I've been thinking about role models lately, for a number of reasons. But, this being Pride month and all has heightened the ongoing discussion about queers, role models, and safe space. See, I've been confused about this month lately. I've lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for about 15 years and Pride/Pride related events like the Dyke March and the Frameline Film Festival are things that I happily and excitedly participated in when I first moved here. Let me tell you, there's nothing like being surrounded by a bunch of dykes all moving, flirting, and supremely digging one another. Dykes of all kinds, really--women of color, butch, femme, old, young, topless, clothed, single (with stickers identifying them as such), coupled, "dis"able-bodied, "able" bodied, on motorcycles, on bicycles. It's beautiful, truly.
But I haven't felt that way in a while. A long while.
I dropped off and met up with a friend at last year's Dyke March and, I'm pretty sure that's the last one I will attend (and this has nothing to do, personally, with the San Francisco Dyke March nor the organizers, check out this year's theme: Dykepocalypse, which embraces feminism). As soon I got to the March last year, I stumbled upon a group of white women and men with T-Shirts that read: "Dyke March 2012: I'm here to get drunk and fuck bitches."
You know how I feel about that, right? That kind of aggression makes me feel a bit homicidal (homocidal?). At the very least, it makes me want to punch people. And I'm not a violent person. I have fantasies, like any normal queer person of color raised in the U.S., but I haven't ever acted upon them. Yet. Still, given that my love for the Dyke March and other Pride activities has waned, where is a queer girl of color to go to find other folks like me, spokespeople, or what younger folks refer to as role models? You know, Macklemore as a role model for queer youth and spokesperson for queer rights (click here to see just how virulent that stance is). What does it mean when you live in one of the gayest places in the Union and you don't really feel a part of the fervor of the month of June?
Like some other queer people of color, Black nerds, feminists, and mixed race folks, this is a feeling I've long been familiar with. Not always fitting in. Looking for a "home." Always searching for like minded folks real and imagined: in person and not (we'd say virtual now, but when I was growing up it was on television, through my stereo speakers, and on film). Fortunately, I've found much of that, a space where I feel at home with folks I dig and who totally dig me (I kid). Many places actually. But, that feeling does linger. It sneaks up on me at odd times, like the month of June, particularly when what I loved about the homelessness that many queers felt and used to build community has shifted somewhat and become more visible. More "normal." I was reminded of this the other day when I was watching the Tony Awards, a site that I often turn(ed) to. I was the example that both Neil Patrick Harris and Billy Porter described, at home who lived for Tony and other performances, searching for that reassurance. Harris promised in the broadcast that all the performers there were that kid. And Porter pointed directly to Jennifer Holliday and the cast of Dreamgirls 1982 performance of "And I am Telling You," as life changing for him. I know that feeling. I've felt it many times, continue to. Um, also, I drove around in my car, made dinner, and launched a summer course online, all while watching/listening to the Youtube video of Holliday's performance--that's how strong that feeling is. How strong it can be.
I don't remember the exact moment that I had this feeling, this feeling of being odd, different--it wasn't necessarily being gay because that's not something I identified or felt until much later. But, I was definitely different--all the things mentioned above--mostly in terms of race as far back as I can remember. The first time I can really remember seeing someone that let me know there were others like me was Prince, circa the release of 1999, about the same time of Holliday's performance.
Prince was about the gayest thing I'd ever seen. I was hooked. He and his whole entourage: Vanity 6, The Time, later The Family, whoever, saved me. Literally. Other folks were into Micheal Jackson and, I was too, but not like Prince. I loved all things about him, his queerness in that he was so unabashed about a (often very traditional) sexuality. "International Lover," anyone? I can't get on a a plane without thinking, "If for any reason there is a loss of cabin pressure, I will immediately drop down to apply more" and "In the event there is over excitement, your seat cushion may be used as a flotation device." I think I was twelve when I first heard that and though I hadn't had sex and didn't really know what he meant, I was in. The flow was amazing. I looked for everything he'd ever done, his previous albums, and remained faithful through LoveSexy (I had moved on to other music by that point, but was faithful through the treasures of Around the World in a Day and Under the Cherry Moon, which I still have). More importantly though, than the way he displayed his sexuality, which I appreciated, he was different in other ways. Namely, his Blackness, or what I read as his Blackness. I thought, incorrectly, for a long time that he was mixed race, like me (you know like kid in Purple Rain), which made me feel like I could move out of the racism in my hometown. That structured the experience of all us, but made the experience of a child from a Black and white background...difficult. It didn't really matter what he did, just his presence, knowing he existed reassured me and let me know that I was going to make it. For reals, make it. Be ok. Be able to do something. To live.
And there are others: The Smiths, Lisa Bonet, Patti Smith, Audre Lorde, Dr. Who. Looking for something, anything to let me know that I was (relatively) OK. Sometimes I still look for that, still long for that connection, even in the place where I once felt was the most connected I'd felt: queer community.
the Cheerios commercial which did nothing more than reflect an actual reality. There are Black men married to white women who have children. Boom. And I agree with others, it was a big deal, it made me stop and notice. And smile. I'll smile a little bit more when a commercial shows a, um, Black man with a white, blond woman, as that would really twist at the legacies and fears of white racism. But, I digress. Like the increasing visibility of the LGBTQ community, the representation of interracial (Black and white) couples changes the conversation a bit. Visibility is a big "fucking" deal as other have said, but there is something I like, perhaps, about the invisibility and the reliance on our creativity, imagination, and hope that forces us to carve out our space.