Black women have been mothering us since the beginning of time. Generations have unfolded in their laps; yet, we rarely uplift the role they play in the lives of their queer children. This pivotal relationship can be life-affirming life-destroying, or somewhere in between, and too often we fail to distill the beauty from the complicated.
I am the queer child of a Black woman who speaks motherhood fluently. A woman—who in the sacred tradition of Black mothers before her—raised my heterosexual brother and me with an easy, unconditional love that serves as testament to her unconquerable spirit. She has always known who I was. From a very young age, she created a village around me to ensure that I could grow up to be this person, the shy effeminate young boy now a proud and out Black queer man.
Overriding the thoughts and wishes of some people in my family, my mother chose an aunt who lived thousands of miles away in California to be my godmother—a difficult choice for her, but she did what she felt was in the best interest of her child. And she was right. My aunt happens to be lesbian, and my mother knew that there would come a time when I would need her in my life.
I’m forever grateful that she did that, because when I “came out,” my godmother was right there for me.
My family may be traditional in many ways, but we are anything but your average Black family. I grew up with people of various sex and gender identities. Queer and trans cousins were the norm at our family functions. My grandmother “Nanny,” the greatest Black woman I know, raised us to be a family that operates from a place of show love first, ask questions later. Still, I often wonder as an adult what that familial space and those hushed conversations were like as they watched me, the effeminate young boy, growing up in a society they knew wouldn’t be accepting of my Blackness, sexuality, or gender expression.
The Black women in my family have always been home to me, home in the sense that I always had somewhere I could go absent judgement. Aunt Munch, Aunt Sarah, Aunt Crystal, my mom Kaye and Nanny continue to be my village as my platform around my queer existence and activism has grown, and I become a “face” in media doing this work.
But what space do they ever have to discuss their experiences of raising queer people like us? I have many Black friends and associates within the Black Queer community, but I can’t think of a time when our mothers, or the Black women important to us, have shared the same space to discuss the challenges of having queer children. The people who have been responsible for raising us and loving us rarely, if ever, have a moment to compare upbringings, gather resources, or simply be heard.
We live in an anti-Black society that puts a target on the heads of young Black men. We have all seen the headlines and had The Talk with our boys about police interactions and how to navigate society. We rarely see what The Talks look like for parents of children with multiple marginalizations—children who are young Black men, women, or gender-non-conforming people who deal with an anti-Black world, but also struggle with the constraints of surviving within their own communities. Communities in which the conditioning of patriarchy brought onto us by white supremacy often causes irrevocable harm.
I am currently writing a young adult memoir about my family and experiences growing up queer. Recently, I was discussing my work with my mother and she stated, “Me and your brother would f*** anyone up for ever coming at your sexuality.” I wish that we got to see more stories like mine, because I know others exist. To see the bad that we deal with, but also the good. Our community is often portayed as more homophobic than others, part and parcel because the main stories told are of our trauma absent our triumph.
We know that all relationships between Black women and their LGBTQ children are not perfect. We have seen the horror stories of abuseand homelessness far too many times to know that it’s not all roses in our communities. But what if there were space for Black women who struggle with having queer children—not because they don’t love them, but because they are navigating the same toxic masculinity culture that we all must survive? What if they knew other women like my mom and my aunts existed? Women they could touch, and see, and speak with as they work through their own homophobia and transphobia? What if there were a safe space for them to love their children while also fighting to be better people?
Black women have been the backbone of society. They are the activists and leaders who raise activists and leaders; and spaces for their testimonies across the spectrum are critical as our community continues to evolve in queer visibility.
Mine is but one story, but hopefully a story that can birth 1000 more, creating space for the Black mother-child relationship that has always existed, but is rarely seen. We know that visibility is the starting point not the ending. With the increase in visibility Black queer community, it is more important than ever to know the back stories—especially that of the Black women who raised us.
I remember not knowing if people like me existed until I finally saw people like me existing. It’s time that Black mothers and women have space to know they are not alone, especially as a community they have helped raised is finally getting their space to be seen.