Over the last few months I have found myself speaking about my sexual orientation and how I identify with people that I am recently getting to know. I have told them that while I am attracted to men, women and gender non-conforming people, politically I choose to only date women. And if you ask me how I identify (usually phrased as ‘so are you lesbian or bi?’) I will answer that I identify as queer, which for me is a blanket term, that often does not come with preconceptions and rules, for a range of identities that are not heterosexual.
Confused? Yeah they were too. And having to articulate what I meant, maybe even me I was slightly confused.
I identified as heterosexual for about 24 and a half years of my life.
Well…that’s not entirely true. If I think about it, I didn’t really identify as anything, it never occurred to me to ‘pick a side’. I just dated men and went on with my existence. At 25 I met and fell in love with a woman and for the first time I thought about this sexual orientation thing and thought about in which way mine was hanging/geared towards. I didn’t really feel like a lesbian. The narrative around lesbianism was that you were born one and I didn’t feel like I was. I didn’t feel like my love for women was ‘closeted’ until I turned 25. I felt my sexual orientation had been a certain way and then it had changed. It was valid and real when I was attracted to men and it is valid and real now that I am also attracted to women.
So bisexual then?
Well also no because when I became attracted to women I wanted to be exclusively with women, even before I made the decision concrete for political reasons.
One day I happened across the word ‘queer’. I don’t remember how I discovered what it meant (although more than likely the saviour Google had come to my rescue) but broadly I understood it as encompassing a range of sexual orientations and gender expressions that weren’t heterosexual. It was also too broad to come with any rules and preconceptions which meant it gave me the freedom and creativity to decide who I wanted to be.
I was brought into feminism by the One in Nine Campaign. Very briefly One in Nine is a feminist organisation that uses sexual violence as an entry point to advocate for all women to live free and autonomous lives. So, from inception my feminism, my politics, meant very particular things.
For me being a Black feminist means:
Black women were at the centre of my analysis and therefore my work. Black women because too often we are on the back burner, intentionally. Every story, every opinion, all humanitarian efforts miss or intentionally leave out the experiences and plights of black women and it must be my cause to make sure that we are not erased, forgotten and tossed aside.
Every damn thing is steeped in politics. The pulls of patriarchy, capitalism, racism and heteronormativity run so deep that almost nothing that happens to me can be removed from my queer black womanhood and what it means to navigate the world in the body that I do.
Power is something I need to identify, acknowledge, confront and reckon with in all situations.
It means love! Love is my point of departure for everything I do. I know people perceive feminists, especially Black feminists, as angry torch-the-whole-fucking-planet-if-we-could women. And we ARE angry, of course we are. You don’t navigate existence as a Black woman and not be angry at the multiple intersecting oppression you face at every corner. But what runs deeper than our anger is love, baby. Our love for one another and in turn love for ourselves. And it is love that drives us to do the work to create a world where all people have real access to justice, to jobs, to self-governance and bodily autonomy.
So we have discussed the queerness and the we’ve discussed the politics but how do these two come together?
In trying to explain this thing that I understand so deeply in my soul but struggle to put into words I have centralised men in my argument. To say that I choose to be with women: because #MasculinitySoFragile,
Problematic because it sounds like women are my second choice and I only choose them because #MenAreTrash. And in actual fact women can also be soaked in the patriarchy and toxic masculinity. Its inaccurate because my choice to only be in relationships with women really has nothing to do with men and whatever shortcoming/fuckiness they come with.
In any relationships there is going to be emotional labour and fucky things that you are going to have to deal with and sometimes rise above. You will have to do difficult things that might result in a better relationship but will definitely result in a better you. I choose to use my emotional labour on women. I choose to find new and better ways to love and to be loved and I choose women to be the beneficiaries of that love. I choose to do the healing work required while navigating the world as a black woman so that I can be a better, more intentional, more introspective human being to be able to better love Black women, to better love myself.
For all the political reasons I have mentioned and because I have felt delicious things for women I haven’t even met, I actively choose for Black women to be the recipients of a love I so actively and intentionally work to make sure is aware of and respects the autonomy of all partners; a love that is intentionally vulnerable and gentle in a world where everything seems to work to harden us; a love that is refreshing and not stifling, a love that is a breath of fresh fucking air.
Black feminism has taught me that I have a choice and I choose women.