Just Like Your Friends: DJ and Terrel in Conversation

Just Like Your Friends isn’t just a catchy title, the writers of this blog are actually people who are friends on and offline. In this post, DJ and Terrel talk about three of their role models, Storm (X-men), Beyoncé, and Missy Elliot.

We started by talking about Storm, the fictional “weather witch” from the popular comic, cartoon, movie, gaming, etc franchise from Marvel:

Terrel: For me, storm represented this powerful being who was different and stronger for it. As a queer black slightly femme kid, I needed the escape of a superhero and who better than this black woman who had been worshiped as a goddess. I think about how fabulous she was, with the white hair and the blue eyes and just how different of a representation of blackness she presented. My first journey into Storm was the 90’s animated series, she was voiced by this actress with this strong voice and not only was she all powerful, she was skilled at combat. I think it’s also important to note that she had romance, she was a leader, she was honestly so well rounded.

DJ: For me Storm was just this hero that represented so much of what I already was and what I wanted to be. I’ve very heavily identified with being an African immigrant to the US my entire life. I came to the US to live permanently at age 7 after having moved and lived in several places in West Africa and the transition was hard. Kids can be cruel and I had a pretty intense accent, some pretty intense trauma, and an understandably protective mother all stacked against me. I was able to learn quickly though that pop culture was a way to build connection and that I needed to start making my list of American “favorites”.. Storm easily took the fav superhero spot. She was African, she was gorgeous, she was strong, and dangerous, and literally controlled elements. As someone who lives with depression, anxiety, and ptsd, I often feel like I have a storm brewing in my own mind and in my own being and she made that okay- cool even. It was something I could own and redirect and feel unashamed of…

T: That’s so interesting to take into account her fortitude in a way that doesn’t erase her mental struggles. Storm is such a great character to consider for those reasons. She is literally one of the most powerful people on the planet, but she also suffers under the weight of past trauma.  I think that it’s so incredible to think about the betrayal of Forge, and the machine he made to take her powers away. And the fact that she witnesses the death of her parents which leads to her developing claustrophobia and like… this leads to her need to just be on the wind all the time. Honestly the show/comics/media with Storm taught me a lot about taking time to accept where we are with our trauma and mental health.

DJ: Thank you so much for bringing to mind for me her relationship with the elements and how it’s something that is deeply a part of her. I’m realizing that part of my appreciation for her character is deeply tied to her powers and my own relationship with nature. I love thunderstorms, I love water and the ocean specifically. I’m the person that will dance in the rain and just lay in the grass and breathe. It calms my anxiety and grounds me as a person.

T: Also love for her hubris and her insistence that people recognize her goddess status… Even this though could be tied to her trauma? Is this attitude a coping mechanism?

DJ: Yes to coping mechanisms and having to say things until you believe it yourself. I am strong. I am beautiful. I am a good mom. Etc

T: it doesn’t take much to represent things that various people need to see. People act like representation is this great feat and it’s really not. We’re discussing this character with nuance and maturity years later and are able to pull so much from it… We live in a time where we need to beg for representation and even the characters that we do have are always lacking in the presentation. And one character should not need to represent everything that it means to be black or queer or mentally disabled. Speaking of representation, I wanted to talk a little bit about our mutual love of Beyoncé. I remember really loving destiny’s child. That was my introduction to Beyoncé and she blended in then. Even as the lead singer it didn’t feel like she was the lead singer.

DJ: Yeah I think that’s one of the great things about her. She’s had time to really grow and mature and become this person we both admire. You can see that especially in the last two albums.

T: Yes! And Those last two albums are 1000 percent in conversation with each other. I have an issue of people who want to hate on her just to be cool.

DJ: And my frustration is that so much of the criticism is things that the world consistently tells black girls to put them down. You can’t be a role model because you didn’t finish school. You can’t be “respectable” even if you’re in a lengthy marriage if you dress provocatively. If you’re not perfect, then you’re not enough….People don’t even take the time to know how much there is to appreciate about Beyoncé. She works SO hard. She designs her sets for performances and anyone who has been to a concert knows they’re incredible. She’s vegan. She does an incredible amount if charity work that people don’t even hear about because she doesn’t do it for attention. She’s been consistent and true to herself. She wasn’t trying to be 30 when she was 16 and she’s not trying to be 16 now that she’s in her 30s.

T: I hated “4” for that reason. She was in a place where she was interested in songs she could sing through retirement. Songs about mature love and family and i just didn’t want to hear that. I wanted freakum dress, but not 1 +1.. Now that I’m getting older, I can appreciate songs like Dance for You.

DJ: Im also so grateful for the way she talks about sex and how it’s okay and how she’s able to demand that she receive pleasure too.

T: The unlearning black women have to do around sex is real. The racism black women face outside of the community even takes root within within the community. Whereas white women often have to deal with the whore/housewife dichotomy, black women are always seen a jezebels. It seems as if black women either have to strive to be white women or they are seen as overtly sexual all the time. This is seen in the way young black girls are sexualized at an early age.

DJ: I also just love when she performs and dances. Love her thick thighs. Love her blackness. Love how she lets blue’s hair be. Love her black motherhood.

T: She is consistently like I am black. I was poor and black. I’m rich and black… Which has been important for me, the closer you get to whiteness the more pushback you get from whiteness and blackness… But Beyoncé is a Model of grinding. She’s never telling anyone do what i do. She’s saying do what you need to do. Beyoncé trained her whole life to be Beyoncé and that’s my issue with people. They act like she just showed up and was pretty. People forget that she redefined beauty. Whether or not she’s the perfect feminist her existence redefines our expectations.

DJ: I absolutely second all of that. I love where this conversation has taken us.

T: So when I pitched our conversation I just mentioned Storm and Beyoncé because they both relate to us so much, but throughout this conversation we’ve touched on representation and redefining expectations, so can you guess who else I want to bring up?

DJ: I’m not sure?

T: Missy Elliot!

DJ: Yes, yes!

T: I wish I owned all of her albums so that I could listen to them back to back… she defined a lot of moments for me… she’s iconic… she was big and had no hair and wasn’t sexualized in a way that she didn’t own… she could be sexual in a way that was empowering to her… she’s a woman who insists on being assertive and controlling her image and almost didn’t have a record deal but because of her talent they had to call her back. She’s an amazing producer.

DJ: She’s unapologetic about everything her brilliance and sexuality too. I have to try so hard to be that. I love her because she really just is all about being who you are and not apologizing about it. That could be so many things from being wild at the party or not, being sexual or not. I just want to be her best friend, have dinner with her and go out with her, also dance and vibe with her. I am so down for listening to what’s she’s done back to back. The music industry is so much about image and what sells. I feel like she has always been, and still is separate from that. And still selling, and still making hits!

T: the thing for me about talking about these three women is that they really represent the best.  

DJ: They make it okay to be us.

T: By owning who they are fully. The thing about authenticity is that when you talk about your personal experiences, it can awake something in others. And Missy is also just fun to dance to.

DJ: There’s pieces of that authenticity throughout her work . Like in Work it, she’s like “call before you come, I need to shave my Chocha. You do or you don’t or you will or won’t cha, go downtown and eat it like a vulture”. If that’s not the realist shit lol. (T: lol)

T: It’s just so much, and it’s true though. It’s really not about reading deeply into the stuff, sometimes it really is such a crude, face value statement that can pull us through moments. It’s the confidence. It’s being able to stand firmly in who you are, in that moment and say I am enough today. And for Missy Elliot, that meant a lot of things at different times.

DJ: Your last comment makes me think about Mindy Kaling and how she talks about being frustrated with people asking her about where she gets her confidence because what they’re implying is “you are not someone who i believed would be confident. You are someone i believe should be insecure.” That has stuck with me as so true and I think people apply that same judgement to dark skin and thickness and queerness all the time.

T: People misread confidence for not being self-deprecating. People always place confidence on me just because I don’t shit on myself… that’s just me being kind to myself and people read that as confidence because the system says i shouldn’t value myself as I am.

DJ: And I think all three women embody just that- loving yourself and being kind to yourself despite what anyone else thinks should be true about you.

 

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