reason, love without an object.”
“I never felt true love from my family, they constantly called me names and teased me, it was their way of saying ‘you’re nothing’, a waste of a man.” Effeminate boys and men across America face a barrage of naked hostility against their identities; they’re laid bare on the altar of masculinity and sacrificed for an ignoble ideal, “being a man”.
As Anthony became a man, he became a reluctant connoisseur of trauma. “When I was in a psychology class, I learned cortisol released during stress can have a negative effect on the body and two or three traumatic experiences can be harmful. Shit! I read that and laughed, because when I was a teen I had well over 10 traumas.” The triumvirate of stressors: Black, Gay, Man, pummeled and degraded Anthony’s body and soul. “I’ve been through so much, that it’s destroyed my ability to feel joy and love.” Seeking a respite from trauma, “I often fantasize about escaping myself, being someone else, and daydreaming of being accepted.” An expression of sexuality is a basic human right, a bounty redounding with possibilities of freeing oneself from convention. When fantasy didn’t assuage the trauma, Anthony began prescribing himself another alternative. “In my twenty’s, I became addicted to crack cocaine, it was another way to escape my reality. Drugs gave me numbness. It was difficult to deal with the daily pain of being a black gay man in America.”
Anthony’s life has been a sweatshop of obsession manufacturing cheap insults and degradation, an existence, where his search for reality has brought a bitter resignation that love may elude him. Today, Anthony Thompson is a man who recognizes himself in the mirror and has made peace with who he is and appreciates his beautiful and flawed journey.
Raconte-Moi une Historie (an M83 song means: Tell me a story) is a collaboration between myself and Gabriela Hernandez-Santiago, a New York based photographer, writer, and public health advocate. In this series, we’ll endeavor to tell the stories of people whose lives embodies the adventure of existence and the appreciation that being human is an enduring narrative.