My sexuality is precious to me – though it didn’t start that way.
I grew up in a family of pastors and religious leaders. My family and I would attend church every Sunday and bible study on Tuesday, where I was taught how to be a good wife to my future husband and a good mother to my future children. Sexuality was something I couldn’t talk about – never mind explore. Instead, it was ingrained in me that being gay was simply something that didn’t happen to “people like us”.
The TV shows we watched were always vetted (the That’s So Raven ban was especially traumatic) and any deviation from the norm was seen as rebellion. I was never exposed to queer people, let alone queer Black people. But I always felt conflicted. Though I tried to deny who I was, I knew my solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community wasn’t the only reason a pit formed at the bottom of my stomach each time my family showed revulsion at queer moments. So I tried to explore my identity in secret, which my lack of knowledge about the LGBTQ+ community and constant fear of being ‘found out’ made frightening.
When I left home, going to a predominantly white university meant there was rarely ever anyone who looked like me in the LGBTQ+ society – something I later found also representative of the LGBTQ+ community as a whole. Still extremely insecure about my sexuality, meet-ups and trips to Leeds Pride felt both daunting and isolating.
“This year was meant to be where I harvested the fruits of that labour, and I was excited to live as myself, not a palatable, watered-down version of me”
Though I now firmly identify as bisexual, I battled with a lot of internalised biphobia. I remember feeling like I wasn’t ‘gay enough’. Towards the end of university, I was very fortunate to become exposed to queer individuals who deviated from the norm’. I befriended bisexual women who reaffirmed my existence and experiences and, through them, I found a safe space to explore who I was. Through them, I was able to unlearn what it meant to be bisexual, and accept the fluidity of my sexuality.
This year was meant to be where I harvested the fruits of that labour, and I was excited to live as myself, not a palatable, watered-down version of me. Like many, I genuinely believed 2020 was meant to be ‘my year’.
I was especially excited to be attending UK Black Pride for the first time. I knew the issues I had with my family were things many Black queer individuals experience. However, like the rest of the world, the Black community tends to be very socially conservative: there is a lot of homophobia and ignorance, even if it may seem as if things are progressing. We may be moving towards acceptance, however, we aren’t there yet – leaving Black LGBTQ+ individuals like me dealing with a lot of stigma.
This is why UK Black Pride was going to be so important to me. It was going to mark my first time being surrounded by people who experience the world in a similar way to me and looked like me too. It was going to be the one day in 2020 where my sexuality and race wasn’t cause for concern, but reason for celebration with my Black queer friends — something I had never experienced before.
“The lack of visibility for minorities has always made Pride feel bittersweet. It seems this year won’t be any different.”
And besides June being Pride Month, the Black Lives Matter protests all around the world we are seeing, after the killing of George Floyd, would have given Black Pride yet more significance. The event would have been an opportunity to have a moment for ourselves, to collectively celebrate Black trans and queer individuals who feel (and are) an afterthought. Black Pride would have stood as a symbol of what we can achieve, and it would have been a moment of healing too – there is something reaffirming about being around people you don’t have to defend your existence too. But now the pandemic has postponed the physical event, the many Black queer individuals who need that relief will be will stuck at home, waiting another year.
I know exactly what that feels like. Though I am out to my close friends, coming out to my family remains a privilege I don’t have. With the pandemic, I have had to move out of university accommodation to live with my mother, and I have found myself back in the closet I spent years breaking out of. Once again, I am exposed to grimaces and vocal displays of objection when watching shows with LGBTQ+ representation. Spending 24 hours a day in a house where the only time I am alone is when I go to the bathroom, I don’t know what I am going to do instead. So far, my Pride celebrations have been relegated to secret likes and retweets.
This month was meant to be for celebration, but how can I with all the protests around the world? How can I in such a heteronormative household? I have found myself feeling displaced and unable to discuss my own unique experience with those who claim to love me most – but who definitely wouldn’t if they knew who I really am. The lack of visibility for minorities has always made Pride feel bittersweet. It seems this year won’t be any different.
“It’s as if we can never catch a moment of respite before yet another crisis hits us the most.”
Like everyone, I feel robbed of so much this year. For Black LGBTQ+ individuals especially, this month is going to bring forth its own issues for many of us; with the disproportionate number of Covid-19 deaths in the Black community and now with the spotlight being shone on police brutality, we are going through major trauma. Many of us are now having to march for our lives, during a global pandemic, putting ourselves and others at risk. It’s as if we can never catch a moment of respite before yet another crisis hits us the most.
However, I think it is vital for us to remember that we are not alone – even though it may feel like it. Lockdown is heightening our feelings of isolation, but we must remember we are collectively living through all this together. Though it feels as if our chance at finding and being a part of a community that shares are struggling is gone, it isn’t. Remember to reach out, especially on the hard days to friends, those whom you trust and organisations tailored to support our specific needs. Celebrate the good, even if you feel guilty due to the current climate.
As for me, I am going to try my best to bring visibility to all queer people of colour, but especially those who are Black. And if that means I have to celebrate UK Black Pride through sneaky periodic bathroom visits, then so be it.
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