Paul Mendez’s stories of Black masculinity and queerness

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Brother eats his ackee and saltfish and hard dough bread in the front room, watching music videos. The same curry goat, rice and peas as a usual Sunday will be on offer later, just with extra heart and soul stirred in, and sides of fried chicken, red snapper and macaroni cheese. The cost of living crisis means no turkey, which only ever ends up being sandwiches for a week anyway. 

An Astra coupé pulls up outside. A dark-skinned man in a bobbly-looking jardigan gets out, as does a blonde woman—Uncle and his wife, White Aunty. Nan’s been going on all morning about how Uncle’s worked himself up to store manager at a B&Q. They let themselves in and go straight into the kitchen to greet her. Two minutes later they come into the front room. Uncle is surprised to see Brother and barely shakes his hand. 

“You remember White Aunty?” says Uncle, lowering himself into the armchair his father used to sit in, picking up the remote and switching over in the middle of “8 Days of Christmas,” right before Beyoncé performs her little hair flick. 

“We’ve met once I think.” White Aunty occupies both hands settling her Karen Millen shades in her hair. 

“We’ve been together for 18 years, now,” says Uncle, settling on a Premier League rerun. 

“Oh, so there was some overlap?” 

Brother still misses his uncle’s first wife, Goth. At least she was interesting, unlike White Aunty, a HR manager. The manager who speaks to the manager.

A British Red Cross appeal pops up on screen and both Uncle and White Aunty immediately text to donate. Brother imagines them waiting at the Polish border trying to escape Ukraine, White Aunty being accepted and Uncle being left behind because he’s Black.

“Do you donate when it’s Yemen or Afghanistan or Ethiopia?” says Brother, a monthly donor to Unicef.

“Those shitholes? No way,” says White Aunty.

“So, I hear you’re gay,” says Uncle, pushing his phone back in his pocket.

“Yeah?” says Brother.

“I interviewed a guy recently who was gay, which I’m okay with, you know, but then I asked him his thoughts on same-sex marriage and he wouldn’t reply, so I didn’t give him the job.”

“I’m pretty sure that’s illegal.”

“Gay marriage is legal,” says Uncle.

“You should know that,” says White Aunty. 

“It’s illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of their sexual orientation,” says Brother.

“If I’m going to give someone the keys to my business I at least need to trust them,” says Uncle.

“Your business? A branch of B&Q?”

“What would you have said then, smart arse?” White Aunty asks.

“That it was none of your business.”

“Well, you wouldn’t have got the job either,” says Uncle. “You’re behind the times, Brother. People don’t care if you’re gay anymore. Oh, thanks, mum.”

Nan gives Uncle and White Aunty their cups of tea off a tray.

“What is this I hear?” says Nan.

“Oh nothing, mum. I’m just explaining to Brother that he shouldn’t worry about being gay. It doesn’t matter anymore.”

Nan spins to face Brother like a 10-year-old just learning attitude. She says, “Brother, are you gay? What about the girlfriend you had?” referring to the girl friend he brought round once.

“She was—is—my friend. And yes, I’m gay.”

She takes her tray and storms out of the room.

“You know there’s no such thing as racism,” says Uncle.

“You need to learn to respect your elders,” White Aunty tells Brother.

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