I Cannot Hide

By Jacqueline Applebee

I feel so lonely sometimes.  I was once invited to read some smut at a queer event held in a large venue.  I was the only black person in attendance.  As I breathlessly climbed the stairs, I smiled to myself; I was nervous but excited.  But when I entered the main door, a man and woman looked at me with shock.  The woman looked me up and down, clutching her bag to her defensively, as if I were going to snatch it and run.  My smile slid right off my face.  The couple both backed away.  The organiser spotted me just then; he was actually glad that I was there.  Close to a hundred people were waiting for the smut to begin.  I could not hide.

I read my story, ‘The Sound Inside’ about a black woman who enjoys a sexual encounter whilst at a concert.  I read how my character felt like a black dot in a sea of white faces.  Fiction became reality as I read the words out loud.  I tried to smile, but I wanted to sob and run home.  When I wrote that story, I didn’t include any dialogue, because I wasn’t sure what I wanted my characters to say.  I was speechless later, after the event ended.  Various people told me how brave I was to read a story such as mine.  But I cannot keep my words to myself.  I cannot hide.  When you stand out like a sore thumb, where do you go?  Before I started reading, I was introduced, at my request, as a black bisexual woman who breaks down barriers with smut.  Someone congratulated me for using those words.  When I was one of only two bisexuals in the building, where could I go?

The U.K is my home.  I was born here – have lived all my life here.  I have nowhere else to go.  My first Pride March saw me in a crush of people at Mile End underground station.  A black woman weighed down with bags of shopping, angrily asked me if I knew what was going on with ‘all of those people.’  I took a breath, and proudly stated that it was Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender pride!  She looked me up and down with disgust, and then she stomped away.  I could not hide.  When I don’t look like you, and I don’t act like the others, where would I go?  As much as I would sometimes like to, I cannot hide.  I am black and bisexual.  There will be no place of comfort for me save for my own skin.

I feel so angry sometimes.  I’ve lost count of the number of people who have called me a traitor.  ‘Letting the side down’ is a phrase that echoes through my life.  Other phrases such as, ‘Blacks shouldn’t mix with Whites,’ ‘women shouldn’t love women,’ or, ‘women shouldn’t love men’ have been heard at different times.  You will no doubt hear similar words too.  People will try to mould you, they’ll ignore you when you are being honest, preferring to hear convenient lies.  But I’m too messy to fit in a neat little box, and I don’t know when to keep my mouth shut.  So I’m out in the open.  Not hiding.  And that feels rather nice.