In Bed: Brittani Nichols
Episode 3 of "Getting In Bed With Kristin" brings Brittani Nichols - actor, comedian, writer, and "esteemed lesbian" - to my guest bed! We answer a bunch of your questions (and some questions from Jenny Owen Youngs, who refused to be left out), a little bit of advice, and we find out that I am really, really horrible at telling jokes!
“What’s the difference between being a black gay person and a gay black person? How do I know which identity to put first, and put the most energy into? If I’m a queer activist, I am turning my back on my race, and if I am a black activist, I’m turning my back on my sexuality. Both communities make me feel like I have to pick one or the other, and I don’t know which one to choose.”
- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Cassidy Hill as part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions
There’s a lovely little term I’m going to share with you, anon: intersectionality. (In the bootleg Wikipedia definition, intersectionality is the “study of intersections between forms or systems of oppression, domination, or discrimination.”) Intersectionality acknowledges that many forms of discrimination overlap and occur simultaneously. For me, a queer black woman, I can be subjected to discrimination based on my race, my gender, and my sexuality.
It’s true that both communities have plenty of overlap when it comes to discrimination. Both communities also have a long way to go in terms of overcoming oppression. But arguing that you can’t fight for one community without abandoning the other is not the way to go. If I march with the Black Lives Matter movement, I’m not abandoning the LGBT community. If I dress up and go to a Queer Prom benefit, I’m not turning my back on black people. If I felt guilt over feelings of abandonment with every bit of activist work I did, I’d start to feel exhausted. Chances are I’d go to fewer and fewer events. Think of it this way: let’s say I’m at a barbeque, and I decide to have a (veggie) hot dog instead of a (veggie) burger. I’d still consider myself both a burger and a hot dog fan; I wouldn’t be abandoning burgers. Maybe I’ll have enough room for a burger later. Maybe I’ll be super pumped to have a burger tomorrow! Being a part of both communities doesn’t mean that I have to pick one or the other—it means that I just have more to fight for (and more people to fight with).
There is an amazing slam poetry performance I’d like to share with you. The scene: two women, one gay, one black, argue about which group has had it worse. They’re passionate, they’re angry, and they ache for change. In the end, they realize that arguing with each other does nothing; they team up and finish the poem together. It gives me chills every time.
It makes me both sad and frustrated that you feel as if you can’t be a part of both communities simultaneously, because honestly, you’re experiencing both forms of oppression/discrimination simultaneously. The Patriarchy isn’t going to pick and choose which ways it will discriminate against me, so why would I? Yes, the world can sometimes feel a little bleak when you look at it this way, but it also means that I can connect with many different types of people—people who understand my struggle as a black person, a queer person, and/or as a woman.
*Puts on Morpheus sunglasses* What if I told you that there are places, special places that would never, ever make you feel like you had to choose or forfeit a part of your identity? That’s right; you can also involve yourself in intersectional activism! There are spaces for queer people of color (places like Brooklyn Boyhood in NY and Brown Boi Project in San Francisco) where you can organize against oppression without feeling the need to choose which part of yourself to fight for. Even within these organizations, you’re not limited by just “queer” or “person of color.” Brown Boi project, for example, also fights for gender justice; they’re working toward creating a world where femininity isn’t devalued and degraded. Brooklyn Boihood looks to redefine what’s classified as “masculinity.” Within organizations like these, you’ll find people who’ve made it a point to create a safe space for people who experience discrimination on multiple levels. How amazing is that!?
I’d also like to point out that activist work isn’t necessarily dictated by your identity (or vice versa). There are plenty of non-queer/non-black people fighting the good fight against oppression. Many thanks to those people! And many thanks to the people brave enough to fight on their own behalf as well!
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“What is the queer community’s role in the #BlackLivesMatter movement?”
- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Broderick Greer as part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions*
When I visited Ferguson in late August 2014, I went because I was helpless. I was embarking on my third and final year of seminary and had never felt as lost, confused, or displaced as I felt in the days and weeks following the lynching of Michael Brown. As I joined 40 other young adults on the 28 hour bus ride from Washington, D.C. to Ferguson, MO and back again, I was allowing my body to be, in some way, transported to a place where I – a queer, cisgender, black man – could be in solidarity with the death of a straight, cisgender, black teenager.
Nearly a year before Michael’s death, the queer black women – Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi – penned a “love note to black people” when they created the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. This hashtag was created in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s – a straight, black cisgender teenager – lynching in 2012. So when you ask about the queer community’s role in this movement, I have to take pause, because queer black women are the collective genesis of this movement. Further, queer-identified black people like Alexis Templeton, Brittany Ferrell, Larry Fellows III, Darnell Moore, and DeRay McKesson have used their platforms and activism to center the stories and voices of queer and trans folks.
When black people are lethally targeted by law enforcement officers and vigilantes, those officers and vigilantes don’t see queer bodies, they see black bodies. They see another threat. They see another menace. They see “enemy forces”. There is no discrimination of gender expression or sexual orientation when it comes to state-sponsored violence against black people. This indiscriminate disdain for black life is, therefore, a clarion call for us to bring attention – in the spirit of writer Zach Stafford – to people like our brother Dionte Greene, a gay black man killed in Kansas City in 2014. If the United States government and local law enforcement officials won’t properly investigate and prosecute in the case of deaths like his, Rekia Boyd’s, and Tamir Rice’s, then we must pressure them until they do.
On Twitter, a number of us have asserted that, at this critical juncture in American history, our nation needs an intersectional human rights movement that will confront and transform the systemic realities of racism, white supremacy, sexism, heterosexism, transantagonism, income inequality, and educational disparities. In the words of Audre Lorde, “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle, because we do not live single- issue lives.” Since none of us suffer alone, none of us will be liberated alone. If I am oppressed for being black and gay, then I will not be liberated until I am able to operate in the world as a whole, integrated person. And since my identity cannot be parsed, I will either be affirmed for who I am or not at all. You cannot affirm and celebrate my blackness without affirming and celebrating my queerness.
Thankfully, in Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi, and so many others, the movement has voices who understand that our common liberation – whether it be as trans people, people of color, women, queer people, or a combination or cross section of all those ways of being, existing, and identifying in the world – is something deep, broad, and complex. Too many of us are dying due to unchecked, state-sanctioned racism, heterosexism, transantagonism, for us to not see the ways in which the violence waged against us is interrelated.
READ MORE IN: IDENTITY + INTERSECTIONALITY > RACE
“I’m in an interracial relationship– I’m white, my girlfriend is black. I need help learning how to respond to all the little comments and microaggressions that happen when we’re together. It can be hard to know how to (and even whether to) respond. Any thoughts?”
- Question submitted by Anonymous with a reply from the scattered, disorganized desk of The Bad Gay, Mo Willis, as a part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions
Ah, the complex and challenging interweavings of love. And Blackness and Whiteness. And relationships. And 3 out of 5 sentences/statements that begin with “I” or “I’m” when talking about a we-thang. Though, there is clear cause to lead with self here. Like, who else would you be asking on behalf of? Who else is asking the question? Is this even a learnable/advisable situation?
(Overwhelmed, days later I returned with a rapid-fire, long-form, shortish list.)
1. Racially-motivated “micro-aggressions” are happening to your gf more than she’s telling you. I’m saying that because you need to understand the magnitude of “micro-aggressions.” (Which let me just take a second to side-eye the hell out the term “micro-aggressions.” What the fuck is a micro-aggression? Are we actually trying to say “all non-violent aggression” or should it be more like, “he didn’t outright call me a nigger aggression” or am I to understand it as a “run-of-the-mill, just your everyday following me around the store aggression”? I don’t know. I’m not really sure what it means.)
2. Similarly, what is a “little comment”? Is it in the same pre-school playroom as “micro-aggression”? I just want to point out that what’s happening here, over all, is the diminutization (or, “making smaller”) of pretty fucked up moments that are happening with enough frequency that you feel compelled to ask about it. (Let me restate that more clearly: YOU are engaging in the act of making what you may think are small, petty things, small and petty. No matter how your gf reacts, know that those moments are exhausting, terrible, annoying, hurtful, deflating, unnecessary reminders of how the world actually feels.
3. I don’t know you. I don’t know your personality. I can only speak for myself. I be gyad-damned if I am with my gf somewhere and someone says or does some racist shit. I’m saying something. I’m doing something. We’re leaving. Admittedly, I’m not speaking from a place of being in an interracial relationship. But, as an ally and partner, your role is to support the ways she needs to process and to make no secret of your position of unwavering support. Just because you’re with a black person does not mean you not about that racist life. It just means you are dating a black person. Showing your support can look a lot of ways. Sometimes it looks like leaving. Sometimes it means looking at her and asking if she’s okay. Sometimes it means giving the finger. Sometimes it means holding her tighter. Sometimes it means having a white person-to-white-person call out time. Sometimes it means taking up even more space as a couple, intentionally. Sometimes it means not saying a fucking thing and standing there. You will become more comfortable and familiar with the responses that work best for you when you do work to understand what is happening–and maybe even understanding how/if you’re contributing to it.
4. You are never going to ever come close to being able to identify, understand, or address the kabillion ways she will experience anti-black racism in her life. That’s not your role. Your role, forreal, is to: a) stop acting like it’s little shit when what you’re actually witnessing is a fucked up system of oppression at work and to b) Talk to your gf. Together, maybe y’all can identify ways she feels most supported when inane, ridiculous bullshit happens simply because she has the audacity to be…alive.
5. When people treat you, as a mixed couple, in a shitty way, y’all need to tag team. That’s my totally unproductive advice. How will you clown these antiquated fools out here in ways that keep y’all safe and entertained? How are you dealing with it together? What would make your relationship feel protected and yet give you the glorious taste of “Mm. They shoulda known we weren’t standing for that shit.” Or, if you’re the type of people who take refuge in putting things quietly away, do that. But process. Unpack. Don’t be afraid to ask about it. Don’t be mad if you’re met with silence. Give tenderness. Be honest.
That’s it. There is never a point at which your work and investment will be done. Saddle up. Be sweet to each other. Pay attention. Use your words. Good start, asking questions. Keep going.
Mo Willis is a co-founder of Brooklyn Boihood, a collective whose mission is to “spread love through community-building events, music and art while sharing our journey as bois of color who believe in safe spaces, accountable action and self-care.” Support Mo and the rest of Brooklyn Boihood by visiting their website and online store!
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"I am the only person of color AND the only gay person in my friend group. How do I handle that?"