Letter # 2: The Apology
The Apology: who the fuck you calling Casper?
I’m sorry. I attempted to erase us, transform us into Caspers. I disregarded our humanity. Our gifts. I overlooked our sight, undervalued our insight. I looked in the mirror and saw nothing. No me. No you. No us. I closed my eyes to Marsha, Miss Major, Pepper, Audre, Deborah, Bayard, Willi, James, Perry, Joseph, Richard, Stormé, you, and so so many others...
Up until about a month ago, I argued that Black LGBTQ+ folx were invisible. Anytime I was asked to explain this argument I would share something like, “well, Black people are always presented as straight and cis. And queer and trans folx are always presented as white. So, we must be invisible. And ain’t nobody even ready to talk about the unique challenges we face due to our unique social positions in society.”
We suffer bullying and harassment in silence.
When we are murdered there is no outrage.
I sincerely believed that shit.
I held on tightly to the idea that we were invisible because nobody saw us. Clinging to such an arthritic lie nearly paralyzed me. Believing I was invisible and that I mattered to no one, I used my hands less. I created less. I gave less. I took up space less. I ignored my imagination and creativity. I couldn’t find any use for my hands or any other part of my body that wasn’t self destructive. What did I care? My pain and I were both invisible, and people couldn’t miss or worry about someone they never visualized.
Many of the Black people sprinkled throughout the stories told to and about us were heterosexual and/or cisgender, and a majority of the LGBTQ+ people who enjoyed visibility are white. Where the fuck was we at? Since I couldn’t answer that question, I concluded that we were ghosts among humans. I even co-authored a book chapter about us with the title: “why can’t you see us?” Whew, I was so misguided. Ignorant. Drunk on the illusion that we were not here. That the intimacy we shared wasn’t an expression of love. That Us showing up for one another was meaningless. That Us speaking our names was no more than just a warming up of our voices to say something greater, more important.
Thankfully, Toni Morrison happened. The universe sent me a ticket to see Toni’s documentary at a theater in Brooklyn (the doc is now on Hulu). I went alone. I sat in a row by myself. I didn’t wanna be noticed. I didn’t wanna take up too much space. There I was in that theater.
Lying to myself that I was Invisible.
Toward the beginning of the documentary Toni Morrison speaks about Ralph Ellison’s critically acclaimed novel about an unnamed Black man. Maybe you’ve heard of the novel. It’s called, Invisible Man. After highlighting Ellison’s talent for writing, Toni reflects on the book’s title and asks, “invisible to who?”
That question fucked me up.
Ellison was speaking to his perception of the invisibility of African-Americans. What was wrong with that? And then, Toni continued talking about the white gaze and later explored the notion that Ellison’s novel couldn’t have been written for her because she could see Black people. Celebrate Black people; Love Black people.
Black people weren’t invisible to Toni. Black people weren’t invisible to Black people.
Similarly, we Black LGBTQ+ folx aren’t invisible to ourselves.
We see us.
Toni led me to the sobering realization that by claiming we were invisible, I was hanging our whole existence on being seen and validated by others, privileging their gaze. If white LGBTQ+ folks didn’t see me, I was invisible. If Black cishet folks didn’t see me, I was invisible. If others didn’t see us, we were invisible. But what I now understand is that I see me. You see me. We see us. How can I be invisible if I can see myself? How can I be invisible if other Black LGBTQ+ folx not only see me, but love me? Does our vision not matter? Do our eyes not matter? Does our “seeing” not matter?
So, again, I’m sorry.
I am not invisible.
You are not invisible.
We are not invisible.
We see each other. And that’s enough. You see yourself. And that’s enough. Your “seeing” matters. It always has and always will.
Our lives matter.
Black LGBTQ+ lives matter.
I was trying to explore this same point in a poem-ish letter I wrote to us about a month ago. In that letter, I said :
A Flower is never unseen by the Sun.
We are at once That which reveals the ephemerality of shadows and That which gracefully pauses dreams to kiss the yellow dwarf at the center of life.
What I meant was that we are both the sun and the flowers. And the sun always sees the flowers. The sun sees everything. A flower is never unseen by the sun. And we know this is true because if the sun didn’t see the flowers, if they got no light, the flowers would die. Yet, we are here. Alive. All flowery and shit. Flourishing.
We are the sun. We are that yellow dwarf at the center of life (cute fact: the sun belongs to a group of stars known as yellow dwarves). We are that which scares away shadows each day as we rise. And each day we shine light on each other. At the same time we are flowers: precious, lovely, colorful, and the wellspring of so many important natural medicines. In addition, flowers provide beauty. Without flowers (Us), the world would be a much duller place. And as I said in my first letter, when you surround yourself with flowers, you breathe better. That’s us. Thank you for surrounding me and helping me breathe.
I will never not see us again. I apologize that it took me so long to recognize our power and our presence. I will actively work to keep us at the center of my life. I will actively work against allowing folks outside of us to shape my perceptions of us. They cannot define us. They don’t have the range. We are much too large for their eyes and much too human for their egos. And cuz I am aware of their limits, I will be more mindful about using the ways they see/don’t see me to see myself.
I will speak for myself and state that I no longer require their ability or willingness to see me to validate my existence, I just need them to get the fuck outta the way as I shine, and to not cut me from the ground before I have time to blossom.
We are not weak. We are not helpless.
We have never been and will never be invisible.
I love us for real,
P.S.- one of my favorite people, Gia, always says to me: "let them see you, pussy." I want her to know that I now understand that those who matter have always seen me. She sees me. And I see her. My sun. Her flower.
Let us see you, pussy.
When we hold true to the notion that we are visible and exist we release ourselves from the prison of trying to prove our humanity to others. Then, we’re left free to see us and what we need to live lives full of peace, love, and joy.
Link to our letter about us being the sun and flowers: https://www.shamarireid.com/ourletter