If you live long enough and pay enough attention while doing so, you’re likely to learn a few valuable things along the way.
In my walk from young adulthood to now, I’ve learned a lot about myself. Before landing in Washington, D.C. 24 years ago in 1995, no one told me how challenging that phase of life would be as I came to grips with accepting my sexuality, which was anything but a straight line. I had no roadmap to figure out what was happening or how to navigate any of it. Back then, any literature that was black, gay adjacent that I could get my hands on, I read. It wasn’t until I discovered the works of E. Lynn Harris and James Earl Hardy that some of what I had been carrying around regarding my sexuality started to make any kind of sense. As liberating as that felt, it was also terribly confusing. By age 21, I had already overcome some pretty serious, dark demons, but I knew in my spirit that I still had more work to do…I just didn’t know what it would look like.
Then came “The Dirty Thirties…” By the time decade three of my life’s journey rolled around, so began a new chapter in my life as I tested positive for HIV, three weeks after my 30th birthday. Just as I was finally starting to become confident in my skin as a black gay man, having experienced what I thought at the time was some serious “life shit,”life got even more real. Again, there I was with no real idea what I was really doing or how I was doing it, yet I knew even in the midst of what felt like the darkest period of my life, that I had to figure it out, somehow. Until then, I had struggled and fought with myself, and with others to be able to live openly, out loud, and proudly as a black gay man. So when HIV entered my story, it was like starting from scratch, in the worst possible way imaginable. Coming to grips with the diagnosis myself & dealing with all the subsequent emotions: the guilt, the shame, the fear of death, of judgment, rejection, and then of coming out to my family AGAIN. It all felt insurmountable...until it didn't anymore. Somehow, over time, I figured out how to keep living in my truth.
Most of the valuable pearls of wisdom, life hacks, and reminders I acquired were picked up along the way as I experienced all the growing pains that come with growing older. I became more mature, more patient, more calm, and more confident in my own skin. To date, I’ve overcome suicide attempts, HIV, and much more. One thing I can say with certainty is that all of what I’ve experienced in my life as a black gay man has prepared me for this current phase of my life, one that comes with its own unique set of challenges. As I find myself right in the middle of my forties, I feel like I’m starting from scratch all over again.
Even though I don’t look or feel it physically, I’m still reminded that I am getting older. With each societal reminder, there is a feeling of my value and worth as a black gay man diminishing before me. A sense of the time on the clock running out on my sexual desirability, dating prospects, or simply taking up space in the black gay atmosphere. I know all of this is bullshit. The way society views aging, and especially those within the black gay community, can be relentless. The pill that is other people’s ideas about how we age, if swallowed, can be poisonous.
As a black gay, activist and artist living with HIV, many of my inspirations (several who lived lives vastly similar to mine) didn’t live past their 30s. As a result, this period of my life is one which I have little to no frame of reference for. That said; I’m blessed to have black gay elders and brethren who serve as proof that there is always as much life awaiting each one of us as we are willing to create and live to the absolute fullest. I may not have had many pearls 24 years ago, but with wisdom from black gay men whom I value and trust to anchor me, I’m confident the future that awaits me won’t be nearly as rocky as my past. At this point, with what I know now, I’m determined to age black, gay, and gracefully.
Monte J. Wolfe is an experienced producer, writer, director, musician & theatre professional with an extensive background in theatre management, arts administration, and production. He has worked professionally in the DC metropolitan area since 1999. He is also a trained actor with various stage, film & television appearances to his credit. He is a graduate of the Howard University Theatre Arts Department, where he earned a BFA in Theatre Arts Administration in 1999. He is the Founder, Artistic, and Managing Director of Brave Soul Collective (BSC), an arts, education, and outreach organization with a focus on HIV/AIDS, and issues affecting the lives of LGBTQ people of color, through the performing and healing arts. Through his work with BSC (which celebrates its 13th anniversary this year), Monte has served as a producer, director, and pl