Black, Queer, and Drowing in Shame

By Stephanie Barbee | Nov 7, 2021

Being Black and Queer in some parts of America today is a death sentence in a way that is different for people that are closer to White and Queer. This burden is especially heavy for Black Queer youth. Take Lil Nas X or Zaya Wade. Most of what you see, even in “positive portrayal” of them, is the vile hatred they’re often on the receiving end of. Not to dismiss the fact that White gay and transgender individuals also endure hardships, for Black Queer folks it’s deep. Let’s take a look together at just one of the factors that make it more difficult to be Black and Queer: shame.

According to Brene Brown, shame is “the intensely painful feeling or focus of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” Take a minute and re-read that statement. Does that sound like a familiar feeling? It should! All of us have had some experience with shame on some level. Although guilt, embarrassment, and humiliation are all related, shame is one of the most harmful.

Many have said you can’t dismantle the master’s house with the master’s tools. Shame is a tool of the master (referencing slave times, but still very relevant today). One of the major differences between shame and guilt is that guilt says “I did something bad/wrong”, while shame says “I am wrong/bad/unworthy”. This shame can be increased by messages from family, community, media, religious communities, and even within the LGBTQ community for certain identities.

How do you know that someone is feeling shame? How do you know you are experiencing shame? When someone is feeling shame, you might observe behaviors such as avoiding eye contact, stuttering when trying to speak, or having slumped shoulders as a few. You might know you are experiencing shame when you feel rejected, when you’re afraid to look inappropriate or stupid, or losing your identity. These are particularly true of those trying to find their gender identity or sexual orientation.

To be Black in America is dangerous. To be Black and Queer in America, particularly in certain regions, is a slow, agonizing, death to the soul. It is defending against the media, family, your own community, and yourself, in addition to navigating the world with the same stresses of work, family, and survival as the rest of us.

The knowledge that their (or your) absence will leave a void in the world that no one else can fill is important. They (or you) are important. If you are reading this, chances are you have someone in your life RIGHT NOW who has considered suicide due to shame from being black and queer. There are resources to help. If you or someone you know needs support, below are several LGBTQ options.

TrevorLifeline 1-866-488-7386 Crisis intervention and suicide prevention phone service available 24/7/365.
TrevorText Text START to 678-678 Confidential text messaging with a Trevor counselor, available 24/7/365. (Standard messaging rates may apply.)
SAGE LGBT Elder Hotline 1-877-360-LGBT (5428) ;Talk and be heard at the SAGE LGBT Elder Hotline. Connects LGBT older people with friendly responders. For LGBT elders and caretakers. Confidential support and crisis response, available 24/7.
Trans Lifeline 1-877-565-8860 (United States) A 24/7 hotline available in the U.S. and Canada staffed by transgender people for transgender people. Confidential, 24/7 crisis support.

How else can you support? Examine yourself. Examine how you think about and talk about the choices others make for themselves. Be open to understanding WHY you think a certain way. Maybe that means seeking out a therapist or community or resources for getting a different perspective. Maybe that means sharing these resources with your social networks to ensure that those who may feel like they’re drowning in shame, know that there are options available. You can literally save a life!

Visit our website to find a clinician of color to assist you in working through your shame.

Stephanie Barbee is a Clinical social worker in Missouri. She serves Black people across the sexual identity and gender identity spectrum seeking to approach therapy from a holistic (mind-body-spirit) perspective or explore spirituality more deeply. She can be found on the clinicians of color directory here:


Stephanie Barbee

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