Recently honored by Mayor Lightfoot and the LGBTQ Advisory Council as a community leader who has "helped build the foundation for a more welcoming, equitable and inclusive Chicago," Precious Brady-Davis wants to do it all. She is a trans advocate, career woman, wife, mother, consulting producer for an HBO docuseries and an activist for the environment with future public office aspirations.
Windy City Times previewed her unapologetic, heartfelt memoirI Have Always Been Meand spoke with Brady-Davis on growing up in and out of foster care, being present and centered, and the ability to transform into something new through our experiences.
Windy City Times: How have the pandemic and quarantine been for you?
Precious Brady-Davis: I was finishing up the book, so it was such an introspective time, as we were dealing with the pandemic and I was excavating my life. There was a silver lining in it for me, that I really got to create space to finish writing the book. But also, I had a baby at home and as a working parent not having child care, we didn't send her to daycare because we wanted to be safe. And we didn't want to have a nanny or an au pair in the home because of COVID; it was certainly a dance.
WCT: It's been quite a time.
PB-D: So grateful to have a wonderful partner who I get to do life with. It was overwhelming at times, but it was also a blessing because I got to witness so many developmental moments with my little baby girl, Zayn. Myles and I got to witness so many milestones.
WCT: How has motherhood changed you?
PB-D: Motherhood has changed me in ways I never thought possible; sacrifice is at the core of your life. It has extended the amount of love and capacity that I thought I possessed and shown me the depth to which caring for another person can expand the borders of who you are. Being a parent really shows you what matters the most in life and that's family. Family is everything.
WCT: What made you want to share your story?
PB-D: I really wanted to make sure that there were places in my life that were restored before I could even enter into being a caretaker. My whole life, I have dealt with a lot of trauma and I think in order to move on with my life, I wanted to be completely free.
WCT: How so?
PB-D: I grew up in a time in which I was told that, "children are seen and not heard" and "the secrets that are said in this house, stay here." I felt that those secrets were creating intergenerational trauma that was passed down to me. I wanted to break that cycle of trauma. Now, the curse is broken there are no more secrets. My life is rooted in a place of divine healing and that chapter of my life is closed.
WCT: Confronting painful subjects can sometimes be freeing.
PB-D: I also talk about being a foster kid in the book. Foster kids have so many disadvantages when it comes to housing, education and when it comes to looking for a place to belong in the world. For years, I struggled to find a place for myself in the world. This book is a chance for a young person to see that love is possible. I think that so many marginalized young people have the experience of not feeling love. My story is rooted in finding oneself and trusting in the power of your own vision for your life when there is nothing created for you.
WCT: Has the book opened conversations or helped heal rifts with your family?
PB-D: One of the things that I'm most proud of out of this book is, there's now an open line of communication with my biological mother. At the beginning of writing this book, I was still harboring feelings of resentment of being given up. But as I started writing, I felt like I saw her. I saw the ways in which she experienced the intergenerational trauma that was top down for her.
WCT: How did you come up with the title of the book?
PB-D: "I've always been me" is a declarative statement of celebration. It is a statement of standing in my truth. This book is really about centering Precious Brady-Davis. I feel it has really facilitated some hard conversations with members of my family that I think have been extremely restorative to me and them.
WCT: What do you hope this book does?
PB-D: As we see the rise of trans visibility across the United States and around the world, folks see transness and individuals who are gender-nonconforming as some sort of new phenomena, and that is not true. We have a great history that was erased.
WCT: Very true.
PB-D: From as long as I can remember, from turning a picnic table into a stage, tying a blanket around my waist, and holler singing Whitney Houston, I have always been a gender non-conforming trans being. I want people to see that there isn't just one moment in our life when we arrive. We need various pieces to reach the fullness of our identity, as we grow up, as we morph into the fullness of our existence. This is who I always have been.
WCT: There was a line in the book that read, "a new part of me was unfolding but I was losing a part of myself too." What was that in reference to?
PB-D: That reference is specifically in regards to drag performance. While drag was a vehicle in which various facets of my identity came forward, I felt the nature of nightlife and the performance of being a character was taxing. At that time, I was performing in Boystown, which is a predominantly white, gay neighborhood. To be a Black queen who is constantly forced to perform, there can be a minstrel aspect.
WCT: Oh, for sure.
PB-D: In that, people prescribe to you who you need to be, especially when you're a Black queen. They tell you what kind of music you need to perform and how you need to look, and they don't want you to perform R&B. They just want you to perform pop music and that was exhausting because I've always been inspired by great women of soul like Diana Ross. I felt like the pressure of nightlife and it not being an inclusive community literally sucked the soul out of me.
WCT: It's interesting because there's a lot of Chicago gay nightlife nostalgia in the book, like dollar drink night at Spin, but it's definitely bittersweet as you touch on the racism and classism of Boystown and the tokenization that you experienced in what should have been safe LGBTQ spaces, whether in the clubs or in your career.
PB-D: I feel extremely conflicted about that time. On the positive side, I celebrate that time because I did what I came to Chicago to do: to be a performer and to create a name for myself. I probably performed for a good decade that's a great career for a queen.
PB-D: The other systemic things I had to navigate, when you talk about the pieces that were stealing my soul away for me, it was the racism, it was the Take Back Boystown campaign that attempted to eradicate the trans and queer youth who came to Boystown to seek vital services from The Center on Halsted and Howard Brown. It was being told that there could only be one Black queen in a show; not being paid what we're worth and being pitted against each other as queens of color.
PB-D: That's why I'm so proud of those girls of the Chicago Black Drag Council last summer who really stood up and said there needs to be some systemic changes here in the ways in which we recognize performers, and who's getting booked at these clubs.
WCT: The book focuses a lot on your relationship with spirituality and religion: how it made you feel safe and able to find your voice, but was also used against you by family. Tell us more about how you reconcile those conflicts between your sexuality and your faith.
PB-D: It took me many years to reconcile my faith and sexuality. It was an LGBT literature course that really created that first place of alignment within myself. Seeing the history of LGBTQ folks and that LGBTQ identity can intersect with spirituality, that was life-affirming. But, spirit is in everything it's me walking down the street and looking up at the sun, thinking about my place in this global world. It's me connecting with a piece of art, me connecting with another person, it's me closing my eyes and taking a breath and centering myself.
WCT: Wow, yes.
PB-D: I think it's really evolved to my identity. I hope other people see that as they read the book, that the transformations in the book, that is my spirituality. It's unfolding a new layer of myself. Sometimes it's letting something go. Or becoming a new iteration of myself. Over the years, it has been becoming attuned to self that has really set me free. That I don't have a prescribed spirituality, it is me. I am, I am, I am.
I Have Always Been Me: A Memoir by Precious Brady-Davis (TOPPLE Books) is available for pre-orders at www.amazon.com/dp/1542044308/ and will be released in July 2021.