Black or African American

Am I Black Or Butch Today?

by Shanté Wolfe-Sisson

“Well—a lot of them would have been safe if they weren’t out all night sinnin’.”

It was the morning after the shooting in Orlando and hearing these words on the radio pierced the little bit of joy I had to give for another day of Pride events in the South—particularly on this day in Birmingham, Alabama. The atmosphere was somber as we refused to address the elephant in the room—Death. We pitched our tents, glammed ourselves with the latest LGBT paraphernalia and greeted many who were looking for one thing during this stressful time—community.

Am I Black or Butch today?

Living and organizing in the state of Alabama, rich for its civil rights history, certainly does not leave one at a loss for inspiration to pull from during such a time of political unrest within our country.

However, during the duration of my time serving the community I have learned that, while we have come a long way, we have a long way to go. While we are a strong movement currently fighting for the basic amenities afforded to those who are not LGBT, we are indeed a movement divided by race.

During this time of grief for our fellow LGBT comrades in Orlando, I caught wind of the senseless death of another black man in the United States. Suddenly, an all but familiar feeling of helplessness and grief consumes me and I can’t help but think BlackLivesMatter, this has to end, my people are dying.

Instantaneously, I’m not able to hold on to my poker face and I am asked what’s wrong.

Then I think—which burden will I share today? 

While “intersectionality” is the buzz word for current social justice doers around the country, often times for black LGBT folks there is a serious fear of the erasure of black trauma and contributions within the LGBT rights movement. We, living through the crossfire of what it means to be black and LGBT, confide in each other in the most humble of spaces and ways.

We also understand that while it is socially acceptable these days to speak out against injustices done to LGBT folks, we may not be met with the same acceptance if we talk about the injustices done to black Americans. Within a community that is still considered a taboo subject at dinner tables across America, we are the chant no one cares to hear, and we are the tears no one can see.

Let me clear my throat.

It is no secret that many of today’s movements are brought to you by Black/POC LGBT folks—many of whom are considered to be youth. Historically, Americans are often displeased with civil rights movements only to romanticize them years later. When can we unite together and break the habit of only appreciating our Black/POC LGBT freedom fighters (e.g., Bayard Rustin & Marsha P. Johnson) after they are gone? As a movement, we must acknowledge the blemishes that are but not limited to racism and classism. Until then, someone within our movement will always be left behind. And that is not true equality.

We Gon’ Be Alright.

By now I’m sure you’re thinking I’m the expert on these issues—I promise you I am not. So, how do I navigate the LGBT Rights Movement as a Black, Masculine Presenting Lesbian? I haven’t mastered my techniques but this is what I have for now:

I love my blackness.

I love on my fellow Masculine Presenting comrades.

I love on my Trans family & friends.

I love on my Cis-gendered women and men of color within our movement.

I love and support my fellow Latinx and other persons of color within our movement.

Of course most of these are easier said than done, especially during today’s political climate. But I think if we start having a serious discussion on what unconditional love looks like within our movement we will be stronger than ever before.

Photo via flickr user chandlerchristian