Blacktop: On the GenderQueer/GenreQueer Playground

Ronaldo V. Wilson, Guest Editor

“ . . . Blacktop. Blackness. Kickball. Tetherball. Double-Dutch. Tag. You’re It. We invite LGBQTIA+++++ of the African Diaspora to come play with us . . . ”

When I presented these lines as invitation, I was imagining the call for this volume as a way to trigger play, sending language out in the throes of Covid-19, as it thrived in its devastating forms, raging at the end of 2020 and through 2021, and still now, sea of daily lives lost, and “Tag. You’re It . . . come play with us . . . ” even in the flame-engulfed protests, Black Bodies/Black Lives—in the frenzy of maniacal elections worldwide, I imagined play as method, as both resistance and strategy. The gift of this generous invitation from Obsidian: Literature & Arts in the African Diaspora to serve as guest editor was being able to assist in gathering Black Queer diasporic folks and sense, our senses together, senses as writers and artists, manifesting through these pages, screens, bodies, and other forms in this special issue, GenderQueer/GenreQueer Playground.

As a practitioner of play, of performance in language and art, my first sense of this project’s enlivening was and is, in fact, the playground. To be direct, the blacktop of my childhood has been such an important and unifying touchstone in my life, as my family traveled, moving just about every three years through my adolescence to live on US Naval Bases in Japan, Guam, Tennessee, and throughout California, places where at recess I would play—brain, feeling, and body still electric and free-forming from what I was learning in class, activated as ever in my Ronaldo V. Wilson memory, rekindling the heat, running and losing myself in the possibility of its tricky painted lines tied to games and poles, Four Square, Tetherball, and opens spaces for Kickball and Tag.

Sometimes, I was It!—in the space of the playground, a wide asphalt field through which I remember being attuned to people, bodies, sweat, light, in varied and asymmetrical relationships, teachers, students, fat, poor kicks, richness, blacks, kinks, twists, browns, braids, whistles, whites, other classes, fluid forms, crushes, giant rust-red rubber kickballs, pain, rough grips grounding me in perhaps a first understanding of figuration, aggregate forms of queer beginnings and elastic narrations through the terrain of those many playgrounds.

What exists in this issue of Obsidian, a playground that moves between genre, through questions of the genderqueer via multilayered anthems of the body, and of the Black self in various capacities of art, served through formal and fluid modes, rendered with infinite surprise and depth of the power that echoes and extends within and beyond the language of my original call, offering what I hoped for, received, and am thrilled to showcase:

. . . work that moves between the face of terror and isolation; joy as possibility, necessity, and form . . . living testaments to how trans, genderqueer, and nonbinary writers and artists are leading the edge of innovation, pushing the boundaries of genre . . . broadening the scope . . . .

The scope of this stunning material is divided under a multitude of signs that morph across various media to represent and challenge an array of forms. Some exist in the realm of the digital, in which the writer and artist move through video and sound art, songs, and dance from the stage to the club, occupying, recounting, and embodying histories through rich personal narratives and riveting performances. Others present poetry, offering further complexities in language that test and reckon through difficult matters of violence, memory, grief-work, desire, and love across a wide array of life, and life practices through multiple diasporas and voices making, breaking, and playing with forms.

Writers of hybrid prose fiction, performance, and essays reveal work that captures and renders the immediacy of what is both possible and impossible across character, selfhood, nation, and subjectivity, works that poignantly expand through story, interviews; some take place in chatrooms, bedrooms, and streets, all encountering and often resisting institutions between emotional registers of great rage and, often, such tenderness. And touch—visual artists in this issue offer richly moving drawings, sculptures, paintings, photographs, and collages, all rendered by hand, heart, ear, and eye, each holding the viewer in the sustained and vivid intricacies of life.

In fact, this is what I believe keeps us all, and this issue, together, bound through these fraught times, as ever, attuned, alert, and boldly making art and writing in the face of difficult and vicious days and nights. In light of this, I am ever so grateful for the writers and artists that shared work for this issue, which has been a pleasure to read, imagine, think, and play along with. I am elated to share these brilliant, Black inventions across gender and genre, forms operating as porous family, sign, symbol, and spirit, rising powerfully from beyond the hot blacktop, up and truly radiant—come play with uson The GenderQueer/ GenreQueer Playground. Tag. You’re It!

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