La Toya Hankins – Out & Proud Queer Black Lesbian

La Toya Hankins QBV 1

I have always known I was gay. Still, it took me twenty-five years to live in that truth. After graduating from college, I was on my way to living the expected American Dream. I planned to get married, have some children, and live happily ever after. Then, four months before my wedding to my college boyfriend, I placed an ad to meet a white man to have a last minute fling. Once I accomplished that, I placed another ad to meet a woman.  Once I encountered HER, my eyes were opened and I felt free to pursue my true vision of self. While I regret that I hurt some people in the process, I do not regret my decision to come out when I did. If I had to do it again, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Once I decided that I was a lesbian, I felt compelled to let everyone else know. I joined an LGBT group in Charlotte called the Westside Project. The group sprang from a friendship between two African American males, one a straight man and the other same gender loving. They wanted to bridge the gap between the straight and the gay black communities in Charlotte. At its largest we were a group of nine, but we were fearless, at least in our mind. We were bold with our mission. We passed out flyers at an African American street festival. The group’s president and I went on the top urban radio show to discuss our group during the morning show. The Westside Project fizzled out as members drifted off to other pursuits. Still, those experiences emboldened me to be active as a lesbian of color. While living in Charlotte, I volunteered with the Carolinas Black Pride Movement, participated with a lesbian sorority in various community service projects, and helped found Shades of Pride, an LGBT Pride organization in Raleigh. I believe that if I have the power and the ability to speak for myself, I should use my time, talent and treasure to make sure I am heard and that those like me are represented and respected.

Don’t get me wrong, while I was active in community organization I also managed to enjoy myself socially. When I came out in 1996 I embraced all things lesbian. I partied every week at local gay clubs in Charlotte. I listened to lesbian music, watched lesbian movies, and read lesbian magazines. For me, one of the goals I hope to accomplish as I age is being able to being happy with my life choices. Using that measurement, I feel my coming out was successful. I had to be “out there” to know what truly feeds me. Now I do not club as much. My magazine subscriptions have lapsed. I still enjoy a good chick-on-chick flick. I realized that being a lesbian is just another adjective to describe me. It’s on the list along with Virgo, Zeta, only child, East Carolina alumna, state employee, and North Carolinian. It is a part, not the sum, of my existence.

I am a big believer in the adage, “It’s not what they call you, it’s what you answer to,” so for me I’m a lesbian. I support those who embrace the word “queer” as a way of defining themselves; however I view the word “queer” like I view tomatoes. I’m fine with those who love them but for me the word, like the fruit, just leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

I also claim the term “femme”. I like dresses and make-up. I like being taken out on dates and being taken care of behind closed doors. In terms of dating, my partners have been the ones who took care of the cars, opened doors, and displayed tendencies that are more “dominant”. However, I like a woman who can also cook, clean, and cry at sad movies. My fiancée can put together furniture without instructions, mow and trim our front and back yard, and make me homemade pasta with pink sauce from scratch. When she is not on her job she wears sweatpants and T-shirts around the house, but can rock thee-inch pumps with a strapless dress with her hair flat-ironed for the gawds when it’s time to go out. Just like I live for my maxi-dresses and lipstick but curse like a sailor and pump my own gas. To me, being a lesbian with labels is somewhat easier but I don’t believe that labels should restrict individuals from being true to themselves.

Two things that have been a comfort and a source of pain for me along my journey of self-love as a lesbian have been my family and faith. My mother took my sexual identity hard. It’s not like she really liked the idea of me getting married so soon after college, but she expected me to settle down eventually-with a man. It took her a while to accept that wasn’t going to happen. Along that journey she said some harsh things and we weren’t very close. But time has healed some wounds. She is a part of my life now and interacts easily with my fiancée. She has come a long way from 1996 but I will admit, we both are still on a journey. My extended family knows that I am a lesbian but it’s not addressed. I told a cousin I was gay the night Ellen came out on ABC. She told her mother, who told other family members. No one ever said anything directly to me but I know it has been discussed. Still, when I am around my family, no one says anything. Then again, we really do not talk about the sexuality of the straight people in our family so why should I be treated any differently?

While my family is mute on the subject of sexuality, my church of choice isn’t so quiet. I am a born, bred and baptized Baptist. I know my denomination as a whole isn’t affirming. As recently as this past Easter when the pastor decided to weave in anti-equality comments among his sermon on the resurrection, I know how the majority of members in my faith feel about same gender loving individuals. Still, I place my trust in God, not man. I pray and I know my God.

I am proud to be a black Southern lesbian and I embrace all the highs and lows which have come my way since coming out and into myself close to twenty years ago. While I would change some details about my journey, I would still choose the same path. It makes me strong and it makes me better. I rise through the efforts of women who have gone before me and I hope I improve the lives of those who walk along with me and inspire those who will follow behind me. If all it takes is being my authentic self to do that, then why shouldn’t I be the me I was born to be?

Connect with La Toya Hankins:

www.latoyahankins.com

Twitter: @hankins.com

Instagram: @toyahankins

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