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Photo: Ron Clemons for the Buckeye Flame
"I spent the day with a staff writer who is 39 years my junior, doing my best to give them not just an idea of queer elder life in Cincinnati today, but also a sepia-tinted picture of what transpired over the decades that led to the current 'Here We Are' moment," Clemons writes.
You know the phrase, “If you don’t make peace with the past, you’ll be unable to move forward”? Sometimes making peace means just catching up to where you are currently. Sometimes, it means envisioning a very different future.
Looking at the past is an opportunity not only to understand how we got to where we are, but also to improve our personal experiences, and those of the people we interact with, as we move forward.
It was in this spirit that I made the decision to participate in the recent Buckeye Flame article
chronicling “a day in the life” of an elder queer in Cincinnati. (I am using the term “Queer” with the understanding that it’s an uncomfortable or less-than-empowering term for some readers, but it works for me and this piece).
I spent the day with a staff writer who is 39 years my junior, doing my best to give them not just an idea of queer elder life in Cincinnati today, but also a sepia-tinted picture of what transpired over the decades that led to the current “Here We Are” moment.
Whether it was Pride marches morphing from protests to celebrations, the decimation of our community due to AIDS, or the resulting support system to take care of our siblings or our internal push to be more inclusive, our lives as Queers look very different now than they did when I first came out.
This wasn’t my first time with such an opportunity. Over the years, I’ve sat on panels, led discussions and given presentations on queerness, typically from a fairly generic perspective. However, over the years and for the past seven in particular, given all that we have witnessed as a nation, I felt it was important to revisit the past through the eyes of Blackness, Queerness and Longevity. So it was with that energy that I embarked on this daytime journey.
While I was relating stories about parts of my early queer life, it struck me that while the brick-and-mortar structures of that time no longer exist and many of the people and players are gone, I still carry the spiritual and emotional impact of those days with me.
In some ways, the period when I came out was the perfect storm. It was shaped by the civil rights movement, the Stonewall riots and the declassification of homosexuality as a mental illness.
All of these events took place prior to my coming out. However, they certainly shaped and impacted how that process would look and work for me in 1975, when I initially embarked on to self actualization, acceptance and being me.
Additionally, at the time, I was also keenly aware of the inequities, injustices and racism within my queer peers, which also shaped my experiences over the years: Black folx having to show multiple ID’s to get into bars and clubs, hearing phrases like, “It’s dark in here” referring to the numbers of Black and Brown skin folx in an establishment or the silence when racist comments were made. These all had an impact in the formation of my identity.
As we were traveling around the city for the article, it became clear that while it may have been a fact-finding mission for the writer, for me, it was the beginning of a healing journey. At the time I came out, there were no diversity, equity and inclusion personnel or committees in organizations. There were no processes in place to deal with the complexity of emotions that came about as we all moved into uncharted territory.
Taking this brief trip down memory lane brings those years into sharp focus, as well as brings the realization that while much has changed, much has remained exactly as it was then. The difference is now there are opportunities to learn from and address issues in ways that were not available before—and it is imperative we take advantage of these opportunities.
One certainty is that life is a cycle. It’s telling that I have the same emotions when watching current events unfold in our country as I did 60 years ago as a 10-year-old Black, Queer boy. Witnessing the same behaviors and hearing the same words coming from an entirely different generation leaves me with the same childhood feelings of sadness, fear, confusion and anger.
I’d like to believe at least now I have a better understanding of the world. However, I really don’t. What I do have is a better understanding of myself and what I can do to make my remaining life experience one of joy and celebration.
I’ve always truly believed that being Black and Queer is a gift. As far as I’m concerned, being older, Black and Queer is the trifecta of life. While I can’t change the past, I can make different decisions as life presents its offerings to me. One of the ways I, as well as others at this juncture of life, can do that is to tell our authentic stories.
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Just like the songs of Maya Angelou’s caged birds, speaking our truths will set us free.
This commentary was originally published by the Buckeye Flame and republished here with permission.
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