Working for a successful women’s magazine certainly had its perks. Hallways packed with racks and rows of designer clothes and shoes. Fashionable and powerful women running things.
But most of them didn’t look like me. And the only gay officemates I could find were down the hall in another department. (Did I mention they were all men?)
I sat alone in my bare cubicle punching away at my keyboard.
That was how I felt on most days.
“This girl here, she’s a lesbian,” the fashion editor said one day hovering over my desk.
Thinking I had been outed, I watched her point to the “girl” (i.e., the ensemble) laid out on the floor. Boyfriend jeans, sloppy tee, rugged boots. Ehh…I supposed “she” fit the white butch lesbian stereotype.
One thing was certain, she didn’t look like me.
I turned to media to find an accurate reflection of my multiple and intersectional identities. But I was left feeling just as marginalized as I did in the workplace.
After years of “passing” as straight (walking my girlfriend blocks away from the office, then kissing her goodbye before anyone could spot us), I finally said enough is enough.
One day that same girlfriend got very sick. She called me unable to breathe. After urging her to call 9-1-1, the phone cut off mid-sentence. I called her back repeatedly, but the phone just went to voicemail. Panic set in.
We were finalizing the magazine issue that night. I ran into my managing editor’s office and blurted out something about a family emergency. She held me as I started sobbing about how something was wrong with my girlfriend and I had to get to Brooklyn as soon as possible.
Thankfully, my girlfriend was okay. As for me, I was liberated.
My entire life changed drastically when I began to live authentically and openly. It allowed me to take a leap of faith and create ELIXHER, an online destination for Black lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women.
ELIXHER features content that lifts our spirits and tells our truths in an affirming, authentic and empowering way. The site has quickly become a staple for news, political commentary, profiles, culture and more. Since our launch in 2011, we’ve grown immensely thanks to community support and phenomenal Black warrior women and sisterfriends.
It also allowed me to form more authentic relationships with other Black women, LGBT-identified and straight.
On a recent Sunday morning, after a long night of birthday festivities, I sleepily sat up in bed with my laptop nestled on top my flannel sheets.
A photo of my sister Charreah Jackson, ESSENCE’s relationships editor, at the Hot97 studio popped up on my Facebook newsfeed.
“Talking relationships and Black women. Tune in 9 – 10 on Hot97,” the photo caption read.
I squealed with excitement and scrambled to open the Hot97 live stream link in a new browser.
There I was: an out Black lesbian, tuning in to a very straight can-Black-women-have-it-all-a-great-career-and-a-great-man conversation, and yet I hung on to every word.
Despite a few Facebook exchanges here and there, Charreah and I hadn’t seen each other since my ESSENCE intern days. Beyond our initial bond over trading beauty secrets, she was my sister. And I was proud to witness her success and the trajectory of her whirlwind of a career.
It’s with this same excitement that I make sure to tune in whenever my sisters, Black lesbian power couple, Aisha and Danielle Moodie-Mills appear on Melissa Harris-Perry as policy and subject matter experts. Or cheer on my celebfriends and sistergirls-in-my-head from a distance: the Quvenzhane Wallis’s and Viola Davis’s of the world that continue to trailblaze, kick ass and take names. In their honor, I make sure to do a virtual fist bump or martini toast…depending on celebratory occasion, of course.
This sistership is something that mutually feeds. When you genuinely believe in it and intentionally practice it, it sustains you in amazing ways. It was something I lacked and yearned years ago.
Earlier this month, I launched a fundraising campaign for my website ELIXHER. I’m excited to expand our digital platform and events as well as compensate our talented team of volunteer contributors. I’m committed to making the site a self-sustainable resource for other women who have felt as marginalized and isolated as I once did.
Our first major donor was my sisterfriend Janet Mock. We had worked at the same publication and would smile at each other in the hallways and make small talk in the kitchen. I was geeked to spot another brown girl in the office. (I was also geeked by her amazing fashion sense.) We didn’t know each other’s stories…yet.
It wasn’t until I began working in LGBT media advocacy and Janet shared her story about being transgender in Marie Claire that we were able to connect and form a bond that extended beyond anything I had anticipated.
I shared the Indiegogo fundraising video link with Janet via email (she makes a small but fabulous cameo) and within minutes she made a donation and tweeted the link to her followers.
Janet has always been one of those people who bring others up with her. And that’s what sistership is about. It is something she and countless other women practice daily.
Before you can ask for help, they move to action. Swiftly.
They recognize that your success is theirs. And that there is room for all of us brilliant and beautiful Black women up there.
Whether you’re straight, gay, trans, single, or married, we are our sisters’ keeper.
Anyone that has tried to convince people that a project is worthy of investing in will understand when I say it takes a village to raise a child money. In fact, it takes a persistent, resilient and supportive sisterhood—a collaborative movement of yaysayers, you-better-get-it-girls, and support-my-friend-or-elses—to get it done.
I can’t do it without you.
– Kimberley McLeod
Kimberley McLeod is a D.C.-based media strategist and LGBT advocate. She is the creator and editor of ELIXHER, a resource for multidimensional representations of Black LGBT women.