Atlanta entrepreneur Gee Smalls challenges stereotypes of race, sexuality in new memoir
The Atlanta businessman is opening up about his journey to self-love and acceptance
Gee Smalls is known in Atlanta circles as part of the dynamic duo behind the non-profit The Gentlemen’s Foundation and Virgil’s Gullah Kitchen & Bar, an eatery he owns with his husband, Juan Smalls, in the Atlanta suburb of College Park.
It’s been a mission of the couple to build a sustainable foundation in the community, while at the same time challenging stereotypes and misconceptions about same-gender loving (SGL) men.
Of his debut memoir, Black Enough, Man Enough, Gee tells theGrio, “It’s become a daily affirmation for me throughout my life to be able to tell myself that, throughout everything that I have been through, I am Black enough and man enough.”
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In the book, Gee takes the reader through a journey of his life growing up with a Black father and white mother on James Island in South Carolina. His story deals with the cross sections of multiple lives, being of mixed race and his sexual fluidity. In his own words he tells of feeling like an outsider, but his path to living life authentically in his unique identity wasn’t without his share of self-awareness. Smalls, like many people went through what he refers to as an “adolescent identity crisis that pitted his racial and sexual identities in conflict.”
At an early age, Gee was married to his high school sweetheart and together they have a son, but even through that he knew something within him didn’t feel complete.
“I spent time trying to pray the gay away, if you will, but I had to learn for myself that I didn’t have to live by these biblical rules, but instead find myself spiritually and accept myself,” he says.
In the South, especially among families of color, going to church was like changing your clothes. The church was were you sought your refuge. It was where you went to fellowship with like-minded people and any problems that you might encounter, you would take those and lay them to bare on the church altar.
Although he tried, Gee wasn’t able to overcome the desire that burned within him. The title of his book and his life’s mantra, Black Enough, Man Enough, had presented itself once again and, according to him, he knew what needed to be done. He details a life of living on the down low, which he realized wasn’t the right path for him.
“I knew it was time for us to separate because my sexuality wasn’t something that I had dealt with on my own, and I was fighting it because it wasn’t something that I wanted for my life,” Gee says.
The multiracial experience, according Pew Research Center as recorded by the last U.S. census, is experienced by 6.9% of American adults. Not only is Gee biracial, but he lives at the intersection of living out loud as mixed-race and sexually fluid. The experience of writing the book and constant therapy has allowed him the great privilege of learning and understanding himself.
“When you were taught so much of the person that you are, your inner being, is wrong and when you are taught to live in shame, [that] doesn’t mean that I’m not still triggered by those challenges,” Gee says.
Today, Gee faces challenges of a different kind.
In the middle of a pandemic, the entrepreneur is working to stay afloat while the country figures out how to proceed, but what remains is that burning desire within to live his life authentically, fully, out in front for others. For the past nine years, Gee has been providing that sort of outlet, with his husband by his side, for other SGL people through The Gentlemen’s Foundation, which highlights itself as promoting holistic growth and development for LGBTQ/SGL Black men.
“The idea behind this foundation was to celebrate men like me. Men like my husband who are living productive lives, out of the closet, and staying true to ourselves,” Gee says.
Throughout his life, Gee has been fighting to challenge stereotypes, whether it be within his own family or neighborhood or within himself. Now, he’s sharing that journey during a time when the country is dealing with its own reckoning of racial and social change. A seismic shift is on the brink of happening and more people will begin to tell their stories so that their voices can be heard.
Gee, a biracial man who felt ostracized and confused growing up, is standing boldly in his truth, living his mantra out loud and proclaiming that today is absolutely Black enough and man enough. His underlying hope is that his journey through life so far might help someone who needs the reassurance.
“I want people to feel inspired to live their life as authentically as possible,” he explains. “I do believe that many people may look at me and say, ‘Well he’s married to a man,’ but I think, in reading my story, people will start to open their eyes and see what it means to be a same-gender loving man.”
Kelsey Minor is a 2x Emmy-awarding winning freelance journalist based in New York City. He can be followed on Twitter @theKELSEYminor.
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