It’s the question that I’ve been getting on Facebook for the last week or so. The beauty of sites like MySpace and Facebook is that you can reconnect with people from your past. Old school mates, old friends from grade school, high school, and college all sort of come out of the wood work, so to speak, on these sites. I’ve found so many people from my past on these sites. It’s good to see them. No, it’s great to see them. One friend, Leslie, is one of my absolute favorite people off all time. He’s amazing. I’ve missed him dearly. But when you decide that you’re ready to leave a place like Toledo, Ohio you sometimes leave the people behind as well.
So much of my life has changed. I’ve said it before in previous blogs, and I’ve heard it echoed in blogs that I follow and through conversations with other people who’ve move away from home to start their lives in big cities. I’ve changed in many ways, many ways that people back home just don’t understand.
My hair, for instance. I stopped relaxing it, mainly because I got my hair cut, relaxed and styled at a salon on 5th Avenue that I was referred to by a co-worker at J. Crew in SoHo. I loved my new look, it was amazing. It was bouncy, flowing, and the cut was phenomenal. Not $300 phenomenal, though. I decided that instead of spending money like that relaxing my hair straight, or taking the Dominican route so many black people in NYC take, or doing it myself that I would just let my hair grow out of my head in it’s natural state. Some people call it Nappy, I think those people don’t have natural hair pride. I call it curly…very, very curly. It was a long process, it took a lot of patience and three years. After letting Mirs cut my hair a few months back, I’m wrestling with the idea of taking it short, very short. I love my hair; it’s texture, it’s style, the ability of it to do whatever it wants to do-no matter how much I try to coax it. It’s not revolutionary or even neo-Afro, it’s just my hair.
On any given day I can see a dozen black women with natural hair in NYC, it’s just how we do, I suppose. When I went back home for the first time with my natural hair I felt like I was on show. Everyone was ooing and ahhing, and I wanted to smack the third person who asked to touch it. Really? Yeah, really, in Toledo, Ohio. It was shocking to me how many black people asked me what I put in my hair to make it curl; what product, what chemical. I told them, quite matter-of-factly, that it’s how our hair grows. I told one woman, what do you put in yours to make yours look like that. Another woman had the nerve to ask me why I would chose to not relax my hair-my response was, why not?
My hair was just the beginning. Since my move to the Big Apple, I’ve really let my hair down and allowed my true self to shine. My natural haired, tofu eating, big, gay self. The gay thing is still taking the Toledoans a bit more time. I had someone ask me rapid fire questions- did I have a boyfriend? A husband? Was I married? Kids? Is that really what life has come to? Boyfriends, husbands, and kids? I responded that I didn’t have a boyfriend, but a girlfriend. That I wasn’t married, because I couldn’t, and that I didn’t have children, yet. Although my girlfriend and I do want them in the future. Pretty direct, right? She responded with, “So, wait, you’re gay?”
I felt that my description of my life was pretty clearly gay-but further clarification was needed. Yup, I’m gay, I said. No response. I’m not sure what it is, exactly, that’s so hard for those folks from Ohio to understand. Some people are gay. Take me, for instance, gay. When my sister finally heard me tell her that I was gay, she asked if I was super gay. I asked her what she meant, and she said, “You’re, like, totally gay, aren’t you? Like, you do gay things with gay people. I bet you already have a group of gay friends and are in gay activist groups and shit, aren’t you, Erika.”
I confirmed her thoughts and she said she expected nothing less, that I do things “all out.” My cousin who lives in Maryland thought it was a phase. She told me I went through a white-black girl phase and this was my gay phase. She is … interesting. It was an interesting assessment from a woman who barely knows me. She is correct, in many ways, I’ve always been told that the way that I speak and the way I was brought up wasn’t “black” enough. My dad told me that a lot growing up. “Erika, you need to be more black” Last time I was home he offered me $500 to relax my hair.
I’m black and gay and I don’t relax my hair. I’m 29 and came out only a year ago. I spent the majority of my adult life pretending to be, rather molding myself into something that the world wanted me to be. I didn’t fit into that mold. That mold is in Toledo, Ohio. I often wonder what would become of me if I would’ve stayed there. Would I have gotten married to a man and lived my life as a lie? It’s hard to say. I can’t imagine living my life in any other way than I’m living it right now, because for the first time, in my entire life, I feel like I’m living my life on my own terms. It feels amazing. I sometimes wish that I could step back and look in on the life that I lead. I’m always blown away by so many aspects; I live in Manhattan, I have an amazing woman who I’m planning to spend the rest of my life with. I’m happy, happier than I could have imagined, so much so that I want to pinch myself to make sure it’s all real. And it is.