I present Love Letters to Spooks to you on the day of Pepper LaBeija’s birth. Pepper LaBeija (1948-2003), a drag queen, fashion designer, mother, and visionary, would have turned sixty-eight years old today. Upon reading jay dodd’s poem “A Eulogy For Myself, The Night,” I was reminded of LaBeija’s construction of opulence. I associate LaBeija with being a visionary; an unsung activist who labored among the trenches of aesthetic, capitalism, and systematic poverty, racism, anti-queerness and transphobia.
Pepper LaBeija died a quiet death from a treatable health condition. While LaBeija thrives in the collective consciousness of admirers and chosen family, their demise is a reminder of how our deaths as Black and queer people who resist gender conformity, are often preventable. We die outside the fanfare of collective Black grief, protest, and history. We die of neglect and we resurrect only in the memories of a select few.
While we did not exclusively call for writers who are both Black and queer, it is necessary to note and celebrate that this issue is queer-centric. This comes as no surprise to me, as Black and queer individuals have a particular familiarity with the chronic pangs of social death. When I say queer, and when I call forth the spirit of Pepper LaBeija it is with the understanding of a queerness beyond and in embrace of sexuality, a queering of gender, a queering of the body, and a queering of family.
I initiated this call because Black people are too often expected to consolidate and distribute their pain in a marketable way. In these situations it is not nuance within Black experiences that is called for, but pain packaged for non-Black consumption. The aim of Love Letters to Spooks was not for non-Black people to gain proximity to Black experiences, but for Black folks to have access to themselves free of non-Black projections. Not all deaths that Black people endure are physical. Pain exists that can only be detected and interrogated by Black consciousness’s. Not all grief is grace.
From every submission received, I understood a bit more of what collective tragedies mean to the individual, and how small deaths and joys in repetition weigh on and emancipate the spirit. Our contributors for this issue seem to have moved beyond the realms of negotiation and into their own uncompromising truths. Witness in this issue the final nerve and first step towards transcendence: “a ballroom at the edge of the universe,” “ever-fresher types of way I’ve learned to live beneath the gun,” “a Black femme’s laugh sounding off in quarks,” “little worlds, in every Black girl.”