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If you're gay, lesbian or bisexual (LGB) and also of color, you don't need us to tell you how challenging that can be, nor that a lot of people -- especially those who aren't of color or who aren't queer -- don't realize, see or acknowledge much of what you've gone through or what you deal with. We're rolling out a new blog series today we hope can help counter that compound invisibility.
Even if you're not of color and queer, not LGB or not of color, we think it's critically important to cultivate an awareness of what it means to be not just a member of one of those groups, but of both. If you are queer and of color, what we're hoping this new series can do is help illuminate some of your own diversity, allow you to feel less isolated and know you're not alone. Queer youth (and queer people on the whole) are often isolated, and that isolation hurts and can do and does very real damage. LGB young people who are also oppressed, marginalized and rendered doubly invisible because of race tend to face even greater challenges and isolation.
No matter who you are or what your deal is, we think you'll find these profiles challenge many perceptions and may make you reconsider or refine ideas or questions about orientation and race. We'd be lying if we didn't say it also helps you and others grow your compassion and your care, better understanding that every kind of marginalization and oppression both does very real harm and always has the capacity to do so, especially if it goes unseen and unheard.
When we first put out a call for these profiles, the idea was to collect a bunch and then pick and choose answers to create a collective group roundtable. But the interviews we've gotten back say so many valuable, important things that editing or diluting them in any way seemed a big loss. What we've chosen to do instead is to run these in full in an ongoing series, and we hope you find them as enlightening, challenging and important as we do.
Color/race you are/identify with: Black American
When did you realize you were gay, lesbian or bisexual? I figured out my sexuality over a couple of years (although they felt ten times longer). Between the ages of 16 - 19, I questioned the thoughts I had about men and women. From the time that I started having fantasies, around age 10, I dreamt about men and women, but men filled my dreams more. Thus, I considered myself straight and brushed off my feelings for women. Besides, I became a Christian while in middle school - and my lustful feelings and my homosexual feelings conflicted with my religious beliefs. God knows I often was riddled with guilt when I acted on those feelings with myself.
How did you feel about that realization? When I entered high school, there was a shift and I started to fantasize about women a lot more. Again, I was riddled with guilt. "Sure, lustful feelings and masturbation could be forgiven and/or kept secret; however, if a homosexual spirit overtook me, I would be sinful for life whether I acted upon those feelings or not," I thought to myself.
At the same time that I had these thoughts, I started to question the Church's views on sexuality. Ironically, I had always been interested in learning about sex, sexual reproduction, and different cultures' views on sexuality. I mean, I was that 12 year old girl running around telling people about the history of vibrators, to the young and the old. By age 17, I educated myself enough to know that most people, including religious people, didn't think lustful feelings and masturbation were going to send someone to hell and that most people considered masturbation a normal, healthy act - at least Dr. Berman and the folks at Scarleteen did. So I was free of that guilt. Yet, the verdict on homosexuality was still unfavorable; it was a sin or it was weird and abnormal.
At age 17 during my senior year of highschool, I was at a crossroads. "Should I turn against my religious beliefs and how I was raised or should I listen to my heart and live the life that I want?" I chose to be a righteous Christian and a good daughter. I prayed at the altar many times my freshmen year of college. I even enlisted myself in a Prayer Warrior class, which required me to go to Sunday School every week. Yet, I felt more disconnected with my Faith each time I prayed about my "ungodly" feelings. I wondered, "Why am I trying to change who I am? If God didn't want me to have these feelings, wouldn't He easily take this thorn from my side, especially since I've prayed so much." I ask God to let me know if my feelings for women were wrong; I felt in my spirit that God did not believe it was so. Afterwards, I left the Church and would later become a spiritual, not religious, person.
Have you been able to come out? If so, can you tell us more about how that's gone/how that went for you? My sophomore year of college I starting coming out to myself more and more. I started eying girls on the streets, drooling and daydreaming over them, and yet my fantasies about men remained. I knew I was 'in-between' and probably would remain in-between. After doing some research on the web, I realized that I was either bi-curious or bisexual, terms I had never heard. Once I had my first real crush on this young woman at my college, I knew I was bi.
I came out to my parents probably too soon after realizing this fact; but I didn't want to lie to them about this part of me and I didn't want to lie to them about whom I was dating. One summer day, I prepared myself to come out to my mother. We were lying in bed and I told her. As I predicted, she responded, "I can't accept this. Your father and I both won't approve." Later on, she responded that I broke her heart for making this choice. The next day, I came out to my younger sisters, which was much more dramatic and hurtful than coming out to my parents. They pulled out the bible and told me it was a sin. I don’t know why but I expected that they would be way less judgmental. I guess I forgot we grew up in the same house. Over the next weeks, they both called me f*****, which hurt me so much. Luckily, my father chose not to talk to me, which was fine with me. At that point, I preffered the silent treatment than yelling.
I don't come out to my friends very easily. Actually I came out to my friends, except my best friend, after I came out to my family. My lack of experience in regards to dating and my bisexuality kept and keeps me from talking about my sexuality. I often think, "What's the point of coming out when I haven't even been intimate with anyone yet? I practically could be wearing one of those promise rings."
How supported do you feel by your own family and your community of color? Now, the drama is over in my family in regards to my (bi)sexuality. I feel like I can be myself around my family now that I've come out. They still believe that homosexuality is a sin and/or is weird; however, they don't treat me wrongly and have assured that they love me regardless. I even talk candidly about being my crushes and being queer around them. Coming out to my family has made it easier to come out to my extended family.
I feel that there is a diversity of opinions in all communities, including black communities. Each black person holds their own beliefs, are more or less willing to change their minds and hearts, and are influenced by their environment and identities in different ways.
For instance, some older black people grew up around LGBT people and may be more supportive of queer people. Some may still look down upon queer people because of they own thoughts or because of their religious beliefs. In addition, like most people in America, I have seen that many black youths use LGBT slurs to degrade each other and many black people believe bisexuality is disgusting, spreads diseases, and/or is not real.
How about by the queer community? Again, I find there is a diversity of opinions in all communities. The queer community is so fragmented. Most queer people I know embrace my brown skin and kinky-afro hair. I haven't dated so I don't know how much a hindrance my skin would be or how much racism still lurks in my local community. In regards to my bisexuality, I only know a few who are truly supportive. I still hear the whispers about "cross-overs" and the gasps when a lesbian is found to be dating a man. However, the LGBT student organization at my local university did bring in Robyn Ochs to speak; so open-mindedness is growing around the subject in my town; plus, they are looking at working with the black student center on our campus next year.
What do you feel are particular challenges for gays, lesbians and bisexuals of color? Generally, as people of color, we have to deal with systemic oppressions such as lack of quality education, housing, and employment. We also deal with less visibility and less opportunities to have our voices heard. Many communities and families have overcome these barriers but may still deal with subtle, exclusionary racism and stereotyping.
Internally, we deal with biphobia, homophobia, and transphobia as well. Many in our communities spread the same stereotypes about lgbt people such as they spread diseases, are sinful, and are abnormal.
Obviously, since we are small in numbers, forming relationships and friendships with people who look like you or who have similar experiences, if that's your goal, is challenging. LGBT people often need mentors or people to give them advice on being queer. Finding mentors of color might be difficult as well.
How do you feel others can help with those challenges? Support efforts to reduce poverty, to educate and train adults who were left behind, and to bring quality and comprehensive education to our children. Support other organizations/groups by attending functions and meetings, by donating funds and service, and by inviting people of different background to speak.
Create events for all people. Be inclusive.
Educate your own community about different communities. Share resources -( for instance, someone shared with me a website that talked about being queer and a Christian when I was questioning). Mentor others. Challenge stereotypes. Be an active bystander and do something when you see someone harm or degrade another.
Does one kind of bias you face -- racism vs. homo/biphobia -- feel larger, more oppressive than the other? Personally, I have been hurt by homo/biphobia in more direct and painful ways than by racism (i.e being called a f*****, being told that my identity is false).
Yet, do I see black and brown faces hypersexualized in the media (which our own communities consume)? Do I see black and brown faces demonized and portrayed as violent creatures in the media (not to say that violence in our communities in not outrageous)? Yes, I do know and see that racism still prevails.
However, I have a black family to comfort me if ever directly confronted with direct racism. In addition, society recognizes and supports the concept of race. In contrast, not everyone in society supports the concept of bi/homosexuality. So, I feel I can complain about the mistreatment of people of color but not so much about the mistreatment of lgbt people.
I guess I feel more support when dealing with racism in contrast to homo/biphobia.
What do you feel like LGB people who are not of color don't get about the differences being LGB of color? What about hetero white people: what do they miss? Again, depends on the person. White LGB people may not fully understand how being less visible affects LGB people. They also may not understand cultural variations. The same goes for white hetero people; plus, many don't understand cultural variations within the queer communities and may not even know the "basics" about the LGBT community (i.e. what does LGBT mean?).
Want to be part of this series and share your experiences and ideas about being gay, lesbian or bisexual and of color? We'd love to include you and get your voice out there. Drop us an email and we'll send you the questions!