It's a bois life.
The bklyn boihood collective has been a strong foundation of the queer people of color (QPOC) community in NYC since their launch in 2009 with their LGBT-friendly parties, character-building workshops for healthier presentations of masculinity, and of course their infamous, annual calendar highlighting local brown bois. Now they’ll be making history as the curators for the first anthology written solely by masculine of center (MoC) queer people and transgender men of color called Outside the XY: Brown Queer Masculinity, to be published by Magnus Books and released mid 2015. TONY sat down with bklyn boihood collective member Morgan "Mo" Willis and founder Ryann Holmes to talk about their hopes for the book, the many layers of the boihood and what they’re up to today.
For the record, the author of this story (me!) identifies within the boi/QPOC community and has followed and supported the collective's journey for healthy masculinity for a few years now.
Ryann is also the Community Programming Director of MoCADA and is in charge of the planning for the upcoming Soul of Brooklyn Festival taking place August 17-23.
You started bklyn boihood in late 2009, correct?
RYANN: Yeah, a lot of the stuff from 2009 was kind of underground. Planning, gathering the team together and producing our first calendar and in 2010 we really hit the ground running from that point.
Was the initial plan to have a calendar for bois of color, or did you always envision having the parties and being a touchstone for queer people of color?
RYANN: Well, everything kind of just fell into place. We wanted to produce this calendar but we didn’t have the money so one of the ideas that we had that was so natural at that time, being young on the scene and really connected to everyone in our circle, was to have a party. We were good at picking music and we knew there weren’t that many spaces for us, so if felt like a win/win situation. We could raise money for the calendar project, continue to bring visibility to ourselves and also get the funds to do other things. People will pay to party if you create a safe environment and show them a really good time. So that’s what we did.
MO: That's the thing-- to have our party running for even five years--it’s because people continue to show up to spread and share that love. BBH parties aren’t just about the partying; they’re about creating a space that we (the QPOC community) are still able to have in a borough that is increasingly becoming impossible to afford.
RYANN: It’s like a family reunion. There are people there that I never see anywhere else. But I know them because they’ve been coming to the parties for years. I just spoke to someone that met their partner at one of our parties.
In the past, bklyn boihood has been a leader in the terms of visibility for bois of color. Is your upcoming book Outside the XY: Queer, Brown Masculinity the start of a new, more literary-focused angle for BBH? Or is the book more of just a new facet to the many ways you communicate to your community already?
MO: We’re making the calendar and merchandise specifically meant to make our identities visible, so the book is sort of another way to communicate that. We are all trying to do cool shit together and we all have stories and wisdom and ideas...research or essays, too. The book will hopefully anchor our visibility, in the way that only writing in books can.
You’re currently accepting submissions for Outside the XY. Tell us about your thought process behind opening up submission to non-professional writers.
MO: Well I think, first of all-- Our name is bklyn boi”hood.” That’s important. The “hood” part is not just a fun little thing we added. Laughs. Our work has always been centered in marginalized groups of people, and I think the thing that happens in marginalized spaces is that writing isn’t always given the same space. 'Cause when you need to pay your rent or you need to feed these babies or you need to just make it, sometimes writing doesn’t make the cut. That doesn’t mean that what you’re able to do with writing, or the story that you have is any less valuable. I love to read, and I’m more riveted and moved by writing that reflects a world outside of whatever the literary world is obsessed with; you know, the suburban angst story. This anthology is for people who may not even see themselves in a book; people that feel they may not have words that are worthy to be published, you know? That’s our work at its core; honing in the visibility of those people, our community.
RYANN: We aren’t trying to perpetuate that bullshit. Laughs. It’s funny cause I feel like if we were to go that route (of using only professional writers), we would close the door on a lot of folks. And you know what’s so interesting? The people that don’t even have that experience, you know, the ones lacking confidence that have so much to say; with this book they have someone telling them they want to hear their voice.
Ideally, what do you want people that have never heard of the term “boi,” or don’t know much about masculine of center people of color to take from Outside the XY?
RYANN: Well, I think for me-- I’m thinking who are those people? Laughs. But I just want people to connect with these stories on a human level, and change the way they think about shit. Undo these misconceptions you have. I feel like the more I tell my story, outside of the queer community or whatever, people do identify with stories about how you were ostracized in high school and didn’t fit in or how you need to a certain point in your life to find yourself. I feel like there are certain parts of stories that all people can connect to, and I feel like we can have our voices heard so that everyone can come to a greater understanding. That could potentially lead to less violence to people like us. And one of the other things that I really hope to see is a new take on masculinity. I want young men to read this. For masculine folk across the spectrum or however you identify to just have another example (of masculinity). I guess since we’re opening our hearts,I hope people can meet us there. That’d be dope.
MO: I would say that right now there’s this one image of [bois]; this masculine woman that’s essentially getting boiled down to a woman in boy’s clothes. As a result, masculinity gets oversimplified--our stories get oversimplified, people get misgendered, ignored, misunderstood and basically getting thought of as grown-up tomboys. And if that’s how you identify, that’s wonderful, but there’s so much more, you know? So many more layers of who we are and how we identify. There are so many things to talk about other than what we’re wearing. So many other things to think about than how you perceive us. We have whole lives and whole histories and backgrounds. We exist all over the world and we always, always, always have.
What sort of things can we look forward to for bklyn boihood while we’re waiting for this book premiere?
MO: Ryann’s getting ready for Soul of Brooklyn week.
RYANN: I changed the name to Soul of Brooklyn Festival.
MO: Ooo, fun. Laughs.
RYANN: It’s a week long festival dedicated to local black artists, local businesses, black vendors and community members to showcase dope events all across central Brooklyn, mainly in Bedstuy. Oh! And I’ve booked all the artists, so there’ll be a launch event at Herbert Von King Park. The group, King, three women out of L.A., will be there. Iman Omari, brilliant artist and producer who I’ve just been fan girlin’ and boi’n over, and then a lot of other dope, local folks and theater and yoga and all kind of stuff happening throughout the park to kick off that whole week-long series. So I’ve just been focused on that. And then that’ll culminate with the Black Weirdo party bklyn boihood co-sponsors, with THEESatisfaction.
MO: And we have several workshops coming up. A couple of writing workshops that are to be scheduled for the first week of August for bois who want to submit to the book but aren’t really writers and don’t feel like they’re writers, or they maybe are writers but feel like they need a group writing space for sharing. And hopefully the group can help them create something or manicure something they feel like they could submit. And then in September we’re going to collaborate with one of our long-standing supporters, lawyer Jo-Na Williams to conduct a workshop for artists that want to be entrepreneurs and survive this wild ride of identity, art, and survival.
RYANN: And our retreat. We’re gonna go camping.
The BBH crew is currently accepting submissions for Outside the XY: Brown, Queer Masculinity from MoC queer folks and transgender guys of color who want their voice to be heard. No writing experience necessary.