Lisa Chin Quee


Black Beauty on Display

I was in Shoppers Drug Mart a couple days ago. I glanced over the magazine display as I typically do. And then: I stopped dead in my tracks. I saw something I have never seen in my lifetime. There were seven  Black women gracing the covers of  seven very prominent mainstream magazines. This is a big deal. 

There was a time when you would never have seen this ( ahem, a few months ago). To have one Black woman on these covers would have happened once in a decade, and until maybe 10 years ago, then once in a few years. Why? The response was that when Black models or celebrities were on the cover, less magazines were sold. I’m not sure how accurate that response was, I didn’t really believe it. It was just one of those excuses I filed away under Racism 101. And it’s not lost on me that they are appearing in the current climate, to support the awareness of anti-Black racism. And Vanity Fair has gone one step further to feature Breonna Taylor. The true test will be a year from now when it’s not at the forefront of the minds of mainstream society. But nonetheless, to see it brought a smile to my face. 

We live in a society that traditionally uses physical characteristics as the basis to value women. And the standard of beauty – historically, considered the epitome of beauty by which all women are compared – is the Caucasian, blond, blue eyed, fair, straight hair woman. And if placed on a continuum of beauty,  the opposite least valued are Black women’s features. 

And in communities of colour,  beauty is  judged by how close one’s features are to Caucasian  women, hence the issue of shadism. This is like comparing apples to oranges, makes no sense – how could one race’s standard of beauty be used as the universal standard? There is beauty in all races, all women. 

Mindsets are changing as society becomes more open and exposed. 

But let me be clear, within the Black and African diaspora, even with the influence of colonialism; there has always been a rich appreciation for the beauty of Black women. Magazines such as Ebony, Essence and various others have shown and highlighted the wide range of our unique beauty. 



My One Regret

My one regret: I didn’t interview Maya Angelou when I had the chance. 

When I look at this picture of myself, my eyes, what I see emanating from them is my curious spirit encouraged by Maya Angelou’s autobiographies and poems. 

My life hasn’t quite turned out as I had thought it would have. But even so, I don’t have regrets with the exception of one. In my twenties I had wanderlust. I wanted to travel and see the world, not merely as  a tourist but to live in and experience different cultures; I wasn’t as focused on getting married or owning a home as many of my friends at the time. I quite frankly wasn’t sure where I would end up but I needed the freedom to pursue my dreams. I  was not the norm. 

But when I read Maya Angelou’s Heart of a Woman, and her adventures from the USA to Africa, I found a kindred spirit. Her life choices made me feel ok to have this spirit of mine. I devoured her books and poems – fed my soul and travelled and lived in different  countries.  And I knew I just had to meet her. I felt it was only a matter of time, especially when I was living in Atlanta in the 90’s when it became the Black mecca for professionals and the start of the entertainment hub it has become. It wasn’t unusual to see a celebrity sitting across from me in a restaurant; and being an editor and writer, I met several through work, who became long time friends. So it seemed very possible. I had even called to set up an interview, but I don’t remember what happened at the first time.  I didn’t sweat it because I thought there was time. 

Fast forward, I was back in Toronto, launched as a lifestyle magazine. I called to set up an interview that I wanted to do in person. I would have to get to North Carolina, but it wasn’t in my budget. But I had time. Time. Believing I had time and “life stuff”…put it in on the back burner.  Until time ran out. She passed away. 

It’s the one thing that I get mad at myself about when I think about it. And it has become my one regret – because I wanted her to know just how much she affected my life, how much I admired her courage, her strength and her vulnerability. 

My regret, is now my lesson … I cannot change the way it played out, but I know that if a similar situation comes about, I will use that “time” to make it happen.

The Non-Existence of the 50 Plus Year Old Woman in T.V and Film: Our Stories

I must admit the slow down of COVID-19 lock-down was a welcome break, albeit I was still working (grateful). However I didn’t have to tackle the morning commute – traffic or subway breakdowns.  There was stillness in the air, a calm energy that was different. I could hear the birds chirping in the mornings – they were the main performance not relegated to the background of the normal hustle bustle of human life.  It was lovely. It was solace, amid a devastating pandemic gripping the world. Families were forced to stay home, companies and organizations shut down, most things came to a halt. If there was ever a time for the demand of content, this was it. As I scanned the cable channels and streaming platforms, it became glaringly obvious – after watching a few shows and movies and clicking them off within 10 minutes of the start – that there wasn’t much that resonated with me. Where were the shows for the 50 plus year old woman, or the 50 plus woman of colour? There’s an absence of women who look like me.

That’s both age and race , and the subject matter that speaks to 20, 30, 40 plus years of experiences –  15 plus years of marriage, or divorce, empty nesting, spinster living, adventurous lives, climbing the corporate ladder or not,  spiritual growth and so much more. Social scientists 100 years from now are going to think we had these non-existing existences.  We’re being forcibly placed into a sexless, useless and boring stereotypical box confined to the dark, mysterious  basement that elicits interest that’s overruled by fear. 

We simply … don’t exist, seemingly not as a demographic to entertain. You may get a background glimpse or some stereotype of a cranky mother in law or the like; but rarely the main character or subject matter that speaks directly to us.  Seeing our own experiences in films, sitcoms and dramas, would be entertaining  while affirming our existence and our contributions to society.  Certainly, our experiences can provide wisdom and richness that broader (younger and older women, men) audiences can glean from, while entertaining everyone. 

Hot flashes, dating with hot flashes, sex with hot flashes? Surely, you can see the comedic spin on that one. We were born in a time when we could comfortably say, there would never be a Black American president in our life time to sitting nervously in front of the television on November 4, 2008;  jumping up with happy tears, and emotions filled with hope against a history of oppression and violence. We’ve gone from having to straighten our kinky hair to be seen as professionals, to laws protecting us and our natural hair and living with the internalized hatred that goes with it. We’ve lived rich and diverse lives: happily married, miserably married, single, spinsters, divorced, lesbian, wealthy, barely surviving, date inter racially, have mixed kids,well travelled, never left the block, explorers, executives, business owners, single mothers,  university educated, mothers, daughters, healthy, fit, unhealthy, unfit, open minded, closed minded, religious, not religious, spiritual, sexy, cancer survivors, me too survivors. We’ve gone from caring about what society thinks to not giving a @#%. Can you imagine all the dramatic films, sitcoms, romantic comedies that can be written from all those lived experiences?  

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Issa Rae, Queen Soro and a few other shows – but they are all about 20 somethings – dating, looking for husbands and their sexual adventures. Some of us are doing the same in our 50’s (even dating younger men) but the experiences of 20, 30 yrs, just makes for a different set of relatable jokes, freedoms and strengths that only come with living … a little bit longer.  

We were once in our 20’s and 30’s, the demographic that networks catered to. We enjoyed shows that pushed the boundaries of our time, that gave us a voice that confirmed our experiences. A Different World, had us heading off to college away from home. There was Ally McBeal, Yvette Lee Bowsers, Living Single, Girlfriends, and the ever popular Sex in the City. I watch Sex in the City reruns, and I  recently saw on social media that they are going to show repeats of Girlfriends and a few other shows. 

But I have a better idea, if I may say so myself, I enjoyed those shows and they are sure to bring back great memories of those times in my life. But instead, it would be even more awesome to create shows that speak to what Ally McBeal is doing now in her 40’s and 50’s.  What happened to the characters of Joan, Lyn,Toni and Maya of Girlfriends in their late 40’s /50’s. How about, Yvette Lee Bowsers, Living Single, what’s Queen Latifah’s character Khadijah doing now with Flavour, did it turn into an online magazine, did Max continue practicing law? 

Having said that, I’m not saying to specifically recreate these shows with the same characters later in life, I’m saying those characters and those who loved and resonated with those shows are older, and still around. We exist. And like the characters in these shows represent a diverse set of women from various socio-economic backgrounds – not stereotypical race and gender roles, all real and represent society.  

Surely Warner Brothers, Sony Pictures, Lions Gate, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Amazon, Netflix, Tyler Perry and BET can produce films, sitcoms, dramas for us. A couple ideas of where to start,  hire the writers and producers who worked on those shows (listed above) and aged alongside the rest of  us. The likes of Yvette Lee Bowser, Mara Brock Akil, Ava DuVernay and of course Shonda Rhimes and I’m sure a myriad of others who have managed to remain behind the scenes. And of course  the actors, casting women who are actually in their 40’s 50’s and 60’s. They include the ones who seem to have constant gigs like Halle Berry, Jennifer Aniston, Angela Bassett, Jessica Chastain, Julianne Moore, Taraji P Henson, Tracey Ellis Ross, and Viola Davis, along with others who we don’t see that often and those we don’t  know yet because the roles haven’t been written to expose their talents on a broader scale.   Some of the women from those shows listed above, may also be available.  

If media houses are hemming and hawing because there’s a concern about profitability, 40 and 50 yr. olds have disposable incomes! Yes – we are the so-called sandwich generation, with less of us than the baby boomers and Generation Y, but there is enough of us for someone to make some money off. It might be worth it to take a risk – look what happened with Black Panther – it made billions at the box office. 

We’re parents, happily single, university educated, high school grads, and more. We take care of ourselves – we’re physically active, we eat (it’s true), we still enjoy fashion and are probably more adventurous than we were ever before.  Oh yes, and please make sure the angle of these shows are about women who embrace their experiences, their mature bodies, wrinkles – not trying desperately to reverse the clock but taking care of themselves mentally, physically and spiritually. There’s  beauty in that, and if its true that sex sells, there is a sexiness evoked from the confidence of a woman who’s found her voice, has woken to the double standards and doesn’t give a #$%^ about what society thinks of her. It’s a special kind of sexy, the kind that only comes with age. 

Caribbean Tales International Film Festival Sept. 9-Oct. 2, 2020

It’s that time of year again, film festival season in Toronto. This will mark the 15th year for the Caribbean Tales International Film Festival. That’s 15 years of films that represent the culture of  the Caribbean islands and Caribbean people – the cultural nuances in comedy, drama, documentaries, short films  or animation. Of course things are somewhat different this year due to COVID-19; but the show must go on – online. In light of all that’s taken place this year with the heightened sense and awareness of anti-Black racism, watching films that acknowledge and confirm one’s existence makes for a nice getaway from reality. It’s also a place for other communities to join in, learn and enjoy the cultures of the Caribbean. 

The festival runs from Sept.9 -Oct. 2. Click to review show times and purchase tickets. 


Don’t Worry about a Thing: Bob Marley Brought Me Peace

The last four months have been crazy; crazy doesn’t even adequately describe all that has been happening. COVID-19 has forced us to be home, sit still, or binge watch movies, TV shows, YouTube, listen to podcasts, teach/entertain our children – at the moment content is king. I admit, COVID-19  has caused some personal anxiety, and is devastating for those who have lost their lives and loved ones from this illness. I thankfully have family members who have made it through contracting it, but a close friend lost her brother to it. 

To keep from delving into a hole of fear and despair, I’ve chosen to see this pandemic as a reset. It has reminded those of us old enough to know a slower time how it was when stores were closed on Sundays. Whether in the middle of the night or on a Sunday afternoon, it was likely to spot only a couple of cars on the highways – literally.  The morning air is fresh, people are walking on sidewalks – couples, families and individuals. There is an eerie quiet, a silence that I’ve grown to love. It’s become a comfortable place where I find solace amid daily pandemic updates on spread, deaths,  job loss,  George Floyd, racism, anti-Black racism, white privilege and supremacy. 

I’m fortunate that I’ve still been able to work … from home, no rush to commute to an office. A welcome slow down as I have a couple of gigs and have been rushing from one to the next. So much so that life was easier preparing my meals on Sundays for the week, which I’ve come to truly appreciate – keeps me eating healthy.  I also have Sunday music, that’s a staple while I’m cooking, reading or writing. Always in my rotation, with her soulful sound: Miss Etta James. I may add, remove, other artists, but Ms. Etta, well she is always my Sunday kinda love… except for the last couple of months.

There is only one CD, yes CD that has gotten any play in my CD player…at this moment in time.  It’s the only one that resonates with my soul. It’s Bob Marley and the Wailers, Exodus produced by Tuff Gong, Island Records. Why this CD? Maybe it brings me back to a time when I was filled with the innocence of a child, too young to be aware of the ugliness of hate or maybe it’s happier carefree memories of Saturday mornings when my father played his records while we did our weekly household chores. Maybe. And maybe it’s the lyrics of the songs that were relevant then and could easily be written now for these times of continued injustice. Maybe. Maybe all of the above. Bob Marley is still one of the most well known artists worldwide, for his music, for his meaningful lyrics, an authenticity that cannot be denied. 

He’s been gone 39 years, died on May 11, 1981, my 13th birthday. I was too young to truly have appreciated his talent, his message. But his gift, his gift to the world: soothes my soul, in the summer of 2020.

One love.


Facts: More Women in Top Positions Mean Higher Profits

More women in executive positions means more profits for companies. What? Do you need me to say it again? More women in leadership roles translate to higher profits; an increased bottom line. Yes, that would make sense considering approximately half the population of the globe are females and contrary to a particular antiquated school of thought – the gender on a whole is fairly intelligent and business savvy. Natural talent and understanding how the other half makes decisions – first hand – for their households is a unique added superpower; especially in boardrooms.

This I know and believe, it  makes logical business sense but the statements above are not merely my own wishful thinking – they are facts, fully supported by research published by the UN’s International Labour Organization (ILO). The report shows companies that increase gender diversity in management positions have significant increases in profits ranging from five to 20 percent. The findings were based on a survey of 13 000 companies across 70 countries.

The individual increases may or may not be based on the following gleaned from the survey but they are points that should be taken seriously. Fifty-seven percent of the businesses surveyed said the increase of women at the top made it easier to attract and retain talent, and others said they saw more creativity, innovation and openness while enhancing the company’s reputation.

“These results are eye-opening,” said Deborah France-Massin, who heads ILO’s employers’ activity bureau.

What Does Balance Look Like?

Balance isn’t necessarily a 50-50 split but defined as a 40-60 percent ration of either gender. However, according to the ILO, the benefits of  gender diversity take effect when it is at least 30 percent of senior management and leadership positions. At least 60 percent of companies within the survey acknowledged that they did not meet these numbers. And in nearly half of the companies, their entry-level management recruits did not meet the one out of three ratio.

There is still a far way to go and with the range in cultural expectations and laws internationally, the numbers vary from continent to continent.

The Global Range

The Middle East and North Africa counted only 10 percent of women in management positions. Although globally more women are working they are less likely to have a job than men; consequently, less likely to be in executive roles.

Throughout the world only 20 percent of women are chief executives, and they are usually in smaller companies. On a side note; when comparing the volume of small companies to large companies – small companies make up the majority of companies world wide, for example in Canada almost 98 percent and 99 percent in the USA. Consequently small businesses are the foundation of a thriving economy.

“It is still quite clear that there are fewer women in (management) roles than in the workforce as a whole. And the higher you go up the chain of command in a company, the less likely you are to find women,” says France-Massin.

Pink Collar Ghetto

The Pink Collar Ghetto, refers to fields in which women are typically hired and the wages are lower; it’s in these areas where they usually rise to management levels. France –Massin points out that women exceed in management positions in the areas of human resources and administration more so than financial management.

The primary driving force behind a company is making a profit and so if the fears of hiring women at the executive levels are loss of profits and/or placing a company in jeopardy – that excuse can no longer be used to maintain glass ceilings and glass walls. France Massin said it perfectly: “Companies should look at gender balance as a bottom-line issue, not just a human resources issue.”

Side note: as I sit writing this piece, the breaking news is that Rihanna’s Fenty Line has propelled her to be the wealthiest female musician in the world – she is as female and as authentic as one gets.

Of course I couldn’t just end without highlighting some of the most successful female executives – the list is short and by no means complete or globally inclusive. Although the examples of excellence are of women in Fortune 500, many smaller successful companies are run by women. As well, keep in mind that the majority of businesses that keep our economy healthy are micro and small businesses.

What’s Fortune 500?

“The Fortune 500 is an annual list compiled and published by Fortune magazine that ranks 500 of the largest United States corporations by total revenue for their respective fiscal years. The list includes publicly held companies, along with privately held companies for which revenues are publicly available.”

 Women Powerhouses

Indra Nooyi, PepsiCo

DAVOS/SWITZERLAND, 28JAN10 – Indra Nooyi, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, PepsiCo, USA; Economic Forum by Michael Wuertenberg

Indra Nooyi changed the way PepsiCo did business and increased sales 80 percent over 12 years as CEO. According to CNN Business by paying attention to society’s shift in healthier food choices, she carefully maneuvered the offerings into three categories: Fun For You, the company’s legacy of soft drinks and chips. Better For You, low calorie snacks and diet drinks that include baked chips. Thirdly, Good For You, includes Sabra Hummus, Quaker Oats oatmeal and Naked Juice smoothies. The combination of the three categories captures the varying degrees of tastes and the health conscious.

Ursula Burns & Anne Mulcahy, XEROX

 The story of Ursula Burns and Anne Mulcahy makes history as more than one firsts. Ursula Burns is the first African American CEO of a fortune 500 company, and the first woman to follow another woman CEO, Anne Mulcahy. These two women worked together first while Mulcahy was CEO, and once she resigned, Burns stepped into the position.

Mulcahy stepped into the role of CEO in 2000, when XEROX was on the verge of bankruptcy. She ignored the financial advisors who told her to declare bankruptcy and took the risky route and hunkered down with committed executives all over the world, and sold pieces of Xerox, farmed out manufacturing and eliminated jobs and expenses. Ultimately, saving the company and paying off its debt and improving the product line.

Anne Mulcahy and Ursula Burns, 2010, Xerox

Working closely, Burns executed on the plans  with Mulcahy and so it was a natural for her to fulfill the role after Mulcahy’s departure. In her tenure she lead the transition from document to diversified services and the transformation of Xerox into two separate publicly traded entities. Both Mulcahy and Burns were long time employees of the company.





Gender diversity good for businesses and economies: UN, by Nina Larson,

CNN Business ( ) CNNMoney’s Paul R. La Monica and Julia Carpenter contributed to this report.

Ursula M. Burns :

Small Business, by Vangie Beal :

Canadian Small Business Defined,,




Turn Down the AC – Women are More Productive in Warmer Offices

Summer is just around the corner – longer days of sunshine, flowers are blooming, city sidewalks are filled with an eclectic mix of people, lunchtime and after-work happy-hours fill patios with a fusion of conversations and laughter.  Ahhh – the beloved signs of warmer temperatures. But wait, chances are, amid the chatter are the complaints of cold air-conditioned offices  because as the outdoor temperatures rise, simultaneously air conditioning switches are being turned on and the air in offices become more frigid. Layers, whether a sweater, jacket or shawl become the necessary “summer” work accessory.

And there ensues the battle of the thermostat – someone usually has to give in to being too warm or too cold; and in most cases the battle lines are drawn between genders. Women usually prefer the thermostat raised to warmer temperatures. There’s a well-established thought that cooler temperatures make for a productive work environment whereas warmer temperatures make people more sluggish and less productive.

However, over the years there have been studies that disprove this theory. The most recent study was published last month at the University of California by TY Chang, Marshall School of Business’ associate professor of finance and business economics and A Kajackaite a behavioral economics researcher at WZB Berlin Social Science Center in Germany . It found that women performed better on math and verbal tasks in warmer temperatures and men performed better in cooler temperatures but it wasn’t a dramatic difference as it was for women.  The study showed that it wasn’t just the comfort, but performance and the degree of effort put forth that was affected by the temperature.

“It’s been documented that women like warmer indoor temperatures more than men—but the idea until now has been that it’s a matter of personal preference,” said Chang. “What we found is it’s not just whether you feel comfortable or not, but that your performance on things that matter—in math and verbal dimensions, and how hard you try—is affected by temperature.”

The research was conducted in Berlin, it included 543 participants; the rooms were set between 61°F  -91°F (16°C – 32°C). They weren’t able to confirm what temperature would be ideal.

However, another study conducted by the University of Sydney, in 2018 shows that 77°F (25° C) was more comfortable and does not lower productivity while being  better for energy use and greenhouse emissions.

On a personal note, I know (albeit I’m one of those who gets cold easily and always has a sweater or jean jacket in hand) that when I’m cold, it’s harder to focus on the task at hand because I’m distracted by the discomfort and thoughts of getting warm.

Chang and Kajackaite, suggest, based on their findings that the mixed gender working environments should raise the thermostats in offices. In the end, it’s better for the environment, more comfortable and makes for more productive and efficient employees which equates to  a more profitable bottom line : cha-ching!


Study finds warmer temperatures improve women’s performance, by University of Southern California More information: Chang TY, Kajackaite A (2019) Battle for the thermostat: Gender and the effect of temperature on cognitive performance. PLoS ONE 14(5): e0216362. … journal.pone.0216362

A Slightly Warmer Office Won’t Make it Too Hot to Think, by Dian Tjondronegoro, Christhina Candido, Fan Zhang And Shamila Haddad, The Conversation, April 12, 2018


Greek Feta: There’s Something Cheesy Going On

 Is feta cheese made from cow’s milk or sheep and goat’s milk? The answer may not be as obvious as you think. I recently had a chat with my mother about feta, that’s Greek Feta cheese. She like most everyone takes for granted that the feta cheeses sold in stores are all made from sheep or goat’s milk or a combination of the two and are from Greece. I informed her, that it’s not necessarily so. In fact this was not the first time I had this same discussion. A close friend,  ever so gingerly – as not to embarrass me –  advised me that feta is made from goat or sheep after I questioned (while out) whether the feta in a spanakopita was made from cow or goat/sheep’s milk . She gave me a strange – you poor uniformed unexposed woman – look. I proceeded to tell her that some feta cheeses are actually made from cow’s milk. She left it alone and I’m pretty sure she felt she would leave me to my ignorance as a couple times after that when dining out and questioning any feta choices on the menu, she would give me a look. The fact is we are both correct – there was a time when feta was indeed exclusive to sheep and goat’s milk, but it has since changed, I’m not certain of when cow’s milk started masquerading as Greek Feta, but it has.  

Why is this a thing for me? It’s not really, well yeah, it is kinda. I don’t drink/eat cow dairy due to an allergy and so it’s important for me to know exactly what kind of cheese I’m eating. I can and do enjoy goat cheese – crumbled, hard and soft.  Furthermore,  my 60-second chat with my mother made me realize that most people assume and take for granted that feta is the traditional goat/sheep cheese from Greece.

I’m here to tell ya, “it aint always so”. And if you don’t think it’s such a big deal, well the Greek cheese makers sure did, so much that courts have had to rule on feta to lower the tensions between the big dairy nations – Greece, France, Denmark and Germany. Trade agreements amongst countries have been drafted and implemented to regulate the world trade of genuine Greek Feta, it’s origins and who has the right to use the label.

To be considered authentic feta from Greece and to carry the coveted label – Greek Feta – it has to be produced in the designated regions of Greece that have been granted the “protected designation of origin”; they include Thrace and the island of Lesbos, Macedonia, mainland Greece, the Peloponnese, Thessaly and Epirus. The process and the use of sheep and goat to make the cheese is also a part of what contributes to the legitimacy of  Greek Feta. Those produced outside the regions listed above, and made from sheep or goat’s milk must state on their packaging, “Feta style/type cheese” – variations of this labeling in the same vein differ around the world. As well, there are also types made from barn-raised cow’s milk labelled feta; which clearly, is not genuine feta.

In 2013, Canada honored the legal decision and trade agreement. Our mere location makes it mandatory for Canadian cheesemakers to add “feta style/type cheese” to their packaging. However those companies who were using the term prior are still allowed to use feta but they are not allowed to package with any artwork alluding to their cheese being Greek.

Generally, in regards to cow’s milk feta, companies are clear in the ingredients about feta made from this source. An example is the popular Canadian cheese brand Krinos, one of their offerings, organic feta is actually made from cow’s milk: Many of the American made feta cheeses are also produced from cow’s milk.

Cow’s milk feta is perfectly fine for most, but for those of us who are lactose intolerant  it is a big deal; taking for granted that all feta is goat can cause a whole host of  -avoidable- health related problems if eaten unintentionally.   The reason I and so many others are able to digest the goat cheese easier than the cow cheese are the casein/proteins A1 and A2; cow is A1 and goats are A2 , and if you are lactose intolerant A2 is better for your digestion. 

If you aren’t a cheese connoisseur and unable to tell the difference  in taste between the cow’s milk feta style cheese and Greek Feta (albeit,  goat and sheep’s cheese do have distinct flavors), the different source for feta may not be of concern  for you.

So there you go, the answer: authentic Greek Feta from designated regions in Greece are made from sheep and goats milk, while elsewhere there are many brands producing feta from sheep, goat  and  cow’s milk. Maybe now, my friend won’t give me the look, the next time we head out for a bite.




The Night I Realized My Heterosexual Privilege


Fall 1992. Detroit.

I was in my 3rd. year at the University of Windsor (after taking a year off) located in Windsor, Ontario, Canada; the border city to Detroit, Michigan.

I lived in a red brick duplex, a two bedroom converted into a three bedroom by making the supposed living room an additional bedroom – by adding a futon and a dresser – this was my room. It worked. I had two roommates – girl friends. We all made do, and lived our most fun, adventurous lives. It was by nature adventurous, because we were away from home discovering ourselves, our boundaries our limitations, our beliefs and our politics.

I had a boyfriend whom I loved with all my heart; he lived in Toronto 3.5 hours away. Albeit, we had broken up a few times.

Detroit was just a hop skip and jump across the bridge or the tunnel. I studied and I played and took the odd job to pay for the much anticipated spring break getaway.

I was having the best time of my life. I only wish I knew it back then, so I would have “mindfully” basked in the elation and not allowed the small insignificant worries to take away from the absolute joy. Of course at the time they didn’t seem small but with age and experience comes awareness.

On this particular night I was dressed to go hang out with my friend *Rob . I was excited and happy. Rob and I were platonic friends. Rob had confided in me a few days before that he was gay. Prior to him telling me, he would go out and not include me, I began to feel excluded; our friendship had been going on a couple years – we had met at the University. So I was feeling pleased and honored that he trusted me with his secret, and that he finally felt that I would have accepted and embraced him regardless of his sexuality.

With the knowledge of his lifestyle now shared – he felt comfortable to invite me out. We were heading to a gay underground bar in Detroit.

As we walked in, the music was booming, in a nondescript black bar, no fancy décor, no windows, in fact it was more like a warehouse and a bar set up for drinking. It was buzzing with people, mostly men. Masculine, Black men; there were a couple of effeminate types and transvestites but for the most part, they were strong, tall, masculine, clean cut, some corporate – looking and some thuggy-looking.

I was a sociology major, I observed. Men were on the dance floor with their partners – slow dancing, close, intimate and tender – the same way I would have danced with my boyfriend countless times.  I was shocked, speechless, but I played it cool – I was taking it in, learning. The shock wasn’t necessarily seeing the men together, it was more that they didn’t fit that stereotype of a gay man – you know effeminate, high pitch voice, slim, flamboyant. They were dudes – big, strapping, masculine, with swagger and testosterone-loaded. Men that my girlfriends and I would probably take a second look at walking down Michigan Ave.

I felt like I was in another world. I was. I was in their world – a safe space to be free without judgement, violence, disapproving glances or general homophobia.

Rob was enjoying himself … leaving me to go check out a potential love match.

It was the end of the night, and as we left that non descript nothing special bar, it dawned on me. I was entering into a different world – both figuratively and in reality. My world changed in those moments in the bar, it expanded and pushed the boundaries of a mindset I had all my life.

It gave me a deeper understanding of Rob’s reality. I realized the simple things I took for granted. For instance, I was able to freely walk the streets hand in hand with my boyfriend and even steal a little kiss on the lips if my heart should move me to do so. Anything short of explicit sex, and we were ok; there was no threat to our lives. For days after, different things came to light, literally jumped out at me; I was “woke”. I noticed all the ads on the billboards and the television commercials about love and family showed White heterosexual couples. All the laws on marriage were for men and women joined in “holy” matrimony. The society was built on and infused with the acceptance and elevation of love and loyalty shared between a male and female; both systemically and culturally.

It was in those moments, those days following, I realized my heterosexual privilege. One that I had without knowingly, taken for granted … not even a thought.

But while I was going through my awakening, in 1992-Canada, Rob (and most gay people at the time) was dealing with the fear of coming out and to whom. He was attuned and acutely aware of the behaviors and violence that began with the words fag, faggot, fairy, flamer, sick, abomination, chi chi man, batty man, batty boy, not to mention religion and the religious; as well as, the possibility of discrimination at work or on campus.

As for those other men in the bar and their possible stories; some were likely in the closet dealing with the daily stress of living a double life – married with kids; or in full-blown relationships with women. Some were probably living lonely and alone. They didn’t want to be disloyal or betray these women nor did they want to be alone but they didn’t see another choice – to be ostracized and abandoned by family and society; wasn’t an option.

On top of the three realities above: mine, Rob’s and a bar of strangers is the fact that we were also all Black living in a society that already deemed us second and third class citizens.

I’m a Black woman. By the nature of my being, in this Eurocentric patriarchal society – what privilege did I have? But now, I realized my own. I fit into the larger expectations of society, one intrinsic to the foundation  and its beliefs because I’m biologically attracted to men. Strictly dickly as they say! I never thought anything of it before that night. I wasn’t that naïve I had known that homosexuality existed, a boss I had when I worked in Town Shoes while in high school was gay. At that time I didn’t think about it – frankly, I didn’t really care about what he did in his bedroom and honestly he was just my boss not family or a friend.

Fast-forward 28 years, Rob is still a dear friend. We’ve both been through ups and downs; still living adventurous lives pushing society’s boundaries. Unfortunately, although there are now laws that acknowledge and legally allow marriage, adoption, Gay Pride parades as well as the existence of a political and powerful LGBTQ community, there are remnants of the past – Rob just a few years ago was attacked on the streets for his sexuality. The difference today is that any violence against someone that is a result of homophobia is now classified as a hate crime – homosexuals are now a protected class. And anyone who spews words such as faggot or fairy –are the ones ostracized (publicly anyway.) Oh and yes racism that is clearly part of any aggression is also classified as a hate crime. And in the last 5 – 10 years, commercials show Black, interracial and gay couples as families that eat cereal, do the laundry and take road trips! A sign of the changing times.

*Name changed to protect his privacy.