“Who is oppressing Black members of the LGBT community?” I squeezed my phone. I knew nothing was going to happen between us when I saw that Instagram message in my inbox.
I met this guy—the one in my DMs asking me questions that could have been a simple Google search for a few YouTube videos—briefly at a 2020 New Year’s Eve party. An artsy-type with a nice beard, deep melanated skin, and a sweet smile. He took my photograph and we exchanged Instagram profiles at the end of the party. I was daydreaming of the moment where we would level up our conversations in a more romantic way.
I was not dreaming of educating Mr. New Year’s Eve on privilege after he sent me an excerpt of an Instagram video by Billy Porter, which addresses the Black community’s need to get “our house in order” regarding queer and gender non-conforming Black folks within our community.
In the video, Porter highlights the unique oppression Black LGBTQ+ people face within the Black community. “My basic human rights have been up for legislation every single day that I have had breath in my body from all sides—and by that I mean that the Black community’s relationship with the LGBTQ+ community is appalling at best and eerily similar to that of white supremacists versus black folk,” Porter said. “Hear me, Black people, and hear me well. I’m calling you out right here and right now. You cannot expect our demands of equality to be met with any real legislative policy and change when y’all turn around and inflict the same kind of hate and oppression on us.”
I am a queer, Black, and disabled woman so I get Porter’s message. I live it. He’s describing a powerful instance of “intersectionality”—an idea coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, a legal scholar and Black woman, who invented this framework to describe the unique “double-bind” discrimination Black women face between racism and the patriarchy. In academic terms, intersectionality is a framework we can use to understand how aspects of an individual’s social and political identities might combine to create unique modes of discrimination. Take me for example: I’m Black, a woman, cis-gendered, disabled, and queer. Learning about intersectionality helped me process how my multiple identities overlap and affect the way society views—and treats—me.
Privilege isn’t inherently evil—we all experience it to some degree.
These intersectional identities are part of the reason why a rally for George Floyd (a Black man), is larger than a rally for Breonna Taylor (a Black woman), which is going to be bigger than a rally for Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells and Riah Milton (Black transgender women). That unique intersection is why many people might not even recognize the last two names I listed.
Privilege isn’t inherently evil—we all experience it to some degree. But it is a hell of a drug and it can blind us to the oppression others in our own communities are facing—including oppression we might be helping to perpetuate. So the irony was not lost on me when a cis-gender, heterosexual, Black man entered my space, asked for my opinion, and was not pleased when I began to describe “cis-gender, heteronormative, male privileges” as the one of the reasons as to why he was not feeling Billy Porter’s message.
“A lot of Black LGBT people choose to blame the straight community for experiences that all Black people face,” he wrote. I saw where this was going: My New Year’s Eve crush had revealed himself to be a person who had already established his perspective and was not looking to change it.
Here’s the thing. I could have kept conversing with him. I could have told him to follow activist, therapist, and writer Araya Baker (@IHateGender) on Instagram to reflect more on oppression for those who exist at the intersection of their Black and LGBTQ+ identities. I could have sent him articles about transpeople who lost their lives because of targeted violence fueled by racism, transphobia, and police violence. I could have recommended Crenshaw’s TEDTalk on The Urgency of Intersectionality. As a queer, Black, disabled woman I could have even shared my personal stories about the very complicated ways in which privilege and oppression interact in my life. For example, I experience oppression as a queer woman, but I experience privilege as a cis-gendered person. I want to feel affirmed and cared for by society regarding my queerness and womanhood and I also have a responsibility to leverage my cis-gender privilege to make sure the trans community is heard.
If I am going to survive this movement as my fullest self with all of my identities affirmed and cared for, boundaries are critical.
But this is also true: It is not my job to educate him—or anyone for that matter, if they are not here to reflect and learn so we can achieve progress for all our Black community members in this movement.
Mr. NYE continued to send more messages after that but I chose to put down my phone and take a deep breath instead. These are certainly important conversations and I’m down to have them. But when people come into my space only wanting to prove themselves right, I have to draw the line. Because if I am going to survive this movement as my fullest self with all of my identities affirmed and cared for, boundaries for my self-care and emotional bandwidth are critical. These discussions have real impact on real bodies.
I rested my head on my couch, stared at the ceiling, and went through my “Activist Self-Care Checklist.”
“Do I have the bandwidth to entertain this person? Do I care enough about them?” How personally invested I feel in an individual will make a difference on whether I engage in a conversation with them or not. Conversations like this hit close to home because they are literally tied to my life and the lives of others, so I have to choose wisely.
“Do I feel safe around this person?” Emotional safety is a huge factor. If we are not creating a safe space to have empathetic conversations or I feel like the person is only willing to hammer home their own opinions, I have to stop the conversation for my emotional safety. And with everything that’s been going on in the world, I’m safeguarding the number of spoons and edges I have left out here.
“Are they receptive to another person’s perspective or have they already made up their mind?” It’s draining arguing with a brick wall. If the person simply wants a thought exercise or debate partner then I quickly hop to my last two questions: “Is this person open to storytelling experiences and resources for their own self-learning?” and “Are they compensating me for my emotional or informational labor and time?” One question answers if they are here for learning purposes and will continue the work to unlearn toxic societal programming without me being present. The other question provides me with some security for my invested time and energy—just in case people want to squander that investment away in the spirit of “dialogue.”
Mr. NYE still messages me from time to time to reinforce his claim that the Black LGTBQ+ community does not go after the white community for transgressions in the same way they go after Black community members. And I promised myself that, for my own sanity, I would block him once I finish this article.
I wish our conversation went differently. That we could have unpacked Billy Porter’s message and left with a better understanding on how intersectionality operates for people with multiple marginalized identities. That we could have had an open and empathetic conversation about how people face unique battles navigating compound discrimination, even within their own communities. It would have definitely been a move that gained my appreciation—and maybe a date.
Until then, I will continue to use my Activist Self-Care Checklist to have the conversations worth having—and send my CashApp to those who want to hit me up for my emotional labor without compensating accordingly.
Kay Shakespeare is a community professional and advocate with over 10 years of non-profit work experience. She is hard of hearing (HoH) with a bilateral, high frequency, moderate-to-severe hearing loss disability and wears hearing aids. Kay is the founder of @BlackNerdDisabled on Instagram, a platform dedicated to storytelling and exploring the nuances of intersectionality within the disabled community. She is Black, a proud nerd, quirky and queer, and just wants her hearing aids to come in cheetah print.
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