Exploring My Black Queerness At Barnard
By Daria Forde
I would like to preface this piece by stating that a monolithic queer womxn of color experience does not exist at Barnard. Exploring your queerness as a womxn of color, especially as a Black womxn, is such a multi-faceted journey that I know I will never be able to completely relate to every person’s experience. That being said, I hope that some readers will be able to heavily relate and see themselves in the experiences I describe, so that they feel understood and visible.
Oftentimes I feel pressured to perform my queerness on campus. As a Black woman in Barnard’s predominantly white queer community, I used to feel invisible. Although it was amazing to finally be in a space where I could explore different parts of myself, it took me a while to be comfortable in that journey, because I did not see myself in the queer womxn who were most visible on campus. What I saw when I arrived was so far off from what I grew up around, which is only twenty blocks uptown from campus. I knew if I were to fit the mold of the stereotypical Barnard queer, it would feel disingenuous, because that would mean assimilating to white queer culture. Going on this journey meant taking the time to explore my sexuality, all while confronting the invisibility that was forced upon me by the white queer culture that I refused to view as legitimate. Without a clear idea of who I should be surrounding myself with and what I wanted to look like, I struggled to become comfortable in my queerness out of fear of being honest with myself.
I will always cherish the friendships I made early on in my college experience because they encouraged me to become celebrate my Blackness. Yet, I often found myself in heteronormative spaces that never pushed me to confront my sexuality. Many times I would discuss my queer romantic relations with my straight friends, and I left these conversations feeling unheard. I knew my friends supported me, but I felt I would have to choose between my straight Black friends and white queer culture in order to full embody my queer identity. As a result I remained loyal to my Blackness, feeling a sense of emptiness because I was searching for a part of myself in places that I would never find it. At the time, it felt safer to follow the same narrative as my straight Black friends, because I felt that I was always Black before I was queer. When I walk outside and interact with people, I am first judged based on the color of my skin as opposed to my sexual orientation, which is significantly less visible. Because I created this binary between my race and my sexuality, I prevented myself from seeing the beauty in being a Black queer woman.
I opened myself up to exploring my queerness (and I am absolutely still in that process) as I grew more willing to be vulnerable in my friendships and relationships. I began growing into myself through the connections I formed with queer people who don’t fit the performative white mold that is so prevalent on Barnard’s campus. In the past, I felt invisible amongst queer people, because white queers dominated the conversations and the spaces I was in that represented queerness. These conversations and spaces included art spaces on campus where they would produce or discuss something, think it was original, but not realize how much white queer culture and vernacular is actually stolen from Black culture. It was frustrating that how unknown it was that everything popular, and most parts of queer “culture” comes from Black people. The only way I was able to exit this state of continuous anger and frustration was by seeking solace in the Black queer womxn, who showed me that I didn’t have to fit a mold of the white queer aesthetic for the sake of being seen.
Rather than feeding into the performativity that circulates through queer spaces and friend groups on campus, I realized I made more of a statement by existing as a Black queer woman. Of course, expressing your queerness is valid; we have been forced to be silent about our sexuality for years. But there comes a point where white queers silence people who don’t appear to present themselves as queer. The people erased in these performative moments are often Black womxn. It took me a lot of time to realize that my anger is a valid emotion to feel, and that there will always be moments where I am angered by my surroundings. This anger arises in both the aesthetics and activities throughout campus, which can be especially frustrating when I am trying to enjoy an experience, and it is disrupted by my anger towards the people who are in the same space. Over time it becomes difficult to attend campus art events, because I enter with the intention of admiring my friends’ art and appreciating other students’ art, but quickly realize a lot of the content being produced is white queer nonsense derived from Black culture. This nonsense is not only in the art given a platform on campus, but even in the ways that a lot of white queers dress; much of it is based on Black aesthetics and fashion. I understand appreciating other cultures and aesthetics, but I cannot accept how desirable parts of hood culture are romanticized, while Black queer womxn’s voices are silenced in artistic spaces throughout Barnard. For awhile I was constantly living in a state of anger and it made me extremely jaded, but I am incredibly blessed that I am at a place where I don’t feel alone in my experience, and know that the large range of emotions I have is valid.
It was important for me to go through that phase of being angry and it is a state that I’m comfortable with reentering because having that fluidity of going through a range of emotions is natural, especially as a queer Black woman. However, I also knew that I needed to confront why I was constantly angry and decide how I was going to move forward, so that I was no longer holding myself back from developing my character, new relationships, and having new experiences. I am lucky that I found people, especially queer Black womxn, who taught me to be patient with myself as I grew. Once I became more honest with myself and had people around me who encouraged me to be honest with myself, I no longer felt guilty about being attracted to people outside of my race. I became more open to building connections with people who pushed me to see the intersection between my parts of my identity. At Barnard, I often created a general idea about different groups of queer people, and refused to get to know individuals on a personal level because I thought I already knew how they would treat me. Eventually, I realized that I was closing myself off from building friendships with and dating certain people because I feared being vulnerable with people who are different from me. I still struggle with vulnerability, because my main priority will always be to protect myself against being fetishized in a romantic relationship and tokenized in friendships. However, I have grown to the point where I can be aware of ingenuity in my relationships and in any spaces I enter, remain secure in my identity, and not hold myself back from forming connections that have great potential.