black, british and non-binary

Four young Brits on realising they are gender non-conforming, and what queer liberation looks like.

by Paula Akpan
|
Dec 13 2018, 3:17pm

Mainstream representation of queer people and spaces is often very white. Finding a community that looks like you and affirms your blackness, your queerness, and the way they can never been separated can be life-changing. It allows an understanding of the many different ways that being queer, being trans and being non-binary can look.

i-D spoke to four people who identify as black, British, non-binary and gender non-conforming about the work they’re doing to increase visibility of those outside of the white, cis-heteronormative world, and what queer liberation looks like to them.

Rudy Loewe

Rudy uses they/them pronouns and identifies as a black, non-binary, queer person.

“Over the last year, I finished my masters in visual communication, had a solo show in Stockholm and I’m also working on a book which is a graphic novel about my own family’s history, migration, and about sexuality. I first started thinking about myself as genderqueer almost ten years ago, even before I knew the term ‘non-binary’ existed. I’ve always been aware of my queer identity — I had a girlfriend at 15 — but getting my head around my gender took a long time. The representation of trans people has always been white and it was only when I met other QTIPOC that I was able to see reflections of myself. Finding a black queer community has been so nurturing and it has opened up these other dimensions of what queerness can look like. For a long time, what a queer person looked like or the way they behaved was so narrow — there wasn’t space for blackness. Finding other black queer and trans people helped me build those two things together. It’s also important that, through art, people see that black queer and trans people exist. Art can be a lifeline for people who are otherwise living in isolated environments, so it can be extremely important to find those points of reference. Queer liberation would mean that people don’t have to prove their gender and sexuality when applying for asylum. It would mean the abolition of the prison system. It would mean people could feel safe walking down the road without having their gender questioned or fearing attacks. We have to think about the people who have been the most violently oppressed and start with their liberation.”

You can find out more about Rudy and their work here.

Travis Alabanza

Travis uses they/them pronouns and identifies as black mixed, trans and gender non-conforming.

“I always know that I was sexually queer. I was very lucky that I was allowed to express myself in my household in whichever way I wanted. I think TV was a real gateway into realising I was different to the other boys around me. My mum and I would just sit there commenting on the clothes and the models from a female femme view. Then I got to 14 and I was getting berated for things that had been previously celebrated. It was only when I got to secondary school and people were saying that I couldn’t wear certain things because I was a boy. I was like, hold up, when did I start being punished for this?

For me, black liberation has to be queer, queer liberation has to be black. I’m not interested in separating blackness and queerness, because black queer people and trans people have been the centre for so long. When we look at these intersections, it’s impossible to ignore that black trans women and black trans femmes are facing the most violence, and therefore it’s urgent to look at these intersections. If you free black queer trans people, you free everyone else too.”

You can find out more about Travis and their work here.

Jacob V Joyce

Jacob uses they/them pronouns and identifies as an Afro-futurist non-binary working class black British artist and activist.

“This last year has been a year of lots of dreams coming true. I got my first comic published in an international newspaper, secured residencies at three galleries, wrote an article for BBC News — lots of things I never thought I would do, so I’m still taking it in. I’m trying to radicalise as many people as possible and it’s been a year of realising that people are listening.

I’ve always expressed my queerness, but I think I started expressing it in a public-facing way in 2011/12 when I became part of group of activists squatting buildings and turning them into Queer Social Centres. We'd put on queer self-defence classes, queer tango lessons, literary salons, and until then I’d never heard of the words ‘queer’ or ‘non-binary’. Around that time I met Rudy Loewe, who really inspired me to reject the binary — I think for me and a lot of QTIPOC, decolonising and queerness go hand in hand, so creating spaces for each other helps foster the confidence to reject the European understandings of gender. Non-binary and gender non-conforming people have always existed in many pre-colonial societies. For me, queerness is something that challenges power and moves us beyond the dominant narrative of gender and sexuality, which has historically been white, straight, male and cis. I think about the ways intimacy between myself and other black queer people is and has been policed, sometimes with colonial buggery laws, and always with varying degrees of violence. In the African diaspora all black peoples’ sexuality is goaded into very narrow moulds of how we are expected to exist, and people are resisting that in so many beautiful ways. Queerness is resistance against identities that have been forced upon us and queer liberation is a total dismantling of the world we live in and a reimagining of what that world could be.”

You can find out more about Jacob and their work here.

Fope Olaleye

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Fope uses they/them pronouns and identifies as a black, non-binary, queer person.

“I’m currently in final year at university, studying politics, so that’s a lot of work. I also won second place in the NUS Black Students’ Campaign election [The National Union of Students Black Students Campaign represents students of African, Asian, Arab and Caribbean descent on issues that affect them]. During Black History Month I was invited to do a lot of workshops on decolonisation — both on gender and the education curriculum — so I was at universities in Leicester, Nottingham, Durham, as well as in Paris, to meet and share lessons with anti-racism groups across Europe.

Growing up, I went to a girls’ grammar school and my year ended up being quite queer and into activism so thankfully I had a friendship group that supported one another. We started the Gay Straight Alliance in our school which was probably my first taste of activism and campaigning and after that I was hooked. I started identifying as non-binary in my last year of sixth form as I began feeling deeply uncomfortable with being referred to as a young lady or woman and using they/them felt right for me — this is who I am. I’m not gonna lie, I think a lot of my introduction to the different spectrums and social constructs was from Tumblr!

Audre Lorde said: “There's always someone asking you to underline one piece of yourself —whether it's black, woman, mother, dyke, teacher, etc. — because that's the piece that they need to key in to. They want to dismiss everything else.” This rings true for me — my gender and sexuality will always be inherently linked to my blackness. In my workshops, I go through the different Indigenous tribes across the world who have different IDs for gender — some even allow people to switch gender roles because it’s not as fixed as it is in the west. We think we’ve invented what it is to be progressive or gender non-conforming and that’s not the case.
Queer liberation to is not necessarily about more representation of queer or trans people in government etc. We don’t need more black, brown or queer faces in high places, gate keepers or fame seekers — we need a transformative movement. It’s about dismantling the systems that oppress us. In a workshop I facilitated, I asked the participants what they thought liberation looked like. Someone answered with ‘Being able to get a good night’s sleep.’ When’s the last time we, as marginalised people, had a good night sleep and weren’t burdened by the oppression? It’s so exhausting to constantly have to justify your right to exist. It’s just wanting to be able to sleep without worrying that the world is out to get me.”


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This article originally appeared on i-D UK.