InspiHERed By spotlights phenomenal women in the Black queer community—everyone from artists to activists. Each week ELIXHER features someone whose personal journey and individual craft inspire us to dream bigger, laugh harder, and love deeper. This week ELIXHER had the honor of interviewing Alexis Pauline Gumbs from Durham, North Carolina.
ELIXHER: Tell us about Alexis.
ALEXIS: I’m 29 years old. I grew up and down the East Coast, but I’m proud, thrilled and geeked to call Durham, North Carolina my hometown. I self-identify as a Queer Black Troublemaker and a Black Feminist Love Evangelist, which means I am a teacher-at-large, poet-on-assignment and full-time creative catalyst.
ELIXHER: You co-created the Mobile Homecoming Project, an experiential archive that collects and amplifies the herstories of Black women who challenge heteronormativity. What inspired the project?
ALEXIS: Our project is inspired by a lifelong lust for Black women and Black genderqueer visionaries. After documenting a conference in Durham filled with Black lesbians that were 30 – 40 years our senior, we were so full to the brim with gratitude for how earlier generations of visionaries have saved our lives and made our lives possible that we decided to do whatever it took to document their brilliance and to create a movement of intergenerational love. “Whatever it took” turned out to be getting in a 1988 Winnebago and travelling the country, using every multi-media tool we know about and doing community-building events in person and through an upcoming documentary film.
ELIXHER: What’s the most rewarding aspect and the most challenging aspect of the project?
ALEXIS: The most rewarding aspect of the project is getting to build love with our community of visionaries that we cherish so much. My favorite part is honoring the visionaries. (We write poetry, improvise praise dances and create drum rhythms for the elders we do in depth interviews with.)
The most challenging aspect of the project is also the most beautiful and hopeful thing about it. It is a very hard-to-categorize process that we are engaging in and many people would like to put it in a box. But it is not only a documentary film, only a material archive, only a road trip, only a Black LGBTQ family reunion, only a website, only an educational initiative, only a series of site specific intimate performances, or a series of workshops, events and residencies at schools and other educational and activist organizations…it is all of that, stirred up into a radical practice of living as love for our community that we hope will be an example for other visionaries and other communities.
ELIXHER: Tell us about an elder that has touched your life.
ALEXIS: On this adventure of building queer Black family there have been so many new chosen grandparents, aunties, co-parents who have adopted us, and it’s hard to choose just one to talk about…but I’ll talk about Carolyn Grey.
My partner Julia and I met Carolyn Grey on the fateful day that we decided to do this project. We were participating in a workshop about sisterhood led by Ebony Golden and Carolyn encouraged her partner Harriet Alston to share the fact that she had co-founded the Salsa Soul Sisters, one of the first organizations for self-identified “Third World Lesbians” in New York City in 1974. I nearly jumped out of my seat because I had been digging through the Lesbian Herstory Archives reading every issue of the Salsa Soul Sisters publication the “Third World Gayzette” to learn about this amazing organization and here was a founder of the organization sitting in the same room with me, and even more miraculously the couple had moved from New York to Durham, North Carolina where I live.
This began a beautiful chosen family relationship that has enriched my life so much. Carolyn is an amazing example of intergenerational transformation and love. She has actively stepped up to become an ally to trans-masculine genderqueer folks in our community and has relished the opportunity to learn something new and to be in touch with her own masculinity in a way she and many in her generation didn’t have language for when they were my age.
Carolyn is also a spiritual leader and a Black feminist intellectual who has so much to teach me. I recently tracked down her 1977 master’s thesis “Patterns in the Lives of Revolutionary Black Women” and it is amazing. I am thrilled to know that there are loving, healing, transformative patterns that connect our lives across difference and age and I am proud to follow in her footsteps.
ELIXHER: What’s your favorite self-care practice?
ALEXIS: Dance is my very favorite self-care practice. I dance alone daily and in community about three times a week, and I also dance for the Mobile Homecoming visionaries. It is my favorite challenge, my practice of prayer, my way of being present to my body as a challenge for unspeakable wisdom, beauty and love.
Dance is the first practice that helped me heal from sexual violence and to remember that my body has something to tell me and the world that is sacred and worth hearing. The dance classes I attend are all based in Afro-diasporic traditions. I am also learning belly-dancing as I prepare my core for the future challenge of giving birth.
ELIXHER: What makes you proud to be a part of the Black queer community?
ALEXIS: I am so proud of us. Every single day I learn about some Black queer visionary doing something amazing, affirming and inspiring. I strongly believe that we are a key source of brilliance towards the transformation of life on this planet into alignment with the vibration of the universe.
ELIXHER: What changes would you like to see in the community?
ALEXIS: I really do believe that we could have more active tangible love and support for each other and stand up for each other better. I especially think that we need to stand strong together to support transgender Black women who are targets of such blatant and extreme violence, both in the media and in the streets. But instead many folks in the Black LGBQ community participate in marginalizing, disrespecting and calling Black trans women and trans and genderqueer folks in general out of their names. We can love each other better than that. We can choose each other over whatever cis-gender privileges some of us have. I believe that is possible, and I believe it takes tangible practice, speaking up, supporting each other materially in every way that we can and even in some ways that we cannot imagine doing at this point.
ELIXHER: What’s next for Alexis?
ALEXIS: So much. In 6 months I will turn 30. I’m so excited about it. I am creating a plan for becoming a mother. I am getting trained to become a full-circle doula in the tradition of Black midwives to join my mama (inspired birth advocate, doula and therapist Pauline McKenzie) in creating a mother-daughter doula practice. I am creating a coaching initiative support for graduate students who want to stay whole and bring their brilliance home to their most beloved communities in creative ways. I am also collaborating with some of my most beloved comrades in North Carolina on a new initiative—a local organic reparations project called the Warrior Healers Organizing Trust. And of course, I am continuing to expand and improve the visibility and impact of the Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind Multi-Media Community School and the Mobile Homecoming Project. Our Mobile Homecoming documentary should be out in 2013.
In other words, I am living a life of dreams coming true, my own childhood dreams, the dreams and wishes of my elders and ancestors and the waking pleasure of being surprised by just how much love there is everywhere.
If you’d like the Mobile Homecoming to do an event in your community or on your campus contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’d like Alexis to come do a workshop in your community check here for ideas and email email@example.com.