Recently, I’ve been looking back in order to propel myself forward. I may not speak for all QTPOC, but enough of us are tired of living a dual consciousness while existing as singular beings. My life has been a constant search for my reflection: trying to find Blackness in my predominately white private high school, craving examples of queer people who looked like me in my community. I revealed myself as queer almost fourteen years ago, quietly and softly at first, but then my actions became bolder until there was no more “coming out” to do. Since then I’ve realized that I was never experiencing myself fully, presenting my blackness and queerness as separate identities for the benefit of others and to the detriment of myself.
Though the internet provides opportunities for each of us to fool one another, I believe it has allowed many people to project authentic self-images. Through Instagram, I was able to connect with an amazing Black queer creative within whom I discovered a kindred spirit. When I told them about this connection I sensed, they mentioned how the work of Joseph Beam and Marlon Riggs greatly influenced not only their writing, but also their very being. At their suggestion, I investigated Briggs’ film, Tongues Untied, and Beam’s anthologies In The Life and the posthumous Brother to Brother, which Essex Hemphill -- a contributor to In The Life and friend to Beam -- completed upon Beam’s death in 1988. These works were all created before I was born. It took an introduction online to discover the work they left behind as will and testament.
Within their words I discovered what sought to break the silence I had been experiencing my entire life: Black queers been here. They spoke of love, lust, desire, shame, sin and home. Through their personal narratives I came to realize I am not Black first, I am not also queer: I am a Black queer. That intersection of experience is so different from what I had known and Beam, Hemphill, and Riggs knew this.
American culture gets it right about .099% of the time (see: Moonlight’s existence and subsequent Oscar). However, even within Black culture, queer artists, authors, and scholars are rarely celebrated for who they are entirely. Often, such figures are stripped of their sexuality, sanitized for the culture. Personally, I am proud of what our forebears accomplished. Many left work that is challenging, groundbreaking, but also flawed and incomplete. I appreciate their legacies and take up the baton in order to move forward. It’s embarrassing to say, but I’m just now accepting my role in preserving and internalizing our history.
Recently, I’ve been working on a solo exhibition for a nonprofit gallery examining Black queer narratives. Entitled Pride & Prejudice, I was initially interested in representing images that I hadn’t seen growing up. However, it quickly became apparent that I was flattening myself in order to present a perfect characterization of Black queerness. Serendipity became an unexpected collaborator reintroducing me to Beam, Hemphill, Riggs and their colleagues. Their art resonated with me because it awakened shared experiences that transcend time. They spoke of experiences with lovers afraid to be seen, the importance of coming home (metaphorically and literally), and the difficulty that can accompany loving each other and ourselves.
I now focus on creating work around Black queerness that doesn’t flatten experiences to acceptance and perseverance, but extends to celebration, sadness, joy, lust and beyond. As QTPOC, we experience racial, gender, and sexual oppression, but I think it’s often hard for people to understand that those identifications are a matrix. We don’t experience them separately at all. It took these writings to remind me of the unique experiences some of us share through our identities. Equipped with deeper understanding, I seek to bridge gaps between the people within my community and the online connections I’ve found online.
In his introduction to In The Life, Joseph Beam reflected on the search to locate community and find representations of Black gay life. He talks about the scarcity of writings by Black gay men, as well as the difficulty attached to asking them to be visible and vulnerable. Today, we can instantly connect to people across the globe. A Black queer artist only has to turn to social media to find other Black queers. Media platforms and technologies have expanded exponentially since the time of print ads and mailed manuscripts. So what does an increase in speed and access mean for Black queer identity in 2018? I believe we have a responsibility to continue to take up the space we deserve.
When we live as fully realized people -- sexual, spiritual, scholastic, artistic and beyond -- we create opportunities to radically change our communities. There are times we will be asked to choose queer or Black; but instead, I propose we choose ourselves, and each other.
You've been part of the work so far, and you can be part of so much more in the coming year. So, let's build.