the philosophactivist

Monday, September 3, 2012

Winning or Woes in the Workplace?

In starting this new, non-profit job I said to myself that I would bring all of me to the table. I said that now that I've got a position that I really care about doing work that I'm committed to in the community, that I wouldn't hide parts of me. I would be who I am. I stressed about this for days before I went to my first day of work. I thought about it constantly throughout that first day of training. I couldn't figure out how to say..."by the way...I'm trans." It just didn't seem to lend itself well to learning about food systems and food justice programming.

" Hey, do you have any trans people that come to your farmer's market because...I'm trans."


" Interesting thing that you should mention local food insecurity - I'm genderqueer."

So, I waited until the last possible moment as I was leaving work to catch my supervisor and basically...blurt it out. I think it was coherent for the most part. I had told myself that I was going to do this on the first day and that I wasn't going to wait around. As I began to talk about wanting my co-workers to know who I am and not wanting to have to leave parts of me at the door, I wonder what he thought I was going to say before I blurted out that I was gender non-conforming/ transgender. I saw his eyes kind of glaze over when I said gender non-conforming so I also volunteered the word transgender. He sat back in his chair as I continued to tell him my preferred pronouns- anything but she. His eyes were still kind of glazed over so I said "I prefer for folks to call me he, they, or just by my name." He mulled it over in his mind for a few moments and I didn't know how it had been received. He then thanked me for being comfortable enough to come out to him and said he'd ask a co-worker for guidance about how to deal with this as a director/supervisor. 

Then he said something that would continue to stress me out for the next 2 weeks+.  He said that he was going to follow my lead and leave it up to me to come out to the other 21 staff members. At first that seemed great. It took me a week to figure out that it was a lot of pressure to figure this out on my own. I thought about sending a mass email -

" Hey guys- I'm trans! Call me he or they. Thanks in advance!"

No...that wouldn't work.

I thought about telling a department at a time...or maybe one person at a time. The more I thought about this, the more tedious it seemed. And really stressful. Having to come out to one person at a time. Anticipating their reaction. Wondering if they were going to tell others- which would be welcomed if it would speed the process up a bit.

Last week my supervisor dashed to my desk before I could leave the premises to say that he wanted to walk me out of the office building. Hm. He walked me to the bus stop and we talked about my "coming out process" and how he could support. I said that I knew it was my responsibility to provide resources after coming out, and that I was working on that...but that I had no idea how I was going to come out to 21 people. I went over my ideas with him and he agreed that coming out through email wasn't a good idea and that there might be some legal issues with that.  I told him that I had also thought about coming out at the going away/welcoming party that didn't end up happening or at a staff meeting but that I felt that that would be awkward. I'd be completely on the spot and I'm sure I'd have so many questions directed toward me. That could be overwhelming.

We left the possibilities floating in the air. He reiterated his support. And as I sat waiting for the bus...I felt really alone. As I talked to friend after friend I continued to feel alone because who can really understand how crushing it feels not to be recognized for who you are (your gender!) day in and day out. 

Some days during meetings I am what I call "she'd" to death. She she she...her...blah blah...and I zone out. I zone out and shut down because I know that I should have just come out that first day to everyone so that I wouldn't have to deal with that. In my mind I have this inner dialogue about where I went wrong and then I say that I shouldn't be so hard on myself and that I'm doing least I'm out to two people and that I should be patient with myself. A few of my friends have said the same thing. But it's still hard to have two out of twenty-one who know that I'm not down with being called "she." And even the ones who know my preferred pronoun(s) use the wrong pronoun(s) when we're in mixed company, though they stay away from any pronouns when it's just us. 

I know that it's going to take time and that I'm going to have to educate people if I want to create a safe space for myself. I feel overwhelmed with having to figure out how to come out to everyone and having to provide resources on top of training and gauging the office politics.

I also feel at times that I'm asking too much of the staff or like I'm inviting them into them to join me in my fairytale or something. I say this because I know I'm not what the average person would expect a trans person to look like. (I'm not on testosterone and I have a feminine face). I know it's a stretch for them to call me "he" and that asking them to use "they" is also a stretch. I'm asking 22 people to step out of their comfort zone so that I can be comfortable. I'm potentially creating an awkward atmosphere (at least when I'm in the office). I know that it could be a good learning experience full of teachable moments leading to more understanding about diversity or whatever...but...seriously, I just want to do this social justice work and go home sometimes. It seems daunting but I know I have to do this. I can't go on being "she'd to death" and not being my complete self. Living two lives. It's not just about proper pronouns, it's about me being whole in this place that I spend the majority of my time. It's about for once not feeling like I have this big secret that is weighing me down and trying not to wince when people make assumptions about my gender and who I am.

I thought it's important to blog about these types of battles because some people truly don't realize how difficult this is, even for organizers, activists, and other folks who may be out to so many others. It's not about "just" doing "x,y, or z". There are real threats in coming out at your workplace. I am fortunate in that my workplace is a non-profit with at least one queer person (other than me) and from what I hear from my supervisor, the staff is generally open/liberal/progressive. (But we've heard that before). You never really know how anyone is going to react and keeping optimistic about their reactions doesn't exactly curb your anxiety.

I'll keep you posted on my coming out process at work. For everyone who is dealing with this right now, I just want you to know I stand in solidarity with you and I know how difficult it can be, though I realize that my situation is not a worst case scenario. I hope that you have support from friends, family, or created family or some other support group. Feel free to reach out to me at, maybe we can reach a solution together.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The thing about poverty...

The thing about poverty is that it actually does discriminate. "They"' will tell you it doesn't, but you and I both know that it does. Poverty seems to take an interest in certain races and ethnicities, certain sexualities, and people with a certain degree of education. Poverty more often than not informs our next steps, end goals, and the quality of our outcomes in life more than we care to admit.

Poverty isn't just about wealth. You can be emotionally and spiritually poor. You can have poor health. To say that someone just wasn't trying hard enough not to be impoverished in any of these ways, to me, sounds like either people are in denial or that they just don't "get it".

Let's start with the basics. If I can't eat food that will sustain me...if there are no grocery stores for miles and all I've got is a corner store and 3 fast food restaurants down the can I be healthy? If I don't have health, how can I function? How can I not go into debt? If the schools close to me are understaffed and lacking in quality, how can I compete with people seeking the same employment who did get a quality education? And if I've got to work 3 jobs to barely survive- is that sustainable for me, my family, or my community?

Now let's add race into the mix. It's no coincidence that though there are less black and brown folks in this nation (this is rapidly changing!) that a larger percentage of black and brown folks live in poverty. This has nothing to do with boot straps and everything to do with structures, institutions and systems that are discriminatory... yes, racist. They'll say that there are laws against this and that everyone is color-blind and this is a post-racial society but you and I both know the reality. No amount of repeating these blatant lies are going to make them why do black and brown folks keep on trying to buy into this? Why do they hold on to the hopes that they will hold "equal" power (through assimilation) instead of deconstructing these systems and holding on to their cultures, dignity, and integrity? Maybe it's internalized racism...maybe it's delusion. Maybe we're just tired of struggling. Our generation sure is tired. Our ancestors sure didn't have that luxury. 

How about sexuality? The LGB, and more disproportionately T, community is more likely to be in poverty. They face employment discrimination and higher rates of unemployment, higher rates of homelessness, more discrimination in health care settings. And though added visibility and the past few decades is bringing about change, it's not fast enough. The violence the LGBT community meets with on a daily basis is terrifying. And being a queer person of color makes you even more vulnerable. You encounter more police brutality, more violence from peers and the community, and more discrimination at work and at clinics and hospitals.

In this nation...the issue is that poverty is seen as a character flaw. The impoverished brought it on themselves or they may even be seen as lacking in values or morals. Or maybe God is punishing them because in America, anyone can pull themselves up by their bootstraps and be rich. Everyone has opportunities. Yet...poverty is best defined as the lack of opportunities to improve one's situation. Hmm...No one wants to believe that they can't improve your situation or that they don't have opportunities. Better yet, the same opportunities as others. That's valid. But we have to open our eyes and see the reality. There are a lot of people who are struggling to survive. There are a lot of people in a cycle of generational (not situational) poverty. Sometimes it's hard to relate to what it feels like to not have your basic needs met when you've never been in that situation. This makes it easier to be detached and blame those who aren't meeting their needs.

But everyone can experience poverty. It's even more of a reality these days. Unfortunately that seems to be where the starting point is for building across differences in race/ethnicity, gender, and sexuality. Would you rather struggle alone or pull together to start a community garden, to help start a community clinic, or to improve the schools in your district? Some in this country would like us to believe that we can just turn our head and not be affected by the suffering of others. Here are some examples of the falsity of that...the rich are affected by the number of poor folks on public assistance. Companies are affected by less people being able to buy their products and services. Hospitals are affected by more emergency visits due to less people having health care insurance. If there are lower literacy rates and more people dropping out of school, there are higher crime rates which affect just about everyone. Gentrification will eventually displace more than just the lower class.

This lack of foresight will destroy (is destroying) this country.

I'm in my second term at a "national community service" organization that shall remain unnamed til I finish out my term.  In this program, you live at poverty level and serve at organizations committed to helping those in  low income communities. I'm just going to say this- there aren't a lot of black and brown folks. And a lot of them come from a privileged background. I'm fairly sure this program was designed for those who are upper middle class or upper class. It's a slap of reality that may or may not work depending on who you speak to. It's not for those who have poor health or who are already struggling and in poverty. It's for those with "cushions" and trust funds. Fair enough. Let them tough it out so they can "relate." But do they truly "get it"? Do they really get a glimpse of reality or are some just "slummin' it" and then moving on? Are they really more able to see our humanity? Who knows. All I know is that this program has been around for decades and it has had millions of volunteers willing to live a year or 2 in poverty. Maybe it's a start. Maybe it's not.

The things can't just "try on" poverty. Sometimes it seeps into your bones...your DNA. Your spirit. It can even take your life. Most of the people I know are struggling. Struggling to hold on to housing or a job. Struggling to keep, keepin' on in this world in a system that simply is not sustainable. 

So - do we just stick to our corner and refuse to help others. Do we perpetuate a poverty consciousness, believing that we can't possibly give when we have so little? Do we stay distracted by chasing paper and buying into an American nightmare that we can't wake up from?

What would our ancestors have done?  

Hoarding isn't a solution to poverty. Hiding your head in the sand isn't a solution either. We need to address this from many sides (and simultaneously). And, it's not just about compassion and caring for others anymore or doing the right thing. We won't survive if we don't all get involved in this. It is so crucial that we continue to create our own solutions and support each other and learn from each other along the way. The government is slashing spending on health and human services. We can't depend on it so we might as well start to learn how to depend on each other.

Instead of complaining or feeling defeated, let's come up with some solutions for our you have some? I bet you've thought about this...leave some comments. Let's have some dialogue. Or maybe you can find a friend, colleague or community member to discuss solutions with. However the conversation gets had.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Visionaries don't need to dream

I'm pensive today. An elder/shaman/ex-black panther told me today that there's no question that I'm before my time and I've heard this a few times before from elders in different movements. As I reflect on not only what this means but what it means for me and the work I strive to do, I wonder how one avoids the pitfalls of being the square peg with radically different ideas?

How does a person with such different ideas avoid deafened ears, silencing, and even violence? "Radicals" are always seen as having a voice of dissonance. And honestly, some go against the grain to go against the grain. I feel sometimes like I never even saw the grain or I mistook it or interpreted it as something else. Sometimes I feel like I'm from another planet when folks talk strategy.  I want to think about things from a micro and macro level. I want to be thorough about taking action and what that will look like and how these actions can be sustained. Look at it from all sides and come up with multiple strategies that can be enacted at the same time. I want to provide resources for the people...but not just literature and websites or even about programs, ways to heal (physically, spiritually, emotionally), and ways that the people can gain their autonomy and take on the work and not depend on any organization who, because of funding, must have an agenda.

I don't believe that there are any good solutions that just address one facet of any particular oppression. We can't parce apart trans issues from LGB issues...housing issues from labor/employment...immigration issues from those sovereignty from the plight of farm workers, health care from any of the issues mentioned before.  They are all interconnected. One of my favorite quotes from King is that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We might not feel like that. We might think that we have to organize within subgroups and in silos around singular issues ...but how has that been working out for us?

We have to understand what is at the core and be willing to address what is happening systemically in a real, substantial way. It's going to take more than one group to dismantle injustices with food, health, employment, immigration, etc. We need even more collaboration than what is happening now. And we can't just "educate"...we've got to figure out how to provide services. And these services shouldn't just be folks who show up with some money from outside of our community who are willing to help out for a couple years and disappear. We've got to support each other and pool our resources. We have to stop thinking of helping each other as taking away from our own survival. We have to stop allowing ourselves to operate from a place of scarcity- a poverty consciousness. And I know that selfishness and getting rich quick is part of the "American Dream"...but we're not just Americans, are we? And that dream sure feels like a nightmare with all its implications and built in expectations and definitions for what success looks and feels like. I'm sure our ancestors had another vision for us and this earth. And what does it mean if we've all got to fall asleep for this dream?

When I began to write and organize it was my way not to be silenced and my way to not be met  with indifference. I was concerned about getting issues heard. And I'm realizing that now it's about actions being seen. You can forget what I wrote. Block it out. Delete it. Erase it from your memory bank. But you won't undo what a whole community has done. It's harder to "unsee" our actions. And once a community sees its visions realized...there's no looking or going back. There's got to be something to the combination of being seen and heard. That's the true revolution. I'm not just talking about protesting - I'm talking about envisioning what you want and making it happen. Telling our stories as this happens so we can document it for future generations.

Internalized oppression can make us feel like things will never change. That we're not worthy or capable of creating change. It can contribute to us lashing out at those in our community who want to help us. It can make us critical of our family members...our children. It can make us skeptical of visionaries. It can even contribute to us working against change. Sometimes if we've never seen something before, we don't think it can happen and that is to our detriment. Change doesn't come from old ways of thinking or old patterns of being. Why do we hang on? You can't say we're comfortable. In my opinion, it's because we don't want things to get worse. We don't necessarily like it the way it is, but we're not trying to take steps backward or give up what little we have. And those who benefit from the system being the way it is- well, obviously we know why they want to keep it the same. (Those who are aware of it anyway).

I know we're busy. We're tired. We're upset. We're disillusioned. We're wounded. But this generation has got to heal and come together to address what's going on if we are to survive. Sometimes it's so hard because we're trying to shake hands with clenched fists and trying to hug others without letting go of holding only ourselves. I don't know about you, but I'm ready to put an end to the Struggle and though I'm not sure what that's going to look like, I'm not so convinced that it can't happen that I won't venture to envision what it will look like and take to make it happen. I don't have to see the top of the mountain to know it exists. Does it hurt more to have to go to sleep for the "American Dream" or to wake ourselves up to realize what should be everyone's reality.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

California: Take Two- Outer Struggle and Inner Peace

I'm back from almost a month in various parts of the Bay. I spent time in the mountains, at the river, at the beach, at a huge sustainable farm at UC Santa Cruz, at a retreat center in Woodacre, in the East Bay, and a very brief amount of time in San Francisco.

California. Yes, the same California where in 2011  for half a year I was a witness to Occupy Oakland, "O.G." Black Panthers, Co-ops and collectives, anarchists- white and QPOC, and an overwhelming sense of..."The Struggle". The struggle to survive in the face of multiple fronts of injustice. Economic, food, environmental, health. The struggle to hold on to parts of our cultural identity in the face of assimilation. The struggle against antagonistic police and law enforcement- a repressive police state.

 I often wonder why organizing on the East coast and the West coast seemed so different to me. On the West Coast there seemed to be a different kind of awareness and urgency. The boiling point had already been surpassed and education and empowerment seemed to be happening in very different ways. The conferences and symposiums I'd come to appreciate in NYC I'm sure were happening in the Bay. But, action was happening on some other level. Oppression was being tackled from all these other angles, no doubt influenced by organizing that happened back in the 60s. Groups in Oakland and LA and various other parts of the state were beyond fed up. Picketing and protesting were one tactic, but designing programs to support our communities became another. Writing about the struggle and disseminating information about how to protect ourselves and keeping us informed about truth and the lies we were subjected to were another tactic.

As I continue to learn more about organizing and continue to form the core of who I am as an "activist" I have to say that I have learned a great deal from my compas, comrades, created family and extended community over in the Bay. When I went back I had all these ideas about what orgs I wanted to visit and who I wanted to get involved with right away for the time I was there- and...well, most of it didn't happen. Folks were too busy organizing or traveling and at first I felt a bit deflated. But then I remembered the main reason I'd come to the Bay was a 6 day silent retreat for people of color at Spirit Rock. I was actually coming to the Bay- the same Bay that had made me feel so much angst in watching this very visible struggle- to clear my mind, and become more mindful and aware so that I could have more inner peace and be ready to keep going without feeling burnt out.


So, last year I was told about the East Bay Meditation Center and the weekly sitting meditation and talk that they had for people of color. It was great finally getting to sit with other people of color who were coming together with the same goal of being at peace with themselves...and in the middle of Oakland, where it is badly needed. At these sits I heard about the annual POC retreat they had and months later when back in TX I decided to apply to the retreat. People are chosen by "lottery" and my name was drawn and I was excited about  the sliding scale for payment.

The retreat couldn't have come at a better time for me. So much was going on with trying to figure out if I should publish Notes from an Afro-Genderqueer and some of my other work, how I should get my writing out and who I should be writing for, and trying to find a job, and organizing with various groups and organizations. I literally couldn't think one thought without thinking three others. I wonder how many other folks of color feel this way. A good deal of the women of color I know are always pressed for time, working multiple jobs or organizing for different groups and going...and going...and going. We take on so much! It's sort of ingrained.

So after some time in Berkeley and Santa Cruz (no Oakland)- I arrived with a million thoughts and a small bag with just enough clothes to make it through 6 1/2 days of the silent retreat. There were so many POC! The teachers were all POC and their dharma talks addressed issues specific to us POC and a few of the teachers were QPOC. In those 6 1/2 days I worked through a lot of emotions, memories, and patterns during our hours and hours of sitting and walking meditation. Our meditations focused on being compassionate to ourself, forgiving ourself and then forgiving and being compassionate to others. Our thinking patterns are key to our actions- this is why awareness and mindfulness are so important. If we are aware of the negative thoughts we have about ourselves and others, we can empower ourselves to change them and then we can experience inner transformation and contribute to outer transformation of our communities. With less toxic thoughts about ourselves and others we can let go and have a new established freedom. Now we can form more positive thoughts, and therefore actions which brings us closer to inner and outer peace and better solutions for injustice in our communities. If we are more aware of what's within us and what's happening outside of us, we can have more clarity and take better actions to end the oppression experienced. If we try to tackle outer struggle while dealing with inner turmoil our decisions are tainted, our judgement clouded and the outcomes are not as effective or sustainable.

After the retreat, I went to the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems at UC Santa Cruz for a week. There's a six month apprenticeship that addresses different aspects of the growing process, maintaining farms, and food justice. I have been committed to food and health justice for a few years now and being on that farm cemented my commitment to sustainable foods, community gardening, and continuing to spread knowledge about the healing power of foods and the empowerment gained from food sovereignty. I met such proud and committed folks who were happy to be working hard on the farm and acquiring knowledge in that space that they would take out into the world, making significant contributions and facilitating change in various communities.

While on the farm there was a Youth Day that was truly inspiring. Youth from different parts of Cali who were involved in various food justice groups came to do workshops with apprentices on the farm. I led two workshops on poetry and writing for social justice/healing/empowerment. At the end of the day we came together to eat and some migrant workers told their stories.We then rallied and talked about the importance of continuing to do this work in our communities and not to become complacent after receiving this knowledge.

Who knew I'd go to California to learn to let go, find a new sense of self and be revitalized to do more organizing and healing work. Thinking back, it all makes sense. I am nearing the end of a transition and now I'm at the jump off point for the next phase of philosophactivisting. We can talk, read, write, and theorize all day long, but at the end of the day- what are we willing to DO? Are we willing to take action? And most of all, are we willing to work on ourselves? It's easier to push our own needs aside and address the needs of others. But we've got to take care of ourselves. We've got to address the inner struggle as well as the outer struggle. Many say there is no outer peace without inner peace. As I take these lessons in stride, I know that it's a new era for me as far as my organizing and writing. With added clarity, I am ready to build more bridges, create more paths, and have a new level of self-acceptance and inner peace. The Struggle continues but with these new tools and a fresh perspective, it's no match for any of us- including You.

Next time I'll talk about my Healing from Internalized Oppression workshop for Allgo's Statewide QPOC Annual Activist summit

Monday, June 4, 2012

A Very Brown QueerBomb Experience

QueerBomb is series of events that occurs over a weekend during Pride month as a way to unleash ourselves from the now very consumerist LGBT Pride and reclaim our radical queer history. This year was its 3rd year and the organizers pulled out all the stops. An estimated 5,000+ people were present for the march up Austin's Sixth street.  But I'll get to that later. I will  go ahead and say that the parade and after party were phenomenal...but that's not what we're here to talk about.

I want to talk about my experience as one of the handful of brown folks to be present at the main event at Pine Street Station. A bunch of organizations, collectives, zines, etc. pulled out some chairs and brought our goods and wares with us to promote, awaken, and all that good stuff.

There were 2 tables out of...I'd say 20ish, that had a specifically QPOC audience- allgo (the TX statewide QPOC organization) and KwueenShadez QPOC magazine who doubled up with my Afro-Genderqueer books and Genderqueer Street Philosophactivist website. Our table was on the opposite end of Allgo, but shared a table with B.E.T.C.H. zine, which is feminist and sex-positive, which was cool.

I arrived on the scene super early to set up. My partner in crime and I had carefully thought out what we wanted our table to look like. We were going to write out all these issues that were important to the QPOC community and post them all over our golden table cloth. I set out my books and chapbooks and our zines and was set. My excitement had been building all week.

People started to be let in an hour after I got there and I was all set to discuss our zine. As people would stop by the table and look at the issues we'd written "Health Justice" "Prison Reform" "Post-Racial? Post-Queer? Society. Let's talk about it" "Education Reform" "Diversify your circles", "Be an Ally" etc. - I'd give them the schpiel about our zine written by Queer People of Color and talk to them about some of the articles. Then I'd tell them about my blog and my books...and they'd smile and nod and walk on. I did social experiments. Adding phrases like "Queer People of Color" and taking it off. Maybe it was threatening? Then I put up a sign to elaborate that the issues they were looking at on the front of the golden table cloth were issues that our zine and my blog and books talk about. Still threatening...oh ...ok.

It seemed that people seemed to be turned off by 1.Black and Brown folks on the cover of our zine. 2. My blatant title of my book containing "Afro-Genderqueer". It just really seemed like the sea of white folks that were there just didn't think this information was of interest to them...and maybe that it wasn't particularly for them. I'm not sure if either of these is better than the other. They'd give that all knowing-that-isn't-for-me-though-nod when I started talking about our articles or my blog that spoke about the intersections of race, gender, or sexuality.

I experimented, in fact. I stopped saying the zine was written by queer people of color and vaguely talked about the articles...and didn't make a whole lot of a difference because of who was on the cover. Also, I stopped saying race when I talked about my books, just to see what they'd do. I started saying I wrote about "social justice"...ha! These "radical" white queers were still off-put by my moniker Afro-Genderqueer. OK.

I got frustrated...but for every frustrating interaction there were a few positive ones. Like having Monkeywrench (one of our radical bookstores) say they wanted to put our zines in their store. Yesss!

As I'm thinking through these interactions -- I am disturbed by how many times I thought that maybe we didn't belong at QueerBomb. Maybe this wasn't the space for us. many brown folks  also felt like that and so didn't show up to the entire event.

Sigh. Post-Racial....society? Why did my friends and I have to go and stir things up and talk about race? That uncomfortable thing...race. Cuz you know...Austin is colorblind. Ridiculously colorblind. Frustratingly colorblind. So much, in fact, that they can't see the color of the folks living on the eastside in poverty or the issues that disproportionately affect people of color in this oh-so-liberal and progressive town. Those people they can't see...because we're all the same. You know...we're all equal- or something.

It's an age old story for the queer community. For decades queer people of color have been like stepchildren because we keep bringing up pesky issues that affect us like food justice, health care reform, increased violence, unemployment, and you know...all those things that happen to the underprivileged a little more than average. Oh oh...that's a class thing - some radical queers will say. Uh huh. It's not related to our race at aaaall. Why can't we just be quiet? Stop being (or looking?) so angry? Why can't we just get behind gay marriage and all those things that affect middle and upper class white gay males.

But I want to ask THIS question. Why can't they just get behind US and OUR issues? Is it because those are "our problems"? Is it because they are uncomfortable admitting that they exist? During the rally a black, lesbian organizer spoke to these issues and I was SO overjoyed after 2 hours of the issues that concern me being ignored...being invisible to hundreds of white queers....NOW they couldn't ignore this! She had the mic! She had the mic! I yelled in support of this sister who was callin' it like it was. Yea, I didn't get to read my poetry...I didn't get to read from my book like I'd asked to, to get these issues out there- but ...she did it!

Which brings me to another thought. 

I know lots of people don't like poetry. I know that a lot of times it doesn't have the same significance. I also realize that people don't like to read. But, take into account the way that words have become a vehicle, an elixir, a cura, a way to keep history and so much more for the voiceless and marginalized. At the Black Transmen Advocacy Conference an elder stated that we had to remember so we wouldn't become obsolete. I feel like that's what has happened in the queer community. Brown folks have been pushed out and now the folks still involved are like the last folks standing. I won't get into my analysis on that here...but I will reiterate that the issues of QPOC which are issues of survival are not necessarily the issues of mainstream queers and this has caused a chasm that I used to try really hard to build a bridge across- and don't get me wrong, I'm still a bridge-builder but I am not going to go fund the project and buy all the supplies AND build it for someone to smile at and light on fire, anyway. That's all I'm saying.

So what would I have liked to have transpired? 

I would have liked for some allies to actually have engaged with us in conversation and have picked up the books and looked through them. (And a handful actually did!) I think it's really peculiar how all POC and QPOC are unwittingly and unabashedly forced to know about white/white queer culture but that white folks have the privilege to just turn their head and invisibilize us and our culture. We can be completely disregarded- and that's ok because we're doing brown people stuff. Not many QPOC appropriators, though- which is ok by me. I mean...besides some of the hipsters who'd like to appropriate some of our poverty and places of residence. I'm sure I saw a lot of them the other day.

Sigh. So disappointed.

For the past 2 years there have been QPOC events associated with Queer Bomb and this year...nope. Nada. It shouldn't just be on QPOC to notice who isn't represented at this huge event. Ah, but maybe the committee is colorblind, too. Is it not intriguing that there were probably .005% POC out of 5,000 folks??
Maybe  we will just have to keep having separate events. Segregated like so many metropolitan cities here in TX. To each their own. And white queers will say we did this to ourselves. That we didn't want to be a part of it...but I'd assure them there's more to it. From language (not many of us call ourselves queer or even LGBT) to personal interactions and being grossly underrepresented...QPOC aren't showing up for a plethora of reasons. And I guess WE'RE the ones that have to come up with a solution,right? Now tell me what's easier, being an integrationist or having your own event? *Shaking my head. Lots of people of color don't have it in them to fight this fight when they are trying to survive day to day. I mean, we're already fighting assimilation and now we've got to turn around and fight that within our queer communities simultaneously? Fight  to correct the assumption that Stonewall was about a bunch of white gay dudes who picked a fight. Fight to be heard when our issues take a back seat to what the white middle class thinks LGBT want and need. Fight for our own expressions of sexuality, or committment to religion, etc. to be acknowledged and respected? Fight racism in a sub-community when we already are fighting it day in and day out in the larger community?

I don't think so, Willis.

So white anti-racist organizers...who are also queer...please get on this. The queer community is really missing out by discounting a large part of the populace. Life ain't Will and Grace or L Word with a few glimpses of Tasha.

And I think I'm done here...

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Freedom of Speech and Anti-Trans sentiments

I'm not going to spend a lot of time on this. I've been spurred to write this because one of my favorite "radical" organizing zines posted an article by a known anti-trans "radical" feminist scholar in order to say that the tactics trans activists used to get her not to be able to speak in various venues was not supported by them. I was shocked. I was upset. I was confused...Was I really seeing this? People blaming the victim in "radical" media. Marginalized people coming out against an already marginalized group. And as I posted my response on the short thread of responses I thought...I'm the only trans one here. No matter what I say, no one is going to get why this woman's inflammatory remarks are more than just annoying. Nobody is going to get that her anti-trans agenda incites even more violence and discrimination against trans folks- a group that is already subjugated and misunderstood.

Here's the article posted:

This woman, Sheila Jeffreys, says she is a victim and that she should be able to talk at whatever universities and conferences she wants and that trans folks are out to get her. This woman has published numerous works...spoken internationally. She has no problem being heard. She's even in judges ears telling them to not let trans children transition and collaborating with doctors and psychiatrists.

She says that her words are not "hate speech" but a "critique on transgenderism". Transgenderism? Last I checked a transgender identity wasn't an "ism" or as she calls it, a "practice".

This is the issue. Some feminists think that transwomen are further oppressing women...transmen are trying to gain power and are "choosing" this "lifestyle". Trans folks snap our fingers and have parts added and subtracted...and life becomes just peachy because- yay, now we can assimilate into the patriarchy and reinforce the gender binary. That was our plan all along. To gain power- if we don't get maimed, murdered or martyred that is. Yes, if we can just make it past THAT ( and the health disparities, unemployment, etc) we have it made. 

No one should be bullied or have death threats sent to them. (No, not even Ms. Jeffrey's).  But, groups should be able to keep anti-trans sentiments and hate speech from being presented on campuses and at certain conferences. I'm sure in a similar vein that the KKK doesn't want brown folks to exist and is against "negroism". Should they, too, be given a platform for their agenda? Both identities are murdered specifically because of their identity and sometimes because of erroneous portrayals. Oh but some will say...that's different. Don't conflate things.

No one's identity should be questioned and critiqued as part of some larger political statement while dismissing histories and realities. Not everything is black and white. Not everything can be explained away by some "radical feminist" philosophy.The truth have no idea why anyone is trans. We are not some nameless, homogeneous group. There are more than just transwomen and transmen on the spectrum of gender variance. There are more reasons than "wanting to be male or female"..."not cutting it as our biological sex"...or "being crazy and misguided".  As soon as people begin to see this- maybe we can start an actual discourse. Because it's not actual discourse if you come to me with the thought in the back of your mind that I am crazy, diseased, wayward, upholding some patriarchy, a sell-out, etc.

That is all.

I will leave you with some of Ms. Jeffrey's most interesting commentary:

"The lesbian community needs to address the urgent political task of enabling lesbians to retain and love their lesbian bodies. If the suffering and destruction of lesbians is to be halted then we must challenge the cult of masculinity that is evident in such activities as drag king shows. We must challenge those forms of self-harm which are presently being promoted as progressive and liberating such as butch/femme roleplaying, sadomasochistic self-mutilation and the instruments, drugs and surgeries now being used to enable lesbians to ‘transition.' Though there has tended to be an attitude of liberal tolerance towards these practices on the part of many lesbians, which has allowed them to flourish, there has come a time when the very serious consequences of what have never really been ‘playful' behaviours needs to be recognised. There is a need to recreate the strong, separate, womanloving lesbian community which lesbians need in order to be proud and to thrive." From FTM Transsexualism and Grief- Sheila Jeffreys

Monday, May 14, 2012

E-Book: Notes from an Afro-Genderqueer

So, I went and did it. I put together a book of blogs, essays and articles so that you can find it all in one place.

Here's the e-book:

Still working on formatting for print book. I'll keep you posted.

Here are affordable e-books with excerpts from Notes from an Afro-Genderqueer, Venus and Saturn:

I'm also all about customizing, so if you have poems and essays you'd like to see- I'll personalize your book for you.

Email me at if you have questions, want a personalized book, want to collaborate on an anthology, workshop, exhibit or want to check out my chapbooks Venus and Saturn. More about them at my new website:

Here's a video of my new poem- Surviving...*some camera difficulties, I'll upload a new one once I can get access to decent video I said...I'm survivin'!


Wednesday, May 2, 2012


I've been thinking a lot about the collective queer brown experience. Of course we all have our individual experiences, but the majority of us have similar experiences with discrimination because of our skin color. It's an unfortunate common thread. I've been thinking a lot about how brown, queer voices are rarely heard. We've got few zines and magazines, papers, youtube videos. We have more than we did, but it's still such a small percentage of what's out there. 

I was talking to a friend of mine about how I wanted to locate more magazines and zines with transwomen represented. Especially brown transwomen. And it dawned on me...well, had been dawning on me for the last couple weeks now- brown womyn and men/transmen don't have much literature and art out there because we are too damn busy trying to survive. We are trying not to be the next statistic. There aren't a whole lot of mentors because we've lost so many in the struggle. Every week, more and more. The importance of our existence is questioned every moment. So yea- there are a lot of stealth brown transfolks and closeted queers because life is difficult and even moreso when you're out. It's dangerous to be out, and if you're publishing magazines and zines and highly visible...that's an issue (pun intended).

Why would we opt to have our own community turn its back on us? Why give up the only family we have? It's not so easy for folks who aren't in metropolitan cities to forsake everything for the "queer bubble". Lots of us don't have queer bubbles ...don't have access to those spaces in metropolitan cities. It's rough. It's not just rough, it's jagged. And queers living in those spaces need to realize that it's a privilege that not everyone is privy to.

So many of us are underemployed or unemployed because of these multiple layers. I know for a fact that I am unemployed because of my gender presentation and skin color here in the south. I am queer. A dress is not going to change that. I can't bleach my skin. So I am screwed. I go in to these all white non-profits who are helping brown folks, but won't hire brown folks (accept for the usual tokens to translate for the "natives")'s disgusting. It's infuriating. 

I'm tired of being othered. And if there are any brown folks out there that think you are playing the game right...that you finally got your propers from the white man and the system. Think again. There is no 100% assimilation. As soon as you mention something about your culture or a value other than the "dominant" value---white values--your days are numbered. Now you are "just like the rest of them". Rest of US.

Don't pass your judgement on  brown, queers who are going into sex work and the informal economy to survive. We aren't some hipsters who are "renouncing" mommy and daddy's paychecks and trust funds to "rough it" or grow a conscience Americorps style...we are trying to survive! We didn't CHOOSE this. It's not a CHOICE.  We didn't wake up and say...hey I want to waste my money on an education or...hey I want to be poor today-I just want to get a taste of what it's like to not be privileged.

 I have NO insurance. NO public assistance. I'm staying with family...I'm barely making ends meet. I'm educated- but not many care about that in this economy. People are getting preference for those few jobs available...and those people are most likely not brown and queer.

When I did research on discrimination in institutions and the effect on the workforce and clients, I found out something astounding. Well, not that astounding for us brown folks, really. There really isn't anything in place to keep HR from discriminating during the hiring process. Not really. They can say you weren't hired for many other reasons and not have to admit that they are racist or homophobic. In fact, many  HR folks are in fact racist and homophobic. There are studies. Yes, the same folks who are supposed to be coming up with diversity trainings. HA! It'd be funny if it wasn't keeping so many brown folks unemployed. It'd be funny if people were actually able to feed themselves and their families despite the discrimination.


Go to this poem (a video) for more about how I feel trying to survive as a brown, genderqueer.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Master's Tools...

"The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house." Audre Lorde- Sister Outsider

I got into a discussion about race and class and a question was posed- in this society, are we enslaved mentally according to race and/or class? I took this to mean- does race and class dictate our "social mobility". Does it confine us in the social (and private!) spheres? Do we buy into these arbitrary confines and are we therefore mentally enslaved by them?

Hmph. Race. arbitrary and ascientific. Designed as just another way for the white man to show their superiority. Just another way to subjugate and divide. The People's Institute for Survival and Beyond has an incredible analysis on this. Whiteness....white supremacy. Power. Privilege.

The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house.

It means different things to different people. For me, in this context, it means- all of ya'll who are struggling to "get that paper", to have "upward mobility", to "assimilate" into a system built for us not to survive- there is no liberation in that. There is no liberation in striving to be "upper middle class". There is no liberation in trying to get 3 Ph.D's. There is no liberation in acculturation, forgetting our roots to "play the game". The more we buy into the limitations of race and class and the supposed freedom inherent in "upward mobility" (read: assimilating into whiteness and perpetuating white supremacy, since they are seen as the top of the totem pole), the more we are bound.

The master's tools will NEVER dismantle the master's house.

We think we can play the system. We think we can code switch, get these degrees, forsake our roots, and that we will be rewarded the good life. We buy into all the white man tells us in school. We let white folks hand us our history and tell us "Shhhh forget, forget...your ancestors are long gone. Here...take this spiritual path, our spiritual path.'s some history about us and what we think of you." And we take it. 

Some don't bother to question it. Their ideas on education- we buy them. Their ideas on family, we buy them. Their notions of patriarchy and the way women should be subjugated, and relegated to only certain spheres...yes, yes...subconsciously we buy that, too.  The way we form relationships, the way we value college degrees over elders and wisdom, the way we turn our nose up at our African roots, the way we judge body types, intelligence, the way we buy into colorism. You think we thought this way before the master built his house on our lands? Brought us into his mess. Set up shop ...appropriated all of us brown folks' culture- music, art, even parts of our history. 

And then they sell it back to us. They take our homes and sell it back to us. They take our music and sell it back to us. Blackness has been co-opted in this country. They take blackness, brownness and sell it back to us. They go to India, come back and teach us some kind of diluted, variation of their interpretation of the spirituality they see- yoga, ayurveda and such. They go to Africa and do the same. White yoruba priestess'? Come on now! 

Reggae, Ska, Punk, Rock, Country, R&B, co-opted....Shamanism, Yoruba, Rastafarianism, co-opted. 

And yet...we should be like them? We should use their tools of higher education, their religion: Christianity, their ideas on how a society should be built: capitalism, patriarchy to "get ahead", to "progress".

Nobody else sees something wrong with this? 

We are not whole. We as brown people cannot be whole while buying into this mentality. This is why we are spiritually, mentally and emotionally sick. We can't heal ourselves through acculturation or looking for the answers in someone else's heritage and history. Though white folks could stand to learn some things from the other umteen hundred countries on this planet (that their ancestors have tried to dominate and subjugate). And I do mean LEARN from, not co-opt. Not think you can make them "better". Not subjugate them. Not "master" them. LEARN FROM.

It is time, brown people, that we see how beautiful we are. How rich our culture is. It is time that we look at these tools that were put into our hands at birth, the master's tools, and decide that they aren't going to dismantle this house, this system. We have to go back to our roots. Re-discover our values. OUR values. Not the white man's values. And if we can't find answers...we need to create new ones. We need to create new solutions for this nation's problems. Not rely on a constitution written by white men 200 something years ago. Not try to write policies and adhere to laws when that whole system needs to be toppled and recreated. Not try to fix a system that was doomed to fail due to the principles it was built upon. We need to create something new. We aren't going to salvage this one- not with all the racism, classism, ableism, sexism...etc. 

We need not be afraid to study African and Indigenous religions. Do you not see an issue with putting stock into and worshiping a "white" savior- a stranger- who died 2000 years ago but not wanting to give thanks and worship your own flesh and blood ancestors and the manifestation of the Creator in beautiful gods and goddesses that only represent aspects of your own self, your Divinity? 

Folks, we have got to stop valuing white heritage, values and characteristics over our own. We have got to stop this cycle of assimilation and acculturation or we will surely perish. Vanish. We have got to help each other remember who we are. Even white folks. What is "white" anyway? Someone I really respect once told me that whiteness is a set of privileges, not a race. Where do "white" folks come from? What is their real history? I encourage folks to check out the People's Institute and to read articles like: The Point is not to interpret whiteness but to Abolish it. 

We have a LOT of unlearning and reconstructing to do.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The New Masculinity- Redefining ourselves, emerging from our cocoons

I've been processing a lot about my identity as a transmasculine, genderqueer person after attending the phenomenal First Annual Black Transmen Advocacy Conference in Dallas, TX. Here are some of my musings after such a transformational conference that has touched me in ways that no gender studies class or symposium ever could. My life has truly been changed forever, and I don't say that lightly.

Conference Epiphanies

The conference almost brought me to tears multiple times because it was so healing. I received all the affirmation I have never gotten because no one knew how to give it to me- not even myself. I heard all those things I needed to hear from people like me. It wasn't  psychobabble or intellectual conversations around gender identity by stuffy academics,etc. I heard from folks who live this experience and who are at the margins and intersections. Speaking real talk. REAL TALK.

I received validation for everything I’ve ever suspected about why it’s so incredibly hard to be black and trans. For instance: that transitions aren't a complete solution for everyone. They help brothers go "stealth" which can be a huge weight off with so much violence and homophobia within our community- but what about the mind? The spirit? Being trans isn’t just about your body despite what psychologists and doctors say. They have no idea. NO idea. For them, everything is solved with subtractions and additions of parts and a lifelong dose of hormones. To them...this is what makes you a man or woman. There is no room for emotional, mental and spiritual preparation and transformation.

During the conference I realized that I’ve been so afraid to be who I am – transmasculine– because of a number of things: my own perceptions of what it means to be a man (read: black man), the scarcity of positive black male role models in my life and the life of others close to me, my issues with reconciling my inherent masculinity and my radical feminist ideals, others' perceptions of what it means if I claim my masculinity (fellow feminists, girlfriends/partners, etc.), and lastly and most importantly, people not “letting” me be male. 

Let me explain. By "let", I mean people's interactions with me. Because of the way I look (female...and sometimes androgynous) people interact with me as such and expect me to interact as a female. There's not a lot I can do about this besides change my physical characteristics in order for others to see me the way I see me. Say what? People want me to cut off parts of my chest, take hormones that they have no idea in the future how they will affect me, go prematurely bald- all so that others can see me as male when I already see me as male?!

In short: Yes.

So when other's tell me to just be me and keep doing me, I just want you all to realize how dismissive this statement can be to me and other transfolks. Because, others' perceptions and the way they interact with us do affect us and how we move about in this world. Trust me. I know that people shouldn't be able to“let” me do anything. But, the reality is that I can't control interpersonal interactions without changing myself physically. Though this doesn't dictate who I can or can't be and what I do and don't do- others' perceptions and interactions can be limiting. This just being is honestly a recurring lesson and theme in my life as I unearth layer after layer of my complex identity as a brown, transmasculine and genderqueer, vegetarian, artist who practices spirituality other than Christianity. 

So many marginalized identities in this little vessel!

Defining Ourselves

A hard lesson for gender non-conforming folks is that people want to police you and your gender- especially within the LGBT community. Somebody pointed out during the Black Transmen Advocacy Conference that the LGB community is the worst for outing transfolks and saying trans people aren’t “real” men or women for differing reasons. Our own queer brothers and sisters invisibilize and marginalize us. Many people are always so concerned with if you are trans enough. Masculine or Feminine enough. As if their opinion is the deciding factor as to whether you are male or female. As if you "passing" (see previous post) to them is the societal litmus test for your legitimacy. But these ideas didn't fall from the sky. It comes from what some have labeled a "heteronormative" society (where heterosexual lifestyles are privileged) where there are specific gender roles and behaviors to be adhered to. Sometimes queer folks find themselves subconsciously mimicking or emulating these roles, other times they consciously mimic or emulate these roles. A concern is if there are expectations for the performance of certain gender roles crafted by a "majority" and forced upon the whole of society.

We can’t keep letting people hand us who we are and what our experiences are. Though this has been the formula, we’ve got to break free from that equation. (And by we- I mean black and brown transmen/women...the narrative is usually one of white transmen/women who invariably invisibilize us on top of that which already occurs on behalf of the larger LGB community).

We have to define ourselves. We have to create what we want to be- who we are. We can't keep taking our cues from social constructions on masculinity and maleness. They are damaging and exclusive. Honestly, when I looked around and saw what available models I had for masculinity- it arrested my development as a transmasculine person. I wish I would have known then that it was up to me to create a new masculinity. To become who I wanted to be. To not just reject society's roles, but make new ones and challenge them in substantial ways. I wish I would have known then that I could create my own gender. 

In terms of coming into my own masculinity all that need be said is that at the end of the day it's not about who's buying my masculinity because honestly, I was never selling it. People can deal with my gender expression however they see put and it's really not my obligation to explain why I am the way I am...or even who I am. Seriously, when was the last time you saw a person go up to a cisgender person (or a person whose gender and sex match up) and ask them why they are the man or woman they are ...or why they “became” that?

New Conversations on Black and Brown Masculinity

Trudy Askew: Butterfly Man

We need to begin new conversations on masculinity; black and brown masculinity, specifically. We need to have dialogue about what it means to each of us to inhabit "masculinity and maleness". We need to talk about where our cues and concepts for masculinity come from. We need to acknowledge that there is no one type of masculinity. It comes in a myriad of forms.

We also need to own that no one can show you how to become a man but that men can certainly be shown how to go about respecting a woman which should be inherent to being a man. A “real” man. Masculinity and femininity should not be antagonistic to one another. They should always complement each other like in the earliest of our human history. Like the Moon complements the Sun. Like Mother Earth complements Father Sky. Why are some black and brown men so invested in gender roles and power plays assimilated from the white patriarchy?

Yes, power is the issue. It is so divisive. It is important for communities of color to know that we have been operating under the white man's forced patriarchy in which men believe that because of their strength, intellect and limited/ lack of emotional expression that they are better, stronger- superior. 

I honestly believe the patriarchy has its roots (besides in biology and survival of the fittest) in the psychoses of a bunch of men who were treated badly by their mothers or female relatives and as retaliation (subconscious or unconscious- but retaliation none the less) women were forced to submit to them. The worst misogynists' have horrible relationships with the women in their family. Check out the psychology behind it. Perhaps if they could heal those wounds...we could go about healing the bonds between men and women. Black men and women. Brown men and women.

Transmen can often  perpetuate misogyny because of their dislike and/or hatred for the femininity within them and their past as female- a gender that is obviously wrong for them. A gender that they have been pigeon-holed into being. In rejecting this in and for themselves and in overcompensating by taking on stereotypical expressions of maleness and masculinity  transmen can sometimes develop a deep disdain for females and femininity. Not ALL transmen...some. This should not be used to overgeneralize or farther discriminate against transmen. I want to be adamant about that.

I don't like to compare marginalization because this can be harmful and dismissive  but I believe that a point can be made by talking about internalized racism and the sexism that can be seen in transmen. Something similar is at play. Black folks sometimes hate themselves and hate other black folks when they've internalized a hatred for blackness from society. Sometimes when transmen internalize a hatred for femininity and whatever it means to them to be female, sexism manifests. Much of the phobias we witness are about an insecurity with our own identity or an ignorance and intolerance of different identities.

This discourse on masculinity was happening in the black trans community and I was so refreshed. So relieved. Because in the white trans community, I felt like people were cool with being just trans for trans sake. Trans folks felt like being trans in and of itself was transgressive. To expand on this I do not mean taking on transgender for the sake of taking on being transgender- I mean  thinking that being trans is such a radical identity in and of itself and that just having analysis on being trans is enough. There's no need to connect the experience with larger, shared social issues with other communities- or even with the trans community with, say, trans people of color. The trans experience is being over-intellectualized and people are being so distanced from actual socioeconomic experiences. Gender theory allows for too much sterile observation and hypotheses. Gender is being talked to death but there is no application of ideas that come up during discourse. 

Also, the white trans experience has trumped trans people of color's experience. This is another factor that arrests development for some trans people of color. We go online and do research on transfolks and only get the white trans experience, which isn't ours- so there's no way that we could be trans, right? Also there are other issues in being out and trans which seems to be what white transmen push for. As they become visible as trans, there may be backlash...but they are still a white man with privilege. As soon as we transition to be black men, our lives get much more difficult- especially if we are trans organizers. There is a lot of pressure to stay "stealth" and invisible within communities of color, because who really wants the added marginalization and discrimination? It is hard enough to be a black man. Now you've got to worry about being accepted within your community, church, schools and jobs? Many say- No, thank you. And you know ...some white transmen call us cowards for that. Cowards. Because they have no idea the experience of intersecting identities of being a person of color and queer among other identities.

But a positive that comes from multiple layers of marginalization within black and brown queer communities is that there is more mobilization in our communities in terms of organizing for social justice. We have organizations like the Audre Lorde Project, Allgo, the Trans People of Color Coalition, the National Black Justice Coalition, and many, many more groups committed to addressing injustice due to racism, classism, sexism, ableism,etc. 

Black Transmen Inc is committed to so many different community efforts. Their motto alone: One is not a man he becomes one. Be the change you want to see in the world, speaks volumes about their commitment to their ideas on masculinity and maleness and their commitment to the larger community.

At the Black Transmen Conference we talked about uplifting and setting an example for other brothers, trans and otherwise. Some talked about being the "evolution" of men or at least being a bridge between men and women because of our past experience as women and our current status as men. We talked about eradicating misogyny and being empowered by our past as female and not being hindered by it or feeling like we had to reject it. We talked about spirituality. The conversation was so much richer than any other conversation with transmen that I've ever had and so full of hope and the promise for change. We were asked to create change and not settle for the definitions set before us.

I sit astounded at this whole idea that we are creating this new masculinity- one in which we don't perpetuate gender norms. One where we topple notions and conditioning of the white patriarchy.  One where we bridge the divide between men and women and heal the wounds of women and men of color in our communities. How refreshing. How inspiring. Who else will join in creating this new, old reality... because truly- all we're doing is going back to the feet of our foremothers and forefathers.

Friday, March 23, 2012

I'm not doing this for my health

Growing up, my mom would use this phrase frequently as a sarcastic comment when she'd do something and we wouldn't notice or understand why she'd done it or if we accidentally went against an action she'd done.

Let's take an example...
Scenario: mom is folding clothes. Someone rifles through the clothes when she walks off and leaves some of the once folded clothes unfolded...”Hey, what do you think...I'm doing this for my health?”

In thinking about this phrase, I automatically started to ponder on organizing with queer and POC communities. As we all know, this work is stressful and a lot of times thankless. There are folks who don't understand why we put the time and effort into building bridges, anti-oppression work, and forming coalitions. Obviously we don't just do this work for our health- though some seem to think so.

I don't really enjoy being the token. I don't take delight in educating folks who'd rather stay in the dark or keep with their misconceptions. I don't wake up and suit up for a new day of anti-racist and anti-homo/transphobic vigilance. Well, I do- but not because I want to.
It's because I have to. Need to.

Some folks in our community are single-handedly destroying the hard work of hundreds, thousands in our movement to uplift and advance our people. Some are artists, some are our own community members, some are politicians, some are bigots, some are just oblivious. Some have no idea the lives that have been lost, the blood that has been shed, or the countless hours of sleep lost. The burden beared for the sake of just a sliver of freedom- and I dare not call it liberation. We can't have liberation with 80% of our community's mind enslaved.

Some of us organizers, activists, advocates, educators, and social workers are seriously withering away inside because of being so burnt out from this work. Consistently re-doing the undoing of our movement. So many are tired and jaded. So many have given up and left the movement.

Clearly we're not doing this for our health. Fighting oppression, joining the struggle, advancing a People daily is definitely not akin to an apple a day. Taking on toxicity, eradicating -isms that run rampant and are interwoven in our societal fabric certainly can't be a multivitamin.

And people always say to us- why are you doing this? Why can't you just worry about your own family? You should only look after yourself. You are born alone and die alone. But that sounds unhealthier to me than acknowledging the interconnectedness of our communities and doing something about the sickness and destruction in them. Once you are awakened to systematic/systemic oppression- there is no going back to sleep.

"Washing one's hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral. "

If you withhold information, live in denial, refuse to be educated- it is the same as working against those who are trying to build together. I realize that POC are heavily burdened and cannot give much of their time to organizing. But the civil rights movement still happened despite day jobs and families. What's different now? I venture to say that the only thing that's different now is that POC are not as willing to see interconnections and are not as invested in their communities or the movement. They deem the civil rights movement complete.

The media and politicians are still trying to brainwash us into believing that we live in a post-racial society. Ha! We're all middle class...we all have the same access to health care and education- if we only try hard enough. Everyone has equal access to power. Hmph. Really?
Get out of here with that.

Us educators, facilitators, organizers, and people who refuse to take on any of these labels are not advancing this movement for our health, though we are trying to create healthier communities. Maybe some folks still don't understand why but as I always say..if you're not going to stand behind me or beside least don't stand in my way.

That is all.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Ain't I a Man? I mean, I AM a man: My take on 2 Glenn Ligon: America pieces

Ligon's piece in the "America" exhibit
"I AM A MAN"- black bold letters contrasted against a white background assert. A recreation of a sign used at a strike during the Civil Rights Era hangs dauntingly in the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. In 1968 hundreds of Memphis sanitation workers carried this very sign after two workers were crushed to death by a malfunctioning truck. Protesting deplorable conditions and negligence, workers organized to demand recognition of their union, better safety standards and a decent wage. The sign perhaps meant to them that they'd like to be acknowledged as men, no different because of the color of their skin. Men who deserved equal rights, equal treatment.
Photo from the 1968 Memphis sanitation worker strike

I'd seen it a few times when doing online searches. I'd glanced at it a few times during the guided tour at the exhibit, but as I continued to look at all talented Glenn Ligon's other works it began to register in a whole new way- especially when I saw his stenciled print "Passing". (unfortunately I could not find this print anywhere online. Probably because it did not speak to others or did not seem relevant to those who have actually posted or written about his work- read: white folks).

As I looked at the queer black men and women surrounding me, having their own private revelations, I allowed myself to have one of my own.

This work had a completely different meaning for me than these black men and women whose presence I'd found so much solace in at the beginning of our journey into Ligon together. I was giddy (yes, giddy) at the large number of queer, brown folks who had come to BlaqOut's reception and guided tour. For those first moments I felt so connected to them- connected by the opaque color of our skin and our overall "Black/Brown experience." (Experience of oppression from white people).

I reveled in how I hadn't been in a room with so many black and brown queer folks enjoying art - ever. Though Oakland was the first place I'd been in multiple predominantly brown spaces inclusive of queer folks- it was still not "our" space. But sometimes we made it ours... or it became ours by default. 

Maybe the larger (meaning white) LGBT community has slowly overtaken my consciousness, making me believe that these spaces should be separate- just like it is for them...

It makes me think of a black history month article I recently wrote. I told the "powers that be" that straight African Americans and queer African Americans don't necessarily have separate black history events and that I'd need to write about the "straight" events, too. I mean- they were 98% of the events and just because straight folks were there, didn't mean queer folks weren't going to show up.

I don't think my point was fully processed by them, but I got the go ahead and the article was published. Although all my explanations about the queer black community, the lack of segregation around black history events, and my brief commentary on segregation in the LGBT community and the need for white allies to come out and support those black history events (and POC organizations- even financially) were, to my surprise, mysteriously missing when I opened the paper that day. 

My article had been butchered. Cut in half and now was only a shadow of its former self. Now it was only a listing of Black history events. An ad covered the whole bottom half of the same page. I tried not to see this as a racist act. I tried to push this off on economics- capitalism. After all, they needed to pay the bills...right? Sigh. What a wake up call for me. I wish I could hit the snooze button.

The people I'd interviewed were as shocked as I was, especially being that I read to them what I was putting in the article. The powers that be said it was a space issue. I think that's partially true. Space...and politics.

                                             I AM A MAN

I've written my experiences of being a brown, transmasculine/ masculine of center person. (Female-bodied). You can see my article on that here. It can be a frustrating experience.

In Dallas, I've had the sobering experience of being "read" as female 80% of the time. In Oakland (depending on what neighborhood) I probably was read as female 50% of the time- which tapered off when I started seeking out queer spaces.

I was spoiled in NYC- being read as male 75% of the time- genderqueer in queer spaces in Brooklyn or at the many queer symposiums and conferences. 

But Dallas- I'm adjusting. Unfortunately I'm getting used to the Lesbian/Gay dichotomy. "No" bisexuals, "no" transgender folks. I'm getting used to being seen as lesbian- and just black- not brown. You see, there's only room for lesbian and gay here. Only room for Black and white. Male and female. I can't be upset about that here- I don't pass. I don't fit what it means to be a man here.

That's just the way it is. I can't come down here with my fancy gender analysis and queer theory inherited from a liberal arts college and NYC. I can't just come down here with my leftist, semi-anarchist, brown activism and queer manifestos that have rubbed off from Oakland and expect to be taken seriously.  No, not here in the South. They say I belong "up north", over in the east, or back out west with all that. Or Austin- the liberal bastion  (and in my opinion, mirage) of our third coast.

As I sat looking at "Passing" repeated multiple times in jet black on a lily white background until the paint stuck in the stencil, blurring the word and making the canvas black like the lettering- I realized, to my chagrin, that here- I'll never pass. I'll always be black "against a sharp white background"- and though I'm partially using Zora Neale Hurston's quote about race, I don't only mean race here. I mean race and gender.

In some cities- some states- maybe even 80% of this country- I will never, ever pass. To society "at large" I am not a man. My features are "too feminine". My eyelashes too long. My voice pitch is too high. My ass is too round- ethnically round and ever-so-there. Even though I am not necessarily feminine, people's expectations are for me to be.

Most will place me where they want to place me. Give me female pronouns- talk to me about "female" or "womanly" things- and I will dip back into my past socialization as a female and unwittingly comply with their erroneous expectations for me. I know that most won't understand pronoun preferences and that it's almost ridiculous to expect all folks to see me as I see myself.

It's humorous that with people of color I am less agitated and more forgiving about this. Is that insulting? I say insulting because I don't expect people of color to know the difference between a gender non-conforming/genderqueer person and a lesbian or gay person. Not unless you are a transitioning transman- which I'm not.

So- I can't be taken seriously, right? I must not want to be if I am not on T (testosterone) or taking the proper steps to become a man. If I wanted to be treated like one, if I wanted to be taken seriously as one- I'd take the proper steps like so many others. 

Then maybe I could be "stealth" and never have to deal with those issues again (outside of my mind, that is). But, I guarantee that the preoccupation with passing does not go away. I'm sure it's always there in the back of your mind. No matter how long you've "passed" for.  

A fear that somehow you'll be found out. Your packer (prosthetic penis) might shift at a weird angle or fall out in the bathroom as you relieve yourself. You may skip "T" for too long or want to go off T and your voice pitch might change slightly. Maybe you won't bind your chest as well one day. 

Even when you get all the surgeries there's always that ONE person who will go out of their way and insist on reading you as the sex you were born with, despite your many efforts. Despite the thousands of dollars you spent on testosterone, gender reassignment surgery, counseling, a new wardrobe- a move to a new city/state/country.

Unless you find a bubble- maybe a queer bubble. Even then this does not guarantee 100% acceptance of how you identify. Indeed, it might even be worse because the LGB community can be downright hostile to transfolks. That's right. There's no true alliance there. No allegiance. We're not all one under the queer rainbow despite what the acronym feigns with such short distance between the L-G-B and the T.

Many lesbians think transmen "want" to be men- hell, they think this about butches/studs/AGs. They don't accept transwomen either, because they "used" to be men. Lots and lots of transmisogyny and transphobia. We're never accepted for who we really are- our body parts that we were born with dictate everything. 

Many straight people are the same. No solace there either. 

And don't you DARE be out of the box. No "new" labels allowed. You're complicating things. Now you're just a snooty, overeducated/degreed hyperaware hipster. Who, by the way, is confused. If you can't pick a box and stick with it you will be relegated to the "confused" box because you don't know who you are. Period. Exclamation point!

As a matter of fact- don't know anything about anyone else's culture. Don't identify as a different gender. Don't identify as more than one race or ethnicity. Just don't. There's no room for that. (Unless you're white with intentions on appropriating or exoticizing).I know all this from firsthand experience. There's no room in the margins, silly. Have you not read Anzaldรบa or any black feminist or brown lesbian writings? Intersections should be erased so we (and by we I mean they) can see the bigger picture- assimilate. Pass!

So no- I will not be read male, or multiracial. Everything I do will astound the masses because I live in the space between society's categories... and boxes. No label truly fits me. 

And you should check yours...does yours truly fit? Or are you just passing?