This year, Pride Month feels sharp, like a sunbeam that pierces through blinds that were intentionally closed. This month marks the second anniversary of the Pulse shooting, a terrorist attack at a gay Orlando nightclub that took the lives of 49 LGBTQ individuals (mostly of color) and injured 53 others. Pulse serves as a reminder that despite all of the rainbow merchandise and legal progress we’ve made, the LGBTQ community can still be a target for hate.
Though the LGBTQ community has learned to find joy and energy to laugh in the face of fear, maintaining that energy for generations can be taxing. In today’s volatile political environment and 24/7 news cycle, it’s easy to want to shut down. Pride Month gives the LGBTQ community a reason to take a break from resisting and instead ask ourselves, “What do we take pride in?” so that we can assert and celebrate our identities.
This Pride Month, we’re featuring TK Tunchez of Las Ofrendas. TK is an artist, entrepreneur, and community organizer who is creating intentional spaces for QWOC in Austin. Over beer and coffee, she talks about coming out, her relationship with queerness and identity, and living an outlaw’s life.
Coming out stories are as unique as the LGBTQ community itself. Contrary to popular belief, being “out” is not simply the opening of a door and the crossing of a threshold. Often, getting to the door or even knowing that the door exists can take years.
“When I was 17 years old, I had two kids and lived in a homeless shelter,” shares TK. “One of the women who lived in the homeless shelter became my mentor – I call her my queer mom. She was a dyke and a Chicana. She made me realize, ‘Oh shit, there’s a way you can take up this space and speak for yourself and stand in your power.’”
She made me realize, ‘Oh shit, there’s a way you can take up this space and speak for yourself and stand in your power.’”
Even with such an impactful mentor and role model, at the time, TK wasn’t quite able to connect the dots between what she so deeply admired about her mentor (her unapologetic confidence and unabashed queerness) to her own identity and sexuality.
“My first girlfriend was my best friend. We were best friends for years and years and years. We got together, we hooked up. I remember telling her to her face, ‘I don't think I'm gay. I think I just like people,’” TK smiles ruefully, laughing at her past self. “One day she was like, ‘I want to be your girlfriend.’ That's why I came out. At that moment I had to choose a language.”
My first girlfriend was my best friend. We got together, we hooked up. I remember telling her to her face, ‘I don't think I'm gay. I think I just like people.’
Since her first girlfriend, TK has made an effort to consciously explore her queer identity and compares her discoveries about queerness and herself to peeling back the layers of an onion. “In general, society just duplicates what we know versus creating an alternate paradigm for what the possibilities are. [Unlearning that pattern] is hard work. It's hard emotional work to ask, ‘What ways am I perpetuating patriarchy in the relationship that I'm looking for as a queer femme?’”
Growing up in a religious household, TK’s first introduction to the LGBTQ community was hearing hushed whispers about “lesbians” and how two women in her church community were being ostracized for their relationship. She’s come a long way since then and now, after years of exploring her identity and some help from mentors and friends, she knows that, for her, “liking people” has always meant “queer.” TK looks back at the support she received through her journey and makes it a point now to pay it forward.
“I think, especially for younger people, to see queer people of color at the forefront of things is super fucking important.”
As a queer mentor in her own right, TK wants the LGBTQ community (especially people of color) to subvert the status quo.
“My anniversary with my partner is on Loving Day,” TK shares. Loving Day is celebrated on June 12 and commemorates Loving v. Virginia, the US Supreme Court decision that struck down anti-miscegenation laws in 1967. “I think about that a lot because I'm in an interracial relationship right now. I couldn't have married my partner even if we had been hetero 50 years ago. And four years ago I couldn't have married my partner in the state of Texas.”
Under TK’s matter-of-fact tone lies a layer of rebellion. “There are so many reasons that our love is not accepted and has been legally outlawed. So I think about June as Pride Month for being a fucking outlaw.”
I think about June as Pride Month for being a fucking outlaw.
Last year, TK started producing Fuego ATX, a monthly dance party and vendor market by and for queer people of color. “[Fuego] is a space where we want folks to come, dance, and see themselves.”
Join us and celebrate being an outlaw with TK and her team at Sahara Lounge on June 28! There’ll be dancing (TK promised us Afrobeat), QPOC vendors, and a special photobooth by the collective blue team.
Keep up with TK on Instagram and come see us next week at Fuego!