“I’m Not About That Life” Don Lemon Says Relationships With Black Men Didn’t Work Because They Weren’t Out
In light of the recent attack against actor and singer Jussie Smollett, the women of the “Red Table Talk,” Jada Pinkett Smith, Adrienne Banfield-Jones, and Willow Smith, sat down with CNN host Don Lemon to discuss the challenges of being a Black gay man in America.
During the discussion, Lemon spoke about what it was like coming out to his mother, the reaction he initially got from Black women who took issue with his sexuality, and dating Black men who were afraid to live their lives out of the closet.
Check out the highlights from the interview, in the video below.
The challenges of being a gay, Black man
First of all, we were slaves. We were beaten and branded. And so as Black, gay men, we carry the racism part and the gay part. We’re already a class of people who have been discriminated against. So why would I want to add another mark? Sometimes, some of us say, we’re too Black to be gay and some of us say, we’re too gay to be Black…So, you got it from your own folks or from the larger community…and then you get it from your sisters who are like, ‘Well, why not me?’ And it’s like, ‘I love you but I don’t love you.’
Coming out to his mom
I came out to my mom when I was 30 because I was dealing with a breakup. moved to New York City so I could be me. And I met my boyfriend, started living together and then we broke up. And I was heartbroken. And she was like, ‘What’s wrong with you? You’re not my son. What is happening? Why are you so sad?’ And I told her, because of my relationship. She said, ‘What relationship?’ I said, ‘With John.’ She said, ‘What kind of relationship?’ I said, ‘He was my lover.’ And I just started crying and it came out on the phone. And she was very quiet. But very accepting. She goes, ‘You’re my son. I’m going to love you no matter. what. I’m your mom, I’m always going to love you.’
And that meant the world to me to have— the hardest thing, I could tell anybody else but I couldn’t tell my mom.
Jada: Why was that? Why was that so difficult?
Don: Well, you know the relationships Black women have with their sons.
Jada: Laughs. That’s real talk!
Don: I want my momma to be proud of me. Every day, when I step into that suit and I got on the set, I’m there for me, God, but I’m there for my mom. Because I know, if nobody’s watching, she’s watching. And I know if nobody’s going to call me, she is. Nobody’s going to come visit me, she is. If I don’t have a dollar, she’s going to give me one. That is the only person in the world—and my sister—that is going to be there. And I thought, if I tell my mom this and she turns her back on me, I don’t have a friend in the world. My best friend is gone. And so, when she said that, free. Nothing else mattered after that.
But the weird thing, once she became comfortable with it and I started being myself again, she told me that she didn’t want me to be gay. She wanted to have grandkids. She wanted to get married. She had been confiding in her friends and they were talking about it. And then it was a long journey and she came around. She needed her process. Now, she’s at the house, she’s cooking with my boyfriend and his family. We’re all at Christmas together.
Having to hide when he was hanging around Black people
I was hiding my identity from everyone. So I would sneak off with my friends, most of them were White because it was easier for them to be out. So I would go out with them and I could be free in what they called “alternative clubs.” We’d be dancing in the clubs and there weren’t a lot of people who looked like me. And so when I wanted to hang out with the folks that looked like me, I had to be straight. I had to have a girlfriend because they didn’t accept it. I just said enough is enough. And I said whatever happens from here, this is who I am. And you talk about emancipation. I am completely emancipated. I have no secrets. I wish every Black gay man could have that experience, especially my Black brothers and sisters. Because so many of them get shunned.
I think it has a lot to do with the church. Because remember, we relied on the church a lot coming out of slavery. Because God changes things. The church was the center of our universe. It’s how we communicated, it’s where we drew strength. And I think because of the teachings of the church, that people feel that it’s against God and that it’s a sin.
Those same doctrines and scriptures that they used to keep Black folks enchained are the same ones they’re using to discriminate against gay people. And you as a person of color who has been discriminated against, you have to wake up.
Dating Black men who weren’t ready to be out
They want the experience. It’s almost like cultural appropriation. Like, ‘I want to do—but I don’t really want to live that way forever.’ I want to have the fun, after a few drinks…but you don’t want to actually show up at my house with a rose and say, ‘Are we having dinner tonight?’ You can’t deal with that part. But you want to do the other part. And you guys all know what we’re talking about. You don’t want to deal with romance and the reality of building a life together, or a home and a future together.
Sometimes, if you date someone who’s not of your race there are a lot of White guys out there, who love Black guys. They love sleeping with them…
Jada: But they don’t want to bring them home. I’ve dated White in the past and I know that your current partner is White… how is that?
Gammy: I understand that love is love but I have always found it very difficult because I just don’t think that our understanding and the experiences that we have are the same. And so there’s an inability to truly relate. Now, I’ve not been in an interracial relationship of any kind. That’s just my own thinking.
Don: You’re right. The experiences are different. And we do have disagreements about it. We do have discussion about it. But when you’re in love with someone, it’s never easy. But when you’re truly committed to someone who’s a good person, then you want to work those things out. I don’t expect him to know what it is to be a Black man. You can’t expect me to know what it’s like to be a woman but I can empathize my sister. I can take your word for the experiences that you have and go along with you for the journey. Sometimes, I just have to say ‘Take my word for it.’
When I’m with the Black men that I’ve dated, they get it. But you know what? Most of ‘em aren’t out. Most of them didn’t want people to know. I’m not about that life anymore. And I’m not saying you have to live your life that way, that’s not the way I want to live my life. And if someone doesn’t like me for who or what I am, that’s their problem.