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#3 of 6
Tony is a digital artist, father, educator, animation expert, and soft-spoken teddy bear of a man living and loving in Memphis. He’s part of this relationships series, which I’ve lovingly dubbed The Menterviews, and he had a whole lot to share about love, identity and bringing it all together in time. ♥
Honestly, my idea about relationships came from a disturbing mix of media, movies, church and my brothers. There was no discussion from mom and dad, other than mom saying something about protection. I told her I was saving myself for marriage; I was sixteen at the time and I meant it, I was serious. My mother laughed. I’ll never forget that.
My mother thought I was as wild as my two brothers, but that’s what I thought we were supposed to do as Christians, save ourselves for marriage. Other than that I tried to watch different movies — stuff like Boomerang or Dangerous Liaisons — trying to be those characters, trying out different roles. I definitely didn’t learn anything from the high school young ladies because all they kept telling me was You’re too nice. I can’t go out with you ’cause you’re too nice. I have yet to understand that. Eventually, I started studying the dogs and seeing how they acted around girls. It’s sad to say, but once I started acting like them, that’s when I started to get into relationships.
It was annoying to be constantly told I was too nice. It was this weird thing of not being allowed to be who you really are, of not being able to say something that’s genuinely nice or being suspected of having an ulterior motive. I think I was very naïve, even in college. There was one young lady who I asked out and she told me there were various and multiple reasons why she wouldn’t go out with me, so I backed way off. Later that semester — we were still hanging out as friends at that time because she said she wouldn’t date me for various and multiple reasons, remember? Well, she was having trouble with a roommate, so she said, I’m going to come stay in your room. I was like, Okay.
The next thing I know, we’re in my bed — I’m on my side and she on hers — and she starts kissing my hand. I thought, This must be some kind of friend thing? I think for guys, when a woman says something, we take it as either black or white with no in-between. But then they do this thing where it’s like, You should know what I meant, when actually it’s not what they said. A comedian made this joke where he played on that idea of going out with your best friend. It’s not possible because how could you be out somewhere and comment on how great another woman looks or how you want to hook up with that group of girls over there? My best friend knows I’m joking, but not the woman I’m dating.
Long story short, and let me be vulgar here: you had to be an asshole to get some ass. Unfortunately, that’s the way it was and I have yet to figure that out. It’s the strangest thing. It really affected my confidence, not being able to be my real self. It’s like, who was showing up in my relationships? There’s bipolar, but I’d say I was tripolar because there’s good, there’s bad, and there’s worse. I would bounce around personality-wise when I was younger. It was an adaptive ability. I tell my students, We don’t talk to our parents the same ways we talk to our friends, or to our peers the same way we talk to our partners. It’s all a game and the way you play it. You just have to know who you’re playing with.
Eventually, you do land into the personality that is you and you become okay with that. Unfortunately, being more than 6’4″ and having dark skin, there was always this awareness of trying not to intimidate people. But attempting to be polite just so they won’t be frightened by me — when they were going to be anyway — all that’s over. These days I’m moving into being big, black, and unapologetic.
There were certain girls in high school who were all huggie and I interpreted their affection as showing interest in me. But then they’d say, Oh, no, I’m just being friendly. I came to be really annoyed when people touched me because I couldn’t ever tell where it was going. To this day, I’m like, Don’t touch me. Just stay over there. I probably won’t hug somebody I don’t know that well unless I’m sure they’re leaving the country; that might warrant a hug. At least I know they’re not coming back, so there’s no confusion there.
I met my wife in art school. I loved her laugh. We were in an art class together and I took her hand and did the cheesiest thing: I drew and eye on it and told her, I’ve got my eye on you.
It was that whole thing again where I showed interest, she didn’t like me, and I backed off. Then she came around. The bottom line is when you’re just being yourself and you’re not trying to dance around for anybody, that’s all of a sudden when you become attractive to people who are interested.
Growing up, there were so many secrets and things we didn’t talk about in my family, and I don’t know why that happened, but I had a counselor in college who told me that because of that history, I was seeking out women with issues just so they had someone to talk to. Luckily, I’ve been pretty fortunate with my last one, and that’s been 15 years now—and that’s just married years I’m talking about.
My wife’s name is LaKeisha and she’s white. It was a running joke between us and our college friends that I’d be the one to wind up with a white wife with a black name like that. College was funny because lots of people assumed I was gay, even after Key and I started dating — it was the eighties, I was in art school, and all the guys wore eyeliner, including me. And even after all the noise they heard us making in that room, they still thought that. My parents were cool when I told them about wanting to marry Key, except for the fact that my mother doesn’t seem to like anybody, really. I just have to sit back and watch sometimes because Key can rip a new one just as good as my mother.
Key’s parents went off at first because, even though we’d been living together for so long up until that point, we moved off campus to our own apartment, they’d send me gifts at the holidays, and even gave us rent money when we fell short just like my folks did. At the end of the day, Key’s parents wanted their baby back home under their roof again. But that wasn’t going to happen. I used to get attitude from some black women who’d say things like, I can’t believe you’re with her, but I’d say, Hey, I was out there, available, and you weren’t interested, so I don’t want to hear it.
What’s really scary is that I’ve seen more fair-skinned blacks give me attitude about my relationship than the darker ones. I’m like, Okay, are you not multi-racial? What’s going on here? Besides that, get over it. My wife laughs and says she’s gonna tell them, Y’all wouldn’t want him anyway. He’s too weird.
As cheesy as it may sound, the relationship I have with my wife is the one I asked God for very specifically since the tenth grade. I said, I want someone who’s funny, but knows when to be serious. I want someone who’s innocent, but not too innocent — stuff like that. Mind you, I didn’t start college until I was 26 or 27, so that’s a long time from tenth grade until then. I remember in church I’d be off to the side, literally crying on the steps by myself while my teen friends were off dating and doing teen stuff. Even in those moments, I never once asked what she’d look like. I only asked for my just right.
I have friends who swear by whatever they think the rules are. I tell them to stop it. Stop trying to be your own reality show and be yourself. I tell them to be in love enough with yourself to attract someone who’s right. The bottom line for anybody who acts unhappy about my relationship is that they’re unhappy themselves, because if you’re happy, you don’t give a damn about what anybody else is doing.
Interracial couples tend to scare the crap out of each other. My wife and I were out once waiting on the valet service, just standing there, and we noticed a white guy who kept glancing over at us. So, I automatically went into protect mode and kept an eye on him. I didn’t say anything because that tends to make people less afraid of me. Then the guy comes over, flips open his wallet and shows us a picture of his wife, who was my complexion. I was relieved, because I don’t fight all that well, and I was glad I didn’t have to get dragged into that. I’m serious, we’ve got to come up with some kind of universal interracial handshake or ‘hi’ sign.
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