Coming Out in the Projects

Coming Out in the Projects

Who’s going to kill me first? A cop who fears the color brown or someone brown who discovers the bright colors of my rainbow?

Imagine thinking like that at 10 years old. At 13, I watched my friend get jumped by a group of men — that’s right, adult men — because they suspected that he was gay. And because queerness is synonymous with perversion to most cis-heterosexual people, they accused him of sexually assaulting all the little boys he played with. I watched as the rumors scattered like feathers out of a ripped pillow. I watched as people who defend Bill Cosby today (despite 60 women coming forward) label my friend a rapist based on accusations with no victim coming forward. Those people were eager to connect queerness with perversion, just as people still try to associate pedophilia with the LGBTQ community.

That’s when I learned how much my world hated me.

My mother told me about her deceased gay friend, how someone chopped him up and scattered his body parts around the Bronx. Though she always spoke about him with profound sorrow, a warning always clung on to every word of that story. My mother knew that I was queer (even though I didn’t tell her at that time). I think that’s why she told me.

Secrets are like two-sided coins. One side contains the power to strengthen and destroy bonds between friends. The other side can be the rust on a razor that threatens the throat.

When I was 10, I discovered a secret about myself. My distrust for others embittered the flavor of that secret. My shame made it taste like hellfire that scorched every corner of my mouth, leaving the most disgusting and painful flavor on my tongue. Accepting the truth of my secret would mean allowing the searing bitterness down my throat, subjecting the rest of my body to the pain of being an abomination.

Instead, I swallowed gelid lies about myself. Back then, I figured that was better than allowing the truth of what I am to continue burning me, to continue reminding me that I am both my earthly and heavenly fathers’ biggest regret, my mother’s nightmare, and my neighborhood’s greatest insult.

Accepting my secret would have been an unnecessary punishment.

I like boys. That’s my secret, my most painful truth. Discovering that secret was like discovering that I am a magical being. I am a magical being. Everyone should know about the magic that comes with being queer. But the world was — and probably still is — ignorant to that type of magic. Ignorance allows history to repeat itself, and I’m not yet ready to become a part of history.

As a child, I couldn’t find my utopia—not even in my dreams. How could one imagine a perfect world when they feel like they don’t deserve to live in their less-than-ideal reality? How can I not deserve more than a place where large puddles of piss soak the elevators, where the homeless shit in the staircase and smear their excretion on the rusty lead banisters, where our secrets inevitably transform into lies that devour us like a murder of ravenous parasites?

The beginning of my autobiography will begin with who I thought I was as a kid. I thought I was nothing but a dumb, black faggot boy from the projects, where there’s always a witch hunt  —  where black people, like me, are hunted by our neighborhood cops. Where queer people, like me, are hunted by our neighbors.

Maybe she wasn’t homophobic. Maybe she was afraid of what could happen to me. Maybe we shared a secret without knowing it.

I don’t have a romantic coming out story. I have a weird and confusing one that reminds me of the pain I felt when I was a kid. I have a reminder that coming out is difficult when your world despises your identity.

Image via Getty


Arkee E.

Arkee E. is a writer based in the Bronx.

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