In addition to whatever new step was out at the time, in Washington, D.C., we had three standard dances: the slow drag, the bop, and the hand dance. My brother was at the age when almost every Friday and Saturday night was party time, but he didn't know how to dance.
He asked me to teach him the hand dance and we spun each other around the basement for an entire afternoon. Perhaps he had progressed in his thinking. Perhaps he simply didn't care since none of his friends were there to make him feel embarrassed.
It was through dancing that I made a conscious decision, at age nineteen, to go beyond the American cultural barriers of male-to-male relationships. A friend who had grown up in the same neighborhood as I, and had attended Sunday school, junior high, and high school with, decided that I and two other old friends were ready to cross those barriers.
He took the three of us to a party. Enroute he cautioned us to prepare ourselves psychologically for something "different" and implored us not too embarrass either him, or ourselves, by seeming out of place. It was going to be a "Gay" party
As new an experience as that party was for me, it all seemed quite natural. I don't remember feeling any of the awe I was to feel seven years later in Brussels. I imagine it was because I understood "Gay" men dance with each other. It would have been stupid of me to have been surprised.
Yet, I was surprised, as well as momentarily confused, by the dancing Nigerians. Not only were all those "straight" men treading on all my cultural taboos, they were unaware such taboos even existed.
Discussing the subject of how men touch each other with a Ghanaian neighbor reminded me of other things my Festac-traveling friends had told me. "Male friends walk down the street arm-in arm," they had said. "They even sleep together."
My neighbor explained that, in traditional African culture, men spend almost all of their time with each other, thereby developing intimate relationships. In fact, men are a society unto themselves, a phenomenon stemming from the ancient warrior tradition. Certain customs and rituals, including dancing, carried sacred magical connotations that necessitated the exclusion of women.
When I asked him why African men living here don't appear to relate to each other that way, he replied that such relationships were discouraged by the way Americans view them. Of course, the type of male relationships described by my neighbor are not unique to Africa.
The Third World abounds in similar examples. Even Europe can boast of societies where men dance with each other and relate to each other in ways we don't dare. Indeed, in some cultures dancing often appears to be the exclusive province of men.
Although I find this freedom enviable, I am not blind to the social implications of such practices. As positive as they may be, they appear to be directly connected to the male chauvinism with which Western society presently is struggling.
There are some who would argue that my priorities are mixed up, that in an age where Ronald Reagan and his minions seem intent on murdering us politically and economically, Black men in America need not concern themselves with daydreams of a new fraternal order.
Their argument would be valid if not for one sad fact: when a Black man in America is literally murdered, it's almost always by the hand of another Black man. Who's mixed up?
Is there any hope? My neighbor from Ghana believes that the closest thing here to traditional African society was Black society in the South before the sixties. However, I see remnants of that tradition in today's South. I have witnessed a natural closeness among men there that I haven't seen anywhere else in this country.
Though my neighbor may be unable to see beyond what he perceives as their decadence, I believe that the relationships among Black Gay men come closest to approximating those of African men.
In fact, if one focuses only on the non-sexual aspects, Gay men very well could be the vanguard in the march of American men toward a greater understanding, appreciation and love of each other.
Civilization is based on the positive interaction of individuals living together in large numbers. "Individuals" is the key word. What hope I have must start with me. I've gone back to hugging and kissing my father. I do the same with other male relatives and friends.
I have one friend with whom I'm very close, so close that many people think we're brothers. We've spent hours on the phone with each other, taken long, story-filled walks--though never arm-in-arm. And we've slept together in the same bed without any thought of having sex.
I remember once dancing with him at a straight discotheque. The dance floor was so crowded that no one paid us any attention.
I chose him to be best man at my wedding. We love each other very much and I hope we always will.
Blacklight Vol. 4, No. 4