My Uncle Thomas was so handsome. He rocked a handlebar mustache, was built with muscle, and had the most beautiful smile. From stories told by my aunts, he would light up the room when he walked in. He was funny and smart. And everyone loved him.
One of my earliest memories of my Uncle Thomas was hearing my father refer to him as “a queer.” At the age of 9 or 10, I remember my dad calling him a “sick queer” who lived in California.
Ya see, he left South Mississippi and was determined to make the West Coast his new home. And, he did. He left the small-minded people from down south.
But, as it also turned out, my Uncle Thomas really was sick. More sick than anyone could imagine.
He ended up dying from AIDS in 1989.
My little brother and I were not allowed to be anywhere around him.
After my uncle died, my father forbid any of his belongings to go to my uncle’s partner. As far as I know, his lover didn’t receive anything.
The way my dad uttered “sick queer” and “faggot,” I will never forget. It was vile. And no human, much less a baby, should hear it.
I feel in my heart my Uncle Thomas, whom I had only met as a baby, is here with me today.
He guides me.
I firmly believe he helped me get out of South Mississippi.
We both had ambitions, dreams, and most importantly, the likenesses to our characters. He would be my best friend if he were alive today. I know this in my heart.
The older I grew, I too was called queer. Whether it was regarding my high voice or my handwriting. My music. My love of singing. “Queer” was always thrown at me.
The earliest in life I can remember, I was called a sissy because I was a mama’s boy. This kid (me) grew into an adult who still thinks of “queer” as a derogatory term used to hurt me and others in our LGBT community.
You see, because of those traumatic memories burned in my mind, I WILL NEVER accept that the word QUEER has made its way into pop culture. And that we are immediately supposed to accept it as a positive thing.
There are people in our community who lack empathy and are disconnected from all of the pain that surrounds our community. It is blatantly disrespectful and harmful to the traumatic pasts THOUSANDS of us have and WILL HAVE, forever, to pretend it’s a word without power behind it.
Furthermore, it is bold to assume the majority of our country has the ability to understand the trans community enough to automatically welcome gender pronouns, and watch them turn around and SHAME OUR ALLIES when they say they don’t understand.
Listen to what I am saying. Live your truth! Sing it from the mountain tops! Being our truest selves, while living our most authentic selves is what we are here for! But understand it’s not that simple for the world to change.
Who are we to shame our allies into feeling guilty about something that is much more complex?
We will get there. It takes baby steps. Not strides. Strides burn bridges. Strides close doors. Strides burn your beautiful rainbow cake.
A cake is perfectly baked when it is not rushed. Our cake will bake, friends! We have empathetic and heartfelt allies from all over who want our rights, our presence, and our lives to be validated.
Our validation will not come at the expense of others’ lack of expeditious progression. And it definitely won’t come from embarrassing or shaming the selfless ones who come to our corner when we need them most, just because they don’t understand. Yet.
I think my uncle would agree.
Do you think some of our timid allies feel strong enough to use the term “queer” confidently? It can alienate our allies and forces them into a progressive direction that some don’t even fully understand yet. Our allies already think we should be entitled to live an equal life as our counterparts.
So, why keep pushing? My mamaw would say, it is like squeezing blood from a turnip.
Our pop culture has gone off the rails and is completely out of touch. It is vain. It’s assuming, arrogant and selfish.
We have finally started to make some ground on where we are as a minority in this American demographic.
But, don’t be blinded by progress. Do not ignore the trauma that is still here in our own LGBT community.
Lead with empathy and by example and celebrate the baby steps.
This piece is dedicated to my Uncle Thomas from South Mississippi. Love you. Forever and always.