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Living Uncaged: How Black Queer Public Figures Are Navigating Sex and Relationships


(From Left to Right) Juan Smalls, Devin Barrington Ward, and Larry Scott-Walker, are public queer figures navigating sex and relationships in Atlanta. (Images via Instagram)

Juan Smalls says he simply wanted to be liberated. As one half of the highly visible married couple known by many as Juan & Gee and the owners of Virgil’s Gullah Kitchen and Bar in College Park, along with the non-profit The Gentlemen's Foundation—this Atlanta Black, gay power couple raised more than a few eyebrows after revealing that they’re in a non-monogamous marriage in the pages of Gee Smalls’ memoir “Black Enough Man Enough.” The spiritual and emotional capacity for the life partners of over a decade to define their relationship on their terms required both men to release themselves from the expectations projected onto their relationship from those within the Black LGBTQ+ community who often refer to their union on social media as #couplegoals. For Juan Smalls, the process was not overnight, and the lightbulb went off when he least expected it—during a six-hour flight delay at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport en route back home to Atlanta.


“I didn’t have anything to do but to think,” said Juan Smalls. “I was just sitting there thinking about my vision for my life. I called Gee, and I said my vision, and I said my vision for our relationship…the freedom, the liberation. He was like, ‘well I was waiting for you to get here.”

But for a while, Smalls says he was still concerned about how the couple’s non-traditional marital arrangement would be received by others in the community, and even declined to discuss the inner workings of their relationship during their YouTube relationship series “Love Works with Juan and Gee.”


“In my head, I was like, people have this image of us and we have to uphold this image. I was doing and being what I thought people wanted…what someone who owns a non-profit should do, what a speaker should be, just all of these performative ways of being,” he said. “But then, I don’t know what it was, it was a click in my head, it was like a switch went off and I was like, fu** this! I want to live for me. I want to be liberated. I want total freedom. I want to release the need to control you [Gee]. I want to release the need to give a fu** about what people think about us.”


And for the couple, this release also included embracing the term “life partners” instead of husbands, and being transparent publicly about the sexual needs that at one point were being unfulfilled in their relationship that led them down the path to non-monogamy.

“We have zero expectations of each other regarding non-monogamy, except respect me, respect us,” said Juan Smalls. “And after 12 years, I think we both have a pretty good understanding of what that means. We don’t even like to use the word husbands because it connotes ownership. We’re life partners, we’re on this journey together, and it’s up to us to fully experience our lives together and separately on that journey,” he said.


“He [Gee] wasn’t being fulfilled in certain ways sexually and I said to myself, I am not going to do these things for you because I’m honoring myself and I don’t desire x, y, and z, and it’s just a no. So, I don’t feel like, though, you should go without these certain things,” said Juan Smalls.


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