Coming into yourself can be a process that is as strenuous as it is liberating, especially as a person holding a multitude of marginalized identities. But the process is facilitated by representation — once you’re able to see yourself in mainstream narratives, it’s easier to make sense of the intersectionalities that we exist in.
Stenberg, who had previously come out as queer and gender non-binary, discussed with KP how liberating it felt to finally claim this sexual identity, noting how the concept of heteronormativity played a huge part in keeping her from claiming this identity earlier on.
…once you’re able to see yourself in mainstream narratives, it’s easier to make sense of the intersectionalities that we exist in.
“The continual process of unlearning heteronormativity and internalized homophobia can be difficult, but one of the biggest blessings lies in the magic that comes from having to understand love outside the confines of learned heterosexual roles,” she said. “My sexuality is not a byproduct of my past experiences with men, who I have loved, but rather a part of myself I was born with and love deeply.”
Stenberg also discussed how it all made sense when she looked back at her life, citing that her attraction towards the opposite sex included mostly gay men and femme boys “who damn near had the sensibility of a woman” and how she “stifled a scream of horror the first time [she] saw a penis and had to convince [herself] with much internal strife that [she] was enjoying what was going down.”
Stenberg and KP cite the lack of representation of gay narratives in film and television, particularly in the Black community, on one of the main reasons why we’re expected to conform to heteronormativity. We grow up believing that queerness is a “white people thing” because those are the messages fed to us by our communities and mainstream media alike. The idea that we can step out of those roles that are assigned to us can be terrifying and unthinkable because we don’t even know what that would consist of, even if it’s just a matter of looking in the mirror.
But as Stenberg notes, “identity is transient and ever-shifting, shaped by our realities and relative to our environments.” We’re living in a time where we are learning and embracing the concept of the “free Black woman/man/child,” but this cannot exist if we are not allowing room for the variant of Black folks that exist, particularly within the spectrum of gender and sexuality. The only way that we can truly be free is if our communities become receptive to all of the layers we encompass.