Almost all of us can remember what our lives were like when we came out. We remember the uncertainty, the anxiousness, and the fear just as we remember the relief, the confidence and whatever that feeling we get when we exhale is. We remember those who accepted and rejected us, and most importantly, we remember those who did their best to guide us as we began our journey into the uncertain voids of sex, sexuality and sexual orientation. According to Whitney Houston’s The Greatest Love of All, the children are the future, or at least we should believe they are. Although many of us may not have been children when we came out, we were once the future and needed someone to guide us to give us a sense of pride to make it easier. That is precisely why we’re spending this month’s Front Page on reminding you of the importance of reaching back to pull the next generation of same gender loving men forward through mentorship and how it can be done.
It's hard to deny the impact that HIV has had on SGL communities of color. Many of us might not remember the panic because we were too young to understand what was going on at the time, but by now we’re well aware of the blow HIV dealt to the SGL community of color. The virus took more than our uncles, brothers, sons, and friends, it took our mentors. We spend a lot of our time studying our analytics, and they indicate that the bulk of our readers are millennials and were born sometime between January, 1st, 1981 and December 31st, 1996. The first of those born within that time frame would have turned 18 in 1999, and by that time, any potential SGL mentor they might have had would have been a child of the seventies, a part of the SGL population that saw the arrival the unknown and deadly virus.
The result was that we lost an entire generation of SGL men of color who could have potentially served as our guides. They were the ones who would have told us who and what to avoid, the ones who would have taken us in during any event that our parents put us out, and the ones who could’ve aided us in mastering the art of fleeting-- and that’s just real talk. By 1989 there were 100,00 confirmed AIDS cases in America, which sounds like a big number until you consider those who weren’t included because they didn’t know their status. What’s worse is that we’re looking at a population (SGL) within a population (African American) within a population (men), which statistically intensifies the impact the virus had. Long story, short, we took a hit and we’re still working to recover.
None of this is to suggest that the community hasn’t created alternatives, as the ballroom scene is, as it has always been, present in its commitment to sheltering SGL youth of color. We were recently reminded of this with the release of Teyana Taylor’s Work This Pu$$y video (which is amazing) as it centered around a character who is part of a house. Gay houses did their part to fill the voids left by the absence of SGL mentors by creating a community of acceptance. They are the families their members never had and they provide them with guidance that they’d otherwise be forced to go without. However supportive and present houses are, they’ve not always been everyone’s scene, and for those that choose not to be involved in the house culture are left to clumsily figure things out through trial and error. The problem with trial and error is that the results can literally mean certain death. This is why parents teach their children how to cross streets as opposed to allowing them to figure it out on their own.
How many of us felt comfortable enough to ask our parents about anal sex, or to help us decide whether we wanted to be the top, the bottom, or versatile? Who among us consulted with our heterosexual friends and family members on ways to navigate the realm of gay dating? There are always a few outliers who’ll go above and beyond to say “me! me!”, but the rest of us know the challenges associated with these types of things. This is why we need SGL mentors. The SGL mentor plays an essential role in talking to his protege about sex and sexuality and helps him to understand his value. He encourages him to make wise decisions about his sexual health and stresses the importance of PrEP, and regular STI testing. He should educate his charge on productive ways to deal with the rejection he might experience and protect him from the dangers of substance misuse. The SGL mentor gives his mentee something to aspire to that doesn’t involve him using his body for personal gain and should serve as a constant reminder that he is more than his sexuality and works to ensure that his mentee never, EVER, forgets his divinity.
Mentorship provides us opportunities to advise our mentees of how do deal with endless small talk on Jack’d, that 35 is not old, about the pitfalls of falling in love with a straight man, and on how to adequately deal with men who purport to be DL. It gives us the chance to talk to him about his educational aspirations, his career path and on how to deal with his first big break up. There are some cautionary notes to all of this, the biggest one being that mentors should not ever fall for their mentee! There is a line between the mentor and mentee that must always be maintained. The mentee is not a project or a potential Beaux, he’s someone the mentor is guiding down the path of being a productive and respectable gentleman. While there’s no excuse for a mentor to fall for his mentee, it's plausible that the mentee might fall for his mentor, so be advised. In many instances, the mentee may be experiencing a type of attention from his mentor unlike any he’s ever received before and he may mistake it as a sign of interest. The best way to avoid this is for the mentor to set, and be firm with what the goals of the relationship will be.
Some of you were very forthcoming about your experiences in having or not having mentorship, which only served to highlight the importance of us stepping up. When asked about his experiences in having a mentor, one Beaux stated that his mentors “educated me on the lifestyle and shade. They also gave me the harsh truths about the lifestyle and tried their best to keep me grounded and out of trouble.” Another Beaux stated that his mentor taught him how to navigate the lifestyle, and on the importance of having an alias when entering certain situations. He also said that his mentor taught him the all too important lesson of anal douching- because let’s face it, none of us learned this lesson from our heterosexual parents.
However fortunate those who affirmatively responded were, there were those who didn’t have a mentor. “I personally had to figure [it] out myself.” said one Beaux, who disclosed that he had to make “a lot of mistakes along the way.” Another story came from a Beaux who stated that he didn’t have an SGL mentor to look up to until he contracted HIV at the tender age of 18. Yet another Beaux commented that he didn’t have any SGL role models or mentors when he came out and that he spent his early 20’s trying to “figure it out”. He further stated that “ [...] mentors were hidden because so many individuals know it all [...], don’t listen, or are too young and don’t look to the more mature as nothing but a benefactor.” He, along with many of the others who responded to our Facebook query attributed the lack of SGL mentors to the impact of HIV in the 1980s. “The 1980s also had many of the individuals that were great role models pass on to the Father. So a generation never had the opportunity to hear and learn from those that were in the trenches during the 80s.”
Some of the best lessons we learn are often those that are the hardest to digest, and if we’ve learned nothing else, its the importance of being present in the lives of the next generation. Such, it’s time that we started looking at the how. There are a number of organizations that focus on providing mentorship and brotherhood. It shouldn’t be surprising that most of these organizations are Greek. Gamma Mu Phi is celebrating 20 years of outstanding service within the SGL community and formed after its founders recognized the need to unite SGL men of color. Another option to consider is Kappa Psi Kappa Fraternity, Incorporated. This organization proudly focuses on “Challenging each brother to a greater good; better men-better lives.” Its attitude towards inclusivity is evident as it extends an open invitation to those who identify as SGL
Theta Chi Psi Fraternity, Incorporated was founded in 2009, and is based in Houston, Texas, and Beta Gamma Chi Fraternity, Incorporated, which is the asserts itself as being the nation’s sixth oldest queer affirming fraternity, seeks to “provide marginalized youth with a sense of community, mentorship and a safe haven of love and respect.” through the work of their members in Delaware, Florida, Georgia, and Maryland. The organization also has active members in New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. Lastly (but certainly not least), The Gentlemen's Foundation, an organization that we wholeheartedly support, is a great suggestion for anyone looking to get involved with mentoring. Whether you’re looking to step up as a mentor, or looking for one, TGF has you covered with their mPACT (Men Personifying, Affirming and Celebrating Truth) initiative. MPACT focuses on developing the leadership skills, social growth and education of their mentees. You can learn more about their efforts here.
Mentorship is lit. It gives us an opportunity to share our life lessons with others in an attempt to keep them from making the same missteps that we did. It affords us the opportunity to positively impact the lives of young men who may otherwise find themselves lost in this fast-paced lifestyle, and to offer them guidance that many of us only wish we’d had. It allows us to empower our youth as they strive to figure out who they are and while we won’t be able to protect them from the trials, we can circumvent a lot of the errors they might make in the stead of direction.