Finding self

Kiticia Hayes (Greensboro, NC)

I’ve forever been the oddball, outkast, never quite fitting in.

I remember my first job right out of college as a reporter for a local newspaper.

I wanted to dress the part: makeup, blue power suit, and straight hair. I wanted to impress the senior reporters who were predominantly white and male. As the young, new kid on the block, I wanted to fit in among my older coworkers. I wanted to flaunt my education from Elon University yet retain some hint of blackness by going by my first name Kiticia and purposely correcting people when they pronounced it incorrectly.

It was a frightening experience for a young, black female who was still questioning her sexuality in the early 2000s but it would be the very place that I embraced ALL the differences that were me, eventually catapulting me into lesibanhood. Coming to terms with my sexuality was a process that I seemingly put on the backburner, but in retrospect I had to become confident in other areas before I could even begin to admit/understand/embrace that I was a lesbian.
I threw myself into my job, becoming bored with my duties after three months and asking for more work and more responsibilities. I worked my way to editing, page design and finally reporter status. Seeing my byline in the paper and covering the news I thought was important was a major turning point for me and in turn boosted my confidence as a writer. Initially I balked at being the black reporter that covered the black news, but the black community trumpted my work in giving a voice to people they felt were neglected in the media.

That confidence began to spread outward as I started to look at my self-images more closely. My lower middle class, single parent upbringing had me deeply connected to what it meant to struggle, to live paycheck to paycheck and to constantly have a desire to want something better. Education was a way out of that struggle; so school became very important to me. My neighborhood was predominantly black and lower middle class but as an honor student in elementary, middle and high school and eventually college, I would forever be surrounded by white kids of privilege who looked starkly different than me. I felt I was never good enough among the kids that had long hair, blond hair, blue eyes, designer clothes, the best houses and cars and had both parents at school functions. This haunted me and made me develop very negative images of myself. A brown, plus size girl with thick, coarse hair would always stick out like a sore thumb I thought. I carried that with me for a long time but as my confidence grew, those images began to dissolve slowly. I wanted to show off my differences. I decided to grow my hair naturally in an afro and embrace it in its natural state; I stopped wearing caked on makeup and started dressing less feminine. I adopted a very androgynous look and it fit me like a glove.

I remember a co-worker saying to me, “Kiticia you are always changing your look…you must be going through an identity crisis”. At the time, I brushed this off but I was in fact going through a crisis that included my identity and sexuality. I was trying to date men because that’s what I thought I was supposed to be doing in my early 20s. My college friends were getting married and having kids (never priorities for me) and I was still trying to figure out what the big fuss was about men and sex and that whole thing. All my life, I had enjoyed being around women more and men always seemed like my homeboys rather than dating candidates. It was always confusing but I was finally able to sync my mind, body and soul and embrace my sexuality around the age of 22. It was probably the hardest thing to face but once I did, I finally felt like I was complete.

Or so I thought. Being introduced to the LGBT community felt like I was starting all over again; just like the first day I walked into the newsroom and saw a very white, male dominated environment. I was happy to finally be out. Happy to go to gay events, watch gay movies and do anything gay. But it was hard to find people that looked like me at those gay events and in those gay movies. Once again I asked myself where do I fit in? Where does a heavy-set, black, masculine of center lesbian with short locks fit in?  I had to literally search for an LGBT community of color. Thanks to college campuses and online sites like Black Planet and Downelink, I began to discover people that looked like me, talked like me, and acted like me. It was a sigh of relief.

Fast-forward to 37-year-old Kiticia, who feels like she is finally able to present her real, authentic persona to the world. She is totally ok with everything that she is, for the most part. Sure she still had some of the same insecurities, doubts, worries that she will carry until the day she dies but the fact that she can live boldly and out loud as a queer person of color speaks volumes. It feels nice to finally fit in.