Occupying space as a QTPOC is a form of resistance. Creating space for QTPOC is an investment in the mental well-being of the community, and it is important to highlight the experiences of folks who are at the frontlines of ensuring that spaces of celebration and joy exist. We had the privilege to have a dialogue with Ryann Holmes of Bklyn Boihood, a collective of five that has been creating a platform to center the experiences of QTPOC and MOC identities.
Could you walk me thorough the inception of Bklyn Boihood?
We started in 2009 with me and another friend. We were always throwing around ideas of things that we wanted. We did not want to conform to society and felt like we had good ideas; that we could create something to sustain ourselves. We would always have creative sessions and moments to brainstorm, smoking weed in the living room. As I was coming into my own here in the community, we started to build micro communities and have experiences we wanted to expand upon. So it was a lot of nights that we would gather as queer folks, and those led us to create the calendar project. It was the first thing that we put our names on and put out to the world. It was a whole production that included queer and trans folks in the calendar and the creation of it. We were playing off the novelty calendar concept that you see with the hunky gay dudes in the firefighter uniforms as well as a calendar called I Heart Brooklyn Girls that inspired us and we wanted to appreciate bois of color. Once we had gotten far into the project we realized the printing of this material was expensive as fuck like $3k–$4k to make it happen so we threw a party to fundraise. That party happened in someone’s apartment with like a block party loud speaker. We noticed that there was a need for spaces like this because it did not exist for us. So our first party led us to create a space for all queer black and brown people with a house party vibe which has led to a number of parties and community events such as: Different Gear- our monthly cycling event, storytelling and open mic gigs, our monthly Joy Day Party, Outside the XY- our anthology that centers MOC & QTPOC, and our workshops that focus on queer youth empowerment for folks that may be in the child care and/or correctional system.
How do you believe this space that you all are creating serves community’s mental well-being? And how do you protect the space?
We try to create spaces that people can be their full selves, which is one of our number one priorities; having a place to party where you can release and celebrate. For a lot of queer trans people those spaces are almost therapy. The dance floor is therapeutic, and even with Different Gears we are providing a space where folks can build camaraderie, be physical together, talk to each other, and learn about each other. A difficult thing within our community is maintaining relationships with one another, and having healthy relationships. We can feel isolated so we are working to create space where positive and healthy experiences can happen to build relationships. For a lot of people these experiences are life changing. Creating something by us and for us allows us to not feel exploited, and really approach things on a human level and that shit is really important. I deal with a lot of anxiety personally and having these spaces helped. Having the affirmation that you belong somewhere I feel is a daily challenge for folks and we want them to know that they do belong.
What are some of the long-term goals that you all have for the collective and its growth in serving the community?
Finding ways to make our work more sustainable, and wanting to leave something and create something that feels more permanent. One of our bigger goals is to have a venue that we can host our events in but also be a resource to the community, navigating through gentrification, racism, and every phobia you can think of propels us to want to create something for us. It compromises our livelihood because we are literally fighting for space, so it is important for us to have a spot where we can make the call and decisions are informed by community.
How do you all see yourselves passing the torch?
We have paid staff for our party spaces, that we mentor. We teach them everything we know and they are doing it with less and less supervision and guidance. In terms of really passing the torch in a way that is strategic and really thought out, as a collective we have gone through a lot. Inviting folks in takes a lot of building, and we are all getting tired. I have been to literally every single Bklyn Boihood party that we ever had. It’s great and I am so happy about that but looking back I ask myself ‘am I going to do this for the next ten years, or do something else?’ Personally, I invested a lot because I love doing this work and often doing this on the pure strength that I love my community. We are always looking for people who fuck with us because over the next few years we are looking to invite new members in, and that’s why having a space is a crucial part of our growth. We want this to exist beyond us and evolve like we have been doing because we never thought we would be where we are right now.
How do you all manage the challenges of creating space when people have misconceptions and stereotypes about the queer community, considering that cis white people are oftentimes the gatekeepers of spaces?
With a lot of finesse and discernment. We are very upfront with people, oftentimes we’ll say straight up to venue owners because we want to know how they deal with their own bias. People are often intimidated by large crowds of black people. We try to work with people and build relationships and train them. There is so much energy to protect white people in these spaces, when the spaces are for us. It is a lot of labor but worth it because we have been able to navigate it the past ten years.
Thinking of the mental health of QTPOC, what advice would you offer to folks working through their mental health & wellness?
Be gentle with yourself first and foremost. There is not really an end to your mental health journey, it is a constant process that can be quite nice at times but also really difficult. Focus on reminding ourselves that we deserve to feel good. We do not need to be in constant angst and depression, and for a while I did not even know there was another side or what that could look like. Like, oh shit it can be better than this! Seeking professional people you trust is important and having space to talk through your experience.
What do you think we need more of in the QTPOC community?
More space to heal ourselves, more healing. I want the aggression toward our community to stop, we literally hold everybody down without getting that love back. We need to be held down in a different type of way. We need spaces for us to continue to talk open and honestly with each other— besides that we popping!
Stay updated with Bklyn Boihood on Instagram @Bklynboihood