As a mixed race, queer youth worker and head of youth engagement at UK Black Pride, I see on a daily basis the lack of understanding many young people have of the existence of queer black womxn - (a political term and spelling of ‘women’ that's more intersectional, fluid, and inclusive of women, trans women, gender non-conforming and genderfluid people from the black community).
I am often the first queer womxn of colour they've had the opportunity to speak to at length about things like gender, sexuality and identity. It’s not as though I go into the classrooms shouting “I’m queer, ask me questions!!!” But, it doesn’t take them long to ask, “Do you have a boyfriend, do you have a girlfriend, but like, erm, Tanya, what are you tho?” This then leads onto huge discussions around my choice to identify as queer, what is was like ‘coming out’, how did I 'know?’ etc.
Growing up, I had no idea there was a community of queer black womxn, right here in London where I grew up - let alone that I'd become part of the community. Through my work I'm always trying to amplify the voices of queer black womxn, the voices I wish I heard growing up.
So, I asked this amazing group of queer black womxn a question I get asked consistently by the young people I mentor: “What advice would you give to your teenage self?”
"It's OK to like women"
says Liv Little, 24, an editor, writer and producer. Liv identifies as queer, and uses the pronouns she/her
"I would have told my teenage self that it’s OK to like women, and just because it didn’t work out with one girl, it doesn’t mean that it’s not going to work out long term. I’d tell my younger self to ignore the people who said that me liking women was a phase, or one only to be entered into for the male gaze.
"I’d tell my younger (and older) self not to be scared of change. Change isn’t always a bad thing, in fact change can mark the start of something truly wonderful."
"It'll be scary, but worth it"
says Nas, 27, a fashion buying assistant. Nas identifies as queer
"You are who you are, even if you don’t know it! There’s no rush to ‘figure it all out’ because you never will - and believe me, most adults are faking it anyway. It will be the most exciting, scary and confusing journey ever, but it’s gonna be so worth it. You just have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable for a while, until it no longer feels so scary.
"You can’t please everyone, especially not at your own expense. Live your best life without fear of what people think, go to events and places that you want to go to, even if that means you have to go on your own! It’s the only way you’ll become more comfortable in your own skin, and you won’t be on your own forever, trust me. Going to places on your own, you’ll end up meeting new people and these people end up becoming your family.
"Don’t stress so much trying to find out which label, or which scene, you need to fit in. Don't worry that you have to present yourself in a certain way to attract other people - the right people will come your way just by you being you. There are people who will find your cute little insecure self attractive. Oh and don’t worry, you ARE normal, even if you were a late one to the party, at least you’re trying to show up. My last words of wisdom for you my G: Don’t force the ting (you know what I mean), everything in its own time, and get comfortable with change boo, ‘cos that’s the only constant in life!"
"Take your time"
says Akeilah, 28, co-founder and CEO of AZ Magazine. Akeilah identifies as a black lesbian
"Young Kei, baby girl. Take your time. Get to know yourself, love yourself and put yourself first. You don’t have to rush into anything, you are still young.
"Enjoy it, engulf yourself in your youth. Adulthood isn’t as fun as you would think lol, you have to pay bills; bills are not fun.
"Be you, be raw, be authentic and embrace all that your fluffy tomboyish self has to offer. PS. hangovers are a thing. They will come for you!!!!"
"It’ll be confusing and painful at times, but also a beautiful journey"
says Paula Akpan, 24, a communications coordinator and founding director at Black Girl Fest. Paula identifies as queer
"When I came into my queerness, I struggled to believe that there was a space for me because lots of LGBTQ+ movements and initiatives often cater to white, gay men. I often felt isolated and unattractive, particularly when going to very white gay nights (we’ve all been there), and was hyperaware that as a black woman, I don’t fit cleanly into what is considered ‘femme’ or ‘butch’. What happens when you can be both and neither?
"I would tell the younger me to hold on, there are communities out there where you don’t feel like you have to explain or perform your queerness; there are communities where other black queer people will know understand how your sexuality and your race intersect with one another. I would tell younger me to be excited because you’re unearthing another part of your identity. It’ll be confusing and painful at times, but also a beautiful journey."
"Don't be ashamed"
says Tobi Kyeremateng, 23, a theatre producer. Tobi identifies as bisexual
"There aren't any rules to this. There isn't a manual or handbook to tell you how to be yourself.
"Embrace the process of taking the time to learn about yourself, and surround yourself with people that energise you, and don't make you feel ashamed of who you are."
"You gotta love YOU first"
babirye bukilwa, 26, an actor, poet, writer and co founder of Sistren. babirye uses the pronouns she/her
"I would say, 'babirye, you gotta love you before you can even attempt to love anything or anybody else'. You are perfectly imperfect, and it's going to get a lot harder before it gets better.
"It's never a destination, and you will be a mess and a masterpiece for the rest of your life. Your body is not a temple because you can burn them down. Bae is gonna wanna be bodyguard so (As Audre Lorde said) just, 'Be deliberate and afraid of nothing.'"
"Embrace the things that make you different"
says Tia Simon-Campbell, 26, and Naeem Davis, 28, founders of BBZ. Tia identifies as queer and uses the pronouns she/her. Naeem identifies as 2 Spirit and uses the pronouns they/them
Naeem, "Embrace the things that make you different"
Tia, "Listen to your gut instincts, it's your ancestors looking out for you."
"Explore your sexuality while you're young"
says Remi, 25, a radio presenter and producer. Remi identifies as free
"Being 6ft tall and having size 11 feet is something that you can’t control, so love everything that comes with it; including the attention. Love yourself first, and as confusing as that may sound now, it is SO important for your mental and physical growth. Loving yourself means being firm in the decisions you make, doing what YOU want to do; even if you can’t see the end result right away.
"Be honest with yourself and don’t bury yourself in your worries. Speak up, face your worries and move on. Because trust me unless you do, the worries won’t go away. Speak up sooner rather than later about your sexuality, explore it while you're young, because it can be harder as you get older.
"Family is for life; you can’t change them but you can learn from them – but remember that their mistakes are not yours. And lastly Remi, say YES to everything (but be sensible of course)."
"You don't have to prove yourself to anyone"
says Bernice Mulenga, 21, a photographer and creative director. Berniece identifies as a queer womxn
"Keep going. All those days of sitting inside painting, editing, writing and creating away will grow into its own form of work - and you'll love it. You are going to have shit moments, like your 16th birthday where friends let you down. But it's OK because you'll soon find your tribe, and grow to love birthdays again.
"Also good on you for not falling victim to people in your life trying to pressure you into changing your appearance and mindset. You don't have to prove yourself to anyone, and keep affirming that confidence in yourself, even if it scares people. You'll fall in love with yourself even more. You'll grow to be in a community filled with like-minded individuals who value you as a being, and accept you as you are. [They'll] fill you up with so much warmth, you'll forget what you felt like before they all entered your life.
"I just want to assure you that you got this."