As with most queer artists, Pride month is the only time of the year where I’m given opportunity to be seen, if not for my whole self at least for my queerness. As the month comes to a close, I reflect on the joy of celebrating with my friends and family for what feels like the first time in a long time. I’m grounded in gratitude knowing how fragile the world around me has become and I’ve learned to love with a sense of urgency. I’ll hug you now because I never know what tomorrow brings.
This is 2022, and it feels like survivor’s guilt. How can I share my joy when I know how much pain surrounds me? How do I celebrate in public when I have friends who are still confined to their bedrooms? As a Black queer artist, I’ve asked myself how to create art that doesn’t center my community’s trauma. That question often leads me to focus instead on our resilience, but even that feels tainted. Why should I have to be strong? Is it still wrong to show weakness and vulnerability? It seems I have more questions than answers, but maybe that’s my role as an artist anyway.
For most of my career, I’ve felt a responsibility to represent the whole of the Black queer experience. After all, representation is the most valued marker of progress in today’s society.
In June of 2020, that sense of responsibility started to break down. I was unemployed, months behind on rent, and waking up every morning to the distressing sounds of police sirens and helicopters. I witnessed social contracts and systems of governance collapsing all around me under the weight of a global pandemic and a moment of racial reckoning. It was yet another record year of violence against Black trans folks both at the hands of the police state and the hands of cishet men in our own communities. I’ll remember that month for the rest of my life.
It felt as if the clock struck midnight on June 1, and Black queer folks from across the nation had decided with great clarity that they could no longer be held down, gatekept or have their bags deferred — not during Pride month, and never again. Activists like Christian Washington stood up to Black cishet organizers who refused to make space for trans voices. Local drag performers in Chicago and San Francisco organized to overhaul the racist and exclusive nightlife scene. These demonstrations were powerful shifts in the culture for me.
Amidst this chaos and upheaval, I released all expectations of anyone coming to save us: We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.
I realized the responsibility I felt to represent Black queerness came from a place of scarcity and growing up lacking the Black queer role models who could have been critical to my childhood. But this scarcity was and still is manufactured. Cultural institutions create limitations on who and how many Black queer artists can be seen and celebrated, controlling how we see and understand ourselves. The BET awards continue to snub us and the Grammys never loved us. The only spaces we’ve ever had to celebrate our work without exploitation have been created for us and by us.
So maybe it was a natural progression. In fighting for Black queer representation, I found my community and my creative peers. Through working with Black queer artists in my role at The Center for Cultural Power and as a musician, I was enveloped in diverse and beautiful Black queer art; this helped me reflect on the complexities of my own lived experience. The further I navigated the world of music as a Black queer person, the more I encountered artists who not only looked like me but helped me understand the world around me. These artists were sickening and talented beyond belief, but constantly kept waiting outside while their cishet and white counterparts enjoyed several seats at the table.
Nevertheless, surrounding myself with these artists and culture makers has proven to be both liberating and inspiring. I’m liberated because I don’t feel the same pressure to speak on the behalf of anyone else; I’m inspired because I see so many amazing Black queer musicians doing their own thing and killing it, and I feel like that quietly gives me permission to do the same.
I believe the best way we can combat scarcity is with abundance, so I leave you with an offering — music that showcases a spectrum of incredible Black and queer visionaries.
I have found community and empowerment, and I’ve learned that the only person I could truly hope to represent is myself. In doing that, I am becoming the role model that I was always waiting for.