Femme. Ish. 

Let me start out by saying, I love femmes. I have the pleasure of being surrounded by femmes who coordinate their outfits like natural born divas, style their hair and polish their nails as if they are instructed by the goddess and present themselves as people defining and redefining what it looks like to live in a male dominated society. They are women, men, trans folk, gender defiant, genderqueer, gender nutural and genderfluid. They fight for their visibility and support each other to preserve their livelihood. They are smart, sexy, out spoken, courageous and down right fun. 

But I have struggled with my own femme identity for quit some time.

I’ve been assumed femme since I entered into the Queer community. I say assumed because no one ever asked me if I identified as a femme before calling me out publicly as one. Okay so I will say that there is a lot of evidence for this assumption. I love dresses, always have. I’m obsessed with various shades of purple lipstick and just started wearing a black shade as a throw back to my goth days (and I have to say I look fucking fierce). I never go anywhere without jewelry on and wear my rings religiously. I rep Hello Kitty everyday, all day. I keep my nails painted with mostly glitter polish and always smell like lavender. But consent is essential. The idea of being called a femme began to rub me the wrong way when the identity was assigned to me without my permission.

Then there is the Black Lesbian stereotype of being either the butch or the femme in a same sex relationship. Someone once asked me in terms of my relationship with my partner which one was the butch and which one was the femme. I replied that we just don’t do that. We both identify as women who are fairly gender fluid in our presentation. As my partner’s former service girl, I always carried her bag when she dressed more butch and she carried her own when she presented femme. I always liked wearing a botton down with leather suspenders in jeans when I was in service but when we were out as “the girls” we wore dresses (sometimes the same one) or wore whatever the hell we chose. 

I want to acknowledge that their once was, and in some places still is, a necessity in presenting as a butch/femme couple particularly for people of color. In places where it is not safe to be a woman romantically holding the hand of another it is safer to look like a heterosexual couple as not to be the target of violence. And aside from matters of safety, there are just some couples that choose to align themselves with those identities which is ofcourse their right. In my partnership, we decided not align with those particular roles and quit frankly, I am more attracted to women that move in between them. I assert that this has much to do with the fact that we are a Queer partnership, not Lesbian identified, and we choose to present based on how we feel in the moment.

In terms of being femme identified, I’m still on the fence. As a result of my experiences, I have often had moments where I literally yelled out ‘I’m not a femme!’ as I slipped on my lace nighty and my Amethyst stone necklace. I say it with a volume of defiance just because I don’t want people to label me something I’m not. And I’m realizing now that maybe it isn’t that I’m not. I just want the space to yell out ‘I am a femme!’ as I define it and have others identify me as what I declared first and on my own.

I’ve struggled with becoming a women which relates directly to my struggle of being femme. I started estrogen because I produce too much testosterone and my body changed from blocky, hairy and smelly to curvy, soft and flower scented. My fat tummy feels more comfortable in a dress and I’m just happy that I love them anyway to make my plus sized body feel less confined. I walked around being very unaware of my pretty privilege for quit some time and as a result never fully embraced being feminine. And because I will probably never wear heels and haven’t shaved my legs since high school, I’ve thought that I simply would never fit the definition of femme. 

So being femme identified is very loaded for me. It has everything to do with my body, stereotypes, womanhood, genderqueerness, the binary and a limited shoe collection. It’s an identity that I haven’t fully owned and am not sure I ever will.

But I have to say, there is something really nice about the femmes I admire seeing a little femme in me, like a sparkle I’ve kept a closed eye to. Maybe there is a femme in me, waiting to be called out by my own proclamation. Maybe femme is already in me and I’m just not ready to own it.

All I know is that I am learning to own my evolution and whether that journey is defined by a thong or briefs isn’t really as important to me as the complicated work of being okay with being myself.

So for now, just call me Ashley or a Black Unicorn and we can grow from there. 

Accepting Love in California

Foundation at a secret rose garden in the hills

In this moment, California is guiding me in accepting love.

Love has always been complicated for me. At the foundation of my history, love has always been confusing, scary, painful and numbing. Love has come with conditions. It was something I had to earn, to be good enough for and to piece together in times of scarcity. Love has been something I truly believed I did not fully deserve so even when it was right in front of me, I simply could not even open myself up enough to feel it.

But something has shifted for me during my stay in Oakland and my visits to San Francisco. I was warmly welcomed into homes that felt like sanctuaries. I was given space to write and think deeply about the ways in which conversations have touched me. I was held physically in a spiritual expression of my sexuality and trusted a love one to move and heal my energy. I was introduced to new ideas about my relationships that I never thought possible. I was embraced in safe spaces that honored my identity as a Queer Black poly kinky witch woman. 

I felt safe inside the space love made for me and was asked for very little in return. 

I know that Liberation is a journey in loving myself. When I first realized that, it felt out of body, foreign and down right disgusting. I am now becoming so shockingly present to how long I have hated being me and being here and that self loathing has blinded me from the possibility of truly loving others, letting others love me and having the willingness to love myself.

I’m realizing that until I am ready to dive into the experience of loving myself, I have to let others show me the way by letting them love me.

And honestly, it all still feels a little weird. Self love feels like something I still want to roll my eyes at and bulldoze over with sarcastic laughter just to feel safe talking about it. I mean what does it really look like to love myself? Mani pedi’s on Saturday mornings? Walks in the park with India Arie blasting in my headphones? Naked midnight howling at the moon? I’m guessing it could be all or none of these things.

I’m guessing that when the time comes to fully feel it, I’ll know.

Beginnings, Endings and In Between

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On a trip with two fellow witches to Big Indian, NY

Change is both beautiful and remarkably horrifying but when you dive into a new way of being with a willingness to leave behind a way that has stopped working, you’re free to create what’s next.

Last year, I became a women I did not recognize and this year, I know the women I am becoming and for the first time in my life, I am willing to love her.

June 15th, 2016, the week after my 28th birthday, I decided to get sober. It was the hardest, scariest thing I have ever done in my life but I realized in order to feel living, I had to stop attempting to erase myself with drugs and alcohol.

The results have been truly miraculous.

I found a spiritual practice. I am embracing my new journey as a Santera (a woman who practices Santeria) and am learning to develop a relationship with my ancestors. I am delighted to share ceremony with my ile (spiritual house) and be guided by my Madrina (godmother) in discovering my abilities as a Spirituous (one who talks to spirits/the dead) and a Medium. I am understanding myself as a spiritual being and that feeling is beyond words.

I have my family back. When I was using, I was so caught up in my own trauma that I held every memory against the people who helped raise me. Now I can acknowledge that yes, my trauma effects my everyday life but it does not have to dictate how I love others. My mother and I have a healthier relationships as adults sharing our struggles and creating boundaries with love. My dad and I are mending our once strained relationship. I can honor my family in a way that keeps me safe enough to feel how much they love me.

I manage my mental illness. I fully accept being a bipolar woman. I accept that if I do not take my medication, I will return back to the a psychiatric institution or worse. So I medicate myself everyday. I track my moods, have a relationship with my medical team and realize that my mental stability comes before everyone and everything. I don’t hate the disease, I accept that this is the life I have been given and I advocate for the mentally ill that stand beside.

I am finishing my first novel and a collection of poems. Since getting sober, my work has greatly improved and I am able to write again without fear. I can properly communicate the purpose of my long term writing projects. My first novel in progress, The Liberation of the Black Unicorn, is about a Queer Black women’s journey through mental illness, addiction, breakdown and recovery. My forthcoming poetry collection, Chronicles of Bipolar Living, is a collection of poems and prose about illness, love and healing. I am so excited for the day I’ll be able to share these works with my readers as they push through their own breakdowns and breakthroughs.

I’ve learned to have healthy relationships. It has been the hardest thing to put my own sense of well being and self preservation before my friends and romantic relationships. It doesn’t feel natural. But in order for me to maintain healthy connections, I have to let people go, create boundaries with love and speak my mind. I have to let go of old patterns that allowed others to hurt me (and in turn hurt them) and create a way to stay safe in my relationships.

I am learning who I am and who I am not. I can be a highly unstable chick. I live in a pattern of emotional extremes. I am working on using my voice. I am learning that I am beautiful and fierce. I am not an average girl. I am not willing to kill myself slowly any longer. I am not willing to go on hurting others. I am ready for healing. I am willing to love myself. I am willing to feel and define what true liberation feels like.

What lies at the other side of change is overwhelming but I am so blessed to be able to step out a self destructive life I created.

I am becoming the woman I know I was meant to be and I feel a little closer to happiness.

 

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Movie star freedom in Woodstock, NY

 

Ashley Young’s Summer NYC Reading Tour

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Photo by Robert Rosario

This summer I’ll be reading at five Queer events in the city, featuring sobriety stories, my contribution to the Glitter and Grit anthology, new work from a collection of poetry and prose Chronicles of Bipolar Living and excerpts from my novel The Liberation of the Black Unicorn. Come out to hear some of my new work and the work of fellow talented queers.

 

Queer Memoir: Under the Influence

     (part of the Eulogy for a Dyke Bar series)

Saturday May 21 at 5pm

Friends and Lovers

641 Classon Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11238

 

Glitter and Grit Hits the Road!

    Heels on Wheels #Glittery Awareness Book Tour

Thursday May 26, Doors @ 7,  show starts at 7:30 – 10:30pm
Branded Saloon

603 Vanderbilt Ave, Brooklyn, New York 11238

 

To Be Queer, Black and Gifted

Wednesday June 1 at 7-8pm

LGBT Center – Manhattan

Bureau of General Services Queer Division

208 West 13th Street Room 210, New York, NY 10011

 

Queer Text Reading Series: Rainbows Across the Diaspora

Tuesday June 14 at 7pm

Dixon Place

161 Chrystie St, New York, NY 10002

 

Queer Art Organics

Tuesday July 19 at 7:30-8:30pm

Dixon Place

161 Chrystie St, New York, NY 10002

 

Following Ashley’s tour, she will be returning to Lambda Literary Foundation’s Writers Retreat for LGBT Writers at the University of Southern California to work with author and playwright Sarah Schulman.

Help Ashley get to the Lambda Literary Foundation Retreat by donating:

http://lambdaliterary.donorpages.com/WritersRetreat2016/AshleyYoung

Black Unicorn Rise – Works in Progress Solo Show

Unicorn Writing

Bluestockings Bookstore, Cafe and Activist Center

172 Allen Street, New York, NY 10002

Saturday, May 14 7-9PM

Audre Lorde wrote “The Black Unicorn” in recognition of those who live invisibly and fight for liberation. Queer Black feminist author and teacher Ashley Young writes to participate in this fight. In an evening of works in progress of poetry and prose, Ashley will present work that highlights survival and liberation from mental illness, addiction and the struggles of being a Queer Black woman. Come witness and participate in a writer’s fight to get liberated.

Ashley will be sharing from two works in progress: Chronicles of Bipolar Living, a collection of poetry and prose on Illness, Woman, Men and Recovery and The Liberation of the Black Unicorn, her Audre Lorde inspired biomythography. She is will also be announcing her upcoming summer reading tour and details on her return to Lambda Literary Foundation’s Writers Retreat for LGBT Writers.

 Help Ashley get to the Lambda Literary Foundation Retreat by donating funds at http://lambdaliterary.donorpages.com/WritersRetreat2016/AshleyYoung/