DiversifYA: Patrice Caldwell

PatriceToday, the wonderful Patrice Caldwell joins us for another fabulous interview! Patrice is a writer of all sorts–MG, YA, NA–and a publicity intern at Spencer Hill Contemporary.

She blogs at Whimsically Yours, and tweets here. If you want to find out more about Patrice and her writing, you can also hop over to her website. Which you probably should do. Right now.

1. How do you identify yourself?

I identify as queer* AND black. Both of these are integral parts of my identity. Sometimes, depending on where I am, I identify more with my black side or more with my queer side. I think it’s interesting, for instance when meeting someone new I always identify with my black side more/first same as when I’m with other queer people. However when I’m with other black people it’s usually the queer side. I say this because although I don’t prefer one over the other, I often find myself othered/outed by the “side” that’s not of the majority. I think this is because although, from my experience, people are able to understand queerness or blackness it’s harder for them to understand the intersectionalities of those so maybe it’s not that I weigh one side over the other but that I feel like other people are.

*The “exact term” for how I identify would probably be somewhere between sapiosexual and pansexual.

2. What did it feel like growing up?

I think the answer to this question & the next one really highlight/are the reasons for why I write what and how I write. When I grew up in a very Afrocentric household, I was taught to love myself, respect my elders, and most of all support my people and family.

I didn’t necessarily have a problem with my blackness until I transferred to a predominantly white private school in 6th grade then back to a public school for 12th grade (parent moved). At the private school I was black, it was never really said but I was the other, the different one and I had to do a lot to fit in, unlike many stories one might hear I had a pretty good “social standing” but I just felt so fake, like I really had to hide my true self the entire time. I also gained a lot of self-confidence issues during those years as I grew and realized my body wasn’t as desirable or similar to my white peers (thankfully I’m over that).

At public school, I “wasn’t black enough”: I took all AP classes preferred to read or talk to the teacher rather than hang out before/after school. On one hand it was great because though I was the new girl, I got special treatment from teachers who blatantly said things like how I was going to do better/shouldn’t associate myself with my classmates (that last bit I didn’t like), and on the other hand it sucked because everyone thought I was “bougie” (which might be a bit true) and a teacher’s pet when really, to me, I was just being myself and doing the things I’d always loved to do.

Interestingly enough, that “special treatment” didn’t go very far because I still had administrators who would watch my every move (like they did all the POC at the school) and teachers who, when I was accepted into Wellesley, questioned whether I would do well there (Doing just fine, thank you very much!).

Looking back I think it’s really sad that students and administrators create these type of divisions, being black shouldn’t mean only doing enough to get by. As for “my queer self” I never explored it, at my private school, it was too small…the few gay/”strange” kids (yes they were all lumped together) were ostracized & at the public school, well, although I was still in theater & the theater group is a pretty chill/fluid group (I did it from 6th-12th)…hell no, it wouldn’t have worked/been okay. However sometimes I wish I would’ve came out, I had a “good standing” in school and was very outspoken so maybe that would’ve helped other students feel comfortable, more accepted. I truly admire and respect students who came out in high school.

Luckily college has allowed for a (more) blending of those two selves.

3. What are the biggest challenges? Conversely, what are the quirks/perks?

Queer people are awesome. Like you get like 1000+++ brownie points for being queer and 1000+++ for being a qpoc (queer person of color). I also found a strong POC specifically black community at Wellesley and being someone who never really had a ton of black friends, it was nice to meet such empowering people (and now I’m the President of our black student organization (for 2013-14)). So yeah…college was sort of my sexual/racial/whatever revolution. I realized I didn’t have to separate the two it it was wonderful.

Of course, I’m not out to everyone…on one hand it’s because I don’t want to disappoint certain people (ex. my mom…it’s complicated but my family is entirely from the “dirty south” so that should explain some things, my dad knows though). On the other hand, it’s because I don’t care to tell them, I don’t think everyone needs to know my business. The queer people at my college know (Wellesley College…great place if you’re queer), and as for my close friends I expect them to accept me as I am. I think that’s the thing, as you get older you’ll realize you stop caring what other people think and though, I’m not completely there with my family, I’m pretty darn close.

The perks? They’re awesome communities to be a part of especially when you start to realize and accept their ability to intersect and find people who live within those intersections. Similar to what I said earlier, it’s just so cool to be queer, I love being able to like someone for who they are as a person not their sexuality… I love that I’ve found people who celebrate being black and/or queer rather than merely accepting it (in themselves/others. I think if humanity could move more in that direction (or at least the understanding of it), this would be a much better place…

4. What do you wish people knew about being queer/black?

It’s cool, it’s okay, yeah it might take some time but once you get there and find people who support & love you, it’s like a gay/black mecca of happiness.

5. What are the biggest clichés/stereotypes you’ve seen?

  1. Queer people are super rich, famous, and/or well off. I think this is because of people like Ellen, Rachel Maddow, etc…and many more white queers. But not all queer people especially not qpocs are rich and well off. I don’t know the stats off the top of my head but from working/knowing people in the qpoc community, our youth especially aren’t very well off. Also qpoc people deal with a lot of discrimination (not that all queer people don’t).
  2. It’s not possible to be bisexual, pansexual… I’ve heard this said so many times and it usually comes from people in the queer community. It’s just sad that we judge our own people like this, who are you to tell someone who they are attracted to…that’s all I have to say.
  3. We’re uber liberals. No, I’m from TX and though I considered myself liberal there, I’m actually pretty conservative (probably closer to libertarian but I don’t really like labels of any kind).
  4. Gay guys are “effeminate” and lesbians are “butch” – Haha, no, it’s like politics, we fit on more of a spectrum, the media just likes to paint us as far left/right.

Anyway, I should stop. There’s so many, I could go on for days…

BONUS: What is your advice for writers writing diverse characters?

Just do it. Why? When I was growing up, I loved speculative fiction (sci-fi, fantasy…) but as I got older the only person I found who was like me was in the writings of Octavia Butler. So now I write so that girls like me can have someone like them to read about, to look up to. We don’t always want to hear about struggles, I dealt with that every day in school…I rarely read books that dealt with “growing up in the hood”, being pregnant, problems as a black kid with white kids, and other problem topics often in the “multicultural books section”. Half of those experiences I never experienced, the others like I said, I dealt with every day.

Writing a queer, black, other diverse character who is normal, for whom being gay, black, etc…is normal is one of the best and most provoking things you can do. Why? Because we don’t see it enough and the more we see it, the more we start to believe we can achieve that & others start to realize it’s not a big deal. Thus by writing, by telling a “normal” story, you empower generations to come. Sounds beautiful, doesn’t it?

You really have to write the most honest story you know, by that I mean listen to your characters, then explore, imagine, and do your research. That’s where I always start, I think what do I know. When I first started revising my WIP again (in its 5th/6th draft) I thought what’s the most honest thing I know about this story…well, she’s a girl who is lonely, has self-confidence issues, etc…who is suddenly expected to, quite frankly, save the world. Now I’ve never had to save the world (nor have I ever been a descendant of the Egyptian Goddess Isis) but based on my experiences, I understand the feeling of loneliness, lack of fitting in so I used that to propel my story…the fact that my MC is bi & a POC are just part of who she is, surface stuff, they don’t even hit at the real problems, the things any teen can probably relate to. Remember, first drafts are for telling the story, the rest are for making it wonderful, true, and poignant.

SPECIAL!

Patrice and Raven are currently working on a new project! “Operation Diversity will be a group blog (think Publishing Crawl meets Diversity YA) and will hopefully be launched sometime in the near future. It will focus on diversity in MG, YA, & NA and it will give bloggers a chance, not only to share their respective writing journeys but will also (hopefully) open up dialogue about ALL kinds of diversity.

With that said, we are looking for bloggers to be a part of this project. We are aware that this age group limits a lot of people from participating but we both talked about this and we thought it would be important to reach out to younger writers because their voices aren’t heard that much and it would be cool to connect with other writers our age who feel strongly about diversity, write diverse stories, and want to seek publication one day. We are looking for bloggers from different backgrounds so please, if you’re interested, feel free to contact us at operationdiversity@gmail.com!

2 Responses to DiversifYA: Patrice Caldwell

  1. Thanks so much for the opportunity to interview, I enjoyed it 🙂

  2. Patice, this was a great interview. Thanks for sharing so much about yourself. I can’t wait to see what happens with Operation Diversity.