I’m finally decolonizing the queerphobia I learned at home
White people can be all kinds of genders, but not Black people.
I could not have been older than six or so. It was the first time I can remember any indication from my family that queerness was something I would not be afforded the space to explore or embrace.
This first memory of anti-queerness was a short conversation between my mother and I. In fact, it was hardly a conversation at all.
I had just finished combing the hair of and applying makeup to one of my favorite toys, my Bratz Styling Head, Yasmin. Yes, I was a Bratz kid. Barbies never looked like me.
Once I had put the finishing touches on her hair, I gave Yasmin a kiss.
I didn’t realize my mother had been watching me until she poked her head through the door and said, “You weren’t kissing her, were you? Because we don’t kiss girls, right?”
I froze, instantly. Staring at my mother, wide-eyed,I shook my head.
“Good,” she said, and shut my bedroom door.
I don’t recall my mother vocalizing her anti-queerness as blatantly as this any other time during my childhood, but I do remember the first time I truly began to internationalize that anti-queerness she expressed in this moment.
My younger brother and I loved Spider-Man. We’d routinely plop ourselves on the living room couch to watch reruns of Spider-Man: The Animated Series.
“Partners in Danger Chapter 3: The Black Cat” was one of our favorite episodes. My brother had developed a crush on The Black Cat. So had I, I’d come to realize.
As a way to tease me, my brother would run up to the television screen and kiss The Black Cat whenever she appeared on the screen. I’d throw pillows and I’d scream until he finally moved.
On the surface, it looked like typical sibling banter over him blocking the screen, but I figure was angry because I wanted to kiss The Black Cat.
This was several years after my mother caught me kissing Yasmin. Still, I recognized that the intense surge of guilt and rage I felt could only be traced back to that moment, and the fact that I had learned very early that girls cannot kiss girls, girls cannot love girls, and girls cannot be with other girls.
There has been one significant occasion when the guilt and rage I routinely felt became almost too much to bear: My first coming out attempt.
I was sitting on the big, living room couch right next to my mother, like I always did. She was casually scrolling through Facebook when she abruptly brought up the topic of sexuality.
My heart began to beat faster. I could feel the rhythm in the back of my throat.
I sat listening to my mother’s tangent about how “people can choose to be gay, but” and “I don’t understand why every television character has to be gay” and “I support same-sex marriage so” for several minutes. Then, I interrupted her.
“I — I’ve thought that I was gay,” I whispered.
“But now you know that you’re not?”
Though she said it as if it were a question, I knew that it wasn’t. I immediately understood that she was telling me that I was not and could not be a lesbian.
“I — I could be bi, though?”
My ears started to ring. I slowly started to lose feeling in my legs.
“It’s ‘cool’ to be bi right now,” she said. “And have girlfriends when you’re girl. It’s just some phase a lot of kids go through. They think they’re cooler –”
I felt my eyes welling up with tears.
“You won’t feel that way once you get out of this town and experience life.”
I was twelve or thirteen when I first attempted to come out. I will be twenty in August. I still have not come out as queer to my parents and I know that when I do, I will also feel the need to explain my non-binary identity and my desire to be referred to using they, them, and theirs, exclusively.
I know, with absolute certainty, that my mother will not accept my queer or my trans identity as the truth. She will fight it. She will tell me why it is not possible. She will explain why there can only be two genders. She will cite all of the crushes I expressed having over the years. I’ll have to explain to her that I’m not even sure if those were real and, even if they were, I know how I feel about women and other non-men now.
She will scream. She will yell. She will use slurs. She will threaten to stop funding my education, my health care, and everything else she’s worked so hard to guarantee I have access to. She might leave me, which means that my father might also leave me. So could my brother.
Traditionally, family is central to life in communities of color.
We are taught to respect our elders.
If you’re a Black woman, you’re taught to defend our men at all costs.
If you’re an older sibling, you’re taught to protect your young younger sibling(s).
If your family is struggling economically, you’re expected to find work so that you can contribute financially.
This is what a lot of upbringings look like for people of color, including queer and trans people of color. Usually, once we come into our queerness, the emphasis on family begins to weigh on us.
I know that for me, I feel like I don’t have a family sometimes. I feel that my relationship with my parents is very much a series of transactions. I don’t know if they also feel it, but I do. This feeling is lonely and, more often than not, maddening.
I’ve only recently begun doing the work to better manage these feelings, and I’ve been able to do so through decolonizing and redefining family for myself.
Like many queer and trans people of color, I grew up being fed the idea that the way I experience sexual and romantic attraction is “white people shit.” White people can be all kinds of genders, but not Black people. For a long time, that’s what I believed and internalized.
I did not know that this gay liberation movement was built by Black queer and trans people. I did not know about the Stonewall Riots, Marsha P. Johnson, or Sylvia Rivera. I did not know about Paris is Burning. I did not know about James Baldwin. I did not know that it wasn’t just me.
I did not know that queer and trans people of color could live lives in the open and could survive in spite of violence and adversity. I did not know there even were “queer and trans people of color” and that our community was so vibrant and strong. I did not have any access to our history or context for my experiences. Decolonization and education gave me that.
On my journey to decolonize, I became infatuated will the ballroom scene, ballroom culture and the concept of “chosen family” within one’s own community. That discovery helped to launch a healing process for me and provided me with the hope that I could not only have a family, but that I could authentically love that family and be loved by that family.
For so long, I believed that I could not be loved as I was, and that the more queer I became, the less lovable I was.
It was not until my first semester in college that I began to feel any differently. I am now entering my senior year and I am surrounded by an overwhelming amount of love and support as I continue my journey as a queer person and begin my journey as a trans person.
I have people who identify as QTPOC rooting for me, and people who do not identify as QTPOC rooting for me as well. I never knew I could be this happy or loved or supported. I never even imagined I would be.
I wish I could have told my younger self that this life is possible, but because I cannot, I want to let other queer and trans Black youth to know what kind of life is possible for them.
Indigo, who uses both they, them and he, him gender pronouns, is a Black Puerto Rican lesbian essayist and recovering community organizer. While pursuing their undergraduate degree, Indigo served as the inaugural president of their campus’ Queer and Trans People of Color Coalition, organizing educational program on social, economic, and political issues impacting primarily Black and Latinx queer and/or trans persons. Currently, Indigo is pursuing a juris doctorate degree at CUNY School of Law.
Editor’s Note: June is LGBTQ Pride Month. At BYP, we will be exploring gender, sexuality, transgender issues and queer theory, and we are interested in publishing works that address these topics and the things surrounding them.