Following my birth, on June 3, 1993, Grandma took a moral obligation to adopt me with hopes of creating a cutting edge lane for the betterment of my future. She quit her job working at Signet Bank, and received her license to become a day care provider: all a part of her master plan to raise a young Black man in one of America’s deadliest cities. Grandma isn’t and never has been one of those holy or spiritual people; however, her heart is auriferous.
She put me in a private Catholic elementary school because she believed that private institutions were “better” than city schools. I never understood the whole religion thing while in school. Mass before class every Wednesday. It felt like a funeral. Annoying hymns and songs that I couldn’t comprehend. Every Mass service, I scratched my head and wondered why Catholics drank out of the same gold cup during communion. I wasn’t entitled to drink because I was not a part of the Catholic faith. It honestly was a blessing because I thought it was weird for all of those strangers to drink out of the same cup. I thought it was disgusting.
Every day after school, Grandma made sure that I came home and sat at the dining room table and completed all of my homework before I got involved in any other activities. At bedtime, she read me books, many that were written by Dr. Seuss. My favorite was Are You My Mother? which is a story about a mother abandoning her unhatched egg. While the mother was gone, the egg hatched, and the baby bird did not understand why his mother left him. He started searching for his mother and the bird lost its ability to fly. I read this book with Grandma for a great deal of days. Every time I read it, I felt like the abandoned bird in the book. Wondering why Mother left me. Searching for her existence and love. In the process, I began to lose my ability to fly, which plunged me into the arcane pit of the streets. I don’t think that Grandma knew the importance of reading, but she knew that reading to your child was the “right thing to do.” Despite all of this reading I did as a child, I didn’t fully understand the importance of reading until several years later, my freshman year at Virginia State University.
Grandma always taught me how I should treat women. “I don’t care what a woman does. You never put your hand on one. You get anotha female to whip her ass if you have to. But keep your damn hands to yourself,” she would always tell me. I remember in the fourth grade, a girl told the teacher that I hit her, when in all actuality, I didn’t; I blocked her from hitting me and she hurt herself. My teacher reported that incident to Grandma, and I got an ass whipping for seven days straight.
Another thing, Grandma always preached about how bad homosexuality was. “You know it’s a lot of faggots out there in the world now. If you ever feel like you wanna play with a dick you better play with your own.” Being gay seemed as if it was a disease and Grandma wasn’t the only person who felt this way. I never fully understood Grandma’s anger towards “faggots” because she had a friend who was a “faggot.” His name was Mr. Ron. He’d come around from time to time and drink canned Budweisers with Grandma and they would get pissy drunk while gossiping and having “girl talk.” I never said a word about it though. Even though I wanted to say, “Hey, Grandma! Why you tell me not to be a faggot when Mr. Ron is a faggot?” But I didn’t say anything because I know she probably would’ve kicked me in my damn mouth.
Aunt Sharice was the same way: confused about whether she hated “faggots” or not because she too had a friend, Mr. Charlie, who was one. Mr. Charlie and Mr. Ron both popped their chewing gum like uzis, shook their bodies like engines as they strutted like runway models, and talked with expansive lisps, their tongues hanging out of their mouths how winos hang outside of bars.
There was one specific church visit that made me question my aunt views on “faggots.”
During a sermon, the pastor was talking about “faggots” going to Hell because it was a sin for men to sleep with other men and for women to sleep with other women. Aunt Sharice was tossing her chin up and down, saying, “Yes pastor! You go pastor! I know that’s right pastor!” I sat beside her, confused. Her best friend was a “faggot.” I wanted to take my hand and smack her lips and say, “Aunt Sharice. You should be ashamed of yourself. Throwing shade at Mr. Charlie. He’s been a good “faggot” to you all this time and you go behind his back.” But I didn’t say that because she probably would’ve killed me right there in that church pew. Leaving blood on every nearby Bible and bystander.
As I got older, I learned that my aunt, along with many other churchy people, tend to hide their sins and false judgements behind smiles, offerings, and Sunday worship. I got older and realized that the same pastor who condemned “faggots” turned out to like men himself—young boys to be exact. When I became older, I also learned that my aunt wasn’t the holiest person either, due to the abundance of sins she was committing. As I got older I also realized that the term “faggot” was derogatory, and I stripped it off of my tongue.
I remember Oprah interviewing Dave Chapelle in 2006. Dave said, “The hardest thing to do is to be true to yourself, especially when everyone is watching.” I took heed to that quote, and decided that I would never be a fake in order to make someone else comfortable, even if those persons are “churchy,” or family. Mr. Ron or Mr. Charlie didn’t give a damn about anyone’s thoughts pertaining to their “lifestyle” because they were openly being who they wanted to be in a world that condemns people like them to Hell. Growing up, I’ve seen gay guys get stomped out and beaten with metal bats until their teeth scattered onto the ground. So a sin or not, Mr. Ron and Mr. Charlie were some brave guys when I look back.
I mention this because I want people to understand that they are not free until they fully accept themselves. If a person judges another due to their “lifestyle,” that speaks volumes on the judger’s character. Everyone is expeditious when it comes to judging someone else, but never check their own underwear for shit stains.
I don’t believe that a sexual orientation is an automatic Hell sentence, nor do I believe that a sexual preference determines what you can contribute to your people. Too many times, I hear people devalue others’ revolutionary, spiritual, and community services because of their sexuality or gender. If we all honored who we are, then we would have the fullest of freedom because collectively as a people we will be liberated.
Out of all the things Grandma taught me, the biggest lesson was to never become anyone’s crutch because they will use you for their own personal gain until your death bed. She didn’t verbally tell me this; however, I learned it through actions, and how she allowed herself to be mistreated, abused, physically and mentally, by her daughter: our mother. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard our mother call Grandma “a dirty bitch” and threatened to kill her. I can’t erase the permanent memories of my Christmas toys being stolen by her. Several days throughout my childhood she would harass me and Grandma in the middle of Monument Street while we were trying to go grocery shopping at Maury’s Steakhouse and Northeast Market. I can’t shake the nightmares of my peers and family members telling me, “Your mother is a trifling junkie bitch” whenever we got involved in petty arguments, which drove me to heartache, tears, and sometimes fistfights. These are not even a quarter of the troubles I faced growing up, but these troubles taught me not to ever let someone take advantage of you repeatedly because it will cause destruction on you and the people around you. Grandma is still reaping the obstruction from the results of being someone’s lifelong crutch. Since childhood, I’ve seen Grandma inhale trucks of cigarettes and gallons of alcohol. Despite her addictions, if she died today, I bet her autopsy would read “stress.”
By Kondwani Fidel