.Essay: Where Do We Get to Be Black and Queer?

On the importance of intersectionality.

I don’t fit.

Well, we — Black queer and trans folks — often don’t fit. Whether it’s in pro-Black liberation spaces or queer-friendly social spaces, we usually have to make room for ourselves. From queer white men who love to tell me about their “inner Black woman” to Black folks who insist that my Blackness is much more important than my queerness, room is rarely made for me.

Intentional or not, the resistance we receive as we elbow our way into these spaces often sours our desire for kinship and love from our figurative siblings. I am patient, but I’m getting tired of Black friends who love me “even though” I’m gay and non-Black queers who ask why I’m “so obsessed” with race. Our previous experiences as doubly (Black and queer) or triply (Black queer women, for example) marginalized folks breed a level of distrust toward all those we encounter, creating a constant anxiety-producing inner monologue. We learn not to trust white folks, straight folks, masculine folks, and sometimes even each other.

Given how our Black queer identities sometimes spur discomfort in primarily Black or primarily queer spaces, I thank Goddess for intersectionality. Intersectionality is a framework coined by legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw that examines how race, class, and gender uniquely shape a person’s experience. The term intersectionality offered the vocabulary for academia and pop culture to finally discuss people such as poor Black women — people who feminists and anti-racism activists love to ignore.

At a time when feminism still focuses on middle-class white women and anti-racism focuses on Black men, we need intersectionality. When we pretend to idolize Assata Shakur while villainizing Korryn Gaines, we have a problem. And when we finally #SayHerName, like we did for Sandra Bland, we too often refuse to say the names of the Black trans women — such as Rae’Lynn Thomas of Columbus, Ohio — killed by cops or hypermasculine men.

The work of Crenshaw and Black sociologist Patricia Hill Collins changed the way I see the world. Their scholarship, created for and by Black women, shaped my politics. I began to examine my own harmful behavior as a young, Black queer man. Due to societal norms that falsely espouse that men are “inherently” better than women, I often recognize my own sexism. And as selfish as it is, I began to really understand my identity through listening to Black women speak about their lived experiences in their own words. Despite my identity and privilege as a Black man, my queerness contorts my experience in a particular way that often ties me more to Black women than Black men.

The personal is political, as Audre Lorde famously said. Following that logic, the majority of the people I’m close to are women and folks of all genders who present as femme, or more “feminine.” I can only speak as a cisgender queer man (meaning I identify with the gender I was assigned at birth), but cis and trans women and femmes are often my greatest supporters due to our common oppressors. And while many of us embrace femininity, that does not always pan out as well for trans folks as it does for cis folks. I have heard anti-trans sentiments from cis queer and cis heterosexual folks alike, including women. Whereas Black femmes have shown me love as a Black queer man, Black cis women do not always welcome Black trans women with open arms.

We have to remember how we contribute to the idea that “white is right,” men are more capable than women, heterosexuality is the default sexuality and gender is rooted in biology. In short, we live in a world where the people who make the decisions are rarely women, of color, queer, or trans.

If we don’t fit in Black spaces, we don’t fit in queer spaces, and there sure aren’t enough Black and queer spaces, we do not have many options. Even when we hold on to those who will take us — whether that means other Black queers, Black women, Black trans folks, or queer and trans people of color — we always have to watch our backs.

Many of us don’t fit in. I especially don’t fit no matter how hard I try. And honestly, I’m getting tired of trying.


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