During the summer of ’97, when I turned 18 and before I went off to college, I lied everyday to my mother. I told her I had secured a job as a camp counselor in a forgotten part of Queens, New York. In reality I had started my summer job search late, a week before graduation, so preoccupied with the growing awareness of my desire for women, their bodies and the direct conflict that these desires posed to my painfully traditional, Haitian family.
Six weeks that summer I had a ritual meant to appease any suspicions, I dutifully awoke around 6am, showered, ate, and if my mom was awake, I left the house to go to “work.” On the days when everyone was asleep, I retreated back to my room and hid inside my closet below piles of clothes until 2:30pm when my mom left for work. Perhaps those days served as a very literal metaphor of how deeply in the closet I had lived.
The days I left the house at 7am, I traveled an hour and a half from Springfield Gardens to Bayside, Queens, two very extreme spaces and lifestyles…and there in a park nearby my old high school and the Bayside branch of the Queens Public Library, I would lie wait until the library opened at 10am. Finally, I’d enter the library, immediately make my way left towards a medal spindle bookcase entitled “Gay and Lesbian.” Back in 1997 “Gay and Lesbian” only merited a measly medal spindle. I devoured everything, books, magazines, memoirs, and anthologies. I learned about the AIDS epidemic, became acquainted with Edmund White and Essex Hemphill. I browsed through the Well of Loneliness, Ruby Fruit Jungle and countless other stories and experiences. Only once in those 6 weeks, did I encounter anything that resembled who I am, what I looked liked and where I came from, April Sinclair’s “Coffee Will Make You Black,” and even that representation did not speak explicitly…I am an immigrant, Haitian, black, bulldagger.
Not much has changed between the summer of 1997 and today. Whenever I enter queer spaces whether locally in cities like Philly, Atlanta, Toronto or internationally like Paris, Berlin, Costa Rica, I will likely encounter white lesbians, with white agendas. If per chance there are brown or black women in those space it’s often because those women insisted on their experiences being accounted for.
“TAKEN SPACES: BLACK LESBIANS AGAINST WHITE AESTHETICS,” was born out of need. My need to be represented in text, my need to be visible in print, my need to be seen. But I’m sure my needs coincide with other black lesbians, how they’ve taken their space in the world, what sacrifices, tears, and compromises? Who have they lost, what did their journeys look like? Have they inquired and received responses like the one below?
MY INQUIRY: On Sun, Jul 29, 2012 at 8:38 PM, Sherley Olopherne <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
I’m in Berlin for 2 weeks and I’m having a hard time finding black queer spaces. I’m also a photographer and wouldn’t mind info where all 3 identities merge. I know Mitte and generally East Berlin is more artsy….but all in all I’ve only seen white faces. Any advice and insight would be greatly appreciated. I also wouldn’t mind documenting black faces/experiences while here.
HER RESPONSE: On Mon, Jul 30, 2012 at 5:00 AM, M Rose <——-@gmail.com> wrote:
Hey Sherley, I’m new to Berlin so I still a great deal of my own exploring to do. I’m guessing from your ?s you are from the USA? I think I can safely say that your search for a black queer visual arts space is hopeless. Given that, there’s still a lot of fabulous things about this city. The thing (as far as I’ve experienced) about Berlin is that b/c of the infamous Berliner attitude (fuck everything and anyone whose cool is welcome), it doesn’t divide up social space like we do in the USA. Berliners stare…at everyone, not just “difference” (be it sexual, racial, disability, fashion, whatever). They also could care less about identity politics. They will roll their eyes…to them it sounds whiny, though not from a conservative standpoint.