food for thot: (queer) afrofutures
For better or for worse, history repeats itself. It's why 365 days a year — not just the slim 28 days that comprise Black History Month — I envelop myself in the details and textures of the past. I'm not talking about the spicy 1800s-set dramas that make up my guilty pleasure watches. (Looking at you, Rege-Jean Page.)
When you're Black, you can't look to bygone eras purely for escapism. I had this realization in high school, when Black Tumblr users underscored the ridiculousness of vintage-obsessed, Lana-Del-Rey-worshipping white folks wistfully writing "I was born in the wrong era [heartbreak emoji] [crying emoji]" under faded photographs of couples sipping malted shakes. While y'all's grandmother and pawpaw attended sock hops and made out the drive-in, my grandparents were relegated to backdoor entrances and dirty water fountains. They watched police officers stick batons in the chests of their elementary school children. They raised a brood who felt like desegregation was a mistake in practice.
It can be legitimately traumatizing to look to the past as a marginalized person. But I still do it. I take comfort in knowing I'm far from the only person who has struggled as I have, who has felt the despair pin them to the bed for hours. There were others like me, queer and Black, full of creativity and heart, who managed to move throughout America (and the world) walking in their purpose.
This Black History Month, I haven't been so loud — half of it has been accelerated exhaustion from the great, fake, social justice reckoning of summer 2020. Half of it has been a sort of social media sabbatical, where I've looked inward to the ancestors, instead of outward to trite content creation.
I've been thinking about Sister Rosetta Tharpe's shredding, and Josephine Baker shaking her ass, happy to be a bad bitch in Paris. Been thinking about Bayard Rustin's stoic assistance in the March on Washington and James Baldwin’s toothy grin. Been thinking about the compassion and nerve of Marsha P. Johnson (And The"P" Stands For "Pay It No Mind"). Been thinking about the way Ma Rainey walked so "Bitch Better Have My Money" could run, and how, outside of being fairly compensated for her brilliant creative vision, she had absolutely zero fucks to give.
These meditations mean so much to me when K-12 social studies classes are scrubbed BIPOC revolutionaries and even with the white folks, the queerness is sanitized out. Even if you attend college, taking African American Studies courses or queer theory classes outside your major track requires a concerted effort. So while my research gives me solace, it also gives me rage. And I find myself asking, "What even is 'history,' anyway?" ✧
the download: FOLX health
If nothing else, the coronavirus pandemic has underscored that lack of accessible healthcare in America is a BFD. Cis and white folks, let me take your understanding a step further and remind you that accessible healthcare is specifically a trans rights issue, as well as a racial one. When thinking about access to healthcare, consider, for example, that trans and gender non-conforming individuals are twice as likely to live in poverty than the general population. The rates are direr for BIPOC: according to a 2017 study by The National Center for Transgender Equality, 38% of Black trans folks, 41% of indigenous trans folks, and 43% of Latinx trans folks live in poverty in the U.S. The national rate, as of the study, was 12%.
It's why services, like those provided by tele-health provider FOLX, are crucial. Run and operated by LGBTQ+ clinicians, FOLX connects queer and trans folks with hormone replacement therapy (HRT), STI testing, PrEP, and family planning resources among other goods in 12 states and counting. Here's what A.G. Breitenstein, FOLX's CEO, had to say about bringing the platform to life and why it's so key to have more trans-inclusive healthcare.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Caroline Colvin: In your own words, how did FOLX come to be? What experiences brought you to leading the team and the company?
A.G. Breitenstein: For far too long, the trans and queer communities have faced discrimination when seeking medical care. This ranges from doctors refusing to educate themselves on the needs of the community, to verbal and physical assault. One in five trans people are refused care. Having worked in healthcare for more than 30 years, I realized how broken the healthcare system is in terms of access but also heteronormativity. The current healthcare system is focused on diagnosing and treating, but for those in the trans and queer community, this is not always the case.
As a member of the trans and queer community, this is something that is deeply important to me. I have wanted to make a difference in the healthcare system since I first started working with queer and trans youth in the early 90s, during the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis. Thirty years later, we are launching FOLX to provide a space for the community where healthcare isn’t something they dread but rather enables them to express themselves freely on their own terms.
CC: Why is a company like FOLX revolutionary in the current health care landscape, especially in regard to trans folks?
AGB: The current system is confusing, expensive, and discriminatory. This is made worse by an insurance system that often does not cover essential queer and trans services such as gender-affirming surgery or reciprocal IVF. We often have to go through elaborate pre-approval processes and bureaucratic barriers.
People outside the community don’t understand the depth and nature of the problem. They don’t know what it means to have to explain your biology to your physician or how it feels to be dead-named. The regulatory system is also outdated and sometimes, outright hostile to the kind of care our community needs.
CC: Has your perspective on the importance of FOLX changed with the on-set and prolonging of the coronavirus pandemic?
AGB: The pandemic has brought new challenges to access to healthcare. Besides those who are not in metropolitan areas, everyone is wary of visiting healthcare facilities at this time. FOLX is not a rainbow primary-care provider, but it does provide some of these essential health services to the community no matter where they are.
the medicine cabinet: fluide
More on Fluide in the next issue, as I'm dropping a Q&A with Dev Doee, the creative director of the genderless (or should I say gender-full) brand.
Until then, cop some glittery, cruelty-free goodies — for this look, I used Fluide’s Universal Liner in “Area 51” ($15), lip gloss in “Abundance” ($12), and Universal Gloss in “Elysium” ($15) — for 20% off. Here’s the Fluide affiliate link and the discount code is "Cherry20." Consider it my Black History Month gift to you — and considering the commission you'll give me, as a festive way to pay me my reparations. ✧
queer visionary #005: miss lawrence
As Cherry: Issue #005 draws to a close, I'll leave you chomping at the bit to stream The United States vs. Billie Holiday (premiering on Hulu on Feb. 26, 2021). Directed by Lee Daniels, the film is based on a book, Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs by Johann Hari. A key profile in this book is one of jazz legend Billie Holiday. Not only does U.S. vs. B.H. showcase the prickly personality, verve, voices, and vices of Billie Holiday (Andra Day). But it also offers a rare glimpse into Holiday's bisexuality, with rumored lover Tallulah Bankhead (Natasha Lyonne) making an appearance.
Enter another unexpected, queer delight: Holiday's manager and confidante, Freddy, played by famed ATL stylist and multi-hyphenate creative Miss Lawrence. Along with being queer Black history themselves, the actor breathed new life into a lost Black LGBTQ+ historical icon. Fascinated by this sort of unprecedented, genderqueer representation in a Black period piece, I picked Miss Lawrence's brain about their creative process bringing Miss Freddy to the silver screen.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Caroline Colvin: Can you tell me a little bit about how you approached playing Freddy? I tried to do a little bit of research and couldn't find him. Is Freddy based on one specific historical figure, or is this a character that was written for the film?
Miss Lawrence: No, Miss Freddy was an actual person. He was a very close friend and confidant to Billie Holiday. He was her dresser. There is not a lot of information out there about Freddy, but we learned of Miss Freddy from Billie Holiday — she wrote about him, she spoke about him. And so developing the film, the research team, along with Lee [Daniels, director] and Suzan-Lori Parks [screenwriter], learned of Miss Freddy through their reading.
ML: It saddened me that someone who was so powerful and instrumental to who Billie Holiday was somehow got left out of that out of history. But, you know, that is still often the story of today.
So, the way we brought her back to life: we knew Miss Freddy was a force to be reckoned with. She was no stranger to getting in trouble with law enforcement, but just for attempting to be. Living and marching to the beat of her own drum, the way she saw her life to be. Miss Freddy was an old school queen, honey. I researched and paid attention to what fashion and what glamour and beauty looked like in that era, and where it where the differentiation came in with men's and women's fashion.
What we did know was that Billie Holiday rope that Miss Freddy would borrow some of her clothing to go to balls — drag balls and stuff like that. So that means, "OK, we know Miss Freddy was gender non-conforming. I can relate to that. So let's just marry what that time period looked like for fashion and what gender non-conforming is." That's kind of how we formulated what Miss Freddy looked like, again, because we did not have a visual reference. We just knew the written references that Billie Holiday gave.
CC: I love that so much. And I just imagine — knowing your background in fashion and beauty —that you'd be able to marry some of those experiences of putting together looks with creating a character. Is there anything in particular that you enjoyed about coming up with Freddy's characterization?
ML: I loved all of it. There wasn't one single thing that I didn't like, about creating the art — figuring the character out. I loved playing around with the garments. I got a chance to play in Billie's wardrobe. All of those types of things. It was a lot of fun.
CC: I can imagine all the costumes look like so sumptuous from that time period. As for the film itself, why do you feel like it's important for queer black folks to see this film?
ML: I think it's important for the world to see the film, not just queer black people. And the reason I say that is because I was asked a question about what my favorite biopics are that really resonate with the times of today. You know, and I had to be very honest, transparent. I don't think it's been done yet.
When you talk about biopics and you talk about representation, I've not seen a biopic of anything that reminds me of myself. We've seen movies about a Freddie Mercury and about Elton John. But I have yet to see a movie about Sylvester. I have yet to see a Bayard Rustin. Or Little Richard. Or any of those iconic, heroic type of figures and people that really paved the way for a gender nonconformity that is of the Black experience. I think it's important for the world to see this. For the world to know that before me, before a Sylvester, before Marsha P. Johnson, before a lot of people there was a Miss Freddy.
Best believe if we really dig deep and we really, really, really go there: There was someone before Miss Freddy. And so I think that we definitely have got to do more work, and making sure that our stories are also included in this new wave of telling Black stories.
Watch The United States vs. Billie Holiday on Hulu starting Feb. 26, 2021. ✧
the final beat
See you there,
✧ Caroline Colvin ✧