Being Black, A Woman, and Queer: The Southern Experience
The say being Black is magical, right? I am Black, a woman, and a member of the LGBTQ+ community. To top it all off, I am highly educated, employed, insured, a mother and a homeowner. Well, I must be a unicorn. But that is just my story. That’s just part of my story.
Too often, living in the South has been problematic for others like me. Stacking on multiple marginalized labels, such as race and gender, has produced a society plagued by heteronormativity. Heteronormativity, huh? Not a word you see every day, so let me break it down. In laymen’s terms, heteronormativity promotes heterosexual behaviors as the accepted way of life. Additionally, it affects legal, social, political, and cultural climates.
The concept of heteronormativity can be heavy to digest but imagine trying to navigate this concept and its factors in an environment that is already looking down on you because of your skin color and gender. Don’t get me wrong. There is no place like the South. Warm smiles, friendly gestures, beautiful landscapes, strong traditions, and oh so good soul food are engrained in the Southern way of living. The South is such a resilient place. However, many Southern individuals and areas are not so accepting of alternative views, ideas, or even people.
It takes a strong person to successfully navigate being queer in the South. Every group under the LGBTQ+ umbrella has its own struggles. Stereotypes of these groups are further pushed in the South. Thinking about starting a queer family here? You may want to think twice if you are under the Mason-Dixon line. Legal protections are limited, population views are narrow, and places to exist comfortably are scarce. Quite frankly, it can be scary living in the South.
Oftentimes, LGBTQ+ people relocate to more accepting cities and states so they can feel free to be themselves without rejection and hatred. There are those places like Atlanta, San Francisco, Palm Springs, Portland, Boston, and Washington, DC where being queer is more received and many people are living happily and thriving wonderfully.
Then there are places like the Upstate of South Carolina, where I reside. A place where palmetto trees are frequent, statues of devout racist figures are ubiquitous, and affirming care is sparse. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), “Despite recent progress toward acceptance across America, the LGBTQ community in the Deep South continues to face significant barriers to equality, as few states offer protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.” My partner and I found this statement to be true the hard way.
I gave birth to our daughter in June 2020. She took my partner’s last name. We were not married at the time of her birth; therefore, my partner was not listed on her birth certificate. We were told that there are no protections for the “other mother” if the women aren’t married before birth. To have my partners name added to the birth certificate, she would have to legally adopt my daughter and that process would be easier once we “get married first.” Now, if you know anything about adoptions, you know that they are costly and a lengthy process. Our experience of being new mommies (again) has had this dark glooming shadow ever since.
Finding proper medical and mental healthcare, having access to resources, and having a sense of community are things that trouble queer Southerners. While you might find LGBTQ+ friendly centers in places like New York and California, many Southern states fall behind in having places where queer people are accepted. Such is the current case for the Upstate of South Carolina.
Mental health issues are being discussed more frequently in today’s climate. For some, finding a counselor is easy. But for people like me, not so much. Maybe I am too picky, but I want my counselor to understand the various sides of me… my marginalized sides. Having that representation to talk me through my anxiety, to be an example and a supporter is so important. To date, I have not been able to locate a Black female counselor who has experience (personal and/or professional) with queer folks in my area.
I have been living in South Carolina for over six years. In the six years, my partner has experienced racism, sexism, and homophobia altogether in her place of employment. I, on the other hand, have been lucky enough to not have those experiences. But when she hurts, I hurt. When one community member faces ostracism, we all suffer.
Oftentimes, we take our little family on outings. We like to go feed the ducks, shop in the mall, out to eat, or to play in the park. We have noticed the unfriendly stares and uneasy auras. Too many times, we have heard the silly question “well, which one of you is the mother?” We recognize the shock when we reply, “we both are.” It is a constant reminder that being a Black queer woman in the South is not accepted or acknowledge.
The intersectionality of being Black, a woman, and queer in the South compounds oppression. We are over 55 years since the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. However, we are still fighting the social injustices of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. With every marginalized identity an individual possesses, they are more prone to face discrimination because of those intersecting marginalized identities.
The South is known for its charm and hospitality, but it is also known to be a place that is slow to accept change. James Baldwin said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” Recognizing marginalized identities and combating the microaggressions and other stereotypical behavior to make Southern living inclusive of all is necessary for the South to be as charming as it claims. Doing so will create a region of peace and happiness for people like me.