What is life like for a young black lesbian in 2021? Author Claire Heuchan explores the challenges of making friends despite the differences.
What’s it like to be a young Black lesbian nowadays? This is a question I’m asked fairly regularly. The first word that springs to mind is lonely, though it’s not always a truth I feel comfortable handing to curious strangers. Gay spaces are mostly white. Black spaces are mostly straight. So, I’m usually Other in spaces where I should – in theory – belong. And for all my 28 years I’ve lived in a small town on the west coast of Scotland; I can easily go a week without seeing another person whose hair or skin looks like mine. Well, not easily. But that’s how it is.
I was also born into a very Catholic community. Though I’ve been an atheist since the age of twelve, much of my family and local culture continues to be influenced by faith. And there’s a strange duality to this experience. With my undercut and constantly expanding collection of flannel shirts, I am obviously lesbian. This is either invisible to the straights who aren’t clued in on lesbian presentation, or judged by some who are.
More than one person has suggested I move to London. The anonymity, higher Black population density, and creative scene all appeal. There’s just one problem: I hate London. The tap water’s disgusting, everything’s expensive, and it is so relentlessly busy. I like visiting friends now and again, to spend time with the lesbians from ends. But London isn’t for me. Besides, I’m not interested in a big move during my grandmother’s lifetime. Our relationship is complicated. But so good.
I once suggested to my grandmother that with her donations to SPUC (Society for the Protection of Unborn Children) and mine to Abortion Rights, our household effectively cancelled itself out. She wasn’t amused. But we love each other, connecting across the gulf between our generations and politics. I know Nana would prefer if I wasn’t a radical lesbian feminist. But – ironically – these values are probably why I’m happy finding ways to live collaboratively with her even though I’m now staring down the barrel at thirty.
I’m playing the hand that geography dealt me, which means that most of my close friends are white lesbians. Many of them are Northern and working-class. And since I’m Black and middle-class, there’s a kind of symmetry to those relationships that makes them work.
There’s a certain freedom in lesbian life; one that straight female friends my age are often denied. I don’t feel pressured to measure my life against the standards set by heteropatriarchy. Just because the world tells me I should move out, find a husband, and have kids with him doesn’t mean that I actually want to. I tried straight life, and – no offence to the token heterosexual reading this – it was horrendous. There’s a popular TikTok doing the rounds in which a young lesbian is given a choice: be straight or die in thirty seconds. She lies down, crosses both arms over her chest, and says “29 seconds to go!” And that would be my response too.
That’s not to say I have lesbian life completely sussed. I still spend way too much time pining over middle-aged actresses who will never know my name, and less than I would like on actual dates. And I am still looking for more connections with other Black lesbians, as lovers and friends. But the most precious thing about my world are the lesbian and bi women who currently inhabit it.
I’m playing the hand that geography dealt me, which means that most of my close friends are white lesbians. Many of them are Northern and working-class. And since I’m Black and middle-class, there’s a kind of symmetry to those relationships that makes them work. We hold space for each other, and know what it means to be made into an outsider because of who and what you are. We see each other. Not through the lens of prejudice, but with the warmth of care and solidarity. That counts for a lot.
Audre Lorde, my Black lesbian foremother, died the same year that I was born. But much of what she has written rings true today, informing how I live my life and politics. There’s one particular gem that resonates with me. Lorde was an advocate of women “using difference creatively”; finding one another across differences of race, class, culture, etc. That doesn’t mean pretending the difference is not there. But rather finding the magic that happens when you lean into it.
Claire Heuchan is an author, essayist, and Black radical feminist. She writes the award-winning blog, Sister Outrider.