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  • Writer's pictureHina Siddiqui

Queer Lives: Season 1 | Episode 4




I love people’s stories. I find great joy in them. And never has this joy been more present than when I was talking to Mary Anne Addams.


Side Note: I am neurodivergent. People, in general, have been very difficult for me to understand - social behaviour, norms, customs - these are confusing concepts. But one is expected to not only practice them but excel in that practice with little to no practical guidance. There is no tutorial to humaning. The only strategy that most spaces seem to employ is to punish or isolate you when you fuck up rules you didn’t know existed. One of the ways I devised to avoid this isolation and punishment is talking to people about how they… well… people. And over time, this went from asking awkward questions to truly engaging with people’s stories, their histories and their imaginations. An honest conversation continues to be the one sure shot way for me to learn how to be a person myself.


At this point in time, the exercise has gone from being a simple learning mechanism to a precious practice - the act of talking to a person and learning where they came from and how they got here. To earmark in my heart and on this page - the tremendous history they carry with them - something I have always seen as more significant than anything we were taught in our textbooks. Hence this podcast.


My connection with Mary Anne is the result of a fascinating series of coincidences. In 2020, when I was dealing with my asexual awakening and the loss of so many things I held dear, one of the places I turned to for the purpose of finding solace was asexuals.net - a dating and friending website dedicated to the asexual experience.


Side Note: I met a lot of amazing people on there - with the whole pressure of sexual attraction and innuendo taken away - connecting with human persons was a joy. And I frankly believe that my whole approach to people changed as a result of talking to people on there. I also developed a series of crushes and squishes. But with the geographic distribution of asexuality being what it is, things continue to be hard still - but that’s a pity party for another time.


One of the people I connected with on that website was Mi-chan. They are a programmer, gamer, genealogy enthusiast and a bunch of other cool things. They live in Michigan. And from exchanging messages on the website, we shifted to long-winded emails and then WhatsApp conversations (our exchanges are enough to fill up a book and when I finally get down to showcasing the significance of platonic relationships, I’ll perhaps compile all of it into one.) Mi-chan, like I mentioned, is a genealogy enthusiast. It’s a special interest for them. By which I mean, it’s not just a hobby, but a hyperfixation. Which meant that Mi-chan shared a lot of the developments on that front with me. See, they had had their DNA sent into Ancestry.com and were actively seeking members of their family tree from centuries past. While engaging in this quest (you can actually read Mi-chan’s account of it here) someone got in touch with Mi-chan since their profiles showed that they had ancestors in common. Someone Mi-chan had never met, never heard of and never knew existed had approached them in the hope of finding relatives from their immediate family. And of course, Mi-chan told me all about this person. And how they had founded a national level organization to support older black lesbians.


This person was Mary Anne Addams.



Mary Anne Adams is the Founder and Executive Director of ZAMI NOBLA (National Organization of Black Lesbians on Aging). Every aspect of Mary Anne’s life and work is a story in and of itself. The word ZAMI for instance. It originates with Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, an autobiography by poet Audre Lorde. Audre Lorde - one of the most powerful voices on feminism, race, and identity in late-twentieth-century America - is one of Mary Anne’s heroes, from what I have understood.


Mary Anne has a Master’s Degree in Social Work with a concentration in Community Partnerships and over 25 years of work experience in public health, social work education, community engagement, capacity building, group facilitation, outreach and recruitment, planning, community organizing, and mobilization. And these are not just words on the resume for Mary Anne. With every story she shares during the episode (and she shares some astonishing ones) you can see these words come together to coalesce at the essence of who she is.


She is a Commissioner with the East Point Housing Authority and serves as Chair of the Commission. She is a member of the Executive Advisory Board for BEAM (Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective) and serves on the Community Advisory Board at Winship Cancer Institute, Emory University, is an Advisory Board Member at Emory University School of Nursing, with the CaRE training program for caregivers of persons living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia disorders. Adams is also an Advisory Board Member for The National LGBTQ+ Women’s Community Survey.



My conversation with Mary Anne goes on for over two hours. In fact, we had to sit down on two separate occasions in order to complete the interview. However, I have still chosen to keep this episode in one piece. Because there is a thread that takes you through from the very start until the end. The only reason I even noticed the passage of time while talking to her was because I was the podcast host and had to.


As always, here are the highlights. I honestly had to fight myself to stop me from including more than I have listed here. It was surreal. I have also included links to historical events, people and places that Mary Anne has mentioned as much as I could to illustrate the richness of her story. There are some pictures too. So I hope you can sit down with a relaxing cuppa (of whatever is your poison) and truly let yourself be immersed in this episode.


The YouTube video is edited this time - with no small amount of thanks due to my beloved Karan Ahuja.


Side Note: Karan is the most amazing editor and all-things-video talent that you should certainly-most-definitely get in touch with for artistic projects, documentation and any and all video related needs for content creation. He is a brilliant hand at mentoring creative humans in the use of whatever tech they have at hand in order to create stunning and professional-looking video content across platforms. You can get in touch with him via Instagram or LinkedIn!




02:22 | Survival and Resilience

"I learned early on that my accomplishments and my achievements were not just mine personally, but they belonged to my community, to my race."


Mary Anne gets us started with her story - being born in Mississippi at a time of racial segregation in 1954 - a year before Martin Luther King took centre stage in the American Civil Rights Movement and getting involved with Civil Rights work at the age of 10


12:05 | A Heady Time to be a Kid

Growing up in the late 60’s - during the Vietnam War, the beginning of the Feminist Movement, Student protests, Dr King’s assassination, JFK’s assassination and going to the Black House - a local community centre established by Rev Wayne Johnson where an influx of black professionals from all over the country taught kids black history and helped organize the civil rights work in the area


I looked up some of the incidents and locations Mary Anne mentioned when we were talking. While details on the Black House were hard to come by, I did find some information and images on the following that I thought would be useful to share:


The historical case that led to the desegregation of educational institutes in the USA













25:30 | Colored Only

Mary Anne talks about the realities of segregation, the institutionalized ways in which black folk were dehumanized, attending university and living with poverty while still achieving and agitating


31:10 | “Turn me Out”

We take a brief detour into queer territory to talk about how Mary Anne went from having no conception of queer to being baby-sat by a gay hairdresser to being propositioned by an army wife


40:15 | Rural Black Folk

A fresh graduate, Mary Anne started to work at the Mississippi Association of Cooperatives in Jackson - travelling all over rural areas in the Southern United States to train co-ops in managerial, administrative and entrepreneurial skills. In this section she talks about her work in those early years and the humility, grace and generosity she learned from rural black folk. Then we talk about the Cooperative Movement and its relevance in today’s day and age.


Here's the Noble Foundation biography of Jane Adams, who Mary Anne mentions as an inspiration of the co-operative movement and the foster care system.


And here you can read about the interesting History of the Cooperative Movement across the world


49:50 | Us against the World

After her mum passed from ovarian cancer, Mary Anne became the legal guardian of her three younger siblings - 9, 11 and 13 years old. In this section, we talk about how she raised them, raised herself and learned to lean into her identity - all with the help of community.


A piece on the Presidential Hills neighbourhood in Jackson, Mississippi, where Mary Anne bought her first home


Information on Sydenham Chorea, a rare disease that affected one of Mary Anne’s youngest siblings


1:02:40 | Coming Out Everyday

Mary Anne talks about the openness with which she lived her lesbian identity and how she taught people, including her family, to respect her always by being “unapologetic about who I am and how I live”. A few essential tips for anyone planning to come out or struggling with having come out. We also talk about the intersection of blackness and queerness. And then about how her life opened up to queer activism and a community of lesbians when she moved to Atlanta.


Mary Anne mentions Ann Allen Shockley as one of the authors she read that gave her insight into her identity as a lesbian. Here are some notes on her novel Say Jesus and Come to Me - the seemingly impossible tale of two women - one a travelling minister and the other a damaged blues singer - and their love in an intolerant, racist town.


Some of the queer magazines Mary Anne mentioned. They are still alive and kicking today and you can subscribe to them though the copies are no longer delivered with hundreds of staples hiding the truth of the pages within:




I couldn’t find the Gay Community News based in New York, but here is an equally impactful publication out of Dublin.


We have the Gay Community News out of Boston, a newsletter discontinued in the 90’s


And Gay City News, New York’s chief newspaper for the Queer Community


The website for Charis Bookstore in Georgia, where Mary Anne found Cheryl Clake’s bright pink book Living as a Lesbian



1:23:50 | We have not because we wish not

What does it take to bring a scholarship for black lesbians into fruition? Mary Anne talks us through the steps - 2 years to raise the first 1000 dollars to taking the Audre Lorde Scholarship for LGBTQIA++ People of Colour national.


1:40:28 | National Organization of Black Lesbians on Aging

Mary Anne talks about building community for lesbian elders who are often pushed to the edges by the generally youth-centric approaches of queer spaces.


Stories about people leveraging community resources, community gardening, caregiving for elders living with Alzheimer's and dementia. We talk about her journey surviving breast cancer and the community programmes at ZAMI NOBLA. Listen especially for details about the community gardening project that mobilized everyone from students to firefighters.



2:05:28 | A Life-long Learner

"Maximize practise and minimize theory." We wrap up with Mary Anne giving us advice on how to keep learning by intentionally seeking information and keeping our eyes and ears open.


2:10:00 | Prompt

"As people on the margins, we were never meant to survive."

- Audre Lorde (A Litany for Survival)

Taking a cue from her icon, Mary Anne challenges us to "Live out Loud. Take your place in this universe. Don’t play small. Take up Space in this World."


Follow ZAMI NOBLA



Follow Hina Siddiqui on Instagram


Creative Credits:

Podcast Music: Don’t Make Assumptions by Makaih Beats, sourced from the Free Music Archive used under the Creative Commons License.


Photography Credits:

All pictures of Mary Anne used with permission from her

Car and Community Gardening Image Photo Credit: SuspendedImage

Book Cover Images: Goodreads and Wikimedia Commons

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