QueerBomb is series of events that occurs over a weekend during Pride month as a way to unleash ourselves from the now very consumerist LGBT Pride and reclaim our radical queer history. This year was its 3rd year and the organizers pulled out all the stops. An estimated 5,000+ people were present for the march up Austin's Sixth street. But I'll get to that later. I will go ahead and say that the parade and after party were phenomenal...but that's not what we're here to talk about.
I want to talk about my experience as one of the handful of brown folks to be present at the main event at Pine Street Station. A bunch of organizations, collectives, zines, etc. pulled out some chairs and brought our goods and wares with us to promote, awaken, and all that good stuff.
There were 2 tables out of...I'd say 20ish, that had a specifically QPOC audience- allgo (the TX statewide QPOC organization) and KwueenShadez QPOC magazine who doubled up with my Afro-Genderqueer books and Genderqueer Street Philosophactivist website. Our table was on the opposite end of Allgo, but shared a table with B.E.T.C.H. zine, which is feminist and sex-positive, which was cool.
I arrived on the scene super early to set up. My partner in crime and I had carefully thought out what we wanted our table to look like. We were going to write out all these issues that were important to the QPOC community and post them all over our golden table cloth. I set out my books and chapbooks and our zines and was set. My excitement had been building all week.
People started to be let in an hour after I got there and I was all set to discuss our zine. As people would stop by the table and look at the issues we'd written "Health Justice" "Prison Reform" "Post-Racial? Post-Queer? Society. Let's talk about it" "Education Reform" "Diversify your circles", "Be an Ally" etc. - I'd give them the schpiel about our zine written by Queer People of Color and talk to them about some of the articles. Then I'd tell them about my blog and my books...and they'd smile and nod and walk on. I did social experiments. Adding phrases like "Queer People of Color" and taking it off. Maybe it was threatening? Then I put up a sign to elaborate that the issues they were looking at on the front of the golden table cloth were issues that our zine and my blog and books talk about. Still threatening...oh ...ok.
It seemed that people seemed to be turned off by 1.Black and Brown folks on the cover of our zine. 2. My blatant title of my book containing "Afro-Genderqueer". It just really seemed like the sea of white folks that were there just didn't think this information was of interest to them...and maybe that it wasn't particularly for them. I'm not sure if either of these is better than the other. They'd give that all knowing-that-isn't-for-me-though-nod when I started talking about our articles or my blog that spoke about the intersections of race, gender, or sexuality.
I experimented, in fact. I stopped saying the zine was written by queer people of color and vaguely talked about the articles...and didn't make a whole lot of a difference because of who was on the cover. Also, I stopped saying race when I talked about my books, just to see what they'd do. I started saying I wrote about "social justice"...ha! These "radical" white queers were still off-put by my moniker Afro-Genderqueer. OK.
I got frustrated...but for every frustrating interaction there were a few positive ones. Like having Monkeywrench (one of our radical bookstores) say they wanted to put our zines in their store. Yesss!
As I'm thinking through these interactions -- I am disturbed by how many times I thought that maybe we didn't belong at QueerBomb. Maybe this wasn't the space for us. Hmm...how many brown folks also felt like that and so didn't show up to the entire event.
Sigh. Post-Racial....society? Why did my friends and I have to go and stir things up and talk about race? That uncomfortable thing...race. Cuz you know...Austin is colorblind. Ridiculously colorblind. Frustratingly colorblind. So much, in fact, that they can't see the color of the folks living on the eastside in poverty or the issues that disproportionately affect people of color in this oh-so-liberal and progressive town. Those people they can't see...because we're all the same. You know...we're all equal- or something.
It's an age old story for the queer community. For decades queer people of color have been like stepchildren because we keep bringing up pesky issues that affect us like food justice, health care reform, increased violence, unemployment, and you know...all those things that happen to the underprivileged a little more than average. Oh oh...that's a class thing - some radical queers will say. Uh huh. It's not related to our race at aaaall. Why can't we just be quiet? Stop being (or looking?) so angry? Why can't we just get behind gay marriage and all those things that affect middle and upper class white gay males.
But I want to ask THIS question. Why can't they just get behind US and OUR issues? Is it because those are "our problems"? Is it because they are uncomfortable admitting that they exist? During the rally a black, lesbian organizer spoke to these issues and I was SO overjoyed after 2 hours of the issues that concern me being ignored...being invisible to hundreds of white queers....NOW they couldn't ignore this! She had the mic! She had the mic! I yelled in support of this sister who was callin' it like it was. Yea, I didn't get to read my poetry...I didn't get to read from my book like I'd asked to, to get these issues out there- but ...she did it!
Which brings me to another thought.
I know lots of people don't like poetry. I know that a lot of times it doesn't have the same significance. I also realize that people don't like to read. But, take into account the way that words have become a vehicle, an elixir, a cura, a way to keep history and so much more for the voiceless and marginalized. At the Black Transmen Advocacy Conference an elder stated that we had to remember so we wouldn't become obsolete. I feel like that's what has happened in the queer community. Brown folks have been pushed out and now the folks still involved are like the last folks standing. I won't get into my analysis on that here...but I will reiterate that the issues of QPOC which are issues of survival are not necessarily the issues of mainstream queers and this has caused a chasm that I used to try really hard to build a bridge across- and don't get me wrong, I'm still a bridge-builder but I am not going to go fund the project and buy all the supplies AND build it for someone to smile at and light on fire, anyway. That's all I'm saying.
So what would I have liked to have transpired?
I would have liked for some allies to actually have engaged with us in conversation and have picked up the books and looked through them. (And a handful actually did!) I think it's really peculiar how all POC and QPOC are unwittingly and unabashedly forced to know about white/white queer culture but that white folks have the privilege to just turn their head and invisibilize us and our culture. We can be completely disregarded- and that's ok because we're doing brown people stuff. Not many QPOC appropriators, though- which is ok by me. I mean...besides some of the hipsters who'd like to appropriate some of our poverty and places of residence. I'm sure I saw a lot of them the other day.
Sigh. So disappointed.
For the past 2 years there have been QPOC events associated with Queer Bomb and this year...nope. Nada. It shouldn't just be on QPOC to notice who isn't represented at this huge event. Ah, but maybe the committee is colorblind, too. Is it not intriguing that there were probably .005% POC out of 5,000 folks??
Maybe we will just have to keep having separate events. Segregated like so many metropolitan cities here in TX. To each their own. And white queers will say we did this to ourselves. That we didn't want to be a part of it...but I'd assure them there's more to it. From language (not many of us call ourselves queer or even LGBT) to personal interactions and being grossly underrepresented...QPOC aren't showing up for a plethora of reasons. And I guess WE'RE the ones that have to come up with a solution,right? Now tell me what's easier, being an integrationist or having your own event? *Shaking my head. Lots of people of color don't have it in them to fight this fight when they are trying to survive day to day. I mean, we're already fighting assimilation and now we've got to turn around and fight that within our queer communities simultaneously? Fight to correct the assumption that Stonewall was about a bunch of white gay dudes who picked a fight. Fight to be heard when our issues take a back seat to what the white middle class thinks LGBT want and need. Fight for our own expressions of sexuality, or committment to religion, etc. to be acknowledged and respected? Fight racism in a sub-community when we already are fighting it day in and day out in the larger community?
I don't think so, Willis.
So white anti-racist organizers...who are also queer...please get on this. The queer community is really missing out by discounting a large part of the populace. Life ain't Will and Grace or L Word with a few glimpses of Tasha.
And I think I'm done here...