A Love Letter to My Gay Best Friend

Now that I have captured your attention with the title of this blog, I would like to address this topic with love, respect and substance. It is in fact PRIDE month and before I dive into my personal narrative I’d like to start with saying that I am humbled and grateful to have the opportunity to write this story. The friendships, acquaintances and brief connections I have made with identifying members of the LGBTQ community has altered my life for the better and I thank each and every one of you for sharing a piece of your dynamically beautiful souls with me.

I have an affinity towards research and there has been no greater tool for my life research than twitter. This social media platform has allowed me to access personal narratives and firsthand accounts of marginalized voices that I would otherwise never encounter. In my early days as a baby feminist, I devoured the stories I’d read from Tumblr and the threads on Twitter whose authors ranged from black trans sex workers to gay black male academics. I was obsessed with being “the perfect ally” who used the right pronouns, and respected autonomy terms. However, I soon learned that sometimes your education on a subject does not reconcile with real-life interactions.

I met Brent while working as a dental receptionist at a job, I would later explosively be fired from but that is another story. The openly flamboyant dental assistant immediately intrigued me during staff meetings not only for his colorful banter but also for his extremely thorough work ethic. Brent practically ran the dental office. He was well versed in all aspects of the dental management software, lab procedures, and surgical techniques. I was sure that if he had the right support system he would very well be one of the best dentists in the country. A thought I would later express to him during our first friendship outing.

The friendship between Brent in myself blossomed quickly; we were both ambitious with big personalities and a love for being the center of attention on the dance floor. Soon, I found myself commuting an hour each day just to hang out with Brent and his revolving group of friends. Brent always celebrated his sexual identity since the day I met him and I was awed by the very new experiences of gay clubs, and lingo. I felt special; I had a new gay best friend. Yet like any honeymoon phase, the excitement of our newfound friendship fizzled and the real work of sustaining our bond began.

I was fired from that job and I wasn’t talking to Harrison, my credit score was dismal and I was finding comfort in vodka cranberries and in the arms of random POF dates. I was as the kid’s say “struggle busing” and with the foundation of my life in shreds who could I not be?

I had no energy to give and although I truly loved my friend, Brent required a lot. My friendship with Brent was no longer an accessory, or talking point it was an actual relationship that required effort to be sustained.

I was so happy to fight for the principal of Brent and others like him. I became known as a “gay rights activist” as my mother so lovingly referred to me as. I was easily riled when talks of not respecting “lifestyles” came up. I walked out on church sermons when the pastor condemned the country for its “evil bathroom” policies. I felt I was doing the work by standing up to other privileged members of my sect. I was the best “ally” I knew.

Yet there was a disconnect between my ideologies and my personal actions. I was fighting with everyone else in the name of Brent yet I had stopped actually fighting for my friendship with Brent.

The tides turned and I met a wonderful man who provided me with a new sense of life. I was traveling the country, being wined, and dined while my friend was losing his foundation. Brent has always had a huge heart. His home was often a safe haven for other members of the community who hadn’t been blessed with opportunity or support. Unfortunately, his heart put him in a desperate position of which he expressed to our friend group one morning over a brunch gathering.

Having been so caught up in my new kept life, instead of responding with compassion I lashed out at my friend. Claiming that he put himself in that place with his unwillingness to change. When he retaliated out of hurt, I doubled down on my efforts and cut him off in the name of my “peace.” I was no better than the bible thumpers I debated. I was no ally. I was a middle class born and raised a black girl with the privilege to have access to wealth through aesthetics and a vast vocabulary. I played the part of highly educated activist well but my actions within my personal relationship made me a fraud.

With the aid of a mutual friend, Brent and I were able to make amends but things were not as fluid as they were before. We felt more like polite acquaintances than the friends who would dance all night together and dream about the future while smoking our immediate worries away.

I had never apologized, truly.

I mustered up the courage the lay everything on the line at another group brunch. Time had passed so quickly and before I knew it, I was settled into that brand new relationship and missed my dear friend terribly.

I was wrong, of which I told him. No one deserved to ever be kicked when they’re down and that’s exactly what I did to my friend. Tears flowed as the realization of my actions dawned on me. I was the oppressor in this scenario. The role I typically reserved for white men of privilege was the very one I had to accept.

I was humiliated but at that point, my feelings did not matter.

We both cried, we all cried.

I left that brunch feeling lighter and wiser. I was so busy fighting others for the right for Brent to exist freely as a gay black man that I forgot to fight for Brent as my friend. Who was more than just a gay black man. Yes, Brent’s gayness does make up a lot of who he is but it does not equate to all of him. He is a person of multitudes like anyone else.

He is not an accessory to be worn occasionally. He is not a cause to be taken up sporadically. He is a hard worker. He is a believer. He is compassionate. He is a dancer.

Brent is gay and so much more, and I have the privilege of learning to love every aspect of him.

This love letter is to my best friend and so many others like him with huge hearts, big dreams, and dynamically beautiful souls. Thank you for challenging me to be a better person, thank you for being you.

Happy Birthday Brent

Happy Pride Everyone

 

-Shampaigne Graves, CPC Creator of The Healthy Shampy Blog (2)

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A Heavenly Brunch

A blue and red cardinal zip by my bathroom window as I drop my toothbrush in shock. A new sighting after a few weeks of not being visited. I chuckle as I wash my face and think, “For two guys who hated each other in life, they sure do spend a lot of time with each other in death.”

Life comes with unexpected curveballs. Time doesn’t wait until you’re well-adjusted to bring tragedy to your doorstep. And when both of your college sweethearts die in the same year, you develop interesting coping techniques to manage the new normal. Including believing that the souls of said former lovers being reincarnated through two uniquely colored birds.

When Harrison died, my best friend told me I’d see red birds, feathers, and pennies as signs from him on the other side. I never believed in angels, ghosts, or spirits. As a child, I was drawn to talk shows that hosted a weekly psychic or medium. I hung on to every word of the hosted mystic as they relayed the words of the guest’s dead loved one.

“How could someone be so desperate for something that they ignored all logic?”

I thought as I rolled my eyes at the tearful guest. I was sure that all the events were staged. There was no way that anyone would believe that a living person could connect with the dead, grieving or not.

I found myself that desperate after I got the news that Ben died. My quarter life crisis was off to a dashing start. Most girls I know married the guy they spent more than two years with in college. While I was dealing with funerals and wakes; my peers were looking forward to wedding bells and the pitter patter of tiny feet.

Which is cool. I had already decided long ago that I wasn’t going to be anyone’s mama. I also made up my mind that I was going to buy my own damn diamond and keep my damn own name. I was, however, envious of the clear lack of tragedy in the lives of others.

I had wanted all those life events before with both Harrison and Ben. For different reasons and in different spaces of my life of course.

Harrison is my foundation. Our love story was my first and dearest. We shared my first two years of college together.

My relationship with Ben was a lesson. A lesson about the negative consequences of low self-worth and hero complexes. I truly should have stayed friends with Ben. Our worlds collided after a drunken night of divulging our shared ills of being one of the tokens in our predominately white fraternity and sorority.

Each of these men were fundamentally different people. Each of these men taught me integral life lessons.

Each of these men hated one another.

A fact that had me constantly exchanging the stroking of one ego for another. I often laugh thinking about the hoops I jumped through to assure each man of their place in my life. Much to Ben’s dismay he often lost battles and ultimately lost the war to Harrison.

Ben had an unfair life. His perspective of women had been marred by abandonment, the cruel words of high school girls and college peers alike. I had taken it upon myself to “fix” him; which turned out about as great as you can guess it could’ve.

Time had moved on.

I lost touch with Ben after an explosive end to our often tumultuous relationship. I had gained the confidence to stop allowing myself to be a verbal punching bag.

Harrison had a new love, a Ben of his own. And this time I found myself losing both the battles and the war. I was devastated, yet I deserved it. Karma had made me eat crow many times in life before. After fighting tirelessly, I choose to bow out gracefully. I prayed and waited for time to be on my side again.

In the interim, I had decided to focus on myself. I had been in relationships for four years. College was over, and it was time to transition to a new beginning. Harrison and I were still best friends despite the ire of his new lady. I had blocked Ben after a failed attempt to get me to “catch up” with him at his hotel room while in Dallas for business and I had restlessly settled into my post-graduate life.

I was working at my dental job for about a year when I’d gotten the text from Harrison stating that Ben had tried to contact him while in DC for business. We laughed on the phone for hours imaging the scenario of the two sitting down for a cordial meeting with each other.

” You guys should totally have brunch and talk about how much you love me!” I stated excitedly as I giggled awaiting his witty response. I was ecstatic to hear from him. Calls and texts came less frequent during those days; so I savored every conversation I had with him.

I craved laughter and no one makes me laugh as much as Harrison does. I can still feel the rush of excitement I’d get when I saw that name flash across my iPhone screen. My cheeks would pang with soreness for hours after our conversations, a never-ending smile would grace my face as I recalled particularly funny bits of dialogue.

I recall that same conversation as I stare at the red and blue bird splashing together in the newly installed fountain of my current boyfriend’s backyard. Time has brought more change. The second anniversary of Harrison’s death has come and gone. The first anniversary of Ben’s is steadily approaching.

“Good morning Harry, Good morning Benny

I greet the cardinals as I load my coffee pod into my Keurig. I smile as I sip on my caffeinated beverage and ponder when I became the illogical person who believed in signs. I shake my head and place a kiss on my boyfriend’s forehead on the way up to the office.

I have a long list of tasks to complete for the businesses.

My new normal makes me lean on my imagination often. When I dreamed up this life for myself, I had no idea that it wouldn’t include either of these men. My identity had been crafted by my relation to both for so long.

I am navigating what life means when you lose two people that mean that much. I am coping in ways that may seem strange to outside perspectives. I am finding confidence in this journey. I am finding hope in this journey.

I am finding logic in the illogical, with two unlikely guides.

That calls for a heavenly brunch indeed.

For Harry

Happy Birthday my beautiful babe.

 

-Shampaigne Graves, CPC Creator of The Healthy Shampy Blog (2)