“I was called a faggot before I was ever called a nigger.”
I’ve heard this statement from LGBTQ people hundreds of times across social media platforms, drawing various reactions from both hetero and homosexual communities alike. For many of us, this statement, albeit true, often lacks the full context and explanation of how both offensive terms are still derived from white supremacy, colonization and systems of oppression that create pseudo-hierarchies within marginalized populations.
Despite context, it is still my truth that as black queer people, we have a real fear of the state and of our own community. However, the role that colonization plays in blacks’ assimilation into white society can’t be dismissed as the reason we struggle to find safety within our community. We were colonized to follow the respectable order of white society, pipelined into a system already in place as a means to our own survival. The structure of white supremacy places white hetero men above white hetero women, who are above white LGB people, who are above white transgender people. This, in most cases has been adopted by our community and used to set up a black hierarchy that places black queer lives in danger.
For black LGBTQ folks, we sit at the bottom of that pyramid in our community, with black trans women being the most oppressed group. Murders against the trans community have reached an all-time high. On Nov. 29, Brooklyn BreYanna became the 27th black trans woman to be killed this year.
This is a real problem within our communities.
With no reform around toxic masculinity—and an entrenched refusal to have hard conversations that are necessary to free us all—we have failed to create safe environments for trans people not only to exist but also to thrive as valuable members of society.
Giovanni Melton, 14, was recently murdered by his father for being gay. It is a story that shook black LGBTQ folks to the core, a reminder that many of us survived. This story brought home many feelings that black LGBTQ people feel as soon as they walk out the house in the morning and, in this case, before they can even get out of bed.
I was sold a false narrative. I was told “it gets better,” as if becoming an adult would change the years of ridicule I had endured my entire life, and introduce me to a world that would be fully accepting of my gender and sex identity. At 32, I now know that I take my life in my hands when I dress a certain way, or have mannerisms not accepted by a masculine-centered society. I’ve been called a faggot walking to the gym, walking to the train, on Twitter, in the comments of my articles, by people of shared melanin.
I understand that it’s all part of a conditioning process, which has taught us to oppress those who can’t easily assimilate into whiteness. In the world we inhabit, those of us who aren’t so-called respectable Negroes are always frantically trying to outrun death—and too many of us lose. Those of us who cloak ourselves in the mantle of respectability are always surprised when the noose encircles their necks.
Despite the lies we’ve been force-fed, America has and will never see the Negro as a person worthy of respect; the condemnation of our own will inevitably hurt any chance we have of ever reaching collective freedom, a freedom that the state works to deny us on a daily basis. The state’s relentless attempts to harm marginalized people using various systems of oppression, instead of one fatal blow, leads to death by a thousand paper cuts. These cuts come even harder for queer people as we deal with an intersection of identities that creates multiple oppressive systems that continue to harm us.
HIV funding is being threatened because the face has become that of the black women and black gay men. Conversely, the opioid epidemic is considered a national health crisis because of the white bodies it primarily harms.
Approval of gay marriage only brought about the affirmation of people living in that chosen identity, as they refuse to pass ENDA, which would protect us from job discrimination.
The socioeconomic status of queer black people leaves too many of us underpaid in positions similar to those of our white counterparts; yet even as homelessness continues to be a critical issue for those who are black and LGBTQ, it continues to largely be ignored.
There is no “American dream” that has ever envisioned black people as being a part of the narrative. And, if for one moment, we ever allow ourselves to believe in that dream, like Martin Luther King’s realization in 1967—one year before his assassination—we eventually wake up to a nightmare.
Hashtag after hashtag, march after march, I am reminded that my blackness is a threat to the state and has been so since our kidnapping to these shores over 400 years ago. Mass incarceration continues to destroy black and brown families in such brutal ways that it seems impossible that our communities will ever fully recover.
Health care disparities and discrimination have kept our people uninsured, unhealthy and unwilling to trust a medical system built on us remaining that way. Cops, prosecutors, judges and laws continue to perpetuate an injustice system intent on killing black bodies on camera with no resulting consequences beyond GoFundMe payouts, early retirements and not guilty verdicts over and over again. The recent Michael Slager verdict may be an extraordinarily rare example of justice being served, but as Malcolm X said: “If you stick a knife in my back 9 inches and pull it out 6 inches, there’s no progress. If you pull it all the way out that’s not progress. Progress is healing the wound that the blow made. And they haven’t even pulled the knife out much less heal the wound. They won’t even admit the knife is there.”
No, they still won’t even admit the knife is there.
The state tells us that Korryn Gaines and Sandra Bland were too loud and had it coming, that Philando Castile did everything right but wasn’t white, and that Freddie Gray apparently killed himself. Lash after lash we take as black folks from the state, but we are conditioned to believe that if we can live to 80 or 90 years old in oppression, then we had a long, wonderful life.
Now envision living that life at the intersection of blackness and queerness.
Having the understanding that this is all a byproduct of white supremacy doesn’t make me any less fearful of my community. However, it does make me hopeful that, with the continued radical diligence of committed activists, there will be a collective community transformation centered in the truth that #BlackLivesMatter must include those lives that fall outside the margins of heteronormative safety and acceptance.
Living in my truth as a black queer person comes with the understanding that I may also be quickening my death. For that, I know that submitting to the conditions of white supremacy is not an option, and that it’s worth the fight to heal my own community’s conditioning in an attempt at collective freedom. We truly have nothing to lose but our chains, but only if we are willing to lose them together, regardless of sex and gender.