On Queer Liberation, Pride, and Choosing Mississippi

Meet Gus and Tamra. Together, they’ve practiced radical love and vulnerability to create space for growth, empathy and queer community.

Tamra: Hi, my name is Tamra. I am an educator and the wife of the wife. 

Gus: Hi, my name is Gus. I am a community advocate. And I am the wife of Tamra.

We met at church. Tam was a church leader and I worked in the audiovisual department. We became friends at one point in time. It was just hanging out, like after church together. I had the crush first. And Tam was very adamant about being like, nope. But after just getting to know each other, more and more, we decided to start dating.

On Letting People In

Tamra: As a femme-presenting person, it's immediately assumed that you're hetero. And so there are times that you are often just course-correcting people. 

We were watching an interview, I believe, and [Karamo Brown from Queer Eye] actually used the term “letting people in” in reference to coming out. It really stuck with us, because the reality is our life and who we are is a gift. When we let people in, we're letting them into our most sacred and most vulnerable self. And the reality is, they're not required to share that space. And you really want to make opportunities, or have those opportunities, to share that with the people that you trust and that you care the most about. And even in that there are gonna be, you know, situations that aren't necessarily the most accepting. But when you think about it, it's a shift to the narrative when you think about letting people in versus coming out, because coming out has been ridden with such shame and insecurity. 

Tamra on Letting People In

When you're thinking about letting people in, you're thinking about letting them into the most loving and sacred place. And I think that really stuck with us. And I think that's why we kind of, even as I talk about it, I course correct and I change and say no, I'm letting you into this, because this is who I am. And this is who I want people to really get to know and people to really connect with.

Gus: I think the other part of that conversation is, like, ownership. A large part of my identity story was who got to determine who I was—was it my environment, was it my parents, or was it me? And for the longest time, it was my environment, my parents, and then when I got old enough, I was like, Man, I really should be able to be who I know that I am. 

But there's a lot of fear. And there's a lot of safety concerns in that space. And similarly along the lines of letting people in, I realized, when I got older, I was like, the people that value me and want to be in community with who I actually am, will journey with me into this space;  the people who get left outside are supposed to be left outside, and the people who want to negotiate my reality are supposed to not be in the room with me. 

So it kind of felt like having a house and being like, ‘Oh, you don't want to respect the standards and the reality of this space? Then I don't think you can come in.’ And that's our right as people to be able to confidently assert that this is what I want in this relationship, this is what I'm willing to settle in and deal with as a queer person. That's such a necessary conversation. Not even just with straight or cis people, but with other queer people.

On Queer Liberation

Gus: For me, [queer liberation] looks like accountability. As a queer person, I don't find myself ever asking permission for anything. I am non-binary, I'm trans, and like, my identity is something that I self-confirm. I don't necessarily look for people to say, “Oh, you can't use this word.” Like, that’s never been my thing as a queer person. 

But one thing that I've always paid attention to is accountability, like, do I have the freedom to hold you to a standard. If you care about me, or if I am a person who, like, really has equity and equity is accessible, then I should be able to advocate for myself. I should be able to hold a standard to decision-makers. I should be able to lead a conversation when my care is something that's been threatened or negotiated without my consent. That's something that I think is a big part of queer liberation, if not the biggest part, for me: the ability to hold a space accountable. 

It's like, can I really articulate to you what it is that I'm looking for as a human being, but also as a queer person with safety concerns? And are you expected to listen to me?

Gus on Queer Liberation

We've always fought for equity. And we've always fought against discrimination. The only reason we're still fighting is because people choose not to listen, and people choose not to make room for what it is that we have to say. So I think queer liberation looks like more people listening, validating and doing action, in regards [to] and in relationship with queer people.

Tamra: This journey, and I’m referencing my queer journey, has been the most self-reflective journey that I've ever been on. If we're talking about a utopia, I would hope that we give people not only the space, but we give them grace and offer understanding to know that they have done the work.

It's kind of the understanding of where we're trusting them with themselves. […] I believe if we respected people's decision to be them, whatever that looked like, however you painted that picture, then that would be beautiful.

On Choosing Mississippi

Tamra: I think, for me, it's being the change you want to see. I am a born and raised Mississippi girl. Every opportunity that I could get, I wanted to leave. But there comes a point when you make the decision to call [Mississippi] home, and you want to stay and […] you get captured in seeing the beauty. But you want others to see the beauty that is already here, and the optimism of what it could be. 

It's being the change. I think that it is one thing to kind of be docile about it and let things happen, and then there's another way of speaking up and giving people autonomy and taking accountability. And being that safe space. Those are very real things. And if we're not here to implement it in Mississippi, then it will never happen.

Gus: As a Black person, as a queer person, as a young person, one of the draws that I have to Jackson specifically is its character and the tangibility of its character. One of the reasons why I choose to stay in Mississippi, specifically Jackson, Mississippi, is that this is an action city. They don't take things lying down. I don't know Jackson to be meek, or slow, or unprepared. 

Gus on Choosing Mississippi

It's always been exciting. That's why I think that [I] became an advocate—because of Jackson, because so many people got caught up in the fight. At first, when you see the fight, you're like, “Oh, that's a lot to do.” But then when you get in the swing, in the motion of it, and bits and pieces of the larger vision start peeking out and you're like, “Oh, I get it.”

I think there's so many ways that Mississippi is hostile towards Jackson. There's so many ways that Mississippi is hostile towards Black and or queer people. So there is exhaustion, there is trauma, you know, there's a consistent need for rest because we're so tired. But I think that Jackson and queer people and Black people and all the people who suffer under the hand of Mississippi, the only reason we continue to suffer is because we continue to challenge. Mississippi is threatened by the reality that sooner or later, we will have the power and the resources to manifest the things that we see for it. And until that happens, in whatever way that I'm supposed to contribute to it, I want to contribute to it. Because we're going to be an example for another location that what they want is possible.

On Pride

Gus: I think one of the things that makes me excited about Tam and her journey as a queer person, is that her understanding has grown so much. Like, it is night and day. I think it's something that she deserved for herself. Like, I can't imagine what her queer journey would have been had she not been open to these things. Imagine  all the negativity that could have been just kept around and towards herself. 

I think it was so necessary and it was so, like, cool to watch her grow the capacity to not only to love and understand queer people, but to go on to identify more and more as a queer person. And then even in that, to still move past that and then empower herself as a queer person and empower other queer people. It is a piece of work to be in a community that is constantly under attack, it is a piece of work to be in a community where safety sometimes is nomadic, and you have to chase it, because you never really know where it is, especially in a space like Mississippi. 

But I think that something that has been cool to see in Tam is her willingness to be a space of safety for queer people, but to also learn in real-time, what it means to be queer and the beauty of what that is,  and to hold that with her as she goes. Because now people can look at her and ask the questions and have conversations similar to this and be like, 'Yo, how do you exist as your most authentic self on a regular basis.’

Tamra on Pride

Tamra: I am proud of you for showing up. You’ve taken a lot of hits on the chin, in the gut, and you’ve continuously not only done the work for yourself, but you’ve given grace and you have been extremely caring. You’ve shown love, and it has softened hearts and it’s changed perspectives and it’s made growth tangible, and that’s beautiful. I think we talk about this often, but you’re an instigator with love, it’s like a rebel with a cause. It is beautiful, you showing up in spaces, being authentically who you are.

It’s like a lighthouse. It’s at a distance sometimes, but when you see it, it gets you somewhere. I just appreciate you for showing up and being who you are. I’m extremely proud of you for being who you are.