Life can be scary for a young, gay, Black boy growing up in a society full of fear and intolerance. The star of a new graphic novel, however, has the love of family, friends, and educators to help him navigate the challenges as he finds his empowered voice.
In What You Don’t Know: A Story of Liberated Childhood (Dottir Press) Anastasia Higginbotham uses her signature collage artwork to give us the first-person story of a young boy named Demetrius. Demetrius begins by observing that “What you don’t know is that life was great before kindergarten…. Then school happened.” He asks, “What are we even learning here besides all the things we have to be afraid of and all of the things we can’t do?” Despite the scariness of school, however, he has friends and protectors who include another queer student, a “radical librarian,” a loving teacher, and a queer counselor. “But even they are a little bit scared,” he notes observantly.
He is also grateful that he doesn’t have to hide his true self from his dad, a Black man who “loves me completely.” His mom, too, has “her own sense of justice and her own ideas about God.” We see her reading something on her phone, getting angry at those who are “endangering the lives of trans kids.” She stresses to Demetrius that he matters and is not the problem. (The mom could be read as a light-skinned Black woman or Latina, although Higginbotham says on the credits page that the mom is White, and modeled after herself, her mother, and others.)
Despite the support he has, however, Demetrius feels that “the world’s ugliness toward gay people lands right ON me,” and asks, “And what about the ones who aren’t loved at home? What about the kids whose own families reject them?” (Here’s what we know about that.) He sits in church with his mother and notes that all he feels there is shame—“But the shame isn’t mine and it’s not coming from ‘God.’” He imagines his spirit floating up to Jesus, depicted as a Black man, and asking, “Does it hurt your feelings if I don’t believe in you?” Jesus replies, “It’s my job to believe in you, and I do.”
Demetrius asks Jesus if there are other gods. Jesus replies, “Divinity is everywhere, in everyone and everything,” and says he loves everyone, from Billy Porter in a dress (who floats by in several images) to those who are homophobic. When another churchgoer confronts Demetrius’ mom and tells her to stop dressing him in flowers because he’s a boy, however, the mother apologizes to Demetrius for bringing him there and says she will immediately stop going to that church. Higginbotham deftly shows how Demetrius can be “cool” with Jesus while also rejecting an institution that perpetuates homophobia.
We will rewrite the rules we live by and love the world into balance.
A secondary plotline that we see play out is that Demetrius and his friends are recording a podcast, one that further affirms everyone’s right to be themselves and reinforces young people’s power to create change. “We will rewrite the rules we live by and love the world into balance,” they narrate. At the end of the book, Demetrius’ parents continue to encourage his own style and voice as he and his friends celebrate the launch of the podcast. “What you don’t know is I’m always gonna love myself and find others who do, too,” he asserts, dancing into his future.
Higginbotham manages to acknowledge the bias that Demetrius faces, put the emphasis on the love he receives, and make him an empowered and confident protagonist who is grateful for help but not a passive victim. He knows the world can be harsh, and acknowledges that some things scare him, but also knows where to find the support he needs to be the person he knows he is. It’s a tricky balance, but Higginbotham nails it.
I should note, too, that while the format at first looks like a picture book, Demetrius is in middle school and the vocabulary level, length (140+ pages), and nuances place the book for me in the middle grade category as a graphic novel. (Obviously, some older elementary school students are ready for middle grade books; this is just a guide.)
Much as I have long waved the flag for more LGBTQ kids’ books that aren’t “about” being LGBTQ, there’s still a place for some that thoughtfully and directly address being queer in today’s society. This is one of them, which presents an inspiring vision of what queer kids can be with the love and support of family, friends, and educators.
Well! What a week! Welcome back to Boobs on Your Tube. Ryan’s Kryptonite wound is OUT OF CONTROL on Batwoman (and there’s lots of dyke drama, too!). Valerie declared Dickinson Season Two “an ode to Emily and Sue.” Good Trouble explored racism in comedy from the eyes of Alice attending the CBTV diversity workshop. (That episode also guest starred Rhea Butcher, who also was on this week’s To L and Back! See what we did there?) Would you like to read a touching personal essay about The Owl House’s Luz and Amity capturing the queer experience of a surprise first crush? We bet you would! Also, Netflix’s Ginny & Georgia presents a refreshingly typical teen dating story.
Heather found Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar to be a bananapants brain vacation and she thinks you deserve it. Shelli and Dani watched The United States vs. Billie Holiday and spent a lot of time thinking about the legacies of Black trauma on screen, and the twin legacy of Black queer erasure, and how both come to bear on the film, you should give absolutely give it a read!
It’s now officially March, and you know what that means! What’s New and Gay and Streaming on HBO Max, Netflix, Hulu and Amazon?
Notes from the TV Team:
+ Pose’s third season (deputing this May) will be it’s last. No, I am not ready to talk about it. — Carmen
Black Lightning 404: “The Book of Reconstruction: Chapter Four: A Light in the Darkness”
Written by Carmen
So Grace woke up, and then Anissa and Grace got married, and now we are on our way back home. Where Anissa and Grace fight… over whether or not Grace can move her things (including her prized comic book collection!!) into Anissa’s apartment? Which felt more like the kind of fight you have six months into a relationship and not after your married, but hey! I suppose that’s what happens when your gay on Black Lightning and the writers are always trying to fit your relationship milestones in around everyone else.
Ok, I realize I sound snarky, so let me follow that up by saying that initial fight leads to one of Black Lightning’s most romantic moments to date: Anissa buying a pristine, still in plastic, copy of Grace’s favorite issue of The Outsiders and wrapping it as a present to give her wife. If you’ll remember, Grace was reading that same issue when she and Anissa first met — all the way back in episode three of the very first season of Black Lightning, which is both a REALLY touching throwback, and a surprisingly refreshing piece of continuity on a show that’s often struggled to find some. I loved everything about it! And of course, as always, Chantal Thuy and Nafessa William sell what the writers don’t give them, Anissa and Grace remain so well loved and electric, despite whatever holes in the plot.
Their romantic moment is broken up by news of ~super villain nonsense involving Tobias Whale and Lala, which sends both Pierce sisters and Grace onto the scene. Grace complains that Anissa made her wear a hoodie “as a disguise” when as a shape shifter she can always be her own disguise. With that she changes her hair red, her eyes green, and puts on a very dope Mortal Kombat style outfit, officially naming herself “Wylde” — a reclamation of Shay Li Wylde, Grace’s birth name.
It maybe took four years in the making, but Grace Choi is finally OFFFICIALLY a superhero, cute name and all. And let me tell you from that upside down roundhouse kick she gave? It certainly was worth it.
9-1-1 407: “There Goes The Neighborhood”
Written by Natalie
With Hen busy with work and school, Karen’s been left to wrangle the two Wilson kids and she’s at her wits end. Recognizing how stressed her wife is, Hen puts down her Gross Anatomy book and volunteers to get the kids ready for bed. But before they can pick out the bedtime story, the family’s interrupted by a knock at the door: It’s Grammy! Much to Hen and Karen’s dismay, Hen’s mother, Toni, has decided to move from Las Vegas to Los Angeles — in the middle of a pandemic — and find a place in the neighborhood.
At work, Hen laments her mother’s arrival. She admits that the pair have a good relationship when there’s distance separating them but, in-person, Toni tends move in and crush everything in her path. Chimney and Bobby urge Hen to look at the bright side — her mom will be around to help with Denny and Nia — but Hen’s unconvinced: Toni is not the helping type. Later, though, Hen quietly admits to Athena that it’s been nice having her mother back in town. But no sooner than the words are out of her mouth does Hen overhear her mother questioning whether Hen should be going back to school at her age. The words echo a lifetime of her mother’s doubt that Hen’s had to deal with and she’s tired of it.
The next day, while Karen and the kids are at the park, they spot Grammy sleeping, not in her “cute little Airbnb,” but in her car. Upon hearing the news, Hen tracks down her mother who confirms that she’s been living in her car after losing her job (as a blackjack dealer) and being evicted. She kept the truth from Hen because she feared her daughter’s judgment. Hen scoffs at the notion: Her mother’s always been the judgmental one. Hen reminds her mom that she just said Hen was too old for med school. Grammy assures her daughter that’s not what she meant.
She applauds Hen’s determination, admitting that she’s always been jealous of her drive. She adds, “I look at the amazing life you’ve made for yourself and I’m in awe. You’ve built something, Henrietta, and I…I just don’t want you to lose it.”
At the root of it, Toni doesn’t want her daughter to end up like her but Hen promises that she’ll be okay because her mother made her a fighter. It’s clearly just the start of the conversations mother and daughter need to have but they’ll have plenty of time for that now that Grammy’s moving in.
It’s worth noting that the role of Hen’s mom, Toni, is played by the legendary out comedienne, Marsha Warfield. Best known for playing Rosalind “Roz” Russell on Night Court, Warfield was giving us black butch realness on television before most of us even knew what that was. Also? Given how Marsha Warfield’s own mother kept her closeted for most of her life, seeing her play the mother to a gay butch daughter has particular resonance. A great bit of a casting!
All American 307: “Roll the Dice”
Written by Natalie
Throughout All American‘s third season, the specter of the gang’s summer sojourn to Las Vegas has loomed large. Something happened there — something momentous for nearly every character on the canvas — but we’ve never known what until now. The episode revisits that weekend in Vegas… the weekend when everything started to change for Patience.
Knowing how much it means to his daughter, JP Keating rolls out the red carpet for Spencer, Jordan, Simone and JJ’s visit to Vegas. He secures a lavish suite for the crew and even sets up a private gaming room for them to enjoy. Coop jokes that she might have signed with the wrong Keating but Layla reminds her that she’s the Keating that secured Coop a sold-out stop in Las Vegas. Besides, Patience chimes in, it’s not like JP’s putting his own artists up in lavish suites.
In the gaming room, Patience’s frustration at being under JP’s thumb starts to show. Coop urges her to talk to JP about playing her own songs but Patience dismisses the conversation and just tries to have fun. Later, at the roulette table, Coop and Spencer catch up after their first ever summer apart. They fall into an easy rapport, the way old friends do, and it’s almost enough to make you forget the way their friendship has fallen apart. The pair joke about Layla and Coop getting closer on tour and Coop taking Spencer’s girl which… I mean… clearly someone’s been reading my All American fan fic.
The next day, Coop and Patience revisit the topic of Patience’s unhappiness and Coop urges her to talk to JP. Recounting some advice Patience gave her, Coop encourages Patience to be upfront with JP and find someone who accepts her for the artist that she is. Patience takes her girlfriend’s advice and plays her new song for JP. He loves the song and immediately shifts into producer mode, giving Patience notes to improve it. But as Patience is working on it, Lil’ Jewel bursts in singing Patience’s praises; she loves the song Patience wrote and is slated to head into the studio ASAP lay the track down for her new album. When Patience goes to confront JP, she spots him making out with Lil’ Jewel — the very married Lil’ Jewel — in the hallway.
Hurt, confused and frustrated, Patience sheds a few tears but wipes them away before Coop can see. She’s so happy for Coop’s success and she doesn’t want anything to tarnish the celebration. But because everything that happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas, the reverberations from this summer trip still linger… and they’re about to impact Coop and Patience in a big way.
S.W.A.T. 410: “Buried”
Written by Natalie
I wasn’t thrilled about S.W.A.T.‘s decision to kill off Erika Rogers, especially at the hands of a white supremacist. I liked the friendship she’d built with Chris and the support they gave each other as the lone women in SWAT. I liked her rapport with Hondo and how she could challenge him on race and on work in a way no one else could. But if you’re going to kill a compelling character like Erika, at least make the fallout worth watching….and so far S.W.A.T. hasn’t done that. But, maybe (hopefully), the show finally starts to turn the corner this week.
Chris stops by the locker-room at SWAT HQ to collect some things before her session with Dr. Hughes. She lingers by Erika’s old locker, removing the nameplate and placing it in her own. When Deacon asks how she’s doing, she just says she’s tired…in addition to her session with Hughes to get approved to return to duty, her final interview for the Tactical Leadership Institute is today and she was up late studying. Chris was always invested in winning the TLI competition but with Erika’s death, the opportunity to be in a place where everything doesn’t remind her of her loss is something she desperately needs. Deacon encourages her to make the interview about how she’ll best represent SWAT.
And, of course, Chris does just that.
Remembering Erika, Chris gets a little emotional, but she tells Commander Hicks, “Erika always reminded me that we had to be the proof that women can be SWAT…I want to win this thing on merit because that’s what’ll inspire other female cops to raise the bar for themselves in their own way, which makes the entire department stronger.” After the interview, she chastises herself for getting emotional but her performance is enough to win over Hicks and win the TLI competition.
Once the winner’s announced, Chris pulls Street aside to chastise him over the way he’s handling his relationship with his girlfriend, Molly. Chris urges him to let go of the pipe dream he has of them being together and to figure out his relationship without involving her. Tan interrupts to invite them both to celebrate the TLI results but Chris declines the offer and opts for a night alone. Except…she doesn’t spend it alone at all. Chris wakes up later, amid a sea of empty beer bottles and next to a guy whose name she doesn’t care to know.
Finally, we get some fallout.
grown-ish 315: “Over My Head”
Written by Natalie
Here’s what we know about Phil, the one-night stand that, nine months later, made Nomi Segal into a mother: his last name’s McGinnis, he’s from San Jose, he’s a Comm major at UC-Berkeley, he loves playing ultimate frisbee and he likes margaritas. Now — 14 months after that fateful night — Phil slips into Nomi’s DMs to let her know he’s back in town and wants to meet up… and Nomi’s forced to decide (again) whether to tell him about the adorable baby girl he fathered.
With Zoey on the road with Joey Bada$$ and the twins off at Olympic trials, Nomi’s left with only Ana to confide in. This never goes well. Ana urges Nomi to meet up with Phil and find out what kind of person he is but she resists. Nomi invites Ana to go on a date with Phil and get whatever she needs to feel fulfilled; after that, though, Nomi never wants to talk about Phil ever again.
“Just so we’re clear, this isn’t for my validation or my entertainment. This is for your daughter, because whether or not you want to know, someday she will and it would be nice if someone had those answers,” Ana explains. Yeah, you can definitely tell she grew up Catholic because she’s a master of shaming.
After his meeting with Ana goes horribly awry, Phil and Nomi finally do connect. Since Nomi can’t remember, he tells her about what happened prior to them hooking up 14 months ago. I think the show intends this to be cute — it’s her Sixteen Candles moment — but all I could think was, “she was so drunk that she can’t remember any of this and yet her slept with her anyway? That’s not romantic, that’s rapey.” Nomi’s so touched by the “romantic” gestures that she can’t remember that instead of telling him about his daughter, she gives into Paul’s kiss and they hook up again. Fingers crossed that the birth control works this time.
When she returns home, Nomi relays the night’s events to Luna’s babysitter, Luca. He encourages her to not to continue to meet up with Phil if she’s going to continue to keep this secret and Nomi agrees. But later, when she’s settling in to read to Luna, she discovers a thoughtful note from her dad about his experience raising her and Nomi reconsiders. She meets up with Phil at Titanium, apologizes for keeping the truth from him and introduces him to his daughter, Luna.
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We’re raising funds to make it through the end of July. 99% of the people who read this site don’t support. Will you be one of the ones who do? Joining A+ is one of the best ways to support Autostraddle — plus you get access to bonus content while keeping the site 99% free for everyone. Will you join today?
I am a queer coparenting mama to Dickens Jr. Doodler by day, 911 dispatcher by night. All my favorite shows look better on Tumblr. I am two years and 450K words deep into constructing a fanfic called Ages and I’m never giving up on it. Bering & Wells.
It’s Black History Month, and I’m partnering with Family Equality to share some #OwnVoices LGBTQ-inclusive picture books that focus on Black characters and families, with the acknowledgement that these books are for all year round, not just February.
These are LGBTQ-inclusive kids’ books with #OwnVoices Black writers and/or illustrators, which center Black characters and Black families. A growing number of other LGBTQ-inclusive picture books also include Black characters as part of multiracial families or ensemble casts. That’s great—but I believe we also need more books where the entire family or cast of characters is Black (and much the same could be said for characters with any non-White identities). Additionally, while all of the below books offer affirming representation, only two are really about Black history per se. There is unfortunately still a real lack of picture book biographies of famous LGBTQ Black people (or other LGBTQ people of color) that also acknowledge their LGBTQ identities (without necessarily focusing on them).
Want more LGBTQ-inclusive books with characters of various LGBTQ, racial/ethnic, and other identities? The new Mombian Database of LGBTQ Family Books, Media, and More includes nearly 600 items, including more than 300 picture books, and can be searched and filtered by various categories and tags to find items with the representation you’re seeking (if they exist).
In alphabetical order by title:
I Am Perfectly Designed, by Karamo Brown with Jason Rachel Brown, illustrated by Anoosha Syed (Henry Holt & Company, 2019). A gentle yet affirming conversation between a young Black boy and his father about their life together, as they walk through their vibrant, multicultural, queer-inclusive neighborhood. The book captures universal feelings of parental-child love in simple but elegant phrases.
I Promise, by Catherine Hernandez and illustrated by Syrus Marcus Ware (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2019). A parent addresses her child’s curiosity about how different types of families form—not by going into technical details, but by focusing on the parental promise of love and support that underlies them.
Keesha’s South African Adventure, by Cheril N. Clarke and Monica Bey-Clarke, illustrated by Julia Selyutina (My Family!/Dodi Press, 2016). When Keesha’s moms surprise her with a trip to South Africa, she learns about the country’s animals, food, and landmarks. The fact that she has two moms is immaterial; the story focuses on the anticipation of the trip, the adventure of exploring a new place, and the excitement of sharing with classmates upon her return. See also Keesha & Her Two Moms Go Swimming, where Keesha and her moms go to the neighborhood pool for a day of fun. Keesha plays with her best friend Trevor, who has two dads, and befriends another boy who has no one to play with.
Leaders Like Us: Bayard Rustin, by J. P. Miller and illustrated by Markia Jenai (Discovery Library, 2020). A biography that focuses on Rustin’s work with the Black civil rights movement, but that also notes “Some people treated Bayard unfairly because he was gay, but that did not stop him.” There is no mention of his later work speaking for gay rights or of how standing up for one part of his identity compelled him to speak up for the other, as this History article explains. Still, the fact that the text says he was gay is a step forward in picture book biographies of him.
Love Is in the Hair, written and illustrated by Syrus Marcus Ware (Flamingo Rampant, 2015). A child is staying with her two uncles while waiting for the birth of a new sibling, and learns the stories of her family through the objects woven into the dreadlocks of one uncle’s hair. The uncles’ queerness is incidental; this is simply a charming tale of the way we collect, keep, and share family memories.
My Name Is Troy, Christian A’Xavier Lovehall and illustrated by Chamar M. Cooper (Self-published; 2020). “My name is Troy, and I’m a beautiful, Black Trans boy!” this book proudly begins, then takes us through Troy’s day in rhyming couplets as he shares what he likes (playing outdoors, sports, and bugs) and doesn’t like (the color pink and playing with dolls). We see images from his life and with his supportive parents. Trans boys whose interests go beyond the traditionally “boyish” ones that Troy favors might not see themselves reflected quite as well, but they should still be buoyed by his happiness and the love that surrounds him.
My Rainbow, by Deshanna Neal and Trinity Neal, illustrated by Art Twink (Kokila, 2020). Based on Trinity’s real life as a Black transgender girl with autism, this story tells of her mom and nonbinary sibling helping her get the long hair she wants to express her true self. The love of the family for Trinity and their desire to help her shines from every page.
Sylvia and Marsha Start a Revolution! The Story of the Trans Women of Color Who Made LGBTQ+ History, by Joy Ellison and illustrated by Teshika Silver (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2020). Tells the story of Stonewall icons Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson by focusing on their close friendship and how they cared for their community in the face of harassment. Some of the violence during the rebellion has been tempered for the age group and a few historical details could be argued, but as the author notes, this is only one possible retelling. What comes through clearly is the bond between the friends and how they worked to help those in need.
For some middle-grade titles (most, but not all, #OwnVoices), see the results of the “Middle grade fiction” category and “Black protagonist/family” tags my database.
Black History Month kicks off February 1, and Oscar-nominated actress turned talk show host Taraji P. Henson honors her community by focusing on the struggle of African-American, transgender women. The conversation comes as part of Henson’s latest endeavor, the Facebook Watch talk series Peace of Mind with Taraji.
In this exclusive clip obtained by Queerty, Henson and her co-host, Tracie Jade, interview three transgender women. The ladies– Memphis, Nova , and Naki–discuss their struggles with depression, anxiety and suicide.
Related: Do NOT ask Taraji P. Henson about the Jussie Smollett scandal
The very emotional conversation, as well as the subject matter, fit with Henson’s overall focus of the show. Peace of Mind with Taraji focuses on mental health issues, particularly those affecting the African-American community, such as PTSD, depression, eating disorders and nervous exhaustion. Other guests have included Mary J. Blige, Gabrielle Union and Gabourey Sidibe.
The newest episode of Peace of Mind with Taraji streams on Facebook Watch this Monday, Feburary 1. Have a look at the clip below, and reach for the kleenex.
I’ve been staring at this blank screen all day. For the past five days, actually. Traditionally on Martin Luther King Day, I write some form of a reflection. It’s ironic that in a time we’re facing that has never more closely mirrored King’s — I find myself most adrift from his words.
I say his words because it is his words that have so often been called upon in to soothe a nation that still searches for its soul. Familiar words taught to me in childhood that once brought solace — “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you have to do, you keep moving forward” — now leave me cold and distant. I know “the arc of the moral universe is long” and was certainly never naive enough necessarily to believe in a Dream, but damn I didn’t know it would hurt like this.
I don’t mean to sound self-pitying. The Civil Rights Movement itself was defined by uproar and awakening. There’s nothing — not a pandemic; not nationwide uprisings after the continued state-sanctioned murder of Black people by the police; not seven-hour waits at ballot boxes and legal elections being questioned and irreparably damaged by a white supremacist who stokes racial unrest; not even insurrection — that’s worse than what Black people have fought and faced down and banished before. But I’d hoped by now that we’d at least be fighting newly cloaked battles in new ways, not a flat circle of the exact same battles in the same exact ways. King said “we’ve got to give ourselves to this struggle until the end,” a mantra he proved true with his own life. 12 days ago I watched as a Confederate flag marched through the Capitol, a feat that wasn’t even accomplished during the actual Civil War, and even though I know (I know) it’s awful, I couldn’t stop myself from thinking: What the hell did he give it all for?
Less than six days before this Martin Luther King Day, Ayana Pressley, a Black woman representative from Massachusetts, one of the most powerful advocates for Black and brown people speaking up in Congress right now, announced that in the days before a lynch mob descended on the U.S. Capitol, all of the panic buttons in her office had been ripped out. Her Puerto Rican colleague, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who much like Pressley has become somewhat infamous in hate mongering white supremacist circles, openly feared for her life. And here’s what I can’t stop replaying: Representative Pressley’s response to this violence? These experiences “were harrowing and unfortunately very familiar in the deepest and most ancestral way.”
The deepest and most ancestral way. Latosha Brown, one of the fierce Black women organizers in Georgia who just finished a momentous feat overcoming white supremacist tactics of voter suppression with her organization, Black Voters Matter — a cause King laid down the blueprint to fight for over 60 years ago — reminded us on Dr. King’s birthday just this Friday: “The same energy that killed him is the same energy that we witnessed at the Capitol.”
It’s feels impossible not to see this Martin Luther King Day as one of grief and mourning.
But Black liberation politics is one of turning impossibilities into stubborn realities. I mean, someone once told enslaved people it was impossible they’d be free. And so, while I am immensely grieving how clear it is now how much work is actually left, how little it feels like we’ve come as nooses are hung outside the Capitol building and Twitter threads are full of Black people warning each other to “stay at home, stay safe” like we’re whispering into the wind, I’ve realized that the reason I couldn’t write this essay was that I was looking in the wrong place. We don’t need Dr. Martin Luther King’s words — we need his actions.
On Wednesday there will be a new President, and he will be a Democrat. That is no reason to rest; it’s only a reason to push harder. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 happened under a Democratic President. The original Voting Rights Act of 1965 happened under a Democratic President. Dr. King and was a never-ending thorn in Lyndon B. Johnson’s side — an exceptional political organizer and strategist — and so too, should we. And even that will only be a start.
The good news, the best news even, is that we have already been doing that. The key is in not letting up. To recognize these newest waves of vitriolic flames of hatred as also a marker of our work. Dragons breathe the hottest fire when they feel threatened. And good. Let them.
This morning, I thought a lot about another Black organizer, a mentee of King who was only 23 when he was not only one of the lead organizers, but spoke at the March on Washington. Who was 25 when police brutally beat him on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, in a march for voting rights which he led. Another giant lost in this agonizing year.
John Lewis left us on July 17, 2020 — in the middle a summer defined by uprisings for Black Lives — but his final goodbye was not published until the morning of his homegoing service. In it, he wrote a public letter to Black Lives Matter organizers: “Emmett Till was my George Floyd. He was my Rayshard Brooks, Sandra Bland and Breonna Taylor. He was 14 when he was killed, and I was only 15 years old at the time. I will never ever forget the moment when it became so clear that he could easily have been me. In those days, fear constrained us like an imaginary prison, and troubling thoughts of potential brutality committed for no understandable reason were the bars.”
Of course, those days are also now, he realized. But unlike me, he didn’t become brokenhearted. Instead, he found peace knowing the work would continue. It will always continue, as long as we don’t let the fire die out.
“While my time here has now come to an end, I want you to know that in the last days and hours of my life you inspired me. You filled me with hope about the next chapter of the great American story when you used your power to make a difference in our society…
That is why I had to visit Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, though I was admitted to the hospital the following day. I just had to see and feel it for myself that, after many years of silent witness, the truth is still marching on.”
It’s funny. So often we talk about how Dr. King — or John Lewis, or Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker, Bayard Rustin, so many who others have walked before and are now immortalized — are more than their black and white photographs and grainy newsreels. But we’ve never less needed paper doll cutouts of revolutionaries than we need right now.
In our upheaval, soft words will not save us. Look to the playbook instead.
Almost six months ago to the day, Javicia Leslie was announced to follow Ruby Rose’s Kate Kane as Ryan Wilder, the first ever Black Batwoman. My very serious and understated quote here on Autostraddle, the lesbian paper of record, was an all caps “LET’S FUCKING GOOOOO!!!!!!” — so, no big deal. Supremely chill vibes. And it certainly hasn’t hurt that Leslie has spent the entire time since her announcement seemingly becoming a one-woman Black Bisexual Queer Nerd Catnip, complete with an enviable kicks collection, an adorable dog (he’s a pit bull rescue!), and ahem, an affinity for bodysuits. Still, whatever my confidence, it was hard to suppress nervous butterflies when I received the Batwoman Season Two press screener for review.
Just to get it out of the way, right at the top: Ryan Wilder is not Kate Kane. I suspect that sentence might make some of the original fans uneasy, but let me follow up by saying the decision to make Ryan a woman of her own changes very little about what makes Batwoman beloved. Ryan may run warm in all the places where Kate instead chose calculated cool, but she loses none of the badass strength that makes Batwoman who she is at her core. Her tomboy swag’s more Nike Air Force 1s than Kate’s James Bond bowtie, but the bravado itself is still undeniable. They are both proud, out lesbians.
In Leslie’s hands, Ryan Wilder is instantly and infinitely likable; she’s a little emotionally raw and surprisingly snarky (her humor was easily my favorite thing about her!). Overall, she comes across as very true to her original character description, “a girl who would steal milk from an alley cat and could also kill you with her bare hands” — which just happens to be my favorite kind of woman. (Other parts of her character’s description, namely having “spent years as a drug-runner” were mercifully and correctly adjusted after casting a Black actor in the role.) If for some reason none of that wins you over, please also know that Ryan is a plant mom!! And as a fellow plant mom, please know that we are the best kind of people.
Going into its second season, Batwoman couldn’t have possibly had more stacked against it. The series namesake abruptly left after one season, the writers had to write them out while also maintaining continuity — when nearly all the characters of the series, including the lead villain, are directly related to Kate either by blood or love or both (I found Ryan’s new connections to Alice to be shockingly unexpected, yet organic and fully believable). They had to do all of that while in the middle of a global pandemic the likes of which haven’t been seen in 100 years! Oh and then they cast a Black woman to literally be the first very Black person ever to don the Batsuit on film; Javicia’s casting announcement came during a summer of Black Lives Matter protests and uprisings and now her TV debut as Batwoman will occur as we are once against bearing witness to large-scale white supremacist violence in this country. So again… supremely chill stakes here. Really just going for the hat trick.
The thing about comic book superheroes is that on the surface they may seem silly — all brightly colored suits and flying capes and gizmo gadgets and KABLAAM — but they are some of the most homegrown, American mythos that we have. They’re the stories we tell children, right from the youngest age, to explain right from wrong. They become buried deep, right into the marrow of who we are. Even people who have never picked up a comic book in their life or barely ever watch television know who Batman is. And when Batman is a billionaire playboy with fancy bat toys, or Ironman is a billionaire playboy with fancy Iron Hearts, or Superman is a homegrown blue-eyed boy right from small-town Kansas, that says a lot about who we believe can be “heroes” in the first place.
Kate Kane originally mattered, not only because her story was great, but because at the height of national debates around “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,”gay marriage, and what it means to have the full rights of citizenship as a gay person in this country — she was kicked out of West Point for being a lesbian. But now it’s 2021, we are facing the dying gasps (we can only hope) of a fascist wannabe dictator that has cannibalisticly fed from and emboldened the violent racist backbone that has long existed since the founding of this country. After years and years of work at the hands of Black activists, cries of Black Lives Matter are finally sweeping this country. It’s time for a new story.
I’m glad that Caroline Dries, Batwoman showrunner, for deciding to make Ryan an entirely new character — not to recast Kate or to adapt another DC property into the role. The questions we are facing, the stories we need to tell ourselves now, they require fierce new answers. At least from the premiere episode, it appears that Batwoman won’t shy away from the responsibilities that it’s facing. I don’t want to wade too far into spoiler territory, but Ryan’s backstory comes with multiple points of entry to explore the ways that systematic racism impacts Black America Gotham specifically and opens up critiques of state-sanctioned violence that I don’t believe Kate, a military trained fighter who’s father is the head of the CROWS, would have been able to ask.
In her LA times profile published just this weekend, Javicia Leslie feels the weight on her shoulders, but she’s not letting it crush her. “Now that Ryan is becoming Batwoman, I feel like it opens up the possibility of what it really means to be Batwoman and that it doesn’t really matter who’s under the suit… Anyone can put that suit on and be a hero.” Superheroes shine brightest when they are made for their moment.
That doesn’t mean that this Batwoman is robbed of joy! I’ve already mentioned Ryan’s contagious snark, but as someone who deep in my bones loves a good woman villain, Rachel Skarsten continues to make my skin crawl in the BEST kind of ways. The fight choreography is slick, the bat toys are aplenty, and there’s gay melodrama and tortured loves. All the things that made the first season of Batwoman grow into its best are accounted for and welcomed back. Narratively speaking, what’s being asked of the Batwoman writers’ room is a tall order by any definition. They handle the transition as smoothly as anyone could have asked them, finding a tone that feels like its past but also a new and exciting terrain. And there’s enough about Kate left to continue to unfold in the episodes to come. Just as a nerd and a fan, I was impressed that anyone could pull that shit off.
Next week we’ll be back with even more details and a weekly Batwoman recap (!!!!) from Nic (!!!) — one of my favorite queer recappers in the game right now (have you read her work on Black Lightning?? It’s so smart and so, so good!!) — but for now I just wanted to say: If the writers of Batwoman can successfully walk the tightrope of “What happened to Kate Kane?” and the staggering, necessary demands of this moment we are living in, and still manage to get in a few flirtatious winks while they’re at it? There’s absolutely no telling what’s next.
Batwoman Season Two premieres Sunday, January 17, on The CW.
Police have released a CCTV photo of people they would like to speak to in connection with the attack on Anthony Crumbley. (GoFundMe and Boston Police Department)
A gay Black man in Boston, Massachusetts, who was stabbed and left in a coma for four days, is living in fear knowing his attackers are still “out there”.
Anthony Crumbley was walking home from a bar in South Boston at about 10.45 pm on 18 December when he was attacked, according toCBS Boston.
The 25-year-old said: “The two males and a female approached me and two males attacked me and stabbed me in my neck and in my stomach, and pretty much ran and left me there.”
Suffering life-threatening injuries and left the bleed out on the ground, Crumbley was taken to Boston Medical Center where he spent four days in a coma in the hospital’s ICU.
Police have released a CCTV photo of people they would like to speak to in connection with the attack, but reportedly said they have no reason to believe the stabbing was a hate crime.
Crumbley insisted: “I believe it was an attack that had to do with gay hate because, you know, I dress very femme and I’m a very outspoken person.”
Still recovering in hospital, the young gay man said he is living in fear and struggling to make ends meet after being stabbed.
He wrote on a GoFundMe page: “No one has been arrested for doing this to me and I’m scared, truthfully, knowing they are still out there on the streets and could do this to me again at anytime.
“This traumatising situation has left me hopeless, after waking up from being in a coma for four days in the ICU at Boston Medical and I’m STILL here in the ICU now writing this on my birthday, December 26th.”
Crumbley’s mother passed away one year ago, and he is the legal guardian of his 12-year-old sister.
He continued: “Before all this happened I was very energetic and outgoing, always doing what was needed to make ends meet for me and my younger sister. I just don’t know how I’m going to make ends meet now with this gained disability from my attackers.”
He said that after the attack, his left arm is now not functional because of “the severed nerves in my C6 section of my shoulder”.
He continued: “I have to figure out how I’m going to ever finish raising my sister the way she deserves and give her everything I never had… Working won’t be an option for me at the moment until I can fully recover, so even though this hurts me and is so embarrassing to say I’m asking for help from anyone and everyone who knows me personally or who this even touches the slightest.”
Anyone with information is asked to call Boston Police at 617-343-4742.
I’m continuing to wrap up the LGBTQ-inclusive kids’ book reviews for the year, so here are two recent titles that share the stories of Black transgender children—one a girl and one a boy—and their supportive families.
My Rainbow, by DeShanna Neal and Trinity Neal and illustrated by Art Twink (Kokila), is based on Trinity’s own life. The book opens in the Neal’s living room, where Trinity, her two sibings, and her mother and father are sitting together. Trinity is stroking her pet pig, Peter Porker. “She loved soft things, just like many kids with autism, and Peter’s hair was perfect,” we learn. Her father is playing the cello, “enveloping the room in tranquility and making it feel safe.”
That sets the tone for the rest of the book, as the family maintains a safe and supportive place for Trinity and her siblings (including Hyperion, who is nonbinary and uses “they” pronouns). One day, however, Trinity says that she can’t be a girl because she doesn’t have long hair. Her mother notes that she, the mother, has short hair and is a girl.
For Trinity, however, it’s different. “I’m a transgender girl,” she says.
Her mother already knew she was trans. “Trinity’s gender was part of what made her a masterpiece, just like her autism and her Black skin,” she reflects. Yet she senses Trinity is trying to convey something more. She listens, and Trinity explains, “People don’t care if cisgender girls like you have short hair. But it’s different for transgender girls. I need long hair!” Her mom gets it. The problem is, however, that Trinity’s sensitivity to texture means she dislikes how her hair made her itchy when she tried to grow it out before. Her parents confer, but neither has an idea.
Trinity’s older sibling Lucien then suggests going to a beauty shop (where the clerk has a “they/them” tag on her apron), but none of the wigs he and his mom find there seem right. He then has the idea that Trinity needs her very own rainbow wig. The mom works long into the night on the wig, although she has never made one before.
In the morning, Trinity cries tears of joy at the wig her mom made from the colors Lucien chose. The rest of the family comes in as she is dancing joyously and surround her with a loving group hug.
This book is such a pleasure on so many levels. It’s great to see an entire family of color in an LGBTQ-inclusive kids’ book; it’s terrific to see a story with a trans character that doesn’t center around the revelation that they are trans (an important topic, but already done in several books); and it’s so, so, wonderful to see that the whole family is nothing but supportive right from page one. The love of the family for Trinity and their desire to help her shines from every page. Less important, but notable are the antics of Peter Porker, who tries on wigs, paints his hooves with nail polish, and generally provides background amusement on every page—the kind of fun extra details that can make a picture book even more of a delight to read.
Read more about the real Trinity and her family, their fight for transgender rights, and their pet pig, in this 2017 article from DelawareToday.
My Name Is Troy, by Christian A’Xavier Lovehall and illustrated by Chamar M. Cooper, is a self-published title available for sale through the author’s website. “My name is Troy, and I’m a beautiful, Black Trans boy!” it begins, then takes us through Troy’s day in rhyming couplets as he shares what he likes and doesn’t like. “It’s okay that I don’t like dresses, or my hair long in pretty tresses,” we learn. He doesn’t like pink, or playing with dolls, but “it’s okay” that he likes to play outdoors, play sports, camp, explore, and play with bugs. He likes race cars and trucks, vampires, zombies, and collecting rocks. “Like most kids” he also doesn’t like to do his chores. As he goes about his day, we see images from his life and with his parents, who are also Black.
While most of his likes lean towards the rough-and-tumble variety, he’s also “kind and not mean” and tells us, “It’s okay when I cry and need a hug” (as we see the image of his father hugging him). He proudly waves (or wears) the trans flag on several pages, and towards the end, we see a “photo” of him and his extended family as we read, “I love my family and they love me too!”
What the book lacks in a narrative plot, it makes up for with a joyous “slice of life” portrayal that conveys Troy’s self-confidence, enthusiasm, and family support. Trans boys whose activities and interests go beyond the traditionally “boyish” ones that Troy favors might not see themselves reflected quite as well, but they should still be buoyed by his happiness and the love that surrounds him.
Lovehall himself is “a proud Black Trans man with Caribbean roots” he tells us on his website. He founded and organized the annual Philly Trans March in 2011, has worked as a certified peer specialist helping trans people in recovery from alcohol and drug addiction, and is a certified doula, hip-hop artist, and freelance photographer. The back of the book tells us that this story “is a re-envisioning of the love he wished he received from his family.” He adds, “My Name Is Troy is not only a children’s book, but also a tool to help families see the importance of creating support systems and safer homes for Trans youth.” May his words and his book reach the ears that need to hear them.
Both My Name Is Troy and My Rainbow fill a much needed gap in the picture book representation of young Black trans lives. No one book (or even two books) can capture the entirety of those lives, however. And while the images of supportive families are absolutely vital, one further thing that neither book here shows us is Black trans children playing with friends who are supportive of their identities. Kyle Lukoff’s Max and Friends series and Tobi Hill-Meyer’s A Princess of Great Daring are good models for showing how this can be done. Perhaps that’s a subject for Troy and Trinity’s sequels.
(As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.)
When straight cisgender people travel, they think about the sun, spending money and which tourist spots to hit first.
But travelling as queer person means having to think about homophobia, and about the more than 70 countries in the world where homosexuality is illegal. Travelling as a Black person means having to think about the anti-Black racism that remains entrenched around the world. And travelling as a Black queer person – in a world where more than half of LGBT+ people of colour have faced racist discrimination from within the queer community, never mind outside of it – means thinking about both.
This is something Paula Akpan, the Black British lesbian journalist and historian, knows all too well.
Once, when trying to plan a trip with her girlfriend, Akpan made a list of countries around the world, skipping the ones where they might face threats of violence from racism or homophobia. It left a very small, sad list of places that might be safe.
“For the longest time I wanted to go to Italy, until I saw Black people being like: ‘No!’” she tells PinkNews.
Although historically beautiful and easy to get to from London (where Akpan lives) Italy has a serious problem with racism, something many travellers might not be immediately aware of. For reasons such as this, Akpan and many like her are reliant on word of mouth when planning.
“I’m very dependent on what other people – specifically Black people, and ideally, Black queer people – have to say about places that they’ve been,” Akpan adds.
“When you’re having a gay bar being described to you, it’s like, but is it white? Is this a space that I’ll feel comfortable with?”
Out of this experience came the idea for The Black Queer Travel Guide, a resource that hopes to stop people from having to choose between their Blackness and their queerness when travelling.
A web app populated by articles written by queer Black locals, the guide would make travel and exploring while queer and Black easier safer and more enjoyable.
Using it would be as easy, Akpan explains, as saying “you have 24 hours in Rio de Janeiro, here are the places that you need to go. And all of these places are Black queer-friendly or Black queer-owned”.
At its heart, The Black Queer Travel Guide is about more than just vacationing – it’s also about connecting and building ties across the diaspora, enabling users to find community in the countries that they or their families are originally from.
“In a country where it’s criminalised to be queer, then of course, you’re going to be somewhat underground, or will be using language or platforms in a way that isn’t as easily accessible,” explains Akpan. “If you don’t know where to look, it can feel like you are the only Black queer person in a country.”
So far, Akpan has created a web app to host The Black Queer Travel Guide with a group of developers, and is crowdfunding to commission Black queer travel writers from around the world to populate it, offering unmatched insider knowledge, authentic information and resources.
Funds raised will also go towards moderating the guide, with second stage funding going towards the development of a fully-fledged app.
“In five years time, I would love to have a downloadable app,” explains Akpan. “You arrive at your destination, you open it and there’s a pinpointed map that shows you what’s going around in your area with ambassadors from various countries who are happy to show people around.”
The crowdfunding site is currently live and welcoming donations here.