Loving the Women Who Look Like Me: Queer Black Women in Love

When I first came out to myself two years ago, I didn’t know how to love the women who looked like me. I barely knew how to accept my same gender desires, but at least the TV shows, movies, and books that lauded ivory-skinned beauties with hair that grows and flows down taught me how to lust after white women. But, loving, lusting after, dating, fucking, playing with, and appreciating the women with dark(er) skin, and kinky hair (or braids, or perms, or weaves), who were taught, like me, that their curves and edges were undesirable proved a mystery to me. Our histories, victories, pain and truths often mirrored one another’s; we had learned at least to be sistahs in solidarity. However, it sometimes hurt so much just to love myself that I wasn’t sure it was possible for Black women to actively love each other. Romantically. With all the butterfly feelsies. For every Black woman who turned my world upside down, and then subsequently turned it right side up, I would wonder if our hearts had enough room for the beauty and ugliness — the joys and sorrows — of the other’s Black womanhood.

A few days ago, I engaged in a conversation with a group of women of color who were discussing Angel Haze’s relationship with Ireland Baldwin. While most of the women were happy for Angel Haze, a lot of them were disappointed to see yet another queer Black woman dating a white person. The problem wasn’t that dating white people is wrong or inherently a negative experience for women of color; the problem wasn’t even that Alec Baldwin has said some nasty homophobic and anti-Black comments because the sins of the father don’t necessarily make Ireland Baldwin a bad person. What saddened these women was that the prevalence of images of women of color dating white women feeds a fear that queer relationships are only viable or valuable when at least one partner is white. I consider it a win whenever a Black woman, or any woman of color, finds herself in a loving and/or healthy relationship of any kind. Haze and Baldwin appear to have a lovely dynamic, and I hardly believe that Black women should date only Black women out of some obligation to visibility efforts. But, from the conversations I have been having, it appears that many of us Black women (and perhaps, more generally, women of color) are starving to see healthy and happy depictions of our love for each other.

Angel Haze and Ireland Baldwin being all cute and shit via ElixHer

Angel Haze and Ireland Baldwin being all cute and shit
via ElixHer

Two years after I first began my coming out journey, I’m still not quite sure how to love the women who look like me. I don’t blame women like Haze, Wanda Sykes, or Robin Roberts for finding companionship in white women. Likewise, I don’t believe Raven Symone and Brittney Griner are better people for having been in relationships with other Black women; however, they do provide public models for young, queer Black women like me that Black women are not society’s untouchables, or unable to grasp on to one another in love and intimacy. But beyond appreciating the celebrities who do engage in partnerships with other Black women, the problem remains that the media doesn’t create images of Black women in love. Why is it so hard to find images of these Black women who cling to me and to each other in times of trouble, who stan so hard for one another’s uplift and success, and who see paradise in the dark bodies the rest of the world deems a battleground, in happy relationships?

I started watching web series like Between Women and Studville TV when I realized that one of the hardest parts about accepting my sexual orientation was that I literally did not believe that Black women were lesbians, bisexuals, pansexuals, asexuals or queer. These web series offered me a chance to see a community I could theoretically belong to (and not just because I shipped myself with the cast of the shows). At the same time, however, these shows provided me with some of the most dangerous models of relationships. The series uncritically demonized studs and masculine of center women as violent, misogynistic, and physically/emotionally abusive, in the case of Between Women, and vilified femmes and feminine of center women as “crazy,” manipulative, and physically/emotionally abusive, in the case of Studville TV. And, neither show really imagined Black female, romantic relationships outside of the stud-femme dichotomy (for the majority of the couples presented). As I hungrily perused and consumed queer Black female web series (forget about even finding many shows about queer Black women on cable television), I found these stereotypes duplicated and reproduced en masse. Furthermore, in the few cable television depictions, healthy representations of Black women in love included the L Word’s biracial Bette in love with a white woman, Glee’s afro-Latina Santana in love with a white woman (and eventually a white Latina woman), and The Foster’s biracial Lena in love with… a white woman. So, the media — even media produced by queer Black women — pathologizes queer, Black, female couples or casts us as happiest with white or white-passing women.

BWStill1

Even the cast of Between Women is not amused by these femme/stud stereotypes
via AfterEllen

Writer bell hooks explains in We Real Cool the lack of Black love represented in the media and even in the way our society conceptualizes love. She clarifies:

“We do not commonly hear about the black males and females who love each other. We do not hear how they manage to find their way to love when the odds are so stacked against them. We do not hear the ways they establish functional caring black families. The collective silence in our culture about healthy black male and female relationships damages us. It keeps our minds and hearts fixed on all that is not working. It keeps from us the knowledge of what we must do to make relationships work.”

Similarly, we do not hear often about the Black women who find one another in love and tenderness, who build home and families together, or who at least engage in respectful, caring relationships with one another. People should love who they love, and in no way am I policing or condemning interracial relationships. However, I want to see Black possibility. I want to see stories of Black women with happy endings that entwine with my own realities and fantasies. I want to see us Black women no longer the Unmentionables or Untouchables, unafraid of the power and beauty of us loving one another.

Profile photo of Helen

Helen McDonald is a 20-something college student living off of bad cooking, social justice and a lil snark. She also discusses the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality on her personal blog revolutionaryrainbows.tumblr.com and is a contributing writer at ElixHer.com

Helen has written 35 articles for us.

20 Comments

  1. Thumb up 14

    Please log in to vote

    “People should love who they love, and in no way am I policing or condemning interracial relationships. However, I want to see Black possibility. I want to see stories of Black women with happy endings that entwine with my own realities and fantasies. I want to see us Black women no longer the Unmentionables or Untouchables, unafraid of the power and beauty of us loving one another”

    Ugh, this whole thing resonated with me so much, just yes. Black love is revolutionary mannnnn

  2. Thumb up 12

    Please log in to vote

    Thank you for this so much. Just finished my undergrad career and dated a variety if ladies. I definitely experienced some negativity when dating other QPOC and this strange ‘acceptance’ when dating non-QPOC.Looking back, the whole situation is f—ed up because it should be no ones concern WHO I date

    I can go on about this all day, lovely article!

  3. Thumb up 19

    Please log in to vote

    This struck a cord with me (although I know the way Asian women are devalued in our culture is different from the way Black women are devalued). But I grew up with a very disconnected relationship with my cultural history I think for the same reason… I didn’t HAVE a model for realizing that other Asian girls could be queer. I remember in high school being hopelessly ashamed of having a crush on another Asian girl who HAD TO BE straight. I never considered any other possibilities.

    Years later, I watched Saving Face (a movie about the lesbian relationship between two Chinese-American women) and it cannot be emphasized how much this shifted my brain. Just SEEING it. I hadn’t even realized I’d been waiting my whole life to see this depicted.

    But you know, I think more than that… Growing up all the (out) queer people I knew were white, both real and fictional. In the past year I’ve found a lot of bloggers who are queer Black women, not “professional” bloggers, just people on Tumblr like me who post both about social issues and their paragraphs-long love of fictional characters. Many of these women are smart and funny and intensely unapologetic about their hatred for the way WOC are cut down, in real life and in fiction, and unapologetic for their desire to SHIP ALL THE LADIES and see more queer women, everywhere. These women and their unapologetic self-love helped me love myself too. And THEM. Who couldn’t love these people? I can’t deal with a popular culture which tries to tell you that you can’t love women who look like you. Or people who say representation isn’t important. IT IS. It absolutely is. Queer Black women deserve to see healthy depictions of Black women loving other Black women. EVERYONE should see this.

  4. Thumb up 9

    Please log in to vote

    Thank you so much for writing this article and for pointing out the problems with misogyny, abuse, etc with Between Women and Studville TV. I came across the former in my quest to learn what it means to be black and gay, and was so very upset by what I found. It’s bad enough that black people continue to be portrayed as violent, dangerous, abusive, trying to be thugs etc. by mainstream media we seriously don’t need to see that same bs reproduced by shows that are supposed to be for us and by us. I’ve even spoken to people to see if they knew of any shows, movies, webseries, whatever featuring black queer women and was pointed back to Between Women and Studville. It was sad to see how easily the violence and abuse was overlooked by the people who recommended those shows to me. Thank you so much for confirming that I’m not the only one who sees that as a major problem with those series!

    Also this: “Why is it so hard to find images of these Black women who cling to me and to each other in times of trouble, who stan so hard for one another’s uplift and success, and who see paradise in the dark bodies the rest of the world deems a battleground, in happy relationships?” Everything about that.

  5. Thumb up 3

    Please log in to vote

    when i was a teen the first time i watched an episode of queer as folk i was struck by how uncomfortable it made me to watch queer intimacy, sex and love. i had so much internalized discomfort that all i could see was the ugliness that i “knew” others saw if i were kissing a girl. thankfully i grew up and my discomfort gave way to overwhelming love, approval and thirst for all things gay/lesbian/queer. i mean, by the time the l word came around, i couldn’t rewatch every single episode fast enough. i wasn’t even capable of questioning whether all forms of queer life were being told as best as they could have. then i watched i think its my brothers keeper? and my discomfort was back but this time it was black queer love that had me looking over my shoulder and fidgeting in my seat. thankfully I’ve grown out of that too. i couldn’t make it through an episode of studville tv because of… i couldn’t take its misogyny and between women was i little bit better but not by much, the violence was something i didn’t like. but there are shows that you can binge on that make up for it. entangled with you is my favorite, the lesbian couple are black and latina qwoc woot!! woot!! the peculiar kind, stuff is out there to watch and support, anyway, long story short i really agree and understand where your coming from

  6. Thumb up 4

    Please log in to vote

    Thank you so, so much for writing this. Also, for all AS people, if you know about current or future efforts to tell and share more stories “about the Black women who find one another in love and tenderness, who build home and families together, or who at least engage in respectful, caring relationships with one another,” let’s support those (Elixher, BlackOUT Magazine others?).

  7. Thumb up 5

    Please log in to vote

    Ahh this is so important, thank you for writing this. I have been stuck in a widening gyre of paranoia about this and I’m glad I’m not the only one. It started off as simply noticing I have never dated or been intimate with a black woman. Then it became a challenge. And then it became a panic when I realized I was losing the challenge. I started wondering if something was wrong with me. Is it me? Did my all-white surroundings do it? Is it society? All sorts of questions, some so silly. Do I even know how to talk to black women? I mean, I can talk to anyone, but can I “talk” to the sistahs? I’ve started to feel guilt for every white woman I find attractive, more anxious and less relieved at every QPOC event I’ve been at. Just a mess. I want to believe it is not that big of a deal–that the mole hill is not the mountain I’ve made it in my head, just coincidence–but like you, when I look at the media for answers (because this is always smart) all I see is a repeat of the same trend. Is something in the water? I want to love a black woman, because I haven’t and I think it’s important, and I don’t want my romantic life riddled with politics, but damn it….

  8. Thumb up 3

    Please log in to vote

    Loved this article! I’ve been to countless dating websites where black lesbians will flat out post that they are not attracted to black women. That always made me sad. No one has mentioned that Angel Haze doesn’t even consider herself black. Interviews that I’ve read she’s always referred to herself as a Native American. Which is troubling in itself.

  9. Thumb up 6

    Please log in to vote

    “However, it sometimes hurt so much just to love myself that I wasn’t sure it was possible for Black women to actively love each other. Romantically. With all the butterfly feelsies.”

    This hit me right in the feels. I recently went natural after realizing that my continuing to get relaxers was tied into negative stereotypes about natural black hair and how hard it was to care for. Then I started to wonder whether or not my dating choices were being impacted by subtle internalized racism and I realized that they must be because if I wasn’t seeing my own black womanhood as amazeballs then how could I see that in other black women?

  10. Thumb up 10

    Please log in to vote

    I read the headline, and got defensive about my dating history.

    “But I grew up around /work with/am friends with/a ton of white people.”

    “Black girls never hit on me.”

    “All the black queer/gay women I know are masculine of center. And my preference is feminine..”

    “Shouldn’t who I choose to date be independent of race?”

    Then I stopped with the knee jerk reaction, and just read the post..

    Thanks for writing it.
    It really resonated.
    This is something I’ve definitely struggled with.

    I’m an OkCupid fan girl.
    And not long ago a black woman messaged me.
    She was in town for the weekend, and was having a hard time finding the QPOC community in LA..I immediately felt guilty because I’d been living here for about a year and honestly had no idea what to tell her.

    I’m a person who’s definitely heard on many occasions that I acted or talked “white”. Because as you know, black people can’t be well spoken, and we only listen to hip hop and r&b. *Insert eye roll*..That’s a bag of angry cats that maybe I should avoid opening here..But it certainly affected me socially..And probably bled into my romantic life..

    With my blackness constantly in question I felt a little alienated very early in life. If I couldn’t be myself and still be “wholly black”, what did that mean for my love life?

    I can’t speak to everyone’s experience, but with all the dogma, heteronormativity, and tight walls on blackness, was it natural for me to seek acceptance and love where I could find it?

    A number of times, I’ve gotten it from people who weren’t black.

    Is it a personal problem?
    Is it media representation?
    Internalized racism?
    Lack of exposure?

    I definitely feel like I could date someone who looked more like me.

    I just haven’t met her yet?

  11. Thumb up 8

    Please log in to vote

    wow. i never comment on here, but this gripped me–but for an ironic reason.

    i have always vowed, vowed, vowed that i would NEVER date a white woman. i just came out about 2 years ago, and my longest relationships–and every woman i otherwise dated–was black. i always preached that there was no way a white woman could understand or empathize with the black woman’s experience, and that that’s a language that only two black women can speak to each other. (and that still may be true.)

    and then i broke up with my black ex–whom i love deeply, but do not share the same values with–and lo and behold, my dream of a woman walks into my life–

    in white skin.

    i’d like to believe this has nothing to do with my straight bingefest on the L Word, and my eery identification with Bette seeping over into my consciousness, and somehow resulting in me manifesting this woman, but in any event, she is everything i asked for in the skin i always said i would never accept.

    i’m trying not to freak out about it, and i’m trying not to make it hard–but it’s right there at the front of my consciousness. when my parents, who haven’t accepted my sexuality yet finally do, and then they meet her, i’m low-key freaking out that they’ll think it’s not only one but two offenses. and sometimes i think it’d be easier for them to finally swallow if the woman i was with was my brown-skinned, lox-haired ex.

    it’s weird reading this. because i’ve exclusively dated and loved black women, and now i’m madly in love with a woman, and for once thinking about committing–and she’s white.

    and i can’t get into my all white upbringing, and whether this is some deep-seated race issue manifesting itself….what further freaks me out is that this new person and i have such big dreams, and if they come true, we could be in public eyes–and i don’t want young black lesbian women thinking exactly what the author posted: why can’t S be with a black woman? Are they not good enough?

    Ugh. why couldn’t we all be grey :/

  12. Thumb up 2

    Please log in to vote

    Thanks for writing this article as its given me quite a bit to chew on. I’ve always believed that I’ve chosen my partners and my partners chose me because not only were we physically attracted to one another but we had so much in common.

    As a young queer, I spent all of my time primarily in spaces only occupied by QPOC and during my college years I found myself drifting away as my interests changed. I did recently wonder, why don’t I see more people that look like me?

    Again, thanks for writing this!

  13. Thumb up 0

    Please log in to vote

    Well, I’m late, but I’m here to start up some isht :)

    So I can’t really concur with the main thrust of this article. I just call BS – and not from a place of disrespect, but rather, from a place of respect for all the black women I see out there every day working hard to make black lesbian love VERY visible.

    In 2014, we have former singer Monifah marrying her black lesbian partner ON REALITY TV no less. We’ve had black women featured in magazines like Essence (I mean, there’s at least 100 people who read it …). We’ve got Brittany Griner out, open and proposing to her girlfriend – proceeded by years, I might add, by Cheryl Swoopes, who I believe also had a black partner. We have Miami Sweet Heat celebrating lesbians of color. We have Elixher. On and on and on. There are SO many women putting together publications, events or simply living out loud proving every single day that black women DO love black women.

    And we can’t find these folks? I’m bothered by that concept!

    Maybe the issue is not that these images don’t exist. Maybe the issue is that we want them to exist in a white setting – and I would question why they have to be celebrated in a white setting to be legit. Let’s face it: What reason would a white show have to highlight a black relationship any more than a black show would have to highlight a white relationship? That’s just bizarre lol.

    There are plenty of issues black lesbians face. But in 2014, finding viable images of us with “us” just isn’t one of them. Not in my humble opinion.

    PS: Those online black dyke shows are HOOOOOOORRIBLE. The writing. The acting. GIRL. But I’ve had to ask myself – and I would entreat the author to do the same – whether they actually reflect a portion of society’s experience. Now, the idea that they’re all there is … that’s a discussion for another day. The point is, NEVER watch one of those again, mkay? Hell I could have saved the author a STRONG 9 minutes that she will never get back…

Contribute to the conversation...

You must be logged in to post a comment.