Why Waiting to Help Then Demanding Recognition Isn’t It

Over the course of the last few days there’s been two flavors of discourse that have floated all over streamer twitter:
- Black History Month
-’Ally’ tags…again

I originally planned on writing about these items individually, but the more I considered it the more it began to intertwine, even though the tag discourse stemmed from queer spaces. It works out given that I’m a black queer woman so I’ve seen both conversations as they happen. So, let’s talk about it.

This past Saturday marked the start of February, and like clockwork many white people have recently discovered that black people exist. They wouldn’t have known this had it not been for Black History Month: you know, that month dedicated to our history, hardship, trauma, what have you. You see, we don’t actually exist the other 11 months of the year….

I can’t actually keep this satire up-stop waiting until the last minute to acknowledge black existence and black excellence. This mess happens every. damn. year. where we get into the final week of January and all of a sudden black people (and honestly brown people who are assumed to be black) are bombarded with invites and requests to be in podcasts, interviews, streams, vods, any flavor of content creation to ‘help commemorate Black History Month.’ Black History Month is the same month every year, so it’s not particularly hard to remember. It’s right up there with people who get mad at retail workers on December 22nd for not having certain things in stock for Christmas. It’s never moving off of December 25th. Why did you wait until the 22nd to try and shop for a season that’s been in full swing since (at this point) October? You knew.

What makes this worse is the fact that when people approach us at the last minute, it isn’t even about representation and inclusion: it’s a demand to fulfill commodity. Shocking to no one, often times we decline. Not specifically because what’s being done is wildly rude, but because we all, as people, have lives. We’re probably booked already with people who asked us about opportunities three weeks ago (as they should have), our own team events, our own real life events, and hell: some of us just work a full work week and want to sleep this weekend.

This is when it gets turned against us, because we’re supposed to be ecstatic and cheery that you thought about us at all (ELEVEN MONTHS MY GUY) and that you afforded US an opportunity to ‘really express what it means to be black.’

Yep. That’s a real thing I’ve read and heard.
And you have to understand: this tweet may be satirical, but holy wow is it not a far cry from things that actually happen:

And this is a real thing a white man said to me in private, many moons ago about joining his team conveniently during BHM:

We just aren’t expending the energy for it anymore. No, we don’t want to join your team, we aren’t interested in your podcast, we don’t care about your fundraiser, and I won’t break up your ‘whitey fest’ when you don’t even have the decency to acknowledge and respect my existence for more than one month and four days of the year. I’m adding the four days as a spot of generosity since that’s about when the frantic Black People round up begins (or those four days can be used throughout the other eleven months of the year as Reach Out and Pitch days). The issue is that even as a black queer woman, I can’t say ‘just admit you don’t care’ too loud or else I’ll be marked down as mean and not giving credit where it’s due. What do people want for credit, you may ask? Well, the answer may shock you. (The answer will not shock you.)

The conversation around ally tags has conveniently flared up after Twitch has announced the roll out new category tags, one of which was “Drag”. This somehow immediately reminded all nonLGBTQIAP+ that there is no “ally” tag on Twitch and that yes, the ‘A’ in LGBTQIAP still stands for Asexual/Aromantic/Agender. After being told repeatedly that they shouldn’t use the LGBTQIAP tag if they are not LGBTQ, the ongoing debate and issue seems to be ‘well where’s my tag? I want to announce to everyone how safe I am.’ You’re holding an entire community hostage. Yea, I said it: wanting an Ally tag just for you to steer queer content creators your direction and away from the queer communities is as self-centered as it gets.

I’m not sure how we somehow have glossed over this piece, but being a decent human being that doesn’t fling antiLGBTQ slurs all over their chats and also don’t allow antiLGBTQ trolls to hang out because ‘they donated a lot of money’ isn’t a reason to be championed as an amazing person: it’s the baseline. That’s…..literally par.

The basis of this particular convo is usually three things:
-but the Twitch description says allies can use it
-but how else will you know I’m a safe space
-but the A in LGBTQIAP stands for ally (I canNOT stress enough that it DOES NOT MEAN ALLY)

The Twitch description saying it doesn’t auto default it to ‘correct’. I mean hell, technically ‘Creative’ is the correct category for creative endeavors but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a defunct category. You still talkin’ about posting up there even though the category doesn’t work anymore? Because semantics?

Again: being a safe space is par. People use tags specifically to find communities they want to be a part of. We have LGBTQIAP+ because we want to find our queer brethren. We get you want us to know you’re safe, but the fact of the matter is many of you aren’t. Hostility in the name of being told ‘we would appreciate if you were just there for us’ is proof of that. Besides: would you use the Cooking tag to show how much of a cooking enthusiast you are even if you’re not actually cooking?

As a black queer woman, you can imagine that my rage on both topics at once is somewhere near the roof, possibly moving at lightspeed toward the sun. On the one side I have people who forget I exist until February 1st, on the other, I have a group of people who not only will tell me being ace is fake, but that I’m making changes to the queer acronym specifically to spite them and that I’m a terrible person.

I get the joys of combating people this month specifically about how no, reverse racism isn’t real; no, being ace doesn’t mean ‘I’m like a plant’; Affirmative Action doesn’t work like that; no, being called a ‘cracker’ isn’t nearly if even remotely as harmful as being called a ‘nigger’ or a ‘faggot’. It’s from all directions, every time. Bonus: it’s this month specifically, I notice, that people realize I’m queer; I’m ace year round, too. I’m placed in a positioning where in some cases I have to choose which is more important: it’s February, Vanessa, you Black first, right?

Nah, I’m Black, femme, AND queer first. I’m selfish. I want all of it.

Seeing the compounded trauma my Black family endures on the one month of the year used to honor our history at the same time that my queer family has to defend itself from well meaning Allies™ while existing as a woman is….a bit much. I watch as Allies™ punch down at Black people for having the audacity to point out how non-Black history (read: white) is taught as a mandatory piece of literature if you hope to survive grade school whereas Black History itself is an elective at the college level-and there’s different versions, so you’ll never be able to take all of them without extending your stay. The same Allies™ go out of their way to insist that they are deserving of sharing our spaces that, as a reminder, we had to make for ourselves for both safety and security. From cis/het peoples.

The biggest tell for all of these conversations though? Is how they never seem to come up until an Ally™ wants or needs something. They need to prove they aren’t racist. They need to prove that they’re queer-friendly. They need to ensure, when they do promote me and mine outside of February and June, that that means they’re ‘off the hook’ for those months. People still view racism and queer-antagonism in, as it was aptly described on Twitter, “turbo racism/LGBTQ-phobias”. They figure so long as they aren’t hanging us by a noose, burning us on crosses, calling us ‘niggers’ (*cough* to our faces *cough*), or saying we don’t deserve rights in any magnitude, they auto-default to Good Ones™….which makes it hard to talk about why they still can’t touch my hair, or that they can’t keep me around specifically to be a LGBTQ+ encyclopedia then tell me I’m wrong on everything they actively admit they lack knowledge on. What’s even harder to discuss is how, even during Black History month, I don’t really get an opportunity to talk about the figures I love, such as Marsha P. Johnson or James Baldwin. Instead all of my energy consistently has to be devoted to one or the other, lest I be branded a traitor. I can’t even talk about all the awesome work Kat Blaque is doing RIGHT NOW as we speak. February I have to keep it black and June I have to keep it queer. It’s…..exhausting.

I would love for an end goal for 2020 Allies™ to be to just…..stop doing this. All of this. Every bit. Matter of fact, I want Allies™ to at a baseline upgrade to allies, and at their best, upgrade to accomplices. We need those more than Yet Another White Person© explaining to me how when I say stop showing up for just BHM, it’s “actually divisive”. I can do without Yet Another Heterosexual Person© lamenting my existence because I will say, repeatedly, time and again, that you don’t need any tag representing you: you’re represented all over. You want us in your streams? Don’t ostracize us, don’t belittle us, and also maybe don’t tell us what WE NEED to be better promoted and dare I say, liberated from hetero-normative nonsense.

You should be vocal, active, LOUD year round. Not just when it gives you a chance to show off. Allies™ think the point they’re proving is that they’re a Good One by not calling us monkeys, by not cracking gay jokes, by just knowing why Black Lives Matter is and that The Trevor Project exists….but they aren’t collecting and cleaning up their friends, their viewers, any of it. It’s a self-centered show every time. Or they’ll make little rules and stipulations that ‘I’ve been promoting you all year, why should I have to do it during YOUR designated month?’ Saying you’re making space for us to ‘be great’ doesn’t mean you all of a sudden take an oath of silence.

Lastly, let us actually be great. If I want to talk about the Stonewall Riots and how Marsha did that and threw a brick into windows and at cops, let me. Don’t lecture me about how I shouldn’t use someone ‘like her.’ If I want to talk about the complicated love life of James Baldwin and the conversation around the White Gayze, let me. I actually do want to talk about it, because many people in the Black community dislike him because he was gay, others because being gay wasn’t an absolute focus (like being open and gay in the 40–60s was something that wasn’t gonna get his black ass beat down, shot, or otherwise. Come on y’all.). The man coded 95% of his talks and speeches to pander to hetero-normativity. When he did talk about sexuality, he coded it to pander to white people and used white characters. I want to talk about it.

And I want my future accomplices to support my endeavors to do such, whenever that time comes. Because it may not be during Black History Month and it may not be during Pride. We need you to have that energy year-round without expecting a batch of fresh made Good Job cookies, a Recognition badge, and without telling us we’re out of place because we want our conversations to be intersectional. Hell, we want our conversations to just be heard in most cases.

PT, aka Twstd, aka Auntie. Observer of people. Bright eyed but sharp tongued. Have a lot to say but messy on how to say it. Trying my best.