Back in the summer of 1980 in the borough of Lambeth in London the gutters were full of old grey rain when a 32-year-old Jamaican-born woman traveled to Southwark Town Hall to register the birth of her third child. The one she hoped would be her girl child that turned out to be another boy. Back when the only options were African and Afro-Caribbean, that woman insisted her newborn, like the two before him was British. So she took her biro, drew a box and put her sleeping child in it. Redefined the world they now live in. He was, and still is, 'Black British'.
"I used to cross out everyt'ing and write BLACK BRITISH in big letters on them forms! If you want them to know who you is... tell them."
I was sat at the head of the family dining table on Wednesday 29 May 2013 - a yellow day and my birthday - agonizing over filling out yet another equal opportunities monitoring form for a job I needed but had little interest in when that same woman, now 64 years old, her dreadlocked hair scribbled light grey and plaited like oriental bittersweet vines, took the biro from where it rested between my skinny black fingers and, once again, endeavored to put her third born in a box.
"When they put you on my chest, you opened your eyes and looked straight at me and I always tell people: he still looks me in the eye when he talks!"
She laid the pen on the table beside my right hand and watched as I hung my head. The silence that had been a repository of taboos had long gone with the revelation of me being gay but I still couldn't bring myself to look at her. Mum had accepted me but, even after two years, I still had not accepted myself.
"If you live your life that way then you have to say. You can't live one way in person and another way on paper".
A week prior to my birthday an immediate family member, so repulsed by my lifestyle, threatened me with a ten-inch green handled screwdriver and banned his only child from communicating with me, insinuating that I would abuse him and was a present hazard to his and any other child and suggested that my condition was catching before closing with the obligatory "dirty fucking queer!"
All of this is what now led me to vacillate over ticking the gay box when asked my sexual orientation in an application to facilitate child learning (which I have done for 17 years). What if, I thought, there are others like him?! Perhaps it is safer to say I am someone else or safer to leave it blank! "Safer for who?" asked mum. "You just started being yourself; now you're ready to be someone else again! Stop running."
I ticked the box.
The man who lives the openly gay life has long polarized Black Britain, where it is still widely viewed as a threat to the internalised Victorian image of the black masculine brute, an anomaly and a sin, a crime against the will of God that warrants one of two punishments - disownment or attack. Though ticking the box is optional, for those of us who have been emptied of significance, leaving the box empty is not a viable option.
In a country where I have been educated, work, pay taxes and abide by the law, I tick my box. In a community where people would rather sermonize me than understand me, I tick my box. I tick my box because when my black British family made me homeless, I was at home in that box. A man so sickened by my orientation that he wanted me dead, beat me halfway to death on 26 August 2011. The police called it a hate crime and the matter was brought before the crown court. My father avoided doing any time. The trifling 120 hours of community service given to him as a sentence is why I tick my box
When you have lived with the constant fear of being attacked and then you are attacked and then you survive the attack, your advocates will tell you that you have overcome. They tell you that you may not believe so immediately but fear is the only casualty. Fear is the martyr and you are the miracle but even the miraculous grieve the loss of the fear that, like their fathers, they thought would always keep them safe. You cannot live in safety if you live in fear. Take the risk and tick the box. It may make you dead to many but it also means you are free to live the life you love and deserve. What my father calls my coffin; I call my cause. I am a young black British gay man. I tick all of my boxes because all of me deserves to be counted.
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