Rule Breakers

Poet Tanaka Fuego On Growing With Grace & The Power Of LGBT+ History Month

“Our history is something still unknown in all its fullness.”

by Tanaka Fuego
Poet Tanaka Fuego On LGBTQ+ Identity & Growing With Grace
Tanaka Fuego/Bustle

If you’ve not heard of Tanaka Fuego, the slam winning, multi-published, international spoken word performer, you ought to. The Black, queer artist’s poems dissect his internationality, often discussing his conflict and resolution with masculinity, his experiences having lived in both America and the UK, as well as the challenges of being both queer and African in today’s world. Here, for LGBTQ+ History Month, the 21-year-old Londoner writes a poignant essay about his journey in growth, power, and accepting his identity.

When it comes to growing up queer, Black, and handsome, there is one thing people forget to tell you: others will stare, discuss, and speculate.

One such example is this: 18 months ago, during peak London rush hour, a man verbally abused an ex partner and I on a packed train. This man felt so deeply threatened and pained to see us together that he had something nasty to say. His threats of violence lingered on us, but luckily didn’t leave us with a scar or bruise. But for a second, I felt like the young and scared 15-year-old version of myself. I felt like I was left to wade into an ocean which held a wrath my ancestors must have been paying for. My partner at the time was a rock that held me upright, a job they never asked for but took in stride, and that is something I’ll always be grateful for. To love, even in the face of abuse. When I think about it, there is nothing that compares to the guilt of feeling that if you were not to exist, maybe the person you love wouldn’t have to go through such brutality.

But still, even with all that to carry, I was not defeated.

That’s why I think that being so visibly queer is one of the most freeing, exhilarating, and yet scary experiences. The idea of living, or trying to at least, when you live outside of the bounds that someone would assume as the norm, is like a dart board on your forehead. You’re never sure of who is the friend or the foe.

I think that’s one of the reasons why I believe asking people’s pronouns is so important. It immediately sets a precedent of understanding that there are people outside of yourself. And as a trans person, it’s the affirming feeling of knowing that there’s space for understanding.

With that said, I am a strong believer that winning is subjective. In this instance, I didn’t feel like either. It gave me a reminder of how the sphere I live in, the chamber I’ve created is one where I and my counterparts are respected, is a world that is stands alone, just like this island we live on. It is a segment of the internet, and how one can get lost in the indulgence of such a sweet thing. You can become naive, distracted, and daringly delicate. All too easily bruised by the peel that’s meant to hold you.

However, the bitterness in the bittersweet is always such a sadness we hate to anticipate but we still bury ourselves in. This is something I’m learning to dismantle; the anticipation of disaster, and pain, that nothing can truly be so good for anyone outside of the binary. Nevertheless, being made in waves of movement and allowing myself to live in my body, has given my spirit an invitation to fulfil all the space it desires. And so my pen finds relief in release.

So what is my experience of growing up queer, you ask? It can only be described as growing with grace.

The best way to explain my growth in my queerness has been learning the art of release. I have carried the burden of bottling up emotions, and trauma, just like my fellow queer folk. These situations have caused me to feel like I would one day combust. But I now know that how people react to me is out of my control. So I’ve become obsessed with the things that I can control, such as my weight, allowing my anxiety to consume me as I hide indoors, and avoiding the wrong pronoun slip from the mouth of a supposed friend or stranger.

So what is my experience of growing up queer, you ask? It can only be described as growing with grace. Understanding and compassion for others who are also growing. But even with growing comes stagnancy at times, yet still having patience for my own garden to grow has allowed me to be a humble spectator within an allotment curated by those in my community alongside me. That is the win.

The win is also being able to live freely in safe spaces for us, by us. Our win is getting home with no verbal abuse the whole day, without being misgendered once, even under a hushed breath. My win is understanding that so many of us are not given the gift of patience that we can flourish into, a virtue I refuse to take for granted.

This is why LGBTQ+ History Month is something that holds so much weight. It allows us to bask in our existence, the month which holds space for us to grieve, appreciate, and rejoice those in our community who have transcended out of this world and set pace for us to continue or partake in. I find this month powerful because our history is something still unknown in all its fullness, and every single one of us is a part of something still yet to be understood and uncovered. That’s the beauty of it.

We are so deserving to be understood. To learn our history is to love the culture. And to love the culture is to first and foremost love the people.