Prior to experiencing the genius of Black and queer folks in the HIV community who intentionally held space for my growth, I had no idea I was Black.
I was born and raised with HIV in a family where exploring my Blackness wasn’t a priority. I realized that non-Black people would always find beauty in my proximity to all things white. But, when I found other dark-skinned melanated folks who could see in me the Black girl who did not know she had Black tears, the result was relief. Relief in finding safety and understanding from people who do not just look like me but who provided a physical space where I could ask Black cultural questions as I worked on my own self-awareness. People whose presence somehow let my nervous system feel safe—and let me be able to feel pleasure in Blackness.
“Relief and pleasure” is a meditative mantra that I will be boppin’ all year long. I want more Black pleasure for us all in 2021. The yearning to share space with and be elevated by other Black activists and Black artists continues to grow as I continue to age alongside HIV. And while I am not throwing in the towel for an HIV cure, what I am doing in the meantime is going back to that sweet spot of Black pleasure—which means I write, argue, sing, eat, play, exist as Black as humanly possible.
Black-cultivated spaces provided me with enough love, and poured enough into all my self-discovery, to pull my soul out of a very dark place—a place I feel I had been stuck in for the last 28 years.
I had no real understanding that pleasure, first and foremost, is a human right; and that my Black pleasure is negatively impacted by the consequences of white supremacy. I came to understand that white supremacy is terrifying, and hiding is a perfectly understandable reaction to feeling scared. So I am entirely thankful for the Black birthing process: understanding that my melanin is political and that, regardless of my education level or income, there will always be a negative bias against darker-skinned folks. Understanding even a small percentage about intersectionality (as coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw but taught to me via the Black United Leadership Institute at HIV Is Not a Crime) relieved me of feeling shame and staying isolated in my own head.
Black-cultivated spaces provided me with enough love, and poured enough into all my self-discovery, to pull my soul out of a very dark place—a place I feel I had been stuck in for the last 28 years. “Growing up poz” really is a vibe—but I wouldn’t have known that I am a vibe, a whole walking sacred space drizzled in melanin realness, had it not been for random miracles we call mentors, who guide Black young girls through our journeys. Mine happened to take form as an editor named Kenyon Farrow, who helps me to communicate; as community organizer Venita Ray, who helps me by showing me through actions what Black women have done in leadership positions; as the queen Gina Brown, with whom I can have daily chats about Blackness because Black mothers pour into the community; and so many more.
If I am Black then my pleasure should affirm my Black life. Rarely seeing my people depicted in pop culture outside of outdated stereotypes (Black mammies, Black Aunties, etc.), I couldn’t grow if I wasn’t in close proximity to Black humans who provided the catalyst of what I know to be the foundations of Black pleasure. Period.
Tiffany Marrero-Stringer is a sex-positive advocate using her lived experience as a Black, queer millennial woman living with HIV to work with, and on behalf of, others in her community.