As we reflect and take stock of how much we’ve been through as a community, we are also celebrating our wins – like finally welcoming home Brittney Griner this past week and the record number of LGBTQ candidates recently elected. However, there were also some really dangerous losses—most notably, the “architect of anti-trans policies” getting reelected as Texas’s governor. We still face challenges like rampant anti-trans rhetoric and legislation and losing more of our beloved queer and trans siblings to violence. In facing these obstacles, we hope this issue serves as a reminder that we have so much to celebrate.
For this edition of The Tea, we are highlighting some of our favorite pieces of the year. We hope you revisit a piece you loved, connect with the story of another Black queer or trans person, and feel celebrated and affirmed in your existence!
Thanks so much for reading!
As an autistic, Black & Indigenous, queer femme, I’m told that the world has access to all of me, all of the time—access to my smile and my interest when I’m walking down the street to get home, access to my free labor when large brands ask me to “collaborate” with them in exchange for “promotion,” access to my culture when white people decide to wear Native ceremonial headpieces for Halloween, access to my mental energy and expectations of my patience when I’m expected to “just adjust” or “be less sensitive” when a restaurant is blasting music and has just turned on strobe lights.
In the kink space, though, there are boundaries and rules for how everyone is expected to engage. Scenes are constructed by both the top and the bottom that involve a consensual plan for play. There’s a community that allows space for submission, dominance, make-believe, masochism, sadism, aggression, crying, laughing, intensity, tenderness, stillness, fulfillment, care, meditation—all within the realms of consent and clarity. And it feels freeing. Kink affirms my agency over my body—that no one has access to me, my identity, or my energy without my explicit permission. In a world where I have to fight for that every single day, kink reminds me that I’m in complete control. The careful balance between play and pain I engage in through the practice of BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism, and masochism) silences the movement of my overactive, overanxious mind.
When I first started my kink journey around eight years ago, it was difficult to find images of queer, Black, disabled and differently abled, fat, gender-fluid bodies in BDSM. And when I did, oftentimes it looked like the person had been stripped of their power rather than empowered by their desires. So, I knew that I had to create the imagery I wanted to see and dig deeper to find the communities I knew were out there. Now that I’ve found a broader kink community (shout-outs to @LiquidandLeather, @VenusCuffs, @urdomsfavedom, @cleogirl2525, @troyorleans, @Obsidian_LA, @kolbybrianne, @therealkingnoire, @unboundbabe, @blackwolfleather, and more!) I’ve also learned how deeply kink is rooted in the Black community in particular (major gratitude to Jill Carter + Vi Johnson [who also founded the Carter/Johnson Leather Library @cj_library], Mistress Mir, Jewell Gomez, Sigrid from Lesbian Sex Mafia, and many others). Kinky Black leatherdykes, trans and nonbinary folks, and gay men have been paving the way for our sexually expressive, perverse selves for decades!
Kink in its nature is a sexual practice, and I don’t want to minimize or trivialize that. But in this sexual practice, which has deep history throughout our communities—through naming my desires, claiming agency of my body and what I do or don’t want to happen to it, engaging with play outside of the roles I feel obligated to have in day-to-day life, and pushing my body and mind to the limits of what I think is possible or “allowed”—I’ve experienced kink and BDSM to also provide a foundation for healing ancestral trauma situated in respectability, abuse, toxic gender roles, self-policing, and more.
The possibilities for us are endless. Let’s get free, y’all.
Sara Elise is a Black & Indigenous, queer, autistic femme creative splitting her time between Brooklyn and upstate, NY.
She is a pleasure doula; the co-founder and designer of Apogeo Collective, a hospitality experience centering QTPOC; and the founder of Harvest & Revel, an event catering + design company. She is currently working on her forthcoming book with Harper Collins (Amistad Books), entitled A Recipe For More.
With all of her work, she aims to challenge our collective reality by first reimagining and then creating alternative systems and spaces (both external and internal) for BIPOC and LGBTQIA2S+ folks to thrive.
She spends much of her thoughtspace contemplating pleasure, pain, healing, destruction, and growth—and how inextricably those concepts are linked. To that end, Sara Elise has deep interests in BDSM, ritualization, relationship dynamics, and the development of personal awareness and well-being. You can follow her Instagram @saraelise333.
The fight for reproductive justice, which SisterSong Women of Color Collective defines as “the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities,” has been grueling and devastating. From states imposing abortion bans and criminalizing pregnant people and their supporters who take matters into their own hands to denying folks full access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and abortion care—the tactics have been vicious.
Denying access to safe, legal abortion is part of a long history of reproductive control that the state has enacted against Black women, girls, and TGNCIQ people. History teaches us that the war on Black cis women and girls and TGNCIQ folks serves larger structures of power and domination, including colonialism, chattel slavery, racial capitalism, cisheterosexism, and ableism.
Black feminists have exposed how this war has been promoted and justified through persistent narratives framing Black cis women and girls and queer and trans people as inherently inhuman. Anti-choice narratives rely not only on patriarchy but also on racism, misogynoir, transphobia, and homophobia to do their work.
Before this iteration of the war on reproductive justice was waged, we were already in an uphill battle for holistic care for TGNCIQ folks. “All people capable of becoming pregnant—which may include queer cis women, transmasculine people (intersex, gender-expansive, gender non-conforming) and nonbinary people—have a need for full-spectrum pregnancy, family planning, and abortion care.”*
We have multitudes of experiences, perceptions, needs, and barriers that prevent us from receiving the care we need and deserve. According to the Guttmacher Institute, “a recent study suggests that queer and trans people who can get pregnant are more likely than [cishet people] to have an unintended pregnancy, a pregnancy when younger than 20 years old, or an abortion—a finding that suggest structural barriers to contraceptive care and a need for TGNCIQ-inclusive comprehensive sex education [and resources].”
Our Vision for Black Lives calls for full access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care and the elimination of discriminatory barriers to health care for all people. We are also committed to amplifying and supporting organizations that have been fighting this fight. SisterSong, Black Feminist Future, and New Voices for Reproductive Justice are some of the incredible organizations continuing to lead the work.
I am a boi who bleeds. This is a partial articulation. I am fire that bleeds. Earth that bleeds. I am a spitting split in the cosmos dripping myself onto myself from myself forever.
The words female and male are just that: Words. Concepts that were decided; roles that were formed based on observation then survival then ultimately by power. But they are not, nor have they ever been, rules. Let’s make this a matter of origin. As people like to do. This is a tale of life cycles after all. Before the stories, the societies, the mythologies, the rules, the binaries, there was nature.
I am a collection of consciousness in a constant state of knitting my fibers and fluids together as an ecstatic dance of existence! Everyone is womb all the time because we are creating ourselves in every moment.
Nature does not see itself as male and female. We projected our perceptions. Nature does not see gender, nature seeks balance and forms their shapes and life by that need alone. Some bodies give birth, some bodies spit acid, some bodies wear bright plumage, some bodies shed skin in slinking trails, some bodies have antlers, some bodies can change between being able to be pregnant and being able to impregnate depending on the environment. These are beings with functions that have adapted to suit their needs and desires to ultimately fit within their larger ecosystem. It is a call and response. A uterus is just an organ. An egg is just a vessel. The body that holds these is just a body and a being that decides one’s own role and identity.
I am moon and I move through myself as reflection of light. I refract in strangers’ eyes. They may not know but I know, even when my body floods the tides I am only myself in my own way, in my own time.
ALL bodies on earth – humanoid, animal, plant, fungus, etc. – are affected by collectively connected forces, like seasons, age, hormones and other chemical influences. To experience cycles is to experience life. These take many forms from emotional to environmental, and there are physical cycles like menstruation. For some trans and nonbinary people this particular cycle can be one of frustration and pain. One associated with a forced identity, one assigned at birth. This can be through societal training and sometimes even physical means through surgery and hormones given to intersex children without consent. It’s a cycle that can hold trauma. I am just one agender, black boi who bleeds. But if you want to, I would ask you to return to nature. This is a rebirth. A new cycle. Our origins are unlabeled and frankly, queer.
I am the deep nutrition. Nothing I am can be scraped away or lost. People ask, “Do you make bodies?” and I say, “Oh yes, everyday, look at me!” My mouth opens in red and I sing exaltations to my form.
Can we allow ourselves a moment to shed society from all our organs, skin, breath, nails, hair, thoughts, bones? What if male and female can be just words – to throw away or reimagine? The blood becomes our blood, our story, one function of ourselves that we can choose what to do with and has no say over how we identify. How do you want to fit in the ecosystem? If we can imagine our bodies maybe just for a moment without any archaic societal organization, then isn’t all that’s left just our love for it? Just a joy of existence? Just a form with every and any possibility? Can we decide who we are from this raw place? Whoever you are, however you live and identify and adapt your form, we invite you to see yourself and make your decisions from the place of origin, from nature.
I am an infinite release of swirling experience, fracturing like kaleidoscopes into every direction realizing wherever I look I see myself and we are beautiful. We are forever.
Pronouns: he/him Age: 21
Tell us about yourself!
I am an indie folk artist based in Miami, FL! I use my music to bring the Trans community in Miami together. Currently, I am working on a zine in tandem with my second album, which includes interviews with Black, masculine-identified people about finding their own definitions of masculinity.
Listen to Mikah’s music here!
What positive impact are you making in the community?
As I create my own art, I strive to create in a way that brings others together. The zine that I’m currently putting together (titled “Leonidas” after a track on my album) is a tribute to Black queer and trans masculinity. The goal of the project is to bring our true stories into the hands of people who otherwise may not seek out such stories, or have any awareness of them. In addition, as the zine is being created, I believe that there has already been a huge impact behind the scenes. I am actively bringing together a group of Black, trans and queer artists, which has helped to create a small community in my city. I’m hoping that with the release of the zine, the network will only grow larger. I would love for other folks to be able to see themselves, and to feel seen, with the sharing of this project.
What inspired you to want to be an artist and community organizer?
Creating has always been my most important connection to living. When I was a kid, my art came very naturally to me, and as I’ve grown older (as it goes), I have had to learn to keep that connection strong. Creating while also navigating the complexities of early, Black, trans adulthood is a lifeline, an intense passion, and a choice that I have to make every day.
I try not to take the term “community organizer” lightly. It’s a role that I aspire to, and they are big shoes to fill. I hope that each project I create is more vast, more inclusive, and simultaneously more thoughtful of the voices I choose to highlight, than its predecessors. I know what it is like to feel alone, because I have lived much of my life that way. Now, I feel immensely proud of my transness, Blackness, the mental health challenges I’ve overcome, and of my artistry, and there is still a long way to go, both for me and for my communities. It’s funny and sad how there can be so many of us who feel alone at the same time. The question for myself is, how can I play a role in changing that? Logically, I know that any movement starts within. I can’t help others if I don’t nurture myself. My internal movement involves singing and writing my experiences. I suppose my hope is that the art can be a sort of ripple that moves others—I want to inspire, to uplift ,to raise questions, and I want for people like me to feel seen and heard. Connection is what I’ve always wanted; I think it’s what we all want.
What is your hope for the future of Black folks?
I hope for the kind of love that invites and honors all experiences of gender-divergence and sexuality. As Black people, we’ve been taught to zoom into our differences, and separate based on them. It’s such an ironic shame to watch the work of oppressors replicate itself within us, and it is also not an accident. Queerness and transness are sacred, Blackness is sacred, and they all exist at once! It’s really important that we examine our internalized ideals of what it means to be Black. Unity is more important, and more of an act of resistance in this movement, than ever.
Is there any message or call to action that you’d like to share with the readers? How can folks best support your work?
My message is simply that grace and positivity and love extend like wildfire among black folks. It becomes so clear once you give those things to yourself and to those who are close to you!
The best way to support me right now is to follow my social media and stream or share my music. I am @mikahsmanyblues on Instagram, and Mikah Amani on all streaming platforms. The Hooded Crow, my debut album, is out everywhere!
Who are some amazing folks in the TGNCIQ community that you’d like to see featured in The Tea? Living or Ancestors. Well-known or Unsung.
Nominate them here.
Bars and nightclubs have always been an integral space for Black queer and trans people to gather, find community that helps us feel affirmed in ourselves, meet lovers, and make lifelong friends. Dance floors are sacred spaces for us. In a world that tries to deny our freedoms consistently, these spaces are where we channel the most beautiful parts of ourselves. We get free on the dance floor, wear what we want, and express the most creative and beautiful parts of ourselves without shame. There is dignity in this kind of freedom.
Jewel’s Catch One was one of the longest-running queer nightlife spaces in history (open for more than 40 years). The bar was founded by Jewel Thais-Williams in Los Angeles and was also one of the first Black disco bars in the United States. Jewel was motivated to open the space after frequently being discriminated against by nightclubs in LA for being a Black lesbian. At that time, Black queer and trans folks were often denied entry into spaces, had to endure prejudice and racism in majority-white spaces, or were subject to being raided by police.
In the LA Times, Jewel quoted, “there was discrimination against blacks and lesbians and gays throughout [Los Angeles]. There was a restriction on same-sex dancing; women couldn’t attend bars unless they owned it. The police were arresting people for anything remotely homosexual. We had them coming in with guns pretending to be looking for someone in a white T-shirt just so they could walk around. It didn’t stop until the AIDS crisis became such that they were afraid to come in. . . . But it never stopped them from parking outside.”
Due to systemic racism and homophobia, opening and sustaining a Black, queer-owned space over the years was met with many challenges. However, Jewel persevered and maintained the space for decades. Many coined Jewel’s Catch One as the Studio 54 of the West Coast, except instead of being hyper-exclusive, everyone from all walks of life was welcome—particularly, Black queer folks, who were being heavily impacted by the AIDS epidemic were the majority of Jewel’s patrons, and rarely had any other places to party.
The club was known for having amazing DJs; incredible fashion; packed dance floors; legendary performances (like Sylvester!); and eventually, celebrity appearances by folks like Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, Luther Vandross, and so many others. In 2015, Array Films acquired the documentary (directed by C. Fitz) about Jewel’s Catch One. “The film includes interviews with Thais-Williams and Jenifer Lewis, Sharon Stone, Evelyn ‘Champagne’ King, Madonna, Bonnie Pointer, Thelma Houston, Sandra Bernhard, Thea Austin, Rep. Maxine Waters, and others.” The film pays homage to the space and legacy while following Jewel’s journey in opening up a nonprofit health clinic next door to the club.
Check out the trailer below:
After nearly closing in 2015, Jewel’s Catch One was purchased and then reopened under new management, who briefly changed the name to The Union. It has since gone back to being named Catch One, to pay homage to its origin.
We are eternally grateful for your readership and participation in The Tea! We look forward to continuing to put out this newsletter in 2023. Our goal is to keep making this a resource and platform for the Black queer and trans community. If you enjoy being a subscriber, please take a moment to share our newsletter with your beloved community. Folks can click this link to subscribe! Our first issue of 2023 will land in your inbox just in time for Black Futures Month.
Until then, take good care.