Fluidity Gradation Through My Lens

I think my head has been lightly swirling around gender identity and expression long before I sought out the words to explain it. I let it all swirl though, never feeling the need to cling to a singular thing. Feeling genderless early on in life. It never weighed on me. I was just being.  As we all should be allowed to as children. As we all should be allowed to be in adulthood. I hadn’t taken for anything I had to figure out. I was just Corrine. I tried to wrap my head around my sexuality before I ever tried to wrap my head around anything gender identity or expression related. My sexuality did weigh on me very heavily, bricks on chest heavy, and that was something I felt the need to figure out.

My mother told me I was a princess, and this didn’t quite stick with me as princesses couldn’t get dirty and they had more restrictions set on them. I wanted to run with the wolves and come home covered in dirt, smelling like body odor when the streetlights came on. I remember a group of kids around the same age of me as I stood in my front yard, for some reason probably trying to take photos of myself with my point and shoot camera (the original selfie), they all stopped and examined me on the sidewalk near my house. I was about 10. They took a moment to whisper and consult and then sent off a brave wolf from the pack. He asked boldly with his chest and genuinely curious eyes, no harm meant, “Are you a boy or a girl?” I blinked, taken aback. I didn’t respond for several beats until an inaudible answer slipped my lips. I wasn’t quite sure what I’d even replied back myself.

I enjoyed the hard edge of masculinity, the protective cloak, the risk-taking, the cliff-jumping feeling it brought from head to toe. I enjoyed skateboarding with the boys. I mostly have brothers and only one sister, so the masculine energy in my home growing up certainly outweighed the feminine, but I found myself from the onset of my life embracing both, finding treasures in each individually and in the balance of the duo. I’ve always found pleasure in the balance. Something that arguably goes overlooked in the globally known Chinese yin and yang symbol is that the line separating the two is a curved line, flowing into one another, rather than a hard, fixed one.

During my brief stint in catholic grade school I refused to wear the staple and highly encouraged plaid jumpers or skirts. My brother didn’t have to, so why did I? Instead I wore a wrinkly white button down shirt with navy blue pants or navy shorts in the warmer months like the boys did. Scabs visible on my knees. Hair unkempt and it a ratty ponytail. So unbelievable ratty that my older brother’s friend Tony called me tornado head in the hallways. I had a crush on my friend in second grade. She was a girl. I knew it was different, but didn’t view it as wrong or unusual. I looked at her the same way I looked at the boys I had crushes on. I flirted during Friday mass. If the nuns knew they would have full on lost their shit. 

Middle school was when my penchant for writing and poetry grew stronger. I was in advanced writing classes and in poetry club. I felt like the pretty boy in class writing love poems for all the girls I admired. Seventh grade was the first time I could remember where we openly discussed queerness in literature and poets that were likely queer upon dissecting their writing. This was also my first instance in academia where this was discussed in a positive setting which, for a literature nerd like myself trying to dig deeper into all that was going on inside my body was, amazing. I also foggily remember us discussing Shakespeare being bisexual when grazing through all of his sonnets. Feeling like a newly charged confident and romantic writer, I found this to be a way I expressed love. I developed a relationship with my best friend the summer leading into 8th grade after sharing endless pages of yellow paper of poems I’d written for her to which we never told anyone about, though I believe my step dad caught on. Princess and prince charming fell in puppy love until it could no longer be.

Now, to be clear, orientation or gender is not and should not be judged upon strictly by what someone wears, though ever since I was allowed to choose my own clothes I have nearly always presented androgynously or more masc then femme. There’s an exception of some months in high school when I tried my hardest to present hyper-femme perhaps to try to convince myself more that I was hetero through and through as I began developing more secret relationships with some of my classmates. The way I presented didn’t match the energy I had felt vibrating inside. My internalized confusion and suppression of various things leaked into my freshman year of college leaving my head further spinning and ultimately adding on my list of reasons to take a semester off to get some headspace, think about it all, and teach myself how to breathe again.

I never had a true “coming out” moment outside of my immediate family (I never felt the need to explain myself to anyone else), but by the time I was wrapping up my teens and ready to go back to college I told my mother, step dad, and siblings I was coming out but not exactly sure what as. After a dizzying, depression embedded, closeted adolescence I needed to be open to explore and if they weren’t receptive to holding space for that then they couldn’t be in my life. Graciously enough, they welcomed this exploration with open arms. I thought that the only thing I needed to express with them was that I was exploring my sexuality and it was TBD, but certainly far from hetero. Maybe I was a lesbian. Maybe bisexual. Maybe pansexual. Maybe I’m none of these things. All in all, I had to go explore and I may or may not come home with a girlfriend. (Spoiler: I came home with a girlfriend). I wore bisexual for a little bit until I realized that wasn’t something I personally connected with either.

One of the first things I published on this blog in 2016 was about exploring fluidity (along with a shout out to Frank ocean for being open with his fluidity), but I was only thinking about it  in terms of who I was open to loving or sleeping with. I eventually began to think about it more as a state of being. I started to really delve in, exploring myself, researching, and incorporating it into my work in college. I began to form relationships with, talk to, interview, and photograph people who identified from bisexual to pansexual, queer, genderfluid and genderqueer, etc. I spoke with as many folks as I could from bisexual transgender men to cisgender queer women to non binary identifying folks asking what fluidity meant to them? As a whole? What’s beautiful to me about fluidity can mean something different to each unique individual. There’s a gradation. Not everything is meant to be understood, especially something that can be as complex or rich as someone’s unique identity or identities. Some shared broad stories, some spoke of specifically orientation or specifically gender. 

 All of the connections made, new friends, stories shared, data collected, was affirming for someone like myself who couldn’t choose one concrete, surefire label. Nothing was sticking. It was like “news flash: you don’t have to be just one thing.” Connecting with others allowed me to connect more with myself. I ultimately told my long term partner that I had to end our relationship because I realized there was much to be explored, and I needed to do so alone.

In terms of sexuality specifically I tend to resonate with lesbian and queer. Taking extended baths in my dyke energy. Some days I feel like neither of those things, something without a word, or just Corrine again. I’m certainly aware and respectful of the fact that this isn’t everyone’s queer experience and there are many who resonate and are very happy with specific and various labels, I found initially as I was navigating through all the infinite layers of queerness, that the more labels I try to slap on myself or lock into my skin, the more caged in I felt and the further I get away from myself. My expression felt stunted. My flow is stopped. In the past I was left hurt, confused, and feeling asphyxiated when I connected with a label and then what I was feeling internally changed and I felt like I couldn’t move forward because I had already chosen one thing and thought I had to stick to it. I have caught myself recently referring to myself as simply fluid when people ask what I identify as which has been feeling more and more comfortable and airy. If you are happy with a specific label though and you connect with it, you should wear it proudly and boldly wherever you feel safe and where you are held.

Additionally, Queer to me specifically feels all encompassing because I believe it always me to explain in 5 letters what can’t really be explained at all in gender identity and expression, sexuality, etc. There are plenty who shy away from this umbrella term. Personally, I never felt attracted to one singular gender. I float through different states of being. I’ve never felt rooted in one. Look at gender like a moving target rather than something as simple as a fixed point. Many of us are capable of being dynamic, fluctuating, multi faceted human beings. 

I think part of the reason I struggled coming out in my adolescence is because I didn’t have the language for what to come out as. I grew up in a small town in northwestern Pennsylvania, no one was exactly spelling it out for me either. I didn’t have references in front of my face. So, I thought why bother trying to explain to others when I couldn’t even explain it to myself yet?

I fully take into account that it is a form of privilege and not everyone has had the luxury to not think about identity or expression not have it weigh on their brains. In fact there are many who suffer from body dysmorphia and varying mental illnesses cyclically. I remember fighting hard to keep my femininity specifically after being forward with my relationships with women I somehow, for some reason, thought it’d be violently erased altogether (which is a whole other article in itself because my sexuality was invalidating to many because I wasn’t presenting “ butch” enough presenting dyke.) which is not something I wanted either. Also, as a black femme identifying person in the world you are already viewed is this rough and tough, hard, angry, violent, less than human, irrational individual before you open your mouth. Regardless of what you’re wearing, who you’re seeing, what bathroom you walk into. 

There are so many set constructions pushed out about what a black woman is and a lot of that doesn’t allow room for tenderness, femininity, soft edge, sexiness, queerness, etc. I’m not your “bro” or your “man.”  At my core, I am so proud to be a black woman and I find myself swimming, treading, and sometimes sinking delicately through womanhood and all that it has taught me, and most definitely all that’s yet to come. The divine feminine is truly no joke. It’s ethereal, but I must take into account that I am entirely fluid in my being. Let’s not forget about the divine masculine. This is not to negate or erase my womanhood or anyone’s womanhood. My womanhood could never be erased. This, to me, furthers it. As Rihanna said in recent months: “I came from a black woman, who came from a black woman, who came from a black woman.” I think this allows me the opportunity to continue through another sector of womanhood, if you will. It’s an additional layer of its own. Womanhood with varying tiers of masculinity. Not a new concept. Also: white men aren’t the first to do it and most definitely not white straight men…by any means. I’m aware of the burst of adoration, and praise for white folks gender bending in the spotlight or on the red carpet presented as if it’s this suddenly new phenomenon white male-identifying people are responsible for and cracked the code.  Now, with all due respect, better luck next time. Out Magazine published this piece titled: Why Do We Only Love Genderbending When White Twinks Do It? Food for thought.

I would encourage anyone interested in exploring their queerness to climb whatever mountains you see fit and be open and receptive to all it has to offer. There’s always more to be explored. Isn’t the beauty of drinking a smoothie how great certain things taste when blended together? I’ve viewed femininity and masculinity as an idea and oftentimes a specific performance. In my earlier work I studied and dissected the idea of femininity specifically. Calling into question gender roles, what beauty means and by whose measures, conventional beauty, femininity and it’s erasure in regards to black femme identifying folks specifically. I thought about these performances more and more every time I was yelled at, chastised, looked at sideways, and told to act like a lady or asked why are you acting like a boy. When did we become actors? Of course, you can’t exactly expect someone who is very rooted in their specific performance or not understanding of a spectrum to grasp this. 

 An idea in general is something that is not quite concrete. Something that is meant to be worked through, reworked, explored, thought about, transformed, expanded upon, added on, or thrown in the trash. Is an idea ever complete? I’m not so sure. I feel like it’s something that’s always expanded upon or deleted. When I was young I thought it was incredibly cool that people called me a tomboy because that meant I got to be a boy while still being girl. Some spat it out as an insult towards me. I wore it more like a societal hall pass and found freedom in it. I got to do all of the things that were considered unfeminine and “un-lady” like while still being a small girl.  I’ve always felt androgynous and felt at my center. Some could argue it’s a dated term. Personally, I really connect with it and think it’s a misused term in the way it’s put out today. Androgyny transcends a fashion category, trend, or a runway look.

Even what I’m saying now, is incomplete. Aren’t we nearly always changing? Or evolving? I change every 4 months. Thoughts change, chemical makeup changes, feeling changes. We change. If we truly are submissive to all that comes our way and allow ourselves the opportunity to do so, we all as individuals will go through various cycles. It’s ok to change over time. Whether I’m appearing masc, femme, or androgynous, my presentation is not necessarily changing how I feel internally which is truly a mixture of things at once. Some things pulling more than others at certain times, that I don’t have to explain to anyone. Lucky you, this post is a treat! You also don’t have to explain your identity to anyone if you don’t wish to or aren’t comfortable doing so. Your identity is not for anyone else to figure out. It’s yours. 

There are very few things in this world that are actually binary. I’m not bringing any new information to the table by saying this either. I’m bringing my perspective. We, society, tend to get a bit carried away with constructs, conformities, and gender roles so much that we don’t allow ourselves to just explore all that can be explored when we’re not so stiff.  If we’re receptive and not repressive to all energies I believe that more people could be woken up to that fact. With this being said, this isn’t a small feat. Not everyone is accepted. Some people take more time to come into themselves than others. Some people need more time. Some people aren’t in situations where it’s safe to fully embrace themselves. Many are mislabeled, misgendered, or misunderstood.

Fluidity allows for elimination of a binary way of thinking to which has been long programmed and fed to the masses. Not everyone is exhausted from playing their role. Feeding into the charade of who we’re told we must be. How we must act. What we must wear. What lines we should exist in. What determines a man. What determines a woman. What negates a woman. What makes a man. What negates a man.

I had a man who was close to me in my life say to me: “Let me tell you how men like to see women dress and what men don’t like to see.” I might’ve sighed for at least three years.

An incomplete thought…


Defining Allyship

I’ve called Pittsburgh home for a while now and a place I feel very comfortable. Even in a place where I’ve found solace, I’m acutely aware of all the good, the poor taste, and all things considered. Circumstances that directly affect myself and others including. Being a black woman, I’ve often been met with push back, some of which I felt inclined to be silent about. Sometimes admittedly in fear of not being heard and fear of not being believed. This is not anything that is foreign to black people. I’ve commonly thought: What’s the use? I see many people turn their heads away and walking in the other direction countless times, every day. Leaving me wondering sometimes: Who is my ally? Who are our allies? I know I’m not the only one to wonder. I speak beyond simple companionship and past platonic or professional bonds. It’s not hard to feel isolated, erased, and alienated even in areas where we are supposed to feel welcome, places that promote acceptance and a strong sense of community. How many places that claim to be a safe space are actually a safe space and for what type of bodies? 

I find myself sifting through layers of announcements of solidarity claimed by some white folks in particular. In my eyes, many of these announcements seem to be very performative being that I commonly see the opposite of unity and lack of follow through. Additionally, with the Internet and computer screens offering blankets of protection from work in the outside, physical world, I find that some folks who are white may take advantage of this age to skirt around actually uplifting and aiding others, but make it appear as they are actively and wholeheartedly engaged simply by inputting their two cents forward. I see Facebook posts, Instagram flyers, hashtags, and also pictures of safety pins on shirts that allegedly affirm we, are seen, heard, protected, and undoubtedly supported. Are we protected past the cyber heroes? I don’t believe the aid is fully coming forward as it should.

Fortunately, more black voices are given platform and are being elevated, but this doesn’t mean that black voices are always being heard no matter how loud our volume is. Yes, we’re able to speak up more frequently, but his doesn’t mean we’re being met with attentive and active ears. There’s always going to be pool of people tuning the cries for help out and people causing the cries. When we address the injustices we are experience we are seldom being met with support. Instead we’re being met with radio silence. White supremacy still reigns. Discrimination still reigns. All things under the umbrella. Invisible yet sturdy segregated lines are drawn between neighborhoods. Blatant racism, bodies being kicked out of their homes, neighborhoods being gentrified, homes are being taken over for new developments and a disintegration of affordable housing. Teenagers are getting shot three times in the back and their murderers are being let off scotch free. Black people ask for support because we don’t hold the same privileges as white people and in many cases not the same privileges as other POC’s. Dismantling racism is not our jobs nor something we are responsible for. Black and brown folks are also not responsible for the education on how to unlearn behavior and break down long held systems. When we need support and are asking for it, why is it so hard to get it but so easy for some to claim ally? Leaving us most commonly to fend for ourselves and those in our surroundings. Is the declaration just for a pat on the back? When it comes down to it, who is showing up and how? Are we engaging in useful and meaningful discourse? Are we listening? Are black folks receiving access to funds, spaces that are truly safe, jobs, opportunities, and knowledge? It also extends beyond tokenizing black folks and disguising it as “inclusivity”. Including one person or a slim slice, in a narrative to solely benefit you or to create an illusion of progression is not unity. It’s a window display. 

Alternatively, black women and femmes aren’t entirely being protected. White folks need to actively work against denying access to resources and discrediting black women and femmes.  Additionally, black mothers need protection. I see black mothers suffering, much like Antwon Rose Jr.’s mother having to sit through a trial only to not have justice for her son. Police brutality being denied. Single black mothers are not being offered childcare or being denied affordable housing. There needs to be acknowledgement and support to those who fall outside of the category of the able bodied, cisgender white person. Do those who hold positions of power and influence such as property or space owners present opportunity to individuals in need or do they act as gatekeepers who thwart advancement? I don’t see an abundance welcoming of black people in spaces or an abundance of creating space for us to feel comfortable in. In fact, we don’t need to be in your spaces (metaphysical and non) if racism and discrimination is not firmly addressed and eradicated. We’re moved to create our own spaces and have been for a very long time. We sometimes struggle to mold our own opportunities due to lack of ones presented and even so these spaces aren’t always supported. When’s the last time you supported a black owned business? In turn, allyship includes race but it doesn’t end with it. Queer folks need allies along with trans folks, folks in the disability community, women; there are several marginalized sectors that are often being ignored. How are you making space?

There’s no point to parade unity when there is very clearly division and a stalemate. I say this to address the lack of accountability for stiff arming and overlooking people from varying walks of life. Addressing some white people directly: countless black individuals have been misused, mistreated, disregarded, and erased. If we want to work toward a more transformative world, you can’t choose to be present only during instances you believe directly affect you. It’s more than just listening, but it does begin with listening. It goes beyond saying you’re showing up and requires you to actually show up.  If you’re out to receive a good samaritan award and not fighting injustices and discrimination from your heart, then you’re adding to the problem. Allyship is continuous work that may vary day to day, circumstance by circumstance. If you want to truly be an ally, you must do the work to be one, which may inherently and inevitably mean putting yourself in a position that is unfamiliar and uncomfortable in order for reform. This should go without saying, but historically Black people have been put in uncomfortable circumstances throughout our whole lives. Accountability and reform should be offered at bare minimum. It’s just the very beginning of the work. Here’s a list composed of areas to start for those willing to aid:

  • Listen to Black people with intent
  • Hold yourself accountable
  • Issue no excuses or empty apologies when in the wrong (Don’t  invalidate or discard Black people as an immediate reaction if they speak to you about behavior or injustices experienced)
  • Don’t shut down and victimize yourself when you’re told about your behavior
  • Address and eradicate racism and discrimination in your spaces
  • Actively engage in useful discourse and action regarding inclusion and accessibility
  • Support Black owned businesses and organizations
  • Support disabled Black people
  • Provide opportunities for Black LGBTQIA individuals
  • Donate funds and pay reparations directly to Black folks
  • Assist Black people without telling anyone you’ve done so (Google: white savior)
  • Don’t gaslight or manipulate due to your own discomfort in attempt to protect yourself
  • Be willing to unlearn behavior patterns, racism, and micro aggressions continuously
  • Commit to anti-racist work
  • Don’t use any degree of violence against Black people verbal or physical
  • Be willing to stand up and open the floor for dialogue to hold other white people accountable
  • Understand that announcing allyship is redundant if it’s empty or not followed through
  • Recognize the many tiers of racism including colorism i.e. favoritism and only being receptive towards light skin and white-passing Black folks
  • Don’t further sabotage and silence the marginalized voice

In order to come together, cracks must be mended and fruitful action must be taken. This will never be an overnight mission. If the infrastructure is old, decaying, and crumbling apart, then we must tear down and start anew. If the aim is to be progressive, faults and the varying degrees of violence must be acknowledged and not something that continues to be swept under the rug leaving cycles to repeat.

Where are our allies?

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