“Let People of Color tell their experiences without interruption or asking for “proof.” Validate us. Stand with us. Support us by sharing our stories. Support us by sharing them with your white friends.”
1. Where are you from originally and how old are you?
Despite folks often assuming I am from the east or west coast, I was born smack-dab in the middle of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex in Texas. I did spend some just outside of Phoenix, Arizona growing up, but I later returned to Texas with family to finish grade school. I just celebrated my 30th birthday this month! I don’t know if I am an adult yet. I pay my bills, I have a great job, network and friends, but I will still eat birthday cake before dinner…and dinner may be leftover Chinese food.
2. Tell us a little bit about your project The Invisible Tomboy. How it started. Why you think it has grown so quickly. How you’re using it to put love into the world.
The behind-the-scenes story is… Before I moved to Austin from Dallas, I started a little something called The Gentlewomxn’s Club. The club consisted of a very select few queer womxn who wanted more in their communities than “hot lesbians at clubs” every weekend. We discussed how we could nurture and empower womxn in our communities. Sure, we could look dapper and cute doing it, but we wanted to show we cared. I had hardly gotten this group off the ground before I moved, so once I got to Austin, it was just a matter of time before I started the discussion with a new group of like-minded individuals.
Once I got to Austin, I started hanging with the Girls With Flair! founders, Felicia Dawn Hershey and Ali Martin. I happened to meet them both at their The New Now party downtown. One night last summer, Felicia and I met up to shoot ideas back and forth and we wound-up having drinks with another well-networked queer woman – Marlo Greta – co-founder of The Invisible Femme. After a couple of tequila shots, the three of us combined our efforts into creating The Invisible Tomboy. It all happened FAST. The morning following our meet, we had a logo, a website and all social media accounts locked down. With our July launch, the first 100 followers blew my mind. Now we are quickly approaching 10,000 just 7-8 months later.
3. I see that you were recently featured on the Huffington Post. Touch on how those dinners and that community touched your life after losing your father. What is one thing that your dad taught you about life that will always stick with you?
When I lost my father, I lost a huge part of myself for a while. I knew I wanted to talk about his loss with people, but few understood and nobody fancies a grief conversation over cocktails… Except The Dinner Party. Cocktails aren’t necessary, but the conversation is. I found The Dinner Party(.org) online one night. I was desperately researching for a grief group that didn’t feel like all the self-help groups the narrator in Fight Club experienced. I wanted something warm and cozy, trusting, safe. A group of young adults bringing potluck-style food and drinks to a host’s table (who isn’t “in charge,” but rather a facilitator standing in solidarity) was what The Dinner Party promised me, and, that’s what I got. However, Austin did not have a table yet, so I had to volunteer to be a co-host with a total stranger – Rachel Stone. Rachel and I had to face our greatest fears and lead a group of grieving strangers through dinner and conversation. Our first dinner was a total bust – one guest. However, word-of-mouth has now brought us so many guests that we have 2 Austin tables and 3 Austin hosts with more new people showing interest monthly.
My father…I want to say he would be surprised of my leadership here, but I don’t think he would. My father always encouraged me and my siblings to do our best at whatever the hell it was we were best at doing. He never chastised us for doing wrong, either, rather negotiated terms with us about how to live manage forward. We were allowed to make mistakes and encouraged to make our own paths. My father was just a dad to me – a man who enjoyed a good Scotch, fly fishing, raising kids and animals. But, when he passed I learned of how well-respected he was to many. I think he wanted us all to be leaders in a sense. One of the last things my father said to me was, “Life is not about fast cars and big houses and lots of money.” My father used to race Porsches and he had a big, loving home. I think he was trying to tell me – “Heather, get the hell out there and be you.” Secretly, I don’t think he wanted “the man” to get me down.
4. If you could send out a message to the world about the importance of #BlackLivesMatter (BLM), what would it be and how do you feel that we could all join together in this area to put more love back into the world?
I am an adopted, mixed-race, androgynous queer womxn who was raised by two middle/upper-middle straight white people. I have two other adopted (not blood-related) mixed-race brothers. For the three of us, our childhood outside of our supportive household wasn’t always easy. We, all brown/black-skinned, were often called n*gger, among other racial slurs growing up. I personally have been denied service, followed by police (my older brother was wrongfully seized from his vehicle for being “the wrong Black guy”) – the list goes on and on.
I was born in 1986.
The last time I was called a n*gger was on the streets of Austin in 2015. The last time I was called a “fag” was last summer while kissing a boy (the abusers thought I was a man). We have got to change things.
All lives are important, that’s a given. What isn’t a given is that Black lives also matter. We as Black folks are incarcerated at a higher rate for longer sentences for lesser crimes, wrongfully arrested and murdered by police, paid and employed less, etc. The systemic racism in our country seems to have no end, but I’ll be damned if we never find one.
The most important step for allies of the BLM movement is to listen to people of color (POC). Let POC tell their experiences without interruption or asking for “proof,” etc. Validate us. Stand with us. Support us by sharing our stories. Support us by sharing them with your white friends. I think the newfound (for some) knowledge of privilege and white privilege have a lot of white folks feeling guilty. I get that. What your ancestors did was shitty. I’m just going to say it. It was. But, my pro-Blackness is not anti-whiteness, and, in fact, I want you to feel liberated from your ancestors, too. It’s not about feeling guilt and being shamed – we are not here to shame. We are here to share and be heard. Let us speak. Speak-out with us. And, that means not just racially – this movement is for me on another level, as a queer Black womxn.
“Black Lives Matter is an international network of more than 30 chapters working to rebuild the black liberation movement and affirm the lives of all black people – specifically black women, queer and trans people, people who are differently abled, and those who are undocumented and formerly incarcerated.” – Shannelle Matthews, BLM Lead Communications Strategist
We have to do this hand-in-hand.
5. If money weren’t an option and you could be doing anything in the world…what would it be?
Last night, I sat on my couch and sifted through three large (think history textbook) photo albums of printed photos that I took in grade school. I took so many photos back then that my friends called me Peter Parker. I have always loved documenting life and society. So…if I could do anything without money being an issue, I would simply travel and document. Everything. Mostly people. We are a fascinating bunch. And a beautiful mix. That doesn’t even touch-on the other life we share our beautiful planet with. I might need a bigger hard drive…
6. Where do you get a majority of your clothes, because you have style for miles?
Growing up, I borrowed from my father’s closet – plaid button-ups and vintage Converse hi-tops. Once I became a young adult, however, I started buying my own wardrobe. I had a girlfriend in college who was from Burbank< CA and she helped me evolve my style. Working and designing apparel for Fossil also cursed me with an expensive taste for a while and I was wearing a lot of Closed chinos, Diesel jeans and tops and god only knows.
I love a good, simply blue oxford button-up. Or, one with a silly print on it. Denim for days. Honestly? I hate this brand, but I have spent a pretty penny at Urban Outfitters. They’re just youthful enough but somewhat grown-up – I can get away with an oxford shirt with a whale print or socks with a bicycle print. I would rather encourage folks to hit up their local thrift stores. I now sell my old clothes to them and shop there as well. Some of my favorite shorts are from a thrift store in Austin. You never know.