Outside Voices: Donovan James
Welcome to the newest installment in my Outside Voices campaign. I think you’ll enjoy this one, as Donovan is a writer/poet who provided us with a poem to go along with his interview.
As I continued to write about the LGBT community, I came to realize that I didn’t want to create the impression that my personal experiences as a white, gay man were representative of the experiences of the entire LGBT community. I could never begin to understand how different other queer people’s experiences have been from my own.
So, instead of speaking for them, I want to use my blog as a platform to give other people a voice. Every LGBT person has had different experiences, different challenges, different triumphs, and different lives. With the Outside Voices campaign, I hope to expose my readers to the endless facets of our community - those sometimes complicated, sometimes difficult differences that make this community so beautiful.
The name - Outside Voices - is an ode to being out. It’s an ode to being loud. And it’s an ode to letting others use this platform to share their own stories.
So. Without further ado, I’d like to pass the torch to Donovan.
Name: Donovan James
From: Chicago, Illinois
Identifies as: Blaxican (Black and Mexican), gay
Hi, Donovan. Can you explain your identity to those who may not know what it means?
I identify as Blaxican (Black-Mexican), gay, and femme. I’m originally from San Diego, California. I was raised in a multicultural home with a single mother who helped raise me with my tias (aunts) and white grandparents.
Growing up, I was introduced to my cultures through celebrations, trips to the beach, music, and food. That’s how my family showed love. Coming out as gay at 15, I was terrified because there’s still stigma that communities of color are more homophobic than our white counterparts - but that is simply not true in my experience.
I had folks in my family that supported me and those that didn’t, but I had more folks outside of my family and friend group take issue with my sexuality. I recognize that culturally, for many people of color, my story may be unique. I hope my cultures can get to a place where we can have uncomfortable conversations and I feel like we’re getting there. It’s progress.
Tell us about yourself.
I enjoy writing poetry and short stories. I released my first book, Dreamcatcher Boy, in 2017. I’m really proud of being able to share a part of myself and connect to the LGBTQ+ community through my personal stories dealing with love, mental health, loss and finding oneself again.
I’m also a big Taylor Swift fan. I feel like people are often surprised by this, but she’s one of the greatest songwriters of my generation and I just feel connected with her in a way that feels genuine.
What inspired you to write a book? And how did you get through the difficult process of writing?
I started writing Dreamcatcher Boy in 2011 and was inspired by experiences I had up until 2016. During that period of time I wrote down whatever I was feeling emotionally and it really helped me clear my head and say what I needed to say in that moment. I feel like most people write everyday and that’s good. For myself, I thought the difficulty was having writer's block and feeling like I needed to have something down, but I’ve learned to just let things flow naturally.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve had to face as a result of your identity?
The biggest challenge for me in terms of my intersecting identities is that so often I’m asked “Do you connect to being gay or being a person of color more?” but I am all of my identities at once. Yes, I’m black, but I’m also Mexican, and gay. I feel so often people feel like they have to choose and it’s exhausting, especially being a marginalized person in another marginalized group.
My advice to folks would be to just be and know that you can be exactly who you want to be. I also have a stutter, which has been difficult because it’s a non-visible disability, so people assume that I’m slow or forgetful when that is not the case at all. My mind just goes faster than the words are able to come out of my mouth. I feel like we need to make space to openly discuss ableism/disability within the LGBTQ+ community because folks like me exist. Our voices and stories deserve to be highlighted and valued.
Do you ever feel excluded from the LGBTQ community because of your race, or vice-versa?
I definitely feel like I’m at the margins of the community from time to time because I’m a person of color. Folks on dating/hook-up apps still say “no blacks, no asians, no fems,” so I feel like people just don’t care. Since there aren’t any real-life consequences for them, they’ll never get it. Then that transcends into your social circle. I often think “why are some friendships circles only with people that look like you? Why is that?”
I feel like folks in the community need to expand their experiences, even if it’s uncomfortable. That’s the only way we can evolve as a community and culture. We have to let everyone have a seat at the table and then amplify the voices that aren’t normally heard and actually listen to what’s being said.
What’s your favorite aspect of being a member of the LGBT community?
I love how creative we are in terms of music, fashion, writing, and art. We are the trendsetters and trailblazers, but are never acknowledged for putting things on the map. I’m thankful that we’re always evolving in language and how we connect with one another. It gives me hope for future generations.
Could you tell us a story about your experience as a member of the LGBTQ community?
Going into my first year of college, I had a friend ask me if I wanted to join a fraternity. I was really shocked, but also immensely terrified while dealing with internalized homophobia. A year later I saw a flyer and rushed for Delta Lambda Phi, which is a gay, bisexual, and progressive men’s fraternity.
Through that experience, I was able to experience college in a whole new way. I met people with similar backgrounds and people with vastly different backgrounds, ethnicities, and dreams for their lives. It’s cultivated some of the best queer relationships I’ve had, especially now as an alumni. I don’t think I appreciated it as much while I was in it, but I feel it’s something that is definitely needed - especially if you’re trying to find out who you are and what motivates you. I’m grateful for it!
What’s the most common misconception people seem to have about you?
I’d definitely have to say that a lot of folks think I’m shy, but the truth is that I’m just very observant and don’t say much - but when I do, I really mean it. I feel like so many people want to be heard and so in doing so they’ll talk and talk without really saying much of anything.
I definitely have more introverted tendencies, but some of my best friends are extroverts. I’ve just learned as I’ve gotten older to be content with who I am and trust that the people that really know me and love me will be content too. This can be hard in non-LGBT spaces, and in some spaces within the LGBT community, where a lot of socializing is around the bar/club scene - which is great, but I just imagine possibilities beyond that: like cafes with LGBT books and having discussions on important issues and favorite shows at a wine bar every Tuesday night. This probably makes me sound hella lame, but I’ll deal :)
If you could say one thing to the world to help them understand you better, what would you say?
I would say that throughout life, people are going to define, dissect, and judge you, but at the end of the day you know who you are and what your purpose is. I think as LGBT+ people, we often give so much energy to educating others that we forget who we are. When I find myself in those moments, I tell myself that I am not anyone else’s definition other than what I believe myself to be. At the end of the day, I am not yours - I am mine alone.
Any last words?
Support queer/trans people of color, especially in arts, music, film, and writing. There are so many stories out there that need to be told and as an independent author it’s so important for me to lift up my community in anyway I can because I wouldn’t be here without the work of folks like Marsha P. Johnson and James Baldwin. We can’t forget who we are and we have to continue to support one another, especially through creative outlets.
Now, here’s a poem from Donovan, which he wrote exclusively for this post. It’s titled When You Look At Me Do You See Me? Enjoy.
When you look at me do you see me?
You walk by with your gaze fixed ahead. You’re untouchable without a care in the world. You don’t even look my way, no hint of a smile or wayward glance. In the night the siren call of EDM beats and technicolor lights calls you out to embrace and connect. I find myself captivated by the song and the longing to connect, just for one song, one night. In here I gaze at smiling faces, twirling dancers, wallflowers sipping on their drinks. We all want to be included, in here, we all want to be seen, adored, and loved. In here, I find both connection and loneliness all at once. Perhaps it’s a collective of all that we’re feeling through our day to day and this is our chance to breathe and truly feel. Feeling like you belong and that everything will be alright.
When you look at me do you see me?
Thanks for reading Donovan’s story, folks. And thank you to Donovan for sharing it with us. You can purchase Donovan’s book, Dreamcatcher Boy, on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Dreamcatcher-Boy-Donovan-James/dp/1975611780
Connect with Donovan:
If you identify as LGBT and you would like to be featured in a future Outside Voices profile, please shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear from you.
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