From Atlanta Nights to Fire Island Fights: A Journey to Self-Celebration
Around 2007, when I was living in Atlanta, I had a friend named Smitty. He was a light-skinned Black dude with loose, curly hair and light green eyes. He stood around 6’1”, was thick in the right places, very fem, and hella loud. Imagine if Michael Ealy had a gay brother who was into house music, drag queens, and nightlife; that was Smitty. The thing that fascinated me about him was that he was a scientist. I never understood how that worked because he drank and went out quite often. Smitty is what I would describe as a highly functioning mess. He lived in the Fulton Cotton Mill Lofts, a restored factory turned into luxurious living spaces. In those early days, the apartment's austere furnishings—a mere mattress and a television—served as a backdrop to our homemade cocktails and dance sessions on the unadorned concrete floor.
On the nights that we would go out to drink and dance, Smitty had a bar ritual that always stoked curiosity in people around him. The first thing he ordered would be a glass of sparkling wine, which would naturally get people around him to ask, “What are you celebrating?” To which he would reply, “I’m celebrating myself! Celebrate yoself, god dammit!” He would then raise his glass in a toast, take a swig, and let out his signature, boisterous laugh through his big, toothy smile.
As someone who has always tended to work my ass off while constantly pushing the goalpost back, Smitty’s philosophy stood in stark contrast to my own approach to life, an endless grind devoid of self-congratulation. I have so often waited on the validation of others before I ever felt worthy of celebrating anything I was doing. That has only begun to change in the last two years, mainly after doing advocacy work on Fire Island and realizing that the validation I sought would not come from the people I wanted it from. The lesson is now clear to me: the act of self-celebration cannot be contingent on external validation.
Fire Island Fights
I had this grand plan to follow up “Cherry Grove Has A Problem” with another article about the state of allyship on Fire Island, but that was before I knew how much that post would blow up. One thing I have to say about my Instagram: I don’t have a lot of followers, but the people who follow me are engaged. They took that article and threw it into the stratosphere. They shared the article, commented on it, subscribed to my Substack, donated to BaBEC, and asked how they could support me and my organization. It was all very overwhelming.
The article has gotten five thousand views, which is impressive for my first Substack post about a particularly niche subject. I don’t expect to see numbers like that again for a while because I don’t have any more tea to spill! But I do still have a lot to say. All of this is to say Fire Island wore me tf out, and while I still plan on writing about the state of allyship, it will be later down the line.
This summer is the third consecutive year that I have been grateful for the Fire Island season to be over. I am not counting down the days until Memorial Day. I am thrilled not to see many of you hoes until next Summer, and I know the feeling is mutual. So what’s different at the dawn of this October versus the last two? I’m reflecting on the Summer and celebrating myself!
Taking time to recognize and celebrate one's own achievements is radical in a society that often measures worth by external validations. We are taught to strive for milestones that society deems significant—promotions, public accolades, or social media likes. But such affirmations are fleeting and can anchor our self-worth to a shaky foundation. Smitty's philosophy teaches us that by celebrating ourselves, we reclaim our own narrative. We define what is valuable and what is significant and, in doing so, defy societal norms that condition us to seek approval from others. In a world that often marginalizes queer, Black voices like mine and Smitty's, the act of self-celebration becomes an assertion of our existence and worth. It is, indeed, a radical act.
I am a living, breathing, and current Fire Island TRAILBLAZER. I don't need an artist's rendition on a flag to tell me that. However, I have been known, from time to time, to make a good muse. ;)
The trails I am blazing are for sistas and bruthas. Daddies and sons. Muthas and dawtas.
I do it for Black queer people. And need I remind you that “black” is not a bad word that you must hide behind the veil of “diversity.”
I do it for transgender people who deserve healing space, extended time, visibility, and a voice in the community because it is theirs, too.
I am the wrecking ball, the blueprint, and the construction team.
I am an argument that you have with your Fire Island neighbor.
I am a conversation at your dinner table.
I am pillow talk in your bedroom.
I am your emergency board/committee meeting.
I am the fire under yo ass.
I am pressure.
I am the realization that you don’t actually have the energy to fully show up as an ally or accomplice.
I am the realization that you don’t give a fuck.
I am your motivation to do better.
I'm too Black for some of you and not Black enough for the rest of you.
My ideas have graced your board's agendas.
My articles pop up in your inbox and on your Facebook and they gag you to the point that you put them in someone else’s inbox and on someone else’s Facebook.
I am the reason that the Progress Pride flag is a permanent fixture on the Cherry Grove dock.
I am the future of Fire Island. Because I am not afraid to be.
And I’m just getting started.
I am so grateful to have realized that sometimes you have to claim your power before people want to give it to you. Because the truth is, it's already yours.
Cheers to Smitty, to myself, and to all of us engaged in the radical act of self-celebration.
I’m celebrating myself, god dammit!
CELEBRATE YOSELF! 🥂