Over the past few months, many folks have asked me what I’ve been doing since #RootsPridePgh. Sure, I said the politically correct, “I’m taking time to focus on me.” The honest truth is that I’ve been isolating.
Those who know me well will tell you that I’m a classic introvert. I rarely answer the phone or return emails, and I dodge rush-hour traffic in the middle of downtown just to avoid eye contact with someone I know. It’s not that I don’t like you; I’m just terribly insecure and even more terribly shy. A deadly combination.
After the founder and director of Pittsburgh Black Pride (PBP) referred to me in the press as a woman, I found myself spiraling into a depression that I still have yet to shake four months later. As a queer man of trans experience living with bipolar disorder, it doesn’t take much to catapult me into a sea of negative repetitive thoughts that tell me that I’m bad and unlovable.
The narratives from the queer and trans communities have historically been dominated by cis and/or queer White folk. This systemic erasure has led to a platform that disregards the lives and lived experiences of queer and/or trans folks of color. Personally, until I was 21 years-old, I had been told over and over that I was the only Black trans person who existed. The closest Black reference I had to my gender identity was RuPaul, and even then I knew that drag was very different than my experience.
For years, I did not share my trans identity with anyone. When I shared my trans identity with my circle of cis queer Black folks, they laughed and immediately began a barrage of questions that made me feel violated and inhuman. I quickly learned that my experience would not be understood by even the Black queer community.
Now, years later, my trans identity is very public. I have found that it has been much easier to be publicly vulnerable because it’s not on personal level. Initially, I thought that I was hurt by the quote referring to me as a woman because the PBP founder and director had been a personal inspiration to me and is a QTPOC elder in Pittsburgh. But the truth is that it hurt me because this was someone who I had in my circle of QTPOC folks — my guard was down and I never saw it coming. My body, my lived experiences, and my narrative were disregarded — and, all by someone I saw as a part of my community.
As I walked through my house a “grumpy old man” disconnected from all those around me shortly after Roots Pride, I began to focus externally. Long ago, I learned that when you share your feelings, you will be seen as weak. To this end, I spent the past several months retreating and healing. In Western culture, value and worth are based on productivity and one’s ability to show up. This system of expectations is, of course, rooted in the gender binary and race privilege. You expect me to work 40 hours a week (let’s be honest, most of us are working more than that) and still be “well-rounded.” As I lie around the house, sometimes not wanting to get out of bed, I realized that the shame I carry with me is internalized White supremacy. To have the space to fellowship and share common experience is a privilege, and, for QTPOC folks, an act of resistance. This is in direct conflict with the Western ideal of smiling pretentiousness. In no place is this more obvious than the workplace.
In the US, we are taught to be ashamed of the things that we feel. We are taught that “what happens in this house, stays in this house.” We’ve been taught that it is not okay to talk about our experiences. I felt like I had to pretend that nothing affected me. For some time, I felt like I couldn’t speak, like there were no words — my visceral response to trauma is silence and I had shut down.
Slowly, after many conversations with my partner, I made a decision to talk to others about my struggle to feel connected to anything. In my conversations, I heard the folks around me echoing similar feelings of isolation and shame. Shame about trauma. Shame about daily struggles. Shame about mental illness. The internal shame often leads to silence about experiences, furthering those feelings of isolation. Sure, we also spoke about systemic violence through lack of education, employment, healthcare, and housing. But, it was the shared experiences of internalized shame and isolation that appeared to be the heaviest. Systemic violence stems from a foundation that is constructed from a denial of each individual’s full humanity. In a country that refuses to acknowledge its basis in genocide and oppression, isolation is a tool of the oppressor.
You are not alone.
Isolation means that you don’t talk about it and suffer in silence — exactly the function of White supremacy. Silence about our experiences furthers internal cycles of violence. The way White supremacy is set up will have you thinking that you are the only person who has been through what you’ve been through, that no one will understand, or isolating your Self because you feel unworthy of community, fellowship, and family. When folks feel isolated, it limits the range of possibilities for their lives.
As people of color, we are by nature collective. Together, we have survived the Atlantic and slavery in America, and we are still surviving. We are the survivors of MAAFA (the history and continued effects of atrocities committed against African people). As a people, we have historically gathered the resources among all of us to build a vision for our liberation, to heal, and to do the work.
The quote in the Pittsburgh Courier hurt me so deeply because it reminded me that in a system of White supremacy, the fullness of my humanity is not deemed worthy of respect and dignity. Not only did the founder and director of PBP make the quote, the paper printed it. And, yes, some folks wrote to me and the paper expressing their outrage, but there was never an apology issued (and, to be honest, I’m not sure how much that matters). Aside from a single, vague Facebook status, I didn’t address it. And, I’m not sure that I knew how to respond to that level of violence. The quote not only gave me a few reminders, but further, it gave me the opportunity to acknowledge that healing the wounds of White supremacy is paramount. Liberation is achieved through healing and fellowship.
Last year in December, I attended Roots Camp in Washington, D.C. In one of the workshops that I co-facilitated for community organizers working within the QTPOC community, the question, “How do we show up?”, was asked of the group. The answers came in: “tired,” “broken,” “depressed,” “overworked and underpaid,” etc. And the truth is, many of us show up for ourselves (our Selves) the same way we show up for community — “tired,” “broken,” “depressed,” “overworked and underpaid.” We talk about community as there is still a lack of space for our authentic Self to show up and be present. It is imperative that we manifest spaces of healing and where folks can be their full Selves. As we foster spaces that lead to liberation, those spaces must avoid replicating systems of violence. As with our collective liberation, our personal liberation cannot be achieved alone. Collective healing is an act of resistance. Through our collective healing, we can envision personal liberation.
Edited by: Joy KMT