I been missing something, I did not know to miss.
When I was 19, I spent way too much time watching wedding shows. That is the only time I can recall ever wanting a wedding. Outside of potential tax breaks, marriage was never something I desired. My visions of a future did not include images of a romantic partner. I told my parents long ago that I will be there one child who does not get married. No worries, my siblings got married enough for all of us.
I firmly believe that marriage is an archaic, patriarchal and oppressive institution. However, this belief does not explain why I never desired long-term romantic partner(s). Perhaps subconsciously I didn’t think it was possible for me. The examples of long term partnerships that I saw did not interest me. Perhaps, I did not think long term partnerships were available for someone like me. Especially as I begin identifying as queer.
I was raised in a world that taught me that queer folks were not worthy of love. While, I have done a lot of work to correct this belief- It is still something that lingers in the corners of my mind
At the end of 2017, I finally made it to “The Bay.” San Francisco and Oakland are kinda iconic for Black Queer Folks. This is where Marlon Riggs, Sylvester and Pomo Afro Homos created iconic works. Oakland is where the Black Panther Party was founded. for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf debuted in Berkeley bars. “The Bay” has always been a place I felt I knew, without ever being there. So you you know I had to stan out as a “tourist.”
Attending Bishop Yvette Flunder’s City of Refuge Church, was at the top of my to-do list. I have been following her ministry and work for years. I skipped out on going to SoulCycle with my friend to attend service. The last time I went church I left in tears and the reminder that church is a violent place for people like me. However, I knew that Bishop Flunder made space for people like me.
I don’t have the words to describe what it felt like to watch queer people of color be themselves as they worship and praise. What it meant to hear queer folk talk unapologetically about being HIV positive. To know how much harm the Black church inflicted during height of the AIDS epidemic, while also being in a church that was giving free HIV test during the service. The Sunday I went happen to coincide with World AIDS Day and the sermon was done by a HIV+ minister. That despite not being a believer, that I could fully show up and be seen.
Up until I was 20 years old I thought all Black lesbians were chronically unemployed who got kicked out of their mother’s houses. I was probably 23 before I stopped associating lesbians with predators. While my access and understanding of the queer community has grown significantly, it is still limited. Sitting at City of Refuge, I was surrounded by Black queer people of all ages. I saw something I rarely see in our youth obsessed culture, mature and elderly queer Black couples. I can’t think of ever seeing a representation of an elderly queer Black couple in the media or in my life growing up. But here I was surrounded by queer Black folk with grey hair and aging bodies-holding hands and loving each other. I could not help but wonder how my capacity for love might have been expanded if I knew this was possible at an earlier age. Would I have had the desire to share a life with a partner(s)? Having access to only heterosexual and monogamous models of love does us such a disservice.
Bishop Flunder wasn’t there
young Tab would have left, but her wife Mother Shirley Miller was. Their love story has lasted over thirty years. They were open about their love in the highly homophobic gospel music industry, while also doing ministry as an out lesbian couple in the 90s. They toured with Walter Hawkins and The Love Center Choir. Shirley is also Walter’s cousin. Hawkins’ church, The Love Center would come to embrace the Sylvester James at the end of his life and Flunder would serve as his spiritual council. So much Black queer iconic history wrapped up in Hawkins and Flunder’s ministry. (Go watch Sylvester’s Unsung).
When speaking of their love in a 2014 interview, Bishop Flunder states: “You know, one of our church members said the reason why our church has grown so much over the years is not because of our programs. It’s because of our love for each other. Our love has shown people that a great love like this is possible.”
I wholeheartedly echo her sentiment, the love that was evident at her church, through Mother Miller’s words and the many Black queer people present in the sanctuary challenged me to think about love and expand my own desire for it in my life. I left City of Refuge wanting to cry, thinking about all the time I spent never even considering the possibility of having someone(s) continually love me. That somehow, I was taught that being Black and queer meant love was temporary and fleeting- that in the end I would be alone.
That day I learned how much I needed mature and elderly Black queer people in my life. I get so much joy from being around and seeing Black queer families and couples. But I can’t help but feel angry, that I was deprived of these representations and models for much of my life. While I still have no desire to be married, experiences like the one I had at City of Refuge opens me up to love in new ways. It reminds that I can create define partnership and family in affirming ways.
Shirley Miller is 12 years older than Yvette Flunder, their age gap love gives me hope. You know I like em’ older.