By: Alyssa Curran
Bliss Cortez is a creative consultant, producer, and educator who works to establish safe spaces for marginalized communities in Tennessee. Bliss focuses on community building and resource sharing with people of color, queer people and the intersection of the two. We talked with Bliss about representation, identity, and storytelling within the context of a changing Nashville.
Tell me about founding QTPOC (queer, trans, people of color) Nashville.
I moved here 7 years ago and noticed that in post-flood Nashville, the city was changing rapidly and gentrification was rampant across the city. Marginalized communities were being pushed out at a scary pace.
I felt like there were not many community gathering opportunities for people of color and/or queer people. I would go to events and be the only person of color in the room, and that was incredibly isolating. I knew I wasn’t the only one feeling this way.
One particular night stands out. I was on a shoot and an older drunk man ran up to me, wrapped his body around mine, rubbed up against my body and held on. I could feel him smelling my hair and holding by body and it was terrifying. I still can feel the feelings I felt that night- fear, disgust. I needed a community of people to connect with where I felt safe.
I set out to create this safe space - a place to talk openly about issues happening around us and how they affect us, situations we find ourselves in, let each other know about happenings around town, and to just take care of each other.
I started QTPOC Nashville as a Facebook group for queer and trans people of color. We’re now a collective and a family. We look out for each other. We gather. We talk. We have fun. We share resources.
What’s an example of a QTPOC Meetup?
One of my favorite events recently, we took over the movie theater to watch Black Panther together. We spread out on the reclining chairs like the lounging panthers we were and spent a night building each other up and watching strong black portrayals. We ended the night discussing what that representation meant to us.
What’s next for QTPOC Nashville?
Recently, I posed a question on Facebook, “Can you recommend a doctor to visit where I can feel safe as a person of color and also a queer?” This spurred a great deal of conversation around resourcing and safe spaces. I want to create a network, a kind of database, to share information like this – a site that details anything you’ll need: doctors, accountants, counselors, etc. – people and resources to turn to without fear.
You’re the regional producer for The Moth Nashville, a live, monthly storytelling event held at the Basement East. Can you tell me about the origins and evolution of this event and how we can get involved?
The Moth is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the art and craft of storytelling. It was born in New York and they have been doing shows across the globe for 22 years. The Moth is also a podcast where some of the stories that are told are broadcasted on NPR, locally WPLN.
I started with The Nashville Moth hoping to create a safe space for marginalized voices. The Moth has a strong following and has historically served an audience of upper-class people of certain demographic and, as a whole, is not representing as many marginalized voices. So, I’ve really worked to see queer and/or people of color feeling comfortable and thriving in this space.
What is a typical Nashville Moth StorySLAM like and how we can get involved?
We produce each show with a different theme. Last month, the theme was education. In a city with so many different kinds of schools, universities and levels of academia, I was excited to hear what people had to share. Storytellers arrive, put their name in a hat and are drawn randomly. Some are repeat storytellers. Some have a prepared monologue. It’s different each month. It’s not all people with theater or public speaking experience. There’s a mix of people from different backgrounds, careers, ages, etc. Last month we had a construction worker put his name in the hat and tell his story and it was very compelling. It’s amazing how much can be shared in the five-minute window that each person is allotted.
The theme for October is disguises. Join us on 10/15 at the Basement East. All are welcome!
You recently spoke at the annual Girls to the Moon “Campference”, for 10-14 year olds. How was this experience and what did you share?
My heart fluttered as soon as you brought it up! I was approached by Freya West, a talented burlesque dancer in town, and asked to speak. I wasn’t sure what to talk about at first. Then I realized, what are 10-14 year olds really struggling with? Well, a lot of things, but some of the big ones are representation and identity. As a black, latinx, queer, non-binary person, I have so many layers to my identity. I’ve had to find my representation in little spurts. I told my story.
I told the children and their caregivers that for me, as a child, Uhura from Star Trek was the first strong, black person that I remember seeing on television. When I looked into it, she was indeed one of the first black women to be featured on tv and not portrayed as a slave or servant. It was a breakthrough role for black women. There were other shows like Fresh Prince which were important, too, but these were comedies and the characters weren’t portrayed with much depth or a range of human emotion. I was growing up in a time and place where I was told that I was not like everyone else and my existence was wrong. I had to relate to representations of strong, creative blackness in pieces.
I made my session interactive, asking questions like, “What do you think queerness means?” And their responses were beautiful. “Doesn’t it mean loving who you want to love?” I realized as I was standing on the podium that I was serving as the representation for these kids that I really longed for when I was growing up.
The day was pure magic. Speakers touched on topics from body positivity, processing emotions, and money management, to periods and body changes. It was an event I wish I had offered to me when I was growing up and I was proud to be part of it.
Who is a hero or influential figure who you relate to?
Janelle Monae and the way she brings people together is a hero of mine. She reaches communities from all walks of life and that speaks to me. The way I’ve grown up, I have often lived among predominantly white communities and have had to learn to navigate through really difficult conversations, harassment, sexism, racism, and homophobia. People see my afro and feel like, “this is someone I should talk some shit to” and I’ve really learned to navigate situations. Even when there are people who are saying problematic things, I can talk to them about why they’re saying those things. I end up teaching a lot on accident. Janelle is also a teacher and I love that about her.
What’s next for you?
I’ve built a wonderful collective of people in my life. One of my goals is to open up a community center for marginalized people. In this space, we would bring the QTPOC group to life and have a safe space where we could gain support from one another, create relationships, have educational speakers, and teach actionable skills, like financial tips, mental health resources, housing tips, etc. I’m also seeking speaking opportunities, eager to share my story like I did with Girls to the Moon.