All, Interview Series

Interview: Embracing Queerness with Mel

June is Pride Month, where we recognize the Stonewall Riot of 1969 and celebrate the LGBTQ community. In honor of this, I have interviewed a good friend of mine, Mel, who identifies as a Black Cisgender Queer Womyn. Mel is an M.A. student in the Department of American Studies at the University of Maryland-College Park, where she also received her B.A. in Sociology in 2016. She is a poet and scholar, and she works at UMD Memorial Chapel and Woods Flowers in College Park, where she also lives with several plant babies and three feline fur babies: Emerald, Isis, and Galadriel. This is Mel’s story about embracing her queerness.

Q: When did you know you were queer?

I was Queer before I could name it.

Q: How did your family and friends react or feel when you shared your sexual orientation with them?

My mother is a conservative Black Christian baby boomer born in Tennessee who grew up in Jim Crow south before moving to suburban New York, and then finally to Maryland where she settled down. She did not and does not approve, as do many folx from her generation who identify with conservative Black Christian theology. My friends, which are few, and my colleagues and peers, which are many, have been very supportive and affirming. Often, they have been kinder to me than I have been to myself.

Q: How did you feel when you shared your sexual orientation with your family and friends?

I felt traumatized,  anxious, and fearful and yet filled with so much promise, relief, and great expectation of transitioning into a state of being where I could name, wear, and embody my identity holistically.

Q: Have you ever experienced any discrimination or hate because of your sexual  orientation?

I have not experienced any overt discrimination on the basis of my queer identity, but I am sure they may be instances of covert discrimination. However, I cannot recall any particular experiences. 

Q: Has your religion negatively and/or positively impacted your journey in discovering and exploring your sexual orientation? If so, how?

I identify as Christian and my relationship with religion is fractured. I don’t know that I will ever reconcile with a system that has been such a huge part of my trauma. I identify as more of a Spiritual Christian than a religious Christian. I don’t believe attending church or certain rites and rituals of Christianity necessarily make/break your commitment and devotion to God and Christ. I have realized that I must seek God for myself and it is within the sacredness of that relationship where I feel liberation, full of joy, and the most loved.

I cannot look to The Church for affirmation or to Christians for community. People will fail because we are human. God’s love, however, is infinite and uninhibited. It is not circumstantial or contingent on one’s color, creed, nationality, gender identity, upbringing, etc. It is omnipresent and always promised. That is where I take refuge, God’s unfailing love.

Q: I know you personally, so I know your stances on the idea of being “closeted” or “coming out of the closet”, but can you talk a bit more about that for my readers? Why do you feel this way? 

I think my social media post from Facebook is best recalled here: I don’t believe in “coming out” of the “closet”. It’s a myth. To be queer is not some wild otherworldy social phenomenon, although one can describe to be queer is to feel otherworldly.   I have always identified as a queer human. Growing up, I didn’t have the language to describe my identity but the symbolism was always there. I never hid in a closet. I chose not to disclose my identity to my mother due to fear of my emotional and mental safety, but deep down, I think she and others always knew.

In the early to mid-2000s, many struggled to find the language to describe their queerness and it was the lack of language that created a silence that can be read as elusive. But, to be elusive is not to be hidden; rather, queer folx have always been there though we may have been difficult to find. For me, there was and is nowhere to hide. There was and is nowhere to run. There was and is no putting away my queerness. I wear it just as easily as I breathe air. I carry it with me wherever I go and it is rooted in the deepest pockets of my humanity and personhood. It has always been with me and it always will be. 

Q: What advice would you give to someone who is queer and struggling with their mental health? 

Engage in radical and unapologetic self-care. Release the guilt of “I have to be/I should be” and allow yourself to feel the fullness of who and what you are in each moment. It sounds like hogwash, but I truly have come to realize and understand that there is nothing normal about living in the 21st century; everything about life is rather weird and backwards, and as such, we must be gentle with ourselves. We must be kind to ourselves. Affirm your feelings and do not self-isolate. Find liberty and comfort in your relationships and friendships with those of whom you are space, love, value, and community.

Realize that it is absolutely okay to be anxious and worried just as it is absolutely okay to also feel happy, enthusiastic, melancholy, and sometimes, mad. My theory on pain and trauma is multifaceted but a quote by Khalil Gibran always sticks with me: “Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding. It is the bitter potion by which the physician within you heals your sick self. Therefore, trust the physician and drink his remedy in silence and tranquility.” And so, I say to those struggling with the everydayness of changing emotions and queer minds to trust yourself and trust that you have the strength and resilience to help heal yourself. Most importantly, part of that trust is relinquishing the need for control and asking others to help YOU heal, recover, recuperate, and exist. 

Q: Is there anything else surrounding this topic of embracing queerness that you’d like to talk about?

To those queer folx who are living in the fullness of their queerness and to those living in the fullness of their mental magicks, God Bless You. Be kind to yourself. Have grace with yourself. Don’t consider it “coming out”. It grieves your heart and applies too much pressure. Consider it a moment in your life where you are simply evolving and being. No time is the best time to make peace with yourself and your Creator, but when your heart and soul are ready, your mind will know.

Take care and please lean on those whose presence make you feel loved and safe. Be beholden to your heart and love your queerness as much as it loves you. People will fail and fall short, but the Creator’s love for you is unyielding, and so too must you be unyielding in living your best life. Life is short. Be happy. Be healthy. Breathe. Move and change, and for goodness sake, love, love, and love some more.

Q: Would you want people to reach out to directly with any questions or comments?

Folx may reach out to me via email (mtcoles94@gmail.com) or follow me on IG at @mel.va_ . My heart is always willing as long as I am able.

Doesn’t Mel just have the purest heart and the kindest soul? Her desire to help and inspire others shines through so much in this interview, and I hope that she’s inspired you to be you unapologetically. If you have any questions or would like to thank Mel personally, please reach out to her via email or social media. Thank you, Mel, for being a guiding light as always, and thank you all for reading.

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