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What Living Out Loud Taught Me About Self Love and Heritage
by Jared Williams
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June 25, 2019

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What Living Out Loud Taught Me About Self Love and Heritage

“My biggest form of resistance is my existence.” 

Credit: @lotusweddingphotography

I’m not broadcasting my sexuality, just my freedom.

Boldness is something I don’t think I ever had a problem with. Thinking back to middle school I can remember myself taking and actively seeking leadership roles, completely unaware of the hot mess that was my pre-adolescence. I’d grown up seeing my mom lead teams at work in a way that can only be described as “boss.” She knew what needed to be done and always took charge of finding the right people to do it. I thought this was clearly the source of any leadership skills I’d developed. It wasn’t until later on that I realized it was more genetic than learned. 

I remember one week my grandpa’s sisters came down to New Orleans — which was always a treat because there was sure to be plenty of good story time. Auntie Bebe sat at the kitchen counter, and we all gathered around and talked about her mom, Madea. “We were just sitting in the house one day looking for something to do,” she said as we waited to see where the story would lead, “and then this news report came on. They said some woman, down at the protest at Woolworth’s on Canal, was standing on top of a car just hollering. So we got up, and we said we just had to see what was going on!” She paused to laugh, caught her breath and said, “only to get down there and see it was Madea cutting up at this protest!” 

Now I’d heard many stories about my great grandmother, so what I was hearing now was no surprise, but it nevertheless brought us all to the kind of laughter that comes from your soul. 

Whether it was Madea, or my grandma’s sister, who actively fought against violence and drugs in her housing project on the Southside of Chicago, the truth was, I belonged to a long line of women who just didn’t take no shit. They frequently turned a blind eye to the gender norms of their time and did what women were encouraged not to do — speak their minds. 

I belonged to a long line of women who just didn’t take no shit. They frequently turned a blind eye to the gender norms of their time and did what women were encouraged not to do — speak their mind.

If something needed to be done, they did it. If something needed to be fixed, they fixed it. But when something needed to be said, you could bet the money in your wallet that one of them was going to say it. It was a role Black women have often played, but seldom got the recognition for — being people who, regardless of whether the cause was for Black people or for women, showed up to get the civil rights they were due. 

At a time when Black people were just trying to exist outside of the violent and overwhelming oppression of the ‘60s and the early 20th century, it brings me pride to know that women I owe my life to were in the number of people working to improve our lived experience in this country. It brings me pride to know that they stood in the face of rampant injustices for themselves, but also for their children who they demanded be free from this kind of struggle. 

At a time when the very presence of Black people incited violence, and the idea of civil rights seemed audacious to the country at large, Black people, specifically the Black women I’m speaking of, demanded, of all things, to be seen. Seen for their humanity, their God-given worth, and the beauty and multiplicity of their community. They wanted their children to be fully seen for the kind, strong, and intelligent people they were. 

The solution white acceptance had come up with — segregation — was just tolerance. Fortunately for me, the same women I’m speaking of were the kind of women who knew that being tolerated just wasn’t good enough. They wanted humanity. They wanted safety. They wanted the same rights as any other American, any other white American.

These women were the kind of women who knew that being tolerated just wasn’t good enough. They wanted humanity. They wanted safety. They wanted the same rights as any other American, any other white American.

Credit: @itsmikenotmichael

As June rolls to a close and the rainbow logos and Pride campaigns go back to business as usual, I’ve found myself reflecting a lot on the role I have to play as a Queer, Black man in America, but also on how far I’ve come personally in understanding those terms I use to describe myself. 

When I first opened up to my mom about my sexuality, our incredibly strong mother-son bond took a hit. She needed time to process, and out of a desire to normalize non-hetero sexuality, I refused. We finally got on the phone a few weeks later and found ourselves saying the things that were really on our hearts, a profound experience for the both of us. Somewhere in that conversation, she asked the passive question that I find is often asked in the Black community, “Well I just don’t see why you have to broadcast it.” 

Related: The Art of Belonging: The Intersection of Race and Sexuality

The idea was that I might allow my sexuality to go unaddressed. That I would carry on quietly as a masculine-presenting Black man and avoid pitfalls like being denied access to professional success, violent homophobia, and an added layer of systemic oppression. These were things she’d seen queer men be forced to navigate all her life, and naturally, she didn’t want that for me. 

With full understanding of why she would question my need to broadcast my sexuality, my response was simply, “If Black people could’ve opted out of being Black during enslavement, and Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights Movement, I’m sure we wouldn’t be nearly as far as we are today.” 

I read somewhere recently, “my biggest form of resistance is my existence” and those words have been with me every day since. 

“My biggest form of resistance is my existence.”

Credit: @mokirah_adventures

Much like the women who came before me, I knew that tolerance was not enough for me. When I thought of what I wanted for myself, and now thinking of what I want for queer children, tolerance is just not something I’m interested in. It’s not enough that I might do my best to go unnoticed so that you feel comfortable. It’s not enough that I should tone down the parts of myself that don’t conform to the box you want me in. And based on my heritage, rich with Black women who used their voices to ensure I had my own, it’s not enough for me to waste an opportunity to let you know exactly how I feel. I say this because I’ve come to love these parts of myself in a way I never could’ve imagined, and because that love has brought me a kind of freedom I never thought was possible. 

If there’s one thing I’ve learned throughout my journey to self love and acceptance, it’s that when you break through and love the parts of yourself you once thought were unlovable, that love is loud. It’s unapologetic. It’s unrelenting. It’s unfazed by anything external, a stark contrast to the life you knew before it.

Related: What Working Out Did for My Self-Esteem That I Didn’t Expect

The love I show myself demonstrates how worthy I am of love and belonging, and I’ll tell you what it looks like. I laugh louder, and I laugh harder. I find more reasons to smile than reasons to cry. And my capacity for love is multiplied so many times that I turn to empathy more frequently than I ever did before.

Related: Why I Love Cardi B as Much as I Love Auntie Maxine

That is freedom. Freedom from stereotypes and inaccurate portrayals of who I am, and freedom from the weight that is the constant desire for acceptance into the majority. 

When you break through and love the parts of yourself you once thought were unlovable, that love is loud. It’s unapologetic. It’s unrelenting.

Across every city and town that holds our multifaceted Black community, there are queer children and adults who need to see freedom more than you need to maintain comfort. Queer children and adults who want to be seen for how kind, strong, and intelligent we are, seen for our humanity to reinforce that we’re worthy of life. 

So, as the year rolls on, ask yourself what role do you play here? Can you help to elevate the stories of queer people or at least work to see us more fully? Can you as a queer person step outside of your comfort zone, and be the kind of representation someone needs to see? Are you broadcasting your freedom?

I’m broadcasting mine, and it’s my ancestors’ dream come true.

Related: From ‘Paris is Burning’ to Pose’: What These Moments in Media Mean to Me

“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” — Audre Lorde

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