Coming Out and Dispelling Anti-Blackness

Today, October 11th, marks the 28th National Coming Out Day, a holiday that highlights the potential power in coming out for LGBTQ people. It also highlights the ongoing homophobia, biphobia, and persistent challenges faced by LGBTQ people, whether they choose to ‘come out’ or not. In honor of this day, I want to share one of my coming out stories and how it has (re)shaped my understanding of homophobia.

Let’s rewind to a late October evening in 2014, I was on my way home from an organizing meeting. Although it wasn’t unusual for me to attend a meeting like this, the particular circumstances of this meeting felt much different. The meeting was to plan a march and rally for Juan Evans, a Black, trans activist who was arrested and harassed by East Point police. Juan had previously worked down the hall from me, but at that time, he was organizing with Solutions Not Punishment Coalition (SNaPCo), an organization that I deeply respect. Hearing the details of what the East Point Police Department did to him was jarring and saddening for me. Even though I care about all state violence against people, personally knowing someone hit me much harder.

While I left the meeting feeling inspired by Juan’s battlecry of “when we fight, we win,” I also felt a longing to have a moment of honesty with my mother. I’m someone who has lived a fairly open life as a non-straight person, since I first came out to my friends in high school. During college, I grew into a loud and proud Black, queer activist, and in 2014, I was a paid organizer working with LGBTQ young adults. Although I seemed fairly “out” to most people, I certainly was not out to my family, particularly my mother who I spoke with everyday. As I drove up I-75/85 North to my apartment that I shared with my girlfriend in Midtown, Atlanta’s gayborhood, I felt compelled to let my mother in on this part of my life. So I picked up my phone to make that fateful call.

My mom answered the phone with her special inquisitive tone of voice that she uses with me. I may talk with her everyday, but she’s the one who calls me. Whenever I call her, her tone of voice reflects her slight concern that something could be wrong, but overall it’s a tone of “what your ass want,” because most times when I call that is usually the question she has to ask. I tried to ease into the conversation with pleasantries, like “how are you”, “what did you do today,” but she quickly saw through it, asking me “what’s up?” I immediately became a teenager again on the phone, responding to her with “if I tell you something, you promise you won’t get mad?”

I had started asking her this when I was a kid, but it became most rampant during my teenage years. Whenever I did something that I thought she would find out about and could potentially be mad about it, I would ask her this question. Regardless of her answer, I would keep asking until my annoying cuteness broke the tension. And in true Quita fashion, I kept asking until I heard her chuckle as she asked me “What girl?” I then proceeded to let her know that my roommate of three and a half years was actually my girlfriend. As I braced myself for potential vitriol, I was shocked as my mother said, “I knew that. Your cousin been told me he saw you and that girl holding hands up there in a mall.”

After getting over the initial shock of my cousin ratting me out, I realized my mother’s response was nothing like I had expected. Although I was feeling the sting of petty in her voice, because there is nothing quite like the petty of a Black mother who is being told something she already knows, I had expected much more anger and disappointment from her. My mom is a Black, southern, God-fearing woman who raised me to go to church on first and third Sundays and every Tuesday for Bible Study. It was from her that I first learned the slurs dyke and sissy, so in coming out to her, I expected the worst. But her reaction revealed something much deeper to me, my fears of her potential homophobia was also rooted in anti-blackness.

While white people get to be the prominent faces of campaigns like It Gets Better, Black people tend to be vilified as the faces of extreme homophobia. The truth is that I hadn’t come out to my mother because I had accepted this narrative that as a Black, religious person there was no way that she could accept a queer child. My mother may not be perfect or always have the right language, but that is not unique to her or Black people in general, but is true for many people. When I came out to her, she didn’t lob verses from Leviticus at me, but instead had concerns relating to my job security and my safety as a queer person. After I calmed some of her fears, my mother told me that my business was just that, my business. She also reiterated that I was her child and she loved me.

Even though I, like others, may have critiques of the coming out model, I do think it’s important to disrupt this narrative that Black people are more homophobic, which is prevalent in media, politics, and public discourse. Stories like mine and campaigns like #ThisIsLuv are important because they don’t allow white supremacy to scapegoat Black folks for the systemic issue of homophobia. Coming out as LGBTQ can be and is a powerful tool for some people, but coming out against anti-Blackness is important for the liberation of us all.

Photo courtesy of LGBT Healthlink.

Quita Tinsley is a fat, Black, queer femme that writes, organizes, and overall is working to build sustainable change in the South. She holds a B.A. in Journalism with a minor in Sociology from Georgia State University, and is currently pursuing an M.A. in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies from her alma mater. She is a member on the board of directors of Access Reproductive Care – Southeast, and is a former content creator for the The Body Is Not An Apology. As a femme, feminist, and queer Black woman, it is through her lived experiences and complex identities that Quita has come to believe in the power of storytelling and the validation of lived experiences.

Quita Tinsley is a fat, Black, queer femme that writes, organizes, and overall is working to build sustainable change in the South.

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