Today is the final day of Pride month 2021. As a Black Queer man, this month always has me reflecting quite deeply on how the meaning of Pride resonates with me and how it continues to evolve over time.
Growing up, we were taught to synonymize Queerness solely with sexuality.
A man should not lay with another man.
There is Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.
Years of indoctrination socialized us into a reductive conception of what it means to be Queer. It is a “sexual orientation.” Same gender loving existed at the root of this “abomination”, and to hide, ignore, or otherwise reject it in favor of a heterosexual “lifestyle” reinstated you into acceptable and respectable society.
This reductionist perspective of Queerness is rooted in colonialist traditions of sexuality, wherein sexuality is not to be discussed and sexual expression must be enacted in private. Any deviation from these Christian mores is punishable and casts the transgressor into the margins of respectable society.
These legacies of such sexual repression have socialized us to fundamentally separate sexuality from the other, more “respectable” and “presentable” dimensions of our identity. How we dress, how we befriend, how we express ourselves, how we spend our free time, etc. have nothing to do with who we sleep with, right?
If we are honest with ourselves, we know that sexuality forms a core component of our identity. Like geography, profession, language, and music tastes, sexuality helps us determine common interests–even if we don’t talk about it. Sexuality helps us form worldview, helps us learn about ourselves, and helps us figure out our place in the complex social navigations of our adulthood.
For folks who fit neatly into a heteronormative paradigm, the ways in which sexuality have shaped your identity may have gone largely unnoticed, since these social negotiations around sexuality have been taught, supported, and embraced.
For Queer folks, however, we often lacked a hegemonic blueprint by which we could guide our sexual development. Sexual marginalization forced us to explore a social network wherein we could openly express our sexuality and realize an identity of which this sexuality is a fundamental component. For us, the connection of sexuality to identity is salient.
Let’s draw a comparison real quick.
Under white supremacy, whiteness is the default. The blueprint. Whiteness is not separated from dominant society. Therefore, the notion of “white culture” is nebulous, as it is difficult to distinguish a “white identity” apart from the dominant cultural discourse. In contrast, Black culture is deep, and robust. Blackness is more than a race. Blackness is an integral part of our identity, a component without which the conception of our personhood would be fundamentally altered. (Can you imagine not being Black?? Whew. I can’t.)
A very similar consciousness exists within the Queer community. Queerness is identity. Because heterosexuality is the default, an identity that exists in inextricable connection to sexuality can seem like a foreign concept to straight folks.
Now that we are all on the same page, I submit to you the following: Queerness is identity.
Queerness is more than a sexuality. Queerness is an integral part of our identity, a component without which the conception of our personhood would be fundamentally altered. (Can you imagine not being Queer?? Whew. I can’t.)
You may have noticed a pattern: Blackness and Queerness are both oppressed identities in comparison to their counterparts. Does this mean that other oppressed identities (e.g., womanhood, being disabled, etc.) also usher the same identity-building phenomenon as illustrated above? I will say that it does.
But what does this mean for a “Truly Liberated Future”?
I am so glad you asked.
Black people are not a monolith. We are a complex community of diverse backgrounds, worldviews, and identities. We embody many dimensions of identity simultaneously, and they all contribute to who we are.
While we all share in racialized oppression under white supremacy, it is important to acknowledge that other dimensions of our identities (e.g., womanhood, queerness, disabled-ness, etc.) relegate us further into the margins of society. Our fight for equality is made exponentially more difficult. Even in a world where racism was wholly eradicated, some of us would still not be truly free.
To understand Queerness as more than sexuality (just as womanhood is more than “gender”) means to understand and acknowledge that Queerness is just as important as Blackness, and that an acceptance (or rejection) of our “sexuality” is simply not enough to carry ALL of us into true liberation. A reduction of us to a “sexuality” is a failure to see our full humanity. However, to embrace our Queerness as a full identity, interwoven with our Blackness, is to make space for us in our collective imagination of a liberated future–as we make space for ourselves.
Happy Pride to all my Queer folks. Here’s to our identity and to true liberation.
-Adam Smith works in educational leadership and is a contributor to Black With No Chaser