A Personal Note on Being Queer in a Black Christian Family by Monyae Kerney

It is uncomfortable.. Damn. It is so f*cking uncomfortable. I’m not even gonna lie to you. I hate it sometimes. Being “in the closet” at home means listening to “harmless” queer jokes (that sometimes are kinda funny) but that I can’t even laugh at. You know how if someone makes fun of your best friend it’s disrespectful, but if you make fun of them then it’s okay because it’s from a place of love? It’s exactly like that. Them not knowing I’m queer ruins the punch line. What makes it worse is that they’ve definitely “grown” in the last couple of years to be ~more accepting~ in a general sense, but I’m pretty sure (like 99.9%) that if I were to “come out,” all hell would break loose.

The thing is, I’ve come to understand that in a twisted way, their homophobia (let’s call it what it is) is “because they love me.” WTF? How can you say that? Well, a few years ago, I really did think that my mom hated me…we can talk about that at another time. But after my own therapy, her therapy, some growth, healing and ancestral magic, I’ve come to realize that that’s not true. I began to see that her disapproval and harsh critiques were her ways of “looking out for me.” She wanted (and still wants) the best for me and because she saw me growing away from what she wanted for my life, particularly the religiously oriented expectations of who she thought I should grow up to be, she feared that I would be limited in my life. From her perspective, which is rooted in Black religious thought, she has been trying to save me from what she believes is me writing my own ticket to hell. So, what I read as hate, was really her version of love.

Now, with that being said, the way  she was loving me was not the way I desired to be loved. I was quickly deteriorating emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and even physically. The weight of feeling unloved was manifesting within my mind, body, and spirit. So, what did I do? I did the only thing that I could do. I saved myself. I distanced myself completely from the relationship until it was safe for me to return. Safety for me required a holistic haven. I could no longer subject myself to spiritual violence just because it wasn’t physical abuse (and society tends to believe physical violence is the only valid form of abuse). I had to show her that I would not take part in an unhealthy relationship, even if that partner is my mother. I began setting boundaries, which was hard as hell because 1. I had never practiced boundary setting in any relationship context (and trust me, it showed) and 2. I was setting boundaries with the person who gave birth to me. Who still paid my phone bill! I was an undergraduate at the time. It was not easy. I do want to note, however, that setting boundaries is not in and of itself disrespectful. Parents/guardians/elders will often regard it as such because they see it as you telling them “no.” And you’re never supposed to tell a Black elder no. But, boundaries are soooo necessary. I profoundly believe that you cannot have a healthy relationship without them. Hence, if I wanted to have a healthy relationship with my mother, where I could also continue growing into my authentic self, then I knew I was going to have to learn what boundaries I needed, how to set them, and how to keep them there. I would endure that temporary discomfort for long term change.

After a few years of that, my mom began therapy for the first time ever. I NEVER thought I would see her in therapy, but my modeled behavior finally showed her that it is okay to see a therapist. Previously, she thought it was unnecessary, that any problem you have, you can simply pray it away and if it doesn’t go away…pray harder. That wasn’t working for me. I had (and have) an amazing connection with God and all the prayer in the world was not creating the change I needed for my well-being. God+therapy+holistic living, however…that was the winning combo. But she began to work through healing her own things as well as the wounds between us and slowly but surely, she began to understand that she couldn’t interact with me in any kind of way if we were to have a healthy relationship. She had to love me the way that I desire to be loved. And part of that was letting go of who she wanted me to be and instead, accepting me for who I was. This is important. Just because her approach to our relationship was her way of showing that she loved me, did not mean that it wasn’t harmful. I didn’t have a relationship with my mother for many years because of it. So don’t go reading this and then try to use it to justify staying with somebody who mistreats you. Don’t take my story and twist it to excuse abuse. 

The issues we were dealing with back then weren’t even about being queer. These were things like tattoos, birth control, etc. All of this is a huge part of the reason why I hesitated “coming out” to my parents. If things were that bad over what I considered to be inconsequential details, what would the rupture look like when I told them I wasn’t Christian (I’m spiritual not religious) AND that I’m sexually fluid?!? WHEW. Not to mention the fact that I’m non-binary. We were going to have to take it on one identity at a time. 

Now that things are better, years later, it made me want to postpone telling them that I am queer (both in gender and sexuality). Things were finally peaceful. I was able to come home and laugh and enjoy time with family, something I had been deprived of for nearly 4+ years. But eventually, it got to the point where the cons of not telling them were outweighing the pros. I felt stifled. And if you don’t know me, let me tell you: Growth is very important to me. It is central to my being. Every day I honor my intentions to evolve rather than repeat the things I did the day before. Being in an environment that felt stifling, simply became too much. Something had to give. I waited and waited until I felt that the time was right. I tend to get this divine inclination when massive shifts are about to take place. Call it intuition or an ancestral whisper. Either way, that is when I know the time has come. Everything in divine timing.

I was hoping it would be a nice moment. As nice as it could be, rather. I knew there would be blow back. I knew there would be tension (at the very least), so I was waiting until I felt like our relationship was stronger. Don’t get me wrong, things were a lot better than what they were before, but it still felt like I was walking on eggshells as a twenty something year old in my childhood home (thanks COVID). But let me tell you, that time of warmth…never came. 

I don’t have a heartfelt coming out story. I came out in the wee hours of the morning, while my mother stormed out after a falling out with me. My efforts to discuss things that kept our relationship in a state of fragility were  perceived as an attack on her motherhood. I sat in my younger sister’s room (sidenote: my sister was the first person I came out to. My ride or die. My personal ally), when my father came in and tried to get me to apologize. I told him, calmly, peacefully, and from a place of respect (of course…I ain’t crazy now) that I had nothing to apologize for, that unhealthy patterns would keep us locked into this cycle of a shaky relationship and that that’s not the bond I want to have with my mother as an adult child. I told him that discussions are not the same as arguments, that things don’t get resolved by being covered up, that until we sit down and actually talk about these things, we’ll keep going around and around and around in this unhealthy cycle. And BOOM: that’s when I told him. I hadn’t planned to, but I felt the time was right. It wasn’t the warm, loving moment I wanted. In fact, it was the exact opposite. Our dynamic was back in flames, but I felt it was important that I no longer concealed such a major part of who I was for the sole reason of keeping a shattered relationship together. If it was going to be broken, I was going to make sure I took advantage of that brokenness. Why? Because I felt tired of the cycles. Remember, I only came back because it was safe for that past version of me to return. But just because it was safe for her, did not mean it was safe for this evolved version of who I was then. I knew that when we began to repair that brokenness, I’d rather already have all of my cards on the table. Because if not, my “coming out” would just be another ticking time bomb. And the cycle would begin again.

So why am I telling you this? I wanted to tell you this story now because there is currently no resolve. There is no happy ending right now. There’s no real conclusion. My father, in his efforts to understand, tried to “mansplain” that my queerness must somehow mean he failed as a parent. He labelled it a “lifestyle” and that he didn’t agree with it because the Bible says it’s wrong but that he loved me anyway. I think it’s important to show people the realities of the journey and not always the shiny picture-perfect outcome. 

You do not have to come out to be valid in your identity. you do not have to come out if it is unsafe to do so. you are still valid in your identity even if you never come out. there is no timeline that you must abide by in coming out. you can still be an authentic you even if you do not come out. you can choose who you come out to and it doesn’t have to be everyone. 

I chose to because I was trying to save an already shattered relationship. I was trying to hold something together that needed to break for us to start over again and build something new. I did because I knew I could stay with my friend’s family if home was no longer a safe option. I did because I felt myself suffocating. I was trying to evolve and hide at the same time and my growth was being sacrificed. I grew tired of twisting my laptop or taking zoom calls in the basement or censoring funny stories so as not to draw suspicious eyes. My queerness is but one of the many facets of my identity that are integral to the work that I do. Even writing this article is something that has blossomed from me doing the work that I love, work that is rooted in the core of who I am. The time had come. And I was ready.

As an ending aside, I want to note that I do not like the concept of “coming out,” nor do I like the concept of “disclosure.” Both imply that you have something to hide or conceal which also implies dishonesty. “Coming out” carries homophobic undertones to me similarly to how “disclosure” has transphobia written all over it. It paints queer and gender expansive people as these menacing figures who lurk in the shadows, ready to prey on unsuspecting cis and hetero peoples. Give me a break. But, I used the “coming out” term here because it is the language that is familiar to most. I personally think most (if not all) people are somewhere in the bisexual range (argue whicha momma, not me). Also, remember that bisexual does not mean a 50/50 binary split. I simply mean that I think everyone, to a certain degree, has some queerness to them, both in gender (embodying the divine masculine and feminine) as well as in sexuality. I think for most people though, it’s suppressed because of a number of influences (cisheteronormativity, social scripts, religion, learned intolerance, traditional masculinity, the male gaze, lack of representation, violence, etc.). Coming out is only a ~thing~ because we’ve been told that everyone is supposed to be cisgender and straight. If we just accepted people for who they are (radical right…smh) with no expectations of who they should be, there would be no need to “come out.”

Coming out puts the onus on “deviant” identities to let power know, “hey, I’m not who you say I should be.” It almost necessitates this nod of approval from those forces of normativity. Who I am is normal to me. I’m attracted to people. That should be like a “duh” moment, but we’ve made it so that it’s this huge marker of deviance. Don’t misread my words. I absolutely LOVE who I am. I love that I’m sexually fluid. I love that I am non-binary. I love that I’ve found a community of absolutely amazing queer Black people and people of color. However, just like any other social construct, there is a part of me that knows my labels are an external power’s way of positioning itself as normal in order to control and police everything and everyone else that deviates in any way from that “norm.” 

In that same vein, remember that just because gender and sex and sexuality (I’m also Black/Afro-Indigenous so race fits here as well) are all socially constructed, DOES NOT MEAN you can ignore its very real consequences. That would be another manifestation of color-blind ideology. There are real consequences to being gender diverse. There are real consequences to me being Black. There are very real consequences to being sexually fluid. And you know what, I love being Black and queer, even when I have to put up with society’s unnecessary bullsh*t. Even when my Christian family tells me it’s wrong and I’m going to hell, but they love me anyway. What the world tries to dismiss, I celebrate. What the world tries to ignore, I adore. I am a non-binary Black womxn who has the audacity to center my own pleasure and to love beyond bounds. And simply resting in that power of self-knowing is enough to rattle most. That is the power we hold. Happy Pride.

Monyae (she/they) is a Black/Afro-Indigenous non-binary womxn, queer feminist scholar, pleasure activist, educator, researcher, ally, and full spectrum doula. Her work centers the holistic wellness, mental health, and radical healing of the Black community; more specifically, Black womxn and femmes (including queer, trans, and gender diverse identities). They are a recent graduate from Teachers College, Columbia University where she earned her Masters in Spirituality Mind Body Psychology and an Advanced Certificate in Sexuality Women and Gender with a special concentration in LGBTQ populations.

Monyae’s work focuses on the intersections of spiritual healing and political resistance in Black womxn and femme identities to promote and embody pleasure-centered ways of being. They have facilitated holistic wellness workshops with academic institutions, grassroots organizations, and many other community spaces seeking to transform their wellness practices. Monyae is currently earning their 200hr yoga teacher certification on a social justice scholarship to increase accessibility to the practice in BIPOC AND 2SQTPOC communities. In her research, personal practice, and service, their work centers critical race theory, black feminist thought, and ancestral/indigenous healing wisdom as necessary modalities to both personal and collective liberation.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: