Young Love in the 80’s

Photo courtesy of

Gay black men in the 80s, the period when Phil and Darnell fell in love. Photo courtesy of

My friend  “Phil” told me this story about how he fell in love in the South in the early ’80s. I changed a few details to protect his privacy.

Phil and his older brother “Gus” are both gay. But Gus was bold and didn’t care and proudly came out of the closet when he was a teenager, and was soon a familiar face in all the gay bars in New Orleans.

Phil, who was more studious and quiet than his brother, stayed in the closet and busy studying while in college. Afraid to disappoint his loving parents by telling them yet another one of their sons was gay.

That was until Gus brought home his friend “Darnell,” a tall, broad-shouldered, brown-skinned black man with a mustache and short Afro, which was still in style as the 80s dawned.

Darnell went into the military but that didn't cool off the romance with Phil. Photo courtesy of

Darnell went into the military but that didn’t cool off the romance with Phil. Photo courtesy of

“I knew my brother had probably fucked around with Darnell but that didn’t matter,” Phil said. “We took one look at each other and the attraction was there. We soon became inseparable.”

More than 30 years later Phil said he has never had a love affair as intense as the one he had with Darnell. He liked the way Darnell talked. The way he walked. The way he smelled.

They didn’t have an opportunity to have sex often — family was often around. And when they did they mostly just tongue kissed and bumped and grinded. But Phil said the feelings were still intense.

“That man could touch me with all my clothes on and his touch would make me cum,” he remembered.

Phil was a sophomore at Xavier and working part-time at J.C. Penney but Darnell did not have so much going for him. So his grandmother, who raised him, persuaded Darnell to join the military and get out of New Orleans before he fell in with a bad crowd and got in trouble.

Darnell went away to basic training in Oklahoma. But his love for Phil didn’t stop — in fact the separation intensified it. He called Phil collect almost every day, running up the phone bill. And almost every night Phil would sit at the dining room table alone studying into the night, waiting for Darnell to call.

Darnell even managed to get an allotment for Phil so that each month a portion of his military paycheck went to his love back home in Louisiana. Phil cashed the checks and hid the money under his mattress.

You see, Phil was saving the money because he planned to run away with Darnell after Darnell got out of basic training and went to his first post in California.

They had it all planned out. Phil would drop out of college, get an apartment off base with Darnell, and work at J.C. Penney’s to help them make ends meet.

But the two lovers ended up as star-crossed as Romeo and Juliet.

Gay poet and activist Essex Hemphill (right) in the 1980s. Photo courtesy of Pinterest.

Gay poet and activist Essex Hemphill (right) in the 1980s. Photo courtesy of Pinterest.

Phil’s mother was cleaning the house and changed the linen in the room and found a few hundred dollars in cash between the box spring and the mattress. She guessed immediately what was going on — mothers often know their children better than their children know themselves.

Phil was studying at the kitchen table, waiting on the collect call from Darnell as usual, when his mother confronted him and forced him out of the closet.

“I know what is going on — you plan to run away with Darnell,” she said, her eyes brimming with tears of love and sympathy. “I see you mooning around this house waiting on him to call. It’s obvious what is going on. It’s breaking my heart to see you like this.”

“Baby, you have to live your life and you have a lot of life to live. You have to finish college and make a better life than your father and me did.”

Darnell’s family found out too. You see, Darnell came home on leave for a month before shipping out to California. At the airport he cried so long and hard when he was saying goodbye to Phil that a blind man could see the two were in love.

Darnell’s grandmother narrowed her eyes looking at the spectacle and sucked her teeth. Darnell had already urged her to write a letter to the Army making up an excuse so he could be honorably discharged and come home. Now she knew why.

“A few days later his grandmother wrote me a letter demanding I sever ties with Darnell,” Phil said. “She said homosexuality was wrong and quoted all these Bible passages.”

The pressure from the two families worked. The two broke up.

“It wouldn’t have worked anyway,” Phil said. “After California the military was shipping Darnell to South Korea. I couldn’t follow him overseas. Remember, these were in the days way before President Clinton’s ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Policy. I would have jeopardized Darnell’s military career by following him around.”

So years passed. Darnell married a woman but soon divorced her and came out of the closet. Phil got over his first love and developed other relationships and moved away from New Orleans. But the two remained friends, although mostly the extent of the relationship today is keeping up with each other on Facebook.

Q: Okay readers tell me about your first love!

6 thoughts on “Young Love in the 80’s

  1. From talking to Phil it seems what was meant to be was meant to be. He said now they really don’t have as much in common because it’s 3 years later and people grow.

    • Really loved this story.. like the previous poster mentioned I wished they were able to reconnect later on in life but it wasn’t meant to be. Happy they are able to be friends.

      • Yep it is good they are still friends. They have just grown up since those days. I’m on Facebook with Phil and I checked out Darnell’s profile. He was hot in the 80s judging by his old pics and is still attractive but has gained a lot of weight!

  2. You’ve been posting a lot lately. March and April record. I know your life is busy, but thank you for taking time to write your perspectives. They are apperciated.

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