by Brandi Amara Skyy
On Tuesday night, my wife and I went to the Texas State Fair. Our tradition is to go at least once since it was one of our first dates. We eat lots of fried food (mine vegan), have a Buzzball (these amazing tiny round adult beverages that contain 15 – 20 percent alcohol), which we couldn’t find this year, and just enjoy each other’s company as we walk around and people watch.
Normally, I don’t think twice about going, but this time was different.
We made our first trip to the fair after I had read a story about a baby giraffe in the petting zoo. People were reporting that the baby giraffe seemed distressed and were worried about it. I know the fair has LOTS of animals (I get it, its part of the ‘fun’), but the incident prompted me to really think about what my presence at the fair actually means — and supports.
A few days after seeing the baby giraffe story, someone on my Facebook shared a story about how in 1901 the fair set aside one day for black people to enjoy the festivities. The day was called “Colored People’s Day.” In 1946, the fair renamed the day to “Negro Achievement Day.” And in October of 1947, black people were allowed TWO Fair days instead of one.
Recently, I’ve seen a lot of calls on various blogs and social media to strip off our labels: gay, lesbian, queer, brown, black, female, etc. and identify as ‘human.’ For some, labels do more harm than good — especially if those labels come with unchecked power and privilege. But there are still others who feel they exist beyond human-created labels — what Gloria Anzaldúa calls, El Mundo Zurdo. And I get that. I live there too.
But then I remember how comforting it felt when I found out (via a label) that there was a community of cis-females who did drag and they had a name, “faux queen.” But without that searchable label of “faux queen” on Google, I never would have discovered this female drag subculture that I love so much. But more importantly, I would never have found my family.
Or the rich herstory that I am now a part of.
Now twelve years into performing drag, do I still claim the same label of faux queen as I did when I started? No. I’ve shed that label for one that doesn’t root drag in gender, but in art. I’m now a drag artist. Humans, like snakes, shed our skins when they no longer serve us. Our metamorphosis just looks a bit different. We change jobs when we outgrow the one we’re in; we move out of state or out of the country, we say goodbye to friendships that no longer serve us — all these things we leave behind are layers of ourselves. They are labels of who we once were.
And here’s the real tea I’ve discovered about labels: They’re easy to strip off when you know who are, but it’s a lot harder to do when you’re busy discovering who you want to be. And that is a never ending process.
And whereas I might be comfortable shedding off “faux queen” and claiming drag artist, I am not ready to shed certain identifiers (my term for labels) because I’m still trying to understand myself within them.
Because our identifiers (if we let them) are lenses in which to view the world around us. Vegan and brown were the lenses I used to view the State Fair of Texas this week. Those were also the lenses that prompted this Trending Tea. Next week my lens might be something else. Because identifiers and labels are not static meaning they don’t affix themselves on our personhood forever. They are fluid; We may rip them off at anytime. Or chose to embrace them until we are ready to let them go. And I’m not ready to let my identifiers of vegan, brown, queer, married, bruja, activist and womyn go because they are currently fueling and serving my mission to color the world diverse.
Even the labels that have traditionally been seen as privileged — white, male, heterosexual — can be tools for learning about the world if they are viewed and understood in a certain way.
Because anything can be of use as long as we are cognizant of it. And our labels, our lenses, can be a major point of our activism. Just this week my friend and fellow activist Ashlee Marie Preston started a petition on change.org to deny Caitlyn Jenner an award for her ‘activism.’ Because of Ashlee’s petition, Caitlyn is no longer being awarded by the St. John’s Medical Center at the Trans Film Festival on Saturday. Ashlee’s activism is rooted in her identity as a Trans woman of color because she knows those identities are still not equal to cis White heterosexual male. And because she embraced her ‘labels,’ she rewrote the history books to be a little more reflective of her and other trans women of color experiences.
Anything you claim, whether it’s your labels or freedom from them, will be infused with power. The question and the call to action we all should really be asking is: What are you going to do with said power?