• Joshua Williams

Returning Blackness to Pride: Our Lives are an Endless Summer

There was a time when I was younger, I declared war on myself as I grew into an identity I didn’t fully understand. I am a black gender-fluid person witnessing our past histories and present time tie themselves together culminating in something we all must face eventually, a mirror. Sometimes this mirror isn’t something we always want to see.

Every day I would come home after hearing micro-aggressions like “you’re so articulate” and “you’re gay? you’re not like other gay guys”. These statements live in the intersect of both the black and queer communities. Both parts of me, but often separated by others.

When I came out as gender fluid, I first struggled with the idea that others may view that identifier as something more akin to a light switch, as rudimentary as that sounds, that’s how I started compartmentalizing my sexual identity. It was as if I viewed my personal identity as something I could have some degree of control. It wasn’t until much later that I realized it was more about control of my own perception than simply “switching” my sexuality on and off. Much like how most Black Americans “code switch” daily depending on their environment and what peers (usually white) we’re interacting with. It’s exhausting to compromise being your full self, but even more exhausting to realize it’s for no one’s benefit.

The expectation of masculinity from black men further complicates the queer narrative I had laid out for myself. Suddenly, my very actions were all called into question. From my clothes to my hair, and my speech. Perception became my only identity, some saw black, and some saw gay, but nobody really saw me. The feeling makes me wonder, if I were trans would the perception be even more dangerous? The statistics say enough. Just recently, Black trans woman Iyanna Dior was brutally attacked in Minneapolis by a group of Black men, and Black trans man Tony McDade was killed by a Tallahassee Police while unarmed. We still have a lot of work to do in terms of black and queer lives mattering too. These attacks suggest that the ingrained homophobia in the black community and the rooted anti-blackness of the police force are both needed to be marched for, not separately but as one. We have to do better and work to shake the bonds of fear and ignorance to truly bring about change. Black queer struggles are black struggles, period. We exist in the spaces we’ve carved out for ourselves and have only just these past three decades acclimated ourselves into a culture that seems to only tolerate us.

Pride month and what it stands for in recent years has been co-opted by the white queer gaze. It’s ironic that the very voices that have made Pride a possibility, have been relegated to the sidelines for a more public display of white queer Pride voices. Most editorials, bars, and spaces for us are continually occupied by a white consciousness of what Pride means to the people seen as running the show. When we are spotlighted, it’s mostly through drag culture which has seen its fair share of whitewashing as well. It’s very telling that the centerpiece of our existence in these spaces is one of “entertainment”. Our talent is spotlighted at a smaller scale as time goes by and our stages are haunted by white drag queens and queer individuals who repeat our phrases and anecdotes as if they were their own. Our vernacular is NOT universal, yet white Pride speaks to the possibility that it should be -- erasing our history.

I’ve learned that a lot of my expression, especially as a queer person, comes from my inherent blackness -- the two cultures are tied to one another through a shared vernacular and experience oppression. So why do I feel like my identity is torn between the two? I realized that queer culture is intrinsically tied to my blackness on a level of cultural consciousness I like to call an “endless summer”. I use that phrase not only because it immediately conjures up an image of Marsha P. Johnson marching for me and many others but because I find it’s rather poetic and apropos given that summer is the season of change. Now more than ever we are in an endless summer, we are marching for human rights amidst a type of self-aware class consciousness we’ve never seen in our current youth.

The current anger in our climate is rightfully justified due to the killings of unarmed black civilians and the trans murders that plague our nation. After not being seen for so long, the consensus demands to be heard. The “riots” are more emotional than physical.

Feeling torn apart at the seams with grief and decades of bottled vulnerability right in front of the very society that shuns your existence. It is heartbreaking, triggering, and brutal. This endless summer is a slow burn, a painful but necessary ascension towards our greater good. As black people and queer people have done for years, we set the tone for the next generation so that they have it better than us.

Queer and black communities are both subjected to misguided fear, hatred, and anger for our mere existence in spaces we have every right to be in; spaces we built. Our mutual history of protests against authority is the invisible tie that binds us together.

Bridging the gap of my blackness and queerness meant liberating myself from an entire decade of learned behaviors that no longer benefited my truth or my future. No more spiteful looks in the mirror, no more disappointment in myself for not fighting harder to occupy space, and no more years of internalized fear of holding a lover’s hand in public. But, if I were to do it all over again, I would. Because I am proud of the person I am today.

Being in the midst of a movement surrounded by my black and queer peers is a strange fruit for me to consume and bear, as it encapsulated both parts of me and for the first time in a while, I feel liberated. For me and my mirror, this summer is just getting hotter. But it’s not something I shy away from, it’s a good thing. It forces me to continue to grow and finally live my life like the poetry I write, a truthful existence. There’s a fondness I have for change that stems from the softness in my heart. I hope for not only change to the legislation and towering figures that uphold abhorrent practices and opinions but for the fear that lives in my heart to be replaced by something new and poignant, the feeling of hope.

Meet the Family

Joshua Williams is an African American artist, activist, and poet. They are the bestselling author of "Joshua Williams in a Week of Suicide(s)" and "Love Bandit" both available on Amazon.com

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