Four days after my mom’s funeral and eleven after her death, I went to my very first pride parade. I spent the night with one of my best friends (who is also queer) to have a mini getaway from all the turmoil. The day of the parade, we spent the morning and early afternoon getting ready and choosing our outfits, getting ready with the rest of our queer friends over FaceTime. My friend’s mom dropped us off a couple blocks away from the actual parade. We piled out of the car and poured into the streets with the rest of the crowd, instantly swept into the pulsating party. Queer men were wearing crop tops and shorts while holding hands with their partners. Queer women strolled across the street, limbs interwoven and eyes gazing upon their partners lovingly. Large groups of friends chatted excitedly. My ears were happily set abuzz as I overheard non-binary and gender non-conforming people correcting or introducing others to their pronouns, and receiving kind responses. As soon as I set foot in the parade, multiple rainbow-colored beads were adorned across my neck. A few moments later, I was pulled into a warm embrace of free hugs from volunteers, the first of many which were set up all along the festivities.
I walked around downtown staring in awe at a gazillion rainbow flags and the most beautiful and most queer faces I’d ever laid eyes on. A mix of many emotions flushed through my mind — relaxed, energized, comfortable, overwhelmed, safe, fun, celebratory, defiant, and most of all affirmed. I was in the midst of thousands of people and I wasn’t thinking about whether they were going to accept me for who I was. It was like being around a group of friends that I haven’t gotten to know yet. My friend and I made our way to the main stage as the vocal stylings of various pop stars their way into my eardrums. The two of us ended up standing next to a group of butch and stud lesbians that danced with my friends and I, one of which I cheered on as she got twerked on by my friend. We backed away from the main stage, and a group of drag queens flashed me a reassuring smile and head nod. As the sun dimmed and the moon began to show its face, we saw old classmates and friends who congratulated me on this milestone. We closed out the night, by grabbing some turkey legs from one of the various food trucks available. As we walked back and waited for my mom’s friend, my eyes found their way to a group of friends dressed up in BDSM attire. My eyes made their way up to the overhanging street sign which read, “Stonewall.” I was home.
My mom passed away in August of 2019. Two months after my high school graduation; one month before my nineteenth birthday; two weeks before I began my first semester of college, four days before that pride parade. She had stage two breast cancer, but was cancer-free thanks to a double mastectomy. Her doctors had suggested preventative chemo as a precautionary measure. My mom wasn’t feeling very well one morning and called in sick to work. A couple of hours later on her way back to bed she laid down on the floor. ‘’I don’t know what’s going on with me today, sweetie.’’ She asked me to let her lay down on her floor for a few minutes before helping her back into bed. I thought the request was odd, but obeyed. I went to go help her up five minutes later and noticed she was shaking uncontrollably, mouth open, unable to speak, and her eyes bleeding and fixated on me. I called 911 and started to do compressions. 45 minutes later, when the paramedics came down the steps of my house to tell me that despite their best efforts, my mom had passed away, I felt as though that my entire world was crashing down at lightning speed. I had no parents left. My dad had passed away ten years earlier. 3827 days. Or ten years, five months, 25 days apart. But who’s counting.
I was no longer anyone’s baby girl. No one’s pumpkin. As my mom drew her last breath, my safety net exited through her lungs, and my sense of security vanished with the very last rise and fall of her chest. My mother took our language. Our inside jokes. Our songs. Stories and anecdotes about my adolescent and her own that became running gags for years to come. We built a language together. A special rhythm with its own ebbs and flows. A rhythm that showed me a reflection of a young woman who was capable and strong. I feel hollow in her absence. Without the person that brought me into this world, I do not know if I have a place in it. No one will ever love me unconditionally and only ask for my own happiness in return. I will never put that pure sparkle in anyone’s eye again.
When you lose a parent in your teens, you immediately imagine all the milestones you’ll hit without them: graduation, a first job, first apartment or house, a wedding. Every day since the day my parents died, I am one day further away from them. It enrages me that I will have to recycle my childhood and teenage years like a broken record for the rest of my life in order to have my parents present in my life. Most people are saddened by the ending of their adolescence because adulthood brings responsibility. I am sad because that is where my parents are frozen for eternity. On the bright side, I’m also one day closer to my most authentic and most queer self. I could finally consider getting the bisexual bob™. But even that’s a double double edged sword. I started to realize that at some point, as years of my life went on… my parents might not even recognize me anymore, because of who I’d become.
I am queer. I identify as both bisexual and pansexual. This is something that I’ve always known about myself since the age of five, thanks to a friend from kindergarten named Jasmine who I obsessively slept next to during nap time and played with during recess — what I realize now was a crush — to the beautiful dentist assistants from my dentist office that made my heart palpate in my chest. Plus, of course, my very first and most beloved celebrity crush… Tessa Thompson, whom I first fell in love with while watching her play a badass 1930’s masculine-of-center lesbian on an episode of Cold Case.
In the years to follow, there would a cycle of taking “Am I gay or bisexual” quizzes, reading Autostraddle, and watching The L Word and Pariah on illegal sites before quickly deleting my search history.
I would discuss my opinion on topics concerning the LGBT community with my mom but always making sure to distinguish myself as an ally. She would often say that I was “changing her mind about gay people” and seemed to actually be unlearning her homophobia and transphobia.
My mom and I were inseparable from the moment I was born. That only intensified after my dad’s death. We did almost everything together, FaceTiming each other throughout the day when we were separated during work and school, having heartfelt discussions about our respective days and knowing that neither of us would be judgmental. We shared clothes, cooked together, had dance parties to my curated playlist as we drove during road trips or to the grocery store. She had this infectious playfulness, style, and spunk that drew everyone to her. I always knew that my mom and our home was a consistent safety net where I could let my burdens go and be myself.
But I will never know what her stance would’ve been had it been her own daughter. So often we hear stories about struggling to be queer because immediate family is unaccepting, especially in communities of color. So much about blackness across the diaspora, but especially for us as African-Americans, is about community. Being in close contact or proximity with family members other just your nuclear family, having aunties and uncles that aren’t blood relation, coming together and screaming at the top of our lungs at graduations. The flip side of that close-knit community is that when you’re queer, you’re often collectively discarded. The pain is just as difficult when you’ll never truly know what the outcome would be had they known.
I often have dreams about reuniting with my parents and bringing them up to speed with what has gone on in my life. My mom welcomes me with open arms and holds me close with one of her warm and maternal hugs. She coos, ‘’There’s my baby girl.’’ My dad, in his true fashion, is more laid back but just as excited to see me, quietly smiling and nodding before pulling me in for a hug of his own. I tell them about my writing, my friends, and therapy. They smile proudly and are engrossed in everything I have to say. Then I bring up or introduce them to a non-cishet male partner and their expressions visibly morph into disappointment. In other dreams, they walk right past me and don’t recognize me at all. I wake up each time discouraged and disoriented. On top of the expected layer of grief that washes over me, there’s an extra layer that is inevitable as a queer person: disguising your true self or burying any reminiscence of self for acceptance, and having the experiences of self-discovery customary to cishet teenagers as a young adult.
Those feelings are ever-present. At that pride parade, I felt relaxed and affirmed walking the streets with my queer friends, as I wore my blue, purple, and pink beads, watched a beautiful group of butches and drag queens in awe as they smiled at me, a baby gay, knowing. It hit me, as I watched a vogue competition on the main stage of the parade. How would my parents feel right now if they knew I was here? Would they come to accept it in time? My exuberance faded. In that moment I felt the happiest I’d honestly ever been, and neither of them would ever experience this with me. They not only lost the opportunity to see me into adulthood, but to see me in my totality.
This knot in my stomach came again as I finally attended a meeting for my college’s pride alliance club. I was welcomed in and accepted instantly; everyone shared their pronouns openly. There was no judgement. I hung out with them after the club meeting ended. We exchanged social handles and phone numbers. As I ordered an Uber home, I felt salty tears running down my cheeks. I was standing in the same part of campus that I walked with my mom a couple of months earlier as she helped me sign up for classes. Where she had shared her excitement about watching me embark on this next chapter. Little did she know what this next chapter would include.
Two hundred and four days after my mom’s death, I met with the program associate of my local pride organization. As we sat in a cafe, I opened up to her about realizing I was not straight at five, consuming queer media in secret, and now finely trying to venture out to create chosen family and queer community after my parents (particularly my mothers) passing. I discussed my fears about moving through the world as an out black queer person means. We locked eyes. She listened to me intently; I asked her about her journey. She explained that like me, she at one point feared being out, but also like me, began to explore in her freshman year of college. She understood the struggles I was facing as a black queer femme, ressurred me that I would find my tribe, and that she’d be there along the way.
A couple of days later, I spoke about the meeting with my wellness coach, another black queer femme. She echoed the same excitement, told me how proud she was for taking the leap to find queer activites. As looked into her eyes and thought about all the black queer femmes I’d connected with in the wake of this tragedy, I felt genuine love and support, acknowledgement and acceptance for all that I am. That moment brought one of my favorite Alice Walker quotes to mind: ‘’I think mothers and daughters are meant to give birth to each other, over and over; that is why our challenges to each other are so fierce; that is why, when love and trust have not been too badly blemished or destroyed, the teaching and learning one from the other is so indelible and bittersweet. We daughters must risk losing the only love we instinctively feel we can’t live without in order to be who we are, and I am convinced this sends a message to our mothers to break their own chains, though they may be anchored in prehistory and attached to their own great grandmothers’ hearts.’’
I have slowly started to build a new home. I will forever long for and crave the one I lost, but I must find the strength within myself to be myself, without longing for a definitive answer from the person I most want to make proud, because she has left this realm. I have to find some kind of comfort in this life without either of them, that will involve building a queer future and striving for a better world. A queer world for myself and my fellow black and brown queer people. Fighting for health care, anti-policing, housing, mutual aid, labor with dignity, and resisting state sanctioned violence. Speaking out against the systems that harm and kill queer Black people, people of color, and the most vulnerable in our community. While I hope to live a life alongside a chosen family, have a partner (that may not be a cishet man), engrave tattoos and piercings on my body that they may have not understood, and make art that may have confused them. It will be a world that won’t involve my parents. At some point, I will be okay with that.