Hashtags like #BrownGirlMagic, #BlackGirlsRock and #CareFreeBlackGirl represent a movement of self-definition led by black women for black women. A self-definition that seeks to motivate, push and create space for black women to stand up straight in the crooked room that is America’s commitment to distorted and backward portrayals of black women’s humanity.
Similarly, stories written by queer black women have been instrumental in creating an inclusive, diverse space within the larger black female community. Having queer black female writers freely penning their own stories challenges the notion that there is one way to be a black girl.
Writers like these inspire us to reclaim our narratives and embrace the ones that we have yet to create, eliminating the fear of painting the strokes of what it means to be a black woman with one brush and with one color—especially as it relates to black love and black sexuality.
Meet five queer black female authors who are using their voices to clear out racist, sexist and homophobic spaces to make room for all of our stories.
In 2012, Dennis-Benn made history in her native Jamaica when she tied the knot with her wife, then-fiancee, in the first same-sex wedding on the island. And now, in 2016, Dennis-Benn continues to create ripples of change with Here Comes the Sun. Her debut novel, which Dennis-Benn calls a “love letter to Jamaica,” puts the tourism industry, homophobia, the legacy of colonization and poverty front and center. The book follows the hard but necessary decisions that Margot has to make to be able to pay for her younger sister’s school fees. During the day, she works at a luxury hotel. At night, she sleeps with rich white men for sex. Amid this duplicity, she also has to reconcile her feelings of passion and love for a woman in a society where being who she really is could kill her.
Even though her debut novel, The Star Side of Bird Hill, mainly focuses on themes of family, mental health and separation through the eyes of Dionne and Phaedra—two sisters sent away to spend the summer with their grandmother in Barbados while their suicidal mother attempts to make sense of her world in New York City—Jackson uses what happens to the character Jean close to the end of the novel to begin a meaningful discussion about what it means to be queer in the Caribbean.
BLACK GIRL DANGEROUS
Mia McKenzie is the founder of Black Girl Dangerous, an online safe space created to “amplify the voices of queer and transgender people of color.” Her debut novel, The Summer We Got Free, is a complex story that is at once murder mystery, political commentary and a queer love story about what it means to be truly free. McKenzie takes no shortcuts in creating memorable and enduring fiction: strong character development of not only the protagonist, Ava Delaney, but also of supporting characters; a gripping plot; and attention to themes of family, loss and redemption. All of these elements make it easy to fall in love with all of McKenzie’s characters and allow readers the space to have their own awakenings.
LaShonda Barnett’s Jam on the Vine follows Ivoe Williams, a brilliant black journalist who escapes Jim Crow laws of the South to live in Kansas City, where she and her lover, Ona, start the first female-run African-American newspaper. Barnett also penned the short-story collection called Callaloo & Other Lesbian Love Tales.
COURTESY OF HOUGHTON MIFFLIN HARCOURT
Chinelo Okparanta’s Under the Udala Trees was released in 2015, a year after Nigeria’s then-President Goodluck Jonathan signed a bill that criminalized same-sex relationships; violators of this law could face up to 14 years in prison or risk death by stoning. Okparanta uses the star-crossed love of Ijeoma, an Igbo and Christian, and Amina, a Hausa and Muslim, to demonstrate her ongoing commitment to chronicling the lives of gay and lesbian people in Nigeria.