I recently found myself in the oddest of circumstances. In the exhausting and exasperating position of explaining my existence, again. Explaining to someone why the lives of people other than those they consider worthy should matter. Explaining why indifference is acceptance. It’s a situation that’s beginning to feel quite familiar these days. The ignorance of others has made this a conversation that I’m becoming pretty well versed in. I guess you could call me an expert? Unfortunately, it’s enforced expertise. In this particular circumstance, I found myself (a queer Black woman) arguing for the rights of queer Black lives with….a Black cishet man.
I read, talk about, and enthuse about blackness in all its beauty alongside the inescapable issues that we face. It is a topic I have chosen to fill my days with. In a world where “Black Lives Matter” is considered a political statement and June is still the only month I see the rainbow, arguing for my existence is a necessary discomfort. It is a conversation I will continue to choose.
I say this to ensure that my story about a taxing conversation is not misconstrued as a complaint. Although I tell it with sadness, read no complaint between my lines. This is the story of last Sunday night, the night I lost my friend.
“How’ve you been?” rings through my phone speakers, I can hear the smile in his voice. My best friend from my school who was my lifeline during uni has called to say hello, how have you been. I don’t know how we went from exchanging pleasantries to discussing his newfound religious faith and “no I’m not homophobic, but yes gayness is wrong”. I don’t know how my friend went from a person accepting of all to “it’s not homophobia, but I don’t agree with their chosen way of life”. I don’t know when “we should send them all somewhere” to be “taught” became an acceptable idea for him to propose. I do not know how, as a Black man, he does not recognise the rhetoric of our oppressor in his words.
I thought he was a safe place. I didn’t think I would ever be forced to explain my existence in his presence, and yet there I was trying to simplify the idea that his homophobic rhetoric is tantamount to violence. He did not know his hate was directed at me, that I am the thing he despises. Queerness is funny that way, it doesn’t have one face. And so when my voice began to shake with anger, it was met with defensive confusion. It was met with “there’s no need to shout” and “why are you getting emotional?” “How am I speaking with hate, what about how you’re speaking to me?” he asked.
The person I thought I knew had disappeared in the space of a 30-minute phone call and I was left desperately trying to explain that he has Black queer women to thank for Black Lives Matter. He has Black queer women to thank for standing on the front lines and fighting for his existence.
Ignoring my heavy heart filled with disappointment, I tried to explain that he is simply opposed to joy and love. And that love between souls, regardless of their outer flesh, is none of his concern. I spoke of protecting souls that dare to love. Protecting souls that dare to be themselves, show themselves and love themselves in a world so writhe with hate.
After I had exerted myself, after I had strained my voice for far too long demanding love from someone so determined to hate, it was solely my anger that he focused on. It was only my desperation that became the focal point. “They are murdering trans women” I’d shouted. “They are killing people for daring to exist as themselves, a horror to which you can relate. But it’s my tone of voice that concerns you?” “They need prayer,” he said, “it’s unnatural, that’s all I’m saying”.
Looking back on this conversation and the countless similar conversations I’ve had with cishet Black men who are determined to focus on my anger and ignore my appeal to their humanity, I have to ask, how would you prefer that I inform you of your privilege? I cannot say it softly for you. I will not. Society doesn’t treat us with softness. They do not treat you with softness, Black man. Your own cries for equality still go unheard. Yet you remain silent to your fellow people who are screaming right beside you. You partake in their silencing. Do you not see the oppressor in your reflection? Do you not hear his poison in your words?
How can you demand equality whilst using your privilege to oppress? How can only certain black lives be the ones that matter? Putting down the phone, “Keep your prayers” was the last thing I said, the night I lost my friend.