I was expecting this year to be just like last year, only better.
This year I wanted to do so many Pride events back-to-back that I would have to rehabilitate for a week. As a queer woman, I was excited to spread asexual and aromantic awareness. I wanted to go to all the events, to host them, to speak at institutions and spend my month in London celebrating and campaigning with my friends for LGBTQ+ rights and visibility. This is usually my favourite time of the year. Only this year, it isn’t.
From the moment lockdown happened, I knew Pride 2020 was going to be different. By that point I had already started my preparations. I was part of Pride in London’s #YouMeUsWe campaign, in which I had been specifically asked to appear because of my work as an asexuality activist. Featuring an openly asexual and aromantic person in a campaign for one of the world's biggest Pride events was hugely symbolic; it isn't something that Pride events have traditionally done in the past. Despite putting the ‘A’ in LGBTQIA+, we are still some of the least represented identities. The campaign made me optimistic about the possibility for more asexual and aromantic inclusion in Pride in the future. I thought that this wouldn’t just be my year; it would be the year for asexual and aromantic visibility.
It turned out to be the opposite.
2020 has been terrible for everyone. This June, we’re in a worldwide pandemic, many are still in lockdown, and too many are dying. People are losing jobs and losing money, including the businesses that would usually sponsor Pride. Rainbows can be spotted in windows across the country but it has nothing to do with Pride. There are no parades and floats passing through the streets of major cities across the world, instead there are protestors with signs saying "Black Lives Matter" and "I Can’t Breathe" and police officers shooting them, gassing them and arresting them just for being there. Buildings are burning, monuments are being dragged down. People are losing eyes, losing rights and losing lives at the hands of those who are meant to protect. BLM protestors are risking their safety not only in the face of the police and white supremacists but also in the middle of a pandemic, where social distancing is necessary to save lives. At the same time, people are dying alone in hospitals. It feels as though almost everyone has lost someone and no one’s been given time, space or the traditional rituals to grieve. Funerals are practically empty and morgues are overflowing.
I'm not just asexual, I'm not just aromantic; I'm Black and my spirit is broken.
As a queer woman, I’m still expected to say "Happy Pride!" while all of this is going on. I’m still expected to feel it, too. I thought I would, but I don’t. In a year consumed by dark challenges, maybe that’s all the more reason to celebrate something positive – to make more noise than usual. Maybe Pride is more important now than ever. Queer people have been dealing with a unique set of issues during this pandemic: our physical spaces have been taken away and Pride celebrations, where many of us finally feel safe and welcome, have been cancelled until further notice. The vocal support is quieter than usual and the atmosphere isn’t what it was.
I wanted to be one of those trying to keep the spirit alive, not just for myself but for those who look to me as an activist. But I’m not just asexual, I’m not just aromantic; I’m Black and my spirit is broken. I’m so tired of watching people who look like me die. I’m tired of having to explain to people why they should care and what they should do about it. I’m tired of having to 'prove' my trauma. I’m tired of there being a debate over whether or not we should stop seeing and treating Black people like they’re inferior. I’m tired of people being more upset about damaged property than a damaged society. I’m tired of the list of Black victims getting longer and longer, not least the Black trans victims of this fight. I’m almost too tired to lift my colourful flag, and hesitant to do so.
We have never seen anything quite like this. We are at a turning point in our society and we can’t derail it for anything. We need to focus, we need to create change and keep it going after the hashtags have stopped. At the same time, this is still Pride Month, one of the few occasions where people truly hear the queer community when we make some noise. But I don’t want that noise to divert attention from a cause that’s also very close to my heart and heavily impacts my life. I don’t want to accidentally distract from this pivotal, volatile, historical moment by saying, "Don’t forget about ace visibility!"
The first Pride was a riot. It involved Black rights and LGBTQ+ rights. The causes of anti-Blackness and queerphobia come from the same white supremacist structure. These are issues that do go together and should go together, but often don’t. Some might argue that every Pride is a protest in some form, but it doesn’t always feel that way. The energy I felt last year, twirling my giant asexual flag around during the parade, feels strikingly different from the energy at the BLM protests. These people are mourning. These people are angry. So am I.
This year I am trying to change the way I celebrate Pride. In fact, ‘celebrate’ probably isn’t the right word anymore. This year Pride is being forced to go back to its roots. It will not be a celebration of what has been achieved but a conscious effort to highlight everything that hasn’t, and create that change. This is a time where the racism that exists within the LGBTQ+ community needs to be addressed. It’s time for white queer people to stand up for us and to educate themselves, and for non-Black people of colour to understand that they aren’t immune to anti-Blackness either. Now is the time to remember that queer culture wouldn’t exist without Black culture and Stonewall wouldn’t have happened without Black trans women. Even if none of that were true, it wouldn’t make our struggle any less significant to the LGBTQ+ community. All Black Lives Matter, no ifs, no buts, no justification. That includes Black trans lives, Black gay lives, Black bisexual lives, Black asexual lives, Black non-binary lives. That’s what I’m going to make some noise about, and you should too.
If you are an LGBTQIA+ person and you would like some more information on your rights or any of the issues raised in this article, check out Stonewall’s website. To find a list of mental health resources for Black people, head here. To learn more about asexuality please visit the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN).