Black in Halifax: The challenges of racism, transphobia and homophobia
Metro talks to Joee Smith, a performer in Halifax, about her experience living synonymously as Black and queer.
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Many Black people in the LGBTQ community feel pushed to choose between their Black and queer identities. For Joee Smith, 23, being Black and queer are synonymous.
Smith has been involved in the drag community for more than two years, performing as a drag king named Manny Dingo and as a queer performer. The Dartmouth-born performer won Queen of Pride at this year’s Halifax Pride. She's also one of the founders of SPOC (Supporting Performers of Color), an open stage event where POC (people of colour), queer people and allies come together and have shows supporting POC performers.
Metro chatted with Smith about her experience living synonymously as Black and queer. This interview has been edited for length.
Metro: How do you identify yourself?
Joee Smith: I Identify myself as a pansexual genderqueer person. So to me, pansexual means that when I think about loving somebody there's nothing that correlates that in relation to sex or gender. It's just how I feel about the person and where I'm at in my life. My genderqueer or gender fluid identity means I can feel very masculine, very feminine, or very androgynous. It just really depends situationally and is very fluid. My sexuality and my gender are very fluid. I know what I feel and I just accept it.
M: What was your first experience confronting the intersecting challenges of racism, transphobia and homophobia?
JS: I started a job a year ago after I had stopped working at Men's and Molly's and there was a guy at my new job that would always make fun of me for my hair and other racial things. He was really racist at first, and then one day while on break at work my partner (female) had come by to see me. Naturally, I was really excited. After spending time with my partner during my break, we all go back to work. The same man who made the comments about my hair, then tried to pry into who my partner was. I acknowledged that it was, in fact, a person I was in a relationship with, being open about it; and that was when the homophobia started. Through that, he then found out that I did drag and that was when his comments escalated again. He would constantly make jokes about me dressing as a man on the weekends. At first, I tried to ignore it, and that just didn't really work. So in the end, I had to leave that job.
M: How do you feel the predominately white queer community in Halifax perceives you?
JS: I think it's in two different ways. I think one side perceives me as they want to actually embrace me and learn from me. I vogue, a dance style that comes from underground POC (people of colour) expressing themselves while taking up space without having to navigate through the white queers and their racism. I get to teach people that Vogue does not come from Madonna, it actually comes from POC. I'm embracing that because growing up I would never see Black queer people on television unless it was Ru Paul. So when I got old enough to navigate through the internet I found like “Paris Is Burning.” That is when I associated myself with being in the realm of creatively taking up space. But, in a space with white queers, it's a lot different and I feel like I can teach them if they're willing to learn. But on the other side of it, there are bad points as well. There are people who want to tokenize me, and there are plain racist queers.
M: How do you feel the Black heterosexual community in Halifax perceives you?
JS: I actually don't know how they perceive me. I really don't. I have the support of most of my family members. That's the most important thing to me. But, I really and honestly don't know. There's there's a really big and important conversation surrounding homophobia within the Black community. And with that being said, I am a queer woman (I sometimes do identify as a woman). It's a lot different for me being a Black woman and queer than it is being a Black man and queer. I can say that my experience has not been that I am looked down upon in the sense of blatant homophobia, it is instead like, "Oh, she's bisexual or whatever.”
M: What do you do to practice self-care while navigating the intersecting challenges of racism, transphobia and homophobia?
JS: I like to eat and make food. I have really great friends and we all live together. Having conversations with them is really important and they are all white queers, white queers listening to me and not questioning me. That's really important because I know I have their support, it doesn't matter what topics come up. I know that they're listening and either learning or they've already learned from being my friend for years. Having that support is really important, but I also like to dance. Dancing is everything for me, it is my self-expression and also is my self-care.
This story is part of Metro's ongoing Black in Halifax series. Let us know your thoughts on the series, and share your own stories using the hashtag #HalifaxWhileBlack with tweets, Instagram posts and Facebook comments. We may just share it in a future edition.