The day my old identity died
As Pride Month came to an end, some are still meditating on the significance
In July 2017, I received a text message from my high school sweetheart’s sister. She asked me to call her.
A month before, her brother Ladarius and I had a misunderstanding and had decided to cease communication. Our last conversations had been about him leaving Alabama to join me in Connecticut to start a new life. He was too loyal to our city, I’d tell him. I figured he’d convinced his sister to call me to settle our feud.
I can still hear her permanent words: “Our boy is gone.” It didn’t sound real. Ladarius Jackson was the only man I ever loved. His death on July 12, 2017, wasn’t expected. He was 25 and healthy. I don’t know exactly what happened, but only details mentioned from a police report. He was stopped by the cops and had a heart attack after being shocked with a stun gun. No one was charged.
The moment he left the world, I felt like my old identity had died with him.
A few years after his death, I became open to the idea of dating women, something he once asked me about, but I avoided his question. Reflecting now, I realize he saw the real me even when I failed to myself. While I secretly dated women and slowly told close friends, I still wasn’t comfortable with who I was becoming in the dark. As a Black girl from Childersburg, Alabama, a small town where I was raised with Christian values, my family didn’t believe in same-sex relationships. My family looked at same-sex couples as being against God.
Even though I never seriously dated men besides my high school sweetheart, my family simply concluded that I didn’t date because I was career-focused. Yet, I can recall watching Grey’s Anatomy in high school when the lesbian couple Callie and Arizona appeared on my television screen. It was the first time I considered that I might be gay, but pushed the idea down because of my religious beliefs.
A year after his death, I started to live two lives in 2018. I dated men, hoping my feelings would change. No one knew the fight I was dealing with inside my head. My appearance started to change and people began to ask if I dated women because they considered my look more masculine. I felt cornered; indirectly people were telling me who I was before I knew. I spent most days depressed and confused about my own identity.
It wasn’t until the end of 2019 that I was left with facing myself. I’d experienced more death. My nephew died in a bike accident. I also found out my dad had pancreatic cancer and my work friends who became my tribe relocated to different cities. So, I was dealing with being gay while also grieving unexpected deaths. I couldn’t keep my secret in anymore. In an attempt to make everyone happy, I had become trapped in a box of my own making and it was up to me to break out of it.
This January, I took out my hair weave and started to grow dreadlocks. I threw away my high heels and replaced them with Jordans. I took off my dress and put on my favorite sweats. This was the me that I always wanted to be. It made some people uncomfortable, but I didn’t care this time. I felt like I was in my own skin. Life had taken me through a journey and I finally blossomed.
I realize now that I am queer and not gay. Queer wasn’t a term I knew growing up. Queer is an umbrella term for sexual and gender minorities who are not heterosexual or are not cisgender. It was a word that was introduced to me by people who eventually became close friends. They didn’t make me feel ashamed of loving women, they helped me embrace it.
I love women. I love their strength. Their knowledge. Their power. Being with a woman was like a sacred place that felt safe. It felt right, but it was like my world was telling me it was wrong for years. I didn’t know any gay people back home. So, telling my loved ones was tough. It wasn’t something that they expected, but they still love and support me. For years, I let others define me, hoping I would fit in, but I realized God made me to stand out and that the only person I needed to please was me.
Yes, sometimes I get funny looks. I’m a Black queer woman with green dreads and a wardrobe full of Yeezys and Jordans. I tweet about sports design, the NBA and Gucci Mane. I love Adele as much as I love Gunna and Lil Baby. I post pictures of my dog, my family and my art. Growing up, I never saw any Black queer women in society. Now, I see myself in people such as Kodie Shane, Young M.A and Frank Ocean.
Pride Month ended in June without the annual parade. I was sad that I couldn’t attend, but I am proud I found my pride, despite society trying to take it from me. And as Black Americans continue to march across the country for justice, I now march with queer people, for Black people, for women and for the talent in the grave or the girl in the closet who was too afraid to come out.