I never thought I'd be someone who would find a hashtag important, yet the past several years I've seen how hashtags are a new form of media making and community. As an educator for the past 20 years, I've been excited to learn what youth have to share and to swap the expected roles in the classroom.
As I learn the new apps like Snapchat, Instagram, Periscope, and the new updates/layout for Tumblr, it's femmes of color who have shown me the way to practice and stay connected. It was from the use of the #FemmesOfColorVisibility on IG (Instagram) that I began to explore more what was possible in this space that seemed much like what early Tumblr set out to create: a microblogging space centered on images.
Most of the summer of 2015 I spent with two femmes of color: Bilen and Leah. We decided we would try to meet weekly for Femmes Over 35 dates in the city. It's a new kind of struggle to be single (as two of us were), media makers, queer femmes of color, working class, and children of immigrants, and building a life as an aging femme who doesn't have strong health insurance, money saved, or a skill/craft which folks will pay us what we are worth.
I find myself in this odd space of being an aging femme, a femme elder in many of our circles. At a time when our femme elders do not live beyond 40, die of preventable cancers like cervical cancer, are murdered, who do we have to seek support and advice from? How do we build community with elders if they are not surviving? I needed to change that because I realized in my 20s I never considered needing to see aging femmes of color. It never occurred to me that I would miss us, that I could imagine a life after 30, it seemed so far away. And now, here I am over 35, almost 40, and I don't see much of us.
When I first used the #FemmesOver35 hashtag it was June 23, 2015, the evening that Janet Mock received the inaugural José Estaban Muñoz Award from CLAGS: The Center for LGBTQ Studies at CUNY (of which I amon the board). I had attended the event with my homegirl Bilen. We were shy as we ate cheese and crackers figuring out when a good time to take a selfie with Janet Mock would emerge. As we walked to the subway together, Bilen and I shared our adoration of the evening.
When I posted the image of the three of us on IG and wrote "And then this happened tonight. #femmesofcolorvisibility #femmesover35" it began. Almost every post since then I've shared has included this hashtag. I added this hashtag during a time when I had been broken by an ex, not heartbroken, not in pain, but fully and completely broken. Every part of what I knew about myself had been cracked, shattered, and displaced. Documenting my life was part of a larger process of coming back to myself. It is still a process. During that process I thought a lot about what I could do to make the pain end permanently. I didn't have a plan, but I did have that option on the table as one choice. Some may say all the other options are better than a permanent one, and that may work for some. But when you are lonely, and I mean nobody is coming over to see you because you live so far away, or all your friends are at that mid-level career step up to senior that they are working their tails off so they can't caretake or talk, and hungry for affection and touch, someone to help remind you those pieces of you that feel so tender and sharp; they mean you are still alive right now. To feel this way is to feel alive at times.
That's what I tell myself. Sometimes I believe it more often than others. Other times I know it to be true through and through. Each foto that i post that uses the hashtag is one that I say to the world "Today I chose to be here and live this life."
Since then there have been 105 posts from mostly my femme of color community: Bilen, Amita, and Laura Luna. The fotos have more femmes of color in them like Jess, Cherry, Leah, my mom, Mollena, Trina, and the folks who we spend our time loving.
The hashtag is unapologetically queer, femme, of color, over 35, sexy, fly, brilliant, fat, strong, courageous, fantastic, and challenging all the stereotypes about what and how #femmesover35 look, feel, and live. We are shape shifters, we are survivors, we are community, we are aging, and we are here.
Maybe some media outlet will cover the hashtag, maybe not. That's not the goal in making our own media. I post this so folks know what to look for and how to find us. It's important to know we exist, we are seen, and we are affirmed. Maybe when the hashtage gets over a thousand fotos folks begin to pay more attention, until then I know my femme of color community is watching and posting! We made this what we need it to be.