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Fashion as Healing: A Black Queer Love Story of the Self

Fashion as Healing: A Black Queer Love Story of the Self

By Guest Writer, Meliq August · Photography by Shanel Edwards
This piece is part of our 2018 Black History Month Black Excellence Series.
Content warning: Depression, Self-harm

 

Bruh, white, straight, and cis people really got me fucked up! Lol!!!

So my name is Meliq — and some call me Zaddy, some some call me Mel. And this is a love story about, well....me.

All my life I've been Black and all my life I've had to fight (insert Sofia's voice). I have always and still am read as a Black woman. All my life I had to deal with misogynoir (the combination of anti-blackness and anti-woman sentiment). And I've been made aware of these intersections at a very young age.

Growing up, I had a bunch of annoying ass white kids that call me so many hateful things. The one that stands out the most are the different variations of nigga and nigger. But art got me through it all. Fashion being one of those many mediums of art I used to cope.
 

 
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Fashion... means so much to me. As someone who has struggled with depression, anxiety, ADHD, and borderline personality disorder. I've been suicidal. I would say I usually still am. I have a history of self-harm. And I still have thoughts about all of that. But fashion has really saved me from both and has served as a means to cope with my trauma for years. When everything is going wrong, I know looking good is the one thing I CAN do right.

When Shanel and I were taking one another's photos, we were talking about the complexity of being queer and of West-Indian and Caribbean descent; we discussed how we came into our queerness, and the importance of thrifting and community. Like I said, fashion has saved me. But bitch, I'm broke! But seriously, ballin on a budget is a truth and a lifestyle, but I digress.

When we discussed our queerness, I mentioned not knowing that I was any semblance of queer until I was 19 to be honest. And at the time I identified as a bi. I had no idea what cisgender even meant — but I was a bi cis-woman for some time. That identity transitioned into pansexuality (which I still am) as a cis woman, until I realized that I was trans an non-binary as fuck.

 
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At the end of the day, being Black, queer, trans, and West-Indian is hard as hell. But that's exactly why fashion was and has continued to be such an integral part of my life. It has continued to help me to love myself time and time again. Even when I was drowning in the toxicity of whiteness and Catholic school systems where uniforms were required, I would wear colorful barrettes, clips in my hair, bright scrunchies, everything that was early 2000's Black girl magic. I wasn't trying to let ANYBODY stop my shine, regardless of these corny ass white people telling me I'm ugly. Bish, I still prospered and flourished (and my skin looks better than yours at 25, so don't check for me boo boo!)

In my fashion journey, I became truly addicted to Vogue Magazine around the time I was dealing with all of that white nonsense. I would be on line with my mom at a Shoprite and immerse myself into a plethora of different looks. My mom was a very talented seamstress back in her prime and we would bond over our favorite looks as I helped her put groceries on the conveyer belt. I never cared much about celebrities — it was always the fashion. It was one of my many outlets and means of coping with it all. Being my idea of a fly ass little black kid helped me SO much. I truly loved fashion so much. I still clearly love fashion so much.

As I became older, buying my own clothes with my own money was super lit! Like I said earlier — balling on a budget is a lifestyle and a purpose! So thrifting throughout my college years was and still is a HUGE part of my wardrobe — mostly because I'm broke but also because I love vintage statement pieces that nobody else has.

 
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In college, I always loved to express myself as a Black, artsy, eclectic individual. I didn't feel super accepted until I went to St. John's University. I still faced some adversity when I was more masculine presenting (cis women and their lookin asses STARING at me HARD in the women's bathroom either checking me out or confused as hell). There were and still are some amazing friends I have made that love my expression and really see me. But it wasn't until I was in the NYC QTPOC scene that I felt fully and wholly embraced as my beautiful, handsome, and androgynous self.

I really had to learn to practice self-love, over and over again, even amidst finding community. My therapist STILL asks me after four years of therapy if I still love myself. And I have to deeply reflect if I do.

And you know what? I'm slowly learning how to love me. And my sense of dope and eclectic fashion helps me to do just that!
 

 
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So here I am! Loud, black, queer and very much here! I am a fashion-forward femme-boi doing the damn thing! Here me and Shanel are — doing the damn thing!

I hope that as I continue to progress as a (loud mouth) activist and visual artist, that I can be a voice and symbol of inspiration for young Black girls, femmes, queers, trans folks, and those at the intersection of these identities, everywhere.

Growing up I had Moesha, Cher from Clueless, Isis from Bring it On, Aaliyah, Ciara, and Missy Elliot.

Now we have Kat Blaque, Kelela, Cakes Da Killa, Mykki Blanco, KAYTRANADA, Syd the Kyd, and Frank Ocean, just to name a few eclectic, Black, queer and trans inspos.

Back then, we never had bright hair, flamboyant, Black femmes to look up to. Whenever you googled "colorful hair" or even "colorful hair on Black girls" back in 2008, no one who looked like us came up! Hell, no Black girls with colorful hair came up on the search at all! Even looking up "artsy Black girl", you usually got a white girl with dread(ful)locks.

Google those two things today. It has changed so much in the past 10 years. We still live in a white supremacist, racist, patriarchal, transphobic, and homophobic society. But amidst that, I hope little Black girls and queers can see me, see Shanel and her dope ass style, and see the way she captured me and so many others, and the way I capture my subjects as a photographer. They can look at us, those who we give homage to, and so many others, and smile, the way we needed to back then.

And like me, they can learn to love themselves, but far earlier than I did, with way more love than I had. Every child deserves that. But every BLACK child REALLY deserves that. ESPECIALLY, the young Black femmes, the young Black queers, and the young Black trans kids.

So go forth Black youth. Love yourself like no other. Be unapologetic in your truth! I love you. And with fashion, I've learned to love me. I hope you can love yourself long before I learned to. You deserve it all. And don't let anyone else tell you otherwise.

 
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Meliq August is a 25-year-old, Brooklyn based artist and activist of Caribbean and Latinix descent. They are the non-binary and bigender child of two parents from Belize, and are a proud, Black, Indigenous, Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Latinix creator. Meliq's artwork focuses on the multifaceted nature of Blackness identities — and highlights on the complexity and nuanced narratives of black queer and trans people. Their work has been featured at Columbia University and St. John's University. They have also been photographed as a subject for Ryan McGinley and featured in publications such as Paper Magazine, Posture Magazine, Buzfeed, as well being featured in various various personal projects, such as those by Kearra Gopee, Gloria McGahan, and Caitlin Shea. You can follow Meliq on instagram @bigenderboi and contact them at melaugust.photography@gmail.com

Touching Across Time: A Coming Out Letter to My Indian Grandmother

Touching Across Time: A Coming Out Letter to My Indian Grandmother

Curls: A Poem on Black Hair by Dev Blair

Curls: A Poem on Black Hair by Dev Blair