Moonlight: Now You See Us

I saw Moonlight 3 days before the election of Donald J. Trump (P45). At the time, I believed I lived in an imperfect world where hope still loomed and progress was never too distant. I was eager to see that world reflected in the stories of the film’s character Chiron, who I had never seen but already knew. Though a stranger, I knew Chiron’s story was needed to elucidate the experiences of a community rendered invisible.  Black queer men have been pigeonholed to academic journals that limit us to DL culture, where our only contribution was to the HIV/AIDs epidemic. White men deem us sexual objects, and our community either does not see us or only sees parts. For me, this film was going to expose the intricacies that mold the marred men who I’ve loved and will love again openly or from afar. The men whose approbation I desired at the expense of my own self-esteem. The men who settled for another man’s dreams, marrying and reproducing only to sacrifice his wife and kids’. More importantly, I hoped Moonlight would gift me a sense of normalcy. A normalcy much needed in a world where a Trump-Pence victory was a possibility. Obviously, too much hope loomed above me.

My first 3 years of college were spent attempting to normalize the feelings and desires my Pentecostal upbringing attempted to pray, shame, and scare out of me. Before that, I spent my high school years striving to accept those same feelings and desires. Tumblr and Instagram became my tools of representation; there I would obsess over local queer couples of color, longing for their relationships. I yearned for their willingness to stand on the neutral ground during a second line, their lover’s hand in theirs, posing for a picture that would later be liked, un-liked, and liked again by a validation seeking confused eighteen year old. Even after finding some sense of normalcy in my white best friend, whose family’s immediate acceptance of me was self-reassuring, the intrusion of racial, socioeconomic, and taste differences limited my ability to be fulfilled by our shared experiences. I found myself bound to a median, where I could exist in two extremes: the New Orleanian connotation of a “punk” or the Black-interracialist. The former required me to buy into limiting constructions of masculinity and femininity. The latter demanded I leave behind a trail of white lovers, most hoping that I am a son of Mandika, valuing my libido and sexual organs above my mind. Neither fit, making Moonlight’s arrival much more impactful.

The night of the viewing, I was 8 months into my first long-term situationship. Naturally a hopeless romantic, I planned to watch my new favorite film with two of my best friends. One partially responsible for teaching me to love myself fraternally; the other responsible for showing romantic love was possible. My best friend and I watched alone, possibly foreshadowing the end of my situationship a month later. Already slightly vexed, within the first 15 minutes I wept like I did 3 months earlier after coming out to my mother.

Each chapter of Chiron’s life commemorated parts of my life I long thought exclusive to me. I immediately connected with Juan, who I had found in mentors, friends, and some family members. My time on the playground, where I ran to avoid sports and ridicule mirrored Little’s in a paralyzing manner. Chiron’s chameleon-esque attempts to be both bystander and comrade reminded me of the years spent pulling my pants down to sag, just a little, to fall in line with the other boys. My final moments with Black left me with the impression that the film was not strictly a gay or bi love story. Moonlight, to me, is about the intimacy Black boys and men often seek and are too often denied. A love story about a man tasked with finding and loving himself in a community and nation that has predetermined his life trajectory. All the while, there was a racial and national pride calling him, us really, to fiercely love our communities. This feeling was unshakable and I bore the weight of my demons confronting my convictions, as I stood facing a nation who still needed to know my lives matter.

Three days later, my nation showed yet again that the intersections I occupied remained hidden. At the same time, my community’s continued division over sexuality did its work, sending chilling messages of trans and homophobia. A month later, 2017's first wave of violence against Black trans women received little attention from the “woke” and allied. Years of building and self-improvement felt threatened. The audacity to hope for a family, granted by Obergefell v. Hodges, began to fade like the faceless children I planned on adopting. To remedy this sense of hopelessness, I again returned to the projects of Miami. There, Chiron and I stood in solidarity hand in hand, providing the intimacy our nation and community had yet again denied us.

About one hundred plus days into Trump's presidency, some hope has returned and I once again intend on raising my 8 kids in my Georgetown brownstone. I have found reciprocated intimacy platonically and romantically one thousand times over since the election. I am reminded that my communities are the epitome of resistance and persistence. Whenever I feel invisible or stuck, I remember the mirror Barry Jenkins so graciously blessed audiences with; leaving me to follow in my James Baldwin’s footsteps proclaiming that not only am I not America’s Negro, I’m also not my community’s fag. I remember that my adopted/extended family picks up the pieces kinfolk choose to abandon. I remember because you cannot know where you are going if you do not know from whence you came. I remember because I never want to go back to that place, where my validation comes from the socio-political world or social media.