Being born Black and lesbian often feels like a misadventure in nature. Forcibly inducted into an oppressed and ousted minority, then expelled by demonization creating an experience not understood or welcomed by many. You find yourself constantly under attack and no matter how much you show up for your communities, your communities rarely show up for you.
It’s hard. It’s hard being a Black lesbian educator, fighting tiressly for the progression of your people, and hearing your Black students use homophobic speech. You want to correct the student but you face the chance of dealing with a mob of angry Black parents backed by the ideology of an almighty god. Like the time I had a student unmute themselves during the presentation of the 2021 inauguration and ask the teacher and I if we saw the two guys kissing because “it was weird”. I so badly wanted to challenge his thought process but I knew if he went to his parents saying he learned about gay lives in school today, there would be an issue. It hurts. It hurts marching for and with Black lives that would never march for your lesbian Black life in return. Recently, A black ex church member proudly posted that, in her holiness, she would never support a lesbian, gay, or transgender human. Marching in the Queer Liberation March this past summer felt like a manifestation of her words. There were more white lives there marching for my protection than Black.
It’s damaging. Some days you feel like you deserve the punishment that comes from living out loud because it is coated in “love”? Receiving the “I love you enough that I will no longer speak to you until you force yourself out of this darkness” message. My mother cut me out of her life, in “love”, when I came out at 26. Her reasoning? God. So, God so loved the world he stopped speaking sinners to get sinners to stop sinning, right? That’s logical. Even that, having to internalize your own love as a sin to make non-queer Black people comfortable with you.
It’s strange. It’s strange realizing you have no real community within your ethnicity to then find out you also don’t have it with those of your same sexuality. Being out with your Black queer friends and realizing you’re being turned into the entertainment. Having non Black queers address you differently than others as if you are a character and not human like everyone else. Hearing non black queers saying “yaass”, voguing all while calling a “dip” a “shablam”, and snapping and clapping like the Black Gay and Trans lives they stole it from but can’t show up for when it matters. It’s time for non Black queers to love us as much as they love the culture. Without Black trans and queers lives, much of the liberties they enjoy today wouldn’t be possible.
Staying silent seems to be the safest way to survive but even while minding your business someone always finds their way into yours. Like being out with my girlfriend and a black man yelling “I’ll be your third”. Or denying a Black Man’s advances while walking arm in arm with my female cousin and him beginning to yell homophobic speech at you while you fearfully walk away. Being born Black and lesbian is trial by fire. It is the pressure to either accept the negative or believe your life is worth more. Learning to no longer accept homophobic and transphobic speech in respect of religous freedom. Learning to not internalize hate to make your community feel better about you. Having the energy and the strength to correct someone in every space you are in.
Would I ever trade it? Never. The Black queer community is creative, innovative, loving (even though we still have work to do for our trans-Black brothers and sisters), loud and expressive. Greatness resides and comes from this shining community. I hope for a day we can live freely as we are. Until then this proud Black and proud lesbian life will continue to speak up for change.
Denise Tillman is a Queer artist from San Bernardino, CA, currently based in New York City. Her sound draws its influence from R&B, jazz, and contemporary pop styles, and her classical vocal training lends a virtuosity that sets her apart in the vast landscape of recording and performance artists. Denise is passionate about representation and sharing her experience as a Black Queer woman, though her unique style appeals to listeners from all walks of life. She is excited about her debut single, “How About You and Me,” which explores and gives voice to queer women’s expressions in love.