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You Are Viewing Erika Turner
Never take your friends for granted.
As an activist, this will first and foremost forever be rule number one.
I have traveled long and far to come to this conclusion, ending up in a crowded Starbucks near a busy Tokyo train station and shopping center, sipping a grande café mocha, ignoring the pretentiousness of this scenario, to share with you my insights.
It has been three months and I have never felt this alone. For a writer, it is absolute torture to be sent to a country in which I cannot fully express myself because my writing and speaking skills in this country’s language are below the level of that of a three year old. (Every time a child speaks without stumbling over their words, I cry a little.)
Because I cannot properly express myself, it makes it difficult to connect with any person on a deeper level, which severely sprains my ability to make friends. Unfortunately, this problem goes further than linguistics, for I have found that even when I find people who are able and willing to communicate in English (or in very, very slow and patient Japanese), it turns out that we still don’t speak the same language.
From junior high to college, I have always been surrounded by people who ‘got’ me, because they too were of color, queer, of lower socio-economic statuses, and/or deeply interested in social activism. It was not necessarily that all of my friends were gay, brown, poor, or activists – but I had plenty who were and that was enough. We were able to create a community of constant understanding and comfort in the face of a largely white supremacist and heterosexist world that did not often bother to look in on itself. By having this community, this basic source of self-affirmation and love, it was easy to then branch out and connect with others outside of this community, to share in other mutual interests.
Ironically, having become accustomed to its nourishment, part of me longed to exist beyond my community – to find aspects of myself that did not have to be defined by my race, my sexuality, my gender, my social economic class, etc. I longed to just ‘be,’ and coming to Japan, a country that had no direct role in my social history, was sure to be the ticket to that escape.
It’s quite funny, really, how much you understand how essential your identity is to yourself when others don’t. How impossible it is to exist ‘beyond’ being queer when every person you meet asks if you have a boyfriend in America and actually cannot fathom the concept of homo-romantic love; how impossible it is to exist ‘beyond’ class when your family members still call you for money; how impossible it is to exist ‘beyond’ race when white people you meet in Japan say to you, “Goodness, it must be so hard for you to get your hair done in this country! They don’t even know how to do my hair!” It’s impossible to be anything other than whom you are, no matter where you are. You cannot exist beyond yourself.
Furthermore, once you’ve become aware of oppression and privilege, you can’t unlearn it – because I still cringe when I hear the word “retard,” I still flinch if I hear the word “bitch,” I still become angry or hurt if I hear a joke about a minority from a person of privilege. I cannot hold a conversation for the sake of conversation if the conversation itself is riddled with privilege and ignorance, unless I bite my tongue – in which case, I’m not enjoying the conversation at all because I get nothing out of it, except a nearly bloody mouth. Once your eyes are opened, you cannot close them again – because even if you do, the image of what you’ve seen is still burned into your memory, still flickers in the darkness behind your eyelids.
I had similar interactions when I lived in the States, but it was far easier then, because I always had a place to go home to. Like a child, I had guardians and now that I am on my own, after having asked for my freedom, I am realizing that being an adult is not so easy.
It’s difficult to not be disillusioned. Once you learn that you cannot exist beyond yourself, in the context of this world, it is difficult to not then shut yourself away in your own mind and curl into yourself as your only comfort. Once you find that you cannot leave yourself, it becomes difficult to even try.
These are the growing pains of activism and social justice.
The first step for me has been to recognize my privilege as someone who had a community – and to remember that that community still exists; it is just not as close as it once was. The next step will be to find the balance between existing within myself and yet outside of my own head.
I cannot describe how excited I am to tell you that our beloved 2010 summer intern, Erika Turner (and my adopted lil sis) has been awarded a 2011 Point Foundation Scholarship! If I’m not mistaken, the Point Foundation is the most prestigious scholarship dedicated to supporting LGBT people in their educational endeavors. Erika, we are SO proud of you.
Erika charmed (and educated) us all last summer via her bi-weekly blog, where she talked about everything from being a young queer woman of color in search of community to activism as an expression of love, and — of course — her experience interning at QWOC+ Boston, which she very generously refers to as what further galvanized her leadership and student organizing on Wellesley’s campus.
Since ending her QWOC+ Boston internship, Erika has been a passionate ambassador for QWOC+ Boston on her campus, spreading the word about our work and really upping our profile with Wellesley students (thank you, Erika!). More importantly, she galvanized BlackOUT (Wellesley’s student group for Black lesbian, bisexual, queer, and/or questioning students), spear-headed an inter-college spring social for LGBTQ students of color (which was such a huge success, they’re going to do it again!), and is currently preparing to study abroad for a year in Japan.
But wait, I’m not done yet! Erika’s new project is creating an online platform for queer students of color living or studying abroad to blog about their experiences. As if being a certified trailblazer on her campus and now nationally isn’t enough.
Erika, I am sure I speak for everyone when I say that we are all so very proud of you. By working as hard as you do, not just for your own gains, but to improve the livelihood of others around you, you’ve inspired me beyond words, and I’m sure others too. As my little sister turned warrior woman, you are way more than just an intern that passed through; you are proof, that the greatest gift we can give to the world is in the form of our authentic selves, to each other. I can’t tell you how honored I am to have met you.
Please scroll down below to read Erika’s bio on the Point Scholarship site. And be sure to leave a comment letting her know that you’re proud of her too!
East Asian Studies
Erika Turner grew up her mother and sister in the suburbs of Las Vegas. While in high school, she was surprised to discover that two of her closest friends identified as queer. Their love and support was key in her acceptance of herself as a lesbian. Though her father, step-parents and older sister were supportive of her sexual orientation, her mother found it hard to accept. She feared that Erika’s sexuality, coupled with her gender and race, might hinder her ability to succeed academically and professionally.
Undeterred, Erika became a leader in her school newspaper and earned over twenty writing awards for her journalistic and creative writing endeavors from sophomore to senior year. She graduated Liberty High School as one of the top students in her class. Upon entering college, she became more interested in social justice issues and become the sex and sexuality chair of Wellesley’s once-homophobic black social organization, Ethos. After interning with Queer Women of Color and Friends (QWOC+) over the summer and forming a close bond with her supervisor and mentor, Adaora Asala, she returned to Wellesley for a second year as the co-sex and sexuality chair of Ethos and formed blackOUT, a social and support group for queer and questioning students of African descent. Currently, Erika is preparing to spend her junior year at Japan Women’s University and Waseda University’s School of International Liberal Studies. She plans to continue working with Ethos and blackOUT while abroad and upon returning to the States in her senior year. She is also working on a blog dedicated to the experiences of black and queer students abroad. With her passion for writing and social justice, Erika hopes to enter the professional world of mainstream media to help increase and diversify the visibility of LGBTQ people and people of color. Her mother is extremely proud of her.
On Thursday, Feb. 17, students at Wellesley College gathered in Harambee House, the cultural center for students of African descent, to discuss issues facing the college community and what changes we would like to see. One major issue we agreed upon was the imperativeness of being aware of and supporting all of the student organizations on campus, especially cultural organizations. “Our issues are your issues,” was one of the most favorable quotes of the night.
Earlier that day, I received an e-mail from the Human Rights Campaign, whose subject line read “Let’s Talk about Marriage.” While such a topic was nothing new, especially from HRC, something about those simple words disturbed me. For some reason, I had been expecting something different.
The e-mail came in the light of recent plans by the Republican-led House of Representatives to severely cut back on funding for family planning and abortion coverage. ($75 million would be cut from Planned Parenthood.) Furthermore, some in the House were attempting to redefine rape, to further complicate the matter of what situations would permit an abortion. One bill allows for hospitals to refuse to give an abortion to a woman, even if it may save her life or refuse to refer her to a hospital that will,
while another permits the murder of abortionists, on the grounds of “defense of the fetus.”
But the biggest issue for me is the attack on Title X, which is a Family Planning Program. Here’s the definition according to the Office of Population Affairs:
Title X is the only federal grant program dedicated solely to providing individuals with comprehensive family planning and related preventive health services. The Title X program is designed to provide access to contraceptive services, supplies and information to all who want and need them. By law, priority is given to persons from low-income families.
To reduce funding for this program would be to reduce the availability of HIV/AIDS testing, gynecological exams, cancer screenings, access to birth control methods, and sexual health education. Also, please note the last line of the quote above: priority is given to persons from low-income families. That means those who can barely afford health care now will no longer have access to any form of it whatsoever. The idea of “talking about marriage,” at a time like this, seems kind of like a brazen statement of apathy and ignorance. Women are being essentially being stripped of their legal rights and treated worse than cattle. (Republican Representative Dan Burton of Indiana recently introduced a bill to provide contraception to wild horses.) Murder is becoming legalized and women are being left to die – and you want to talk about marriage?
Such talk is an absolute slap in the face. It assumes that family planning programs only affect heterosexuals and the women’s rights are not LGBTQ concerns. However, it is clear that Title X protects and provides for men and women of all orientations and that any attack on it is an attack on us. Ignoring its significance is not just ignoring women’s rights – it’s ignoring our health and our bodies.
Of course, it wasn’t only the HRC who seemed to have turned their attentions away from a massive national overhaul of progressive principles. Every LGBTQ blog I’ve come across has little to no mention of Title X or the Republican attack on family planning and women’s reproductive rights – even the lesbian blogs seem woefully silent.
Where is the cry of outrage? How is it possible that I can receive e-mail after e-mail about Prop. 8, DOMA, and DADT – and not even the slightest peep about all of these atrocities? What’s going on?
There is clearly a disconnect about what does and does not affect the lives of LGBTQ people. There is a lack of recognition toward the reality that people with reproductive organs, victims of incest, victims of rape, victims of HIV/AIDS, victims
of cancer, and low-income individuals with little access to healthcare are part of the LGBTQ community. There is a lack of solidarity among progressive groups. There is apparently a faulty belief that each oppressed part of society should focus on their own specific, narrow issues and let others deal with their problems on their own.
When I read that I may not have access to necessary gynecological exams or that my sister may not have access to birth control or that my best friend may not have access to HIV testing, and meanwhile all anyone else can talk about is marriage and the military as if that’s the only thing gay people every have to worry about, then there is a problem.
What happened to the concept of being allies? For those of us who may not be directly affected the conservative Republican assault, it is still absolutely necessary that you recognize and support those who are. While we thank and praise those heterosexual men and women who rally to our side and speak out on our behalf, it is equally imperative that LGBTQ people be called to the stage to lend their support to others.
Women’s issues are LGBTQ issues are women’s issues are everyone’s issue. “Your issues are your issues” or, even better, “These are our issues.” That should have been the type of e-mail I was getting from the gay rights blogs. If you believe that we are equal, you must first act like we are all equal. That includes being aware of issues that extend beyond your own and, sometimes, making them a priority. If people of every race, gender, sexual orientation, and religious background were to do that, the impact of change would be that much greater and it would mean change for us all.
Dear QWOC+ Boston,
If there’s anything I regret this summer, it’s the fact that I did not get the chance to give all of you a hug good-bye last night after we celebrated the commencement of my internship with cake, photos, and, of course, Japanese food. However, I think it’s the most appropriate departure I could have given – a cliffhanger, as opposed to a definite end. If you thought you’ve gotten rid of me, you’re quite wrong. In fact, you are now stuck with me and several of my friends who, after hearing me fawn over you and this internship for the last three months, are now trying to figure out an “in.” One friend asked if you needed an intern for the fall; another asked if any of you were looking to adopt another little sister into the crew.
I send them to you all with pride, armed with the knowledge of how much you’ve affected my life for the better. I would be lying if I said this summer has been easy. With my bouts in and out of the hospital (due entirely to my gift of clumsiness and perhaps slight case of hypochondria), my sanity ceaselessly tested by my part-time job, and my break ups and breakdowns, things couldn’t have been more wild. In the midst of my personal emo lifestyle, I was given more responsibility than I’ve ever been faced with and, given that I respect you all so much, I pushed myself harder than I’ve ever pushed myself before for any one thing. Even with all of your endless support, encouragement, and praise, I still feel that I owe you all far much more than I’ve given and I can only hope that I some day make up for that fact.
I’ve always been a spiritual person and I’ve been told countless times by my mother, pastor, and various women in my family that when God closes one door, he opens up another. As the summer approaches its end, I realize that this reality could not have been more true. As I ended my first year of college, I was faced with the distressing fact that my older sister, who was finishing up her senior year at Harvard, would be returning to the West Coast post-graduation. Though she often complained about her thesis or having a life outside of babysitting, my older sister was my rock and I always knew that, no matter what I had to face during the academic and social catastrophes that often made up my life at Wellesley, she was only a train ride away. It was difficult knowing that I would truly be on my own after her departure. Imagine my pure glee in realizing that as my biological sister figures out her life across the country, I have been blessed with six more adoptive sisters to help guide my way through this crazy city and college life.
I started this internship only wanting a bit of experience in blogging and a nice recommendation letter to leave with. I didn’t expect to be opened up to an entirely new world – that is to say, I didn’t expect to stumble upon my own. I grew up with mostly white friends in a mostly straight setting with not too much variation. I came to Wellesley and was shockingly given the opportunity to meet a few more queer women of color, but was limited only to my campus, limited to conversations only about what we knew, which wasn’t much. We only knew that we weren’t the same as other queer girls or other women of color and for some reason, we felt left out of the conversation. Any conversation. Every conversation. Indeed, the only person with whom I could have a full on, empathetic discussion about my experiences was my sister. And now I’ve discovered that there’s actually an entire community out there that I can learn from, who understands me, and who are having conversations of their own.
12 weeks ago, I was just a black teen with a propensity for writing and women. There wasn’t too much else that defined me. And maybe that’s who I still am and I’m okay with that. But my path is a little clearer now, and my faith in my self and this life is a little stronger. I have a passion that I believe I can follow with a family, adopted and otherwise, that I believe will follow me.
I cannot thank you enough and, while I may give the stink eye to whatever young lady or fellow takes my place from here, I only hope that their experience is just as crazy, just as powerful, and just as life-altering.
But this isn’t a good-bye or even a cliff-hanger. It’s merely a pause – after all, I still owe at least four of you hugs and one of you a Sailor Moon marathon.
Until next time.
Erika Turner, former QWOC+ Boston Intern
I went to my first pride festival about a year and a half ago, I think. It was located in downtown Vegas and, of course, my first reaction was fear and delight. Delight because I had never gone to such an event before and fear because my suburban upbringing had taught me to avoid downtown anything, especially after night. I had gone with a friend of mine who I had been in love with and since she was busy looking out for the girls she wanted to or had already hooked up with, I spent most of the time wandering around and being in complete and total awe. Never in my life had I been around so many gay people before!
The keyword, of course, being “around.” Though I saw and was in the presence of a few hundred gay people, I didn’t actually “meet” any. It was like a park where we all roamed around in little packs of friends and acquaintances and with me being mostly on my own, I was too intimidated to approach anyone I thought was interesting or friendly and mostly stuck to myself.
Still, I was excited and intrigued and preoccupied myself by reading the Short History of Gay People that was printed on a board – noting but choosing to ignore the fact that there were hardly any lesbian history facts. I watched drag performances, drank soda that was far too expensive and had inward squeals of glee when I happened to notice a relatively young lesbian couple or, even better, lesbians of color.
Due to my excitement, I chose to ignore the fact that there were relatively few women, relatively few people of color, and relatively few women of color – unless you counted the two drag queens. It was largely the White Gay Male pride and I didn’t really mind because I didn’t really expect anything different. In reality, I had no idea what to expect and was quite frankly very satisfied just by the fact that they were gay. I knew I wasn’t as comfortable as I could be, but the men in drag smiled at me often enough to feel like I belonged in some way. And, as a queer person, I did. As a woman of color, I still wasn’t “the norm,” but gay or straight, that had been how life was for me in any situation, and I didn’t allow it to hinder my giddiness and excitement there either.
Now flash forward to QWOC Week, a pride festival dedicated to people who aren’t traditionally “the norm,” in any situation. To say that this past week is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before would be a hell of an understatement. I can hardly believe it’s over and I’m really still processing it all.
Where does one begin with 13 events? How does one choose a starting point when her entire summer has been dedicated to and her experience as an intern has culminated in this one explosive week? Honestly, I’m still reeling.
If I try to process each and every emotion from each and every event, not only will my mind explode but I will also bore you to death with the length of this post and I believe both instances will not bode well for either one of us, so let me simply start here:
You could not feel out of place or overlooked at a QWOC event. This was not a pride festival where you could nurse your drink in the corner and glower at all the individuals you didn’t know or wish you could know. It wasn’t possible. Someone, most likely an organizer, would have grabbed you onto the dance floor or into a mix of people and engaged you.
This is what stands out to me the most. Indeed, this past week is one of the few times in my life where I can say I wasn’t the minority – whether due to my race, gender, or sexuality. I was simply myself in a crowd of people, many of whom I had the opportunity to meet with, laugh with, or dance with.
I won’t highlight thirteen events, but I’ll highlight two that truly stood out to me.
Monday night was OUT OF THE BOX: Media and Literary Artists studio, where the Martinez Sisters, Uriah Bell, Letta Neely, Vivek Shraya, and IDALIA, came out to present their work and speak with the attendees. In the days prior to this, I had been feeling tired, frustrated, and, most of all, uninspired, partially due to a concussion I had gotten a week before. Determined to stay on my game though, I came armed with ibuprofen and a lot of energy. I was excited, in any case, because South Asian-Canadian performer and writer Vivek Shraya was going to be there. I happened to own two songs of his because they featured Tegan and Sara, from my download-anything-Tegan-and-Sara-have-ever-produced-ever days, and I felt proud of myself for being “in-the-know.”
Though I came with almost a forced sense of energy at the beginning of the night, there was nothing but sincere inspiration and motivation by the end. After witnessing talent after talent after talent perform and express, I was literally giddy. Of course, I’ve been in many situations before where talent has been presented before me. Concerts, talent shows, poetry readings, spoken word, etc. But something in those situations always made the talented and their work seem untouchable – they were admirable, but they weren’t there to inspire, they were there to perform.
Monday night, however, was entirely different. Though larger than we wanted, the space was intimate and the artists were interested in more than just showing and telling. They wanted to engage with those of us who were in the audience. They looked up from their poetry or their books or their pictures – they looked around and saw us. They felt our presence as we felt theirs and I like to think we were inspired by each other. As an aspiring writer-or-something, that feeling meant more to me than anything in the world. We all mingled after the performances and Vivek Shraya, who is by far the sweetest guy you’ll ever meet, indulged my obsession with Tegan and Sara as we worked the merchandise table. It was a night that I’ll always remember and if I ever do become something of a writer, it will be because of this night.
Then there was Wednesday night – Activism and Karaoke, where we worked with BlackandPink.Org to send out newsletters and personal letters to incarcerated LGBT folks. This night stands out to me for two reasons – one is because I’ve never enjoyed engaging in direct activism so much in my life and two is because it took me so far out of my comfort zone, I almost cried. (I cry watching Animal Planet and iCarly, so don’t worry too much.) I really spent most of my time stuffing envelopes, which can sound like a drag, but it’s surprising how much I really didn’t mind. I enjoyed talking to and being introduced to different people as we all worked together to assemble the envelopes and get them sent it out their appropriate addressee. It was great seeing so many people engaged (that word again) with writing personal and meaningful letters or intent on folding a newsletter the right way. I was excited every time an envelope was passed my way and I remember actually getting bummed out when we ran out. I wanted to do more!
Then came the karaoke, which I don’t like unless I’m with very close friends. It’s something I enjoy so little that it actually makes me a little lightheaded to think about. My sister and her superior stage presence and singing skills owe me many years of karaoke therapy, because of just how much I actually dislike being put on the spot, particularly with a microphone, particularly on stage. Unfortunately, I was not allowed to leave until I put myself in that very situation. With pregnancy breaths and lots of encouragement, I eventually came on stage and sang my high school anthem “Since U Been Gone,” by Kelly Clarkson (yes, I really am that emo), the one song I knew that I knew back to front. The fact that my friend and QWOC+ volunteer Lourdes was kind enough to accompany me offered me a bit of comfort. Then when all of the QWOC+ organizers came out to the front, singing at the top of their lungs with me, I actually sort of enjoyed myself. Maybe. A little.
I was given the opportunity to read at Youth Open Mic during Family Day and then played an intense game of Catchphrase. I was inspired once again at OUTSPOKEN, especially when spoken word artist Jha D performed with Zili Misik, and when Nataly Garcia gave an utterly convincing tribute to the awesomeness that was her ‘fro. My mind was opened at the Diversity Speaks discussion, especially when I saw how many people showed up. Volunteers I had met at other QWOC events prior to the week had become friends I looked forward to seeing as the week progressed.
Indeed, to say that QWOC Week is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before would be a hell of an understatement. It’s worlds away from that singular day in Vegas where, though perhaps welcome, I still felt alien and alone. This past week, I felt expected, accepted, and embraced, which is what I think QWOC Week is all about.
I was taken out of my comfort zone so many times and put into a place that was even more comfortable and if it hadn’t been encouraged, I would never have known. I think many people experienced that same feeling and are, like me, still reeling from it. Still trying to process it and understand it and figure out why nothing else in their life has felt that way before.
My advice? Stop dissecting. Just accept being accepted and ride the high until next QWOC Week or, better still, work on replicating the spaces and instances for yourself and others so that each day can be inspirational and every moment can be engaging. Why wait for one week out of the year where you can feel comfortable in your own skin when you can do it every single day, right? Just a thought.
As is common for most college undergraduates, I recently had a brainstorming session on what I should do with my life, whereupon it came down to two possibilities: writing or real estate development. Two very different career paths – one of which happens to be potentially more lucrative and thus more practical than the other. (Can you guess which one?)
Then, I read Adaora’s blog, “To Hell With Mainstream Press Coverage: Women, People of Color, and Trans People Should Create and Control Their Own Media Stories.” (Long title, no?) And I thought to myself, “Well damn. Tell me how you really feel.”
It was written at the perfect time and really made me think about how I could contribute to the community by speaking for myself. (Note: Not speaking for the community – but myself as a member of many communities –queer, people of color, women, queer women of color.) As opposed to, say, people who are a part of none of the above.
But this post really isn’t about me – rather, it’s about us: all of us, as a community of people with unique stories to tell, whose voices are not being heard. And the reason why our voices aren’t being heard is because 1) many of us aren’t even speaking and 2) those of us who are speaking, aren’t speaking loudly enough (in the arenas that need to hear it).
Ah, and thus, we turn to QWOC WEEK. As a newcomer to QWOC+ Boston, I’m still learning about all of the components that go into the organization and the different ways in which we contribute to the community for which we’re named. QWOC WEEK, which is in less than two weeks, is the perfect embodiment of just that: arts, music, activism, performance – and most of all, the opportunity for us (thus, meaning you) to speak for ourselves.
One of our newest events is OUT OF THE BOX, a Media and Literary Artists Studio, in conjunction with Rising Voices Press and co-hosted by Somos Latinos and Massachusetts South Asian Lambda Association (MASALA). This studio is meant to feature artistic and literary work by queer people of color and will give guests the opportunity to meet with the creators of the content and provide feedback. The studio is an exciting venture for us, because, though we have always featured performance-based writing, we are exploring and presenting other ways in which people express themselves; many writers aren’t ‘performers’… so we’d like to give writers who ‘read’ their work, a chance to share their words with us during QWOC Week.
As a person who doesn’t feel like she has enough soul or rhythm to roll out a rhyme, I’m happy to see this event come into fruition. I excel only at stick figures, but the literary medium is my personal passion. It’s important that we also recognize the voices of those who do not speak verbally, but through pens and paper; paint and pastels.
Then, of course, many of you already know about OUTSPOKEN. This premiere spoken word and live music showcase produced annually by Spectra Events, is popular for many reasons, one of which is this: some people just seriously love spoken word.
I’ve mentioned the event to several of my friends who have fallen over themselves trying to find out when and where it is, just because spoken word is, quite frankly, the sh*t – if done right. It’s also popular however for the same reason it’s important – it gives people a way to speak their mind about important issues that affect them. It’s different than penning a blog post or ranting on Facebook, though those things can be pretty effective too. (At least I hope so, since I tend to both quite a bit.) It’s visual as well as auditory – it’s more than just the words that express the feeling. It’s how the person speaks, the rhythm of the phrase, the movement that manifests itself with the moment in which the words are being spoken.
The performances we feature each year at OUTSPOKEN are proof that the issues we speak of (whether love or politics, social issues or the everyday mundane) affect us wholly – physically, emotionally, spiritually. And you can hear it. And you can see it. And thus you, too, can feel it.
Unfortunately for many of my friends, OUTSPOKEN is located at a 21+ venue – thankfully, QWOC+ Boston’s got your back. As mentioned in the last post (QWOC WEEK: Activism Meets Diversity), we’re having a Youth Open Mic during Family Day at Stony Brook Park, co-sponsored Boston GLASS. As a queer youth myself, I stress the importance of this event because I know how hard it can be to swallow your fear and speak up. It doesn’t even have to be in reference to performance – we’re young. We think we know everything. Then people ask us what it is we know and we freeze. Panic. We become silent. Often times, it’s because the question “What do you know” can be patronizing; other times, it’s because we don’t even know if we can answer it.
However, it’s important that we do speak. For one thing, we have to start somewhere. For another, we must speak for ourselves, for the same reason that the queer community as a whole must speak for itself.
If you’re an adult and you’re wondering if Youth Open Mic is something you’d be interested in, consider the words of one of our QWOC+ Boston organizers, Ana:
“Youth find ways to speak out, they find ways to create platforms for themselves. So it is not so much that we (adults or QWOC+) give them a platform/venue but that we give them our attention. They will know coming into our space that we appreciate, acknowledge and support their voices and will encourage them to continue being innovators and leaders. And it is important that they speak for themselves because it is their experience that needs to be articulated, not our perception of their experience, along with the solutions to the inequalities they face as a marginalized group.”
And thus we come to the “and friends” of our name. OUTSPOKEN, Youth Open Mic, and OUT OF THE BOX are all platforms for queer people of color to speak. It goes without saying that, generally, we are not given this opportunity every day; these outlets of self-expression were created for just that reason. Therefore, we don’t have specific events for allies to speak at. However, the love and support of our allies is, always, extremely appreciated. Their attention and recognition is one of the things that gives us courage to speak up, that lets us know that people are listening. We encourage their continued support and attendance during QWOC WEEK.
These three events reach out to the diverse talents of queer people of color – but you don’t have to be a performer, writer, or artist to contribute something. In regards to QWOC WEEK events, even showing up counts. Sharing what you’ve seen and heard is almost as important as the performance or piece itself. Either way, you’re increasing visibility and you’re doing something. And that’s all that matters. There’s a voice in action too.
So, then – review the dates below:
OUT OF THE BOX: Media and Literary Artists Studio
Monday August 2nd @ 6PM-9PM
OUTSPOKEN: Queer People of Color Spoken Word and Performance Showcase
Thursday August 5th @ 7PM-10PM
Family Day at Stony Brook Park Featuring Youth Open Mic
Saturday August 7th @ NOON-4PM
We’ve got two weeks; I can’t wait to see you.
As is the case with most organizations, fans, supporters, and enthusiasts of QWOC+ Boston mainly get to experience the front-end of the organizing work — the endless fliers that are handed out at different events, the limitless Facebook posts and updates detailing future plans, etc.
Maybe you’re one of the readers of their weekly summer newsletter, or a past attendee of a thought-provoking Diversity Speaks discussion. Perhaps you’ve run into one of the organizers in passing – a panel, a party, a potlock? The fact is, however long you’ve known of QWOC+ Boston (and its organizers), many of you have only gotten to experience the sustained final outcome, a wide array of diverse events – which is great! It means they’re doing a great job. But, QWOC+ Boston isn’t just about cranking events and calling it a job well done; you’ll need to get to know the organizers to realize that there’s far more to it than that.
As the summer intern, I have a little bit more of an insider’s perspective. After all, I get to write the meeting minutes every week – Wednesdays, Emerson College Multicultural Center at 6:30. You should come! – manage our social media profiles, and help create (and facilitate) the buzz around ideas and events and I love every minute of it. But the fact that I’m enjoying myself stems from something much deeper than my tasks and responsibilities; I get to be part of a group of really amazing and innovative women.
Personality Typing is the New HR
Did you know that QWOC+ Boston manages volunteers via personality typing? Every new organizer is sent a “motivational style” personality quiz, which lets the organizers know what motivates and demotivates you — it varies depending on if you’re a “Champion,” a “Director,” a “Chief,” a “Relater,” a “Visionary,” to name a few. Uniquely, this organization cares about the individual personalities of its volunteers and will adjust to them as reasonably as possible in order to create a truly inspiring, collaborative environment.
For instance, according to the quiz, I’m a “Chief” — I like special privileges and structuring my environment to my liking. I dislike perceived rigidity, inefficient systems and ineffective people. Well… I’ve been given a platform to host my own blog (special privilege) and Adaora generally lets me work wherever I can plug in a computer (structuring environment to my liking). And let’s not forget that I get to work with QWOC+ Boston — a group of practical and efficient idealists — which handles all the rest. I’m still here, and loving my job. So there’s a method to their madness. (Hey, wait a minute I want my free will back!)
Meet the QWOC+ Boston Organizers
When you first walk into a QWOC+ open meeting – and you’re on time – you’ll be greeted by three or four organizers and a few volunteers. Most likely, you’ll come in with a hesitant smile – you’ll be hoping you’re welcomed, hoping you get something out of this meeting, hoping that the members of QWOC+ — this organization you’ve come to love and admire enough to want to volunteer for – are actually human, in spite of all the work they do, and that you’ll be able to keep up.
Chances are you’ll be introduced to the other members present and conversations will begin around you. In fact, someone will take it upon themselves to actually include you. You’ll feel antsy, a little nervous – wondering when things will really begin.
The first person to greet you will most likely be Yari or Nathalie – the “relaters” of the group; the “people” persons. While Yari is far more “zen” than anyone in the group, both of them are the ones who don’t mind having long conversations with strangers – the kind of people who are eager to make you feel comfortable in potentially uncomfortable situations, like your first QWOC Week planning meeting, or being a newbie to a group of seasoned activists. (Clearly, I am still deeply entrenched in this stage.)
You’ll be put at ease awhile, though things won’t have quite begun, of course, because we’ll be waiting for someone — and that someone will most likely be Adaora: QWOC+ Boston Organizer extraordinaire. And when Adaora arrives, headphones-in-ears, hands most likely full with some type of take out – that’s when the fun begins.
Yes, planning meetings are actually fun. If it were Adaora’s way, we would be running down the agenda in as little time as possible, with clear and concise decisions about what needs to be done when and by whom. But, since no one ever listens to Adaora (her claim, not mine) we tend to get sidetracked — there’s laughing at each other, ranting about day jobs, singing (yes, “we are the world” almost happened one day), cheering on good weather, and well, planning more meetings of the social kind to foster team spirit.
Don’t get it twisted though – we do get shit done. Adaora’s driving project-management approach to planning our purple festival won’t let side-tracks last for long; her firm steering is complemented by every organizer’s enthusiasm and energy in dedication to QWOC+ and QWOC Week. But don’t picture us sitting around like business women drafting a million dollar deal (The truth is most of the time we’re trying to avoid anything that requires too much money, or time-consuming fuss).
Not surprisingly, most of our personality profiles will tell you that none of us are huge fans of strict or rigid work environments. We all like to be inspired, challenged, and recognized for our hard work and it’s evident in the way we work together. So here’s the final word: If you’re neither laughing nor feeling very productive, you must’ve found your way to the wrong meeting. Overly formal ways of interacting have no place here; bureaucracy takes a back seat to pushing the envelope via new ideas, getting to know each other as people, and appreciating each other as leaders.
QWOC+ Boston’s Family of Personalities
If you couldn’t guess, Adaora’s motivational style is the “Champion” – task oriented, with eyes on the prize. She refers to herself as an afrofeminist warrior woman – and that description, in my opinion, is actually an understatement. She’s the type of person whose respect you aim for.
Then there’s Tikesha – easily the warmest person you’ll ever meet. Tikesha will be the first to make you laugh with her no-bs-no-mess attitude (handy at the door during events!) and her constant lobbying for a masquerade ball. She’s the “Director” – give her a green light, then consider it done by the next meeting. Ana is the most low-key of the group; she generally doesn’t talk much during the meetings. But, if you happen to pay attention to the agenda, you’ll see she’s got her hands in everything. Quiet, yet not to be overlooked – she’s “the visionary.”
See, when I say that personality is important to QWOC+ Boston, I’m wrong. What I mean to say is that people are important to QWOC+. You’re not just an organizer or a volunteer; an activist or a party-goer; a Champion or a Director, even. You’re a person and they’re interested in who you are and what you have to say – even if it’s to refute claims of Lady Gaga’s brilliance. Sure, during the meetings, we have things to get done and we try to stay focused. But before that, after that, even amongst that, what’s most important is you. Or, all of us, really. All the queer women of color in Boston and those who care about us (+). Our name says it all.
When I applied to be an intern for QWOC+ Boston, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. How could I have known that one of the organizers (*cough* Yari) owned every season of Sailor Moon, the one cartoon show I’ve loved since elementary school? How could I have anticipated meeting several women who readily refer themselves as my “aunts” and buy me food on a weekly basis?
You know, I really love surprises – as long as they don’t disappoint me. And this surprise is greater than anything I could’ve hoped for this summer. So, when I send out those five million and one e-mail blasts and attack your Facebook and Twitter inboxes with endless pleas to join our organizing efforts and attend meetings – it’s not just because that’s part of my job. It’s because I genuinely want you to be there. We genuinely want you to be there. We want to meet you, we want to hear what you have to say, we want you to experience what we get to experience almost every day; fun, inspiration, support, community, and family.
In the short blurb beneath my Facebook profile picture, I have a line quoted from Tracy Chapman’s song, “Fast Car.” It reads: “Me,myself, I got nothing to prove.” I chose the line because it embodies how I know I want to feel all the time – like myself. I want to feel as if I can always just be me, regardless of anyone else’s standards or expectations.
Unfortunately, the truth of the matter, of course, is that I don’t always feel that way. In fact, most of the time, I’m fighting to prove to other people that I have nothing to prove, whether it’s in defense of my race, my sexuality, or my endless love for Sailor Moon. And, after a while, it becomes less of a fight to prove I have nothing to prove and more of just a fight – period. In my desire to be free and limitless, I become limited – because I’m always on defense. I’m always finding some news article that proves my theory of why people in general tend to suck. I’m always anticipating an offensive comment or action to counter -comment on or take action against. I can write ten different blogs about how, basically, we have the right to be who we are and how anyone who disagrees can just shove it.
But, at what point do we get to stop defending our right to be ourselves, and start enjoying our right to be ourselves? At one point do I stop proving to people that I love who I am and start actually experiencing that love?
Well, pride was a good time to start — I remembered how much I love being a queer woman of color. I love being me and I love living my life. That’s why I fight for the right to live it. When someone asks me about my love life or what I did Saturday night and they seem generally unfazed by my lovely queerness, I’m not psyched because they’re “political allies” and they may, in some small way, understand my struggle – although that is a bonus. I’m excited because I get to talk about the beautiful woman I met or tell them about the cute old couple I saw dancing their asses off at a queer party I went to. I’m excited because, when you love something, you can’t help but talk about it, and, when they ask, I get to talk about who I am and what I’m doing with my life. I get to feel like a whole person, who has activities, and knows people.
I know we’re all out here fighting for something or being a part of some struggle, even if the struggle isn’t visible to everyone. But as you sweat, bleed, cry, and crawl – as you go through your day to day life, shoving roadblocks out of the way and forging your own path – remember what you’re doing it for. We’re not doing it for some vague sense of accomplishment, or community, or even “equality.” Remember, we’re fighting because we love what we’re fighting for — ourselves.
I think there’s a misconception, sometimes, about racial and sexual minorities. Even the most well-meaning ally can mistakenly assume that, in a perfect world, we wish we could be straight and white too and, since we’re not, we’re fighting to at least have the same benefits. We’re “working with what we were given.”
Truly, there are some people for which that statement is true. But make no mistake – it does not suck to be a minority in any sense of the word. It sucks to be treated as if you were “less than” and it sucks that, often times, the minority status is what leads to this sort of treatment. But I love being black. I love being gay. I love women and I love loving women.
For those of you who missed PRIDE last week, particularly OPTIONZ and ROOTS – I’ll let it slide this once. You were busy, your Aunt Sally from Nova Scotia came to town, you were hiding from the IRS – I get it. But next time, if you get the chance, come out. (Literally.) There is no feeling more beautiful than realizing how happy you are with yourself and when I was out there on the dance floor with so many queer people of color – people like myself and yet so diverse and multifaceted – I felt truly, genuinely happy. When I go out with the QWOC+ organizers and volunteers or with my close friends and we get to laugh and talk loudly about queer things – because we are queer – and laugh and talk loudly about our cultures – because these are our cultures – I’m happy.
This week, when you’re out there fighting the man, your boss, your Evangelist grandparents, or your best-but-still-frustratingly-offensive friends, remember to take a break, take a breath, and recognize: “Damn, it feels good to be me.” Because if you don’t – well then what are you fighting for?
As women of color, most of us are very used to asserting part(s) of ourselves that seem easily forgotten or ignored by others. For example, if we’re in a group of ethnically similar peoples, we want our sexuality to be recognized. Likewise, if we’re in a group of LGBT people, we usually want out cultural backgrounds to be recognized.
For me, and for most of us, there is a constant desire to be looked at as a whole. I always find myself repeating “My race is not the only part of me. My sexuality is not the only part of me. My taste in music does not define me. My clothing does not define me.” We constantly run into people who take stock of one aspect of our appearance or personality and immediately feel that they know everything about us. It’s a part of human ignorance that seems most prevalent and I know that everyone one of us struggles with it daily.
Yet, as much as we may hate the ignorance, we are not exempt from it. We may be better than others at keeping our judgments to ourselves, but in some cases, we’re just as bad, if not worse, than the people who do it to us.
I was schooled on this a few days ago when I was talking to a close friend of mine about the military. If you remember, we reposted an article from Politics Daily on the blog that details a USA Today survey, revealing the disproportionate number of women and minorities that are greatly affected by Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. (DADT is a 1993 military policy that restricts LGBT people from being “out.”) When I read this article, I was completely disgusted but not entirely shocked. I figured that this was what the military was about – bias and homogeneity.
My friend – a Queer Woman of Color – is a former member of ROTC (we’ll call her Liz) and her partner is currently in training; her partner will be deployed sometime in the near future. I figured Liz was someone I could talk to “on the inside,” and I wanted to know her opinion on the survey results and, ultimately, gain some insight on why any LGBT person would want to serve in a system that completely alienates them.
You know the India Arie anthem “I Am Not My Hair”? Well, as it turns out, the military is not DADT to every LGBTQ person. According to Liz, the military is “nurturing. It’s more like a family.”
She went on to discuss her and her partner’s reasons for getting involved, reminding me that not everyone views their sexuality the same way. “People are coming from different places and different things are important to them; everyone compromises on something every day – you don’t have to tell that cab driver everything.”
For me, that was the most important thing to hear – to realize that military appeals to different parts of people’s personality and identities. Like Liz said, “for somebody who’s single and young, it seems like a good idea. Traveling and making some money – sounds like a good gig, for anybody, regardless of whether you’re gay or straight.”
When I was in my sophomore year of high school, my friends and I (which consisted of a straight woman, a lesbian woman, a gay man, and, at the time, a questioning bisexual man) were sitting around the journalism room, attempting to be uber-intellectuals and talking about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. At one point, a girl came up to us and asked why a gay man would want to join the military, as if he were too weak to undertake such a mission. I responded, “Um, because he wants to protect his country?” Like, duh. Yet, several years later, here I was, sitting around, asking myself why any self-respecting LGBTQI person would want to sacrifice their right to be open about who they loved. Yes, the reason behind my wonder may have been different, but the effect is still the same – I was ignorantly discounting the fact that people are more than what I think they are.
The most important thing I’ve realized is that the military doesn’t exist primarily to disadvantage the queers. As Liz commented, “LGBT people…believe that the military is always talking about gay people, always talking about DADT. The vast majority aren’t talking … about who’s gay. People generally have better things to do with their lives.” Being open to her perspective made me realize that while I may feel like the military is horrendously biased, others — who actually serve in the military — may not share that view; I needed to take a step back and realize I was being a little biased myself.
Incidentally, the only time I ever hear about the military is generally in regards to issues that I disagree with, such as the current war or the current policies. But most of those military voices I’ve heard (in the media) are of those people who have been unfairly discharged – hence, it makes sense that they’re probably emotionally driven to highlight more of their negative experiences than their positive ones. Yet, I’m inclined to wonder… if these recently discharged men and women didn’t like the military, would they be fighting for the right to be open and honest within it? They’d be fighting against the military, not fighting to be (out and accepted) within it. So, it seems this is where DADT and the military are divided – to fight the policy is not to fight the regime.
Before I talked to Liz, I would stare blankly at the television whenever a military commercial would profess that I could “be all that I can be,” and then burst out laughing. You must’ve seen one of their intense, operatic TV spots — some guy climbing up some mountain to reach a helping hand, or “engineering” an escape route from behind a a computer. They’d come on often in the movie theater, right before the feature, blaring “honor” and “courage” from the loudspeakers. I couldn’t help it. I always laughed. It was all so funny to me – to see advertisements for people to basically die for a system that treated them like expendable cattle.
But then Liz shared this with me:
“There’s a community in the military in a lot of ways. I heard about army strong or being the best you can be…’I think I can handle it. I want to challenge myself and I want to understand my girlfriend when she says her military jargon.’ I wanted to jog half a mile without dying. I enjoyed a lot of my experiences so much…”
She talked to me about the burden she felt of having to constantly defend the military – a community she feels a part of, and is a part of her – from folks in the LGBTQ community. There were a lot of things that I didn’t know or understand. Yet, I’d been judging every gay person in the military by this uninformed viewpoint. Make no mistake, Liz and I both agree that DADT is an awful policy and we both hope, along with most LGBTQI people, that it gets repealed. But, the lesson I’ve learned here, and what I hope you’ve taken away from this blog, is that knowing a few details about something doesn’t give us the right to judge it as a whole. And damn, shouldn’t we, as QWOC, know that better than anyone?