By Jezebel Delilah X
I was a nerdy teenager – shy, stumbling my way across campus, giggling at inappropriate times, reading all the text books within the first month of class, acing essays and exams (though I rarely turned in homework), ditching classes to write poems and skits about lesbian love and anti-bullying, and having crush after crush on all my best friends. I had access to teachers who supported me, a dope ass mother who empowered me, and other nerds who wanted to study and create art with me.
High school was an incredible time in many ways.
In other ways, it was hard. I was made fun of for the way I looked, dressed, talked, and thought. I was the kid who got pushed down stairs and laughed at when I fell. Other kids, Black kids, would ask me the most basic questions: why is your skin so black or why is your hair so nappy or why are you so ugly. It was painful, and that pain manifested in my body as fear. I was afraid of myself, of other children, of the world. Outside of class, sharing my poetry, and acting in school plays, I barely interacted with other youth – even the ones that attempted to pursue friendship with me. I questioned my worth and desirability, found reasons to invalidate other people’s appreciation of me. I worked hard to dim my light and spent my lunch and nutrition periods following teachers around, making their copies, and hiding in the library.
The library can be a terrified nerd’s best friend. It (keep in mind that this is Los Angeles at the turn of the century) was also the perfect haven for a semi-out of the closet baby dyke. I would spend hours scouring the shelves for books featuring queer and feminist characters and content, looking for motivation to keep living. I read some great novels about gay white kids and their struggles with love, bullying, and family. They were sweet, tender. But they didn’t reflect me, and they didn’t provide the solace for which I was craving.
Then, one day when I was a sixteen, my mother randomly brought home Does Your Momma Know?: An Anthology of Black Lesbian Coming Out Stories, edited by Lisa C. Moore.
My life was changed.
In this collection of queer Black feminist discussing their relationships with themselves and their communities, their homelands and diasporas, their loves and families, their oppressions and liberation; I finally found voices that expressed the tedious and magnificent intersections of my own life and identity, that spoke to the inner landscape of my dreams and desires, that helped me envision what life could be like as an adult. For the first time, I saw myself believing that there could be something beautiful in this world waiting for me. With these passionate realizations, I took the book to my very queer-friendly school librarian and asked for texts that were similar to this. She gave me Audre Lorde and bell hooks, Dorothy Allison and June Jordon, Patricia Hill Collins and Gloria Anzaldua, Gloria Naylor and Octavia Butler, Leslie Feinberg and ntozake shange. I read language that articulated the paradoxical desires and conflictions around my queerness and my blackness – the ways my sociopolitical ideals seemed to be so at odds with the cultural and religious values I was raised to appreciate. Further, I was gifted with an intellectualized compassion for the kids who bullied me, and a critical understanding of my own fear, rage, and self-loathing.
I was angry about the way I was treated by my peers, and if it weren’t for these writers being introduced to me at such an early age, if it wasn’t for their radical vulnerability and openness, their willingness to take risk and put themselves out there and demand a revolutionary shift in our cultural perception, I might have grown up to hate other Black people. I might have grown up to hate myself. I might have grown up too afraid of burning for eternity in hell to ever have queer sex outside of my imagination. I’m so grateful all that internalized oppression and hatred was intercepted because I really like having queer sex, especially with other Black and Brown people. When we strive to treat ourselves, and each other, well, QTPOC sex has the potential to be the most succulent liberation experience – especially amongst other artists (if you are a QTPOC artist reading this: hint, hint).
These books were my “It Get’s Better” campaign – only, anti-racist, intersectional, inclusive of diverse bodies and genders.
On my journey towards adulthood, I’ve met so many other queer kids who found home, safety, and healing in the words of queer and feminist writers. Heck, I still find home, safety, and healing in the works of those writers. Even better, most of my closest friends and community members have become those life-saving writers. Because of the patriarchal capitalism that informs the publishing industrial complex and QTPOC expression’s limited access to it, these writers show up in a different manifestation than our socially revered feminist cannon of yesterday. They are called bloggers, Facebook activists, twitter phenomenon, tumblr poets, radical zinesters, and YouTube sensations; and they are just as necessary. They reveal their wounds and insecurities in order to amplify our visibility (which baby JDX sure does appreciate). They are the griots who tell our histories when the rest of us feel defeated, helpless; who remind us of our potency when legislation and media work to inject our arteries with racist, misogynist lies; who aren’t afraid to fail and turn the complexities of failure into a beauteous inspiration; who stand on the front lines while we battle for social justice and often feel the blast of a capitalist regime desperately invested in sustaining a hierarchal, societal order; who disrupt capitalism by introducing us to radical ideas without needing sixty thousand dollars for college; who perpetually save and heal the lives of queer youth and adults.
Thanks to social media, so many more of us can do this work, and so many more of us get access to the diverse ways in which the work is being done. But, as magically radical as this access is, it has also become a tool to further sustain the violence and silencing so many QTPOC and feminist writers are fighting against.
Almost anytime a new blog is posted, an online article is published, or a YouTube video is disseminated, members of our own community respond with the same sort of hostility they’d direct towards an oppressor. These attacks aren’t often called attacks; they are called call-outs, open letters, status comments, rants, critical deconstruction, and responses…Sometimes they are gruesome. Sometimes they are violent.
I fully recognize the necessity of maintaining systems of accountability and nudges towards growth, self-reflection, and apology, but I wonder how much we are able to grow when those nudges are so often sheathed in insult, destruction, and shame; when they seem more invested in silencing and denouncing than facilitating a conversation that will enable the critical reflection of the author, the reader, and the community. Because of the internet’s ability to quickly make an activist blogger a queerlebrity and how we associate fame with wealth/power/political influence, our community has taken to conflating highly visible writers with more traditionally hegemonic forces of authority and attacking them viciously when they error. We forget that they, too, are mere and fallible, that the work they do is well intentioned and in service to the community. I know that most call-outs are rooted in self-protection and a desire for awareness and healing in activist communities, but it feels like we are also becoming increasingly invested in the “power and fame” we gain from intellectually denouncing another writer under the guise of social justice accountability than actually hearing and healing each other.
The more I read Facebook comments and tumblr responses to recent articles and blogs, the more I wonder why it is so easy to celebrate our brilliant writers who have transitioned/achieved critical acclaim, yet rip apart the soul and intention of those who walk and breathe and struggle amongst the rest of us. If these people are the warrior heroes who defend us against the cultural imperialism of hegemonic dis-ease, who inspire us to live through the pain and trauma of our yesterday, then isn’t it our responsibility to protect and nurture them, as well?
When we love and heal our writers, we love and heal our selves and our futures. Next time a blog post offends you, why not approach the writer with the same compassion you might direct towards Audre Lorde or Gloria Anzaldua if they were to come back and make an unintentional or perceived error. Let’s stop recycling the same silencing patriarchal tools we grew up trying to escape.
Jezebel Delilah X is a queer, Black, femme, Faerie Goddess Mermaid Gangsta for the revolution. She uses a combination of performative memoir, theatrical poetry,and feminist storytelling to advance her politix of radical love, socioeconomic justice, anti-racism, and community empowerment.
This post originally appeared on Black Girl Dangerous. Cross-posted with permission.