That's equal parts statement as question. Looking out from within the 24-hour news cycle, it's hard to discern if we, as humanity, are on the verge of collapse or revolution. The optimist in me wants to say the latter, as little revolutions are happening everyday. One I've been personally excited to witness is the increasing visibility of queer people of color.
With this visibility comes a newfound sense of identity, and from that shared identity arises a community. In an attempt to bring this nascent community together, The Tenth Magazine is hosting a forum this Satruday in New York to discuss "The State of Black Gay America."
The biannual magazine has pushed the boundaries of the black queer identity and what it means and what it is capable of since its first issue hit stands in 2014, so they are perfectly positioned to facilitate this difficult but wholly necessary conversation.
I caught up with my sis Khary Septh, editor in chief of The Tenth, to discuss the forum and what led to its creation.
What's your opinion on "the state of black gay America"?
We polled 100 black gays and the responses were all over the place, but completely in sync with how we're feeling at the magazine--anxious and uncertain about the future. They were things like: evolving, in revival, complacent, getting its life, paradoxical, in a state of re-examining gender identity and roles, divided, a disaster. After having traveled so much covering culture, they all seemed relevant.
As a community, there's for sure an air of "now is our time," with all of the visibility on television and in pop culture, in the art world, and in sports. But while we were in San Francisco making Volume #4, the elders like Blackberry and Michael Ross urged to us to keep the work of the Harlem Renaissance alive. The work we're doing on the 24th is just us trying to get a real-life read on "what's the tea?" out here in these streets so we can figure out how to guarantee our survival in the future.
Why do you think this forum is necessary?
We were in Oakland and had posted some video on Facebook and a black gay guy commented how the visual representation in our magazine is limited and doesn't reflect a diverse enough aesthetic. To his comment, there seemed some error in analysis, because we're a whole army of fats, femmes, nerds, ball queens, misfits and more over here, you just have to read between the lines. It kept me up for nights because the comment just didn't seem particularly constructive.
I felt like the tone wouldn't have been so inky in real life. If so, I knew I could certainly defend the work and perhaps change minds, but to engage on the Internet I knew was a no-no if you value your reputation. We all figured it was time to get in a room and make some eye contact and share some love. One of the topics we'll be discussing on the 24th is "Digital Engagement" and we hope to figure out how to deal with everything from the traumatization of the constant Facebook feed of national tragedies, to the discrimination we face among ourselves on hookup apps.
When Orlando happened, we knew we felt pain, but we just didn't know from where. We also couldn't tell if that pain was sharper or duller than that coming from the bullet holes put in our heterosexual brother Philando Castile, or the countless trans women of color being stabbed, bludgeoned, and even burned to death--which was the case for Goddess Diamond, who gruesomely lost her life in New Orleans earlier this year. Our black gay identities are complicated and it seemed the best way to respond was simply as a group.
We took the lead from the kids like Darnell Moore and Frank Roberts who are killing it over at Black Lives Matter. We want action items. So: "What are some of the ways that we can better process trauma?" "What are some of things we can do on a personal level, or as a group, to fight against violence in the community?" "How do we better engage our homophobic families?"
Ace Hotel also wanted to do something in response to Orlando, but, being culturally savvy cool kids themselves, knew that a social media campaign or tee shirt with rainbow hearts spelling out "ORLANDO" wasn't going to cut it. They called us and we thought long and hard about the most impactful way to begin the process of shedding such deep-rooted pain felt by LGBTQ people of color. A gathering where we could actually share with one another intellectually just seemed best.
How did you go about organizing it?
We have a team of cute-ass queer elves over here building major black gay alliances and publishing content. But here was one of the challenges: How do we make it a safe space for queer people of color? Is it an open forum? Is it limited to people of color? There's this sensitivity that we were all suddenly faced with and that felt awkward--the type of thing that the white boys don't have to deal with: we must be gentle with the evolving psychosis of our oppressors. We decided in the end to keep the 3-hour symposium "safe" and to host a live-stream upstairs in the lobby, and to also have an after-party for all of our allies, friends and supporters.
What do you hope will come out of it?
More real-world conversation in situations where everyone doesn't share the same opinions. The black gay community can feel monolithic at times; it isn't. We're such a random box of chocolates, so why are we so heavily portrayed as typical or basic? I think we'd like to explore ideas like, "Is sexual liberation perhaps the answer to sexual health?" and "What are some of the things we can do on a personal level and as a community to exercise self-care?"
On the one hand, there are small rituals, like body oils from Jashiro Dean's Temple Zen--another product made with black gay sensibilities--and then there can be large ones, like convening to push past the stale inbred polemics that can be so present in our community, in order to better the state of black gay America.