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Reunion and Remembrance

Over this past weekend, my high school class celebrated our 50th reunion, which was delayed due to COVID. Yep, 50. At the time we graduated, turning 70 was such a foreign concept. But now that we’re here, well…

I missed so many of my reunions, mainly because I moved out of state. On this go-around, I became part of the reunion planning committee. From being an introverted nerd in high school to the out and proud LGBT/SGL man I am today was quite a change. One of the things I learned in life is that when I change, everything around me changes. We as the planning committee got to know each other better and we connected over such things as retirement, health, children, and grandchildren.

Overall, the energy was overwhelmingly positive during the festivities over the weekend. We as classmates worked together well, and we had so much fun. There were some classmates I hadn’t seen in 50 years, yet we had so much to share about who we were back then, and who we are now.

Trust and believe, the LGBT contingent of my class was represented as we lived our truth. Diversity, camaraderie, inclusion, and welcoming was ever present. On many levels, we had that in our graduating class long before it became fashionable. Granted, we who are LGBT didn’t come out until after high school (that was, after all, 1970), but our classmates have since evolved with age, wisdom, and life experiences, and I value them as friends and allies.

I look back at my 17-year-old self, the one who wasn’t out and thought he was the only Black LGBT student in school and the community—at least, until an early LGBT rights group came to our school to speak in my civics class during my senior year. What are the things I would tell him?

The first is something some people scoff at or feel hopeless about, but it does get better over time. I would also tell him to live his truth and not let anyone make him feel less than as a person because of who he loves. I would tell him to demand respect. I would tell him that he is never too old or too young to follow his dreams. I would tell him that change may not happen immediately, but it happens. I would tell him to remember that what he gives is what he receives.

And of course, looking back now as a husband and a father, I would tell my 17-year-old gay teenage self to believe in dreams and never give up.

To Thine Own Self: It’s In His Kiss

Hey, Pride Month is here. Darrell Edwards and Cesare Morelli-Montgomery, the main characters in my upcoming male/male romance novel, To Thine Own Self, have been nudging me to share a little more spice in their story before the book is released. For those of us of a certain age, Betty Everett’s 1964 hit “The Shoop Shoop Song” is definitely relevant to the following romantic excerpt:

“Wow.” Cesare sank into his chair at his law office the next day when Darrell dropped by with the invitation.

 “Is it too short notice?” Darrell asked.

“No, not at all. I’d love to meet them.” If ever there was any question about Darrell having bigger plans for him, this laid them to rest. “Maybe I’m a little nervous.”

“Don’t be. They’re not.” Darrell let out an embarrassed snicker. “They already suspect I’m seeing someone anyway.”

Wow, his kids are quick. “And how is that?”

“Micah overheard me talking on the phone with you. I guess I’m not as smooth about keeping you under wraps as I thought. But you know what? I don’t want to. Not where they’re concerned.”

Cesare’s heart leapt. Now was the time. Darrell had confirmed it. Another clear sign that the man was into him, and he wasn’t about to let this moment slip by unacknowledged. “Bello, come here. There’s something I’ve been thinking about all day.”

Darrell rose from his seat, strolling around the desk to where Cesare stood, facing him. Their lips were only inches apart. “And what is that, babe?”

Cesare returned Darrell’s sexy grin with one of his own, wrapping Darrell in his arms. “This.”

The moment their lips met, Darrell knew he was a goner. Kissing a man was different but hot, and Cesare knew his way around a kiss. He deepened it, their tongues dancing sensuously. Moaning softly as his dick hardened in response, Darrell ground passionately against Cesare’s rampant erection.

 Did time stop? Was he in a free fall of kissing he had every intention of savoring? He didn’t know, and being honest with himself, he didn’t care. One day at a time, he had been falling for this man. Every coffee date; the Daily Grind had become one of Their Places. Every phone call; Cesare wasn’t into texting unless it was for appointments, and Darrell was grateful for that. Every hug, which gave him the opportunity to experience Cesare’s body against his. As a man who’d spent all his adult life with a petite partner, Darrell relished a big, beefy brotha like Cesare. Another sultry moan escaped him as he realized how thirsty he was for Cesare’s kisses, and his body heated with the anticipation of more when the kiss deepened.

Cesare was beside himself over Darrell’s passionate response to him. After all the years he’d been going through fool’s gold for boyfriends, here was the mother lode, the genuine article, his for the taking. Here was his dream man, all 6’7” of him in his arms.

Was it real? Would he wake up and discover it was all like that Temptations song, just his imagination? The exquisite tongue dance, the brawny build, and the hard dick grinding against him in a business suit served as irrefutable evidence to support the case. Under any other circumstances, he would have locked the door and bent Darrell over his desk, fucking him into Nirvana. That would happen, all in good time.

This kiss…this kiss…had an intimacy all its own, something to savor, to cherish. He had experienced men who would do everything with him sexually, yet they balked when it came to kissing him. He gave effusive thanks that Darrell wasn’t that kind of man. 

“Looks like I’m going to be meeting some special people tomorrow,” Cesare purred heatedly after their kiss broke.

“Yeah, I’d like to think so,” Darrell beamed. Cesare would have loved to extend their closeness for a little while longer. “With that being said, I’d better let you go…for now.”

“That’s right, bello. For now.”

After Darrell left, Cesare’s breathing somehow returned to normal. He adjusted himself in his slacks, hoping his erection wouldn’t be too obvious before he put a coat on. He’d probably have to jack off two or three times tonight to calm his body down; even the subtle scent of Darrell’s cologne remained in the air, tantalizing him. As it was, concentrating on work for the rest of the day would be next to impossible. Taking his seat, he opened the intercom to his office manager, Jafari Neill. “Jafari…”

“Yes, Mr. Cesare?”

 “I’m heading out. Can you make sure the Johnson file is updated before you lock up?”

“Certainly.”

“Thank you. Have a great weekend.”

“You, too.”

Darrell took a walk from Cesare’s law offices in Uptown over to Lake Calhoun, the taste of Cesare on his tongue and lips, hoping the exercise would help his dick go down before he went home. Worked up by their kisses, he knew if they had continued for a few minutes longer, he would have ruined his slacks. How in the world would he have explained that?

All he knew was, kissing Cesare was wonderful, and he looked forward to doing so on a regular basis—not to mention other pleasurable things in the future. But first things first–there was the matter of the other three residents of his home. Finding a bench by the lake, he prayed for the success of tomorrow’s dinner.

Believe in dreams and never give up.

School Daze

Recently, a group of my classmates were in a meeting, planning for our 50th high school class reunion. As we reminisced, the subject turned to high school crushes. For the first time, without naming names, I shared my own crush.

To a certain extent, times have changed due to the greater visibility of the LGBT population and movies like Love, Simon. For those of us of a certain age, having a same-sex crush on another student or a teacher was a minefield during high school, especially as teenagers of color.

I remember well my days as a sophomore in high school, aware but not yet coming to terms with my sexuality and having a crush on one of the seniors. I was an introverted nerd. My body was at that awkward stage, since I hadn’t yet grown into my full height of 6’3”.

To my 15-year-old eyes, this brotha was phyne. In my sports-heavy school, of course he was a jock and a letterman. I considered myself in stealth mode, checking him out when I didn’t think anyone was watching. My creative mind spun fantasies about him. I would see him in the halls or the cafeteria, either with his running buddies or with his girlfriend (yeah, he turned out to be straight), wishing it was me he was with, giving me my first kiss. And there was no one to share it with.

In those days before Stonewall, a brotha couldn’t say he had a crush on another brotha outright, and my gaydar wasn’t fully developed to pick up on those who were like me. There were no safe spaces in school for LGBT students. In hindsight, I know that several brothas in my high school were dating girls to conceal the fact they were gay; it was an eye-opener to discover just how many after I graduated, which was right at the time of the first Pride parades.

Teenagers, as we know, have different ways of handling a crush; some often act like they don’t like the object of their crush. How did I cope? By trying to be something I wasn’t. I couldn’t compete in the arena of sports; I only participated to please Dad. On the other hand, I was a serious contender in the academic arena. The attraction I felt for other men came so easy; with women, it was forced, therefore disastrous. At the end of the day, when I came out at 18, I knew who I was, and that began the journey of living my truth.   

We still have a long way to go when it comes to addressing toxic masculinity in schools; think of the brothas who gave you hell in high school because they were struggling with accepting their own sexuality. And yes, sharing a same-sex crush is still risky business in a number of schools. At the end of the day, however, change starts with the inner strength to live your truth. We all can be role models; looking at my life today, I realized that I became the visible role model I wished I’d had when I was 18.

As for the brotha I was crushing on in high school? I only saw him once since those School Daze long ago, and then only in passing (yes, I have something far better in my husband). I choose to look forward to the LGBT/SGL teenagers of today, as more of them are out and proud; they represent the hope I had at that age. More power to you, and I tip my hat to you.

                “Black men loving Black men is the revolutionary act.” – Joseph Beam

To Thine Own Self: Darrell Lives His Truth

For all of you who have been following my blog, you have seen both the book cover and read an excerpt of To Thine Own Self, to be released later this year. As we who are LGBT/SGL brothas know, coming out isn’t a finite event. It is an ongoing process, as one of my main characters, widowed associate pastor Rev. Darrell Edwards, is learning. When we come out, it is an act of strength and courage. That being said, kick back for a few and check out my next excerpt, as Darrell begins taking the steps to living his truth:

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90-plus temperatures coupled with triple-digit heat indices continued to dog the summer season, guaranteed to keep everyone’s light bill high and restrict lawn-watering days. For many Minnesotans, given the winters, these days were to be appreciated while they were around. For Darrell, it was a time of gratitude for the summer programs he enrolled his children in. Keeping their time occupied, especially now, was essential. Sure, his late-model Honda Odyssey minivan accumulated its share of miles in transporting them, but that was hardly a sacrifice.

 By August, Darrell had finally taken the step and confided in Pastor Marie. “I’m bisexual.”

Her response was supportive and compassionate, like the woman he had always known her to be. “I appreciate you trusting me with this news, Darrell. Coming out is easy for some, harder for others. It’s a process. And with Kenisha’s passing, you’ve been processing a lot.”

 Darrell thought of the parishioners he counseled who were dealing with this issue and nodded. “Now it’s happening to me.”

 “Are you planning to tell your children?”

“Yes. This is something they need to hear from me. After all, they grew up in this church. I wouldn’t keep this from them.” Darrell managed a little chuckle. “Besides, with all the LGBT members in my family, this probably won’t be news at all.”

“Probably not. Only what they know about you will change, and they may have questions in relation to Kenisha and your marriage. You know, we advise our members to come out only when they’re ready and have support, and I’m giving you that same counsel. On the other hand, the longer you wait to tell them, the harder it will be. We’ll pray on this together, and trust God to give you the opportunity.”

 “I understand, Pastor. Can we pray now?”

As the days went by, Darrell’s cooking skills steadily branched out and improved, and his family made mealtime a team effort. Thank you, Kenisha, he thought as he and his kids prepared and cooked the food. So often in these days and times, families didn’t sit down and eat together, grabbing fast food on the run due to work schedules and extracurricular school activities. Not so in his family. Breakfast and dinner found them at the kitchen table while Sunday dinners were served in the dining room on the occasions when they weren’t having family dinners with his parents or in-laws. Added to this was the fact that sometimes, when setting the dinner table, he would forget and set five places instead of four.

It was a couple of weeks later, after a day of back-to-school shopping and hospital visitations, that Darrell felt an internal nudge during dinner. He took a moment to marvel at how his children were turning out. Adam and Naomi took after him while Micah looked more like Kenisha. They had all inherited his height; at 16, Adam was already 6’3”. They also had the hazel eyes of the Edwards family. While Micah, Naomi, and Adam were eating, sharing their activities of the day and random thoughts about the coming school year, he took a breath. Visualizing himself diving into a swimming pool, he relaxed into it.

“Kids, I feel it’s time to tell you something…about me.”

 “Tell us what, Dad?” Adam asked.

“Well, I’ve learned something about myself. I’ve realized that I like men as well as women.”

  “Are you saying you’re bi?”

 Darrell nodded. “Yes, Adam. I am.”

“Oh. Like some of the members at church?” 12-year-old Micah asked.

 “That’s right, Micah.”

 Adam’s face held the beginnings of a frown. “You didn’t…”

 “No, son, I didn’t. I loved your mother very much, and I never would have hurt her. But things are different now. I love you, so I wanted you to hear this from me first.”

“Wow…Dad came out.” Adam sighed in relief.

 “Well, we love you, Daddy.” Nine-year-old Naomi rose from her seat to give Darrell a hug, followed by her brothers.

“So, does that mean you’re going to have a boyfriend and go out on dates?” Adam’s smile was conspiratorial.

“I don’t know. Someday, maybe. Of course, you three will be the first ones to know.”

 After the kids had gone to bed, Darrell lay in his own bed reading, overwhelmed by and appreciative of the support they had shown him. It was obvious that the teachings of love and inclusivity at Light of the World had rubbed off on them, not to mention his extended family’s example. Perhaps, too, was the strong possibility that they found it easier to accept the idea of another man in their lives versus another woman, given the close relationship they shared with their mother. Before he closed his book and said his prayers, he gave thanks that his children heard the disclosure from him first, before he even considered dating a man.

The next morning, Darrell’s day was filled with meetings and conference calls. When he finally took a break for lunch, he considered the next step in his journey—telling his immediate family of origin. Although they weren’t saying anything, he sensed that Douglass and Preston already knew. As for the others…it was a blessing that the most important people had already been told. Now for his parents and siblings.

“Hey, Darrell.” He looked up from his lunch to lay eyes on his brother Bradley, standing in the doorway of his office.

“Bradley. What’s up?” He rose to hug him, wondering about the occasion for this visit.

 “Now you know I’m going to check in on you, busy pastor or not.”

Darrell indicated a seat for Bradley. “So how are Rico and the kids?”

His 27-year-old brother let out a fatigued grunt, settling into a comfortable chair for his athletic, 6’6” frame. “Hey, you know the drill with kids their age. Saleisha just started walking, and Jermaine is finally sleeping through the night. Rico and I are navigating our way one day at a time, and we wouldn’t trade it for the world. Of course, it helps having Grandpa Brad and Grandma Adriella nearby, especially when Rico and I need a break.”

 “Not to mention Mom and Dad. And of course, me.”

 “Got that right. Now, about the man in your life…”

 “Say what?”

“You know better than to knock the ‘gift,’ Darrell. You’re bi, and this man will rock your world.”

 Darrell sighed in acceptance. Like their Grandpa Eli, Bradley had visions which always came to pass. “Yes, I’m bi. And I’ve told my kids.”

“That shouldn’t have been a problem, especially with your church.”

“It wasn’t. Speaking of which, you’re more than welcome to come and visit. It has been a little while since your family stopped on by.”

“True. We’ll check you out soon for services.” Darrell’s cell phone beeped. “You need to get that?”

“Yeah.” Darrell opened his phone to a barrage of text massages, rolling his eyes as he read through them. “I haven’t even met the man yet, and she’s ready to bring out the wedding bells,” he groaned as he sent a quick ‘I’ll call you back’ text.

 Bradley couldn’t resist a knowing smile. “Sis didn’t waste any time, did she?”

 “Did you really think so after you told her?”

 “Hey, I had the vision while I was on the phone with her the other day. You know there’s no controlling that.”

Darrell threw up his hands in surrender. “Our beloved sister, Lady Veronica Moriarty, Viscountess of Rothmere, probably has this fantasy of me in a vicar’s frock falling hard for the lord of the manor. I think she’s been reading too many Sylvia Berry Lewis romance novels. Oh well, I might as well get it over with and see Mom and Dad.” He paused momentarily, his eyes curious. “You really think this man…whoever he is…will, as you put it, rock my world?”

 Bradley’s grin was naughty. “By the time he’s done with you, you’ll have a smile on your face that refuses to come off.”

               

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Believe in dreams and never give up.

With a Smile

Yes, I am getting older, as my mind and body are telling me. Later this year, I will be the first of my numerous cousins to cross the threshold of 70!

I have my “senior moments” where I go into a room and forget what I went in there for. My sleep schedule is interrupted at night because I have to get up and pee. My vision is now augmented by bifocals. My conversations with my contemporaries have changed over the years; now they include retirement, grandchildren, AARP discounts, and our health issues. Growing up, my memory was such that my nickname was Computer; these days, the “computer” needs a backup and an external hard drive. Certain foods I enjoyed eating as a young man I can no longer tolerate now. I can still “bust a move” on the dance floor, but I don’t stay out there all night as I did at 21.

With all that, I remember a quote from a Dhar Mann video: “While you are focused on what you don’t have, there are people who are wishing for what you do have.” Hence, I am taking a page from Ma’s playbook when she reached her 90th birthday, and I will greet 70 “with a smile.” After all, what we give is what we receive.

I am grateful for the gift of writing and my imagination, a craft I am regularly honing. As we speak, another idea for a male/male romance novel is taking shape, and so I have three novels in the queue; I love it.

I am grateful for all the amazing writers/authors I have come in contact with over the years, and the stories they share.

I am grateful for six years as a cancer survivor. Brothas, if you are 40 and older, make sure you get a PSA test periodically for prostate cancer. When my prostate was removed, I was blessed that they got all of the cancer.

I am grateful for the offbeat sense of humor I inherited from my late father, the man who always had my back when I pursued my dream of becoming a novelist. Dad, you are unforgettable.

I am grateful for my health and the medical support system that helps to maintain it.

I am grateful for the 6-year-old-laptop that has seen all the novels and articles I wrote on it, patiently waiting for me to upgrade it so it can retire.

I am grateful for my husband’s love of 11 years and my son, a reality that seemed an impossible dream for me as a young brotha of 22.

I am grateful for the opportunities that have been given to me through such individuals as Wyatt O’Brian Evans, Insight News, and the Minnesota Black Authors Expo, to be a voice of support for Black authors and poets. I never dreamed that one day, I would become the role model I wished that I had as a Black SGL man of 18.

I am grateful for the day-to-day blessings of food, a home, clothes, utilities, the Internet, libraries, my car, books to read, and especially the fact that I woke up this morning to see this day. I take far less for granted now.

I am grateful for the valuable time I get to spend with my 91-year-old mother, and the love and wisdom she shares. Would you believe we like the same soap operas?

I am grateful for my church family. The very church I grew up in has now become the inclusive church where I can serve God in full authenticity, and I give thanks for that.

These are but some of the reasons this Old School New Kid will be greeting 70 “with a smile.” And I am grateful for the knowledge that we are never too old to follow our dreams.

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Believe in dreams and never give up.