Phil: Hey, this is Phil aka Corinne..
Alex: And I’m Alex Berg, and you’re listening to…
Phil: The I’m From Driftwood Podcast.
Alex: On today’s show, we hear two stories that discuss experiences with race in the LGBTQIA+ community.
Stephen: My name is Steven Winter. I’m originally from Chicago, Illinois.
Femi: I’m Femi Redwood. I’m from Milton, Delaware, which is about 15 minutes outside of Rehoboth beach. Teeny tiny little place in Delaware with about 13 black people, six of them were my family.
Stephen: I am here to talk to you about the time this guy named Nathan called me and said he wanted to talk about black gay issues. It was a journey within myself that I went through this week when I was trying to figure out as someone who is perceived as gay and perceived as black can respond to somebody who is perceived as white and perceived as gay, who has a great intention of putting together the special section of this website, which is lovely and will continue to be even lovelier, without pissing myself off because I don’t want to be the black guy.
Alex: So this was one of the biggest pieces of his story that I appreciate when he, from the get go, just breaks the fourth wall down to say that he really had to weigh what it would mean to tell his story and the possibility that his identity would be shaped and perhaps oversimplified or narrowed by the outside viewer or listener to distill to just his blackness and his queerness, and having those other parts of him erased. And I think that it speaks to the way that people are tokenized and that this narrative is formed for them.
Femi: So after I came out, my first girlfriend was black. Two or three girlfriends later, I was dating this white woman… white girl… whatever she was a teenager too.
Stephen: So for every single thing I did this week, you know, and I had some business to do, I had some art to do. I had a couple different towns to visit and a whole bunch of people to meet. And in my mind, on a regular week, I’m just… I’m Steven Winter, you know, art guy, film person. This week, I was Steven Winter does-not-want-to-be-black-gay-guy.
Femi: Yeah, I was dating her and I was working at the outlets in Rehoboth beach, Delaware. And I had a coworker who was a white gay male, and we worked together and we would have lunch together. He was really fun to hang out with.
Stephen: Still wanted to have relations with men and dudes still wants to, You know, proudly operate under a society where cops think, and black is fair, but did not want to respond in a way that would help perpetuate what I think is a status quo that really should be moved beyond.
Femi: And so one night we’re in his car. He says that he doesn’t think black and white people should mix. They shouldn’t be in relationships and they shouldn’t mix. And he’s telling me that he does not think basically that I should be with my girlfriend or, like, anyone of different races should be together. And like, You’re a gay manI Like, this is the same ridiculousness that people put on you.
Alex: What her white coworkers said was so offensive!
Phil: And the fact that they were friends! She talked about this coworker as they hung out all the time, they have lunch, and then for him to drop a bomb like that… that was pretty incredible.
Stephen: There was from Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Austria, and he was a Jew turned Catholic. He was fleeting the Nazis,
Femi: Needless to say we did not… we didn’t talk much after that. So then I went to my college in Mississippi. I went to a historically black college because I wanted diversity. But the thing I noticed about Mississippi was that there’s an abundance of African Americans, but they’re separated – the LGBT community was separated from white people, so – black and white people.
Stephen: My mother was from Jamaica, the Caribbean. As far as we can tell, two or three generations back, we’re all from that Island. And she was fleeing of course, British colonist rule and economic social issues. They both came to Chicago in the forties.
Without being too… well, sometimes they were about it. Sometimes they weren’t. But what they did say to me very clearly was that Your mother is considered black and your father is considered white, but we’re not. I’m Jamaican. I’m Czechoslovakian. You’re our child. You’re American and you are wonderful.
Femi: You go to the black gay club and my best friend, who’s half Asian, half white, he would be the only person that wasn’t black inside. But it was men and women. It was fantastic. It was just so much fun and it was great. And then you go into the white bar and it’s just white people. There’s men and women, but just white people where I would be the only black person.
Stephen: But out there in the world, and later as I grew up and start experiencing it, the world that soon became clear that, you know, racism is a construct, but what you are is what cops think you are. You know, the blacker you look the blacker you shall be treated. The whiter you look, the whiter you shall be treated. So my parents would let it be clear to me that out there in the world, I was going to be treated like what I was considered, but here, inside, I shall be me. First and American, first-generation, the pride and joy of two worlds of families, both escaping things and bringing something else to bear.
Femi: So that was Mississippi. It was great, but that was Mississippi and I was ready to leave. So fast forward, I end up in New York and I realize it’s a division again, but a different kind of division. The gay bars appear where they might be mixed in color, it’s very separated and lesbians have their bars, gay men have their bars. And then if you walk into a lesbian bar, for the most part, you only see lesbians and there might be a couple of gay men with you, but for the most part, you only see lesbians. And then when I go to gay men bars, you only see men. It’s… they just don’t mix.
Phil: I find this interesting because we live in New York and, you know, in New York, I feel like a lot of the queer spaces I go to are mixed. And it’s easy for me to look at it and think, Oh no, no. It’s like very mixed in terms of race in queer spaces. I still think it is… there is still a disconnect and a divide between having spaces that are mixed sexual identity-wise and gender-wise, but I definitely feel like in terms of race, there’s more of a mix. But if you take a deeper look that even racially, we do sometimes tend to have different spaces.
When I was coming out and, you know, back in the day going to clubs, and I’ll be very candid about this, I remember being in like women-only spaces and I didn’t want men there. I was like, Why’re these men here? I was not happy about it. I was like, I am not here to meet men. I think there was a thing though. And I understood it. And I don’t necessarily think it’s right, but I did understand it at the time that there were so few spaces for people who were queer women that wanted to meet women. There were so few of those spaces that it felt like they wanted… we wanted to preserve those spaces because, like, where else were we going to be women, right? This is, like, long before, like, people were online and doing online dating and all those things. So it was very much a thing that we wanted to have women-only spaces. But you know, the truth is, like, that’s not necessary. It’s not necessary. I mean, we can mix it up a little bit. We can have all sorts of people in the spaces. I don’t… I don’t feel quite as militant about it as I did, but I remember, me and my friends were like, Men are here. What? Like, it would be, like, so weird. And it was just like, come on, we got to not be doing that.
Alex: I have a lot of feelings about that. I mean, I think marginalized folks deserve and should have their own spaces where they feel safe. So I feel like if folks want to have their own space that is separate out of safety and need to be around folks who understand their own lived experiences, I think they should absolutely be able to have that. Whether that is a women and non-binary centric space, whether that is a space specifically for people of color., I think that that can be really important. At the same time when it does come to, I think what you’re getting at around mixing with other genders. I think that I… I do feel similarly to you. Whereas now in my mid thirties, I’m feeling like I don’t feel as hungry for women and nonbinary-centric spaces. I feel more comfortable, I think maybe because I know myself better, maybe because of my own relationship status, I feel more comfortable mixing in spaces that have lots of different kinds of queer folk. And I do think it’s super important for people to have spaces that make them feel safe.
Stephen: I grew up in Chicago for the most part, and pretty soon became queer, we’ll put it. Then when I left my little queer teenage world and went out into the grander world where gay exists, it became very clear that gay in that context meant white, and everybody else was kind of visiting. So if it was a sitcom opening from the eighties, The Gay World, it would be Welcome to the Gay World. Here are your main characters and special guests, the Black guy, the Asian person, the drag queen, you know, the bull dagger… You know, the gay white men in the front. Everyone else sort of to the side.
Femi: So I was dating this one woman. So I told her I would like to go to some Hell’s Kitchen bars, some da-da-da-da-da. And her reaction was, “I don’t like going… I don’t like going to places with gay men. I don’t like going… I don’t like hanging out with gay men. I find that they’re really shallow.”
And so it was shocking – much like much like the guy in Delaware telling me that he doesn’t think races should mix, it was shocking to hear someone – and this time saying I don’t like gay men because of all of these negative perceptions. But it’s still out there. That’s still what people, even within our community, still think. And that’s shocking and sad.
Stephen: It would appear that the gay and I’m not talking specifically about the L and the B and the T and the Q, but G seem hell bent on continuing this into the century.
Alex: In more lesbian, queer women-centric, trans spaces, I feel like I see more racial diversity. Whereas in more gay spaces, I feel like it is much more separated. Kind of, you know, getting back to Stephen Winter’s idea, or Stephen’s idea of these overwhelmingly white gay spaces. And I think it just really… it’s also contingent – and I obviously I’m speaking from a very white cis femme perspective over here – I think it’s really contingent on the kind of people you seek out in your own life, and if you’re willing to step outside of your own spaces to have a more – surround yourself with a more diverse group of people.
Phil: You know, when I think about Femi’s story, I thought it was so interesting to watch her navigate, you know, what she was told by her coworker about races not mixing and then seeing the parallels with what happened with her person she was dating at the time, deciding that there couldn’t be a mixture of genders and sexual identities. And I thought it was so interesting that it would remind her again – because to me it’s weird. Like if I’m honest, I do feel way more by what her coworker said than I do by what her girlfriend said.
Both are equally bad. When you think about it, they’re both not great. They’re basically creating a division that is really not necessary and really not helpful in any way really.
Alex: One of the things that that actually made me think about is this concept that I’ve been reading a little bit about called the trapdoor of racism. It’s a term that was coined by the journalist Wesley Morris. I recently read about it in this book called Big Friendship by Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow. Highly recommend the book. It’s really wonderful. But it’s basically about this idea in interracial relationships and friendships, where – and I’ll read what the journalist Wesley Morris wrote about it. He wrote, quote, For people of color, some aspect of friendship with white people involves an awareness that you could be dropped through a trap where racism at any moment by a slip of the tongue or at a campus party or in a legislative campaign. And this is just something I’ve been thinking about in my own life and in my own place in the various interracial relationships and friendships that I have, but it made me think of that moment that Femi had with that friend, who was a friend, who was someone that she was having this candid conversation with, who then said something that was really not okay. And how, you know, it caught her by surprise because she… she was like, Oh, this… you think you would think that this person would understand based on being part of the LGBTQ community.
Phil: And I think trapdoor of racism is a great… that’s a great term. I love that. I’ve never heard that before and I really love what it… what it connotates. I feel like my experience with something along those lines. So let’s say that a group of friends, maybe they’re all queer, they’re in a car they’re going somewhere. And maybe one of these people is a Black queer person and the others are white. If you’re in a situation like that and the white queer person is like mouthing off at the cop and then go to town at the cop. If I’m that person, that black queer person I’m like, Can you not, please? Can you not? This is dangerous what you’re doing right now.
You know, so when you talk about the trapdoor of racism, I think about that, where it’s this moment of You’re not considering that this is dangerous for me. It may not be dangerous for you.
I have one particular situation where a group of friends and a couple of people who are Asian, I’m the one black person and a couple of people are white and we were all hanging out and we were doing something. I think we were, like, clamming or fishing or doing something. And some of my white friends were like, We should go into this section because you know, like, there’s, this is the best area for fishing or whatever. And it was a prohibited section. You know, there was like a patrol. And me and my friend who was Asian, was like, I’m not going over there. Like, we’re not going like, go for it. We’re not going over there. And it was like, we were like – and they didn’t… they almost didn’t understand why we were nervous about it and like, Wow, how do you not understand why we’re nervous about it? Like we’re not going. And it was such an interesting experience to see them be completely unaware of what it might be like for people of color, you know, how they need to think twice before they do things. They can just do something that could really get them hurt, killed, attacked, like, whatever you call it, like, we have to think twice. We can’t just do these things.
Alex: Yeah. It’s just those moments where, you know, a person is so insulated by their white privilege, that they don’t even think of the impact that something, their own action has on somebody else’s life or how they would be making the world more dangerous for you by doing that.
Phil: Exactly and, you know, and it’s like, in some ways you understand, like you don’t live this so you don’t get it, but like, you need to be aware that this is a very real thing for me. And as my friend and as my, you know, somebody that I spend time with, you have to be aware of what it means for me. So, you know, the answer shouldn’t be, or your response and be Relaxed, it’s fine, because it’s not necessarily fine.
Alex: To tell someone to relax. I mean, that’s also so diminishing and gaslighting of your experience.
Phil: It is. It totally is. It’s a really interesting thing. And it is so weird to be a person of color where you are just walking through your life, going through your day, your problems that everyone experiences. You’re going through the challenges of life that everyone goes through. And then you will maybe at some point run into a problem because of your race. And it just reminds you where we are and who you are and just reframes your whole experience. And again, it’s – and it comes out of nowhere and that’s, what’s really challenging about it.
Alex: I mean, one of the words that you said when you were talking about that story with your friends was “clueless.” And I feel like now as our country is experiencing a huge racial justice movement, there is no excuse to be clueless. It is not incumbent on Black and Brown people to teach white people about racism and our own cluelessness, especially when we have Google and we have so many different books and resources at this point.
Phil: When I, as I’m walking through my life, you know, I’m well aware of my race. I’m well aware of being a Black person, but I don’t necessarily think about that on a day to day basis, you know? And what’s weird, it can sometimes come about from someone else’s view of me and how they may react to me specifically in regards to my race. But it doesn’t mean that I think about myself as a Black person walking around all the time. I know that I’m Black. I know that that’s who I am, but there’s so much more to me. I also have to think sometimes about if I’m being viewed sometimes negatively. Is it about my race or is it about the way I present? It could be a number of things, you know, and we can talk of course, about intersectionality as well, which is such a huge part of this whole puzzle.
Alex: Yeah. And for our listeners, we can define the term intersectionality. It was a term coined by the scholar Kimberle Crenshaw in 1989. And it was coined specifically to explain the oppression faced by black women. And it is a framework work for conceptualizing a person, group of people or social problem as affected by a number of discriminations and disadvantages. It takes into account people’s overlapping identities and experiences in order to understand the complexity of prejudices they face.
Phil: Yes. And you know, I was looking at Kimberly Crenshaw’s Ted talk, which was so powerful about intersectionality. It’s called The Urgency of Intersectionality. And I just want to read something, a quote that she said in the Ted talk, but I thought it was incredible. She said, “Without the frames that allow us to see how social problems will impact the members of a targeted group, many will fall through the cracks of the movement left to suffer.”
And you know, for me, that really speaks to if you’re going to… if you’re really trying to make change in terms of social, social justice, there is no real change that can be made without bringing all of these pieces and together and understanding that one individual may be experiencing it from so many different aspects
Alex: And it – I think it just gets to the idea that one of the signs of marginalization or one of the impacts of systemic discrimination is that oftentimes folks are asked to prioritize certain pieces of their identity. I think that you really need to unpack how these different forms of discrimination interact with each other, the ways in which racism and homophobia interact with each other to impact an individual.
And Stephen’s story, when he talks about that for him and in our community, see gay with a capital G being synonymous with being white gay. We’ve seen that play out on both an interpersonal level and then also even the way that the LGBTQ+ rights movement has been structured in recent decades.
Like, I was thinking about how white gay men can dominate certain spaces and then also how certain struggles have been centered on the needs of white gay middle-class people. For instance, I was thinking about marriage equality and who has that served? And I was thinking about how right now, in this moment in our community, we have an epidemic of violence, particularly against black trans folk, and, you know, where are all of the white gay people rallying around that particular cause? So it was just making me think about how both we’ve seen the idea of gay being synonymous with white. We seen that pervade both spaces and then real substantial fights for equality at large.
Phil: Yes. Along those same lines, I want to mention that, you know, I’ve had experiences in the past well before people were putting the T in LGBTQ in our sort of acronym. I feel like I’ve had experiences with other queer people in the past where they were not as gung ho about being on the side of trans people in terms of their fights for equality and sort of seeing it as separate.
So they were queer and they weren’t trans and they thought that trans people were… they couldn’t see trans people as part of their movement. When you think of trans women of color in particular, we talk about intersectionality. It’s like, what’s happening for trans people of color. It’s just so incredibly sad and tragic. And where… where are they?
Alex: Where is everybody. Whoo. Yeah. I mean, you know, this makes me think of this quote from the activist Erica Hart, who says, “Your queerness will not absolve your racism.” Because I think there is an idea that if you are a white queer person, you have experienced some form of discrimination and marginalization that then somehow you get it. And of course you don’t get it. And white queer people, we need to be working on this on ourselves all the time, and it’s not incumbent on Black and Brown queer people to educate us or help us understand. It’s really on us. And we really need to be stepping up. So it just made me think about that idea that just because you experience one form of marginalization doesn’t mean that you get it, doesn’t absolve you from stepping up and showing up for other people and working on yourself.
Femi: So I’ve realized how different my perspective is because of how my life and how I was… how I was raised. In Delaware, it was a predominantly white community and it was minority in a predominantly white community, but very accepting of LGBT people. And then college in Mississippi, it was more separated than I ever experienced in my life. More minorities than I’d ever experienced my life, but very separated.
And then fast forward to New York. We go to the same clubs, but it’s separated by gender or sexual identity. But because I come from a place where we were… we were together, I kind of want more and I want better. I want to be able to go to a club and it not just be gay men. It’s everyone. And I want to go – I have my best friend, who’s a man, come with me to a lesbian bar and not feel like he’s singled out or being picked on because he’s a flamboyant gay man.
Stephen: Which is the exact same rubric of understanding each other that upon my first visit at age 17 into a gay bar in the North side of Chicago, with three young men of equal under age status who were of European descent, they got to go into the club. I was asked for three pictures of ID. And it turned out that in Chicago at the time was a wave of regardless of how old you were, for black people to be asked for more ID than white people. Because they didn’t – in certain clubs, because they didn’t want black people in that club. And if you did have three pic – three IDs, two of them would have to have pictures. Where always was something going on. Folks protested against us. But that was my first experience at the gay bar at age 17. I didn’t get to go in. That was my almost first experience.
Alex: Two things that I would leave our white listeners with in particular would be that if you are going to try to be an ally, an ally is something that it’s constantly work that you’re doing. It’s showing up. It’s going to protests, demonstrations, doing the work, amplifying the work that has already been done by Black and Brown and people of color. And then it’s also acknowledging that sometimes you’re going to get it wrong. And I know for me, one big thing I’ve been trying to work on is just being less defensive and being more vulnerable in those moments and being like, Okay, I got it wrong. My allyship wasn’t helpful in that moment. I’m sorry. Let me figure out, like, how I can get it right next time.
And I would just recommend for folks looking for resources, check out the work of Dr. Ibram X. Kendi. It’s a book called How To Be An Antiracist. Great jumping off point i. you haven’t engaged with these issues before. Also the work of Kimberly Crenshaw, who we spoke about. Audrey Lorde. Rachel Cargill is a great person to follow on the internet. And again, it’s all there and accessible on the internet. And then I would say one book that had a huge impact on me and just really informed a lot of my work is Janet Mock’s book, Redefining Realness. She also is someone who has talked a lot about intersectionality in her career and it’s just a wonderful, wonderful book. And so just some recommended reading.
Phil: I love that. Those are all good. I want to just – one more thing. I do want to say two things that you said that I have to, like, say again, because I just loved them. One, the whole idea of being an ally and how that is a long-term project. That is something that involves like showing up every day, you know, a commitment to it being long-term, because it’s not obviously something we’re going to solve overnight.
But the other thing I want to mention is, like, that whole idea of not being defensive. It’s so big because the second you get into a defensive place, the second, you can’t be wrong, you have to start asking, do you want to be right? Or do you want to be for the cause? Like that’s… those are the two things you have to really grapple with if you get to a place where you find yourself feeling like you’re learning something you didn’t know before that you thought you should have gotten right. Leave it… leave it at the door because it doesn’t really help anything.
The I’m from driftwood podcast is hosted by Phil aka Corinne…
Alex: And Alex Berg, and is produced by Anddy Egan-Thorpe.
Phil: The Podcast is recorded as part of I’m From Driftwood, a worldwide nonprofit LGBTQIA+ story archive, and is funded in part from TD Bank and Heritage of Pride New York.
Alex: I’m From Driftwood was created by Nathan Manske to help queer and trans people learn more about their community, help straight people learn more about their neighbors and help everyone learn more about themselves, all through the power of storytelling. The IFD program director is Damien Mittlefehldt. The stories you heard today are available in their entirety plus thousand more at…,
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Alex: Thanks, y’all for listening.