A Q&A with Crystal Fleming
We hope you had a fabulously affirming Pride Month! Our bleak political climate needs to be shaken up by all the loud, proud, and resilient celebrations queerness we can throw at it. For our upcoming author, Crystal Fleming, whose new book How to Be Less Stupid About Race: On Racism, White Supremacy, and the Racial Divide will be out in September 2018, it was a joyous occasion. Our blog editor Christian Coleman caught up with her to ask her how she celebrated Pride in New York City and what being proudly Black and queer means to her during our current administration.
Christian Coleman: How did you celebrate Pride this year, Crystal?
Crystal Fleming: Usually my girlfriend and I celebrate Pride together, but she happened to be out of town. So, this year I celebrated pride by attending the march in New York City with a group of girlfriends and going out for dinner afterwards. We had a wonderful time. I came home to a gorgeous bouquet of flowers sent from my lady, so in that way, she was still part of my celebration.
CC: You tweeted that you were celebrating bi-visibility at Pride. Tell us a little about why this is important to you.
CF: I identify as queer and bisexual. Bi-invisbility is a challenge that many bisexual people face—our sexuality is often unrecognized by others, even if we are “out” about our identity. People often presume your sexuality from the gender(s) of your partner(s). When I’ve been in relationships with men, I was often assumed to be heterosexual. Conversely, when I’m out with my girlfriend, people often assume that I’m a lesbian because we’re both women. While I don’t mind being occasionally mistaken for lesbian or straight, I prefer to be recognized for who I am.
It took me many years—well into my late twenties—for me to fully embrace my sexuality. In addition to homophobia, bisexual people also have to deal with biphobia from straight people as well as others within the LGBTQIA* community. Most of my past partners were men. Some of them were ambivalent about my sexuality and even expressed homophobic and biphobic attitudes. Looking back, I stayed in those relationships, in part, because I was also ambivalent about my identity and still had a long way to go in deepening my self-love. At a certain point, I made a conscious decision for my own wellbeing to be very, very out about being bi. This intentional hypervisibility allowed me to connect with bi-inclusive people and weed out biphobic folks. This was especially important to me when I finally got serious about dating women. I started blogging and writing publicly about my sexuality many years ago in order to come all the way out and celebrate my journey toward self-acceptance and personal liberation. I was apprehensive about meeting biphobic lesbians and queer women, so I proactively made my bisexual pride very clear both online and offline. I met my current partner almost five years ago, and one of the many things I loved about her was how open and affirming she was about my identity. Some people feel threatened or insecure about dating a bisexual person, but this has never been a problem in our relationship.
CC: What were some of your favorite parts about this year’s Pride?
CF: Pride is just such an inspiring and beautiful display of affirmation, solidarity, and protest. What’s interesting for me—and I think most LGBTQIA* folks would agree—is that my relationship to Pride has changed dramatically over the years as I became more comfortable and even flamboyant with my identity. I vividly remember, back when I was still halfway in the closet, being afraid to attend a Pride parade or march. One year, when I was living in France during graduate school, I realized that the Paris Pride procession went right past my apartment in Montparnasse—but still, I was too nervous to go downstairs and join in the festivities. Pride took on a new dimension for me when I met my partner and started attending with her. It’s certainly true, I think, that many bisexual people feel more included and recognized in queer spaces when we’re in a same-sex relationship. Sometimes, bisexual people partnered with someone of the opposite sex are questioned and made to feel unwelcome in queer spaces. I also started to really enjoy Pride once I learned more about Stonewall and the role of African American and Latinx trans women in essentially starting the modern LGBTQIA* movement.
This year, I really loved seeing all the Black folks and people of color showing up and showing out. There were Black queer families with their kids and Black and Brown trans women and lesbians and gay men and drag queens. I loved the wide spectrum of gender presentations beyond the binary and sexual identities that are rarely recognized and celebrated. It’s such a beautiful thing to express solidarity with people who exist, survive and thrive at the margins. There was a group in the march representing asexual people, and when I saw them pass by, I started cheering and screaming for them, because we never acknowledge asexual people as much as we ought to. And when I was cheering for them, some folks in the group came over to where I was standing and I could just tell how happy they were to be seen and valued. We high-fived and wished each other a happy Pride. Scenes like this played out again and again during the march. I feel like having this joyous day every year to exchange good energy and affirmation is really touching and healing for our community.
CC: You write about race, sexuality, and politics, teach sociology and Africana studies at Stony Brook University, and research racism in the US and Europe. With this in mind, are there any particular issues you’d like to see Pride parades address?
Beyond celebrating identity, I really appreciated the protest signs and resistance around issues like HIV criminalization, civil liberties, immigration, family separation, and reproductive rights. I feel like resistance is the true spirit of Pride. When my friends and I noticed that the NYPD and the FBI were participating in the march, we started chanting “BLACK LIVES MATTER!” As many others say—it’s not just a parade, it’s a march. It’s about affirming who we are, yes, but also affirming the kind of world we wish to live in and challenging the oppression and inequalities that persist today.
CC: What does being Black and queer mean to you during our current administration?
Gosh. Where to begin? Years ago, I naively thought that I was living in the best time in modern history to be an openly queer black woman. And in some respects, this might be true. But there are so many severe civil and human rights challenges that LGBTQIA* people still face. Whether we’re talking about the epidemic of violence targeting trans women broadly and trans women of color specifically, or the mental and physical health disparities experienced by queer, gay, lesbian and bisexual people, we are dealing with serious problems that undermine our wellbeing. Trans people are still fighting for legal protections and basic dignities, like being able to use the bathroom in peace. Discrimination, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia remain rampant. Recently, my girlfriend and I were holding hands in New York City and an older white woman expressed her dismay by screaming and verbally attacking us.
With Justice Kennedy retiring and the Supreme Court sure to veer toward the extreme right, it’s clear that many of the rights that those who came before us fought for are in jeopardy. For me, being Black and queer in 2018 means being aware of the specific vulnerabilities of living at the intersection of multiple axes of domination. But it also means being joyful, bold, and brave as I live in my truth and surround myself with loving people and chosen family. It means drawing on my spiritual practice, the power of meditation, and my intimate relationship with God to keep me grounded and in touch with the beauty and magic of Life, even in the midst of human suffering. We are living in challenging times, but then, these have always been challenging times. If my ancestors could live through the Middle Passage and survive the most oppressive apparatus of state violence ever conceived, then I am determined to allow their resilience, hope, and persistence to shine on through me. Next year, I'd like to throw a Pride-themed Juneteenth party or a Juneteenth-themed Pride celebration. We have to keep nurturing our joy, optimism, and capacity for expansive love, no matter what’s going on with our politics.
About Crystal Fleming
Crystal M. Fleming, PhD, is a writer and sociologist who researches racism in the United States and abroad. She earned degrees from Wellesley College and Harvard University and is associate professor of sociology and Africana studies at Stony Brook University. Fleming writes about race, sexuality, and politics for publications including The Root, Black Agenda Report, Vox, and Everyday Feminism, and she has tens of thousands of followers on social media. She is the author of Resurrecting Slavery: Racial Legacies and White Supremacy in France. Her new book, How to Be Less Stupid About Race: On Racism, White Supremacy, and the Racial Divide, comes out in September 2018. Follow her on Twitter at @alwaystheself and visit her website.