Love Wins:  Or How My Dad Became a Queer Black Feminist

#ThisIsLuv:
How My Dad Became a Queer Black Feminist

Alexis Pauline Gumbs on being embraced, not tolerated, by a father who has become her biggest champion

by Alexis Pauline Gumbs, February 17, 2015

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Love Wins:  Or How My Dad Became a Queer Black Feminist

I am sitting in the passenger seat of a large SUV.  My father is driving, and I am on the edge of sleep. I have spent countless hours in this exact situation.  Like when my father drove me 13 hours back to Georgia from New York every summer during college.  Or the countless short trips to the afterschool activities that my siblings and I attended in Atlanta.

Or that time I fell asleep afterschool in the car and woke up to discover he had driven us to Birmingham to show us the 16th Street Baptist Church where 4 little girls his age were blown to pieces one Sunday morning in 1963.   

This is an important teaching space for my father.  He is telling me that if I like hip-hop I need to listen to the Last Poets first.  He is telling me not to stick my hand out the window in traffic if I want to keep it.  He is getting quieter than I have ever known him when we are pulled over by the police in Virginia.

My father and I have been through a lot in these large vehicles where we sit facing the same direction with a generation and cup-holders between us, but tonight is different.  Tonight, my dad is driving an SUV in New Jersey.  I am sitting in the passenger seat as usual.  And in the backseats instead of my biological siblings, I hear the laughter of Aishah Simmons, Angelique Nixon, Jeshawna Wholley, Julia Roxanne Wallace and a crew of folks headed to a hotel after spending the day at Rutgers celebrating the life and legacy of the Black lesbian feminist poet, activist and educator Cheryl Clarke.  

My father has spent the whole day with us as we listened to scholars and artists speak to the necessity of Black lesbian poetics, begged Marci Blackmon to read her erotic literary scenes, swooned at Cheryl’s butch audacity and decades of gorgeousness, ate together, laughed together and celebrated what it means to have a brave bold Black feminist lesbian and self-identified Queer Black Troublemaker like Cheryl Clarke in our lives.   At around noon, Cheryl said "Surely your father isn’t still here." And he said "Of course! I’m a queer Black feminist too."

So as usual, my father is driving.  But as a straight 60-year-old Black man of West Indian heritage I know that he never knew he would end up here.

In a time where parents abuse and throw their children into the streets and refuse to accept their LBGTQ identities, we have to increase tolerance.  It is a safety issue for the legions of young people who face violence at home and violence in the streets because of the wide-spread ignorance and fear of difference that is part of mainstream American culture.   Because they have less access to privilege in a racist society, Black youth and especially Black immigrant and trans youth face horrifying consequences from this national culture.

But my father has taught me that we can envision more than just tolerance. We can witness transformation in our lifetimes. My father’s response to my journey has taught me that we need to invite an active response to our Black LGBTQ love for ourselves and each other and not a passive one.

Usually we hope and pray that the straight parents of LGBTQ children will NOT do terrible things.  We hope they will NOT tell them they are going to hell.  NOT kick them out of the home.  NOT force them to pretend to be straight and gender-normative.  NOT physically, emotionally or verbally abuse them.  NOT withdraw support for their educations.  NOT mis-gender them or force them to answer to names that don’t resonate with who they are.  NOT disrespect the families they create.   Basically our hope is that parents do NOT negate the lives of their LGBTQ children.

#ThisIsLuv moves from what it looks like to NOT negate, to celebrating models of what we actively want to generate.   And my father’s continued actions over this past decade are a model that I am blessed to be witnessing.

My father’s response to my multi-faceted journey is full of generative action.  My father attends events in honor of black women writers like Cheryl Clarke and Ntozake Shange not only because I participate in these events, but also because he genuinely sees their work as crucial resources for the world we deserve.  He reads my scholarly work (sometimes multiple times when it’s dense) and takes seriously my arguments that the lives of black women and the practice of queer mothering clarify the meaning of survival for our entire species.  Beyond simply consuming these ideas, my father spreads the word. 

A cousin of his who is an award-winning schoolteacher had never heard of Audre Lorde.  Daddy promptly read her Audre Lorde’s “A Litany for Survival” and sent her a copy.  He often beats me to the punch on social media, calling out problematic statements and events that exclude a Black feminist perspective.  

My father is ready for a world that honors Black queer women and everyone else.  And he knows it means fundamentally transforming or dismantling almost every institution that currently exists.  And he knows it means transforming himself and taking action. What I find most affirming is the fact that my father has integrated this practice so deeply that it shows up in his own writing. 

When my former partner passed away suddenly, my father wrote a poem of affirmation in her honor.  A few months ago, he wrote another poem for my current partner in celebration of her militant and fierce energy.  Last year, he wrote one in praise of my sister-mentor, Black lesbian filmmaker Aishah Simmons and her life-saving work to end sexual violence.

My father even has a forthcoming collection of poems entitled Without Apology: In Honor of Black Women where he celebrates Black women, not in relationship to the ways they serve Black men, but in terms of the necessary challenge that they present to society by continuing to be themselves in the face of oppression.   The first two people he asked for feedback were Aishah and Black lesbian literary genius Alexis De Veaux.

When I talked to my father the other day he said that he never had the intention of becoming a queer Black feminist.  He never even knew what that was.  It exceeds my own expectations to realize that my love of Black women personally and politically has invited my father to change his relationship to what it means to love Black women, including me.

Growing up in tokenizing spaces where I was often the only Black person or the only queer person, I have expected to be misunderstood and disrespected. I have expected to be tolerated at best.  I have expected to have to fight for dignity that is freely granted to people who don’t face the oppressions I face.

My father’s diligent, transformative love shifts my expectations.  His example invites us to embrace how difference challenges us to question and re-write who we are and how we love each other.  If my father is driving the car or if enough people follow his example, we will live in a world so much braver than tolerance.  We will arrive, sooner than we thought, in the world that we are creating where love wins. 

For more info on #ThisisLUV, click here.

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