The NBJC Blog

Inviting In: Bobby Edwards

As an educator, of now over three decades, I have always been keenly aware of the potential implications of sharing publicly my life as a Black same gender loving man.  I am strategic in both the selection and placement of my words in describing how I show up in this world. Words have meaning. I have not always felt totally comfortable with the term gay, and have never ever seen myself as queer.  I own that race and age possibly contribute to my aversions, but I am sharing from a place of authenticity around my feelings about these terms. I guess that I must also admit that my chosen career path too, may have some level of influence on how I see myself.  I guess there has always been a belief that there were many unearned assumptions that would be made about me and who I am, were I to wear the terminology that, in the cis world I had come to know, would not server me well as a deemed “role model.” We won’t even begin to discuss the number of states where disclosure would call into question personal safety and or job security.  All that said, there is a sense of peace that I possess in being able to exist in places both personal and professional as my most authentic self.

 

I remember well the days before I decided to have “the talk” with my parents.  In this case, it was not “the talk” that all Black parents have to to armor their children with strategies for survival at the hands of law enforcement and others in an often less than embracing world.  In this case, I was preparing to officially confirm that I was not heterosexual, that I was in an extraordinary relationship with an incredible man and that they need not worry about if I had the type of love they surely had wished for me along with my brother and sister.  In retrospect, I was indeed “inviting in” the most important people in my life, to understand that my life was all that they had wished for me, with the exception of with whom it was being shared.

 

I was approaching my 40th birthday and there were plans for a very large celebration bringing together varied communities of my village.  This celebration would include family, friends and colleagues. As I pondered this event and who would be there, I imagined thanking everyone for coming and got to the place where I would acknowledge the man who was such a pivotal reason for my sense of being grounded and happy.  I knew that our relationship could not and would not be diminished to a good or special friendship. I simply could not imagine standing before many of the most important members of my personal village and give veiled praise to the man that I loved. I concluded that I would not do that to him or to us. It was this sentiment that informed my need to first “invite in” may parents and family privately and not by surprise publicly.

 

I sat across from my parents as I told them that I neeedd to share something important with them.  My parents often commented that they wanted me to be happy and to have someone to whom I could turn in partnership. They often commented that I was the one in the family who always took care of others, but who was there for me.  I wanted them to know that despite my role in the family as the “fixer” and “the one to call,” I was not without someone who was indeed my partner and was there for me as they had wished. I wanted them to know that it was someone they already knew and had seen firsthand, his support and care for me.  As I shared, or “invited in” my parents, I realized at some point that I had actually reverted physically to my younger self. My posture had changed, my voice got softer and my eyes were focused on the floor. It was not until my mother literally got up from her seat and gently placed the pointing finger of her right hand under my chin and slowly lifted my gaze to hers.  She said that the only thing that would ever separate us was when one of us was buried in the ground. She turned to my father and asked wasn’t that right, to his simple response, “Yep.” I cannot tell you what their unconditional love and affirmation meant to me in that moment, and every single second since. What I can tell you is that it, at the age of 39, gave me a new sense of freedom.  With their knowledge and affirmation I was no longer bound to a level of anonymity that was part of my existence. For a second time of sorts, my parents had “birthed” me again. My invitation to my parents to know me…all of me, was met with all that I could have hoped. What I felt was relief. I felt this because more than I care to admit, I had watched brothers and sisters extend the very same invitation to members of their families, only to be rejected, disowned, made invisible,   I raise this because as blessed as I was in my invitation, I am not fooled to believe that for many, especially those who look like me, the result will always be met with opened arms.

 

My hope is that those of you considering inviting others into a space of greater understanding of you and who you are, will be met with at the very least, a willingness to learn.  I honestly just had a conversation with my now 98 year old mother a week ago about identity and stereotypical roles in same gender loving relationships. I figured if she could find the space to ask, I could certainly find the space to respond.  I am reminded that all relationships are to some degree risky. We invite people to learn who we are all of the time. Why should our relationships be different. No confetti or fanfare is needed to simply assess those around you and determine who among them you choose to invite in to get to know you…all of you.  I am now 58 and cannot believe that 18 years have passed since I came out by inviting in.