This post is a special feature on loldarian.com by activist/hip-hop artist Tim'm West. It originally appeared on AOL Black Voices on August 29th.
Hi Family! Introducing My 'Partner'
by Tim'm West
I am one of the lucky ones: lucky, brave or both. This July, I celebrated my 36th birthday in the company of family, friends, and my partner Dave. The term "partner" doesn't rest well in the ears of some black families, but I am lucky. My family loves me for who I am, no matter what.
A few years ago my small, tight-knit family, consisting of two sisters and four brothers, as well as extended family, started a reunion for the generations to come. This year, being only the second time we've met, I created an online listserve, "The Blessed Wests", to shorten the distance of time and space when we are not together.
This year, I took the initiative to set the tone for the "The Blessed Wests". A gay man, I realize that getting my family to honor my partnership with Dave, a man I have known since 2004, but have only been partnered with since early 2008, might take some time. At 31, Dave is pretty new to the whole "coming out" process. Encouraged by the security of my love, and my desire to no longer love "in hiding", I'm grateful that he trusts my guidance as we aspire to build a family: a commitment ceremony, a home, and adoption are aspirations we both share.
My family is a Christian family full of preacher-men and good church women. I respect their beliefs as they respect my decision to live my life as an out gay man.
I remain hopeful that my "family" will continue to honor the vast ways in which black families are constructed: second marriages, adopted children, long-standing friendships, and yes same-sex partnerships. After graduating at the top of my class with scholarships to some of our nation's premier colleges, and having been a very popular student leader and athlete, coming out to my mother during my freshman year of college filled in some of the missing pieces. The burden of silence I carried as a teen, the depression, the fasting and praying for "change," and the suicide attempts for "change" proved masochistic at best.
On Sunday we made the drive from Shreveport to the outskirts of Taylor, Arkansas; a small township without a traffic light between paper mills, oil wells, and chicken plants. It is believed that Bible belt Christians, in places where the fields grow high and the roads "go dirt", are the most homophobic. I have a different experience. We arrived to the Church and received hugs from my niece and nephew. My brother-in-law, one among a few ministers in my family warmly greeted both me and Dave. There was such comfort in Dave meeting the family.
After a marathon sermon of the preacher men of my family about what it means to build a "strong house" (Mark 3:25), we gathered at the same modest three-bedroom wooden house in which we were raised. If it was crowded as children, you can imagine how quickly it filled. Midnight Starr soul train lines, "seconds" of fried chicken and potato salad, and a game of Family Feud were highlights of the day. As my family harmonized on "Happy Birthday," to help me ring in my 36th year, I made a wish that the love Dave and I were experiencing would grow-wished that my young nieces, nephews, and cousins would be part of a family tradition in which they always knew that they are welcomed home.
My mother is the rock of my family. In her quiet resolve she understands what it means for love to conquer all. We have a relationship rooted in her prayerfulness and love. My father, divorced from my mother and unable to attend the reunion, taught me toughness. While he deliberately sought to raise strong, virile, heterosexual sons, we joke that he raised, among them, one strong, virile gay man. He's proud that he raised a strong man-- one strong enough to confront the truth of my sexuality and live with its consequences, among them a shamed and confused past that led to HIV infection in 1999. My father, the same man who called us "sissies" when we missed tackles or failed to get a rebound, suggests that he would like to perform my commitment ceremony, when that time comes. My brothers, sisters, and cousins will be there. They understood that I wouldn't be me if hiding my sexuality.
Our recent gathering embodies the sum total of all our trials and triumphs. I am healthy, nearly 10 years after HIV almost claimed my life. We smile, fuss, cook, and dance like most families at reunions. We presented a powerful example of what it means to love beyond the fear of what others think. At 36, I'm as happy as I have ever been. Twenty years after I sat on the same front porch where we recently celebrated, contemplating an end to my life, I can say with full resolve and with all parts of me present: It feels good to come home!