Pierre Berastain was a Harvard Undergrad when he worked as a Friends of Justice intern in the summer of 2010. Pierre completed his first year at the Harvard Divinity School last week and we are thrilled to announce that he will once again be working with us as an intern.
When Pierre and I got together at Starbucks this Saturday morning to talk over the details of his work this summer, we talked about the shaping power of narrative–the stories we grow up listening to. To live in America is to grow up listening to demeaning narratives about homosexuals and homosexuality.
Canada wasn’t much different. Just before the sixth grade (or Grade 6 as we Canadians called it) my family moved from Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories to Edmonton where I was enrolled in Queen Alexandra elementary. All the boys were calling each other “homos” or just “mo’s”. I had no idea what you had to do to qualify as a “mo” but I knew it had to be shameful . . . and funny.
I was wrong on both counts; but since this was the only narrative I was exposed to, what was I supposed to think. Admit it, you grew up in the same cramped and fearful world.
GLBT people grow up with these toxic narratives too, and the damage can be dreadful. For people of color, the trauma is compounded.
In this piece written for the Huffington Post, Pierre shares brief glimpses from stories written by GLBT young people of color. It’s painful but important stuff.
Until we feel the humanity of GLBT people, we have no right to evaluate how they experience or express their sexuality. We just don’t. Please read Pierre’s post and share your thoughts below.
By Pierre Berastain
In April the Hispanic Black Gay Coalition released the first edition of Shout It Out: Coming Out Black and Brown, an anthology that places the narratives of individuals of color front and center. Trying to encapsulate experiences of “coming out” is like trying to categorize shapes of snowflakes: simply impossible. Coming-out experiences are unique and personal to each individual; nevertheless, one can see a compelling thread that unites the stories within this anthology.
To come out is to be made visible, to be made manifest to an audience not always willing to listen, to accept the vulnerability of exposing the multidimensionality of our being. But to come out one must first come inward. That is to say, one must come to terms with a deeply personal and turbulent past whose scars and bruises we saw necessary to hide.
By narrating the stories of those bruises and scars of our internalized homophobia, we are not only demanding recognition from the other but also demanding acceptance by ourselves. The stories contained in Shout It Out are not just stories of coming out—of asking that our entire being be cherished, respected, and loved—but also stories of reconstituting our broken selves, of explaining to our egos why we are who we are and why we find ourselves where we have landed. They are stories that trace ‘personal evolutions,’ or as Sartre would have it, stories of encountering oneself and surging up in the world, not to define the self, but to accept it and have it be recognized. They are stories, poems, and narratives of lesbian, transgendered, gay, bisexual, and queer individuals who challenge us to look inward, so that maybe we can see a bit of ourselves in ‘the other’, the one we think is so foreign.
Through the narratives in Shout It Out, we are also forced to realize just how impossible it is to divorce sexual identity from context. By reading the anthology, one is drawn to the lives of people who seek recognition not only of their sexuality, but also their cultures, religions, races, and families. One author explains how he “turned to [his] religion in hopes of shedding [himself]”; another tells how ‘no other Black females had these feelings (of homosexuality)” and yet another narrates how her “6’1” Black mother” blames her daughter’s lesbianism on “always hanging out with White people.” We see parents blaming the communists for their children’s homosexuality, and a grandmother taking interest in learning ‘who is the man and who is the woman’; sisters who ask “are you okay” and friends who extend compassion and grace. In this way, we realize how our context can enrich, complicate, confuse, and sometimes even trump our sexuality.
And finally, the narratives in Shout It Out also serve like a spiritual exercise—as Simone Weil would indicate—as a way to (re)-connect to the divine, to something bigger than the homo/bi/trans-phobia we have experienced, and to come to understand that just as religion and God can alienate, they, too, can help us integrate.
What weaves Shout It Out together, then, are themes of self-acceptance, redress, and healing; of rejection and recognition, redemption and resentfulness, of coping and falling apart. The narratives form part of a process that opens and exposes old wounds so that they can heal correctly—so that they can be accepted and cherished as a unique part of who we are. By shouting our identities out, we are in a way shouting them inwards, hoping in this manner that the telling and re-telling of ourselves produce a loud enough echo so that no one, not even we, will forget.
* Shout It Out can be purchased on the HBGC website: http://www.hbgc-boston.org/
Version that appeared on the Huffington Post here.