Browse Tag: africa

Message in a Bottle

Define Culture

So… despite my tumultuous relationship with poetry, I recently committed to participating in ‪#‎NaPoWriMo‬ (National Poetry Writing Month), during which the challenge is to write a poem a day. I wrote something earlier this week that I’d like to share.

I’ve been a recluse about my writing lately so posting this publicly is part of my attempt to get back into the practice of sharing (rather than spend so much time lamenting all my writing’s imperfections). I hope to return to the practice the self-love I preach so often, and more regularly celebrate even the smallest of victories, like the fact that this piece of work didn’t need to be perfect to be done.

Note: I’d like to say a special thank you to one of my favorite poets, Idalia, for gently yet firmly nudging me to finish it and to the amazing friends I have who sent me the affirmation I needed to amass the courage to share it. 

Define “Culture.”

Attempt #1:
a simple roll of the tongue;
salt in the wound of history’s affair
with Spanish conquerors
that didn’t burn fast enough in the sun
to save nations from genocide,
or mothers from marrying
their daughters to the wrong ones;
if we define culture to be
a simple roll of the tongue
then I guess the murder of
a millenia of bloodlines
is justified as language preservation.

Attempt #2:
Culture is a cautionary tale;
If superstition were a weapon
then Africa would be considered
a nuclear bomb;
we would never have welcomed strangers
with cocoa beans and open arms
the way our government still does
to D-List celebrities and modern day missionaries, while
rich white housewives on the verge of a nervous breakdown
search for salvation in the smiles of orphans on sale.
If we defined culture as a cautionary tale
told by pale narrators who lack introspection,
perhaps we would have paid attention
when our grandmas told us
they could feel their left eyelids twitching
at the expectation of visitors upon our shores;
perhaps we never would have wished the mermen
who called us moors, “safe passage”
in our native tongues
as they staked their claim
and carved their names
into our homes.

To define culture…

Attempt #3:
A synonym for “Home”
Neither a place or person,
these days, home is a political position
– the privilege of passing through
unrecognized as
an intruder on lands built on the backs of your forefathers.
But to the generation whose parents
cast us across the Atlantic,
raised captive in colonizer lands as cultural orphans
who never learned
to speak their native languages,
– home offers compromise
and forgiveness
to those with even less familiar roots.
A synonym for home…
only ever understood
in absence or disenfranchisement,
in dearth or gentrification,
in silence,
in loss,
in ostracization,
like a place that could never exist
for two queer brown women
and their extended family members
to settle down,
raise a kid,
or join a yacht club.

Attempt #4:
To claim culture
– to testify survival
of a massacre,
a genocide,
a raping of nations.
to dispute discontent,
or belonging
to feign knowing despite
the frenzy of stabilizing
a leaking boat
Culture is a usurper,
a lost turn
adrift from harbor
as fleeting as seagulls
in ocean light
and as slippery
as oysters
in search of
an anchor.

Do you know where you’ve come from?
Or how far you’ve sailed from harbor?
What glass containers of sea water keep your memories of belonging afloat?

 

Walking the Tight Rope: An African LGBTI Anthology

Call for Submissions (Poetry, Prose, Photography): Walking the Tight Rope: An African LGBTI Anthology

Cross posted from QWOC Media Wire .

——————————————–

QWOC Media Wire was founded on the belief that there is incredible power in telling our own stories, and highlighting reasons to celebrate as much as our vision for what we hope to change.

In the wake of anti-LGBT laws and the barrage of negative media attention currently being directed towards Africa, we are so excited to present the following call for submissions:

Walking the Tight Rope: An African LGBTI Anthology (of which our very own founder, Spectra, is an editor) seeks poets, writers and photographers within Africa and the Diaspora to share their stories.

Walking the Tight Rope: An African LGBTI Anthology

Call for Submissions in Prose and Photography

Thanks to the high interest in the new African LGBTI Anthology and the engaging poems we received in our original call for submissions in poetry, we’ve decided to expand the focus of the anthology to include prose – more specifically short fiction and short (creative) lyric essays – and some photography.

As before, we encourage writers who identify as gay, lesbian, queer, bisexual, or transgender, living in Africa and first or second generation Africans living in the Diaspora (i.e. if you are African or one of your parents is African) to send their best work for consideration. Works will be chosen solely on merit.

Guidelines:

We prefer works that are unpublished. All prose should be no more than 600 words (exceptions can be made in rare circumstances) and in English or English translations. All submissions in photography should be in either JPG or TIFF format.

We encourage writers to submit photography and prose addressing the following themes:

1) Relationships
2) Body
3) Self
4) (Re)Definition. Works addressing other themes will also be considered.

Since we have a good representation of Nigerian and South African writers, we especially encourage writers from other parts of Africa to submit their work. Also, we urge the use of pseudonyms where writers feel threatened.

Submissions should be sent through Submittable under African LGBTI Anthology.

Questions can be sent to Abayomi Animashaun via email at abayo.animashaun@gmail.com. Please include “African LGBTI Anthology” in the subject line. Our deadline is April 15.

For more information, please visit the anthology’s website: http://lgbtafricapoetryanthology.wordpress.com/

Queer Christmas Ad: "Someone Please Save Me."

Surviving the Holidays as Queer People of Color: Give the Gift of Media

I Don’t Know about You, But Responding to LGBT 101 Questions Over the Holidays Isn’t My Cup of Eggnog 

Queer Christmas Ad: "Someone Please Save Me."As a group that is routinely judged, shunned, and fighting for acceptance, we as LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex) people are often pigeon-holed into playing the role of educator to the people that inflict the most pain on us, however inadvertently by our friends and family members (who some, or even most of the time really do mean well).

Given how heavily politicized LGBTI identities are (ie: constantly in the news as an issue for political debate) it’s challenging for our loved ones to get to know us as individual people versus some issue they’re not well-versed on or quite sure when and how to speak about.

They say the wrong things, often. So who’s the man in the relationship?” They believe and perpetuate stereotypes even when they mean to be supportive. You’re not a typical gay, flaunting your sexuality all over the place. They fear we’ll end up as the caricatures the media sometimes makes us out to be. I didn’t pay all your school fees for you to spend your time protesting half-naked in the street in glitter. And, unfortunately, given how much pain we’ve experienced at their words and their silence, we aren’t that great at helping them broaden their understanding of who we really are.

Our suffering decreases our emotional capacity to offer straight people the space and time through which they can explore their own feelings, and get their questions answered, a stalemate. But it doesn’t always have to be that way.

When I first started dating women, and came out to my siblings, first my sister, then my brother, I too was unsure of how to facilitate conversations about who I was, that is, without getting angry when they made callous statements that showed their lack of understanding, and, in defense, sound like a textbook e.g. (read in valley girl accent): “gender identity is separate from sexual orientation but heteronormativity causes society to conflate the two, which is totally problematic.” Goodness, who talks like that to their mother??

Teach Me How to Be an Ally

Moreover, it had taken me 20+ years to finally accept that I preferred to date women, and after this realization, I was still figuring out exactly what that meant. How could I have expected friends and family members to get on board immediately after I told them? Or even within a matter of weeks, or months? Shoot, less than five years ago, I was still wearing dresses until I realized that I felt more comfortable presenting as a more masculine person (much to the dismay of my poor mother, who dreamed of me in a beautiful, white wedding gown, and “well done-up” face she could boast came from her lineage on my wedding day — sigh).

As much as I yearned to be embraced (not just accepted, embraced) by my loved ones, it didn’t seem fair to my family (or even to myself) to expect that they would come to an understanding of this new me more quickly than I did. Nevertheless, placing myself directly in the line of fire — insensitive, inappropriate questions fueled by their curiosity (or judgement) — wasn’t working.

I quickly learned that forcing people to confront the elephant in the room (and there were many — more masculine clothing, a crazy frohawk, new friends, a compulsive habit of pointing out which well-liked celebrities were gay/lesbian/bi) wasn’t going to bridge the divide I felt growing between me and my siblings, or my parents. I couldn’t sacrifice my mental health for their education about who I was; I needed someone or something else to do the job.

Media Can Help Us Tell Our Stories (Even When We’re Not In the Room)

Audre Lorde: The Berlin YearsHence, just as I had searched for information that I could relate to, articles, films, people, I needed to encourage my family to do the same. Also, my support of their own process of (re)relating to me was critical; since dragging them to “rainbow parties” or “queer womyn of color sister circles” felt too extreme at the time. I didn’t want to make them or my friends uncomfortable, but I also wanted to avoid having to be their sole resource on LGBTI issues. Media was the only other way I could think of to appeal to their hearts, and evoke enough empathy so that they would do the rest of the work to get to know me again.

Back then (early 2000s), I didn’t have much to work with; most of the LGBTI films on Netflix, including the L Word featured mainly white privileged characters. But then, I discovered Saving Face, a film drama-comedy about two lesbian Chinese-American girls navigating family expectations about career and marriage. That film was the closest I had to reflecting the complexities of my identity as a queer person of color who was also an immigrant — another narrative that is also missing from mainstream media.

I remember making my sister watch the film, and noticing afterwards–even though she may not have–how it changed our conversations and relationship for the better. She loved the film so much because she could relate to the immigrant-in-America theme, the plight of the main character, who was torn between following  family tradition and making her own choices. After watching the film, my sister saw my own circumstance in a new light, making her my biggest advocate and ally within my family.

I remember my brother and his best friend cringing at a scene in Trans America where a trans woman was forced into a masculine gender role by her mother when she visited; long after the film ended, they shook their heads at how “mean” society could be towards people they didn’t understand. I remember the first time my brother said out loud that he could never see me in a dress again, “that it wouldn’t be right,” and knowing that Trans America had created the first opening for me to share that I never quite felt like a “regular” girl.

Our Greatest Tool for Social Change is Empathy (Through Storytelling)

Tomboy

There’s something about media that lowers our defenses and makes it easier for us to learn, to accept, to connect. Yet, when we talk about “pushing for change”, we often leave out how much media and pop culture–and the narratives they depict we can relate to–humanize issues, and ultimately influence the people we love (and hope to be loved by).

But it’s time for a paradigm shift. Instead of arming yourselves with jargon infused rhetoric about “systemic oppression” and “gender binaries”, I’m going to go out on a limb here: To your parents who don’t quite get it, your siblings who do but don’t know how to help you, your apathetic cousin who is reluctant to get involved, or your baby niece who isn’t quite the homophobe yet but is on a steady media diet of prince-and-princess narratives courtesy of the Disney channel and Nickolodeon, I suggest that you give the gift of media.

Here’s why: In a recent study on the effects of fiction (storytelling), researchers assessed the mood and self-identification of readers before and after popular fiction novels, and found that the overall empathy i.e. ability to relate to (and, in fact, see themselves as) one of the characters, significantly increased.

In a paper published in a psychology journal, Gabriel and Young write:

“… books provide the opportunity for social connection and the blissful calm that comes from becoming a part of something larger than oneself for a precious, fleeting moment….reading fiction improves understanding of others, and this has a very basic importance in society, not just in the general way making the world a better place by improving interpersonal understanding, but in specific areas such as politics, business, and education.”

What does this mean for queer people of color? Our friends and our families are more likely to relate to who we are through a novel, a film, a song than they are a blog post titled, “How to Be an LGBT Ally.” It doesn’t mean that non-fiction articles, political campaigns, blog post “call outs”, and legal advocacy, are less important strategies, but I dare say they may not be as relevant around the average holiday dinner table.

In the face of funding cuts for the arts, and the constant (and annoying) trivialization of media as a tool for advocacy by LGBTI activists, it’s easy to dismiss personal storytelling, fiction, film, even music as powerful tools to invoke empathy and not just “social change”, but the stronger, closer interpersonal relationships that bring about this change. Still, we owe it to ourselves to invest in the relationships that matter to us the most by daring to facilitate critical conversations (in plain language!) about who we really are. So why not give your relationships a fighting chance and give the gift of media this holiday season?

What do you think of using media as a strategy to come out to friends and family? Have you tried this in the past? What was your experience? Also, not all media is ideal for the “101” conversations; feel free to suggest any other films, books, or music by queer people of color and/or the African Diaspora that you feel would be a great addition to this list. 

Africa Bloggers Network

7 Social Media Ideas That Will Strengthen Digital Activism in Africa

Will the Real African Social Media Experts Please Stand Up?

I recently had the pleasure of participating in the West African Civil Society Institute (WACSI)‘s Social Media Experts conference in Accra, Ghana.

The conference brought together African social media experts, enthusiasts, and activists from across the continent, Europe, and North America, including:

  • fellow #afrifem tweeps, @Zawadin (of ZerobyZawadi in Kenya) and @negrita (of Illume Creative Studios in Rwanda)
  • #occupynigeria leaders, @Yemi_O (of Enough is Enough Nigeria) and @omojuwa (of AfricanLiberty.org)
  • BloggingGhana’s social media celebs, @MacJordan and @Kajsaha, and their civic engagement project @GhanaDecides.

Among people I hadn’t yet met were three brilliant, inspiring young men from Senegal and Cote d’Ivoire, including Emile Bela (@ebelak), who began his presentation with a memory of being stuck in a room with a few others in the middle of a war; his interest in blogging came from the sudden realization that if he died that day, there’d be no record of his life, nor accounts of what he’d seen. Today, Emile is a prolific writer at his own blog, and contributes commentary on sustainable development, electoral politics, and governance to other sites. It was truly an honor to be among such trailblazing, inspiring company.

My biggest takeaway from the conference was that there is still much to be explored and uncovered on the continent when it comes to how African NGOs are using new media for advocacy. But judging from WACSI’s dedication to equipping African changemakers with information and resources they need to succeed, any projects seeking to leverage new media for advocacy will not be lacking in support.

Even as young Africans are dispersed across the globe, in our mission to create alternative pathways to change — one that side-steps our corrupt governments, subverts barriers to capital, and taps into the crowdfunding potential of 475 milliion mobile connections on the continent, we’re already charting and covering new territory.

7 Ideas That Will Strengthen Digital Activism in Africa

Researching Africa’s Social Media Landscape

More research is needed on how African NGOs specifically (including organizations based on the continent, managed by its residents i.e. not managed by some gap year volunteer from Holland) are using social media. As I sat and listened to a presentation on tips for increasing engagement on Facebook pages, which was based on Facebook data from companies all across the globe, I questioned its relevance to Africa; the insights that drove the suggestions were based on data heavily driven by internet- (vs mobile- ) connections, yet the vast majority of Africans are connected to the web via mobile. What would social media insights (i.e. the best time to post, how long each update should be etc) based on African-based, mobile-sourced data look like? Also, how does culture influence the way we build relationships online? Until Africa 2.0 defines its own benchmarks, our strategizing and planning, whether for advocacy or other purposes will be based on models that don’t necessarily reflect Africa’s tech landscape. Luckily, organizations like WACSI and Indigo Trust are committed to supporting such initiatives.

Bridging Africa’s Digital Divide through Cost-and-Time Effective Tech Training

Source: TomorrowToday.uk.com

For a continent booming with mobile innovation, much of it still experiences limited to no cell phone signal or data services of any kind. Moreover, the speed and costs of internet services varies widely between regions, creating further barriers for non-profits / activists wishing to use social media for advocacy. Hence, I particularly appreciated, participant @sourceadam’s presentation regarding his work at @sourcefabric, which implements open source, cost-effective tech solutions for NGOs, making it easier for them to optimize their time on the web. In my own work with Africans for Africa, I’ve found, also, that comprehensive social media training for people living in remote areas must include time management training; it’s not enough to tell small organizations with low capacity (and limited connectivity) that they constantly need to tweet and update Facebook without showing them a feasible way they can brainstorm and share content, in a time-efficient, cost effective way.

Fighting Government Censorship and Privatized Data Control

Source: Mahesh Kumar A/Associated Press

I recently participated as a speaker on a webinar hosted by the African Feminist Forum and Association for Progressive Communications on online security and censorship in digital activism. This year, at least seven online users were arrested for their internet activity, and it doesn’t seem like government monitoring of social media is going away anytime soon. In fact, it’s becoming more aggressive. For instance, a Nigerian senator recently proposed censoring social media in order to curb criticism of the country’s governance; in Ghana, there’s been a recent proposal to place a “cap” on data and internet usage; and, in Ethiopa, a Skype call will get you 15 years in prison. There are many other blaring examples of the dangers of taking our lack of ownership and control of the internet too lightly, yet many activists who use social media for advocacy aren’t informed enough about the internet infrastructure — the wiring, the cables, the data — nor the government policies that monitor (and can end) its use. If Africans are serious about new media as a tool to create , we’re going to need to address government censorship, freedom of speech on the web, and the systemic denial of ownership that is too often ignored in our discourse about digital activism.

Using Pop Culture to Engage “Social” Users, Politically

Source: @fondalo

A recent study shows most Africans use social media for games, fun, and entertainment. Yet, we often hear complaints of how difficult it is to get youth to engage, coupled with emphases on how there’s a strong need for civic engagement around “serious” issues. Clearly, in order to increase engagement among the majority of Africans who prefer to use social media for fun and entertainment, we’re going to have to find a way to make the political issues we care about fun and engaging. We can take a cute from Enough is Enough (EIE), a civil society organization based in Nigeria that featured Nigerian celebrities and humor-driven campaigns to engage youth around their #occupynigeria campaign. As EIE’s mission is to encourage youth to become more responsible citizens, they’ve made pop culture a core element of their media strategies to ensure that the tenor of their messaging resonates with their target base, which doesn’t sound like such a terrible idea to me. If anything, activists could use with a little bit more communication 101 practice. How often must we resort to blaming the audience for not listening or “doing anything” as a way of disguising our own failure to captivate and inspire?

Nurturing (More) African Social Media Experts

Beyond the same ol’ recyclable twitter lists (e.g. twitterati assumed to be “African social media experts” simply based on large numbers of followers), Africans need to identify and nurture a network of legit social media experts and strategists,  one which activists, non-profits, and/or campaigns could call upon for advice, expertise, and most importantly, training. Ghana Decides’s model of offering social media trainings to their civic engagement partners (including NGOs that work with marginalized communities such as women, youth etc) is a movement-building model worth replicating; investing in the social media capacity of their partners essentially duplicates their outreach efforts, and  of maximizes their chances of engaging a wide, diverse audience overall. When considering the potential political power (both online and offline) of African communities were social impact organizations to be trained to more efficiently engage their social networks, there is no limit to what we can achieve together, as individuals, as countries, and as a continent. We’ll need more trainers to train more trainers to train more trainers. Thus, nurturing an elite class of social media experts is critical.

Mobile Crowdfunding Is the Future

With the rise of online fundraising platforms for creatives and entrepreneurs (such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo), the philanthropy sector has developed a few niche platforms of its own; sites like givengain.com and 234give.com allow charities to raise small amounts of money from large numbers of people in their social networks. Africa’s adoption of online fundraising phenomenon is not necessarily news, but is timely given the impact the wall street financial crisis had on the global funding climate. However, with mobile banking innovations such as MPesa (mobile banking) and M-Shwari (mobile loans) sprouting up all across the continent, improving workflow and usability, Africa is well-positioned to lead the way when it comes to crowdfunding through mobile and SMS. Given the funding (and political) climate of African countries, the need for more self-driven, autonomous, alternate pools of funding options is unprecedented. In countries like Nigeria and Uganda, where human rights are being violated due to homophobia and bigotry, and organizations are barely permitted to operate, let alone receive funding, it is critical that crowdfunding be explored as an option, and not just from western countries; were mobile giving made readily available, perhaps the world would be able to see that Africans can and already do support each other in times of need. In fact, crowdfunding may just be the ingredient Africa needs to  curb the negative impact of white saviorism and foreign aid in the development landscape.

Creating an African Blogging Network

It’s not every day that marginalized groups experience the thrill of connection, especially as intensely as they happen at conferences where there’s shared interest (and in this case, identity). At the WACSI conference, many of the participants commented on the importance of staying connected. Being able to support each other across issues and across borders, and count on the signal-boosting power of a global network of Africans online could make a huge difference to local organizing efforts. There are certainly smaller efforts being made in this area: The Guardian African Network, African feminists (#afrifem) on Twitter, region-specific efforts such as Blogging Ghana and the Nigerian Blog Awards, and issue-based sites such as Identity Kenya and Dynamic Africa. But there remains to be seen a large, robust network that connects the vast number of African bloggers online. Many questions remain: Given the diversity on the continent, and how dispersed Africans are around the globe, is such a network even possible? Who would lead (and house) such an undertaking? Would an informal network (such as a dedicated twitter hashtag for African bloggers) work just as well? There’s no doubting the collective power that could be harnessed from a formal network of African activists. However, till such a space exists, African bloggers are going to need to create one virtually; linking to each other where possible, learning how to position ourselves so that we are (more) visible to each other, and intentionally supporting each other’s initiatives in our various capacities, are all important principles of activism we should be practicing, online or offline.

Spectra for Spirit Day

On Anti-Bullying Campaigns, LGBT Youth of Color Suicide, and Why I Never Supported Spirit Day

I didn’t sign into Facebook that morning. I knew what I’d see; a timeline of status updates and cropped purple photos for Spirit Day; a timely performance of empathy. I knew, too, that my Facebook feed, practically segmented into Lists, including one for “Nigerian”, “College” and “Queer” would vary in hue, with barely any purple love coming from the Nigerian feed, and my white, queer, progressive community in Boston leading the way. I wanted to have nothing to do with it. And I needed to clear my head. So, I got dressed, grabbed my gym bag and headed out.

The train ride on the way to the gym was the worst. I remember being sandwiched between two white women, both wearing varying shades of purple; one, a neck scarf, the other a hat. As I sat squished between them, one fiddled away with her smartphone while the other scanned the Metro paper, her nose slightly tilted upwards as she peered at the headlines through her glasses. I wondered how I could sit so uncomfortably between symbols of awareness and still feel so invisible. I wondered if they could tell from my baggy jeans, hoodie, and messy frohawk that I used to be one of the kids they were supposed to be supporting that day; that I still remembered the night I tried to take my own life like it was yesterday; that, even as an adult, it was still hard to talk about bullying, both aggressive and the silent kind from my family, without crying.

My eyes glided along the line of people sitting in front of me: purple, no purple, no purple, purple, purple. Which of the purples would look up and notice me? I lowered my head, and turned up the volume of my ipod. I remember the song: “Wavin’ Flag” by K’Naan. “When I get older, I will be stronger, they’ll call me freedom, just like a wavin’ flag.” I shut my eyes and counted the number of times the train doors opened as I anticipated my stop.

When I stepped in the gym, I sighed a breath of relief. No signs of purple. Just the same older white lady walking steeply up a treadmill, swinging ponytails on the elliptical machines, and a muscular black guy getting in his warm-up run before hitting the weights. I headed downstairs to the basement–the unspoken “men’s area” of the gym– where grunting and clanking bar weights replaced the soundtrack of the morning TV upstairs. I preferred this part of the gym; the men didn’t stare at me for quite as long as the white women did upstairs; muscular black girl, or something. Maybe she’s an athlete. Why aren’t her legs shaved?

During my workout, I’d tried to drown out thoughts about my time at school with angst-filled music (Linkin Park, Eminem, Kelis), but my mind had kept going back to the sensationalism of Spirit Day, how futile it was that everyone would be wearing purple. How would any of this support young people? What would any of this have meant for me when I felt judged and ostracized in school.

I’d been the only girl in my computer science class; no one had reached out to me when they picked group members to tackle problem sets with; the black women’s student group hosted more discussions about “Black Men Dating White Women” and “How to Date Like a Good Christian” than they did anything else; and when I sought support, my racist academic adviser told me she felt I was using my “status as a minority student” and “gay issues” to avoid admitting that I wasn’t smart enough to be at MIT; meanwhile the GSA was filled with queer white students from the theater department, who didn’t understand I had to work on weekends. What good would a campus of purple outfits have done for me then? It was I who had felt invisible, then, and today.

I felt the strain of the weights and my memories weighing me down as I finished my last set, and decided to call it quits for the morning. I grabbed a towel and headed for the locker room, not the men’s one this time. I could never get away with that, not yet. By the lockers, I braced myself for the eyes that would question my presence until they noticed my breasts. Then decided to change in the furthest corner of the room, away from the possibility of interacting with anyone.

As I untied my shoelaces, two white women chatted about an upcoming second date after work. “We probably won’t spend too long at dinner, I told him we had to meet up with the party at 9 for the surprise.” Life for others always seemed so easy, so straight-forward. Even though I’d been living with my girlfriend of two years, she still hadn’t met all of my friends, especially the black girls who claimed to be “cool with it” but never asked about our relationship, or pried too deeply into any part of my personal life for fear of having to feign acceptance via nodding vigorously to everything I said, never uttering a word until I changed the subject. My parents were really good at this. I dreaded pleasant phone calls, intimate conversations filled with sharp silences that pierced my resolve.

The locker room had gone quiet, save for another black girl with shoulder-length pressed hair getting dressed across the room. As I jammed sweaty clothes into my gym bag, my chest tightened with anxiety at heading back out into the world, purple reminders of the silences that had left me feeling ashamed, invisible, and one night, without any hope that I thought it would be easier if I swallowed some pills and left my journals behind for solace, that it wasn’t anyone’s fault, but mine; that it had become too hard to persist through the world surrounded by so much silence.

I’d been drowning in my thoughts, fighting with the tension I felt between wanting to have a normal day and not focusing so much on the emotions triggered by what the day meant. But then, something special happened. As I began to make my way towards the entrance, I noticed the black girl was now fully dressed, in black pants, a gray jacket, and underneath, a bright purple sweater. She’d caught my gaze, but before I could awkwardly take my eyes away – an instinctive reaction I’d developed after hearing one too many black women profess being uncomfortable around “women like me” (especially in locker rooms), she did something completely unexpected, she smiled at me.

She smiled at me. Me with my awkward, scruffy masculinity in the locker room. Me who’d never imagined that the weight I carried in silences from the diaspora communities I’d once called “home” could be lifted in a simple gesture; a smile that meant I’d been seen.

I smiled back, shyly. Perhaps a tad too widely, as her warmth had caught me off guard, before leaving the locker room. When I stepped outside, I saw purple everywhere, and realized that I was still smiling. All of a sudden, it made sense. What I’d needed during all those times I’d felt bullied and ostracized, wasn’t just a campaign against bullying, but a group of people saying out loud that it was okay to be me; what I needed to believe the night I tried to take my own life, was that it was possible for the communities I loved to see me, and still extend love.

Now, standing under the sun, searching for purple in strangers, the tension I’d been carrying all day melted away. And, in its place, came hope. I thought about the thousands of young people walking through hallways, their heads down out of habit, only to look up and see someone smiling at them. I thought about the assumptions I’d made about the men at the gym, grunting and puffing as they curled 50 pound dumbbells; perhaps they felt invisible as well. I hoped they’d be comforted by the smiles around them. I thought about how much just one smile had meant to me that morning, and how much more it would mean to youth of color all across the country, if they saw so many other older people of color proudly wearing purple as a stand against anti-LGBT bullying, as a stand for Love. I thought of myself, as a masculine of center woman of color, and what my wearing purple could mean to the younger, awkward, lonely version of me.

When GLAAD announced their campaign for Spirit Day that first year, I admit it; I was a cynic. I was part of the group of people that dismissed it as a bandwagon campaign run by white people that didn’t get the complexities faced by LGBT people of color shouldering multiple burdens—as a person of color facing racism from the gay community, and homophobia from our own families and communities. But after my experience at the gym that day; I see both the importance of being seen and being visible.

If you’re anything like me, a campaign to stand against anti-LGBT bullying may not resonate as deeply with you, but I’m hoping that a day dedicated to making sure LGBT youth from all cultural backgrounds know that they have allies in their own community will.

As an attempted suicide survivor, I don’t need a campaign to remind me to fight every day for queer youth. LGBTI Africa, Queer Diaspora, I shine so that you can. Even when you are most doubtful, when you cannot see the light ahead, remember this: You are never alone. Never. I made it. You will too. Stay believing. I love you. Happy Spirit Day. ~Spectra

 


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