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I was eight when I realized I was queer. At the time, I didn’t know the language for that, or even understand the nuance of it, so I figured I must be a lesbian. When I was 15, I sat my mom down in the living room and was like, “Mommy, I’m a lesbian.” From what I’d seen on TV, I thought it was supposed to be a very dramatic announcement. But she just took it in stride and was like, “Hmm, I think you’re bisexual.” And I was like, “Way to ruin my moment, mom. But hold on, what’s this bisexuality you speak of?” She showed me GLAAD’s website, which taught me about famous bisexuals throughout history, and I was like, “Oh. I relate to this. Cool.”
My bisexuality was a non-issue in our household, and I know that’s a rare experience. I grew up in L.A., and my parents are both very progressive. My brother is also gay, and when we were teenagers, my mom took us to our family medical practitioner so that we could get inclusive sex ed. My parents didn’t know how to teach us certain things about safe sex, so they made sure that there was a professional who did. At the time, I was cringing, but today, I am so grateful, because it made me a healthier, happier, clearer young person.
Once you figure out your sphere of influence and how to be humble, the most important thing is to pace yourself. There’s a sense of urgency, but you also have to think about how you can be useful in the long term. If you buy a plane ticket and spend a few nights in a hotel to go to a protest, consider whether that money would be better spent donated to the folks already on the ground.
Also, know your strengths and be strategic. For example, a friend of mine is extremely focused on data analytics and how it can be used to end police violence. That’s crucial work. But I suck at data analytics, so what can I do instead? I can raise awareness. I can activate people online and in person. I can talk about the history of police violence and how it isn’t a new phenomenon, and how coalition building needs to happen. I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel. Figuring out your strengths will save you a lot of time and also make you more effective. It took me a while to learn that, and I’m still in the process. Plus, my strengths are always evolving.
“Making Our Way Home: The Great Migration and the Black American Dream,” is available January 14.
Nyjerah is the Brand Stylist at M.M.LaFleur and is a lover of all things style related. Her wardrobe motto is simple: take risks, and wear them well.See more of their styling