Reflections: archiving histories as shared by 5 QTBIPOC writers

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An Introduction from the Editor

Who is responsible for writing down history? Who decides which stories make the cut? Is it up to us to ensure our narratives are passed on and archived before our passing?

These questions, though lofty, are important ones to ask.

For many queer, trans, Black, Indigenous, and people of color (QTBIPOC), archiving histories requires an intersectional approach that honours many lived experiences at once. Be it sexuality, gender, racial and ethnic background, disability, or class.

As part of LGBT History Month 2021, SBWN commissioned five writers to reflect on their own personal histories as part of the larger QTBIPOC community. Some reflected through poetic verse, others through song, and still others through short experimental essay.

All five writers share some of the challenges and joys of being both queer and people of colour. They do so with great care and generosity, offering hope both for the future but also for the past. 

You are invited to both read and listen to each of these reflections, which are not only beautiful, but are important archival pieces that lay claim to multiple intersections that so often are not given the attention they deserve. Now is the time to put their stories, our stories, front and centre.

SBWN would like to extend our deepest gratitude to the LGBTI Recovery Fund and the Equality Network who made these reflective sharings possible through their LGBT History Month funding support. 

Andrés N Ordorica, Programme Manager (Community & Events)

Sanjay Lago, BE You ALWAYS

Where does my personal history sit within the larger narrative of the LGBTQ+ History? A question I have had in my head alot. Where do I fit in? Am I allowed to fit in? As a gay Indian dyslexic, or as I like to call myself, a ‘Gaysian Dyslexic’, I wonder if I am allowed into LGBTQ+ spaces. I have grown up hiding who I was, yet would dance to Bollywood music and Shakira. Then coming out, I barely knew the LGBTQ+ figures in the South Asian Community I could look up to. The people I looked up to were friends I could speak to or artists I enjoyed. So I feel my personal history will sit in the larger narrative to share my story, and to show other South Asian individuals that it is tough but you aren’t alone. Our culture might look down upon us but it is up to us and our allies to change that. So what is my place in the wider narrative? To not give up and to continue the fight. I came out 2 years ago but I knew for a while. I found the people around me to speak to and I found the strength to be myself. So I don’t know where I will sit in history, I just hope that future generations will see other people like me and feel comfortable to know there are others like them who also had struggles, but they have happiness ahead of them and people there to support them. 

BE You ALWAYS 

Those who came before you, have struggled just the same. 
Feeling alone and lost, trying not to bring upon any shame. 
But no matter what people say, 
There will come for you a day, 
When we can rise like the burning phoenix 
Sharing with all our passionate remix 
That we aren’t bland and grey 
But colourful humans here to stay. 
Don’t let anyone dim your light 
As each day goes, we will continue to fight. 
So no one feels excluded from warm sun rays, 
And you can BE You ALWAYS.

 

 

Sanjay Lago is a Glasgow based Scottish Indian Actor, Writer, Workshop Facilitator and host. He enjoys writing poetry and autobiographical work. He is currently in the Soho Theatre Writers’ Lab, writing his first full length play. He works with themes of race, identity, neurodiversity, sexuality and masculinity to name a few. He has worked with companies such as National Theatre of Scotland and Bijli Productions. In 2020 ran a workshop on autobiography and self-care for the Scottish BAME Writers’ Network. He is happy to have been asked to join this important piece of work.

Twitter: @SanjayLago

A photo of Sanjay Lago he wears a colourful patterened shirt and has black hair and brown skin. He smiles at the camera.

Sarya Wu, 2nd Generation Asian American

This is a song I wish I could sing in public. I really wish I could…but alas, some things are better left unsaid. I love my queerness, yet it is something that I’ve never really been able to fully embrace around my family. I feel like any queer child of an immigrant will understand the guilt and remorse of being gay for a parent that has only ever wanted something resembling normalcy for you. 

they say i have my grandma’s arches
she is the strong and silent kind
she didn’t speak a word to her husband
for the last ten years of his life

she had a son who loved her dearly
he was so strong but also kind
he would protect her from his father
right until the day that he died

he had a sister who left the country
to keep the family alive
went to the states to find the money
and came back with another life

she had a daughter from her marriage
but she was not meant to be a wife
she bore two children with another
leaving the first baby behind

i am the youngest of her children
i grew up so far from her strife
in her eyes i see all these stories
that she brings up from time to time

i just don’t want to disappoint you
you have given up all your life
to give me the means to follow passions
that neither you nor your mother could find

i sit in fear so sad to tell you
of all the ways i’ve let you down
i’m sorry i couldn’t be the normal
that you’ve been searching for all this time

you don’t even know how much i want
to tell you of every conjured lie
if i wanted to be myself truly
it pains me that it might make you cry

it pains me that it might make you cry
it pains me that it might make you cry
it pains me that it might make you cry
i am afraid that you’ll close your eyes
and think that this has been wasted time

i’m sorry that i cannot live a lie
i’m sorry that i cannot live a lie
i’m sorry that i cannot live a lie
but that’s how you did it
that’s how you survived

you did not fail
you did so well
how can i tell you

but i’m sorry that i cannot live a lie
i’m sorry if this has been wasted time
i’m sorry if this might make you cry
i’m sorry i’m sorry i am

i’m sorry that i cannot live a lie
i’m sorry if this has been wasted time
i’m sorry if this might make you cry
i’m sorry i’m sorry i am
i’m sorry i’m sorry i am

i’m sorry i’m sorry i am

A photo of Sarya Wu who wears a black kimono top, black tights and combat boots. They are bending down to the floor and smiling at the camera.

Sarya Wu is a gender-nonconforming Taiwanese-American musical poet based in Taipei and Edinburgh. Hailing from the Scottish spoken word scene, “sarya” started to make music in 2017, and has been a part of the Edinburgh and Taipei indie DIY scene. They describe their music as “poetic bedroom pop that makes you laugh then cry”, highly inspired by sincerely honest lyrics, Nordic vocals, emo indie, and elements of hyper pop, frequently using elements of spoken word in their music.

Spotify: @swoopoetry

Instagram: @swoopoetry

Website: saryaisok.com

Mae Diansangu, Queer Afrohistoricism: speaking life into an unlived past

The way we map out history is inherently queerphobic; historical timelines are, by design, unwaveringly straight. They are indisputable lines, traveling single-mindedly, from one point of time to another.  Cause and effect, beginning and end.  But queer temporality is a different beast.  Plotting our histories on a straight line will never accurately represent the ingenious ways queer folk can manipulate time.   How many of us have time travelled to a queer youth we were unable to live?  Resources we may have today, which were unavailable to our younger, closeted selves (like queer community, gender euphoria, familial acceptance, etc.) can help us live out experiences we might have had in an alternative past.

As a Black queer person, I am drawn to alternative pasts and speculative futures. Linear time says that the future is a blank space we are designed to fill.  For Black queer people, the same is often true of the past.  When Black queer history is erased, there is power in re-creating and re-imagining it.  This is what I call “Queer Afrohistoricism”; visions of potential Black queer histories that we were never given the chance to remember.  Queer Afrohistoricism is more than simply relating historical facts.  Like Afrofuturism, it is speculative.   It is an opportunity to fill the gaping archival silence with our own voices, lending them to our Black queer ancestors so we can hear what they might have said.  Robert Jones Jr. does this beautifully in his debut novel The Prophets.  Presenting a version of Black queer history in the mythical and queer-affirming kingdom of Kosongo, Robert Jones Jr. shows how history can be unidirectional for Black queer people: we go back in time to write ourselves, and on our return, we absorb those worlds of possibilities into our present day bodies.  

They say you can’t change the past, but you can certainly queer it.   Linear time is a Western concept. It demands that we constantly project ourselves forward and paint the future we want to see.  But why limit our creative powers to inventing possible futures? The past is also ours to dream.  


A photo of Mae Diansangu who is wearing gold hoop earrings. She smiles at the camera and she has curly hair.
Mae Diansangu is an Aberdeen born, Black queer spoken word artist and performer.  She is co-founder of Hysteria Aberdeen, a monthly performance night for women, non-binary and gender marginalised artists.  
 
Follow Mae @ukulemae on facebook, twitter and instagram 

Etzali Hernández, Forget (me) not

for you, being so unapologetically 
Black, queer and trans 
is a synonym of terrorism 
and gender essentialism 

because we have been feeding 
white cis hetero patriarchal supremacy
without a pause. we have been eroding
any sense of humanity, in the same way
we have been pouring oil into the sea 

in 2020 you passed away, 
we blamed the virus and isolation 
without acknowledging that in the past this
had already happened. because the world
wasn’t created for people like you, 
my beloved friend 

then how can we forget that the race relations act
was signed in 1965 and the disabilities act in 1970.
decades later, everything remains the same, we
have learned and discovered many things while
ignoring most of them again 

setting up new workhouses and 
sweatshops in the colonies 
given them local heroes names 
to wash the homophobia and genocide away 

an outstanding legacy of sodomy laws
around the world since the 1860s 
to then shame them 
for their closed minds and savagery 
from an indifferent pond 

somewhere in the present future 
being like you, so unapologetically 
Black, queer and trans 
is a synonym of 
happiness and freedom, 
love and acknowledgement


Etzali Hernández is a Glasgow based nonbinary queer latinx poet, coder & dj. Poetry is their way to document their experiences and the politics entangled in it. Their work has been published in Ascend magazine, We Were Always Here: A Queer Words Anthology and in the Scottish BAME Writers Network’s pamphlet, Ceremony.
 
You can follow @topimorita on instagram and twitter
A photo of Etzali Hernández, they are wearing a leapord print roll neck jumper and glasses. They are smiling at the camera wearing black rimmed glasses.

Clementine E Burnley, Self-portraits to conjure rebirth

Baptiste

Monsieur B. walks the cimetiere in New Town on the hour, every hour.  It’s time. As he makes his way between the sculpted animals shapes the landscaping firm has conjured from ordinary hedging plants, his measured steps crunch on the gravel.

Evangelist

He say this can’t last  forever, meaning he can’t last much longer in this small serious place. Flesh can’t contain the whole of he, translucent too-soft nails tear loose. He hold the names mother and father ready in his mouths for insurance, these bodies that carry multitudes.

Side

Our secret selves, blood marked, cannot be made sure by feat of arms, as the band plays a final slow measure, we hoist asterisk-embroidered flags, alms clandestine stop the throat. We forge on. Our fathers’ skins hold carnival, as slowly walking backwards we depart, glimpsed faces lambent as coins.

Step

It’s the same today, in my country politics will not leave us rest Gede so why not cross the river. Give us this day a Master class in U.S. American Television show. Gede teach us a transferable skill. After a week with you we talk a lot, say ‘giiiirl can’t you see what’s what?’ Then we are ready to be born.

Cross

We strain to be gone, beg Gede, perform a blessing. Here, a sepulchre. Cast a shade, let’s leave this place, Gede, montre moi le gouyan, you know the way, your horse is saddled and bridled, its time, take me beyond wine-dark oceans, where stopped heartbeats chime, dans, sevis, wind tilt these yeye bones, turn me testimoine, lift the headstone, take me to Vegas Gede. Gede your brilliant calicoes distract the puritan gaze

Touch

Gede, in insufficient containment. In everlasting flow from man to Masisi to femme, never leave.

*The Gede are African diasporic spirits of transformation. By appearance they are dark-skinned, like the enslaved people to whom they belonged. When devotees are possessed by Gede, categories such as race, nationality and sex collapse into fluid process.


A photo of Clementine E Burley who is wearing glasses and smiling softly at the camera. The photo is black and white and frames Clementine's face.

Clementine E Burnley is a migrant mother, writer and community
organiser. She loves to walk in the Scottish Highlands. Her work has
been shortlisted in various short story competitions and most recently,
nominated for a Pushcart Prize. At the moment she’s a Reader in
Residence at Smokelong Magazine, and a contributing editor at Barren
Magazine.

You can read her flash pieces in the National Flash Fiction Anthology
2020, Bath Flash Fiction Anthology 2020, and Barren Magazine.

Find her on clementineburnley.com, IG: @Ewokila, or on twitter
@decolonialheart

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