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 we caught up with Stephanie Russell, a 26-year-old Houston native, chief of staff for a state representative by day, creative writer by evening and bartender by weekend.
ELIXHER: When did you begin pursuing writing as a passion?
STEPHANIE: I’ve been writing literally since I could write. I used to write poetry to my mom, to brighten up her dark days and to the people I cared about as a form of expression. But I actually began to seriously pursue writing in college. That’s when I realized that college wasn’t solely about being a doctor or a lawyer (I was studying to be an attorney initially), but rather it’s about pursuing your passion and while in the process creating yourself—so I did a lot of creating.
ELIXHER: What drew you to the craft?
STEPHANIE: Self-expression drew me to writing. As a kid, I had a difficult time expressing myself. I felt misunderstood frequently and public speech wasn’t my strong point. So, I wrote my way through a lot of things and it gave me strength, tenacity, built up my drive and I realized that I wasn’t just a writer, I was the words. I had a gift that not many people possessed, so I embraced it, I wore it, I loved it, I lived it.
ELIXHER: What’s your favorite subject to write about?
STEPHANIE: I don’t think I have a favorite subject to write about; I’m pretty open in that nature. I will say that I’ve been working on a book for a little over a year now and it’s the most difficult challenge I’ve ever encountered. It’s probably more so because the book is the truth and a lot of the time the truth is hard to swallow, so I’ve been taking it a mouthful at a time. I choke a little every now and then, but this product has to be my favorite, as of right now. And I believe it’s more so because it’s a challenge rather than it actually being my favorite. It’s some amazing content though, the words that divulge from my fingers shock me sometimes. I’m excited about the final product.
ELIXHER: Who or what inspires you?
STEPHANIE: People who have little but create lots. There’s nothing more inspiring than an individual who can turn an unfortunate situation into a fortune. And I mean that figuratively. That validates my claim that all things are possible, you just have to be willing to put in the work.
ELIXHER: Describe yourself in three words.
STEPHANIE: Autodidactic. Ardent. Student.
ELIXHER: What’s the biggest misconception people have of you?
STEPHANIE: Great question. I’m not sure that this is the biggest misconception, but it’s certainly a frequent one. The idea that I’m rude. I do quite a bit of self-reflection and I don’t think I am. I simply share my feelings and thoughts and they don’t always align with what people want to hear. My views may not make me right, but it definitely doesn’t make me rude.
ELIXHER: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to face and how did you overcome it?
STEPHANIE: To date, I’d have to say graduating high school and college. There were so many nay-sayers and as a kid, it’s difficult to comprehend people telling you things that you can’t do, especially people who are expected to encourage and motivate you to be your best. In high school, my counselor, physics teacher, and assistant principal told me I’d be nothing and that I’d never be able to attend anything better than Junior College. On what premise did they make these claims? I didn’t know, but for a while it stiffened my growth – I looked up to and at these people for advice, and hearing those things made me feel low. I really began to believe I couldn’t do it. No one should encounter that, especially not a kid. With constant support of my mom and me realizing that everyone doesn’t have my best interest in mind, I did everything in my power to prove them wrong. And I did it.
ELIXHER: What makes you proud to be a part of the Black queer community?
STEPHANIE: I like the fact that it is a community – like a close-knit family. It feels good to be able to associate yourself around people who fight similar battles and understand from first hand experience what you’re encountering. That gives me a great sense of pride, more than any shame the government and anti-gay groups can impede on me.
ELIXHER: What changes would you like to see in the Black queer community?
STEPHANIE: I’d like to see a greater abundance of unity. We all face the same struggles, misconceptions and discrimination, though on different levels, but I’d like to see us grow as a community together. A battle fought together is likely to achieve greater results than one fought individually.
ELIXHER: What’s next for Stephanie?
STEPHANIE: The first thing that came to mind upon reading this question was: Next for me is right now. I’m constantly working on what I’d like to be and do next. My evolution is continuous. Currently, I’m writing 3 books, they each express different segments of my life: Love, Sex, and Motivation – my undying will to succeed. My bartending company is soaring – so further development and starting a bar is top priority. Most importantly, becoming a better me. I’m human and lose my way sometimes, so I’m constantly thinking of what I can do to grow as an individual and help someone else along the way. I believe those are the moments that count the most.
To read more about Stephanie’s journey and writing, visit her blog here.