Six Tips for Navigating Chicago as a (Baby) Black Queer

1. When you get the job offer, say thank you. Negotiate for a higher salary, say thank you again.

Sign your name on the dotted line. Sing “Crazy, Classic, Life” by Janelle Monae into your mirror with emphasis on “Young, Black, Wild, and Free.” When you decide to move to Chicago for said job – stare straight ahead at the path before you. Don’t dwell on the fact that you don’t know a soul in Chicago; that you’ve never paid a bill or lived alone before. View this as an opportunity to rebuild, to grow, to shape yourself into the person you know exists inside of you in a city you’ve always wanted to meet.

Pull out your tarot deck, shuffle the cards, and be grateful when you get “The Tower” which symbolizes radical change. Don’t be frightened by the card itself which shows lightning striking, a crumbling building, and large swaths of smoke hiding the figures of burning bodies. Focus only on the hope in the card – the smoke clearing, the beginnings of a blue sky.

2. Don’t trust the internet.

Get your first glimpse of Chicago when you go apartment hunting. Walk around with facts you don’t need to know in your head (Chicago – the home of the Twinkie, 52 million travelers per year). Fuse these facts with your first hand experience. Develop a crush on the wide spread legs of the canals downtown.

Look up safest neighborhoods to live in Chicago because you are a woman and you are afraid of the masked man who hides in alleyways and parking lots. Limit your apartment search to places in the North because you figure it’s the farthest from the infamous South Side where (the news says) violence reigns. Feel ashamed for this choice later.

Meet your realtor who is Romanian with shocking red hair and blue eyes. Listen as he tells you “this neighborhood is safe” and “don’t go down there – that’s where things get sketchy.” Settle on a place in Lakeview East and do the Boystown thing: get the Sunday Funday brunch, nod hello. Dole out eyerolls to the old white women who clutch their purses tighter when they pass your Black body on the sidewalk. With pain in your stomach, realize the only Black faces you see in your neighborhood are bagging your groceries with a tight smile at Jewel Osco.

Pick up a book on the history of Chicago and wish you had done so sooner.

3. Observe Chicago by yourself and become fast friends.

Notice the movements on the train.

From your train stop to Monroe, there are busy looking white people who wear blazers, polos, and bejeweled flats. They sit on their cell phones or they read the latest Ann Patchett. They grumble under their breath when you sit next to them on the train – your thighs too wide, your afro too big. Your first few weeks in Chicago, you feel bad you can’t give them the clean lines they seem to long for.

Begin a tumultuous love affair with the weather.

Chicago is a moody bitch. Chicago can cradle you, spritzing puffs of fresh air across your collarbone on a hot day like you are walking through the perfume aisle at Macy’s. The next day, Chicago can be a bully, grinding cold wind into your melanin in a way that makes you wonder if the weather can be racist (the answer, you have learned, is HELL YES, by the way). Gripe and groan, and when you’re finished – fall in love with Chicago’s unpredictability. Start wearing layers, strip tease in the sun.

Track your growth, become a witness.

You spend so much time alone that you start to notice things about yourself. You say “sorry” less and you walk outside more. You read more books. You learn how to cook. You buy a rose quartz crystal from Alchemy Arts for self love and forgiveness. You realize you have so much you have never forgiven yourself for.

A few weeks after you move to Chicago, you don’t worry about the faces they give your body on the train. You walk into the car and you ease into the seat and you pull out a book and you delight in the space that your body takes up.

You are still trying to understand what it means to be a Chicagoan, but while you figure it out, you set your legs like roots into the ground on the El train and you ride the waves of the track – each bump and pivot and twist, an affirmation.

4. Remember that you are Queer and Black, that means you don’t have to be alone.

“Queer Artsy Black Femme seeking INTERSECTIONAL feminist friends. Will affirm your unheard poetry and offer quality book recommendations. Maybe attend a late night speakeasy?” Write drafts of ads for Queer personals pages on Instagram and ask your friends which one best describes you. When the ad posts a week after you arrive in Chicago, respond to the ever-growing messages of “let’s hang out” and “what books are you currently reading?” Meet up with these people, even though you keep a nervous stone in your chest.

Meet A, who is Jewish and tall with brown unruly hair, at a coffeshop in Lakeview West to discuss how difficult and exciting it is to be pansexual – how you simultaneously long for people with penises while also experiencing fear of rape or assault or ridicule. Go to the Korean food festival and gab about how your periods are in sync over bibimbap. Make jokes about how your wombs have been conspiring with each other.

Meet L – a Black, poly plant mom who keeps yoni eggs and crystals around her apartment. Tease her about her chosen home of Bridgeport, where American flags and “We support Blue” signs hang off of porch railings. Attempt to impress her with homemade bubble tea and when you forget the correct straws, laugh and spoon boba out of the mason jar like you’re eating ice cream.

Meet up with C at Volumes Bookcafe and order the Molly Weasley tea latte. Listen as they tell you about their favorite childhood books and their love for devised theatre. Take down notes in your journal and swear to look up the references later.

Of course, discuss sex: who you’re fucking, who you want to fuck, the kinks you’re getting into, the shame you’re trying to break through. Feel your nipples get hard when _____ mentions their latest sexual partner(s) – how their toes curled, how tears came out of nowhere because it “felt. that. good.”

Start the slow, wonderful process of falling in love with your friends. Write poetry about the size of their hands, the cadence of their voices, the ways that they hold you – without clinging – as you transform and grow into yourself.

5. Attend Pride Month events. Experience love for your people in your limbs. Pray no one touches your hair. Wash, Rinse, Repeat.

Take L with you to a Thursday night queer party at a rooftop bar downtown. Allow yourself to get drunk from too many rose sangrias. Comb your fingers through your natural afro. Step touch-step touch.

Watch the girl as she sidles up beside you and waves her hips like she’s trying to find balance on the El. Make a simile of her body, observing the way the multicolored pink/green/blue strobe lights make her pale skin look like birthday cake ice cream.

Her: You’re a great dancer.

You: Awww thanks; it’s not that hard at all – let me show you.

Twiddle fingers and slide hands up thighs that are slick with sweat. As she grinds on your leg, she tells you she is not American. She is only here for one more night. Though you are still new to the city you say “Welcome, Welcome.” You own the fact that you’re a local now – you grind and twist through the night like the sun will bring death.

When you’re hot and sweaty, take a break and watch L stride up to the DJ and request “Ape Shit” – her braids swinging behind her, barely covering her exposed midriff. See the DJ smirk and clap their hands on the 1-3, “Sorry – it’s not THAT kind of party.”

Hump to Lizzo even though your dancing becomes more rigid. Carry the microaggression in your chest. When you get home, find out you’re 100% that bitch… who needs to process the night’s complexity in their journal.

Ask yourself the questions you are still living: What kind of party was it then? What are the rules, and who makes them? How can you can be Queer and Black and Fat and Femme in this Windy City? How can all those things exist and not exist inside of you all at once?

6. Remember, Beloved – You are enough.

It is Pride. Look down the block to see drag queens, leathers, and groups of baby queers moving together in amoebas of glitter, cat ears, and rainbow flags. Choose your outfit the night before: a neon pink dress shirt, a tank top with mermaid fins over the nipples, tight black pants, platforms, and a whole array of buttons that let people know who you are. A QTPOC Rising button placed prominently above your left shoulder.

The plan is set, the group is waiting.

Get out of bed. Climb back into bed. Feel guilty and luxurious.

While the parade is happening down the block, read a book about radical self love and dip a spoonful of honey into oolong tea. Unwrap the pink dildo from the scarf hidden on your bookshelf and make your body crackle with electricity until you lie spent and happy and proud of how much you have come to love your own company.

Realize that Chicago with its crowded trains and your studio apartment and your new friends – is beckoning you to know that you are enough.

You’re not a bad Queer for staying in bed on Pride. You’re not a bad Black person for choosing Lakeview. You are a whole human being and the city – your city – is big enough to hold you and your contradictions.

Breathe into the fact that you have found a place where you can ask meaningful questions and grow into yourself. Accept this place for who it is even with its imperfections and pains. Pray that this acceptance will be a lesson in accepting your own self.

Continue to say yes.🗺️

Edited by Carmen.

The Travel Issue [button: See Entire Issue]

Tiara's six word memoir is "born with questions in her mouth." By day, she works as a sassy, affirmation-card-wielding career coach. After hours, she is a writer, spiritual life coach, aspiring performer, book reviewer, and (unofficial) bubble tea ambassador. Tiara typically writes angsty fiction and essays about intersectionality, mermaids, reading, spirituality, being queer, and traveling. She hates beets and people who touch her hair.

Tiara has written 1 articles for us.

12 Comments

  1. Chicago is such a great city to be queer; despite the weather, and the segregation, and the traffic. Thanks for contributing your energy to the 312, and don’t be afraid to hang with us queer kids in Logan Square, by Chicago standards it’s kind of diverse.

  2. This was a great read. When I first moved here I also lived up north and felt really weird about it for awhile, as a black person originally from another so-called “unsafe” city. But it’s hard for a newcomer! This place is huge! It takes time to get the nuances of these neighborhoods.

    I’ve been here just a little over 2 years and I’m just now starting to find my place, both socially and creatively, & to regularly see other qtpoc. This city has definitely helped me learn to take up space. Feels good.

    Oh, and the winters. Sun lamp, queer parties & antidepressants for me lol

    • Thank you so much Stef! Also I will definitely heed your winter tips. I hope I still live Chicago when the polar vortex hits lol. Your message definitely reminds me that community building and finding my place will be a long term process.

  3. Ah, Chicago weather, you saucy minx.

    Polar vortexes, deadly heat waves, weeks without sunshine, how it always snows right after you put away your winter coat. Honestly the only thing we’ve got going for us is we’re reasonably safe from hurricanes/earthquakes/mudslides/tornadoes/volcanoes etc. Also, in like every movie scenario where aliens attack they always start at the either NY or LA so we at least have the coasts as a buffer there.

    My Jamaican roommate said what bothered her most wasn’t necessarily the cold or the heat, but the rapid fluctuation between the two. She griped about the need for layering.

    I, of course, keep myself warm in the winter by reminding her she left *literal* paradise to move to the Midwest just as Tr*mp took office. She’s actually paying to be here. Her wrath saved us loads on our energy bill.

  4. THIS WAS SO GOOD. a lot of my friends in chicago are really really into friendship in a way that i admire. i love how much you love your friends and how intentional you are with your new life! so many people just kind of give up and stay at home watching netflix if they live somewhere new. sounds like you’re killing it at living in a sometimes harsh city.

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