Tuesday, November 21, 2017

On Flamecon 2017 - Queerness Identity and Visibility - Self Worth & Confidence

Hello Everyone! It's been some time since I've posted here certainly, but I hope to begin to more frequently in the near future. Writing is therapeutic for me in so many ways, especially in these trying times, and even if these posts are just for me that is okay too. It's important to put oneself on a high shelf and keep your head up. Self care! I can't stress that enough right now.

Let's jump right into it. A few months ago, my dear Celinè and I attended Flamecon 2017. Flamecon, brought to us by the wonderful non-profit organization Geeks Out, is a two day convention dedicated to everything queer and nerdy from anime, to video games, comics, cartoons, table top games, and everything we as nerds hold dear to our hearts. The con features highly informative and entertaining panels by a wealth of insightful, intelligent, innovative, and moving individuals of many races, genders, and identities. It also has an amazing exhibitors hall that is a collective of amazing artists, crafters, and creators of all this queer media. There is also a game room to mingle and play with friends, and make new ones too. The cosplay is on point and everyone is so creative. The space is very inclusive, much more so than the dirge that is some of the other more large scale conventions, and though no con is perfect or truly without flaws, this one comes very close for me.

I can safely say that this was one of the best nerd conventions I ever been to in my entire life. I felt truly free. I was able to attend panels that gave me so much strength an validated me as a queer woman of color. I understand that true strength comes from self validation, but when you struggle with anxiety, oppressive environments, daily stress of not being fully "out" in all your social groups/professional life, pressure from society, and more, it tends to cloud your feelings about yourself and your identity.

Defining My Sexuality and Gender Identity

I currently identify most with pansexuality. In addition to that, I also identify with bisexuality and overall as queer. My personal definition of my sexuality has grown and changed over time, with a questioning point in high school, and a defining point in college. I won't get too much into specifics here in a public realm, but I'm always open to more private conversation on the matter if you seek that.

Pansexuality basically means an attraction to all regardless of gender identity. I ended up choosing this label to identify myself because I felt it fit best. Though bisexuality was fine for a long part of my younger years as a teen, and though it no longer necessarily implies a binary (that only two genders exist) in the queer community, I feel from an outsider perspective, bisexuality can often be labeled in a negative light. It's also an issue within the queer community too and can be alienating. That being said, I do still identify with bisexuality, but pansexuality personally makes the most sense for me so I use that most often.

I indeed fight back against those stigmas of bisexuality/pansexuality being a "phase", that eventually you choose a side. Regardless of if I am with a man, woman, non-binary, transgender, or any one else in between, I am and may always be pan/bi.

I identify as she/her/hers and I am cisgender, and that comes with it's fair share of privilege, as well as a fair share of invisibility or hyper visibility depending on what social circles I'm in, which I will get to later.

On top of all of this, I am a Black woman (of Afro-Caribbean descent) in her mid-Twenties. That also comes with some added stark implications when it comes to my sexuality and gender identity.

The Beauty of Flamecon VS. The Reality of Daily Life

As I said before, Flamecon 2017 was absolutely wonderful. We attended various panels that deeply discussed deeply nuanced topics on race and queerness to fun entertainment such as Yuri Manga. I'll list the specific panels below with a little bit of reflection on each:

The Future of Queer Media  
Superb panelists and an excellent conversation on queer voices in movies, television, books, and how to use our dollars to bolster or topple what we like and don't like coming out of the cis-het male capitalist domination of the media world.

Never Say Bi: Bisexual Erasure In Mainstream Geek Media
The title says it all. Joined by a group of bisexual identifying panelists we explored the ways in which bisexual erasure is so pervasive and how it negatively portrays and invalidates bisexual identity. This panel really resonated with me and the things I often feel as someone who is neither gay or straight, but falls in the spectrum in-between. Society and in turn the media it spawns has a way of emboldening that for the worst, and I see those predispositions creeping into how I'm viewed as a person on an interpersonal level. Bisexuality is real!

The Monstrous Queer
Featured guests Cecil Baldwin of the "Welcome to Nightvale" series and the infamous Mark Patton of "Nightmare on Elm Street" films, in addition to several other notable queer panelists discussed how queer people have always been a key part of the horror genre. How our stories were used, often negatively, to portray queerness as something to be feared, inherently evil, or damning to society. They also discussed how we could reclaim this territory for features that turn the old tropes on their heads the same way "Get Out" did with race based horror. I'm so ready to see the narratives change.

Into the Depths: Discovering the Best New Yuri Manga and Anime
An amazing panel by Erica Friedman of okazu.yuricon.com, which delved into the world of modern and classic yuri anime and manga alike! If you don't know what yuri is, it's basically "girls love", which can be from sweet and romantic to absolutely smutty and pornographic, but there is something for everyone's interests. Her entire presentation is available on her site for you to view of you are interested! She lists all the top Yuri gems available and please if you can support the official releases so they know it's in high demand. I thoroughly enjoyed this panel and I can't wait to dive head first into the world of immersive yuri media again. I particularly am interested in the ones that don't put the male gaze at the forefront, though that does have it's time and place even for me.

The Changing Face of Nerd Journalism
Similar to the first panel, moderated by Valerie Complex (link to her twitter) of "Black Girl Nerds" and several other amazing panelists such as Angelique Roche, they delved in an intersectional manner into the trials and obstructions of diversifying Nerd Journalism and Media for under-represented groups. I was very moved by this panel and so much truth was spoken that my head was spinning by the end of it, in a good way of course.

Graphic Sex: Comics, New Media, and the Queering of Sex Education
A topic that is very important to me. I feel that not only is proper sexual education severely lacking in this country, it's also bitterly heteronormative. Sex is stigmatized with so much shame for our youth which often leads to them partaking in risky sexual behavior due to a lack of proper education. The panel consisted of librarians, health practitioners, and health educators who are paving the way for a revolutionizing of sex education on a local and global level. Saiya Miller, author of the book "Not Your Mother's Meatloaf" was on the panel and had copies of her book available for purchase, which we did (and got it signed, yay!) Another book I highly recommend is "Oh Joy Sex Toy" (which I wrote a blog post about on my other blog, Speaking Me, you can read it here). Also on the panel was Youtuber Lindsey Amer of "Queer Kids Stuff", and though many people have very toxic an negative opinions of her approach to educating young children from an early age in a child friendly manner about sexuality, identity, and consent, Lindsey continues to persevere and we should all be in support of it.

So with that aside, need I say more? I was inundated with positive messages and information that will help to keep me moving forward. But the reality of it all is that it is sometimes really difficult to manage in a world that always finds some way to bring queer people down. Even people in my life that I carelessly deemed as tolerant individuals have gone on to show their true colors.

Such as the moments where supposed "allies" have an understanding for some of the people in the LGBTQ+ spectrum (mostly cis gay men and selected lesbian women) and complete disdain or even disgust for others (bisexuals and trans people for instance.) I've heard from my peers that bisexuality isn't real and that bisexual people are confused, as well as that trans people aren't real and no matter what they are still the gender they were born as and that they are afraid that a trans person could trick a cis person into thinking they were a "real" -insert identifying gender-. It's so awful and terrible, and I live and exist in places that masquerade as liberal spaces, but in reality people pick and choose what they want to be okay with coming from the LGBTQ+ community.

It's exhausting.

Being a cisgender woman, I'm not visibly queer. Even when with another woman, I get the "are you sisters/best friends?" question that is obviously coded. Often I get this question from men who are trying to size me up as a potential courting, and even once a would be sexual proposition for me and my partner both from a stranger at a rave who saw us dancing together (yes that happened).

With a man, I am inherently believed to be straight when I'm in fact not in the least. This happens to me constantly (also being polyamorous, I can find myself in different gender pairings and arrangements at any given time which adds another layer to this, but let's keep it simple for now) and though I know my identity is valid, others constantly invalidate it purposely or subconsciously.

At Flamecon and Pride, and other queer dominated spaces, these questions don't come up. These microaggressions don't exist. I can kiss, hug, and show affection to anyone I want to without repercussion. I don't need to second guess that kiss, that hand hold, of anyone - especially of my same gender identity. It simply does not matter.

Let's recall an incident that happened to me just last week. I was meeting up with my girlfriend in Harlem (for demographic perspective), and I hadn't seen her all week so I hugged her for a really long time.

Just a hug. A fucking hug.

I felt like, due to our environment and who was mulling around, we could not take it further. That, mind you, is stressful in of itself, having to mask your queerness, in this case as a woman who is feminine presenting dating another woman who is also feminine presenting. Our brand of love is branded for the male gaze in the media and pornography most often, so men often get the impression that our expressions of love are "for their viewing pleasure" at all times regardless of our consent (or lack thereof.)  This gives me sometimes painful anxiety in public (that I should probably seek professional help in dealing with, but again that's another story for another post on mental health and therapy), it also causes a lot of inner turmoil and puts a strain on all of my relationships.

Why is it ok when I show affection to a cis gender man as a cis gender woman, opposed to another woman?

I know why, we all know why, but does it have to be this way?

Going back to the hug, you best believe that some other cis men had to make sure they had a commentary for us, saying "Ooh, can my friend get a hug like that?" Implying, what I'm not sure, besides the fact that our expression of affection towards one another was something he and his friend could own, take part in, and ultimately ruin.

I hated that they felt they had that power.

I was very angry. Livid, to the point where I began mouthing off and had to eventually walk away before I lashed out and caused a scene. It may seem simple or not as severe to many, but to me this was an act of violence and oppression. A declaration of war so to speak.

I don't have to worry about these things in queer safe spaces, but the world is not by any means a safe space for queer people. So it's going to take a special brand of courage, confidence, strength, and endurance to keep moving forward and not let these trash people ruin my life and my love. They don't deserve to have that power over me or her.

If one of us were a man, those comments would have never been made.

Toxic masculinity at it's finest.

Not that men don't make comments about you as a woman when you are with a man. My favorite is the good old "Bro, is that you?" Of course I mean that sarcastically. I hate this most of all. It implies two toxic things, that firstly, I'm not my own person. That I am property of my male partner. That I'm a part of him. I belong to him. Secondly, it implies that my male partner is somehow inferior because I can't possibly be with him because of *insert shallow commentary steeped in gross male competition* It's disgusting, and I really despise any man who ever says this. Especially when they are confirming your belonging to another man which is the only reason he isn't going to continue to pursuit you if you peaked his interest.

He respects the other man more than he respects you and your autonomy. Yea, let that sink in.

This is why I prefer progressive queer spaces. There isn't much of that toxic patriarchy seeping in like it does in everyday society. Not that the queer community doesn't have it's flaws and bad apples, but it's definitely a much more comforting environment to exist in.

This is also why it's my goal to aid in the toppling of the patriarchy (namely the white cis-hetero capitalist patriarchy), which will ultimately give rise to a certain freedom and inclusiveness for all people. It always comes back to that you know? I can literally trace so many things wrong in our society to that, but that's a topic for another time.

But in more self controlled matters, it's important that I become more comfortable in my queerness being visible. That I own it and accept it. It's also important to be safe and stay aware of your personal boundaries. I'm not very comfortable with PDA generally, so I'm not going to force it to prove a point. What am I proving besides making myself feel uncomfortable? It doesn't really matter who I'm with either.

The majority of the time, no one really cares anyway. It's important, if you have the privilege to do so, to live your truth. Going forward I plan to move towards getting there, simply being more comfortable in my own skin as an openly pansexual woman.

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