“We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.” – Toni Morrison
While dealing with grief was the primary reason for writing Forever and One Day, it wasn’t the only one. I loved the idea of using language to give even more meaning to my grandmother’s life, but I also love using it to measure my own.
Growing up in a seemingly strict Presbyterian household with my mother and my grandparents, there were many things that were taboo or forbidden. Sex and sexuality were among them. Sex was never discussed until my mother and grandmother figured I should know what a period was before I got one. Even then, you didn’t have sex until you were married. To a man. A Black man. End of discussion.
As I got older, I noticed that I was different than a lot of the other girls my age. I liked boys well enough. I liked girls, too. I didn’t think that was a problem until I overheard my mother yelling at a friend of hers over the phone when she came out to her. It wasn’t pretty. When I was a child, I’d told my mother pretty much everything and felt free to come to her with questions. After that, not so much.
I started high school at 13 feeling like a walking ball of confusion and nervousness, not knowing where to turn or what to do. I spent the first two or three months of freshman year eating lunch in the library because I hadn’t made any friends yet. I was at an all-girls high school with intelligent girls from all over the city. It was the first time I wasn’t the smartest in the class. And, some of these girls were beautiful.
But being in the library had given me comfort. I’d found other girls doing the same thing until the administration told us we couldn’t do that anymore. We were all hiding out and finding books to read. That was when I’d begun reading Dostoyevsky, Virginia Woolf, and countless others. My most important discovery was Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin. I had no idea what being gay meant let alone that people wrote about it.
I managed to figure out how to look up other authors that talked about sexuality. Back then, there were only so many books in the school library I could find. There were virtually none that discussed being bisexual. There was my all-time favorite, The Color Purple by Alice Walker, but I didn’t quite understand how to describe Celie and Shug’s relationship. I knew they had one though, along with Shug being with men because she liked to and not out of marital obligation like Celie.
As I became an adult and it was clear I liked what I liked, I found more and more literature that I had to hide from my mother. I’d buy or borrow books from friends that could go into what’s now known as “the gayborhood” here in Philly to get stuff because if I was too late getting home, I’d be on punishment until “Jesus comes back.” There definitely weren’t any bi characters on television or in the movies. If there were, they were explained away as confused or super promiscuous or just waiting to find the right man to settle down with. Bisexuality was and still is, unfortunately, considered to be a pit stop between being straight or gay, which is absolutely false.
When deciding to write Savannah, I didn’t want to hide any parts of her. She simply is just as I simply am. It’s 2019. It’s past time for hiding in the shadows or closets. Closets are for clothes not for people. Or, in this case, fictional characters.
Bisexuality is a part of the spectrum that is sexuality. Just as the Universe is vast, so, too, are the people in it. There is no one way to be. There is no one way to live. Just as I found solace in the works that were created by those that came before me, I wanted to create a work that could reach the young, Black girl that feels one thing but is being told by society another. I wanted to write a work that could show anyone who needs guidance or confirmation that it is okay to be themselves just as they were created to be. As flawed as Savannah is, as we all are, sexuality is not a flaw or a sin to be dismissed as an abomination. It simply is.