Feeling Beyond Bold and Brave | SafeWordSociety at #BLC2018 in Harlem, NY!
By Lamika Young
On the weekend of July 27, 2018, Kristen McCallum and I had the privilege of covering “Work As Memoir: 2nd Bi-Annual Black Lesbian Conference” presented by Beyond Bold and Brave and The New York Women’s Foundation. When we were first invited to attend, I was actually a bit stunned. In 2016, when the first conference occurred, a few friends asked me to join them, and I vehemently declined. At the time, I did not feel grounded enough in my bisexuality to be in a lesbian space. I had had enough unfortunate exchanges with folks casually hurling out biphobic comments because they assumed I was a lesbian … or demonizing my attraction to men when they learned that I was bisexual. Fast forward two years, and here I am … a very visible and (almost … it’s a rollercoaster) completely comfortable bisexual woman, co-hosting a queer-AF podcast for a company focused on QTPOC visibility (a phrase that probably meant very little to me in 2016). Here I am, eagerly accepting the opportunity to attend a lesbian conference, the likes of which have given me so much pause in the past.
This isn’t to say that I didn’t still have my reservations. Even though I feel way more at peace with my identity, I was still grappling with whether or not I would be subject to dismissive language around bisexuality. I also had no idea what to expect from intergenerational interactions. The primary reason why I am a part of SafeWordSociety is our commitment to inclusivity and safety for all, in language, space, and within oneself. Going to a conference with “lesbian” in the title had me questioning how inclusive the language could possibly be and how safe the space would feel for people with a variety of gender identifies. We love “queer” at SafeWordSociety, and I know that this is a point of contention across generations, so I was also concerned about how the term would be regarded.
Despite all of my reservations, I began the conference as an enthusiastic participant, extroversion on one thousand. The first day began with a warm welcome from Beyond Bold and Brave’s founders Alyce Emory and Kim Ford, whose warmth shines through with so much authenticity. The diversity in the room was evidence of their conscious effort to engage people from all different age groups and identities. It was beyond affirming to see this dynamic array of folks with shared experiences, all reclaiming a space built by our ancestors.
The next day was workshop day, and because I love having meaningful conversations -- hence my presence on the SafeWordSociety team, I was really looking forward to meeting and building with people. “Decolonizing Loneliness,” presented by Florie St. Aime, LMSW, aimed to “address isolation as societal fail rather than individual fault.” My own experiences with loneliness (‘cause lifelong clinical depression) drew me to this conversation, which ended up being a vulnerable exchange of personal struggles with feeling lonely both in the presence of people and in the context of isolation. Being an open book has always been very healing for me, so I talked about having felt lonely my entire life until a nervous breakdown in college made it impossible for me to ignore my pain. At the end of the workshop, many people approached me and thanked me for sharing, leading to an important exchange of tools, questions, and thoughts around combatting loneliness. The healing energy in that conversation was so palpable that we talked until we were kicked out of the room.
After lunch (major shouts out to Alyce and Kim for taking care of the vegans!), I attended “A Forgotten Population/An Inside Scoop: Formerly Incarcerated LGBTQ Women” (because Kristen and I love a heavy topic), presented by Roni Minter, Founder of Sisters Healing Old Wounds, an organization built to provide resources for this population. Roni explored a reality that I had never considered: many women enter the prison system having never experienced queerness, have queer experiences while incarcerated, and leave the system with a very conflicted sense of themselves but lacking the resources to heal from trauma, integrate their experiences into their identity, and find community. She also shared her personal experiences along with a heart-rending documentary she created that recounted the narratives of four woman who were also formerly incarcerated. I left that workshop simultaneously drained and full … drained by the harsh realities of the women’s experiences but filled by Roni’s ability to transform pain into purpose.
The conference concluded on day three with Alyce and Kim opening the floor for feedback. How many conferences have you attended where the hosts were so dedicated to their work that they wanted to be this accountable to their participants? At some point during this session, it was revealed that thirty scholarships were awarded to allow interested participants with financial barriers to attend. Where they do that at????? Their grace in fielding questions and taking suggestions communicated very clearly that 1) they wanted us to know that they are committed to continuous improvement and 2) that this conference belongs to us. That session, combined with a manifesto/poem/battle cry/soliloquy/history lesson (there’s no one word or phrase to capture the power of her closing remarks) delivered by Cara Page, Director of Programs at the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice ended the event on a palpable high.
There was a major lesson in this whole experience for me. I learned (for probably the 700th time) that I really do have the power to create the experiences that I want to have. In 2016, I was simply not there. In a span of two years, I was able to successfully navigate a queer space filled with many perspectives and language choices without feeling out of place. The positive intentions were so clear that the only question I was left with was “How can I be more involved next time so that this endeavor can expand, both in its reach and in its inclusivity?” Beyond Bold and Brave is making a diligent effort to make this possible … to break intergenerational barriers, encourage authentic conversation, and really create connections in our community. I applaud their dedication to our community with a standing ovation!
Beyond Bold and Brave 2020, here we come!
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