Why Creating The Black Queer Feminist Future Of My Wildest Dreams Is Important To Me And You
What a year to be black and queer in America!
June 11, 2018 at 5:10 pm
LGBTQ Pride celebrations have already begun — and what a year to be black and queer in America! Lena Waithe brought the whole pride flag to the Met gala. And Janelle Monae’s album, Dirty Computer, is continuing to give me the most life. I have been meditating on one particular stanza of her song "Crazy, Classic, Life":
We don’t need another ruler
All of my friends are kings
I am not the American Nightmare
I am the American Dream
Now let me live my life
These lyrics particularly spoke to me because each year before LGBTQ Pride Month, I set aside time to celebrate and reflect on the wisdom and triumphs of the many black queer women who came before me. I often find myself sitting in awe of my ancestors like Audre Lorde and Octavia Butler, and I try to gain inspiration from their tenacity, courage and determination to overcome the seemingly insurmountable barriers that they faced every day in the United States and around the world.
This year, my reflection took me to a dark place. Instead of feeling inspired and rejuvenated, I became wracked with guilt. The truth is, I’m tired. And overwhelmed. Fighting back against Trump’s cruel rhetoric and harmful policies has left me feeling depleted. And after a year and five months of resisting an administration that does not believe that black queer feminist lives should exist, let alone matter, I felt frozen in place.
Am I failing my ancestors, who went through so much just so I could exist today?
Then, I heard the faint whisper of an ancestor say, “Move.” OK, so it probably was not an ancestor, but I’m a yoga teacher-in-training, so listening to my body, mind and spirit is something that I practice regularly. Whether that inner voice is from the distant past or my own inner wisdom, I’ve learned to listen to it.
I needed to move forward. I realized that the guilt I was feeling for not being able to live up to my ancestors’ expectations of hard work, which can be summed up in the infamous black mantra I learned as a kid (“You have to work twice as hard to get half as much as white people"), was holding me hostage. I know my ancestors worked hard so that I can live today, and I am all that I am because of their dedication to my survival. But that doesn’t mean I have to hold myself to unreasonable expectations — expectations that were actually created by a white patriarchal monolithic culture that tried to use my hardworking survivalist nature against me by telling me to “keep my head down” and “work hard,” resulting in me not having the energy to recognize the inequalities of my American experience and fight back. Not anymore. I’m black. I’m queer. I’m proud. And, I am loud. I refuse to be silent and suffer under expectations designed to make me feel like I’m always running, trying to catch my morning train.
After all, my ancestors also fought and survived so that I could have joy, right?
I’ve decided to reexamine the “wisdom” of feeling like I have to work twice as hard or else feel like I’m failing someone. It’s 2018, and it’s time for me to redefine what the definition of “hard work” means. Today, hard work looks like waking up every morning and continuing to exist: Black queer existence is resistance. Resistance looks different for all of us and varies from day-to-day. Sometimes, resistance is continuing to breathe.
I love the quote “I am my ancestor’s wildest dreams” for all that it represents. And maybe I am! I am a 30-year-old black queer lawyer from the south drafting legislation and fighting for abortion access and LGBTQ liberation in Washington, DC. It’s pretty wild. But I want to move from the singular focus of learning from the past, to imagining and creating the black queer feminist future of my own wildest dreams. I’ve realized that I need to create a new reality and a new definition of freedom that differs from our predecessors.
In looking to the future — beyond the Trump administration and all its cruelty — I am once again energized because I know that black queer women can dream the impossible into being. We’ve done it so many times before. I hope that someday my descendants find some inspiration in the world I am creating, but more than that, I hope they can dream of even bolder and more beautiful black queer futures for themselves.