Content Warning: This post contains information about a survivor's experience as a black queer man, so those with similar experiences may find some of this content triggering.
“Black & Queer,” Ronnie Benion
Moving through the world as a Black Queer man is complicated. It is being pulled in too separate directions. It is often navigating spaces when you are either Black or Queer, but rarely ever both at the same time. It is struggling with your male identity because your Queer identity completely undermines the concept of Black masculinity. It is struggling to find self-love because you are constantly being told that you are unlovable.
Coming out was a terrible and traumatic experience for me. I grew up in a Black Southern Baptist household. However, I believed that my relationship with my mother was so strong that it wouldn’t matter to her that at the time I was dating a guy. It killed me inside to keep it from her. I was still trying to figure things out so I came out to her via a letter. She flipped out. She yelled. She screamed. She called me all kinds of names. My heart shattered that night. I felt alone, less than human and like I didn’t belong anywhere. I never suspected the person I was closest to to make feel that way.
While my mother has come around, I still battle the fear of opening myself up in that way again. I am constantly negotiating what I can and cannot say about my Queer identity. I have to negotiate how I dress and how I act when I am around them. I question if my outfit is too gay or if my words are too flamboyant and stereotypical. In Queer spaces, I am constantly trying to figure out how much of my Black identity I can share. Whether it is my taste in music, or the slang I use. It’s one thing to be the Black guy twerking in the club, but it is another thing to be at a party and request something that isn’t Beyoncé or Rihanna. It is struggling with my so called friends calling hip-hop night at a local club “ghetto night” and refusing to go because “they don’t know how to dance to that type of music.”
My existence in the world is resistance. I am a Black man. I am Queer. The media rarely every shows those identities in conjunction with each other. Black men are often showed in negative ways and Queer men are often White. Being a Queer person of color, finding representation is hard. If a Queer person of color is portrayed in a television show, it is typically as a caricature or they have a tragic story.
Shows like Queer as Folk have reached critical acclaim but most people have never even heard of Noah’s Arc, a show featuring a predominantly Black Queer cast. RuPaul’s Drag Race often has plenty of QPOC representation, but that doesn’t mean that all of it is shown in a positive light. This past season, contestant and eventual winner Bob the Drag Queen was told that she does “ratchet drag” when everything thing she had shown before was glamour and beauty.
The stories of QPOC communities need to be told and it should not be all of the tragic ones. The acknowledgement of intersections of race and sexual orientation can change the dominant narrative of what it means to be a Queer person of color. Queerness will no longer be a White thing. Person of color identity will no longer be a straight. Maybe we can fight racism in the Queer community and heterosexism in person of color communities.
I have learned to embrace my Black Queer identity. While I am still working on me, I have discovered that sometimes you have to “Be Your Own Anchor.” I define who I am and who I choose to be. Being a Black Queer man ain’t easy, but I am happy with me. Those who can’t accept that can keep it moving.
About the art:
Since the massacre in Orlando at the Pulse nightclub has been in everyone's consciousness, this piece had particular power and meaning for me to capture Ronnie's perspective as a queer person of color. When I received his story, I was still processing what had happened and working through the impact on my home community of Orlando. I drove through the area on Sunday night, and the eerie feeling has stayed with me since. I watched the video of Anderson Cooper telling the stories of the victims, and it was extremely emotional and motivating. So I began to plan Ronnie's art.
As Ronnie said, in his own words, "The anchor for me represents staying grounded. It is inspired by the quote "Be Your Own Anchor" which reminds me that I have to keep myself grounded and can't always rely on others to do so. It is very similar to my pride at the moment. In life, my identities as a Black Gay man are often disregarded and detested. I can't rely on others to make me feel proud of myself. I have to love myself and embrace my identities. QPOC identity cannot be erased and despite its challenges, I love being QPOC. I love all that I am and I am Proud to say it. That is what the rainbow represents for me."
This quote was so powerful and inspirational, and I think it speaks to all communities affected by this tragedy. The LGBT community, the LatinX community, and my home community of Orlando...all have survived an assault on their very characters, and yet they still survive. We exist because we resist the world's insistence that we don't. We survive because we have to.
I'm honored to be a part of this process with Ronnie, and I hope he continues to find a place to be in this world and a community of support to share in his story.