Laron Chapman is a writer, producer and director from Free Mom Hugs home state of Oklahoma. His film, You People, won Best Oklahoma Film at the 2018 DeadCenter Film Festival. We are grateful for his story and to have him as a our guest blogger.
Two strikes. No, that is not a sports reference. Unless by sports you mean voguing and strutting in my 6-inch stilettos to Lady Gaga’s latest album “Chromatica.” No, I am referring to something more personal, more sobering than that. From the day I was able to form my own thoughts and words about the world around me (and by extension, my place in it), I have been taught that my life experience will come with a unique set of challenges. These challenges would be bestowed upon me through no fault of my own, merely an unfortunate byproduct of existence. My name is Laron Chapman and I am a double minority (black and gay). My pronouns are He/Him/His.
Two strikes. Those are the words proverbially branded on my forehead. This idea that before I am able to make any contribution to society, before I am able to prove the naysayers in my life wrong, I am already perceived as a threat, the source of a crude joke, or a sinful pervert. Walks into a convenient store, followed around by the cashier (CHECK!). Politely opens the door for an elderly White woman, she freezes, clutches her purse (CHECK! CHECK!). Walks hand-in-hand in public with my Caucasian boyfriend, passing looks of judgment and disgust by bystanders (CHECK! CHECK! CHECK!) Turns on the TV only to find there are seldom positive images of queer or POC persons (CHECK! CHECK! CHECK! CHECK!) Pulled over by a police officer, fears that my name will be the next hashtag (I could go on, but I don’t want to exhaust you).
Something Beautiful Happened
One can imagine how these experiences could erode a person’s self-esteem and self-worth. Sometimes this negative messaging is so powerful that it convinces us that we only have two ways out of this nightmare: 1. To live an inauthentic life or 2. To live no life at all. I’m disheartened to admit that I have attempted both of these options. Then one day something beautiful happened.
For many years I made self-deprecating comments about myself and the respective communities I was a part of. It earned me a certain status around my cis-White male and female friends and offered me a false sense of security and self-importance. So long as it was me degrading my identities, nobody else would have a need or urge to. I saw it as taking away their power to harm me. I was severely misguided.
This illusion was broken one night when a friend of mine, visibly uncomfortable by my comments said to me: “Do you really think that low of yourself or do you think it makes you more appealing to others?” It was a sobering, “AHA!” moment. She explained that my comments were offensive not just to her but to myself and that I did not need to belittle myself to feel accepted by others. She said she loved me as I am and that I wasn’t cursed to be black or gay, but rather “gifted” to have a point of view tailored to my own experience.
The God Moment
For me, this was a God moment. A moment of transformation of mind, body, and spirit. I could literally feel years of pain and shame lifting off my shoulders. She was right. It was a gift to live life through the unique lens I was afforded. It gave me a voice, a perspective, a purpose. No longer would I view myself as inferior or impure. I was uniquely and deliberately designed and my life was to be used as a vessel of change, a beacon of love, and a person of value.
If you’ve turned on the news at all the last 4 years, you’ve probably been discouraged by the onslaught of hate, greed, and collective trauma our nation is facing on a sociopolitical level. It is a painful reminder of how fragile our hard fought freedoms are and why it is of paramount importance for us to remain diligent and pragmatic to secure them. This means voting for leaders who are on the right side of history, this means speaking out against injustice, and this means educating ourselves about (and supporting) marginalized communities to dismantle the systemic obstacles they are faced with.
It took me years to love myself and to realize what matters most in life, which is the love and compassion we share with everyone around us. And, of course, the love and grace we show ourselves. One of my biggest influences in my life, the late film critic Roger Ebert stated “I believe that if, at the end of it all, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts.” These are principles that have governed my life.
So, as I attended my third “Black Lives Matter” protest last week, Pride Month crept up on me and I had to take a moment to reflect on the compounded burden I was carrying. This brings me to strike three; Even during our trials, we have to remember to celebrate one another, to lift each other up, to acknowledge our progress, and to never forget to live our lives authentically, with dignity, and pride—because WE MATTER! Living out loud is the best revenge.
Happy LGBTQ Pride to all my friends and allies. Now, back to Gaga.