Black Joy

What about your friends?: How queer friendships fulfill Black women

Why Friendship matters

Friendship heals and opens you up to experience a kind of love you never thought was possible. - Ehime Ora

Think back to your earliest example of friendship. Was it your mother and her sisters all congregated in the kitchen somewhere between arguing about their childhood and gossiping about someone in town? Or was it your grandfather and his buddy who used to sit out on the front porch debating about sports, religion, and whatever else they could think of?

For me, it was my grandmother and her big sisters, who she spoke with multiple times a day on the phone, no less than an hour. Discussing children, grandchildren, and family back in Mississippi, or what Sister So-and-So did in church the past Sunday. Back then I didn’t think of it as friendship, but that’s exactly what it was.

As of lately, I’ve wondered if seeing these tight knit relationships among women in my family had an impact on my own friendship patterns. I have had the great fortune of never having an issue making friends. Like most of us, I’ve had to move through the ebbs and flows of deciphering between what is and isn’t friendship, but I’ve always found my way. I’ve always managed to find my people wherever I go.

We will live in a world that prioritizes romantic relationships, and thus, people spend a lot more time theorizing on why people have issues maintaining healthy relationships. Mommy issues. Daddy issues. Trust issues. It’s not completely wrong. Research has shown that young people with more positive family relations and parenting are more likely to have healthy romantic relationships. However, those same findings suggest that parenting also impacts interpersonal skills later in life which isn’t exclusive to romance.

That is to say, I wish there was more emphasis put on helping people work through issues that may be impacting the platonic connections. Friendships keep us alive. A bit of a hyperbole, but it’s kind of true. Having friends influences our overall health by boosting our mood, giving us a sense of belonging, and – and lest we forget the uproar across the interwebs not too long ago about the prevalence of men leaving their ill spouses — supporting us through difficult times. This is just one of those instances where friends can save your life.

Queer Friendship Will Set You Free

did our grandmothers flee the fields of embers so we could find each other here? friend, you are the war’s gentle consequence - Danez Smith, “acknowledgments”

Queer friendship is rebellious–is transformative–is hard to define in a world obsessed with binaries.

In her novel, Sula, Toni Morrison gives us a complex example of what I’d call Queer friendship between Nel and Sula. It seemed destined when they found each other in the “chocolate halls” of their school. And that friendship was only ruptured by the limitations of heteronormativity, in other words, Nel finds a husband and moves on with a life that Sula cannot see herself fitting.

Morrison wrote this story of love, betrayal, and self-discovery between two very complicated women back in 1973, when things were a lot different for Black women who chose to marry and those who didn’t.

In 2023, Black women have more choices, and some are moving beyond the idea that friendships take a backseat to romance. However, the journey to that way of thinking is not always easy.

Brittany Rogers, a brilliant writer and self-proclaimed East side Detroit girl, grew up with a common misconception that women are untrustworthy. It wasn’t until she became fully grounded in what she needs to feel safe in her friendships that she evolved beyond that thinking.

“In my early 20s, I realized several things. I require a lot of intimacy and closeness in my friendships…but the emotional intimacy that l required [from] friendships wasn’t there. I also just met women that helped me challenge the idea that women can’t get along or can’t be friends…and then I think once I became more intentional about centering relationships or friendships with women, it was like, ‘Okay, this has been it all along.’”

On the other hand, Ajanae Dawkins, poet, theologian, and also one of Roger’s closest friends had the opposite experience. Like me, Dawkins grew up witnessing the women in her family cultivate meaningful relationships with other women.

“I watched my mom and her best friend learn to navigate single motherhood together…celebrate each other on birthdays and comfort each other through heart breaks. With my grandmother, it’s the sheer amount of friendships with Black women…between her longtime friends from school and sorority sisters, she is always surrounded by Black women who she loves, trusts, and labors with.”

As fate would have it, Dawkins and Rogers, despite growing up with different perspectives of Black female friends, found each other. But their friendship transcends more basic understandings of what platonic friendship should look and feel like.

“We always joke and tell people [laughs], I mean, it’s not a joke, we tell people we’re absolutely in a covenant with each other…I would raise kids with Ajanae. I would build a homestead with Ajanae…For me, all of the things you have to do to be a partner you also have to do to be a best friend because I hold those relationships with the same closeness and tenderness,” Roger says.

The feeling is mutual for Dawkins:

“We’ve learned and loved so many versions of each other, I am never worried that there is a future version of ourselves that are not deeply in love. Brittany is my gold standard for loving folks correctly. For honesty and ethics. For boundaries and self-love. For pursuing pleasure. There are so many. Things that I only believe are possible because I am a witness to Brittany’s life.”

What Rogers and Dawkins has is undoubtedly Queer. It is also, I think, a revolutionary way to engage in friendships. It is a kind of love we attempt to hold onto until we find “the one” romantically. Our soul mates. But have you ever considered your soulmate(s) has been there beside you or just beyond your phone screen on Facetime, sharing laughs, heartaches and memories?

Never known a love like this

To love well is the task in all meaningful relationships, not just romantic bonds. - bell hooks, All About Love: New Visions

Black friendships are a spiritual and temporal necessity…I think that is especially critical for Black women — to borrow the eyes of someone who sees you fully and with love, in a world that distorts us at every turn. - Ajanae Dawkins

I found my childhood best friend in the musty smelling halls of our elementary school back in 3rd grade. Before she knew me, before our nightly phone conversations about boys and grade school drama, before witnessing each other grow from naïve little girls to curious young women, I watched her from afar and hoped one day she would be my friend.

Over time, it became an inexplicable knowing by way of my heart when I found a friend. There is safety. There is the ability to be my full self. Like my freshman year of college when myself and three other lone Black girls bumped into each other in the communal bathroom in our dorm that reeked of mildew. Most of us were Queer and unsure where or who would be safe enough to hold that part of us, but we found it in each other. Comfort. Affirmation. A limitless love. And we never lost it.

Even till this day.

Danielle Buckingham

Danielle Buckingham

Danielle Buckingham (she/her), affectionately known as Dani Bee, is Reckon’s Black Joy Reporter, and a Chicago-born, Mississippi-raised writer based in Oxford, Mississippi. A 2021 Lambda Literary fellow, her work has been published in MadameNoire, Midnight & Indigo Literary Magazine, Raising Mothers, and elsewhere.

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