Since the beginning of time, we have lived in a world where gender roles take precedence over what men and women may want to be. The minute we are born, we are checked to see what gender we are, which determines a lot of things for us — our name, what we wear, how we are treated and how we are raised. These are all expectations that we don’t have any say over, but the minute someone chooses to identify differently, all hell breaks loose.
I interviewed Dontay Graham, a senior studying Integrated Language Arts, whose bright and open demeanor radiates the moment he enters a room. Not only is he extremely involved, holding executive positions in The Scene Magazine, Faces Modeling and SHADES, but he is also extremely well traveled. I interviewed him last year for my radio show about the Shades Ball, an event that the organization, SHADES, puts on every year, but I knew that his story went much deeper than the fives minutes we spoke.
Graham grew up in a military family, living everywhere from Virginia to Italy to Guam. When he came out to his family, he explained to me that his parents were extremely taken aback at first. However, now they have a relationship where they are supportive, and even discuss news that pertains to the LGBTQ community, such as gender constricting uniforms. When I asked him about any other outside support he mentioned his friends.
“I feel like I was never really in the closet with my friends,” Graham says. In fact, it wasn’t until he came to Ohio University that he noticed the level of homophobia and racism that the Midwest still possesses.
Geographical Location: OU vs. the World
So first off, I think it’s always important for us to remember that we live in Ohio. Not that Ohio is bad, but it’s Ohio, and there is so much out there as far as identities and different lifestyles go. I think because we live in such a small city, and most of us don’t live too far from our school, we haven’t been exposed to other countries or regions or identities.
“In Asian culture, there’s this hybrid formation where roles can be interchangeable,” Graham says. “There has even been multiple European royal families in history where members have been and identified as bisexual.”
As millennials, we may be hooked to our phones and maybe even slightly lazy, but we are also outspoken and passionate about who we are, so it’s our responsibility to honor any person’s way of embracing their inner self. The media’s perception of how gay or trans people are may represent some experiences, but not all of them.
There are people who are targets and may live all of their life hiding their sexuality. In black culture, we place more of our beliefs and ideals on Christianity than we think. I identify as a Christian, a spiritual person actually, however it has always been my perception that religion is and always will be interpreted differently depending on the person and their experiences. It’s important to catch that part — experiences, because at the end of the day, do we truly know what someone’s gone through if we haven’t even tried to see it from their perspective?
“I still feel like there are idiots who don’t think homosexuality, bisexuality and other identities are valid,” Graham says. “They just may not have a platform to express it.”
The strong sense of community is what many people in the LGBTQ community have had to create themselves, but in my opinion, it shouldn’t be a group of people who feel marginalized, it should instead be a group of people who are constantly empowered by others.
“I feel like if you bring up certain issues in the church there is definitely pushback and I definitely feel like I have to sometimes tone it down or be silent,” Graham says.
Intersectionality: Being Black & Gay
Dontay and I spent most of the interview discussing the many double standards and trials each identity faces. Being a black man already places him as an immediate threat because of his skin color, so that’s just one of the challenges he experiences. His identity as a gay man, is one of a completely different experience. I just can’t help but wonder why a man wanting to be with another man somehow makes him less of a person, and not able to identify at all with a heterosexual man.
We are all facing the same challenges.
“Black Masculinity is much different than white masculinity,” Graham explains. “White masculinity is much more fluid and open to interpretation.”
Over the course of the year, I have discussed natural hair, fashion for men, body image, colorism, mental health, and interracial relationships — all elements of black culture that we are often times patronized for. This is equally as important.
“I feel like people always want for something to be in a category for them to understand, not for something to simply exist.”