My story as a queer male is not unique, for it is the story of many LGBTQ individuals.
When I was seventeen, my family and I moved back to North Carolina. I was in my senior year of high school, recently out, and still trying to navigate conversations with my parents about my sexual identity. I was forced to leave the community I had rooted in. Hawaii had become home. My best friend Joli was my safe haven - a pure form of acceptance. I’m not sure if it was the matching crispy blonde hair or the earphones shared between the two of us, blaring Yeah Yeah Yeahs, but she was my equal, my nurturer, my safety net. My grandmother, to this day, talks about the two of us at my sister’s graduation. Joli in a cheetah dress and I with long hair, holding hands as we navigated through a sea of judgmental eyes. “And the two of you were just so happy to be together,” my grandmother still says.
Our weekends were spent in the damp grass of Ala Moana Beach Park, dancing to electronic trash and smoking Marlboro Reds. I was fifteen and the only place I felt truly liberated and queer, in the way I dressed, in my sexuality, in my conversations, in my skin, was with Joli. I knew as soon as we’d be dropped off on the corner of Lehua Ave and Kamehameha Hwy and get on the 40 bus, we were free.
When I arrived in Fayetteville, North Carolina, my hometown, I knew what to expect. I knew I would not be free. I decided to finish high school online because finishing my senior year as a fem fag at the ripe age of seventeen was not ideal. And even though things were still rocky at home with the acceptance of my sexuality, I chose to finish school unconventionally because I was afraid. Southerns did not know how to digest such a slim figured, tight jeans wearing, flowy blouse possessing boy.
Grocery store aisles became a hostile place. Turning a corner at the $1.99 sale Cheetos was like entering an unknown battlefield. I was never armed, nor aware of how the person shopping would perceive me. It was frequently made clear with long gawks or their uttering of “faggot.” And sometimes, whether at work or out with friends, the battles were quieter, insidious if you will. Because just as I was getting to know a group of people, they would ask “well how do you know you are gay?” I’m not sure which was worse, having to explain myself daily or feeling unsafe in my environment.
Being vegetarian for about two years, I had begun cooking frequently in my late teens. I enjoyed having my new friends over. The friends I had made supported me for who I was, but there was a few who did not know what to do with my sexuality or their own.
One evening, as I prepared a big pot of chili, my friends spoke with my mother. I was immersed in the kitchen, focusing on the meal I was creating for my people. Paprika, cumin, and cayenne danced in joy with the merging of flavors. They were just as happy as I was to be serving those in my space. It was as if I wasn’t in the south. Not thinking of religion, or the fear I felt when going to the supermarket. I didn’t have to think about people’s disbelief of me being born this way or my southern family recognizing me as a sinner. I was in the moment and happy to be in the kitchen.
“I believe I can pray it away.” My friend spoke from the living room. Another chimed in, “I think God will forgive me for my sins because I ask for forgiveness everyday.” My meal was spoiled. No longer for my community, no longer dancing through the air because two gay men sat in my house projecting their internalized homophobia to my mother.
Now, in present day, I have a strong community - my babys, my queers, my gurls, my GORLS, my butches, my theys, my thems, and every color of the rainbow. I still have my Joli. I have a home to flourish in where I cook almost every night for my roommate, my other safe haven, my other best friend, Geremy. And we blare Erykah Badu, Joni Mitchell, Alanis Morissette, Lauryn Hill, Lady Gaga, and vibe while paprika, cumin, and cayenne vibe in the air. I feel free.
But when I read about Donald Trump’s administration taking back our rights, I am seventeen again. Weary of the community I have built - fearful of the compromises we may have to make. He is like so many of the straight “allies” I have met. During his campaign, he exploited us by holding up a rainbow flag and calling out to the LGBTQ community, yet he has done nothing to protect us (not that I was expecting that). When he tried to take away trans peoples rights to serve in the military; or when he cut funding to the HIV/AIDS committee; or when he spoke at the Family Research council; or when the Department of Health and Human Services announced the creation of a “Conscience and Religious Freedom Division” to enforce laws protecting health care providers’ right to opt out of certain procedures, including post-abortion care or gender-affirming surgery, because of religious objections. It feels like being called faggot all over again. And I want to say to him what I said to the boys who vented to my mother and ruined my dinner and spoke of homosexuality with disgust, “Shut the fuck up and get out of my house.”
Sweet Potato Chili
1 c dried black beans
1 c dried kidney beans
3 c veggie broth
1 c water (plus water to soak)
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 red chili, seeded and chopped
1 jalapeño, seeded and chopped
2 poblano peppers, seeded and chopped
1 16 ounce can of fire roasted tomatoes
1TBS tomato paste
1 TBS cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 TBS paprika
Salt and pepper to taste
3 small sweet potatoes, cubed
Cilantro, chopped for ganrish (be generous)
Avocado, green onion, lime (optional garnish)
Add dried beans to a bowl and cover with water - make sure you cover the water enough for them to expand (about a pinky finger deep)
Add a generous amount of salt - the salt and dried bean tale is a myth. Salt them from the inside.
In a large pot, over medium high heat, heat up your oil
Add onions and garlic, allow to cook until translucent
To the onions, add all your peppers, cook for a few minutes
Pour in your tomatoes, tomato paste, and spices, cook for five minutes
Pour in veggie broth and water, bring to a boil
Simmer for 15 minutes and then add sweet potato
Simmer for 45 minutes
Taste test, adjust spices or saltiness
Serve over rice, garnish, and enjoy