The Swirl: Not So Southern Hospitality
The ongoing adventures of an interracial lesbian couple.
Holding hands and walking down the street with my wife sometimes feels like being an exhibit in a freak show! We get some of the craziest responses, as if merely walking down the street should immediately elicit responses from random strangers. We’ve gotten the standard, “You just haven’t met the right man!” and “Can I join in?” multitudes of times. However, astonishment, inquiries, and input are not limited to men trying to figure out where they can fit in. We aren’t the stereotypical lesbian couple by any means. To be very clear, both of us “wear the pants,” literally and figuratively. Add to that, the fact that I’m an African-American and from Alabama, and she’s a Nebraskan who’s ethnicity is a mixture of German, Native-American, Dutch, Irish, and Scottish, and I guess it becomes complicated to figure out exactly where we are supposed to fit in. Who said we wanted to fit in anyway?
Last year I joined my in-laws in Clearwater, Florida for a winter break at the beach. Ambiguous stares and double takes soon made me realize that there were no other African-American vacationers around, but that thought was quickly drowned out by the sounds of the waves crashing against the beach. Anyway, I grew up in rural Alabama, where schools still had separate African-American and Caucasian homecoming courts, and it was public knowledge that black neighborhoods were to be zoned outside of voting jurisdictions. Blacks stayed with Blacks, Whites stayed with Whites, and no one rocked the boat. Racism was intrinsically a part of my childhood and upbringing, so I cannot say that I was surprised by onlookers’ responses. That night, as we took a romantic stroll through town, we couldn’t help but notice the police car that seemed to stalk us up and down each street. After about four blocks of being followed, we decided to meet up with Kenzie’s brother at a bar, ominously named “The Shipwreck.” As we stood outside of the entrance, the sound of familiar Hip-Hop and R&B music welcomed us from within. However, once we entered the door we were met with stares, whispers, then silence. It was awkward… so awkward, that the only thing that broke the silence was a sudden change of songs. By the time we’d ordered our first round of drinks, a country song with the lyrics “Work like a nigger below the Mason Dixon” replaced the rap music that they’d previously appreciated. My brother-in-law and his bride-to-be, continued to shoot pool, but I could tell that they were uncomfortable and uncertain of how to handle the situation. They chose to ignore ignorance and turned a blind eye. Kenzie and me decided that we had done enough ignoring and being the bigger person. Furthermore, I won’t pretend that Trayvon Martin’s and Troy Davis’ murders in this same state didn’t linger in the back of my mind as warnings that I still needed to know my place while in the deep South. We left.
During the winter holidays, an eclectic friend of mine invited Kenzie and me to her Kwanza party in Atlanta, Georgia. I was initially reluctant, but a brief call to my friend reassured me that we would be welcomed with open arms. We arrived and were greeted by several inquisitive partygoers about how we met, wedding details, and how our families had responded. Everyone was friendly, welcoming, and supportive until an uninvited friend of a friend showed up and began making loud, rude, and racist comments. As we shared and passed around different magazines for vision board cutouts, she scrolled through the disparagingly similar images of models and loudly remarked, “Look at this skinny white bitch,” followed by an array of “Skinny white bitches ain’t shit,” “Who lied and said skinny white bitches were sexy?” and “Why they act like white bitches run the world?” In a room full of equality seeking lesbians, many of whom had literally marched, written books, dissertations, letters to senators, etc. and picketed against oppression from “the man,” sat silently as the uninvited guest rambled on with her “skinny white bitch” rant. I can’t even say that I was shocked, since anonymity comes along with silence, and who would want to look like an Uncle Tom who stood up for some privileged white girl? I snuck a glimpse at Kenzie only to see a look of dismay and fear that let me know that I had to make this right! I lashed out! I began making “big bitch” and “ratchet, weave-wearing hoodrat” remarks that appeared to hit her like bullets. She shut up. I shut up. Everyone shut up. An awkward, yet familiar, silence wafted throughout the room. It was at that moment that I realized that my attempt to defend the woman I’d vowed to protect had done nothing more than reinforce painful stereotypes and add to the divide and discomfort. I immediately wished we’d chosen anonymity.
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Kenzie on Instagram: @KenzieAndKia