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For The Love of Community

I remember typing the words into HU Twitter like a fervent prayer. “Since we are manifesting, I need a queer Black friend group in DC.” For much of my life, I had gone without a sense of community. Yes, I had grown up with a host of Black friends in school or in the Saturday recreational program I did for students interested in STEM. But besides the few interactions I had with the one other queer upperclassman, I was one of three openly queer kids in my high school who had never found queer community, and this time I wanted it to be different. I wanted my college years, for the few I had left, to be full of laughs and moments and connections that really made me feel seen. That really made me feel not like an outsider, but rather an integral part of a community that understood me.

We can all agree that finding our tribe, regardless of our gender or sexual identities, for any young person can be difficult (trust me I’ve had my fair share of friend groups), but when we compound that with being Black or fat or disabled and topped off with queer, finding a community that you not only can be a part of, but that makes you feel appreciated and seen can feel nearly impossible. Queer stories like mine of growing up without reflections of self in media and without a community that shares a similar experience as you are far too common, due to the queerphobic, transphobic, and homophobic stigmas that still permeate aspects of society today. And while this experience might take on a different face or shape, Black Queer folk, due to this systemic oppression, have always struggled to find, foster, and flourish in safe community. 

During the AIDS epidemic of the ’70s, many Black queer folk were not only facing abandonment by society letting AIDS and HIV ravage the community, but also were facing being kicked out of their homes and tossed out by their families. Displaced and kicked out onto the streets, with little money or means to take care of themselves, many Black queer folk turned to occupations such as sex work, selling drugs, and “stunts” (fraudulent activities such as stealing/peddling) as means of survival. These survival aspects allowed Black queer folk to gain necessary housing and finances to not only find safety, but laid the groundwork for Black queer folk to find one another. Out of the ashes of their tragedy and despair, being rejected by mainstream society as well as white LGBTQ spaces, Black Queer folk turned inward and began to form their own community, houses, and homes known as “Ballroom.” 

The unground Ballroom scene founded by Black and Latinx LGBTQ+ folk (specifically Black and Latinx trans women and femmes) is a place where Black queer folk can truly be themselves and find community. Made up of different houses named after iconic fashion brands like Miyake Mugler and Gucci, Ballroom is a place where people can compete in different creative categories. From face categories (focusing on the structure and beauty) and body categories (focusing on one’s physique and figure) to bazar categories (focusing on strange yet creative fashion) and voguing categories; different houses can walk in categories in friendly competition and walk away with a cash prize. It was this scene that saved Black queer folk – this community that allowed them to not only find one another but find themselves. 

A large part of our identity is formed by those with whom we engage with. Being around folk who are like-minded and similar to us allows us to form deeper connections with ourselves and discover more aspects of who we are. How many times has a conversation with a friend who was planning something inspired you to act on the things you wanted to start but haven’t? Or how many times have you shared your problems with a trusted friend because you knew they would understand where you were coming from? It is community that saves us in our darkest moments and it’s community that saved me. 

It was in college, a couple of months later after tweeting that tweet, when I met up with some mutuals from twitter who went to my school; what started out as just a casual meet-up turned into weekly outings and get-togethers. After a few group chat texts and talking about high school crushes did we realize that most of us were queer, and it was in that moment that I knew I had found my tribe. The love and community that Black queer folk share and create amongst one another is sacred. For in a world that doesn’t always understand us, it is our community that creates soft places for us to land, grow and be our most authentic selves.

Eshe Ukweli

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