Submit! Nearly There is a zine project meant to address the serious absence and silencing of stories about the experiences of queer people of color.
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The “It Gets Better” project began in September of 2010 when columnist and author Dan Savage sought to create a powerful way for individuals to support LGBTQ youth experiencing bullying and harassment. In response to the alarming number of young people taking their lives as a result of verbal and physical abuse, Dan and his partner Terry made a video meant to inspire hope. Since that initial video, the campaign has grown to thousands of videos and a book that was released in March of 2011 – It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living. The partnership between this project and The Trevor Project has become an important source of help and inspiration to people worldwide.
The complexity of being a member of the LGBTQ community and a person of color often results in harassment and rejection from many different angles. Members of the QWOC + Boston community have experienced this first hand and use inspiration and lessons from their stories to further the mission of the organization – “creating and sustaining a truly diverse social space for LGBTQ women of color” to ultimately bring about positive change in our society. With this in mind, we have decided to create an “It Gets Better” video – QWOC + Boston Edition. By sharing our stories through this powerful social media outlet, we hope to reach out to those, from any generation, stuck in the struggles created by the many facets of their identity. Many of us can now speak from the other side of the giant hurdles, so we want to let others know that this side does exist. It is essential to send a message that will resonate with the unique challenges of people of color. We also cannot forget our siblings abroad, living in countries where they fear for their lives because anything outside of heterosexuality and gender roles is not only taboo but also illegal. With this project, we hope to provide a glimmer of hope to queer and trans people of color everywhere.
What would you have wanted to hear during your toughest times? Knowing what you know now, what would you say to a young person struggling to hang on? In the spirit of QWOC Week, we hope you join and support us in this endeavor. It is a chance for all of us to engage in activism that will have an immeasurable affect. Diversity speaks, so lets make sure everyone can hear it.
As is the case with queer people of color, the experiences of many queer Latinas living in the U.S are filled with challenges; identifying with anything outside of heterosexuality and the gender binary remains largely taboo in the Latino culture.
As a direct result, it is most common to face hurtful and offensive reactions when we come out to individuals in our community. Most of us have something to contribute to the list of outrageous reactions and theories from friends or family members. Statements along the lines of – “you have shamed your family…” , “you are simply experiencing a phase…”, “you clearly need to invest more of yourself at church…”, and my personal favorite – “we did not immigrate to this country so that you could live like this… do our years of hard work mean nothing to you?!”
These words would break anyone’s morale. Despite how much you have prepared, imagined and re-imagined all possible scenarios in your mind, chances are that you will be emotionally affected by this crucial moment – for better or for worse. As for me…
In the beginning of my process, I was actually very hopeful about the reactions of some of my family members. But when I made the decision to come out, to be on the safe side I chose to start with a parent whom I believed would ultimately support me. Of course, I expected some initial shock and parental concern about how I would be treated by outsiders. This person was a member of my family – mi sangre – so I innocently believed I had a good shot at a positive outcome as long as I assured them of my safety and well-being. Nevertheless, I considered every scenario – good, bad and everything in between. I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by the world’s most supportive people, so as my friends cheered me on, I felt ready, convinced that bond and unconditional love would prevail and my absolute happiness would take priority over anything else.
I was visiting my parents’ home during some time off. Everyone was off to bed and he came in to the room to check on me and wish me a good night. I thought to myself, “This is it. It’s never going to feel like the perfect time so this has to be it.” I prefaced the conversation as best as I knew how, thinking it would soften the blow. However, my over-contextualizing only seemed to alarm him. The tension began to make me nauseous and lightheaded, but I pushed through, forcing the words I’d practiced through the barrier I felt building up inside of me. When I finally got to the point, the tension broke, but in the form of an explosive reaction from my father as he interrupted me. I could barely finish what I had to say when my contribution to the list became, “Please don’t do this to us…”
Words cannot describe the disappointment I felt. While I understood the shock a Latino parent might experience, I could not and still cannot, understand how any parent can look at their child in the eyes and pronounce those words. They implied so many misconceptions. “Please don’t do this to us.…” as if I was making an active choice that could somehow be reserved and that would otherwise jeopardize the stability of my family. But most importantly, they invalidated the purpose of that very moment. Rather than being about my emotional health and all it had taken for me to arrive at that moment, it became explosive, and about the harm I’d be doing to my family — I felt cheated. And those unfounded words — “Please don’t do this to us…” became wounds.
In that instance, more than ever before, all the statistics I’d learned about in school — about LGBTQ bullying, violence, homelessness and suicide — became real. I am not financially or otherwise dependent on my family, but I couldn’t help but think about those who are… In preparation for the worst, my supportive and devoted partner had made arrangements so that I could get away from the disrespect and heartbreak immediately, but what about those who have no one else? Who feel alone? My tears and disillusionment joined theirs.
Since realizing my queer identity, I have become even more grateful that my family immigrated and made it in the U.S.. That life-changing decision made years ago now means that, unlike many Latinos elsewhere, I have the opportunity to live in peace, and love who I love without fearing for my well-being. Just like my parents taught me during years of hard work and adverse experiences, I know I deserve happiness and equality despite what others do and say. Those lessons are not exclusively for coping with racism or machismo or labor inequality or ignorance… As I continue to discover the complexity of my identities, all of those experiences take on a whole new meaning. Ultimately, they have shaped me and allowed me to develop the strength to be true to myself – I will always be grateful for that. Now the question is whether my family, and that of many others, will ever be grateful for the same.
While it isn’t enough, there is certainly support for LGBTQ people around the country. However, we cannot forget the marginalization of LGBTQ people of color — Latin@s included — within the mainstream community. Our experiences and struggles are unique, but sadly, often disregarded. I know first hand the pain of feeling shut out from both your Latino and queer community. It creates the feeling that you are yelling at the top of your lungs in a room full of people and yet no one can hear you. Some have a problem with the color of my skin, while the other, with whose hand I’m holding. For some, it’s a combination of the two.
It is a responsibility of both the queer and Latino communities to be inclusive of everyone who comprises them. These are the elements that make up who we are so we must demand the visibility we need. All of my Latino siblings should have someone who will support them and understand precisely what it is like to be accepted or rejected by their sangre.
I sat frozen in the back seat unable to move. Getting out of that vehicle would forever change life as I knew it and I wasn’t ready. I breathed, pushed one leg out and then the other emerging like a butterfly from the 46-year-old chrysalis which held all my former secrets. I moved toward her and awaited the explosive transformation as every previous second of every previous day dissipated when her arms wrapped around me. I was home.
My mother was an 18-year-old foster child when she had me. Her Irish mother’s indiscretion with a black man and death at childbirth had left her alone in the world. At 17 she found love with my father and then me, a five-pound brown-skinned bundle of joy taken by the state until she could put down roots. There was nothing in her life to prepare her for Brazilian and African-American couple who would take this love from her and keep it hidden until it could find its way home some 46 years later.
There hadn’t been a time during those years that I hadn’t wondered about her — what she was like, what she would think of me. I am a writer, a musician, a lover of children, food and women. I wondered how I came to all of these things: nature vs. nurture. Was I born this way or was it taught? Did someone else in my family have these hips? Was I the only one who could sing? Write? Did others love languages and the way words roll from the soul to the tip of a tongue?
Was my lesbianism informed in some way by the lack of a close mother identity? I couldn’t help but wonder as did my therapist, family and even an occasional lover. I sought women with strong family and mother bonds and later with similar cultural identities – strong black or Latina women with strong black or Latina mothers. I longed to connect in some way to what I expected my mother might be: resilient, intellectual and loving, an older version of me. Eventually, I repaired the relationships with both my adoptive and step mothers and still seeking elusive answers I tentatively began the journey toward finding my birth mom.
The phone rang at 11:45 PM. The voice on the other end sounded like my own. “I know you,” she said, her audible smile cracking open the door to my hidden life. We laughed and cried and shouted, ‘Oh my God,’ so many times you would have thought Jesus Himself would show up.
“I knew if you were a Young, you would be up,” my sister said explaining a piece of my puzzle. “We are all night owls.” I gave that a moment of thought. ‘We,’ she had said. My family, my father who I shared with her, Cecelia, my little sister, my uncles, aunts and cousins – there were uncles, aunts and cousins. I had more siblings to meet and nieces and nephews to spoil.
“We need to call Mom,” she giggled excitedly. Mom and our younger sister would be home from work by now.
“Wait a second,” I whispered, my heart was pounding in my chest.
It could be all over before it even started, but with my partner of eight years in the bedroom down the hall, I had to ask. I had to tell it. Anything less would be to deny who she was to me or who I was after 33 years of being an out and proud lesbian writer and activist, after 33 years of working through the issues with my adoptive and step families; I had to put it right out there up front.
“There is something I need to tell you,” I said sheepishly. Oh, God. Suppose they were born-again Christians. “I’m a lesbian,” I said and waited.
“Ho ho!” she laughed. Laughed! “I wondered when you said you weren’t married and didn’t have kids. I wondered if you had that gene.”
“What?” I didn’t understand.
“Yeah, Mom and our sister are too!” It took a second for what she was saying to sink in. And then there it was the revelation, the answer to that question.
It was in my genes plain and simple. All of the worries went away. All of the years of fighting for who I was and who I loved had been vindicated. The activism, the losses, the gains all of it… I was right where I was supposed to be as I was supposed to be.
A month later after a very moving Miami airport reunion between me and Cecelia, sleep swept over me during the three-hour ride to Key West where our mom and youngest sister lived. I watched Cecelia move out of the car and then my partner, who turned around to coax me along. In that moment, all of the years of fear, pain and sadness were a newborn veil I pushed aside to embrace my life and my new understanding of it.
I moved toward her and felt for the first time my mother’s loving embrace. Yes. I finally was home.
Boston-born writer, Robin G. White is the award-winning author of two volumes of poetry, Resurrection: A Collection of Work and Reflections of a Life Well Spent, and a forthcoming collection of short fiction, Intersections. To read more about her work, please visit her website at: www.robingwhite.com
The name’s Sissy, Sissy Van Dyke: it’s not just a name, it’s a lifestyle.
With spring hovering on the horizon (a long, seemingly lost horizon for those of us who live in the frosty Midwest), it’s high time for all of us single ladies to get up, get out, and start dating. Now please notice that I said “dating” and not walking around with a hand in the air looking for someone to put a ring on it.
I have observed that a lot of lesbians have issues when it comes to dating, i.e. they can’t. As a group lesbians tend to exhibit more U-Haulish than Stop & Shop tendencies. Yet, I believe there would be a lot less drama in the dyke community if we didn’t immediately fall into, and then spend months, years, or decades trying to claw our way out of, relationships with women who would have made much better friends than lovers.
Being non-monogamous, and having dated dozens of women, I have developed mad dating skills. So, as a public service to my serial monogamist sisters, I’d like to share a few basic dating tips. What better place to start than with the personal ads?
The great thing about personal ads is that you can meet dozens of women from the comfort of your own home without having to buy drinks or pay cover charges. The bad thing about the personals is that what you read is not always what you get. The reason for this is that women who place these ads sometimes tell lies.
I don’t understand why a woman would lie about something that will be blatantly obvious once we meet in person. Does a woman who describes herself as being of average height and weight think I’m really not going to notice that she’s four feet tall and weighs 300 pounds? The women I date come in all shapes in sizes, so there’s no need to lie to me. Besides, if four feet tall and 300 pounds is average, that would make me an anorexic giant.
In any case, here are three tips that I use, and use often, to make my online dating experiences not only memorable but also painless and, in most cases, pleasurable.
Tip 1: Use a Recent Picture in Your Ad that Really Looks Like You
I think it’s very important to let potential dates know what you look like before you meet in person. There’s nothing more discouraging than the look of disappointment on the face of a woman who was expecting Beyoncé when Whoopi Goldberg shows up. The opposite is not true of course. Personally, I think Whoopi is hot, and I’d date her in a New York minute, but if Beyoncé showed up for a date with me instead, well, whoopee!
Tip 2: Always Meet for Coffee for the First Date
I spent the worse week of my life one night at an expensive restaurant trying to chat with a woman who had the personality of a Dixie Cup. Always meet for coffee first. Now me, I could have coffee with a televangelist. Even if I didn’t care about what the person was saying, I could still entertain myself with the stirrers and the various powders from the “enhance your coffee experience” counter.
Tip 3: Set a Time Limit before the First Meeting
If I think a woman is a little sketchy, I’ll still usually meet her for coffee, but I let her know ahead of time that I can only meet for half an hour. When we get together, right after saying “Hello,” I remind my date about the time limit, to make sure the meter is running and the escape hatch is activated. That way, if I end up having to endure the coffee date from hell, after half an hour, I’ll be saved by the ting-a-ling of the little alarm that I thoughtfully set on my phone before she got there.
“Oh dear, look at the time [thank Chronos], I’ve really got to run [as fast and as far away as possible]. It’s been very nice meeting you.” And, I’m outta there! On the other hand, if I’m having a nice time, when the alarm goes off, I could alternatively put on my best disappointed face and say something like:
“Drat, looks like I’ve got to go. But, you know, I’ve been having such a great time chatting with you, let me see if I can reschedule my appointment. Would that be OK?” Now, if my date says, “No! No need,” and starts grabbing her bag and stuff, then she’s probably thanking Chronos that our time is up. No harm, no foul. But, most often, she’ll be flattered that I’m canceling a plan to spend more time with her. I can then step outside for a moment and leave myself a message on my voice mail saying, “I’m in there!”
Some of this may seem a little cagey and disingenuous, but it’s all about saving time, saving face, and trying to meet someone you like (and who also likes you). Dating is very tricky terrain, and the U-Haul is lurking around every corner. However, now that you have this little guide to help you navigate, you can stop making excuses. Remember, if you want to participate in life’s banquet, you have to place yourself on the menu.
So turn in the keys to the U-Haul, Sisters, get out there, and get your dating on!
I have a confession to make: I’m one of those pesky black folks who primarily socializes with white people, but I can’t help it – that’s the way it’s always been.
As a kid I was a tomboy who loved to skateboard, and ride BMX bikes. In high school, I preferred rock music over hip-hop and R&B, and I went through what can only be described as a tragic hippie phase in college (it was the 90’s, what can I say?). Nowadays, I collect tattoos and my “uniform” includes Vans, skinny jeans, a plaid shirt and a flipped up fitted. As a result, my blackness has been called into question on more than one occasion by other black people, and I’ve been a “safe black” for many a timid white person. I’m also a life long, card-carrying member of the gender nonconforming club, so I’ve learned to navigate fitting in everywhere and nowhere simultaneously.
I’ve been living in Boston for 10 years and one of the most striking features of this city is the self-segregation that permeates various sub-cultural communities. Save for the living rooms of a few close friends and a couple venues, I struggle to find a space where all of my complexities and interests are understood and celebrated, and I know I’m not the only queer person of color who feels this way. We all have to compartmentalize our lives in order to navigate certain spaces for comfort and survival but the type of isolation I feel here is bigger than simply having to wear different hats.
Since moving here, several QPOC community groups have started organizing events, discussions and blogs – this is a beautiful thing. Clearly there is a need to create these spaces, but as much as I’ve tried I haven’t found a home in any of them and I think the reason for this is two-fold: 1) These groups tend to host upscale and networking focused events 2) It took me years to figure this out, but Boston doesn’t have a solid Bohemian scene.
What I’m looking for is probably something I can’t have: a city where unconventional lifestyles aren’t tokenized or romanticized or fetishized. I want a place where the street-wise, the LGBTQQIAS (s is for straight by the way), the radical, the intellectual, and the bon vivant can co-exist in unforced harmony. Boston is not Brooklyn, I know, but still I remain frustrated by the fact that there aren’t more (for lack of a better term) Bohemian people of color around these parts.
I keep asking myself what I can do to change this dynamic, but the truth is that what I want can’t be forced. I work in the night life industry, and a friend of mine (a black trans man) told me that he wanted to support me, but didn’t want to come to my parties because the photos he saw were full of white people. My response was “Yes that is true, but there would be more people of color if you came with your friends”.
People naturally gather where they feel most comfortable and in order for folks from all walks of life to come together naturally, there needs to be a space where we can simply BE together, without categorization or politicization. A place where you don’t have to be an Other. At the end of the day, I just want to live where music, art and culture are ever present.
No tightly run meeting agendas. No name-tags. Just be.
REPOST from http://www.zarachiron.com/
My sister Zara, wrote this recently for her blog @ ZaraChiron.com. It was so moving, touching, and insightful that I felt compelled to share with you all. If you have siblings, parents, family members etc, that haven’t yet come around, I hope you find inspiration in this piece, to be patient (and brave) enough to remain open to their own journey of moving closer to you so that one day, you’ll be as fortunate as I am to know what it means to be loved by an ally.
Summer 2006, my world was redefined by a simple act of bravery.
My sister Spectra, sheepishly and hurriedly flung a letter at me while I slept ever-so-lazily on her frame-less futon, amidst the fur balls also known as her tuxedo kitties, and then exited the room. For a second, I thought I had dreamed it, but noticed the curious expression of the dude-cat as he put his wet nose to the paper.
As I sat up and began to read, I wondered, “Geez! What could I have done this time?” since my sister had taken to reprimanding me through written notes ever since I started living with her so as to avoid full on conflict. I was greatly unaware of the depth and power of the words on the page I held in my hands, words that would reshape the world as I knew it, and raise my personal level of consciousness. By the time I finished reading what I now regard as the “Coming Out Letter” (which I still have in my treasure bag of memorable goodies!) I was – simply put – instantaneously changed; and for the better.
At first I felt relieved, grateful, even flattered that she would share something so personal with me at all, given our shared understanding; that in Nigerian culture and society, it is both socially unacceptable and illegal to be gay. As in, literally, illegal! I am thoroughly embarrassed and saddened to admit that a gay person is seen as spiritually abominable, emotionally unstable, mentally ill and generally perceived as decadent. No doubt, these perceptions are hypocritical and outrageously revolting to me — especially since there is so much that is truly decadent about the greedy puppets that control (and perpetuate further corruption of) Nigerian society, but how would my sister have known how I felt? Am I not Nigerian — like her? Did we not both grow up in the same homophobic environment riddled with discriminatory vocabulary, aggressive ignorance and deep-rooted disapproval of the gay community?
Her bravery was deeply touching and evoked an emotional response in me. I began to cry; not because she let me in on something so delicately significant, but because she had taken the monumental step to face, accept and explore the truth about the person she is; a spirit that will not, cannot be dictated by society or even manipulated by an intelligent, yet societally programmed mind; this person she was revealing to me could only ever be expressed and seen by an open heart.
I felt I had been given the ultimate gift: a chance to Love.
Even more beautiful than having somebody love you is having someone to let down their armor, open a door to let you love them in return; when they say, “This is me and I am giving you permission to know and love the entire person that I am” it is nothing less than intimate and absolute power bestowed that comes with a depth of responsibility.
My sister had kept out of sight, watching my expression through the hinge cracks, no doubt nerves on-end as I read the letter and began to cry. She peeked into the room, and as I sniffled confirmed that it was safe to enter. As she crouched next to me on the carpet, crying and reaching out for a hug, I remember, I said to her — a little choked up, how “I had never loved her more.” I meant it, and her relief in form of free-flow weeping confirmed that she understood, but I am not sure she truly grasped my words or the meaning behind them. Still, I recognized the moment for what it was; a beginning. And, I promised myself I would evolve along with Spectra and be a better sister to her — to every aspect of who she is so that one day she would come to know those words of mine to be as deeply true.
The transition has not been entirely smooth. I had to banish any and all remnants of cast-off ignorance that lingered in my system and get to know my sister all over again, as queer; this is still and always should be work in progress. And by work, I mean ‘work’ from both parties. I’ve been resourceful — what would I have done without my handy cousin Google, the L Word, Will & Grace, and a whole lot of QWOC+ events?! It helped that my sister was constantly inviting me to ‘see’ her, to be a part of something she’d once been afraid to share. Whether it was a QWOC+ event she wanted me to help her with, a lesbian film she wanted to watch (and could actually relate to, “Saving Face”!), a book for me to digest and discuss with her, etc, she always showed me that she wanted me to be a part of her life. I’ve had many illuminating conversations with Spectra herself, but I’m sure she will agree that we’d never have gotten to the point where we are now — sisters, friends, and loyal allies to each others causes — if I didn’t keep pushing myself to learn, and grow.
It is easy to not notice prejudice when you have the luxury of not needing to do so. It is easy to overlook, neglect and breeze over things that “do not (directly) concern you.” It is even easier to not acknowledge your own privilege, dismiss obvious inequalities under a countless number of justifications and excuses, because in so doing, you rid yourself of the only humane course of action — to take a stand for something.
Sure, it’s not that hard to continue pretending (especially to yourself) that you are all that and a bag of gummy bears when it comes to your “open-mindedness” and “inclusivity” (“Hey, look, I’ve got so many gay friends!”), but you cannot escape the truth; it will always find you and test you in the most personal way. What then will you do? When “the truth” cannot be hidden under a phony political discussion over cocktails to make you appear like the conscious intellectual sort? What will you do when the “issue” is now a “person” that you know and claim to love?
Before Spectra really let me in, I honestly felt like I was “for” the “gay community”, but now I understand that being an ally is way more than just a social or political “stance” on an “issue” — it is truly personal. When it comes to justice and equality for human beings, there is no in between, no neutrality; passivity might as well be aggression for you are either for or against. Period. I am a person who loves my sister, all parts of her, and will stand up to anyone, movement, person, or drunken slurr-throwing a**hole to protect her. There’s nothing political about that.
I do, of course, recognize my privilege in the knowledge that I am a straight, petite “girly” young woman who loves stilettos and baby doll dresses with a heterosexual preference for men that is globally accepted, but I passionately honor my personal linkage to the fight for LGBT equality and for the right for anyone to express the “self” by speaking out in spaces in which my sister is not as comfortable or present. It’s one thing to be an ally at QWOC+ events, it’s another thing to be an ally when you’re outnumbered by narrow-minded and/or ignorant straight men and women. But trust, l am always ready! Lock and Load! *haha kidding*
I may not be a direct member of the community–but I am sure as Helen a sister to it because at the end of the day, homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual, transgender, gender-queer and everyone in between who refuse to adhere to “labels” are human beings like me; we are all just people. We should all have the right to be ourselves. We are all human beings and citizens of this interesting (and often twisted) world of ours. So — my sister aside — that is reason enough for me to care enough to want to read a book (or RSVP “yes” to all 300 QWOC+ events on Facebook).
As human beings, the more we connect with each other — recognize, explore, accept and even celebrate how we differ — the more we can see who we are inside more clearly. I feel connected to more people in the world than I did before and, in turn, have developed a stronger sense of self; my world has expanded, my experiences are more conscious, and I am a much better person.
So I call on all of you, friends, brothers, parents, sisters, school teachers etc., of the brave people of the LGBT/Queer community. Push yourselves. Check yourselves. And grow, via healthy balance of stepping out of your comfort zones, listening, asking questions, and seeking new ways to learn about the struggles (and victories!) of your loved ones. If you don’t do this — become a more purposeful ally to someone else — for someone you claim to love, then at least do it for yourself.