Fear, dread, and exhaustion… those were the first reactions I had to discovering my queerness. Growing up in a conservative and religious Ethiopian community which is embedded in a less-conservative-yet-still-queer-phobic American society didn’t give me a space or an opportunity to rejoice in discovering my queerness. The first person I told asked me how I felt about my new-found identity; “I feel like I’m playing the oppression Pokémon Go- I really had to go and catch all the oppressed identities: a Black woman, an immigrant and now queer.”
As a child, acceptance was absent, both within my community and within myself. In order to be a girl-child worthy of care and affection, every part of me was forcefully shaped into what my parents saw fit. This dynamic not only distorted my understanding of love, but it created a long-lasting pattern of doubting who I intuitively was. There was always an overt notion that what I felt and did was wrong and needed to be corrected according to the laws of the Bible and the community at-large. It took me 22 years and getting on a steady dose of anti-depressants to finally recognize that I am attracted to many genders and that was only the beginning of my battle with self-hate and internalized queer-phobia.
It took me 22 years and getting on a steady dose of anti-depressants to finally recognize that I am attracted to many genders and that was only the beginning of my battle with self-hate and internalized queer-phobia.
I had spent most of my life biting my tongue or criticizing myself for having contrary thoughts to what I was indoctrinated with. In an attempt to keep everything in, I once found myself at a family gathering holding my breath until I was light-headed. I was figuratively and quite literally suffocating myself. I had a part of me that was fighting for recognition, affection, respect and care. However, a declaration of my womanist views and queer identity would have surely compromised my safety. I was and I am struggling to find wholeness in mind, body and spirit.
What do we reap when our community sows a violent rejection of an inextricable part of ourselves? We find ourselves constantly betraying and being alienated from ourselves. Pulling towards our true selves only to painfully push away in order to appease the part of us that is still seeking acceptance from our “first” communities. Putting our queerness on and taking it off and allowing only a carefully curated outer self to occupy spaces. The process of slicing and splicing oneself is deeply traumatic and one is left with a damaging choice between safety, attachments, and authenticity.
The process of slicing and splicing oneself is deeply traumatic and one is left with a damaging choice between safety, attachments, and authenticity.
For those of us who are still having to choose our safety in place of authenticity, the resulting mental and physical burden is exhausting if not down-right unbearable. A lot of us carry trauma with us. To integrate this trauma and often cope with pain of internal and external struggle for acceptance, we turn to many outlets: traditional talk therapy, substance, old and familiar relational patterns and each other. Though I couldn’t find joy in the discovery of my queerness and though I don’t feel particularly hopeful about my own queer future, online and IRL connections with other Black queer folx have been a soothing salve for me. I am in constant gratitude for what these connections have taught me about love of self and community and for what they’re doing for our collective and individual liberation. They’ve allowed me to dream of a world where our joy isn’t coupled with grief, and is deeply rooted, visible and expansive wherever and whenever.