Romantic love between black same-sex couples is both forbidden and indispensable. Such unions conjure up profound social challenges and personal fears. These feelings force many same-gender-loving men of colour to disguise their feelings for protection and survival. Same-gender-loving men of colour in stable, enduring loving relationships are rarely viewed in a positive light or seen at all.

The Reality of Black Same-Gender Love

The largest misconception of black same-gender-loving men is that they are associated with promiscuity and living on the down low. This misconception erroneously proclaims that black same-sex love is an affront to black male masculinity, black families, procreation, and morality. Black same-gender-loving relationships do not last. Black SGL couples have shattered this train of thought in displaying monogamy as the standard in same-sex love.

In our fast-paced culture, it has become the norm for black same-sex couples to enhance their communication skills, intimacy, and emotional validation. It has become relevant in this current culture for same-sex men of colour to become intervention managers for safer-sex in relationships due in part to same-sex and bisexual men of colour having the largest number of HIV diagnoses (HIV.gov, 2017, para. 4).

Notwithstanding that, the experiences of black same-sex male couples are not central in the context of HIV or from a deficit perspective. A perspective that focuses and reduces black same-sex men only to their sexual behaviours and considers their interpersonal and romantic relationships as secondary (Applewhite & Bounds-Littlefield, 2015, p. 2).

Nevertheless, black male same-sex couples regardless of societal and structural pressures effectively form successful, stable partnerships along racially concordant lines. Above all, black same-sex couples that receive support socially from their communities, have familial support and emotional stability display resilient strategies in face of structural, psychosocial and relationship barriers (Applewhite & Bounds-Littlefield, 2015, p. 4).

Factors of Relational Success

Long-term black same-sex couples have endured relationships despite the sociopolitical atmosphere that has polarized and stigmatized them with no societal recognition for their relationships.

Black Same-Gender-Loving Couples: A Man's Guide to Healthy Relationships
“We are not a people of yesterday.
Ask when first a Brother’s lips kissed a Brother’s mouth. We are not a people of the destroyers’ world, Our roots return to Anoa.” — From Boy with Beer

Similar to heterosexual couples there are many factors that correlate with black same-sex couples’ relational satisfaction and success. Research on long-term relationships has shown that intimate communication with little relational conflict facilitates open communication and trust between couples (Riggle, Rotblum, Rostosky, Clark, & Balsam, 2016, p. 320).

Despite challenges, same-sex couples have developed strategies for expressing their commitment, through availability, empathic attunement, appreciation, and shared goals. Other central relational factors for relationship resilience include; maturity, integration as a couple, compatibility and ambiguity of external supports (Riggle, Rotblum, Rostosky, Clark, & Balsam, 2016, p. 320-322).

The emotional bond between black same-sex couples eclipses the stigmatization and barriers in the societal environment they often endure. Giving black same-sex couples in loving relationships a voice allows them to share their stories and preserve and improve their relational success.

Emotional Vulnerability and Relationship Satisfaction

Overall, the quality and relational satisfaction are comparatively similar across couple types; same-sex and straight relationships are comparable in many ways. Emotional vulnerability, especially for black same-sex men in long-term relationships, can provide difficult points in the union.

Men are men regardless of their sexual orientation.  For many men, intimacy is a definition of sex, the one place that men allow themselves to become emotionally venerable. Although it is said that intimacy should be reciprocal, for some same-sex black men, this is not always their truth.  Black men tend to embrace the traditional masculine ideology more than any other ethnic group. Gender and sexual orientation are non-conforming expressions that mould how black men are expected to behave (Douglas, 2017, para. 5-6).

Emotional vulnerability is a flaw that infers weakness in a man’s character that is an oxymoron to the feminine side of same-sex males. When black same-sex men are prepared to recognise and demonstrate their vulnerability, they open themselves up and bring real intimacy into the relationship. Vulnerability is the key to a healthy relationship; it holds the truth to a strong sense of love and compassion that compliments and elevates relational satisfaction.

Stress, Stigma, and Prejudice in Relational Development

The developments of healthy black same-sex relationships are still contained in a society that is indecisive and hostile toward black same-sex couples. Black same-sex relationships are often viewed as innately dysfunctional. Visibly, support for same-sex couples remains highly controversial.

Internalised discrimination and homophobia are predictive of unfavourable relationship quality (Otis, Rostosky, Riggle, & Hamin, 2006, p. 81). Black same-sex identified couples maintain intimate partnerships in a culture that recognises heterosexual privilege and identities and relationships and stigmatises same-sex unions. The resulting prejudice and discrimination of heteronormativity is passed on to all levels of the socio-ecological system and affect the health and the well being of relational development of same-sex couples (Scales-Rostosky & Riggle, 2017, p. 29).

The greatest challenge of black same-sex couples for their relational development is deflecting Homophobia in their own backyards. This is underscored throughout Black America’s deep-seated bias of homosexuality. In terms of relational development, same-gender-loving couples have awakened when facing problems and have begun to ignore the small difficulties and focus on the experiences that have brought them together.

Healthy Stages of Same-Gender-Loving Relationships

Black Same-Gender-Loving Couples: A Man's Guide to Healthy Relationships
“Now when muscled arms enfold me. A peace descends from above. Someone is holdin’ Maybelle’s boy and whisperin’ words of love.” — Lamont B. Steptoe

Romantic relationships involve significant events for development. Relationship development is usually linear and associated with escalating levels of commitment (Macapagal, Greene, Rivera, & Mustanski, 2015, p. 330). The stages of same-gender-loving relationships are determined how each partner understands commitment. Each stage is contingent on the experiences each individual has lived.

Black same-sex couples only have black heterosexual models of what relationships they should emulate and find suitable, seeking the same salient mutual emotional bonds as heterosexuals. In general, few empirical studies make the relationship experiences of black same-sex couples the focal point other than studies done on White gay couples. Given that, SGL relationships can be conceptualised in 6 stages.

Stage 1: The unification stage unifies the couple into a single unit. Romantic feelings and sexual activity become the focal points of the relationship. The couple balance time, responsibilities and goals, as well as learning each other’s weaknesses and strengths. (year 1).

Stage 2: The homemaking stage strengthens commitment, compatibility, and acceptance of the differences in personality styles. The couple becomes aware of more realistic views of their partnership (years 2-3).

Stage 3: The balancing stage identifies the couple’s traditions and rituals. The most difficult of the steps, as each of the partners, began to search for new interests outside of the relationship. Possible renegotiation of relationship rules (years 4-5).

Stage 4: The building stage the couple has a sense of dependability in the relationship (all seems well). There is a new balance of dependence and interdependence that the goals set have been collaborated and established (years 6-10).

Stage 5: In the relishing stage, the couple has complete trust in each other, and there no longer is a need to change each other. Close companionship becomes a mainstay of the relationship (years 10-20).

Stage 6: The retirement stage couples are emotionally and financially secure and have more time for each other and other activities. Issues become more salient associated with health and the meaning of life. Stagnation of productivity takes hold across the couple’s life perspective (Psych page, n.d., p. 1).

Older Same-Sex Couples

Same-gender-loving older black couples share a unique history of the historic civil rights for African Americans and have the honour of living through the passage of same-sex marriage. The concomitant social exclusion of being black and same-sex marginalised them into double minority status.

The lifelong experience of coming out has given older same-gender-loving couples the distinct knowledge of ageing from both the heterosexual and LGBT communities. Older individuals are more prone to silence about their same-sex orientation and relationships (Van Wagenen, Diskell, & Bradford, 2013, p. 2).

Older black and white same-sex couples have been excluded in most empirical studies regarding LGBT communities and gerontology. Unfortunately, this has caused a silence for same-sex older couples that have been denied their gender and sexual identities and stories to be told. Something many younger same-sex couples will not have to experience as older adults. Trust and support and improving communication would best serve older same-gender-loving couples embrace their relationships in the open (Reed, 2018, p. 1).

References

  • Applewhite, S., & Bounds-Littlefield, M. (2015). The role of resilience and anti-resilience behaviours in the romantic lives of black same gender loving (SGL) men. Journal of Black Relationships, 2. no. 2(), 1-38. http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/bsr.2016.0005
  • Douglas, C. (2017). How Black Boys Turn Blue: The Effects of Masculine Ideology on Same-Gender Loving Men.
  • HIV.gov (2017). U.S. Statistics. 
  • Macapagal, K., Greene, G. L., Rivera, Z. A., & Mustanski, B. (2015, June 2015). “The best is always yet to come”: relationship stages and processes among young LGBT couples. Journal of Family
    Psychology, 29, no.3, 309-320. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/fam0000094
  • Otis, M. D., Rostosky, S. S., Riggle, E. B., & Hamin, R. (2006, February 1, 2006). Stress and relationship quality in same-sex couples. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 23, no. 1, 81-99.
    http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0265407506060179
  • Psychpage (n.d.). Stages of Gay Relationship Development. Retrieved from
    http://www.psychpage.com/gay/library/gay_lesbian_violence/stages_gay_relationships.html
  • Reed, T. (2018). Successful ageing for Canada’s LGBT older adults. RN Journal. Retrieved from
    http://rn-journal.com/journal-of-nursing/successful-aging-canada-lgbt
  • Riggle, E. D., Rotblum, E. D., Rostosky, S. S., Clark, J. B., & Balsam, K. F. (2016). “The secret of our success”: long-term same-sex couples’ perceptions of their relationship longevity. 
    Journal of GLBT Family Studies, 12, no. 4, 319-324.
    http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1550428X.2015.1095668
  • Scales-Rostosky, S., & Riggle, E. D. (2017, February 2017). Same-sex relationships and minority stress. Current Opinion in Psychology, 13, 29-38.
    http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.copsyc.2016.04.011
  • Schoebi, D., & Randall, A. K. (2015, October 2015). Emotional dynamics in intimate relationships. Emotion Review, 7, no. 4, 342–348.
    http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1754073915590620
  • Van Wagenen, A., Diskell, J., & Bradford, J. (2013, January 2013). “I’m still raring to go”: Successful ageing among lesbian, gay, Bisexual, and transgender older adults. Journal of Aging Studies, 27, no. 1, 1-14. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jaging.2012.09.001
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Richard Kirkwood
An HIV education facilitator for Southern Regional AHEC in Fayetteville, North Carolina. He has been HIV positive for 24-years and works to bring awareness to same-gender-loving black men about how to become more aware of their sexual health. Richard recently completed a Master's in Marriage and Family Therapy from Northcentral University and also holds a Master of Social Work from the University of Southern California. He has been with his partner, Richard Teeple, for 20-years. They currently live in Lakeview, North Carolina.

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