I first heard the word “gay” spill from my brothers lips when I was six. “You’re gay,” he said, words sharp like poison. I didn’t know what it meant, I just knew it was bad. Standing there underneath dim Tuscan light, my toes curled up into scratchy carpet. I was taught to hate “gay” before even knowing what it was.
Third grade I remember standing in the lunch line waiting for cheap spaghetti and old milk. I would look at the other girls in line and think about how pretty they were. And then I’d tell myself to stop being gay. Stop it, stop it, stop it. I pushed those feelings to the bottom of my existence and eventually they were so distant I found myself floating in identities that weren’t mine. I wrote stories about girls I wanted to be, straight white girls with lots of problems and cute, emotionally available boyfriends. I lived through these characters, prayed for white hair, white boys, for normality. I spent four years ignoring myself, four years just being and not living. Gushing to my friends about feelings I’d never felt, and imagining things I didn’t even want to happen.
Summer before seventh grade, I realized as a result of the continuous repression of my identity, I had no idea who I was. When I looked at myself all I could see was a big question mark, shivering in fear. I spent the summer browsing website after website, taking quiz after quiz, to find some explanation for the feelings I felt. I hated myself. Every time I saw a pretty girl at my sisters high school, I hated myself. Every time my heart jumped when my best friend looked at me, I hated myself. I hated myself and hated myself and hated myself until somehow I just didn’t anymore. Somehow I started telling my friends about my girl crushes, and somehow it was okay. Somehow I found I did still like boys a little bit and that that was okay too. The shock and confusion of it all had evaporated and I had found myself again.
After deciding to come out at school, there was a shift in my social placement. White gay kids started smiling at me, and my black friends just made me uncomfortable. They asked so many questions, curiosity causing slurs like “dyke” and “faggot” to tumble out of their mouths and warm my face. Every day there was a new question, a question I didn’t even know the answer to. I turned to the gay kids for help, but they made me uncomfortable too. Their holocaust jokes and complete revulsion towards rap music, their support of gay influencers who were often racist.
I decided neither group would be right for me, and just hung out by myself. Nobody completely respected my identity. I couldn’t talk to anybody about what I was going through, because everyone was an offender. That’s when I learned how hard being a black member of the LGBT+ community can be. There’s no magic place you can exist without being offended or harassed. The gay people I turned to were racially insensitive, and my black friends were insensitive towards my sexuality. And now that I was being myself, I was losing respect for it.
Being black and queer is a continuous struggle. I spent my entire childhood fighting against myself, burying myself underneath layers of artificial straightness, artificial whiteness, and praying to be anyone other than myself. And now that I have accepted myself, I have to navigate other people’s rejections. Few spaces exist where I feel I belong, and it is an exhaustive way to live. That being said, I still love being black and queer and I am very proud to have made it this far.