For years and years, I never had a serious Black girlfriend. I dated White women and didn’t think it mattered. As a Black lesbian, I was already so deep into “otherness” that my intersectionality dance card was full. My race-woman mother didn’t care. She stuck to her hard line: “Don’t matter if she’s green, it’s still a woman.”
But 15 years ago, I was color blindsided when I met Jana, a brown-skinned beauty with a Southern accent that was soft and sweet like meringue. We started as friends and turned into much more. I knew something crazy had happened when I’d catch myself singing “Brown skin up against my brown skin,” like some off-key India.Arie. In our first heady months, I really didn’t know where hers began and mine ended.
But our love is more than skin-deep to me. Being with her has helped me be more comfortable in my own brown body.
Not that I needed Black cred. Having grown up in suburban Denver, I had already gone through the dance of “You ain’t really Black.” I’d done the work. Hair—check. I’d had a full-blown Michael Jackson–esque ’fro, then 15 years of dreadlocks. Education—check. Double minor in Black studies and African-American literature. Work—check. Twelve years at a Black magazine, thank you very much. You think I “talk White”? F**k you. Angela Davis wrote the foreword to my first book. Don’t try it.
But when Jana came into my world, she rocked and altered it, too. It turned out that I needed more than brown skin in my arms. She brought a kind of down-South Blackness into my heart and my soul. My family did the Mississippi-to-Chicago journey at the turn of the last century, but I have never lived in the South. With her, I feel like I’ve come home.
I love hearing about her childhood in East Texas, spitting distance from Louisiana. She tells stories so long, they twist and wind and go on for days. She can put her foot in a pot of gumbo and deconstruct the taste and texture of roux. At her family reunions, my Brooklyn foodie kids and I get overwhelmed by nine kinds of slap-your-daddy, kick-your-mama barbecue and tables groaning with carbs. Our shared history also matters to me. We enjoy reminiscing about white cotton gloves on Sunday, Vaselined knees and double Dutch. When she hears “Meeting in the Ladies Room” by Klymaxx on the Sirius soul channel and screams, “That’s my jam,” it’s my jam, too.
Still, sometimes I get surprised by her conservative streak, a remnant of that same Southern Black upbringing. When we first got together, Jana was terrified to come out to her family, years after I’d been there and done that. When my kids and I spent Easter in the town where she was raised, I was introduced as a “friend” or “roommate” because she was afraid of rejection if her family knew the truth. “You don’t understand—things are different in the SOUTH,” she insisted, and suddenly the region became ALL CAPS.
After several days of that charade, I confronted her. “I love you, but I will not pretend and force the children into an elaborate game of make-believe,” I told her. “Tell them. They will not reject you; you will not lose your family. They adore you. And anyway, they know already. These people aren’t stupid. Why are two middle-aged women—one with small children—living together and spending holidays together? They know already, but everybody’s just too Southern polite to mention the love that dare not speak its name.” It all worked out, and her family is now my family, too.
Jana is also much stricter than I am as a parent—just short of “Baby, go get me a switch.” Once, I heard her telling our teenage daughter why she could basically NEVER have a boy in the house. “When I was growing up in the SOUTH and brought a boy home, we’d have to sit on my porch swing with my grandmother watching over us.” Huh?! What was she talking about? First of all, there was no boy; Jana’s been a lesbian since the womb. And I’d seen her childhood home. No swing. No porch. Why was my easygoing, sexy partner turning into my grandmother?
But I don’t sweat this small stuff. My mother’s happy; she says she has three daughters and never tacks on “in-law” when referring to Jana. We still live in a multiculti world full of mixed-race children and interracial couples—a rainbow coalition in every sense—and that’s where we belong. But as a psychic once told me, “When you find your true love, she’ll look like you.” She was right.[Read more moving, personal essays examining different facets of Black love n the February issue of EBONY. On newsstands now. Click here to subscribe.]