I’m thankful for my queerness.
Sometimes, I sit and reflect on how I made it to this place in life. I have two degrees, a job with a significant salary, and I’m blessed to have access to communities that value and protect my Black fat queer body. I think I’ve figured out how I was able to achieve these things with no possibility models and a childhood I barely escaped.
Can you imagine being six years old believing that you were going to hell, that your life was damned?
I was born in Eunice, Louisiana. Area code 337, population 10,000. Imagine three towns of Mayberry lined up horizontally, a four-square-mile sprinkling of department stores, hometown restaurants, a library, and a courthouse. Eunice is a railroad town. Most of the tracks, though, are invisible: Lines that separate “Whites only” areas from those for everyone else. The places where we shop, and the houses where we worship, are divided. It’s hot, humid, and sticky all the time — like that pivotal summer day in Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing, both in temperature and temperament. Mosquitoes have made Eunice their home for generations. Eunice is no different than many old Southern towns — it has a rich history of bloodshed and intimate surveillance of Black people.
Black people make up 32% of its population, and many of them mosey around Eunice not exactly living, but motivated by cheap thrills. Most Black folks do not own cars, and companies like Lyft and Uber do not exist in poor places like Eunice. When you drive around, some walking Black bodies with bent backs resemble zombies. Oppression has beat them down in such a way that survival is the only goal. They have very few hopes and dreams, no advocates or supporters, and no voice or agency. And they continue to be committed to the white supremacists’ version of Christ and the Christian way, which all becomes a nightmare for Black and Brown queer children. If we’re not careful, these children are in line to become the next generation of zombies.
I remember being five or six years old when I discovered my queerness. I had a crush on a little White boy named Tommy. I’m not sure I knew what a crush was or what it meant to be attracted to someone; I just knew that what I felt for Tommy was different, and somehow forbidden.
But I am the product of a deeply Southern Baptist family. My grandfather, Ignace Charles, was a founding member of Golden Star Baptist Church, and I attended almost five times a week as a child, including several days of children’s Bible study, children’s choir practice, and the actual service on Sunday. We were the family who attended church on Halloween because trick-or-treating was “toying with the devil.” However, Grandma Bertha would secretly let us indulge in the door-to-door tradition before dropping us off at church. More than 25 years after her death, Bertha is still one of my favorite people.
I remember being a child, being bribed with those delicious soft peppermints to sit still in our pew. However, my ultimate goal was to behave long enough to earn my weekly reward of two donuts from Ray’s Bakery — I would always bite and chew into them in a matter of seconds, as they practically dissolved once they touched my tongue. Ray’s recipe had to include crack. Let’s just say I was consistently well-behaved.
I began to queer my life — not only as it pertains to my orientation and gender, but in my way of thinking. I began to creatively turn the impossibles into possibilities. I allowed myself to dream and imagine a future where I was joyous, happy and fulfilled.
I remember Pastor Fontenot preaching about fire and brimstone, explicitly stating that “homosexuals would burn in the pits of hell.” No matter what book of the Bible he was preaching from, this point always seemed to come up. I remember knowing what it meant to be “homosexual” without asking; I also remember knowing that I couldn’t ask the question without risking someone knowing my true self.
I remember feeling alone, trapped within myself, trying to pray these attractions away.
Can you imagine being six years old praying to be a completely different person? Believing that you were going to hell, that your life was damned? Thinking that your family would give you away, kick you out, take back their love, or might even kill you if they found out who you really were?
I remember carefully erasing the overtly queer parts of myself, slowly and strategically stripping myself of my humanity. I made sure to stand up straight, never bend my wrist, practice speaking in a deeper voice, and contort my attractions to mimic something as basic as heterosexuality.
At the time, the charades felt worth it; all I wanted was to feel safe and loved. However, years later, I had an epiphany: Either I was going to die and gracefully leave this earth, or I was going to create a community that loved people like me. I began to imagine spaces filled with people who would affirm my being and serve as a femmetor to me.
I began to queer my life — not only as it pertains to my orientation and gender, but in my way of thinking. I began to creatively turn impossibles into possibles. I allowed myself to interrogate and explore my gender and gender expression by trying out different shades of makeup, a variety of red lipsticks, leggings, and floral cardigans, boots, and shoes with heels all in this Black fat assumed-male body. I allowed myself to challenge W.E.B. Du Bois’ double consciousness and take risks with my Black radical queer voice. I spoke boldly and honestly in staff meetings, on committees, and with friends and family who say they love me. I allowed myself to dream and imagine a future where I was joyous, happy, fulfilled, and alive — not just surviving, but thriving each and every day. Queering my approach to life has allowed me to survive childhood and commit to a more joyous adulthood.
Moreover, I think that’s what made me the most sought out advice-giver in the family, although I was the youngest. This intentional queering allowed me to be the first person in my family to earn a bachelor’s degree, the first person in my family to earn a master’s degree, and the first person in my family to be a model of leaving home and pursuing my dreams and purpose.
Queering my life is what allows me to see beyond rules rooted in white supremacy and patriarchy. It lets me challenge my self-saboteur and internalized hatred. I radically love myself, even when folks don’t prioritize or value me. It enables me to be a contribution to my Black queer and trans family. Queering my life allows me to not only be alive, but to live richly and authentically.
As a child, queering my life gave me choices. The main choice being life over death.