I’m poor … I’m black … I might even be ugly … but dear God I’m here … I’M HERE!
— Celie, The Color Purple
I have seen “The Color Purple” too many times to count. I used to think I love it so much because it is simply a great movie, or because it’s one of those “chick flicks” that tend to be so popular among women and gay men alike. However, I find that the more I watch this movie, the more I am able to see parallels between the character Celie and myself, as well as the lives of many other gay men and women around the world.
For those of you who haven’t yet seen “The Color Purple”, it is definitely one that should be at the top of your movie list. It caused great controversy because of its portrayal of black men, as well as its insignificant, superficial treatment of a loving sexual relationship between two of the main characters. However, I believe that these controversies only cloud a deeper issue — one that speaks to all people who are made to feel less because they don’t measure up or conform to the ideals of certain individuals or society in general.
The majority of gay people know what that is like. I remember being called a “faggot” and a “fairy” even before I knew what it meant. But it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out it was something negative and eventually I came to learn its significance. The worst was knowing deep down inside that they were right. I was a “faggot”. I, an eight year-old, bent my head in shame and accepted my persecution. Teachers didn’t intervene. My parents rationalized it: “if you don’t like it, learn how to defend yourself”; “stop playing with the girls”; “play sports like the other boys”; be tougher, fight back.” All of this reinforced what I was being shown in school: this is your fault. You are the problem. There was something wrong with me. I was different, deformed, evil, and I had a dirty secret that no one must ever know.
At an early age I lost my self-esteem and willingly accepting a punishment for the crime of being different — the crime of being me. As I grew older, I became a social pariah and the target of unending teasing. During lunch I used to walk as fast as I could to the back of the stadium announcer’s booth praying I didn’t start to sob before reaching it because no one must see me cry.
But I finally did let someone see me cry — my mother — because the torment and isolation was just too great. I was able to attend high school 25 miles away. This just subconsciously reinforced what had already been burned into my psyche: you must be sent away because you are unacceptable, unlovable. You should be glad anyone talks to you or is your friend. You are only deserving of being used by certain boys for meaningless, secretive sexual encounters, because no one loves “faggots”.
I could also sense how my father was ashamed of me, and could feel it in his verbal and physical abuse.
Much like the character Celie, I was told and showed my whole life I was nobody. I was made to feel that I was nobody … that there was something wrong with me .. that when people looked at me, they only saw what I wasn’t. Luckily I was raised with God in my life. I truly wonder if I would still be alive today if I hadn’t been. But even as a member of the Roman Catholic Church I was told that even God despised me and that people like me were destined for hell. So God doesn’t love me either?
All through my twenties I floundered between two extremes — total denial and flagrant hedonistic abandon — neither of which could give me back the love that I needed to stand up and be strong for me. But now, I am starting to find that love once again. Just as Mister took away the only person who ever loved Celie, her sister, Nettie, the world stole from me little by little the love I had for the wonderful human being I have always been. Instead of seeing myself for who I was, I was taught by others to see myself for who I wasn’t. I know that has affected my life in ways I am sure I will never fully comprehend.
But most importantly, religion and those so-called “Christians” and their rhetoric stole from me the most important love I could ever feel — the love of Christ. I now know I am not evil, defective, or unlovable. I now know God made me this way because my suffering will allow me to be more loving and compassionate toward those who have been beaten down by a world that is blind to the incredible people God created them to be. If we don’t speak up, our gay brothers and sisters will continue to be persecuted and killed in the name of our Father. We need to stand up and realize that the love that we thought wasn’t for us was right there all along, and that His embrace is waiting for us in the sunlight of the horizon.