This is a paper I wrote during my time at Spelman College.
Since birth, I have grown up in a heteronormative society balanced with white hegemony. Being that I am a women of “color” or African descent, I wanted to venture outside of the world I had grown accustomed to. I was adopted to an Italian American immigrant family, with a single mother and me being an only child. My upbringing was unique – transracial. We weren’t the typical family with parents and children being relatively close to the same skin complexion, instead, we were crossing the boundaries of normativity. Yet, despite the fact that I was adopted, I never once let my adoption hold me back. I was determined to find my biological family, and once I did, I was thrusted on a journey in which I was not aware of.
My time at Spelman College has helped me discover more about myself and my personal interests. As of my late junior year, the theme of identity has become a revolving factor in shaping who I was and who I wanted to become. In another class, my African Diaspora independent study course, I decided that I would research the effects that genealogy had on shaping one’s identity. In doing this, I was open to a whole world of new forms of identity and in part, I found this course quite helpful.
My original intent for enrolling in the course was to fulfill my African Diaspora minor requirement. Yet, after sitting in class, I began to grow a liking to the meaning of the class and found it helpful in contributing to other class and worldly discussions. The Black Queer Studies course not only taught me about the true meaning of “queer”, but also how to look at the gay and lesbian community through a different lens outside of the heteronormativity lens in which I had been taught to encompass. Some terms I was unfamiliar with, I found beneficial in writing my book, and I also enjoyed being schooled on my own ignorance. I say ignorance because I never took the time to try to understand anything beyond a heterosexual lens because that’s how I have, and still do, identify. I do wish we had had more time to discuss the films we watched. Maybe if we watch the films first and then have more time to discuss the film and even incorporate various aspects of the readings and class discussions. At the same time, I am aware that the women’s center works closely with the Spelman Archives. Being that I am a fan of archives and all things genealogy related, I feel like we maybe should have had one more paper that incorporated archival research. Maybe looking at the evolution of Spelman College as an institution and how it has adjusted to the LGBTQ community or even selecting a historical figure within Spelman and how they were affected by the injustice system surrounding the rights of LGBTQ people.
Aside from adding a few more writing plans, I had taken a women’s study course prior and I found that the main reason I was able to understand the readings and lectures was because I had taken a women studies class prior. With that being said, I think for Spelman women, it would be wise if they had an introduction to women’s studies class prior to enrolling in the Black Queer Studies course. As for males who want to participate, I believe that only those who are truly serious about the class and understand what is being asked from them will attempt to enroll, so I personally do not see a problem with allowing men from Morehouse College to cross-register. I’m not sure about Clark Atlanta University students. I know that if you allow Morehouse men to cross-register you can’t deny Clark students. Although, I would assume that any student trying to take the Black Queer Studies course who is not affiliated with Spelman College, must have a passion and desire for wanting to take a class that explores queerness through a different lens and gain a better, or new, sense of understanding for life beyond the heteronormativity.
While in class, I found the readings interesting. Some of the readings incorporated the themes of identity, while others just simply gave me a better understanding of the definition of “queer” and “queerness.” I realized that even I was implementing a heteronormative lens before when I was trying to understand LGBTQ relationships. I heavily enjoyed reading The Politics of Passion: Women’s Sexual Culture in the Afro-Surinamese Diaspora by Gloria Wekker. The book captured my attention because of how it introduced me to a new world outside of America. Identity goes beyond the United States. Sometimes I fall ignorant to that, and forget that the United States, alone, is a nation of immigrants. Outside of the United States is a global community of people with other variations of identity and the way in which they self-identify. The Politics of Passion explores womanhood and queerness in Suriname, which enabled me to think outside the box. This book personally inspired me to want to embark on a new research project that analyzes other cultural aspects. I want to engage in a researchable discussion that illustrates my own personal genealogical Diasporas by comparing and contrasting African Diasporic immigration to the United States and the cultures that were created as a result of it and Sicilian Diasporic immigration to the United States and the cultures that resulted from it. I know historically, both Sicilian Americans and African Americans were looked down upon at an equal playing field and after reading The Politics of Passion, I came to the realization that the Suriname women described within the book, are in some ways, similar to other queer women of the African Diaspora. I enjoyed the various sections in which Wekker had broken down her dialogue and interactions. I also enjoyed how each section stuck to a central theme, but not only explored the concept, but also defined the overall meaning tying each section together.
Apart from the constant theme of identity and understanding other cultures, Politics of Passion discussed the political power of femininity. Towards the end of the book, there was a chapter dedicated towards examining the empowerment of being a woman and how some women viewed sex. Throughout the book, sex between two women was explored, but at the same time, there was some insight on the dynamic of sex between a man and woman. I found it intriguing how it was made to seem as though sex with a man was more for economic achievement. A woman might indulge in a relationship with a man if the man could provide her with financial stability or social and economic status. Yet, at the same time, there was a similar feat in the way some women interacted with other women. What I found peculiar was the way that domestic abuse was explained. From the way I read it, it appeared as though the domestic abuse was more common in relationships that involved the same sex because it was to establish dominance and power. I am not one who condones violence of any kind, and maybe from a Westernized lens, I found that disturbing. There are other methods in which one can establish control. At the same time, it forced me to try to read the book, in general, from a lens outside of my normal comfort level and understanding. I had to force myself to almost imagine as if I was submerged in that culture myself and not judge. This technique teaches me to incorporate the absence of judgement from trying to learn about and understand other cultures.
While I very much enjoyed one of the readings from the class for both selfish and critical understanding purposes, I didn’t really enjoy Butch Queens Up in Pumps: Gender, Performance, and Ballroom Culture in Detroit written by Marlon M. Bailey. While I found the overall concept fascinating because I had never known of Ballrooms or the culture surrounding ballrooms, I found the book itself, repetitive. I am not a fan of books that make me feel dumb. When I grasp a concept I like to think that the author is aware that he/she made his/her point clear and concise enough to not have to constantly repeat his/herself. When an author excessively repeats his/herself, I begin to question whether or not the author is articulate in his/her area of study. I should be confident in trusting what the author has to say, and not questioning the validity of his/her work. I enjoyed the film that coincided with the book, and felt like it relayed the message without repeating the underlying theme. I truly am fascinated with ballroom culture and would like to go and experience one for myself; however, Butch Queens initially turned me off because I struggled trying to even get through it.
Being that I have an interest in identity, diasporic cultures, and genealogy, the class was both insightful and useful. My own knowledge was sharpened on ways to interrogate other cultures and identities, but I also now have an awareness to an identity and culture that I was never before familiar with. I have a lens that articulates in various perspective. I have the white hegemonic lens, the heteronormative lens, the queer lens, and then a lens from my own personal experiences. I value the queer lens because it challenges the “normal” way of thinking. While I personally am a heterosexual female, I often view things beyond the way society would typically attempt to categorize it. In this sense, I understand that queer assimilates to anything outside societal normativity. While personal enjoyment of identity is clear, I would have liked to further discuss queer identity beyond the United States some more. I enjoyed each reading and the books, but I would have liked to have analyzed other African Diasporic cultures and how queer ideology/identity is incorporated into those cultures. Realizing that the language used and the skills I learned from the course is refreshing. Knowledge is power. Even though I do not personal identify with queer identity, it is a lens that I am now comfortable using and that I feel can better understand people who both identify as queer or part of the LGBTQ community. Compassionate feels like a better fitting word for that. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the time I spent in the course. I am taking a lot with me when I graduate this December, and I greatly appreciate all that I was taught. I hope that I can use this information in a way that intellectually challenges both my writing and those who read my work.