Charm Anne | Hello RVA
R I C H M O N D R E S I D E N T , S U R V I V O R A N D A D V O C A T E :
In which we talk about safe spaces, overcoming abuse and the Richmond LGBTQ Community.
TELL ME A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOURSELF AND WHAT YOU DO!
Okay! Well! I work in the city for a store that purchases broken and used electronics and sells them for parts. It’s nice - I get to meet literally anybody and everybody in the city of Richmond, because everybody has broken electronics in some capacity that’s just taking up space. But it can also be kind of sad because I see a lot of people in there who are in desperate need of money and are selling off a lot of their items as a last resort.
I also have a very, very nice and supportive friend group here in the city. A lot of people in the queer community are the people I call my closest friends and I think that’s been really important for me. For the longest time, I’ve never had other queer people that I could really be friends with. And it’s nice having a group of people that I can rely on not to be racist, homophobic, sexist, misogynistic, or transphobic, or xenophobic or any of those things. At the same time, we’re all such different, different people with such interesting and challenging perspectives and viewpoints on certain situations in the city. That’s really nice. Other than that, I don’t do much else other than play video games and hang out with my friends.
DO YOU HAVE ANY OTHER HOBBIES OR SIDE GIGS?
I really enjoy fixing broken things. I like taking stuff apart and putting them back together whenever I can, but I don’t have the most amount of space for it. I make music, and I sing a lot. Oh my gosh, I sing a whole, whole lot. I sing through my entire day - it’s one of my favorite things to do. I also play bass, and my best friend is a teacher of instruments, so I love being taught by them and working together with them to make music and fun times!
HOW LONG HAVE YOU LIVED IN RICHMOND AND WHAT BROUGHT YOU HERE?
This summer, I believe, will be my sixth year living in Richmond. I came here because I used to live in a super abusive household. Pretty much my entire life leading up to moving here was non-stop abuse in some form or another. Whether it was from distant relatives in another state or from my own Father. I put up with a lot of it. A lot of physical and emotional violence, financial abuse and sexual abuse. Eventually, it got to a point where I was like, “I’m not doing this anymore.” So, the last time that my dad put his hands to me was the last time I let him but his hands to me. I wound up taking him all the way to court, I lost the court case and then spent the next nine months being homeless and saving up money to move here.
Although I call it being homeless, it wasn’t super terrible. Toward the end, I was sleeping in vans and garages and stuff... but before that, I was lucky enough to have friends and the family of those friends who were willing to open their homes to me, help me get back on my feet and help me get to the point where I could move here to Richmond. And even to that extent, I have people here to thank. If it wasn’t for [a few local friends] helping to pay for my first month’s rent and security deposit, I probably wouldn’t have been able to do it.
It was challenging the first year or so because I was working overnight shifts at the Waffle House that had just opened on Broad St, and it was extremely violent and volatile there… but since that's what I had come from, I was a little bit more geared toward it and was able to handle it until I was thankfully able to find different and more stable employment. Since then, I’ve just been building my relationship with [my boyfriend] John. We’ve been together for five years now, we’re moving into a house together and we plan on being married within the next year-ish or so.
THAT'S AWESOME! IS THIS OFFICIAL? OR ARE YOU NOT TRYING TO SHARE THE NEWS YET?
I don’t necessarily believe in the institution of marriage and I don’t believe in the Government’s involvement with people’s personal relationships, so it’s not something that I consider official at all. We agreed a while ago that we would like to be married to one another because there are some Government benefits... but mostly, it’s kind of for his mom. I know she wants to see him get married, and I know she doesn’t have any daughters and would like to project that onto me since I don’t really have any parents. They’ll be retiring and moving up north soon-ish, so we kind of want to get it out of the way before they move. So, I mean, it’s definitely something you can put out there, but I’m not super fond of marriage, nor am I fond of heteronormative standards of relationships. Though I am a queer, non binary person with a very complicated sexuality, I am in what appears to be - and is for all intents and purposes - a straight relationship with a cis man. Though, it is kind of weird to call him straight because technically, I’m not a woman… but he loves me all the same and that’s all that matters.
TELL ME ABOUT SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE HAUNTS IN THE CITY?
Some of my favorite places to go. Gosh… I genuinely don’t get out much. I have a lot of newfound social anxiety that keeps me home more often than not. But when I am going out, I’m usually going out to shows. I really like Gallery 5 - I like what they do there, I like that it’s a non profit that really works to have nice, inclusive spaces.
There are a lot of other scenes here in the city too, like the Soft Web Collective. They’re amazing and constantly working toward the inclusion of POC and disabled queer people. I like that there are a lot more places being advertised as being “safe spaces.” I’ve heard a lot of people complain over this, which I find kind of hilarious… because there aren’t very many out there and it shouldn’t matter if there are a couple that are like, “hey, if you’re white and straight and cis and a dude, you should probably stick to the back of the crowd because we’re trying to make space for other people who otherwise feel overwhelmingly dominated by people like you.” And yeah, I think that’s really great!
Another one is The Ice Cream Social. Now, that one is probably one of the most important ones. I personally have not been to many of the events there. (You know, as a white person with a lot of social anxiety.) The Ice Cream Social aims to be inclusive strictly for POC and black bodies. They want a safe place for queer and trans black people to be able to be themselves and dance and have fun… and not have to worry about being overcrowded by the white presence in the VCU downtown area. There’s a lot of students that start roaming the city when the new year starts, looking for the parties. They wind up infiltrating these spaces and they’re drunk, loud and they don’t understand. They’re disrespectful and offensive and it’s nice to have these groups that are willing to push back, challenge and negate that. And the people who run the Ice Cream Social are just amazing people. One person in particular is Jafar Flowers and Jafar is just wonderful. They’re a huge figure in the queer black community in Richmond and they do so much work all of the time to make the Ice Cream Social what it is and to make these spaces available for people of color in the city to get together.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU AND HOW DO YOU GET YOUR MOTIVATION?
Before, I used to be motivated to get out of the living situation that I was in. And then I was motivated to survive, stay alive, keep a roof over my head and not fuck up living on my own and being an independent person. Unfortunately, I don’t have the luxury of having family members or a support system outside of my one relationship with John. So, if I screw the pooch, if I lose my job or any kind of emergency happens, I’m kind of on my own. Or at least, that’s how I used to feel. Now that I’ve been with John for five years, I do feel like his family and his parents would help support me if anything were to happen… and that’s extraordinarily relieving to know. Because again, not having family is terrifying. Absolutely terrifying.
Now that I’ve recently hit the five year mark of overcoming my trauma - my main and biggest trauma - it’s an important milestone. I’ve had enough time to really recover and I no longer have the same anxieties or the same triggers. I’ve gotten a solid grip on my life, where I am and what I do.
Now, I aim to do more by eventually going back to school. This is a very daunting task because I see people around me trying to go to school and failing or flunking out, and being indebted for years and years. I know people who have graduated and have careers in their fields that don’t pay them enough to even begin to think about paying off all that debt they accrued. That’s really scary. But it’s still a task I think is necessary for me to undertake just to lift myself off of the poverty line. I don’t want to have to rely on jobs that only pay me nine dollars an hour for the rest of my life. I want to be able to something and do something good. So, I’d really like to focus on climate science. I do think that climate change is extraordinarily real and I think it’s a field that needs more bodies being thrown into it. If there are more people willing to go in, advocate for it and work for it, then more people might start paying attention. And, you know, every person counts right?
WHAT KIND OF ADVICE WOULD YOU HAVE FOR SOMEONE WANTING TO EXPLORE THESE SAFE SPACES OR ADVOCACY GROUPS?
My biggest word of advice for people in any kind of safe space, or if they’re interested in attending, is knowing what space you should be allowed to take up. A lot of people identify as trans when they’re not binary and I do as well. So, I don’t necessarily go out and take up spaces that are reserved for binary trans people. I don’t experience body dysphoria in the same way that they do. Like, if I were to go to the Ice Cream Support Group. Like I said, being a white person and knowing that’s not a group that’s necessarily designed to cater to me, it’s important to know how much of that space I should take up and try not to draw attention to myself, or be the center of the dance floor. Reserve that for the people who are being celebrated there!
It’s the same with being agender or queer. When it comes to my gender identity and my sexuality, I tend to take up as little space as possible because I’m still very, very privileged. Like I said, I’m in a seemingly het relationship with a man. I am pretty cis passing. I don’t do a lot with my gender expression that would necessarily cause people to think that I’m non binary or anything other than cis. It’s for that reason that I would not go into a space either online or in the real world that are meant to protect and celebrate other trans people who are more marginalized than myself.
Things do happen to me and I have to overhear and bite my tongue at certain things... but most of those things that I overhear or experience is never directly said to or about me. But that happens to a lot of my other friends. People are constantly taking pictures of them in public to share on Facebook or Snapchat just to make fun of them. Stuff like that doesn’t happen to me. So, when I go into those spaces, I mostly keep to myself unless directly asked. Because again, it’s not about me. I still have that modicum of privilege.
I guess if I’m looking to give advice on anything, the one thing that I’m specialized in is overcoming trauma and abuse. I don’t really have any advice for other people trying to overcome trauma and abuse, but I have a lot of advice to give to people who have friends overcoming trauma and abuse.
That is to always inconvenience yourself for them.
If you know someone who is in a bad situation, it might be inconvenient, it might be annoying and it might be difficult for you to open your house to them. But if you have the means to, I think that you should. I would not be where I am today if people did not inconvenience themselves for me. I am so lucky to have had so many people willing to open their homes, their hearts and their wallets for me to get me out of that situation.
People had opened up their homes to me before, during the third final bout with my father. I had tried several times before but each time, I wasn’t quite ready yet. That’s very common for people who are in abusive households - especially when they’re family members or spouses or people they have known for an exceptionally long time. It is not easy to change your entire life. So, if your friend keeps on going back, I don’t think that you should give up on them or berate them. I think that you should only ever continue to support them.
If you shut yourself off to them because you feel betrayed... like you did all this work to help them and they’re going back anyway… they won’t have anywhere to go the next time. And the next time could be the last time. It can take years for people to get out of abusive situations, but it’s still important to help them and do what you can for them. Whether it’s donating to their PayPal or Venmo, opening your home to them or just treating them to food every once in a while and giving them a place to escape to.