And if you haven’t tuned in, check out this year’s M4BL Future of Black Love campaign on our socials and website. Black love requires reimagining life as we know it, and a revolutionary transformation of the beliefs, norms, and systems that reject our humanity. The future of Black love requires a society grounded in trust, collective care, and abundance that prioritizes the dignity and power of Black people. We’ve been celebrating all month long with an offering of customizable Black love cards designed by illustrator and M4BL member Alexis Nicole Neely. Get into it!
For this edition of The Tea, we wanted to continue to combine our tradition of honoring Black futures with a celebration of love. Though V Day can feel commercialized and corny sometimes (no shade if you observe it—read on), we love love and any opportunity to spread it, talk about it, unpack it, feel it, and celebrate it. Love is the foundation of Black queer liberation, and in this issue, we want to give a snapshot of what that means for many of us. We specifically chose not to focus on romantic love and partnership. Romance culture can often make us feel like we aren’t enough if we don’t have that specific type of love in our lives. Some of us are uncoupled, single, asexual, or aromantic, and not looking for romantic partners—and it’s all valid and doesn’t make us less valuable.
So, in this issue, we are offering tips on how to harness love for yourself, acknowledging the important role of Black queer visual activists in expanding our understanding of self-love and affirmation and talking about how gathering our chosen family is an act of radical love.
Thanks so much for reading!
For those of us who are not visually impaired or blind, seeing ourselves reflected through imagery is so powerful. Portraits, in particular, allow us to connect deeply with the person being photographed. A specific kind of vulnerability is exposed when it comes to an up-close image of another person. This vulnerability allows for connection, opening space in us (the viewer) to feel reflected and affirmed by the image. Portraits may also give viewers a glimpse into someone else’s life. The backdrop may reveal small truths (or assumptions) about the person’s life. Seeing someone Black and queer existing in their own life gives us hope and ultimately helps us feel less alone in the world.
If you’ve ever had a portrait taken, you also realize how much it matters who is behind the lens taking the photo. As a Black queer or trans person, being captured on film by another Black queer or trans person is revolutionary. What happens for folks in front of the camera is impacted heavily by how safe they feel in the environment and how willing they are to be vulnerable and exposed. Many folks in our communities love being seen when we feel safe and understood. Opportunities to be seen or represented have become more prevalent and accessible in the mainstream. We are tired of being “subjects” of the white gaze. There is a lack of reverence and inherent disrespect when we are seen as “subjects” or “objects” and not participants in the process. Documenting ourselves is vital to preserving the truth of our histories. Thus, we are the best archivists of our lives.
Tiph Browne, a Black queer freelance photographer who has been a staple in documenting Black queer culture in NYC and beyond for years, reflects, “I take photos because I want to document Black queer and trans joy. I think it’s important for us to be the authors of our own stories, and those stories are more than just racism, transphobia, and pain. I don’t want us to look back in history and only see stories of how we struggled against homophobia and transphobia; there should be a well-rounded representation of what this existence is really like for us.”
South African artist and visual activist Zanele Muholi talks in depth about how her “participants” are people in close community with her (hear her speak about it in the video below). She captures folks in their homes, where they hang out, and among loved ones. Thus, her book Faces and Phases (2010) is a beautiful and accurate representation of lesbians and queer folks in South Africa.
We are all on our own journeys when it comes to loving ourselves. For lots of us, feelings toward ourselves that encompass love, acceptance, and affirmation are fleeting and oscillating. In a world that offers such limitations on how we decide who is beautiful and deserving of love and affirmation, pushing back on those false narratives happens by creating imagery of ourselves that is reflective of the real world and necessary for our survival. When we love who we are, we feel liberated and can care for ourselves and our community better. Viewing images that help us connect with ourselves and the people we see ourselves in allows us to recognize how beautiful and powerful we are. We are very grateful to the visual activists and photographers who dedicate their life’s work to helping us all see our true selves.
Having practices that speak to you and make you feel good is essential to living your best life. Take stock of the things you do that make you feel cared for, held up, vibrant, rested, and filled with love for yourself. Don’t rely on other folks’ practices. Don’t choose rituals that aren’t feasible enough, or you’ll be less likely to prioritize them. Some of our favorite traditions for rest and recovery are: taking morning baths, smoking a joint, watching TV, and meditating on the subway.
It’s easy to feel like we don’t contribute anything unique to the world, especially in the age of social media, when we have access to many people’s lives and experiences and fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to others. Remember: You are the only person on the planet with your life experiences. That is what makes you so valuable to the world. Don’t be afraid to share your experiences and opinions and take up space in all walks of life. Of course, be mindful of your safety, but don’t let the fear of being judged or not good enough determine how you present yourself to the world. We need you, and you have so much to offer!
Finding possibility models is everything! It helps to have real-world examples to inspire you when you visualize or manifest new possibilities of self-expression in your life. If you’re able to, make contact with the folks you admire. Tell them how much you look up to them. Affirmation is always appreciated. Ask them for their mentorship or tips on how they got to where they are.
Unplug and tap into what you want in life. Take stock of what makes you truly happy. What makes you feel fulfilled? What are you passionate about? We don’t always get affirmation for the things we desire. Many of us hold shame and fear, denying ourselves of the things that make us happy because we worry that we’ll be judged. The first step is exploring and experimenting to understand what you need to be balanced. Then, dive right in!
The foothold of capitalism creates an illusion that showing up for yourself and others is less important than working at your job and climbing economic and social ladders. Studies show that your relationship with yourself and the people in your life are the key to fulfillment. The linked Harvard study states, “Close relationships, more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives.” Pour into yourself and your beloved community, and watch how much your life blooms!
We are born into a world of expectations. From parents and teachers to mass media and social norms, our life pathways can often seem like they’ve already been decided before we even get the chance to choose. Whether it’s getting a gender-affirming surgery, starting your own business, living off the grid, or working remotely to travel the world, you are in control of your destiny. Set goals that center the life you want to design for yourself and work a little each day to achieve them. You got this, fam!
Black families have been an anchor in carrying on our traditions and culture, passing down and holding on to our resources, and feeling connected to the larger Black community. Our families are dynamic and different from the nuclear family model, which is encouraged by the capitalist class to increase birth rates, create more workers, and reify Christian values. We have shaped and expanded the meaning of family—which is a revolutionary practice. From “play cousins” to folks “taking in” children whose parents need support, we have continually redefined family. For Black queer and trans folks, the further “queering” of the concept of family has blossomed into something even more beautiful.
For Black queer folks, chosen family is a radical source of joy and belonging—and in many cases, a matter of our survival. According to writer Shannon Halliwell, many Black queer and trans folks have “felt that they could not openly express their sexuality and gender identity within their biological families.” In ballroom culture, we have legendary “houses” where we live and protect each other, especially our young queer communities experiencing homelessness at alarming rates. “Houses serve as many ball participants’ only source of family,” Halliwell writes. Creating these spaces where we feel seen, safe, and supported is so important, especially when we don’t have that privilege among blood relatives, since many of us are ostracized from the families we are born into, cast out from the communities we are raised in, or not supported wholeheartedly.
Watch this video to learn more about how “Ballroom culture is about so much more than voguing — For over 100 years, ballroom culture has revolutionized the meaning of family — and these days, it’s still as important as ever.” Source: Mic /Interviews and narration by Darnell Moore
Unfortunately, we also face the narrative that Black queer and trans folks are threatening traditional Black family ideologies. The value placed on Black cishet family structures doesn’t serve us and isn’t a true reflection of what makes Black families beautiful. Our hope for queer and trans Black futures is that we live in a world that recognizes the power and beauty of our chosen families and uses our dedication to creating these spaces as an inspiration and model for the larger community.
One of our faves to read this time of year. “Romantic, bold, and erotic, Love Poems expresses notions of love in ways that are delightfully unexpected.” Check it out at your local bookstore or library!
“A Flint native who’s become a staple of Detroit’s music scene, Tunde Olaniran knows his way around hyphens: A singer-rapper-activist-choreographer-producer-you-name-it, he presides over a bighearted sound and style that revolve around spirited statements of affirmation, a sprawling artistic palette and the pursuit of boldness in every sense of the word.” —NPR, First Listen.
There are so many self-love anthems on this record! Available to stream everywhere, or purchase a beautiful vinyl here.
“This touching Kenyan drama follows two young women, Kena and Ziki, as they navigate their love for one another in a country where being LGBTQI+ is illegal. Rafiki is the first Kenyan film screened at Cannes Film Festival and was initially banned in its own country.”
Watch the official trailer here.