Could You Be Loved?: Conditional Self-Love Consigns SGL Brothers to Living on the Margins of Our Own Lives

Three years since the legalization of marriage equality, many same gender loving (SGL) African American men express dismay at the elusory experience of committed romantic relationships. The conundrum here may be tied to the new commonplace notion that one must love one’s self before he can love anyone else. And, for our acknowledgement of this sentiment almost everyone affirms, indeed insists that he loves himself. 

Something we may be missing in this dynamic is that, in the same way one must love one’s self in order to be able to love others, one must also love one’s self in order to be able to receive love from others. In this respect, charity begins at home and self-love is key to being lovable.

As it happens, love is an act of courage. Beyond anything one may say, self-love is demonstrated in observing the courage to live in one’s truth, including being open and honest about one’s sexuality everywhere and with everyone in one’s life. In any context in which one withholds or conceals essential parts of himself, he is withholding love, and in turn, blocking his capacity to receive love. 

Where love is chief among basic human needs, the extent to which we mask or secrete vital facets of ourselves is the extent to which we love ourselves conditionally, indeed, marginally, standing outside of the bounds of love. As we do, we consign ourselves to living on the margins of our own lives. Of course, standing in one’s truth is much easier said than done.

This is particularly so because we have been socialized to believe that we are intrinsically unlovable because of both, our Africanness and our sexuality. And because, marriage equality and all the extraordinary human rights gains of the Gay and Lesbian Liberation Movement notwithstanding, SGL African descended men still navigate countless demeaning and threatening messages prohibiting expression of our multiple stigmatized identities every day of our lives.  

The degree to which it is unsafe for us to be open about any facet of ourselves is the degree to which we are still not free. Freedom is most lovable. We are most lovable as we muster the courage to defy the repressive messages and dare to acknowledge our whole selves; as we are free. We can no longer permit ourselves to be robbed of our freedom – our right to be fully who we are.

If we will seek love successfully, we must risk being vulnerable and open to receive love by being open about who we are wherever and with whomever we are. If we will be such powerful men as we can be, or simply live such rewarding and fulfilled lives as we can, we must muster the courage to risk being fully present in every facet, aspect and sphere of our lives. Towards these ends, there is something like an exquisite balancing act we must navigate between the necessities of vulnerability and self-preservation. Courage is a muscle that requires repetition and practice to build. Let’s learn how to flex it together.

John-Martin Green, Ed.D.