Author Chloe O. Davis discusses her book and its contribution to the English language

We continue our series of conversations with the ILTA Literary Café Event participating panelist. Next up is Chloe O. Davis. Ms. Davis is a proud Black bisexual woman, writer and performer. She has appeared on PBS’ Great Performances with Porgy and Bess at the Metropolitan Opera, Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert on NBC, and has performed with the Philadelphia Dance Company (PHILADANCO!). She has spent fifteen years researching, writing and creating The Queens’ English, The LGBTQIA+ Dictionary of Lingo and Colloquial Phrases. The book is an examination of the American LGBTQ+ culture, including the impact of the Harlem Renaissance on African American gay culture and more.  “Who is this book for? It is literally for everyone. Those in the community who deserve to be celebrated deserve to have the visibility to show how beautifully unique they are, ” said Davis. Here’s what else she shared.

PrideIndex (PI): Please introduce yourself and your book.

Chloe Davis (CD): My name is Chloe Davis. I’m the author of The Queen’s English, the LGBTQIA + Dictionary of Lingo, and Colloquial Phrases. It is a celebration of over 800 terms used to describe our collective: gay, queer, trans, bi, and non-binary experiences. It is a resource that not only celebrates but affirms and brings visibility to the spectrum of human identity. It is literally about the history and identity of and pride that’s often forgotten, when we talk about the LGBTQ+ community and more particularly about being black and gay, bi, trans, and our history regarding the Harlem Renaissance and the ballroom scene, poets, lyricists, and writers from the 1980s AIDS crisis. It’s a book that highlights and affirms our identity and also the intersectionality of our identities.

PI: What made you come up with the number 800? That’s quite a bit, like an encyclopedia. More than here’s 15 terms or here’s 25.

CD: This is over a decade’s worth of research. I started this dictionary in 2006. I wanted to create a resource that affirmed my identity and who I am as a black bisexual woman and celebrate and bring appropriate credibility to language from the black gay community. But more so when it comes from the ballroom scene. It started with just terms like “slay,” “work,” “over,” “come through,” “push through,” words that we know. It grew because of the spectrum of identity spectrum of sexual orientation and gender expression. I just found it essential that I wasn’t necessarily finding resources that documented these words but documented the intersectionality of these words. Often, when we have resources on something gay, and queer comes from a perspective that’s white, that’s from a white lens as from a white male lens, white cisgender male lens. And that’s not always the case. That’s not everyone’s story. I wanted to make sure that this dictionary was inclusive, diverse and highlighted the identities of the people, the culture, the pride that lives within this large umbrella of lgbtqi+.

PI: Can you describe for us that moment of epiphany when you knew that you just had to write this book?
CD: It was a challenge. In the beginning, I selected in terms, and I’m so grateful for my friends. I was part of the Philadelphia Dance Company (PHILADANCO!), and that’s where the idea started. And a lot of my friends are part of the ballroom scene, and I guess after about 50 to 60 terms that I had just like playfully written down and, talk through, the definitions or definition of the word. Then I just said this is like a fully developed language and, there needs to be a dictionary for it. I was joking, but honestly, my friend was like, When are you going write a call to Queen’s English, so that is how it got its name. But I think that at the moment of epiphany, why I kept going right? Over time, I realized the value of people being able to share their stories and their lens, right and just having again, a dictionary of scholarly sources that give credibility to a community that has often been marginalized off just As, experiences homophobia, transphobia, queerphobia racism, genderism all of these things. And to say no, but the validity is there, this is a dictionary, these are words, this is our pride. So, learn about us, respect us, encourage us, embrace us, because Are we not a part of humanity. It was just one of those things that became a passion, but I think I just began to be on a permanent stand in my purpose.

PI: What were some of the challenges you face as you wrote this book? How did you overcome those challenges?

CD: The challenge was the stick-to-iveness to complete it. I continued to work on this book whether or not I had a publisher. I felt the value was significant. It was a challenge because I felt like this would ever get done. It went from a list of 50 to 100 to 200, and now there are over 800 terms. I was provided the resources and the knowledge, and support to do it.

The next big challenge was how a publisher could support you because it is controversial. I’m with Clarkson Potter; it’s the imprint of Penguin Random House.

The other challenges were that I’m a black woman in this publishing world and advocate for my voice to be respected and heard; my publisher supports my vision and does not whitewash it. My publishers would have to lean into a black woman who can lead the story that she’s trying to tell. I grew as I faced those challenges. I know how to advocate for myself and keep pushing the conversations to understand the true spectrum of human identity, sexual orientation, relationship, sexual anatomy, gender identity, or gender expression. All of these layers of who we are are essential. And it’s a spectrum, and it’s diverse, and it should be celebrated and not demeaned, or belittled, or ostracized. We’re beautiful. And we all need to embrace our uniqueness because that is the accurate idea of humanity.

PI: Who did you write this book for? What is the ultimate takeaway you like for that reader to take away from this book?

CD: I think that is the question is, Who is this book for? It is literally for everyone. Those in the community who deserve to be celebrated deserve to have the visibility to show how beautifully unique they are. It’s for those who are allies who want to learn more about the community; it’s about those who don’t know if they belong in the community or not. Writing this book was a beautiful journey for me to find more words that I’ve identified with over my journey with identity. It’s for diversity, equity inclusion conversations in the workplace, educational institutions, and religious institutions. Right. It is truly a book for everyone. The takeaway is that I want to encourage those conversations, again, really valuing and celebrating the diversity of humanity, rights, and the spectrum of society and diving into other people’s stories. Right? Every everything is not heteronormative. What is normal and everything’s not homonormative. What is normative is diversity; what is normative is complexity and layers and differences. And so I think that that’s the takeaway from this. It’s just like, it’s a dictionary that, that’s, it’s beautiful. It’s colorful, it’s engaging, there are illustrations, but it’s done in a way that makes anybody pick it up and feel like it’s relatable. And it’s interesting, and they can learn. So the takeaway is, I want people to know more about themselves. I want us to understand more about who we are. And I want us to learn about others who are different from

PI: How did you decide which terms to include in this book?

CD: I wanted to document as many as possible, when and the research of like, connecting with so many people, like first I am part of, I’m in the entertainment industry. I’m a writer, performer, dancer, and actor, so I’m in artistic spaces. And the beautiful thing about being creative spaces is, it’s usually part of a community that allows us to be ourselves and our most authentic state, right? I’m able to meet people solid and confident and being out whether they’re gay, or bi, or trans or binary, whether they’re poly whether they, they’re into kink fetish. BDSM, what I mean, I’m able to have these conversations. My goal was to bring in as many terms as possible from these different communities, lifestyles, and identities. I didn’t see a resource with that type of exposure, or direction, or celebration. And so, as many words as I could find and define all of those usage notes. If it had anything to do with identity, I tried to make sure that was in here. I also understood that, like, even there are over 100 terms, I’m still one person. This book is a mere sliver of the vocabulary that’s out there that genuinely articulates the LGBTQIA + experiences. It’s a great starting point for us to continue to document this language.

PI: Did you find that some terms don’t always mean the same thing?

CD: Absolutely. That’s the reason why my dictionary is so sick. It’s not simply the term or usage, the part of speech, or the definition or definitions. There is more than one way to define a word. When did this word come into your hemisphere? Think about someone who is 20 versus someone who is 60. “Queer” was once a derogatory term that identified with being homosexuality. In the 1980s, during the AIDS crisis, “queer” was re-appropriated and taken as a gift like a more positive self-identifier. Now millennials or Gen Z, use this word, someone who is either non-heterosexual or just non-cisgender. It’s an umbrella term that gives fluidity to someone’s identity. That’s what we mean by different ways to define “queer;” both are valid. To many, it is still a derogatory term. We have to make sure to include the definitions of “faggot” and “dyke.” They have been re-appropriated by some community members and now are self-title or celebratory terms. The term “dyke” comes from “bulldyke” or “bulldagger.” “Bulldyke” was shortened to “dyke” and became a derogatory term. It was re-appropriated by the lesbian community. “Bulldagger” came from the Harlem Rennaisance. Henry Louis Gates Jr. said the Harlem Rennaisance “was surely as gay as it was black.”

PI: Describe your writing process? How did you nurture ideas and bring them as you were writing this dictionary?

CD: I’m very proud to say that most of the research came from conversations with individuals across the United States. Terms also came from the ballroom scene, RuPaul Drag Race, mainstream pop culture, blogs, and group conversations with others. Whenever I would hear a word in Miami and heard the same term in LA and Chicago, I knew we’re onto something.

PI: Do you see yourself writing another book piggybacking off this one? Maybe a Part 2 or series of books?

Yeah. I think it’s such an important document. It could need to be updated in two or three years as our language evolve and grow. I think what is timely now is a children’s edition. This dictionary is suitable for high schoolers and grades up; Gen Z seems to understand the identity spectrum more than generations before. They need guidance as well to figure out what’s happening. We’re hearing more stories of trans youth at the age of 10 or 11, understand who they are, and need support, whether gender affirmation care or other resources.

PI: After the ILTA Literary Cafe Event, where do you plan on promoting this book?

CD: My book is available at most of your independent bookstores, Barnes and Noble and Amazon. I think it’s important to dive into more corporate, work settings and educational institutions, educational institutions. I will continue to promote the book in those ventures as well.

PI: Which of the following best describes this book?
A.) A butterfly, beautiful and free.
B.) A flower that you would give to a lover as a gift of admiration.
C.) A glass of fine wine meant to be enjoyed and savored.
D.) A well-cooked meal that you enjoy with a lover or friend.

CD: Wow, that’s art. I’m going to say (D). I think it’s like a meal that you enjoy with lovers, friends, family; it’s a conversational piece, is something that every time you open it is, it’s the right key. It’s good for the soul. It’s inspiring, motivational, and, if you can get anything you want to steak lobster, vegan plant-based wherever you want.

PI: What’s next for you on the horizon?
CD: I am a creative performer and actor. Broadway was shut down due to COVID 19, but it is coming back. I’m in a play called The Paradise Square in Chicago from November 6 – December 5. And then we come to Broadway in February of 2022. I’m excited to get back on stage.

Meet Author Chloe O. Davis in person at the ILTA Literary Café Event on Saturday, September 4th at the Atlanta Marriott Suites Midtown, 35 14th St NE, Atlanta, GA 30309 from 1:00 pm – 3:30 pm.