Queer Issue 2024

The Books of Love

Charlie’s Queer Books Is a Welcoming Space for Seattle’s LGBTQ+ Lit Nerds

The Future of HIV Treatment Is Injectable

Promising Drugs Could Expand Treatment–If We Get Out of Our Own Way

What’s Next for Denny Blaine?

Maybe New Rules, but Certainly Fewer Thorns

Dave Upthegrove Wants to Save the Trees

...And Become Washington State’s First Gay Executive While He’s at It

Queer Issue 2024 Pickup Locations

Looking for a Copy of This Year’s Queer Issue? You Can Find One at the Following Locations.

Can Seattle Drag Afford to Stay Weird?

Rising Costs, and Fewer Beginner-Friendly Venues, Are Sanitizing Seattle’s Drag Scene

50 Years of Queers

Gay Betrayals! Rich Prudes! Queer Futures! And an Absolutely Stuffed Pride Calendar!

The Gays Who Slayed and the Gays Who Betrayed

Not Every Queer Politician Is an “Ally”

The Reality Behind the Story I Told The Stranger

I Said I Was Detrans, but Really I Was Struggling

Out of This World

Forming the SassyBlack Universe

The Futures of Seattle’s Gayborhood

An Architect, an Urban Planner, a Documentarian, an Academic, and a Business Owner Imagine What Capitol Hill Will Look Like in 50 Years

When I moved to Seattle from the Big Island, Hawaii, in 1997, was 10 years old and expecting to go to school and live a life not unlike Lisa Turtle’s in Saved by the Bell. I thought I would be a cool kid. I didn’t even realize Seattle was a real place until I moved here, I thought it was just a made-up city used as a backdrop for Sleepless in Seattle. The unknown made me feel limitless.

But whoa, I was way off.

On the first day of school, I was clowned by everyone after they assumed I was a substitute teacher. Didn’t help that I was dressed like a 40-year-old and already fully developed. I stood out in all the wrong ways and wanted to flee back to homeschool.

Weird to say, but the bullying was a godsend—I worried less about being the next Lisa Turtle and instead focused my energy elsewhere, on music, theater, and writing. I would write songs and poems and make up characters with all these different personality traits. And it got me on stage at a young age. I won my first prize for a poem about Martin Luther King Jr. at age 12 and was in the ensemble every summer for a performance piece called The MAAFA Suite (later Sankofa Theatre) at the Moore. 

Kids stayed cruel—I felt like I was an oddity with my afro, low alto/tenor voice, and unique style of clothes—but their cruelty fueled my creativity. I would write in my journal about my future as a famous singer and actor and practice my signature regularly. It wasn’t long ’til I found my first little crew of weirdos who were into a lot of the same things I was. They staged annual Shakespeare in the Park performances and hung on Broadway on Capitol Hill. I was around 12 years old and I remember how exciting it was to see adults (though mostly white) out and proud. In these small circles, I discovered my attraction to not only boys but girls, too. It’s where I learned the term bisexual and I was too excited to proclaim it. Although it felt freeing, I still longed to make these realizations alongside Black kids.

By high school, I had drifted from my little friend group. I was their only Black friend and they didn’t understand when I called them out on the racist things they would say in passing about me or other Black kids. Around the age of 15, I got into activism with the Quaker organization American Service Friends Committee. Not only was it ethnically diverse, but it was also LGBTQIA+ friendly. From 15 to 19 years old, I organized, marched, and protested as part of Youth Undoing Institutionalized Racism and Queer Youth Rights.

It was wonderful to have found another safe space, but it came with its own issues. Seattle felt progressive, but I saw how much it took as a young person to make positive change in a city that was more interested in commercial growth. The form of activism I was pursuing took a lot of my energy, and at the end of my senior year of high school, I was at a crossroads: Activism or artistry? I decided to do both, but my way.

While attending Cornish College of the Arts, I still dealt with people’s ignorance about my sexuality and my Blackness, but I was keeping myself occupied with my creative pursuits. I was still acting, was in a couple of bands, and, in my senior year, formed my psychedelic, space rap jazz group THEESatisfaction with my partner at the time. We made our debut at my senior recital, and it was then that I found some of my closest friends who understood me and all my complexities.

My music career took off—THEESatisfaction played countless shows at venues like Neumo’s, the Crocodile, and Nectar, and toured North America, Europe, and China. We opened up for Erykah Badu, Big Freedia, Little Dragon, and Black Star and we signed to Sub Pop in 2011. I was in a whole new world. I knew Seattle wasn’t ready for something as experimental as two women in a relationship, rapping and singing together about being Black, being queer, and dealing with oppressive systems at large, but hell, we did it anyway. And we felt some pushback. Some people loved us but often assumed we were sisters, and some of the people who knew we were a couple hated that and tried to keep us from opportunities or mispronounce our names when we hit the stage. And after a while, there was also internal conflict. 

It was quite painful when the group officially ended in 2016. I knew it was time to do what I had journaled about as a child and launch a solo career. It was time to introduce the world to SassyBlack, the High Priestess of Psychedelic Soul & Hologram Funk. 

SassyBlack was born in 2013. I deemed myself SassyBlack because the name was relatable, catchy, and raw. I could be my fullest self with this name, which became a double-edged sword, but one I wasn’t afraid to parry with. At first, it was new and rough, but I loved it because it was all me. It wasn’t until my second EP, Personal Sunlight, came out in 2015 that it really hit me. I felt a wave of energy like nothing I’d ever felt. Each project that followed spoke to my Blackness, queerness, womaness, and otherness. And with this new stage name came a flood of new ideas. I felt renewed. I returned to writing short stories and creating characters like I did as a kid, but this time it was based on my life and my travels. Especially the lessons I learned—some the hard way. SassyBlack became the first character I would bring to life, making way for Emerald Jett.

Emerald Jett’s story started as a theme song and was inspired by shows like Living Single, Broad City, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and Flight of the Conchords. She was a weirdo Black girl like me but with powers. I wanted to flesh out her musical world but never had the time. In 2019, everything changed. I was in a car accident and suffered from intense neck, shoulder, and back pain, making it impossible to go on my tour for my third album, Ancient Mahogany Gold. I was devastated. I didn’t know then, but that would be my last chance at touring for years to come.

During lockdown, I got an email from the 5th Avenue Theater about an opportunity to compose for a one-woman show. There it was again, storytelling calling me in a new format. I took the gig and asked to be on the list for more opportunities like that. 

A few months later, I heard they were accepting submissions for First Draft, a musical development program that supports new plays from marginalized communities. Emerald Jett’s time had come. I knew for sure her story would be a quirky musical about someone who needed a change as desperately as I did with a sci-fi funk twist. I was accepted into the program and received guidance, funding, and script readings with a cast. It was life-changing.

I’m hosting my first public Seattle reading of Emerald Jett on August 9 at the Northwest Film Forum as part of my 10 Years of SassyBlack celebration. Producing a musical is expensive, so I’m creating new ways to bring it to life while I continue to revise the script and fundraise.

These past 10 years have been a huge shift in the way that I work, create, love, and live. Growing out of my overly excited, fast-paced self into a more aware, focused, and well-positioned artist has been exhausting. I’m still feeling the growing pains, and I don’t think those feelings will ever go away if I do it right. Through writing and composing projects like Emerald Jett, I can get to the core of my feelings and be more present. I learned to cherish my uniqueness and use it as a superpower. The things that made me an outsider also shaped my artistry and gave me the courage to be SassyBlack and, more importantly, myself.

The Emerald Jett Reading with SassyBlack is Friday, Aug 9 at Northwest Film Forum, 7 pm, $12-$15. Learn more about her upcoming projects at sassyblack.com.