From all of the babbling I do here, you might've gathered that I love words. That means that something as simple as today's date, February 29th
, makes me think about all sorts of things. This leap day in a leap year, something that comes around only every four years, makes me wonder about where I was four years ago, and how far I've leapt since then. I'm thinking about other opportunities that only come around every few years, and how I've leapt at those, or how I kept my feet on the ground and waited for the chance to come around again. This morning I was doodling, drawing spirals as I waited for some writing
inspiration to come to me, when I had a great realization come to me: I have now had a longer relationship with CUAV than I had with the person who abused me during my darkest days of pain and hopelessness. CUAV (Community United Against Violence
) is the San Francisco-based LGBTQ anti-violence organization that I'm a part of. I only recently joined the staff
, but I've been a member since 2009. It's strange to me now, to look back and remember that when I first came to CUAV, I wasn't seeking healing for myself. Like so many survivors of violence, I was looking to help others, and over time, I inadvertently stumbled upon my own healing journey.
At CUAV we use spirals a lot, as symbols of wellness, of growth, of cycles of change. And personally, I've always loved spirals. I love that they appear in nature, and that they show endless possibilities. So the spiral feels like an appropriate symbol for my change. During the dark days, I was spiraling downward, with negativity building upon negativity, much like cycles of violence continue as oppression, fear, and hatred builds. And shifting my direction after spinning that way for so long felt disorienting at first. It was hard to feel like my feet were on the ground. It took, if you will, a leap, to decide to move in the opposite direction. And the change didn't happen immediately. It wasn't as simple as leaping from one spiral to another to start moving in the right direction. In fact, my shift toward healing is still happening today, and it will continue for as long as I can see. But I've been practicing new ways of thinking, new ways of understanding the world and my place in it,
and now my spiral is moving in the direction of positivity, as hope builds, destructive patterns break, and the shape of my new life unfolds with endless possibilities. On this leap day, this Wellness Wednesday, I'm thankful for the courage to leap, the upward spiral I've landed on, and for the support I've found along the way.
Sometimes, life's possibilities await somewhere beyond even your greatest imagination. I know from my journey that I have no idea of the change that might still be ahead of me. I may not know exactly where I'm going, but I'm finding hope in each day long the way.
What does it mean to be you? Would you know how to answer that question if somebody asked? How deep
inside yourself would you need to look to find the answer? It is, after all, an answer that can only come from within yourself, based on what your identity means to you, and nobody else. What if the question was narrower? If someone asked you what it means to you to be of your race, your gender, your age? Here's a question that seems rare: What does it mean to you to be a black man? When popular perceptions of black men come so often through aggression in the media and the sobering results of the prison industrial complex, the authentic voices of black men speaking for themselves about what life means to them can be forgotten. So I'm really intrigued by the transmedia art project Question Bridge: Black Males. It's an installation currently showing at the Oakland Museum of California,
as well as a few other locations around the country. Through a unique video format featuring a question and answer exchange between 160 black men, the project "seeks to represent and redefine Black male identity in America."To me, part of what's intriguing about projects like this one is how seemingly simple it is. It's a big endeavor, setting out to redefine black male identity, and yet, rather than calling for a complex creative process, it begins simply with asking questions and offering answers. This shows how powerful it can be to just speak from our own perspective, rather than allowing the media to speak for us. In this interview with Colorlines
, one of the Question Bridge artists, Chris Johnson, speaks of creating as an "engaged artist," "trying to do something that’s transformative for people that experience it." With just a glimpse at this project, it's easy to see how such an installation can, indeed, be a transformative experience, both for those who took part in creating it and for those who witness the results. A glimpse is all I've gotten so far,
but I can't wait to get out to the Oakland Museum of California to see more. You can read more from those who have seen the installation here
, and visit the Question Bridge website
for more information about the project and where you can see it in person. Here's a preview of what you'll see. What questions would you ask these men if you could? What would you ask someone like yourself? How would you answer?
Artist Lauren Quock
writes of the first of many incidents that inspired her Modified Bathroom Signs series
, "I vividly remember the first time someone asked whether I was a boy or a girl. I was five years old." Public restrooms are just one of many social spaces where we're pared down to just one part of our identity. Man, or woman? What if there are days when you feel like neither? Like both? We try to understand each other through such limited categories, based on how we look, who we sleep with, the color of our skin. But we are so much more.How would your bathroom sign look, if it welcomed you for who you truly are? What's missing from the gender binary? Come to CUAV's Open House tonight to see Lauren's powerful artwork, and the unique bathroom signs that some of us created during yesterday's Wellness Wednesday. It's also a chance to learn more about
CUAV's work to transform cycles of violence in LGBTQ communities. It's taking place from 6:30-8:30 pm, at CUAV's office. Visit CUAV's website
or the Facebook event pag
e for more details.Here's a silly poem I wrote a while ago. I might've posted it here before. unidentified
i need to take time out to say this only because
sometime between the latest recorded bloodshed
and my mother’s latest investigation
into my dating life, it occurred to me that all
those dire happenings in the world, the war, the
disease, the suffering, is all because you don’t
know enough about my sexuality. and how selfish
of me. it’s only just been brought to my attention
due to the urgency of your inquiries, and
i can assure you that had i known world
peace could be achieved simply by revealing
the details of my pussy’s history, i would
have done this much earlier. here’s hoping
it’s not too late. as to the most common
question, of whether i am gay or straight,
the answer is neither. if there are no options
in between then i am nothing more than a
figment of your imagination. fluid, they call it,
like water, so that you can pretend that like
water in a glass, i’ll remain clear and unseen,
and while we’re on the subject of putting irregular
humans into regular shapes, let me set out
describing my type. after all, in this game we
should not call dating, but repeating our
mistakes, we’re not really playing unless
we’re making all the same moves, landing
in just the same place. our asses. and speaking
of asses, aren’t i supposed to say the parts
i like, the tits or the ass, isn’t that how this type
thing works? when i’m asked what part
of my lover i think is sexiest, i say, her bottom
lip, when bitten. that is, unless i say, his
fingernails, with dirt beneath them. i like bodies
that tell stories, skin with traces of where it’s
been so when we make love, i close my eyes
and it’s not you i’m thinking of, but the parts
that create you, it’s your hair, heavy with smoke
that wasn’t your own but came from strangers
smoking around you, strangers whose breath
has found me. and that’s when i feel sexy, when
i feel like i’ve been found. but there i go again,
talking about me, forgetting what this means to
you. if all you want to know is how i
feel about body parts, the truth is this: if i paid
half as much attention to my lovers’ gender as
anyone else did, i would know more about their
genitals than their mind. and i have a hard time
believing that i’m the cause of some kind of unrest
because i don’t pick a side in terms you can wrap
your black and white boxes around. and i have a
hard time speaking of love in our language. but
let’s give it a shot. now you know a little more about
me, and maybe now the world can have its peace.
or maybe we’ll just go on.
There are days when I can't seem to do anything right. Or at least that's how I feel on those days. It seems like I'm just doing everything all wrong, when it comes to my writing life, my work life, my love life, and anything else I can think of. Of course, that's not the reality of things. The truth is, I'm doing the best I can, which is just fine in some situations, and even great in others.
But the truth is the last thing on my mind when I'm in one of those moods that has me determined to be hard on myself. What good is reality, really, up against the power of the mind?
Like many others, I can be my own harshest critic. And sometimes I have to wonder why it can be so much easier to view my reality through a negative light than a positive one. If nothing else, it speaks to the power of the mind. It's as if my mind has the ability to create its own truth, as harsh as that truth may be.
So why should I confine my mind to putting a negative slant on things? In truth, the possibilities could be endless - if I can find a way to interpret every move I make as a failure, then I should be able to do the opposite. Sometimes your mind gets used to negativity, so that's where it goes first, but it doesn't always have to be that way.
And maybe it doesn't all have to fall into such categories, negative and positive. Maybe seeing life through the light of my own truth can just be that. The world from my perspective. Based on my passions, my goals. Who I am and the life I deserve.
That may not be the whole truth of things, of course. Just like the light of negativity ignores our triumphs, seeing the world as I envision it may mean looking beyond the obstacles. Seeing a place where I seem like an outsider as one with space to make it my own. Seeing my stories of struggle as the beginnings of my survival. The sparks of the words that now demand to be heard.
There are days when I can't seem to do anything wrong. Or at least that's how I'm trying to feel. Not because I'm flawless, but because there's nothing wrong with having experiences that help me learn and grow.
How would your vision of the world create safe spaces? Shine light on silenced stories?
Lauren Quock, Fabulous, 2011
Acrylic, glitter, collage on panel, 12 in x 9 in
The artwork of Lauren Quock
shows how someone can envision the world they deserve. Lauren "uses art to lift up the experiences of her communities and transform tools of oppression." With her Modified Bathroom Signs series
, she re-envisions public restrooms as safe spaces for those who don't fit into the gender binary.
Lauren and her fabulous artwork will help support the healing of queer and trans survivors of violence during the next couple of weeks. At CUAV's Wellness Wednesdays this week and next week, Lauren will facilitate an Art and Healing workshop, and we'll get to create our own bathroom signs based on our truths. I'm really looking forward to that.
I'm also really looking forward to this Thursday, February 23, when CUAV will have an open house and art show featuring Lauren Quock's Modified Bathroom Signs. There will also be food and music by Deejay Bootyklap, all in celebration of CUAV's work building healing and safety in LGBTQ communities. Visit CUAV's website
or the Facebook event pag
e for more details. And visit Lauren Quock's website
for a preview of her work!
Well, I've seen it in writing now, so I guess it must be true - CUAV's latest newsletter announces that I'm the newest CUAV staff member!
I'm still pinching myself over this news, because this is truly the glittery goodness that dreams are made of. As a member of the CUAV staff collective, I'm working to build the world I've dreamed of - a world where queer and trans folks can heal and protect ourselves from harm, shifting from cycles of violence and living instead in communities of hope.
If you haven't heard of CUAV, you're probably new to my blog, and if you've been following my posts, you might think I'm slightly obsessed with CUAV's work. Here's why - CUAV, short for Community United Against Violence, is rooted in the basic belief that we, as individuals and communities, have the knowledge and power to create our own healing and our own vision of safety, without looking to the institutions that so often contribute to the violence that harms us. CUAV works to prevent and respond to violence within and against LGBTQ communities in a way that incorporates my core beliefs: that those who are so often pushed to the margins of society deserve better, and we can have better by turning to our own survival skills, our resiliency, the strength of our spirit.
Today is about celebrating love. Isn't it amazing to think of what queer and trans folks can learn from love? Through the natural, beautiful act of loving ourselves and loving one another, we build the strength to break down the walls the world builds around us. These walls are littered with messages that say that we're not good enough, not strong enough, that this world isn't ours to survive and thrive in. But with each act of love, each time we care for ourselves or another, we help to tear down the walls, for ourselves and for many generations to come. We stand together in power, and we say, this world is ours.
To learn more about CUAV's work, visit the CUAV website
. Also, check out my events page
to find out about upcoming events at CUAV. I hope to see you for tonight's membership meeting, where we'll have good food, good company, and a fun, thoughtful discussion about love - what the media tells us about it, and how we can tell our own stories. I'm so glad to have you with me on this new chapter of my journey!
I'm trying not to feel like a crotchety old woman, getting more and more embittered about certain holidays
as each year goes by. But it can be hard sometimes, when you get to realize what really goes on to maintain some traditions.
Take Valentine's Day. I'm not against celebrating love, of course. No, I'm far from it. The problem I find in Valentine's Day is that it can feel like a cheapening of the true value of love
, reducing it to expectations of material things and the kind of love that fits into a particular picture, one that leaves out many of the bonds that keep us strong, including love for family, for friends, and perhaps the greatest love of all
, love for ourselves. No wonder so many people end up hating this day. So I'm on the lookout this year, for more holistic celebrations. Some fun examples of folks who are celebrating love in their own way are posted on the Occupy Valentine's Day tumblr.
My focus for today is self-love, because I can always use a reminder to love myself, so I might as well turn Valentine's Day into exactly that.
How can art support self-love? Here's a great example - Jackie O'Nappy's written a lovely blog post
about the potential influence of photography. She writes about being photographed by Saddi Khali
, whose photographs of black folks take my breath away, and says, "I fell in love with a woman last week...my reflection in the mirror." It sounds like a transformative experience. Read her post, "Let's see ourselves beautiful again,"
and check out Saddi Khali's photos
. In his own words, Saddi Khali writes:
"Black people need 2 see images of ourselves w/ humanity. women beautiful regardless of size, shape or complexion. men strong, sensitive & loving. parents & children caring & happy. couples in love in warm intimate moments. us as lovers, sensual & sexy but not nasty even when we’re nasty. this is not 2 say that other folks don’t need 2 see themselves in certain ways. but, i don’t know those ways. i DO know how my folks r being fooled by & misrepresented in arts & media. & i DO know how its affecting us. so, all the work i do is in the intention of combating that."
"Praying Mantis" by Saddi Khali
I notice something when I see photos like the ones Saddi Kahli takes - photos of black people, natural and alight with pride. Perhaps it's simply because I'm not used to seeing such images, as they are usually absent from the media, or perhaps it's because some part of me still believes in the message that absence conveys - that my black body isn't beautiful, not if I don't try harder to be thinner, lighter, or whatever else it would take to fit the right image. When I see such photos, I remember that I don't have to look to a figure who's glamorous and perfected to find beauty. I can gaze as far s Jackie O'Nappy can, and simply look in the mirror.
And this beauty isn't purely a physical manifestation - it's the beauty found in strength and spirit, that which sometimes goes beyond words, found only when art speaks.
It's this kind of beauty that's on my mind when I think of Whitney Houston, gone now from our world, leaving behind, as Jamilah King said in this Colorlines article
, twin legacies of beauty and pain. I feel that I don't have the words to honor Whitney, at least not yet, so I've been looking to others. It's hard, though, to get through those pictures painted with a filter of judgment, and misconceptions about addiction, and our human need to illuminate the flaws of others in order to cast a shadow over our own. Stacia L. Brown conveys how I've felt about it, in this hauntingly beautiful post on her blog
When art is unafraid to embrace us in our wholeness, we know that we don't need to erase our scars to be beautiful. Everything about us, from our shadows to our light, creates the spirit that gives us true beauty. For each of us, the one close enough to see all of our darkness and light is the self. So that's where love begins. With compassionate care for one's whole self, inside and out. Looking for a place to celebrate love on Valentine's Day? Join us at CUAV, where all are welcome to attend our monthly membership meeting. We'll talk about what the media says about love, and how we can tell our own stories. Dinner is included! Whose Story? My Story! Our Stories! Tuesday, February 14, 6:30-8:30 pm at CUAV, 427 South Van Ness Ave, in San Francisco. Also, check out CUAV's website for some loving reminders on staying safe on your Valentine's Day date.
I know. Crazy. It's much easier to find themes in high school English class, though, when you're reading some work that was crafted with a writer's intention, that's been analyzed for years, and your ideas about theme can fit neatly into one of the five paragraphs in an essay. It doesn't quite work out that way in life. Sometimes, themes appear in the form of many questions, without any answers. Sometimes, a word or a phrase keeps coming up, and you don't know why, so the only question you can come up with is "what's the point?"
Sometimes, multiple themes seem to arise at once, and they don't always work well together. I'm in one of those moments of conflicting themes. I can appreciate the space it leaves me in, a place of exploration and asking questions that might not even need to be answered. The first theme is longing. Yesterday I saw an incredible movie, "Pina." The film shows the work of legendary choreographer Pina Bausch. Pina died in 2009, but she'll never really leave this earth, not after bringing so much passion and expression to the world. "What are we longing for?" Pina asked her dancers
to answer this question, though not with words. Their dancing reminds me that themes aren't always found in words, but also in movement, in expression, in those moments when our voices are silent but our bodies illustrate what's left unsaid. The other theme of the moment for me is quite different from longing. I keep encountering the statement I am enough. What does this mean for me? Maybe these themes aren't so contradictory. In a way, I believe I'll always be longing for something, which doesn't have to mean perpetually falling short or failing to reach something. It only means there will always be passion pushing me forward. But I am enough, even while longing.
I am like a dancer, expressing my longing with every muscle, every breath, every stitch of my being, reaching for everything I hope for, until at the end of the day, I settle into my skin, alone in my body, and I am enough.
I think I've established pretty well on this blog that I'm one of those crazy literary types. So, it's possible that some of my thoughts are the result of my affliction - er, affinity, that is, for words. For instance, I tend to see themes everywhere I go. Themes in my life, following me along through my days. Some might prefer to leave such things behind in high school English classes, but me? I continue to ask those silly "what's going on here?" questions, finding themes in life situations, in the words of friends and strangers, and yes, in the books I read.
These prisoners are people, people with lonely hearts, and just like those of us who are out in the free world, they deserve love. There's a great event happening in San Francisco tonight, to show imprisoned people some of the love that they deserve. The Valentine's Day Card-Making Party for Prisoners is taking place at the Mission SRO Collective from 6-9 pm. Participants will include folks from
SF Pride at Work, California Coalition for Women Prisoners, Artists of the 99%, and TransGender Intersex Justice Project, and it's open for anyone who can be there. What would you write to a survivor in lock-up, if you could? Even if you can't make it to the event tonight, there are ways to help prisoners find hope by reminding them that they're not alone in the world. The organization Black and Pink, one of the sponsors of tonight's event, runs a pen pal program to help LGBTQ prisoners communicate with folks in the free world. Visit their website to learn more about this program and others like it.
They also have great information on the prison industrial complex and how we can help build a movement against it. Here's an excerpt from their brilliant analysis
: "Our organizing efforts are guided by a larger goal of collective liberation. We hold strong to a feminist, anti-racist, queer liberationist, anti-capitalist, radical analysis of social, ecological, and economic struggles. We understand the prison industrial complex to be part of a larger system that utilizes systems of oppression to divide people and exploit our individual and collective power. Through movement building and sustained direct action against these systems of violence we will create the world we dream of. We also celebrate in the beauty of what exists now including our love for each other, the strength of our planet, incredible human resiliency, and all of the power we have to continue existing. While dreaming and struggling for a better world we embody a deep commitment to living in the present."Find out details about tonight's card-making party on Facebook or on the Black and Pink website. Here's a great video on resisting gender violence without cops or prisons, featuring author Victoria Law.
With Valentine's Day less than a week away, this time of year can make anyone feel the lonely blues. But life's especially lonely for those who are in prisons, separated from their communities and families, often experiencing and recovering from violence, while taking in messages that oppressive violence is the kind of treatment they deserve.
Today is National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day
. This year's theme is "I am my brother/sister's keeper." It's a statement for how important community can be in the fight against HIV/AIDS, and a reminder that our brothers and sisters who are infected are, still, our beloved brothers and sisters. Increasing awareness has helped us make strides in HIV prevention and treatment, but still, populations like black communities, black
women, and people in prisons are experiencing disproportionate rates of infection. As you know, I believe in the power of sharing stories
, as Catherine Wyatt-Morley bravely does in this story
of learning to live with HIV and without shame. But this article contains the words "Hers was not the face of HIV." Is there a real face of HIV? The idea that there is suggests that we could just close our eyes and forget that face, rather than remembering that it could be the face of our brother, our sister, or the face we see in the mirror.
The photography project "A Day with HIV in America"
features folks with powerful stories about living with and caring for those with HIV and AIDS, and it shows a great variety of faces. It's a stunning example of how telling stories through art
can open our eyes to the world we live in, moving beyond the silence and shame
, the myths and hurtful stigma
that allow this disease to continue knocking on our doors. If we never answer, never face the truth, it doesn't change the world we live in. It just leaves us in the dark, afraid to step into the light. So, what will you do for National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day? Get tested? Spread the word? Attend an event? There's no reason to fear this day, or any other day on which AIDS is part of our reality. We got this.