Historically, lesbians and queer identifying feminine and masculine presenting individuals have been digested by society in a very particular box. She, he or they, are usually white, feminine in nature, bisexual or verse. Even when we reference the most popular lesbian T.V. show in LGBTQIA history, The L Word, out of the seven main female leads (Bette, Tina, Shane, Alice, Jenny, Dana and Helena) not one of them was truly “butch” or dominant presenting. Even Shane, who was written as the most butch of them all, was a soft butch at best, who found herself regularly being sexually objectified by men. And when we do get black queer depictions in media, which is rare within itself, that same box is applied.
Bianca Lawson (Pretty Little Liars) was a soft femme, Rutina Wesley (Queen Sugar) a bisexual soft femme, Samira Wiley (Orange is the New Black, Handmaiden’s Tale) a soft stud, Sonja Sohn (The Wire) a soft stud, Nafessa Williams (Black Ligtening) a soft femme, Aisha Dee (The Bold Type) a bisexual soft femme and Shanola Hampton (Shameless) another bi-sexual soft femme. Even more, these characters are usually paired romantically with white or non-black partner. For example, out of those listed above, Sonja Sohn’s character in the Wire is the only one who did not have a white or non-black romantic partner during her run in the series.
"Lovedby.her was created to provide a safe and diverse space that features images and stories of black queer love, and evokes discussions around what it all means to be truly loved by her."
In 2017, the OWN network launched a new show ‘Black Love,’ that focused solely on the storytelling and celebration of love experienced between two black partners. Out of the 13 episodes that aired, only one featured a black lesbian couple. Back in April of this year, both Essence and Refinery 29, released digital content highlighting black queer couples. However, both couples bore lighter complexions, presented soft in nature, had curly or fine-textured hair, and were more petite, skinnier womxn. They represented a very particular, socially acceptable sector of the black queer community. And it was these particular videos that prompted my reaction, which in turn, pushed me to create this platform. Because I knew, at that very moment, that the narrative around what our community looks like and how we love had to be adjusted.
And while I won’t argue that these depictions of black queer love are untrue, and won’t be ungrateful for the representation or take away from the great work of all of these actresses–these images don’t even scrape the surface of what the black queer community looks like.
Not only are we all not just womxn or those who identify as such, we aren't all light-skin, or mixed, or petite, or skinny, or soft in nature. Some of us are darker, larger, more dominant, trans, non-binary, have 4c hair, have never been with a man before, or even prefers to wear men clothes on a daily basis. But those versions of us aren’t shared because those versions of us are not socially acceptable. Or deemed as what is digestible to the mainly heterosexual audiences that these platforms serve. Creating a very limited narrative of the black queer community, one that suffocates us and one that erases us.
The lack of proper and diverse representation of our community has bothered me my entire life. I didn’t even know being able to identify as "queer" was an option for me when I was younger because I had never seen images or been around other gay black womxn. I knew I always felt different, but never was provided the environment to understand or explore those feelings. It wasn’t until I was almost out of high school that I was around other black queer womxn, and it wasn’t until I was in college that I experienced what intimacy and love from another black womxn felt like.
And even now, at almost 30, I still rarely see relatable images and stories of black queer love and experiences. Especially, of womxn who look like me: brown, thick, with a fat nose and small eyes. Those narratives, those stories, those moments, those experiences–need to be told and shared. Not only for womxn like me, who grew up not knowing that it was okay to be loved outside of what is socially acceptable, but for the entire community of black queers who are looking for examples of happiness, success, longitude and love between two black queer partners.
"Because I knew, at that very moment, that the narrative around what our community looks like and how we love had to be adjusted."
Those are the type of examples that shape us, motivate us, give us confidence, and provide a narrative that we can relate to when navigating love as a queer black person.
Lovedby.her was created to provide a safe and diverse space that features images and stories of black queer love, and evokes discussions around what it all means to be truly loved by her. I chose to build a platform about black queer love because these images, and stories are something I wish I had growing up, something we should no longer have to ask for.
So the next time you find yourself questioning what it means to be black, queer and navigating love–you can find those answers here.
Editor-in-Chief, Kee Simone