The ultimate form of resistance and rebellion, Black queer joy is rooted in community, connections, and a true sense of belonging…
By Jumol Royes
When was the last time you experienced joy?
Most of us are familiar with the milder feeling of contentment – the satisfaction that comes with knowing that our work is complete and our needs have been met. And thanks to pretty much every meditation app, wellness website and spiritual social media guru out there, gratitude – the active practice of appreciating what we have by counting our blessings – is part of the daily routine for many of us.
But joy? That seems to be a much more elusive emotion.
With that in mind, I recently embarked on a journey to rediscover joy, though not by choice. Well, not really.
I was going through a period where I just couldn’t catch a break. It felt like I was in a vast ocean, struggling to tread water while being tossed and turned by the waves – waves of foreboding fear, profound sadness and utter powerlessness. Anyone who’s ever been thrust into the role of family caregiver providing support to a loved one who is unwell knows exactly what I mean. Yet as I lurched from crisis to crisis on a daily – sometimes hourly – basis, I was buoyed by a paradoxical pull beckoning me towards joy.
My search led me to The 519 one evening for a community panel by and for Black LGBTQ2+ folks to explore joy, specifically Black queer joy.
I didn’t quite know what to expect. I wasn’t even sure I knew what Black queer joy meant. Just stay curious and be open to the possibilities, I told myself.
To know me is to know that I’m someone who looks for signs that the universe is conspiring for my own good. So imagine my surprise when, as I was signing in for the event, I bumped into a buddy from back in the day. Coincidence? I think not. We spent some time together reminiscing about the sense of community and family we had once felt within our tight-knit circle. He later added me to a WhatsApp group he had created – appropriately named “My Gay Godfathers” – as a way of staying in touch with the wise mother hens who had taken us under their wings back when we were young(er) gays.
I took this unexpected moment of reconnection as a sign that my pursuit of joy was heading in the right direction.
And that was just the beginning in an evening filled with mind-opening messages. Settling into my seat, I was primed to hear from the panel of Black LGBTQ2+ community leaders, advocates, educators and artists on how to seek out and actualize joy in my life. And, boy, did they deliver. They reminded me that joy is my birthright and a practice deserving of protection, something that’s easy to lose sight of in a world that often supresses expressions of Black queer joy, the ultimate form of resistance and rebellion. I was encouraged to start my day with myself, whether through prayer, meditation, journalling, yoga, or any other practice that speaks to me, and to ask, “Will this bring me joy?” before taking action throughout the day. I also came to understand that joy can be both a deeply personal and collective experience.
The biggest revelation of the night came when one of the panelists dropped a nugget of wisdom that ignited a spark deep down inside of me: coming out is the easier part. What’s more challenging is coming home to ourselves.
In that moment, I realized that I’ve been on a lifelong journey of remembering and returning to my true Self. While I’m not quite there, not still here, but somewhere in the messy middle, in the in-between, it’s crystal clear to me now that the journey of coming home to myself is key to unlocking my special superpower: Black queer joy.
I’m rediscovering that Black queer joy is rooted in community, connections, and a sense of true belonging. Connections to the ancestors, blood family and chosen family; communities where we show up as we are and hold sacred and safe space for each other; belonging to ourselves so fully that joy is always with us, within us and available to us, even in moments of suffering.
As I walked to the subway after the panel discussion had ended, I worked up the courage to message one of my gay godfathers whom I hadn’t seen or spoken to in a very long time. I told him how grateful I was to have been on the receiving end of an abundance of love and joy all those years ago. His heartfelt response was everything I hoped it would be, and so much more:
“I’m certainly honoured to have been able to show [you] some of that. Especially back then. Just know that the love never stopped,” he replied. “Glad to see you back.”
It looks like my search for joy is leading me back home.
Back where I belong.
JUMOL ROYES is IN Magazine’s director of communications and community engagement, a GTA-based storyteller and glass-half-full kinda guy. He writes about compassion, community, identity and belonging. His guilty pleasure is watching the Real Housewives. Follow him on Twitter @Jumol and on Instagram @jumolroyes.