Food for the SO(u)L

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As a Black, non-binary, trans-femme fierce entity, I often contemplate how revolutionary it is to be me. I wake up each day prepared to fight, to present my most authentic self to the world. A world that doesn’t see me even when I slay them with all my finery.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t speak these words with arrogance, that’s not who I am. I am but a starlit entity sent here to remember the purpose of her existence. Some would say that sounds like a journey of self-acceptance, and in a lot of ways it is. To be me is to not only have my body become a target for senseless violence and assault but also disregarded and politicized.  I guess I just vibrate on a different frequency, but I won’t deny the harrowing reality. The existence and visibility of my trans body fundamentally influences the growth and culture of this world, yet it feels like the world is determined to see our bodies vanquished from this Earth. And still…we rise! Black, trans-femme folx like Marsha P. Johnson came into the world ready to set the binary and the patriarchy ablaze to make room for everyone. Therefore, I am enamored and unapologetic as to why my fat body is in a midriff-plaid get-up paired with a flower crown on a June day!  Is it baffling that someone loves and accepts themselves? Why is this not celebrated more?

I know if celebrating diversity and body positivity were a worldwide holistic practice, I would’ve had appreciation for myself sooner. Instead, those efforts often look like tokenism, pandering, and fundamentally erasing us from conversations that would unearth truths shared with the collective. However, no one wants to be educated or read for filth chile; they opt for misshaping the conversation to their narrative. Many don’t understand the challenges of navigating the world with multiple identifiers, so imagine how productive these conversations go—not productive in the slightest. When I was younger, conversations surrounding my body were never broached delicately; my body’s weight was frequently a topic of conversation. Oh, he’s a solid boy! Keep him outside exercising and he’s going to be tall. You should play football! Make sure you always carry yourself good, so nobody messes with you. Recognizing that my body was different grew increasingly, and it started at a young age. Adults felt so inclined to comment on my body, like I didn’t have feelings or opinions about what they were saying. Even at that age, I knew what was happening to me: they were cruel and unusual comments dressed up in backhanded compliments. I was a Black child unsafe in the midst of adults who honestly thought they were helping me and they had the cure to my disease…being FAT.

Growing up in the 1990’s didn’t offer much celebration for anything that went against the norm. Blackness was a statement of power and culture, habitually marginalizing any Black+ folx within their communities and their attitudes rubbed off. This led to me going to school with kids who not only perpetuated their parent’s dogma but also inflicted their hatred. I was bullied by teachers and students, almost in tag-team formation dodgeball. To be put on one side of the court, while the teacher would instruct an onslaught of degradation and violence upon me for trying to sneak to the girl’s side of the gym to be with them. There’d be moments when kids would engage with me, in seemingly friendly conversations, only to distract me to take my things and laugh at me for not being able to catch them to get it back. They preyed on my vulnerability and exploited me for being gay and overweight. I was othered by everyone around me; there wasn’t enough space for me to exist. Longing for acceptance, I realized early on I needed to be mindful of how I carried myself and how I moved. I was unconsciously suppressing my authentic self –that was underdeveloped yet ready—to remain digestible. I was dysfunctional and thinking I was functioning the way others wanted me to be; before I knew it, I was well into adulthood.

Navigating the Drag Sphere

When I began to pursue drag, I was a lost Sol. I was navigating the drag space already feeling like I was going against the grain by making a conscious choice to be a bearded drag queen. On one hand, I was terrified about how I would look without facial hair and how fat my face would look; while on the other hand I felt like I was being forced to shave it in order to be considered an authentic drag queen– a cisgender male who dresses up and puts on makeup to perform an exaggerative image of the female form. I was contemplating becoming a Black, bearded, trans non-binary femme drag queen leading to a spiralling effect towards my identity.  If that is what a drag queen was, then what was I? I knew I had what it takes to be a drag queen and all I needed was to start, no matter how rough that start was. Consequently, as quickly as I had found a new community, I also found myself in fear of judgment and ostracization deciding to be a bearded queen.

Suffice to say, I committed an act of rebellion and chose to keep my beard. I couldn’t allow myself to enter this new phase of expression by stifling myself and conforming to the norm; I had done that for so long, and I was done with suffering. I wanted to be authentic to my vision of becoming a plus sized, bearded drag queen whose authenticity was ever-present and celebrated by the crowds. My intention was to set all those oppressive patriarchal and binary beliefs of drag on fire and traverse the flames to emerge: SOL the Sun Goddess. Here to engulf you in her healing and empowering light, giving you an unforgettable show, make you laugh, holler, and then seduce you out of your dollars. I had a long way to go to be considered polished, and I find experience was  the best teacher. Achieving this vision of becoming this polished drag queen meant I had to fake it until I made it. I have no way of knowing if I am polished, but I feel more confidence in what I present to my audience and the drag community.

I think it was because my drag persona and my queer identity were converging. I knew my drag sisters were family, but that didn’t quell the feeling of othering. It was  hard to pinpoint where these feelings stemmed from; most of my drag sisters were white cisgender gay men so I had the experience of feeling polarized. It was stressful, and in my immense insecurity, I found myself befriending adversity. After all, I was no stranger to it. Life itself had prepared me for this, and I had to own it and embody the fierce sun goddess I knew myself to be deep down. Even though I didn’t even know how to glue down a wig, let me tell you– I did my best and turned out a stunning drag debut—my wig almost walked off my scalp! I can’t imagine how different of an experience my drag debut would have been had my wig fallen off. For me, life doesn’t work that way, I  was scared, but courage took over.  That is a different type of energy, the exact thing I needed to bring my manifestations into reality. The Universe met me halfway, and I am so grateful to it. Unknowingly, I experienced something I had seen only on Steven Universe: a fusion of two separate identities creating someone different. I was a new person who fused with a fearless, bold, and unapologetic energy, and there was no going back. Immediately after performing, my posture was different; I left that bar ready to be seen. Drag literally introduced me to myself.

As a Black queer creative, it is my responsibility tell you the story of my life. Yes, we are all different and have unique experiences, but sharing these stories creates a platform that starts a conversation that only highlights the commonalities between us. We’re all humans experiencing pain and yearning to be loved, celebrated, and accepted. We all want to be able to fearlessly stand in the sun and show the world who we are—and that is what my drag to personifies. I am embodying the light I needed to see growing up. If that means being a bearded drag queen, then so be it. It only broadens other’s minds to the fact that the aesthetic of drag is ever-changing. It’s fluid and highly personal and can be whatever you decide. I chose to be a drag queen who uplifts and reminds everyone that there is a light within them that needs to be cultivated and shared with the world. If that isn’t your type of queen, honey, there is a drag queen out there for you. That is why our presence is so important in this world. Drag queens reflect to the world a beauty and power that resides within all of us. We are warriors. Our presence is threatening to the patriarchy and the binary, and we revel in this fight for visibility and protection(s).

Memorable Instances of Hurt

Protection from the trolls and the inevitable hurt that trans folx experience is indelibly etched into the story of our lives. Sometimes these attacks are physical, and some of them are  verbal. There are a lot of online thugs who have the courage to say venomous things they would never say in person. That type of anonymity, I imagine, emboldens them, but that negative energy becomes too oppressive. As someone who began to unfurl like a Candle Bush flower, I made a choice to stand in my sovereignty, and it made people uncomfortable. Whether it came from establishing fresh boundaries or being unapologetically authentic, it was a new muscle for me to stretch. I had a newfound non-binary identity and confidence that made me willing to risk it all in the world. I was now my most authentic self, but to the world I was a six foot four, bearded, Black, gay man in women’s clothing. Although I was serving the four boroughs fierce, femme looks, my safety was always in question. Wildcards were everywhere; I never knew how strangers were going to react to me. There was one time in particular: I was followed and assaulted. It was late, and I was walking uptown in Harlem to catch a bus home because the trains weren’t in service (thanks MTA insert eye roll).

Back in 2019, two white people, whom I could only assume were Trump supporters, came onto a crowded train and sat their white asses on top me, giving me grief and animosity for calling them out about it. With literally no space, they threw caution to the wind and went ass first into me and another person and gave no fucks. They shamed me for my plus size body taking up more than one seat — like they could dictate how much space my trans plus sized body was allowed to have in opposition to their white bodies. I had a white woman tell me her ass “was a good ass”, as if I should’ve been grateful for the assault on my morning commute. There was also an older white man who refused to exercise manners and ask to sit. That week is so vividly stamped onto my brain because both instances occurred within a day of each other; it made me feel helpless in protecting myself. Riding the MTA is already dangerous as it is, but throw some extra identifiers like trans, gay or black and watch how the danger spikes. There was another time in 2020, before the pandemic, when I was on a crowded train and my foot lightly brushed into this elderly white man’s shoe as I was exiting the train. He full-on kicked me and called me a nigger, unleashing a verbal and physical lashing reminiscent of Jim Crow times. I remember being so aghast at this man’s audacity to treat me this way, had I been another person, he probably would have met his maker. Again, I am a six-foot four, Black, plus sized person so this man must’ve been out of his right mind to risk his safety. I took the L (loss) on that one. I was deeply offended and overcome with immense anxiety, distress, anger, and frustration. Immediately, I called my father and burst into a puddle of tears to transmute and release the invading emotions and energy my body was assaulted with.

As much as I hate to say it, this is the life of many black and trans folx. It’s extremely disheartening and soul-crushing. I really hate how this world views our bodies the way it does. The way bodies are categorized, prioritized, deprioritized, and diminished. It is the OTHERING for me! Along with the blatant discrimination and targeted attacks, it is as if our bodies are not deemed as valuable. Being overweight and big bodied isn’t popular or mainstream unless our bodies are in service to others. Our bodies aren’t seen as sources of beauty or desirability; they’re often relegated to an inferior role in society. The world wants us to view ourselves as supporting roles in this movie called life, and I am not buying into that absurdity. Why can’t the world see value in our bodies and our existence?  Heaven forbid that I be Black, non-binary trans femme, plus sized, and love myself in this world—but I do! Audre Lorde once said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” My body is a form of resistance. It takes up space with its vastness and should be celebrated and accepted. I’ve often wondered, if humans can comprehend the vastness of the universe and the existence of other beings, then why does my body and how I choose to exist seem incomprehensible to some people? Why can’t we define our value and solidify our existence from a place of equity?

 

 

Darius Soler serves as a Grants Associate at a private foundation. Discovering her passion for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) has fueled her efforts to continue forwarding the conversation inside and outside the nonprofit sector to enact change. Mx Soler authored her first op-ed “Assimilation and Authenticity: Being Black+ in Philanthropy” in last year’s Winter Issue of the PEAK Grantmaking Journal. When Darius isn’t using her words to fight against inequality, she uses them to uplift and heal her community. She conducts tarot readings and entertains the masses through her divine drag persona SOL to spread love and light.

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