YANA – The Film
Interviews for this documentary emerged as the visual component of a book examining depression in Black gay men. In research for the book and from the interviews of more than 40 Black gay men from the United States, the Caribbean and Africa, specific themes appeared as common threads separated only by geography. Issues of denial of sexual identity and sexual orientation, racism, discrimination and stigma; sexual abuse and trauma; an HIV positive diagnosis; the propagation and promotion of homophobia from religious leaders and their congregants; and the perils of loneliness, a sense of isolation and abandonment felt by those Black gay men growing older – rose to the top as significant issues contributing to the descent into depression. Notwithstanding, implied in the personal stories and enhanced from the interviews with the mental health professionals is the acknowledged biological component to depression.
The documentary traces the life of Cedric, a young man whose early expressions of his sexuality were stomped on by his father, who beat his son mercilessly in an effort to eradicate any perceived traces of “the faggot” and to force him to conform to his expectations and demands. In a world that has become homophobically rabid, Cedric’s father’s violence lends itself to a segment of society that condemns and ostracizes anyone who demonstrates a departure from what is considered a norm. This father typifies many parents whose reactions to their sons are borne out either through fear of issues with his own sexuality, and or what and how the rest of society would view him, his son and his family – “those with the faggot son”. The film follows Cedric, who as a young adult is struggling to understand and accept himself, and who is forced to live two lives: a hardworking 9 to 5 employee and an alcoholic drug abuser, both collide and he doesn’t feel he has any reason to live.
From an interview, there is the re-enactment Lawrence’s story. As a young man, when he was 11 years old, he was sexually abused by his father. In many families and communities, sexual abuse of children by parents, older siblings, older relatives and or familiar older adults frequently occur. Often, the victim – male or female, is forced to suffer in silence and live in pain. In desperation to understand what happened to him and reaching out for support, he experienced the raw, naked rejection and denial from his mother. He always thought she was his support, but she blamed him instead for encouraging the attentions of his father. It shows how he struggled to cope, self-medicating with drugs to ease the pain of the violation of his personhood, his masculinity, his manhood. When he could take it no more, he chooses not to live. There is also Tony’s story, another young man who speaks of never feeling he belonged and eventually, after giving up on trying to hold on and make himself feel a part of humanity, he decided to take himself out.
The documentary turns from a dark, “depressing”-, “woe is me”-, pity-party type of film into one that reaffirms the power of self. It challenges mothers, who with their strength and the powerful influence to mold and nurture their sons, especially those who they recognize may be gay, and who are seemingly more fragile and in need of care; to take heed, pay attention to their sons. Tree Alexander, an interviewee, who became HIV positive at a young age, told his parents and instead of being rejected, experienced the love, acceptance and support from his immediate and extended family, “I knew then that my family had my back.”
The resounding message in the documentary is that a Black gay man who feels as though he has no place in the world, that he has value and purpose, that all he needs to do is reject the denials of who he is, accept himself and he could realize and achieve his potential in life. It celebrates the lives of Black gay men and shows that there is life after depression; that, as the late Taylor Siluwe said, “It doesn’t have to rob you of your joy”.
Rev. Kevin Taylor says, “I don’t do Black, I be Black; I don’t do male, I be male; I don’t do gay, I be gay.”
A Black gay man dealing with depression should know that it is treatable and he need not suffer in silence; he is not alone.
“If, by what I’m doing, a Black gay man could be stopped from killing himself, then my job is done; his healing begins.”
I am Working on Healing
a support group Black “Mothers“, who have not accepted or affirmed their sons for who they are, and
a support group for Black “Fathers“, who have not accepted or affirmed their sons for who they are.
“Listen to me, I’m Speaking Out! Breaking the Silence of depression in Black Gay Men” is the working title (currently being written) of a book ripping open the veil and mystery surrounding mental illness in the Black and Black gay communities. It shatters the taboo, that unspoken rule with protective roots in Black history, which says “you don’t talk your business to strangers”; that silence which ignores the hurts, abuses, and betrayals Black gay men experience in the Black community and which contribute to their downward spiral into depression. Here Black gay men talk about growing up and their lives: how they struggled with the unknown – nature inside, the demons outside of themselves, and how these two factors fused into a lethal destructive cocktail.
In the book, Black gay men tell their stories
Speaking of how they dealt with the marginalization and ostracism from family, friends, and the community, including their church, which preached abomination and hell fire because they are attracted to someone of the same sex and advocated hatred, stigma and discrimination against them, and of survival.
Many speak of feeling lost, alone and foundering because having suffered expulsion from their families and turning to the Black gay community where they thought they would feel accepted and belonged, instead they felt let down, disappointed, betrayed and realized trust is missing.
Many speak of being sexually, mentally and physically abused, which in retrospect and years of treatment, they recognized had derailed their lives from an early age, and how they struggled to reclaim and make something of their damaged lives.
Many also speak of the daily struggle being a Black male who is gay and HIV positive, with the stigma and internalized homophobia from the Black gay community and the wider Black community.
And, there are stories from older Black gay men who in their declining years are forced back into mental and physical closets, returned to silence.
There are many damaged lives, lost to poor like choices and decisions, as well as familial bonds fractured by suicides. It is through identifying with the stories of Black gay men and advocating that depression is treatable, that this book seeks to assist with removing the stigma of someone in the Black community who is depressed as crazy or weak, but who is capable of living as normal a life as possible.”