Our favorite Honey essays of 2021

By Javacia Harris Bowser 

In 2021 the Reckon Women newsletter got a makeover to become Honey and I am always here for a glow up. 

Honey not only seeks to elevate the voices of Southern women, but also strives to uplift our Southern LGBTQ+ fam too.  

All of the Honey essays from 2021 made their mark. Here are just 10 of my favorites from the year. Many of them speak to the healing power of sharing our stories. I hope they will inspire you to share your own. Click here to learn more about how to submit your essay 

As a human trafficking survivor, my story is bigger than myself 

Esperance Uwayirege Taylor’s essay reminds us that human trafficking isn’t relegated to the past or to places beyond our borders. It’s happening right here, right now.  

Esperance was trafficked from Rwanda to the American South. After being enslaved for years, she managed to escape but had no job and no home. Nevertheless, she was determined to seek justice and to share her story.  

While in a women’s shelter, she met Maya, a young woman sex-trafficked from Korea to San Francisco to Atlanta. Maya showed Esperance that the story she wanted to share wasn’t just about her.  

“I committed myself to writing my story to help all the 50 million enslaved people around the world,” she writes. “I believe our own voices, spoken loudly and with courage, can heal us, save us and can bring us justice.”  

How I finally stopped wondering if I’m “queer enough” 

If I were “queer enough” I wouldn’t be able to hide, right? If I were “really” bi, wouldn’t the closet be too painful to stay in? With only having had one serious girlfriend, was I even gay enough to be bi? These are a few of the questions Mandy Shunnarah grappled with in high school as they wrestled with defining their sexuality. Mandy’s essay reveals that at the root of this struggle was a question we all face: Am I enough? 

Fortunately, a close friend helped Mandy realize that queerness isn’t a competition. “You are queer enough for the LGBTQ+ label that feels like home to you,” Mandy writes. “You are queer enough even if your community doesn’t understand you. You are queer enough even if you’re still in the closet. You are enough.” 

Why I don’t celebrate “coming out” stories 

Kiwi Lanier’s thought-provoking essay reminds us first and foremost that coming out is not a “one-and-done” deal. “I am queer and non-binary. So I have to “come out” almost every day,” Kiwi writes. 

Furthermore, while declaring who you are can be liberating, Kiwi examines why the concept of “coming out” can sometimes do more harm than good.  

“Part of the thing that bothers me about ‘coming out’ stories is that it centers the queer experience on cisgender and/or heterosexual’s people’s permission for us to exist,” Kiwi writes.  “Using this logic, we are only queer once we have announced to the straight people that we are not straight.” 

The message of Kiwi’s essay is clear— your life as a queer person is valid whether you come out or not.  

How my HIV status inspired my fashion business and saved my life 

When Daniel Grier says fashion saved his life, he means it. When he was younger, Daniel turned to fashion for both comfort and a creative outlet.  

“Fashion is my superpower,” he writes in this essay. 

In 2013, Daniel learned he was HIV-positive. He spent months on his couch feeling hopeless, depressed, and even suicidal. But fashion gave him a sense of purpose and in the fall of 2013, Daniel launched his clothing line Splashed by DKG and in 2017 he co-founded Magic City Fashion Week, which he has used to raise money for HIV awareness and testing and to highlight artists of color and provide funding to emerging designers. 

“I hope my story inspires people to keep going no matter what and to always remember you can’t screw up your destiny,” Daniel writes. “Start over and make a Splash.” 

Sometimes ‘no’ needs to be a resounding chorus  

Jane Patten’s essay shares a story of being body shamed by a teacher when she was in the eighth grade. Jane found the courage to stand up to the teacher and this courage was easier to come by because other girls in her class had her back.  

Jane’s story takes place in 1967 but the message is timeless: “It wasn’t until much later that I understood that I had experienced girl power and sisterhood and the single word ‘No’ that became infinitely more powerful with a loud chorus of support behind it.” 

Being open about infertility helped me heal 

Kaira Boston’s personal and powerful essay demonstrates the agony of the untold story and the healing power of speaking your truth. After giving birth to her daughter, she faced the question so many new mothers must endure: When are you going to give her a sibling? What these inquisitors didn’t know was that Kaira had suffered multiple miscarriages due to a medical issue.  

Eventually, Kaira realized she needed to drown out all the opinions and advice from outsiders with her own voice.  

“Not the voice of the inner critic who told me I had failed as a woman, but my true voice,” she writes. “The one who encouraged me to heal my mental illness, run a marathon, earn my master’s degree, begin an art business, and work abroad as a woman in technology. With that voice, I began to share my story with other women battling infertility.” 

Sharing others’ stories showed me my HIV diagnosis wasn’t a death sentence 

In 2017, Montee Lopez, a news producer from Memphis, Tennessee, launched a project highlighting HIV-Positive people living full lives after learning they were infected with the virus. The project, called Positive While POZitive, was launched six months after Montee tested positive for HIV. Before the project, he dealt with his new reality alone. In this essay, Montee reveals that by helping others share their stories, he also helped himself.  

“Through others sharing their experiences, I learned how to love and embrace myself through the examples of others,” Montee writes. “They found purpose within pain. Amazingly, so did I.” 

What’s so funny about my Southern accent? 

Audrey Atkins wants you to know that her thick, Coastal Southern accent is not a punchline. She also wants you to know she has no intentions of trying to hide or change it.  

In this essay, Audrey shares her personal experiences as well as insights from linguistics professors, cultural critics and other Southern professionals to explore the dangers of the negative – and often erroneous – perceptions of Southern accents.  

If Southerners are never heard saying intelligent things, the Southern accent will never be associated with intelligence,” Audrey writes. “That’s why I say to you, my fellow y’allers and drawlers, be brave. Say your smart things in your smart Southern accents. Don’t let yourselves be homogenized. The cost is too high.” 

‘You don’t look gay’ and other things people say to me as a lesbian in straight woman drag 

Joi Miner was born on Halloween, which she thinks is fitting – or a cosmic joke – since she’s often accused of being “a lesbian, in straight woman drag.” This riveting essay explores how she deals with being told she doesn’t look gay and how this has affected her relationships and sense of acceptance in the queer community.  

I haven’t found the ‘love of my life,’ but I have plenty of love in my life 

This heartwarming piece by LaTasha Toney was one of our most popular essays of the year and inspired many others to submit stories about non-romantic love. LaTasha celebrates the love of family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues to challenge the notion that single people are lonely.  

“There are so many other significant relationships besides marriage, dating relationships or romantic partnerships,” she writes. “I am thankful for the various relationships and love that I have been able to receive throughout my life.” 

Javacia Harris Bowser is an award-winning freelance journalist and essayist and the founder of See Jane Write, a website and community for women who write. She’s also the curator of the essays included in the weekly Honey newsletter. Her forthcoming essay collection, Find Your Way Back, seeks to show readers how to write their way through anything.  

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