Tuesday, August 3, 2010

black girls don’t belong in closets: part 1


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via Freedom Fighter by aliciasanchezgill on 7/31/10

this is a three-part coming out story.

i didn't always know i was gayish. ok, maybe i did. my first girlfriend was in the fifth grade. we kissed occasionally, we'd giggle and hold hands but we never told anyone about what we did. and once our tryst was over (like many others to follow) we never spoke of it again. i'd managed to block it out of my memory for many years. in college, i joined the lgbt student association. i was a volunteer for DC black pride every year [my best friend was on the steering committee board] and hung out at gay and lesbian clubs rather regularly. i did all of these activities because I believed in the worth and dignity of every person. and had tied myself to my values. not that I'm gay or anything. im just an ally. most of my friends happened to be queer- i had to go where they were. and i didn't mind. i didn't know that, for me, ally was just a pit stop on the way to gayville.

I had done some really intentional, and loving exploration with women here and there, but i was an ally, and i was being really careful not to share what i perceived was my heterosexist shit with the folks who were my dear friends. i was exploring, but I didn't want to fetishize or overly sexualize queer sexual relationships in a society that does enough of that (commercials, music videos, lesbian porn geared towards straight men, straight girls asking me to kiss them just to try it, straight girls feeling me up even though they have boyfriends- which you never find out until the end of the night). those incidents, comments and assumptions by straight-identified women, [that just because i'm gay, i am interested in them, that i want their sexual attention, or that my sexuality is for their entertainment] leave me feeling just as disgusting and used as some of my interactions with men- (although i have also had really loving experiences with men too). somehow, folks think this brown, queer, female body is for everyone's consumption. plus, I never wanted to be one of those "lesbians until graduation" women, who abuse their straight privilege and manipulate it for their own use, when its convenient, or for the attention of men. so, basically, I stayed in my lane. i knew i wasn't that girl- and that wasn't my intention, but i also knew from experience, that intention is very different than impact. when i have tried to explain how this feels to straight women of color who have an awareness of racism, i always suggest they shift the paradigm. "what would it feel like if a white man asked to make-out, just to try some brown sugar? that's how it feels when you exoticize my body, and my sexuality." i mean, maybe that doesn't always work, but you get the idea.

[i wasn't going to date cis gender women, trans or gender queer folks, until i was willing to wear the "label" of gay/queer/not straight- and all of the (good and bad) shit that comes with it. that was my personal choice. for me, choosing not to label myself queer or gay would be like choosing not to identify as a person of color and instead calling myself "part of the human family." ridiculous...sure, it's true. and i know race and sexuality are social constructs, and i don't have to fit into a box, but part of the identification with marginalized communities of which i am a part, is to acknowledge systemic injustices experienced by people who are brave enough to wear the label. and some of us who are brave but not safe. so, i do it in solidarity with folks, who aren't safe enough to make the choices about coming out that i have made. this is not to suggest that i have stopped exploring my sexuality. sexuality and love, are two very fluid things, and something that we can always explore (why not?). but for me, queering it out has given me the opportunity to explore other parts of my sexuality that i may not have. so, i keep exploring. going deeper. no pun intended.]

a couple years later, I started working at a rape crisis center- still believing that I was an ally despite all of my quite obvious woman-loving leanings and feminist politics; it is possible to love women, and be feminist without being queer. i've heard. I was getting the extreme side eye from most of the staff, who did not demand that I define my sexuality, but that I interrogate it for myself. how could I talk about body politics, oppression and rape, if I couldn't talk about my own sexual and gender identity? the more I did that, the more truth unfolded and I chose to pursue romantic, whole relationships with women. i never officially came out at work or most places in my life. one day I had a girlfriend, and everyone shrugged and moved on. there was no shame around it. no bells and whistles. but, maybe someone gave me a "welcome to the family" gift. maybe it was a plant. an aloe plant. to be fair, i was working in a very liberal, rape crisis center, where about half of the staff [or more] was lgbtq. i felt safe. i recognize that everyone doesn't have the same working conditions that i have had the incredible [class and educational] privilege of creating for myself.

there was however some loss of friends in other parts of my life. the ones who never "knew" me as gay. the ones who were mildly closed-minded, the ones who were outright homophobes, and the ones for whom, I just didn't have the energy or desire to explain myself. there were a lot of unreturned phone calls, ignored texts and facebook unfriending. but I had finally "friended" the real me. and it felt powerful. intense. like finding something I'd always known was there. my capacity to love people of many different genders was like finding a 5 dollar bill in a coat from last winter. i knew i had it all along. i'd just put the coat so far away in the closet that i forgot it was there.

stay tuned for [how i came out to my mother, also known as "black girls don't belong in closets: part 2"]

what was exploring your sexuality like for you? do you consider yourself a constant, perpetual explorer? what was coming out like for you? do you remember the first time you referred to yourself as gay/bi/trans/lesbian/queer/questioning?


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