In this b-side, we sent down with lawyer, activist, writer and civic leader Preston Mitchum about living authentically and intentionally.
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Zach: What’s up, y’all? It’s Zach with Living Corporate, and yes, you’re listening to a B-Side now. Yes, we introduced the purpose of a B-Side before, but every episode is someone’s first episode. So for the new folks, B-Sides are essentially random shows we have in between our larger shows. These are much less structured and somehow even more lit–that’s right, more lit–than our normal shows. Now, y’all might ask me what do I mean by more lit? Sound Man, give me something.
[Sound Man plays Jamaican air horns]
Zach: You see that right there? That’s what I’m talking about. Now, listen. Often times more than not we have a special guest, and today is no different. We actually have with us today Preston Mitchum. Preston is the international policy analyst at Advocates for Youth where he advocates for the sexual and reproductive health and rights for young people and U.S. foreign policy. He’s also an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center, teaching LGBT health, law, and policy. Preston currently serves as the first openly gay male chair of the Washington Bar Association Young Lawyers division the Black Youth Project DC Chapter, and he’s written for theGrio, The Atlantic, Huffington Post, Ebony, Africa.com and plenty more. Preston, welcome to the show, man.
Preston: Hey, thank you for the invite. I cannot wait for this conversation.
Zach: [laughs] That’s awesome, man. Now, look, I gave the intro, but please, tell us about yourself.
Preston: You know, so I often describe myself as an unapologetically black queer activist and advocate hailing from Youngstown, Ohio, but currently I’ve been living in the D.C., Maryland area for the past seven years, and I love black people. So that’s everything to know about me.
Zach: That’s awesome. Now, look, when I look at your profile, right, and I look at your Instagram, and I just–I look from afar, and it just seems like there’s so much there. Can you talk to me about how you got into law? Like, was it spurred by your passion around social justice? Was it a money move? Was it both? Like, talk to me about that.
Preston: You know, I wish it was money. I wish. For everything that I really wanted to do to become a lawyer, I wish money was really involved in that decision ‘cause I would probably be a little bit happier. My bills would be paid a lot faster. I wouldn’t be waiting ‘til the 5th of the month to finally make that rent payment.
Preston: But all that being said, for me I’m a social justice activist to my core. Something that really matters to me, again, are black folks, are queer and trans folks, are women of color, specifically black women, and so I think for me, like, when I saw how law was framed, how the legal landscape was framed, the one thing that I really wanted to do of course, even as a lawyer, was to change the law, right, and have this (inaudible) in the background to change the lives of black folks, but what really mattered to me was policy, right? And so that was really getting in front of the law before the law came into place, because when you’re a lawyer and you’re defending people, of course, like, litigation is life-changing for many people, particularly–like, people like criminal defense attorneys, but what really mattered to me the more I thought about it was what can happen before a defendant reaches the courtroom. What policy can be designed and created and lobbied for in a way that actually changes peoples’ lives before it goes into effect, and so for me that was really important when it came to, again, the legal and policy landscape, and frankly I have a passion for marginalized communities, you know, especially rape survivors of which I am one. I’ve talked about my personal experience with rape and sexual assault, mostly on theroot.com. So, you know, my passion began for rape survivors, you know, thinking about rape culture. Later in life obviously thinking about our childhood heroes, you know, become villains. So people like Bill Cosby and R. Kelly and thinking through the ways in which, you know, we have been told that we have to defend these people because they allegedly love us, but we often times saw that love turn into pain for many people, particularly marginalized black women and girls. So, you know, in a nutshell for me what was really important was to defend the civil rights and liberties of black folks and queer folks and of other marginalized communities who are kind of pushed to the margins every single day, and that’s how I got into law.
Zach: Wow, man. That’s amazing. And, you know, your profile–and even when you talk about your story, right, the main things I get from you, like, just from a vibe perspective is authenticity and intentionality, right? I believe that, you know, everyone should seek to live as authentically as possible every day, and clearly from just your mission and your passion, your purpose in life, I would say that you agree with that. Can you talk to me though about your journey and living authentically and what rewards and challenges you’ve had from that?
Preston: So I appreciate you even saying that because something that I always speak about is the purpose of living as an authentic person and living with intention, right? It’s funny, I was talking to someone the other day, and I told them that I didn’t think I was breathing, and they were like, “Well, you’re living. Of course you’re breathing.” I was like, “Yeah, I actually don’t feel my stomach moving though.”
Preston: And I think that’s–so I knew I wasn’t breathing intentionally. I was breathing because I have to live, but I wasn’t breathing with a purpose, and so…
Zach: It was cruise control.
Preston: Yeah, exactly. Right, I was like, “Oh, I’m breathing because I need to eat and I need to drink water and I need to live to see another day,” but you know, but I was learning from folks, especially, like, black folks. Like, older black people. They’re like, “Are you breathing on purpose? Feel your belly. Can you actively and actually feel your belly going in and out, up and down?” And so I kind of wanted to use that to model really how I’m living my everyday life, and so there some rewards and there are some challenges, and so the rewards is, you know, people recognizing my authenticity and my intentionality. The challenges are people recognizing my authenticity and intentionality [laughs], and I think, you know, when we live authentically, everything is not great. Everything is not gold. When you live authentically, you are subjecting yourself to be more vulnerable to harm. For queer and trans folks, for black folks who are in white areas, for queer and trans folks who are in straight-dominated areas, your authenticity can get you killed. And so I think from–and you know what, I think we see that every day, you know? Something that really is exciting me has been this new show on FX called Pose.
Zach: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Preston: And it is–I have many friends in the house and ball communities, and it is such a brilliant depiction, and it’s so incredibly nuanced of what I would like to consider at least black and brown trans women nurturing queer or gay boys, black and brown gay boys, to life. And so, you know, those are trans women who are putting themselves on the front lines every single day, who are, you know, creating new communities for them to thrive in because in the communities that they exist in, which are these straight, cis-dominated spaces, they are by and large targeted, and so for me it’s like, “What does that look like? What does it look like to exist in spaces that are mainstream, that I know I’m not gonna be accepted in, and to create these alternative spaces where I can actually be affirmed on a daily basis?” So, you know, again, those are challenges, and I will say part of those challenges particularly, you know, as being the first openly gay chair of the Washington Bar Association Young Lawyers division is that in the legal profession and also in the black legal profession is really big on respectability politics. So people usually are catapulted to be successful because they have somehow created this environment for themselves that are very white-accepting. I have never cared in my professional life to be accepted by the white community, right? Like, that’s just not my thing. [laughs]
Zach: [laughs] So wait–so wait, wait wait. So I’m actually really–so I was already excited, now I’m extra excited, right? So for our listeners, right, break down respectability politics, especially from the position of an activist and, like, all of the things that you drive. Like, if there was someone here who’s listening to this who’s like, “What is respectability politics like?” Give us the Preston definition of respectability politics.
Preston: Okay. All right, so Preston? So a very blunt definition. So–no, so respectability politics, or the politics of respectability, is quite frankly the notion that you–everything you do, your existence, your actions, your behaviors are for white people, and so for white people who are generally accepted who dominate–I shouldn’t say culture, right, ‘cause that’s certainly not true. [laughs]
Zach: [laughs] Right.
Preston: But who dominates certain things like business, law, policy, et cetera. So, you know, there’s this idea for example that now, you know, if black boys and black men only dressed up in suits and ties they would be accepted by white people, right? As if the reason why black boys are being killed on the streets, or black women also being killed on the streets, is because they don’t look a certain way. Mind you, you know, folks like Martin Luther King were clearly gunned down by FBI agents.
Preston: Mind you, black and brown folks were being, you know, sprayed with fire hoses in the 1950s, since antiquity frankly, but continuing up until now, right? Like, the fire hoses just look like bullets now. So, you know, the thing that we always have to remind people is, you know, live authentically and intentionally because it’s not like respectability politics is the reason why you are disliked, why you are relegated. It reminds me of when I do lobb–I lobby a lot for my job, so it reminds me of when I go to the Hill, and, you know, sometimes I’ll wear a suit and tie, sometimes I won’t. Frankly it really depends on how I feel on that day and if my eyebrows look good. And so–
Zach: Listen. Wait, wait, wait. Whoa, whoa, whoa. In all seriousness–wait, wait wait. ‘Cause your eyebrows on your website? Impeccable.
Preston: Thank you. To your viewers, I need them to go and see my eyebrows because I really appreciate my eyebrow lady Kim in Silver Spring, Maryland at (inaudible). [laughs]
Zach: Now, are they–is it–now, this is my question. Are they–is it threaded? Or is it–like, ‘cause they look great.
Preston: You know, I appreciate that. They’re actually waxed, and so I’m afraid that the more I do it I’m not gonna have anymore. I’ma be looking like Whoopi Goldberg, but hopefully that’s not–sorry, Whoopi. My bad.
Zach: No disrespect to Whoopi Goldberg just in case you ever come on the show. (inaudible).
Preston: I mean, she practices respectability politics sometimes too, so I hope she comes on the show so we can talk about that.
Zach: [laughs] Yes. Let’s go, man. Hey, let the cannons (inaudible) for that. We callin’ you out, Whoopi Goldberg. We got beef with you. [laughs]
Preston: [laughs] Right. I mean, you know, I’m pretty sure that Ted Danson and others would agree, but nonetheless. Nonetheless. No, so yes, I go to the Hill a lot. Part of my job is lobbying on behalf of young people and their sexuality and reproductive health and rights, and, you know, again, sometimes I come in a suit, sometimes I do not, and the criticism I’ve received from some of my partners within coalition spaces are that, you know, they immediately shut down the conversation the second I may walk into an office. Mind you, we’re going to Capitol Hill. Mind you, Capitol Hill’s predominantly white. Mind you, Capitol Hill’s predominantly straight. So they’re shutting down the conversation because my entire body as a black gay man just came into their office, not because of, you know, me not wearing a suit and a tie, and they’re certainly not gonna listen faster just because I wear a suit and a tie.
Preston: On top of that, I’m advocating on behalf of marginalized communities’ rights. So I’m advocating on behalf of abortion access, on behalf of comprehensive sexuality education that’s queer-affirming, advocating on behalf of things like pre-exposure prophylaxis and HIV prevention and treatment. So the conversation is shutting down just because we already don’t agree philosophically, and so I always have to tell people like, “Yes, it may make us feel better to pretend as though white people are going to accept us just because we are, you know, acquiescing to whatever they deem as acceptable, but that’s just simply not true, and I personally in my professional career have refused to do that for the sake of appeasing to a mainstream audience. Now, all of that being said, I think for me, I’ve decided to personally do that, and that is, you know, that’s–again, that’s word I’ve received because people were like, “You are very bold, and I appreciate you for knowing who you are and staying true to that,” and then the challenges sometimes can be, “Okay, I know the space I’m entering. I already know how I’m coming into, you know, this particular space that may or may not be safe and affirming.” So how do I navigate that accordingly? And I think that’s the conversations that I have to have every day and I’m sure that many of your viewers have to have every day too.
Zach: Straight up, yeah. So that actually leads me to my next question. So you’ve done a masterful job of combining your passions around people, particularly the most unheard in our culture and in our country, in our world, in your profession. How were you able to do that, and would you consider that a situation where you’ve, like, arrived? Or is that something you have to really fight to maintain?
Preston: Hm. So, you know, I would say what’s really helped me in these situations honestly have been mentors and people who I’ve networked with, really tight-knit circles and people who support me. I think without mentorships and networking it’s really impossible to–sure, you can live authentically, but I think when you’re pushed into the wall you really still need people to support you and lift you along the way, and I think sometimes that’s what’s difficult about being black and queer and trans when you’re not in spaces like D.C. or Atlanta. I mean, it’s hard still even in these spaces, but spaces like D.C., New York, Atlanta, places that presumed to be more accepting which sometimes are not. You know, if you’re in the rural south, right, how can you get mentors and networking from folks who are, you know, black, queer, and trans who are older, who are viewed as more successful? I will say personally, right, like, I don’t think I can turn on a TV many times and see two black men, two black, same gender-loving men being intimate. You know, I saw it recently. I saw it last week when I watched Pose, and I was shocked because that’s just not something that happens, you know? And I think that’s the thing, like, we have to really kind of come to terms with, right? Like Marlon Riggs one time said, “Black men loving each other is a revolutionary act,” and I think for me I recognize that, and I’m always humbled by my mentors and my networking opportunities. So that’s that. I think it’s really–I fight to maintain it every single day, and sometimes it’s easier than at other times, right? Because I think these mentors who I’ve networked with and who I’ve built loving and affirming relationships with, they will always support me, but I’m still battling a mainstream community who may not, and so, you know, thankfully–and I’m only 32, but thankfully I’ve created this kind of forcefield within myself that I know who to listen to, who to block out voices. It reminds me sometimes of when my friends would read comments after I’ve written articles, and they’ll text me like, “I am so angry what so-and-so said!” I was like, “Who are they?” Right? ‘Cause I’ve learned to just not check them out, and I’ve learned–and it just doesn’t bother me. Unless I feel like being shady on Twitter, chances are I’m not gonna respond to someone negatively responding to me ‘cause it just–I don’t even really realize it frankly, and I think–but I still think you fight to maintain that. You know, being black and queer isn’t easy, you know? Every day we walk around, even within all of our glory and our joy, we have to try to be resilient, and you know what? I think I’ve realized that I’m tired of being resilient. Resilience is a burden. It makes you literally–it puts you on this kind of pedestal if you are resilient and if your black joy shines brighter than others, but what about when people just are depressed and they want to be depressed? Are we turning our back on them because they’re not showing that they’re resilient anymore? And so for me, I’m gonna always fight to maintain it, and some of those days are gonna be better than others. I’m gonna shine. Shine, black boy, shine one day, and the next day I’m gonna be like, “I’m not getting out of this bed. Please bring the nearest bottle of Jack or Hennessy to me,” and that’s just what it’s gonna be, you know? But I do think that what’s really important is for us to kind of really think through queer and trans folks, LGBTQ folks, you know, who battle with ourselves internally every day because of social antagonism, we battle, you know, with white LGBTQ people because many white LGBTQ people–I won’t say many–some white LGBTQ people are racist and refuse to check that racism because, you know, we’re marginalized too, and it’s like, “Your marginalization looks very different.” It’s different, and it’s not layered often times, right? Like, you know, the one thing that I have to share with white people who say, “Well, you know, I grew up poor,” and I was like, “You didn’t grow up poor because you were white though, right?” Like, you can still experience hardships, but your hardships will never be connected to your whiteness. Black and brown folks and other racial minorities can never say that because we know our racial identity is always gonna be cross-connected with another oppression or marginalization that we’re experiencing, and so I think we just always have to kind of put those into play and realize, you know, the battles that we have, internally because of society, with white LGBTQ folks because of racism, and with the black folks because–straight black folks because of homophobia and transphobia, and biphobia frankly. We can’t leave out bisexuality and what that means for a lot of people. So yeah, so, again, you know, mentors helped me. They will always be there along the way. They push and support me, and in turn I give back to younger folks because, you know, without my mentors and without my close friends and my family I wouldn’t know where I would be, and I would also still have to fight to maintain that every day, and I’m fighting to maintain this authenticity and intentionality because without that I’m nothing.
Zach: So, you know, in 2013 you wrote a piece in The Atlantic about coming out as a gay man, and you really tackled the nuances of that decision. Taking a step back, right, as a cis-hetero black man–that’s me, right–I think it’s easy for me to default and kind of just ignore the various identities within, like, just the diaspora, right, within our black space, and I think that speaks to a certain level of privilege. I think that’s pretty obvious. What advice if any do you have for, like, cis-hetero black men who are at the top of their own privilege pyramid of sorts and how they can be mindful, supportive allies?
Preston: Yeah. So since this is a conversation I’ma talk to you like I’m a Baptist preacher.
Zach: Let’s go. [laughs]
Preston: So let me ask you. If your homies, if your straight homies say anything that could be perceived as derogatory about LGBTQ folks, do you think that you would be kind of confident enough in your masculinity and your sexuality to say, “Yo, that’s not cool. Don’t say that.”
Zach: That’s a great question actually ‘cause I have these conversations, right? And so–and you mentioned a point about being a Baptist preacher, so we actually have–we actually have a guest that’s gonna be on the show by the time of this recording in a week. Her name is Janet Pope, and she is the leader of diversity and inclusion for Capgemini, which is, like, this global consulting firm, right?
Zach: She’s actually a colleague of mine ‘cause we both work at the same firm, and so I was telling her about Living Corporate, right? And she was like–she was like, “So you say that you’re gonna include gay people in your discussion around underrepresented communities. How do you align that with your Christianity?” And I was like, “Well, let’s just say for argument’s sake like I believe exactly what the Bible says.” Let’s say that. Let’s (inaudible) what the Bible says. At the end of the day, like, everybody that I see around me are human beings, so if I sit back and I ignore somebody, right, if I ignore somebody or if I try to limit their voice, one I’m practicing the same type of oppression–I’m practicing a cheap form of the same oppression that I complain about, and on top of that you kind of–you actually rob people of their humanity when you ignore them, when you dismiss them, when you downgrade them, right? And so those are the kind of conversations I have with my friends. Thankfully, you know, but I definitely have had other discussions with people where it’s been like–I’ve been like, “Listen, this–like, nah, that’s wack,” or “No, you shouldn’t say that,” or whatever the case is or da-da-da-da. Like, let them live their life. That guy ain’t doing nothing to you. Keep it to yourself.” Whatever, whatever, and, like, those don’t always go well, right? It’s not every–like, I’m 28 years old, so, like, yes, like, I’m starting to get to the age where we’re having these nuanced, comfortable discussions, but man, three, four years ago, four or five years ago, you try to say something like that? Nah, man. It was–it was not like that, but, you know, as you get older–I know you get it. Like you said, you’re in your early 30s. Relationships change, and it’s kind of like, “Okay, I’m gonna let you have it, but you’re gonna have to back up talking to me like that or talking around me like that because I’ma check you every time.”
Preston: Yeah. See, and I–oh, go ahead.
Zach: Last thing is, like, I’m also really passionate about it beyond the fact that, like, what I said before, like, just recognizing and respecting the humanity of everybody, everybody around you, ‘cause they’re human beings. You know, I have gay family members. I have gay friends. So, like, it’s personal to me as well, you know what I’m saying?
Preston: Yeah. See, and I really appreciate all of that because the one thing that I will say is that, you know, it actually reminds me sometimes, I mean similar when I hear–when I talk to black men, and this is not just exclusive to black men but, you know, I am one so that’s–you know, that’s what I know.
Zach: Yes. [laughs]
Preston: And it’s interesting talking to some black men, gay or straight, because something I’ve really noticed is when this conversation comes up when it comes to respect of women, you know, they’re like, “Yeah, I would quickly say something,” but then turn around and make a sexist comment, whether it’s covert or overt or won’t say anything to their friends when they make a sexist comment or a comment around, you know, the way a woman looks or, you know, her body parts, right? And I’m just like, “I know that seems normal, right, because we’re so used to sexualizing women in a culture that promotes rape culture and perpetuates rape culture, but that’s not okay, and that’s also problematic, right?” And so, you know, I think when it comes to–when I think about what straight men can do, what black straight men can do, always think about a couple of things, and I think one of them is certainly, like, when you really hear your homies making comments is to always, you know, be willing to say something, right? Whether it makes you look like you’re emasculated, whether it makes your friends question your sexuality, right? You need to be in solidarity, and I think being in solidarity sometimes is risking, you know, those things like the safehood of your masculinity, the safeness of your sexuality. I think, you know, that is what being an ally looks like. You know, I remember a couple of years ago we were having a protest for BYP100, and it was–you know, we were protesting for violence against trans women, black trans women, and this straight–presumably straight black man outside, who we were like, “Okay, we’re protesting on behalf of black people. Like, maybe, hopefully you should join us.” Quickly, you know, identified in my opinion as a white supremacist. He literally looked like what I imagine white supremacists to look like when they’re yelling at black people in the 60s.
Zach: Goodness. Goodness gracious.
Preston: You know, he got in front of one of my comrades who was a woman and started to yell at her because she’s more masculine-presenting and, you know, made comments like, you know, “If you want to be a man,” you know, insert words here.
Zach: Goodness gracious.
Preston: And so because I am a man I decided to intervene, right? Like that man probably would’ve threw me all around, right? But at the end of the day what allyship to women looks like to me is putting myself in harm’s way so you won’t be hit, right? Like, and I think sometimes we have to really analyze what allyship looks like for us because if people aren’t even willing to speak up when they see harm being done, they’re certainly not willing to, like, take a punch because of it, right? And I’m not saying that everything that happens you have to put yourself in harm’s way, but it was disappointing that other–that straight men out there saw this presumably straight man pretty much attacking a woman and didn’t say anything about it, and then you have to take my queer self with my tight jeans protesting outside to say something to this man, right?
Zach: [laughs] Right, right.
P And to me, now I’m really interrogating what manhood looks like, right? If I’m willing to throw some hands and you’re not. So I think that’s something that really troubles me, and so, you know, I think it’s also important that straight men actually admit that they have a gay friend. It’s amazing how many things that I see on social media posts, like memes, such as “Is it normal for a straight man to have a gay man best friend?” And I’m just like, “Why is this silly meme real?” Right?
Zach: Right? [laughs] Right.
Preston: Like, why are we even questioning this? I’m like–I didn’t literally–like, friendships are not necessarily built upon someone’s sexuality. Now, certainly there is some nuance to that because, you know, before I moved to D.C. I didn’t have many gay friends. I had some. You know, I grew up in Ohio and in North Carolina, which we existed clearly there too, but the numbers weren’t as numerous as here. And a lot of my friendships shifted to more of my LGBTQ friends because that’s the community I felt safer in. They went to the same places I wanted to go to. But I think for–you know, but obviously I still have straight black male friends, and I think, you know, the conversations came up where, you know, I would always go to every single straight bar that you could think of with them. I’m like, “Oh, God.” I’m like, “Y’all want to go to The Park AGAIN?” Like, yeah, I’ma go eat some jerk.
Zach: [laughs] People love Park out there.
Preston: Right? I’m like, “Fine, I’m gonna go eat some jerk, wings, and mac and cheese for $5 with a side of Crown, but also where the gay people at? ‘Cause I don’t wanna be here all night.”
Zach: Straight up, though.
Preston: Right? But then I would ask them like, “Yo, I’m going to this gay party. Black folks, you wanna go with me?” They’re like, “Uh, that ain’t my thing,” and I’m like, “Well, straight? That ain’t my thing either and I’m still here!”
Preston: And so I challenged their friendship because I’m just like, you know, you being the person who is centered in this space expect me, as your gay friend, knowing I’m gay, knowing I may not–
Zach: To make yourself comfortable.
Preston: Exactly. Like, you told me to come here with you, and I did because we’re friends, and I’ma still have a good time because we’re friends, but the second, you know, I tell you to come to a gay club, everything is gay now. Everything is about gayness. It’s not about me being a friend and you supporting your friend at a bar or a club. So, you know, again, I think that’s another thing that straight black men or, you know, straight black allies generally can do is really, you know, admit to having a gay friend, actually going once or twice to a club. Like, right? Get out of your comfort level. One of my fraternity brothers went to the bar with me, and it was amazing how–he’s straight, and it’s amazing how he said to me like, you know, “Yeah, I wasn’t comfortable a little bit, I can’t even lie.” He was like, “But, you know, when somebody tried to hit on me, I basically was just like “I’m straight,” and he left me alone.” And I’m like, “Well, what did you think was gonna happen? I know what you thought. What you thought was gonna happen was the thing that y’all do to straight women, is that y’all keep attacking them even when they tell you no, and y’all assume that all women at any place are straight as if lesbian women don’t exist. So I’m like, you know, “Just because you can’t take no for an answer does not mean that thing is reciprocated in our community.” Now, to be fair, it’s not always–
Zach: [laughs] Preston got these bars for you, dog. He don’t care, boy. He let the yopper spray. My goodness. Keep going, though. [laughs]
Preston: [laughs] But I can talk all the time about this issue because I think straight black men specifically in this conversation have to be better allies and have to figure out, you know, what allyship looks like, what speaking up on behalf of LGBTQ folk looks like, what, you know, sometimes putting yourself in harm’s way, though that shouldn’t be the case, and actually, you know, listening and acting as opposed to just speaking. Not for political gain, not to get the woman you like or the girl you like, but to just be a good ally to be in solidarity with people. So there’s a litany of things that I can continue saying, but it’s just really important that, you know–and I guess I’ll end on this note on saying that, you know, straight–to be good allies, heterosexual people really have to think through what it looks like to demand people to come out. I’ve had so many conversations with people over the years that said something like, “I would respect them if only they were openly gay like you,” and I’m like, “I shouldn’t get any accolades for being openly gay.” I’m in a position where, quite frankly, I pay my bills, I support myself. I’m okay with whatever consequences come my way as a result of me being openly gay. There are many people who cannot afford that. There are many people who can experience homelessness because of being kicked out of homes. There are many people who are exposed to violence every day because of it, and so I think we have to really start having these honest, raw conversations about what it looks like and the harm that people are experiencing when someone says, “I would respect them more if only they were gay like you.”
Zach: Man, that’s profound, though, and I really appreciate you sharing this. I have, like, two more questions, right? So are there any resources you’d like to point the audience to on how to just learn how to be a better ally for the LGBTQ community?
Preston: You know, I think the best resources frankly are everyday interactions with people, you know? ‘Cause I don’t really think you can–I mean, certainly you can Google and read up how to be an ally, but I would truly like to believe that we have enough common sense to understand what allyship looks like. I think the problem is that folks, many–in my honest opinion, many people don’t want equality. They want the ability to oppress other people, right? Like, we like to feel–as much as we try to push against whiteness, we like the ability to be white in many instances, right? And so I think, like, you know, we still have this totem pole, and we’re all trying to not be at the bottom of that totem pole, and so whenever I hear white people say, “Well, Preston, I didn’t know I couldn’t say the N word,” I’m like, “You’re–okay, you’re lying.” Right? Like, you know you shouldn’t have said that. You know you shouldn’t have alluded to it. You know you should’ve skipped over it in every rap song, but now you’re being decentered and you don’t like that feeling. You know what you should or should not do or should or should not say, you know? Straight black men know they should not be homophobic, right? And I will say obviously we can talk about, you know, Judeo-Christian, being Judeo-Christian, we can talk about fundamentalist Christians, we can talk about, you know, traditionalist principles and understandings, and that’s an important conversation to have, but we also have to peel back layers of why we think what we think, right? And why we’re pushing our thought process on other people when we haven’t even really interrogated why we think how we think. You know, many people–we’re just living and existing every day going through the motions based off of what we were told as children, not even questioning why we were told certain things. Growing up, my mom used to always be so frustrated with me ‘cause she’d always be like, “Why do you ask so many questions?” I’m like, “I love you. I know you are never going to harm me, at least intentionally, but I need to know why.” Right? And saying I said so is not an answer. Like, that’s not how youth development works, and I say the same thing for people, like, that’s not how adult development works either. We have to interrogate and question certain things, and I know that’s going a little bit off your question, but it’s only because, you know, right, like, I think resources are such an important thing in question, but I think the only way we can really, you know, truly get to the true resource, and that’s everyday interactions with folks who we want to learn from, right? And be willing, be willing to sometimes be cussed out to get to an answer we want.
Preston: I would like to believe I’m a good ally to trans people, right? I could be completely mistaken, right, ‘cause I’m not trans, and of course I would say I’m a good ally, but I know for me to even become a–for me to have been an OK ally, for me to get here, I had to be cussed out by many trans women for saying the wrong thing, for looking the wrong way, for staring too long at something, right? Like, that was–that was where I existed, you know, some years ago. I think over time the more I started to learn and genuinely be friends with trans folks, right? Like, not transactionally, genuinely be friends with trans folks is when I started to become a better ally. So we have to put ourselves in community with people if they believe, right, if that community believes that they can be safe and affirmed with your presence, ‘cause sometimes the sheer presence of someone is oppressive, and that’s why I always talk about safe spaces. That’s why I always talk about black-dominated spaces and black-only spaces, because sometimes the sheer existence of white people is exhausting, right? Because something will come up. It makes me think about this episode of Dear White People when, like, you know, they went to, you know, a party in Season One, you know, and they’re dancing and having a good time, and I forget what song came on, but of course it was a rap song, and the N word–you know, and somebody said the N word, and I’m just like, “Ugh, of course,” because when white people are around, you can absolutely guarantee it’s gonna be said once by them, right? And that’s exhausting, right? It’s laborious to have to tell someone like, “Can you not—can you not do that?” Like, “It’s Sunday. I’m trying to have a good day. I just prayed earlier,” right?
Preston: I think stuff like that is exhausting. So all that being said, the best resource is talking to people who are living these experiences.
Zach: No, that’s awesome. [laughs] Look, this has been–this has been a great discussion, and, like, to be honest, before we, you know, started recording and everything, I was talking to the team and I was like, “Man, I already know this conversation’s gonna be lit. I can’t wait,” and I’ma be honest with you, Preston, you ain’t let me down at all, not that it should matter.
Preston: I appreciate that.
Zach: Not that my–not that my standards should matter for you at all, but I’m just letting you know I’ve had a great time. I want to thank you for coming to the show again. Before we go, do you have any shout outs? Do you have anyone you’re working with? Any other projects you want to talk about? Anything at all?
Preston: Yes! I would love to shout out our youth activists at Advocates for Youth. We work with about 130 young people throughout the country, many of who are black and brown and queer and trans, and they’re every day working on projects and campaigns related to HIV decriminalization, abortion access and destigmatization. They’re working on–our Young Women of Color Leadership Initiative are working on, like, prison reform issues and issues of criminalization of black girls in schools. Our Muslim Youth Leadership project are literally existing between the identities of being Muslim and queer and trans and are building out platforms and policies on that. Our International Youth Leadership Council are pushing against the Trump administration (and?) the Global Gag Rule. I could continue, but our young people–young people are the most lit people and will literally build a liberation and a new movement that looks like freedom every single day, and so I really want shout out young people at Advocates for Youth and really young people all over the country, especially black and brown young people. You know, your viewers can definitely follow me on Twitter @PrestonMitchum or on Instagram @Preston.Mitchum. I’m really excited. I’m working on a lot of writing projects to come soon, but, you know, I’m really working on a portfolio on sexual and reproductive health and rights, and the last thing that I’ll say, what’s really important is to decriminalize sex work. Something that we’re working on in D.C. is part of the Sex Workers Advocates Coalition, Collective Action for Safe Spaces, BYP100, and HIPS D.C. is–you know, we helped with council member Grosso and council member Robert White on introducing a sex work decriminalization bill. We’re attempting to get it pushed forward, so we’re needing a particular council member, Charles Allen, to move it to the public health and judiciary committee, and so that’s something that’s really important is really thinking about how sex work decriminalization is an LGBTQ issue and ironically enough how people claim to dislike sex workers but masturbate to porn every single morning. And because of that, I’ll leave off here–I’ll leave it off here, but decriminalize sex work, and thank you for the invitation. It’s been amazing.
Zach: [laughs] Man. First of all, again–I keep saying first of all ‘cause I’m just taken aback every single time, but Preston– [laughs]
Zach: So Preston, man. Look, man. As your books drop, as you continue doing what you’re doing, I hope you consider yourself a friend of the show. You’re welcome back any time, and let’s make sure–like I said as you have your things going on, let us know so we can plug ‘em for you.
Preston: Absolutely, Zach. This has been so lit, and I really appreciate being here.
Zach: Man, thank you so much. Okay, y’all. Well, listen, that about does us here. Thank you for joining us on the Living Corporate podcast. Make sure to follow us on Instagram @LivingCorporate, Twitter @LivingCorp_Pod, and subscribe to our newsletter through living-corporate.com. If you have a question you’d like for us to answer and read on the show, make sure you email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. And that does it. This has been Zach. You were talking to Preston Mitchum. Peace.
Outro: Living Corporate is a podcast by Living Corporate, LLC. Our logo was designed by David Dawkins. Our theme music was produced by Ken Brown. Additional music production by Antoine Franklin from Musical Elevation. Post-production is handled by Jeremy Jackson. Got a topic suggestion? Email us at email@example.com. You can find us online on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and living-corporate.com. Thanks for listening. Stay tuned.