Hello and happy Pride! Welcome to our Queer Voices series, a month-long virtual community gathering where we will be interviewing several of our LGBTQ+ members about what it's like to move through the world as a queer person. It's always important to lift up folks in the queer community, especially in a year like 2020 when traditional celebrations and gatherings in public spaces have been postponed due to the pandemic. You'll notice throughout the series that questions for interviewees are identical, but each member's responses, experiences, and perspectives are quite different. It's a big ol' patchwork blanket of a community, sewn together with folks from all walks of life, and that's what makes it so dang beautiful, not to mention, sometimes problematic - we'll take a look at that in this series as well.
First up, let's hear from writer, speaker, life coach, advocate, and activist KishaLynn Elliott, who proudly identifies as a Black lesbian.
LBP: Tell us a little bit about your coming out experience(s). How has life changed for you since being “out”?
KE: I came out in phases beginning in 2003. I was 23 years at the time. It was a massive transition considering that I had devoted most of my social time in college to being an evangelical Christian. So, Phase 1, for me, was admitting that I was gay, and coming out to Jesus through prayer. It was a beautiful, loving and personal experience that equipped me with the strength to proceed to the next phase.
Phase 2 was coming out to the “safest” folks in my inner circle—my mentor and my closest friends and most supportive relatives. I even came out to my partner at the time. It was important to me that she know our relationship wasn’t a one-off—that this is who I am now and who I would remain even if our relationship ended. It was all love from most of this group. Ironically it was my partner who rejected my outness, which was hard and unexpected.
Phase 3 was the most challenging—in this group were the people I wasn’t sure would be as tolerant. This phase included my father, my mother, members of my extended family, some of my Christian friends, and even my new employer. There was a range of reactions across this group, from total support to total rejection, and everything in between. Most of those relationships have survived, but I did lose relationships with my church family, my sorority sisters, and two of my formerly closest extended relatives. When I was done “coming out” and transitioned to “living out”, there was a sense of indescribable joy and freedom of finally being true to myself, of giving and receiving love in the way I had always craved. I dwell in this joy and freedom each day—I’m proud as f*** to be gay.
LBP: How do other aspects of your identity intersect (or perhaps clash) with your sexuality?
KE: The most impactful intersection for me was between being lesbian and being Christian. I wasn’t just your average bedside Baptist, church on Easter Sunday only Christian. No, I was a fasting, tongues-speaking, devout evangelical who never missed a church service or campus ministry meet up and who steeped myself and anyone who would listen and be saved in the fundamentalist beliefs embedded through my church (a Southern mega-church) and personal study of the Bible. I thought it would be impossible to reconcile the two—the church was the closet in which I hid my gayness from myself. When I lost the church, and all the other fundamentalist evangelicals that came with it, I turned to Jesus in spirit and in truth. I told Him that He was all I had left, and He answered “I AM enough and so are you.” From that point on I considered it spiritually reconciled.
There are times I feel my sexuality clashes with my Blackness, just because I rarely experience other lesbian people in primarily Black settings, and I rarely experience other Black people in primarily lesbian settings. But I have learned to work through both with confidence over fear. And more recently I have found spaces where I can be both Black and lesbian and with others like me. That has made a huge difference in my ability to build a community where I feel I fully belong.
I like using labels to express my identity. I recently shared that intersectionality is my daily reality. I am Black, and female, and lesbian. If you oppress one of these groups, you oppress all of me.
Image description: Square graphic with yellow background and large white quotation mark at the top. At bottom of square, large black text reads: "queer voices." In the middle, in black text, is a quote from KishaLynn's interview. (The last sentence of her response to question 1). Under the quote, in bold black text reads: "~KishaLynn Elliott. Pronouns: She/Her/Hers."
LBP: Pride is a celebration of liberation but also an acknowledgement of struggle, resistance, and revolution. Where do you see yourself in that celebration? Where do you see yourself in that struggle?
KE: I had two first Prides. My “first” Pride was in New York City in 1999. I had gone to visit my mentor for the weekend. It was my first trip to New York and as she was touring me around the city, we inadvertently happened upon a Pride celebration. I had no idea what Gay Pride was—I asked my mentor to explain all the rainbow flags to me. When she explained that we were in the middle of a Pride celebration in the city. She had brought me because Pride is a big deal in NYC and she thought I would want to experience it. But as a Christian, I was absolutely furious. I remember feeling great shame and embarrassment. I thought she had set me up to be exposed to the sinful abomination of homosexuality. She was (rightfully) appalled by my interpretation of the events. I demanded that we leave immediately and remember the rest of the visit being particularly tense. She and recovered and are still in that mentor-mentee relationship to this day.
Five years later, in 2004, I would find myself at my first Pride as a willing participant, marching through Piedmont Park in Atlanta in October, holding my girlfriend’s hand and waving one of those rainbow flags in my other hand, wearing a t-shirt that read in big, bold letters: NOBODY KNOWS I’M A LESBIAN. I remember smiling so hard that my face hurt. Strangers were showing me love and welcoming me out of the closet. A thunderstorm broke out during the parade and my girlfriend and I got absolutely drenched. I remember putting my face directly up into the rain and letting myself get a new baptism—I am a lesbian now and I will ALWAYS celebrate Pride. And I do.
Before COVID-19, I made it a point to go to AT LEAST three Pride celebrations a year, including Long Beach Pride and San Diego Pride. I’ve even been a Pride volunteer several years. Even though Pride celebration was different this year due to the pandemic, I decided that Pride wasn’t an event that can be cancelled. I could BE Pride. We ARE Pride. I donned a rainbow dress and blasted this truth across all my social media sites. Such a redemption from that experience in NYC. I owe NY Pride, and my mentor, a huge apology.
LBP: As an artist, how does your “queerness" or sexual orientation show up in your creative work?
KE: In 2018, I published my second book, CHILDish: Stories From The Life of a Young Black Girl. In this book, I lead readers through pivotal moments in my childhood, some of which were very...adult. One of the more popular stories, GINA, explicit describes my first experience with a woman. Even though I blush every time I read or tell it, the audience response to it affirms my ability to use my storytelling to help other young girls who may be curious about their sexuality feel normal. It also foreshadows some of the struggles between sexuality and spirituality that I will cover in much more depth in the next book--Black Woman Grown: A CHILDish Continuation. I’d love your readers to become CHILDish fans. I haven’t yet met anyone who didn’t love and see themselves in the book—even White men! I’ll be finishing Black Woman Grown this year to complete the journey and satisfy the burning question most of my CHILDish readers ask: “So, how did you go from a childhood like that to the adult we see today?”
Image description: Book cover artwork that includes abstract designs in shades of pinks, purples, grays, as well as a drawing of a young black girl with bountiful curls. Top white text overlay reads: "KishaLynn Moore Elliott." Middle white text overlay reads: "Stories from the Life of a Young Black Girl." Large white text/title reads: "CHILDish"
LBP: What queer-centered artists, shows, films, podcasts, authors, etc. are you into right now?
KE: I am not big on TV but I do enjoy POSE, Queer Eye, and reruns of Queer as Folk (US). I’ve seen every episode of L-Word, but only because my wife is a super fan (I tolerate it. LOL!) As a new baby lesbian I educated myself my watching every lesbian film I could rent though Netflix. My favorites are If These Walls Could Talk 2 and The Color Purple (yes, I am counting that as a lesbian movie!). I am obsessed with the musical, RENT. Queen Latifah is phenomenal in Bessie.
Musically, I am a huge fan of all things Miki Vale (@mikivalethemc on Instagram). “Dirty Computer” by Janelle Monáe IS life. I also enjoy Young M.A. as a rapper.
In the book realm, my #1 inspiration as an author is ZAMI: A New Spelling of my Name by Audre Lourde. I also love Coffee Will Make You Black and Ain’t Gonna Be The Same Fool Twice by April Sinclair. Oh and of course my book, CHILDish. #haveyoureadthis
LBP: What are some of your favorite LGBTQ+ organizations or businesses you'd recommend our readers look into, buy from, donate to, volunteer for, etc?
KE: The #1 organization that I owe my finding home to as a black lesbian is BLU-Black Lesbians United. BLU is a long running community and retreat where Black lesbians from around the world convene to live, laugh, learn and love together. I went to my first BLU retreat in October 2019 after hearing about it and ignoring the invite for almost a decade before. I tell you, I never left that retreat. I’m still at BLU, body, mind and soul. Now a lot of the activities have moved online. Check out BLU at http://blacklesbiansunited.org.
Thanks to all our readers for helping us celebrate KishaLynn this Pride season. To find out more, please visit http://childishthebook.com/. Don't forget to check back throughout the month for additional interviews in our Queer Voices series!
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