Here I am, blogging and apologizing. Saying, I'm sorry I haven't been blogging more often. Here I am falling back on the excuse that I've been busy. Busy, busy, busy. Here I am claiming that being busy keeps me connected, keeps me aware, makes me feel like I'm contributing to life around me and weaving a thread between my own heartbeat and the drumming that makes the world go 'round.
And here I am admitting that it's not (always) true. That sometimes, it's quite the opposite – staying
busy helps me disconnect, helps me keep moving without pausing to consider how I'm moving, or why. It helps me feel productive, which can seem fulfilling when I convince myself that I value productivity more than being in touch with the fullness of my reality, including any uncomfortable feelings I'd rather avoid.
For me, working and creating with dignity means being mindful about the work I'm doing, and being aware of all of my needs, even those I might be neglecting in any given moment by staying so busy. I'm thinking about what bell hooks wrote in Sisters of the Yam: Black Women and Self-Recovery:
"[t]he practice of 'right livelihood' invites us to become more fully aware of our reality, of the labor we do and the way we do it."
So here I am, pausing. Practicing "right livelihood" by taking a moment to think about how I can align my busy life with my dignity.
We all deserve to work with dignity, which is one of the reasons I'll be marching tomorrow for May Day, also known as International Workers' Day. It's a day for uniting in solidarity with immigrant workers, to stand up for human rights and say no to criminalization. CUAV's contingent will be part of San Francisco's march, walking together as LGBTQ survivors and our allies. Join us
, or find May Day events in your area
What does working with dignity mean to you?
During a moving Wellness Wednesday group at CUAV
yesterday, we wrote poems about finding love and the skills to survive within our own bodies. Here's Jane Springer's poem, "Mules," which inspired our work. Mules
by Jane Springer
When they told us Don’t speak until spoken to,
ears the size of corn.
When they forced us to eat everything we swallowed
their hurt whole.
When they hit us for drawing on the wall we painted
doors that opened behind curtains.
For generations they lived like this. Wanting badly to
save us—not knowing how.
& all the while we found love in unlikely places: In
the ravaged church of our bodies & our faces,
refracted in their long faces.
Today is National Coming Out Day! For some of my perspective on coming out, you can read "Thank You For the Ice That's Melting,"
my account of coming out to my mom, as well as a couple of posts from my old blog, on identifying as a queer writer
and on what it means to me to be "out" as a queer writer
. This year, I've been thinking about coming out in community. It's amazing to see how one person's individual choice to come out as queer can grow from personal to political. The act of saying just a few words to a loved one can mean adding one's voice to a whole chorus of people. And through risk, and possibly loss, one can find transformation and communities of folks who have all taken great risks to reject the idea that we should be ashamed of who we are or how we love. Tonight is a special Darling Nikki queer dance party, and I can't think of a better way to celebrate the courage and power of being visibly out and proud
. Proceeds from tonight's event benefit CUAV
, my own beloved organization that works to fight violence within and against queer and trans communities. A chance to shake my booty (to mostly old school hip-hop and rap, no less) and support safety for queer folks? I'm so in. Are you? Details are below - also, check out Darling Nikki on Facebook for more information about their monthly queer dance parties and the community organizations they benefit. Darling Nikki - October 11, 2012
and every 2nd Thursday of each month!
SLATE BAR (Formerly Som-Bar).
2925 16th Street in between South Van Ness and Mission Street
This month’s theme is “Around the Way Girl” - we’ll be playing more old-school rap and hip-hop than usual, and we want you dressed accordingly! Bust out your Fendi bag and bamboo earrings!
This month’s guest dj is DeeJay Andre from Faded, 13 Licks and Fix Yr Hair, and we'll have our fantastic resident dj's Dr. Sleep and Justin Credible. We've also just added DJ Campbell to the lineup and she will be tagging with Dr. Sleep during the last set of the night.
As usual, we’ll have drink specials for all budgets and a fabulous photo booth by Cody Williams with art by the fantastic Katie Bush- check out her work at destroyevil.com and katiebushart.com
We’re also a benefit! This month’s organization is CUAV (Community United Against Violence).
$5 to get in.
Women prisoners have been on my mind all week.
Maybe it's because it's now October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month
. And there's a tragic connection
between violence against women and the incarceration of women. The vast majority of incarcerated women have experienced violence throughout their lives, and many of them are serving time in prison for the very acts of self-defense that they had to use to stay alive. So when I think of raising awareness about domestic violence, I have to consider the ways we might shatter the myth that women's prisons are full of villains who deserve to be locked up – No. Women's prisons are full of survivors, who deserve freedom from the violence in their lives. So today, my Friday Friends are the fierce women of Fired Up! Fired Up! is
"a grassroots network of people who have been or are currently, behind the walls of SF County Jail building community with others who are committed to breaking down the barriers those walls produce." Every week, the Fired Up! women gather to grow together, heal together, and share the strength it takes to survive the system that continues to traumatize and dehumanize them.
I know from personal experience that the vibrant energy of this community of women can add a dash of hope to a dreary place. A few weeks ago, they invited a co-worker and I to visit the group as guests from CUAV, and even within the jail's cold, concrete walls, we found laughter, joy, and the undeniable spirit of resiliency. Visit the Fired Up! blog
to read more about what happened when CUAV and Fired Up! joined forces. You can also help celebrate the one-year anniversary of Fired Up! at a screening of the film Still Time, which tells the story of
LaKeisha Burton as she rebuilds her life after twenty years in prison. That screening will take place on October 20, and it will include snacks, a raffle, and a discussion with the filmmaker and with LaKeisha. You can find details about the event on the Fired Up! blog
as well. Fired Up! meetings began
with members of the California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP). To learn more about incarcerated women and how you can support the vision of liberation and healing from violence, visit the CCWP website
And if you have twenty minutes to spare, watch "Strength of a Woman" below. It's a documentary "created by the Violence Against Women Committee of the Coalition For Women Prisoners and filmmaker Allison Caviness about the experiences, resilience, and strength of formerly incarcerated domestic violence survivors and the devastating impact that the criminal justice system can have on women's lives." These are heartbreaking stories, but the fact that someone is telling them offers some hope for change.
Today at CUAV's Wellness Wednesday, we're reading Lucille Clifton's poem "won't you celebrate with me" and writing our own poems of resistance. I think of this poem as one of survival and self-love. Actually, I think of it as a sort of prayer. It lifts up the sacred, precious quality of shaping your own life through struggle.
What kind of life have you shaped for yourself? How will you celebrate?
Here's the poem, with video of Lucille Clifton reading it below.
won't you celebrate with me
won't you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.
I've just spent a few days in Richmond, Virginia for the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs
(NCAVP) Roundtable. It was quite a trip, and I'm just beginning to get my bearings back.
I've been on staff with Community United Against Violence (CUAV) for a little over six months now, and this job has taken me on many adventures so far. In my work, I'm an advocate for LGBTQ survivors of violence, a support group leader, an organizer for under-resourced communities - in other words, as I like to put it, I'm pretending to be a grown-up. And the rest of the time, I'm a real-life mess of a human being, just trying to keep my shit together. In other words, I'm a poet.
I really appreciate that in my work I can show up as my whole self. The NCAVP Roundtable is a meeting of folks from anti-violence programs working to prevent, respond to and end all forms of violence against and within lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and HIV-affected (LGBTQH) communities around the country.
So we're all kinds of people - lawyers, therapists, educators and more. And on one hand, we showed up at the roundtable to get down to the business of our work. On the other hand, our work is made up of stuff that's hard, and messy, and not always easy to fit into business-model workplans and agendas. Many of us are involved in this work as survivors ourselves, or as folks whose friends and family have experienced violence, so there's a part of this work that's deeply troubling and emotional.
We also understand that this work is absolutely vital. The NCAVP compiles data about violence against LGBTQH people. Alone, each individual story matters - these are stories of real people suffering pain and loss, of hate and violence robbing our people of parts of their hope, their humanity, and in some cases, of their lives. Together, these stories show strength in numbers. Through the NCAVP reports, we can see trends, like the recent rise in reported anti-LGBT murders
, and the disproportionate rates at which transgender people and people of color
fall victim to these crimes. So we can understand that each individual incident is part of a bigger picture, one that shows a need to care for one another and create better conditions in which to survive.
You can visit the NCAVP website
for the data and other resources, on everything from supporting LGBT survivors to S&M vs abuse.
At the Roundtable, we talked business - numbers, data, workplans. But we also talked about the stories behind these numbers, and about how we feel about those stories, and about how we plan to make change for those who deserve better.
With hate crimes on my mind, I can't help but see a connection to the recent shooting at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin. Seven people were killed, and more were injured. Rep. Joseph Crowley has been calling for the FBI to count hate crimes against Sikhs
, and I have to believe that he might be right. As much as we can pretend that this was the act of a lone, crazed gunman, the truth is that there is a horrible history of hate crimes against Sikhs
in the U.S. And letting this shooting stand alone, treating it as an anomaly, really doesn't do anything to help prevent the next hate crime.
Sometimes, data is more than just numbers. Sometimes, the numbers help us gather our stories, and speak up to resist hate.
Last night's event was so much fun!
And here's footage from an event a few months back - The Color of My Spirit,
CUAV's spring showcase of queer and trans artists celebrating survival and resistance. Empowered youth, uplifting song, dance, poetry, comedy. Need I say more? I read my poems near the end, but the whole show is really worth watching. Featuring Joshua Merchant, Rosa Cortes, Tonilyn A. Sideco, Monica Enriquez-Enriquez, Nomy Lamm, myself and OurSpace, with host Yosimar Reyes. Enjoy!
Ladies, gents, and genderqueers, I present to you: My Feelings. I'm practicing getting in touch with my feelings. I mean that just as it sounds, though I know it sounds silly. But you're a writer, you might say. Isn't that all you writers do, feel feelings? Not
this writer. I'm more likely to write my feelings away, until they become nothing more than metaphors, or even to overanalyze them, until they're nothing more than afflictions to overcome. So this is new to me. I'm trying to really sit with my feelings, to honor them, and to settle into how they move through my body. And guess what? It turns out I'm full of those suckers. Feelings, I mean. Everything from joy to fear to frustration is inside of me somewhere.
Maybe I've just been doing too much yoga
, but I think sitting with my true feelings is good for me.
It's also kind of terrifying. There are, after all, reasons I've tried to avoid my feelings. Trying not to be an angry black woman
, for example, with all that that image brings.
I've also tried to avoid being perceived as "bitter." That's another big one. And what does it mean to avoid bitterness? To me, it's meant that every time I've felt unappreciated or unloved, I've internalized that feeling, trying to accept the situation, rather than getting upset about it. Unappreciated? Psh, what have I done to be appreciated? Unloved? Well, I don't deserve love anyway.
You can see how this might wear down on me after a while. So this is me shifting course, based on the idea that I deserve better.
We're near the end of June, which means the end of Pride month. Since some people jokingly refer to Pride month as "Gay Christmas," then maybe this end to the queer holiday season is something like New Year's Day. It's time to take that fully expressed pride in ourselves and turn it inward. It's time for deep reflection, for self-care, for resolving to do all that I can do to live the life I deserve.
The end of June also means the end of our three-month series on self-love at CUAV
. But I don't want to stop exploring what it means to show myself care. That means I have to continue making room to love myself, getting rid of those forces in my life that make me feel unworthy. It doesn't mean getting rid of those feelings, though, as uncomfortable as they may be. I'm giving myself permission to feel it all - everything from that awful feeling that I'm unworthy to the more hopeful feeling of self-respect, and all of those wild emotions in between.
And now I leave you with a song that always reminds me to feel it all.
Walter Alois Weber's
Blue Bird of Paradise
“Wherever the bird with no feet flew, she found trees with no limbs.” –Audre Lorde
I’ve always been what you might call a strange bird. My feathers carry colors you wouldn’t expect to see, and I chirp in poetry instead of song, and I also sometimes speak in metaphors that fall apart. When that happens, it comes down to this: I’m a weirdo. I have strange tastes, strange interests, strange ways of being. I love my solitude, so I’m likely to spend a weekend entrenched in my own strange ways, emerging on a Monday morning to recall that I don’t quite fit into this world.
When I was growing up, being a weirdo made life challenging. Even for a kid who liked being alone, finding myself perched on the outside looking in made me wonder if something was wrong with me. This time for solo introspection had its perks – I was able to step away from the expectations of others and learn what it really meant to be me. In a lot of ways I appreciated my perch on the outside, where I learned how to do things like take myself out on dates and use my own written words for company, so I didn’t have to be around other people to have fun. I appreciated my solitude, but in some ways, I still didn’t quite understand it.
Enter, stage left: an understanding of systematic oppression. My journey on the outskirts led me to discoveries of the movements behind feminism, racial equality, queer liberation. I learned about privilege and power, and saw my solitude as part of a bigger picture. My thinking went something like, Well, of course I never fit into spaces where societal norms are upheld. No self-respecting young queer woman of color should.
Let’s be real – it’s not just being a queer woman of color that makes this bird as strange as she is. But I think connecting my identity to my weirdness gave me a complex of sorts, an expectation that I’d never really fit anywhere, because there are things about me that are different. And following the legacy of writers, artists and other earth-shakers who were considered “different” in similar ways gives me a special kind of pride in those qualities that make me uniquely me.
Enter, stage right: other birds with colors like mine. After getting used to the idea that I’d never find a flock to accompany my flight, I’ve found artistic spaces where I’m welcomed, not in spite of my differences, but because of them. Where being a queer woman of color is something to lift up, to celebrate.
Two events in May really gave me a moment to be proud of my strange voice. At CUAV’s The Color of My Spirit
, queer and trans artists dance, sang, and spoke of our stories of survival and resistance, and I swear, by the end of the night, my heart swelled with so much pride, it was ready to burst right out of my chest. And at Harlem’s Poetic Rebellion
, I was so honored to be part of such an amazing night of performances by powerful queer black artists that I…well, that I flubbed my own reading. But being the weirdo that I am, I’ve had to recover from plenty of flubs before, so that’s what I did. I read on, too full of gratitude to keep my head down.
It’s not often that I feel a true sense of belonging. Sure, by the end of the day, I’m still happy to settle into my nest, wrapped in the comfort of my own wings. But for a little while, it’s nice to take flight with a flock of birds as strange as I am.
There are more chances for strange bird sightings, coming soon. Upcoming events include special National Queer Arts Festival editions of That’s What She Said!
and Queer Rebels of the Harlem Renaissance, on June 26th and June 30th. And on July 7th, I’ll be reading at Hella Soulful, part of Oakland’s Beast Crawl
. Check back soon for details about these events!
If you're curious about what we've been up to at CUAV, visit The CUAV Blog
. I've written a couple of posts there recently, about the work we've been doing and how it relates to my personal journey. Our members have been writing some really moving poems about their own journeys during our Wellness Wednesdays, and some of those will be up on the blog soon, too. I'll write a new blog post there once a month or so, so look out for a May update. You may have noticed that I'm crazy about my job. Some of that is disbelief that I actually have a job that I love in this tough economy, so when I talk about it, I'm saying "pinch me - I'm happily employed." But a lot of it has to do with what we do and how we do it. CUAV (Community United Against Violence) takes a transformative approach to addressing violence within and against queer and trans communities. That means listening to people, affirming their healing and growth, trusting their path toward liberation without relying on shame, isolation,
or criminalization that so often leaves us feeling more vulnerable. That also means that part of my job is embracing my wild ideas about the relationship between the creative arts and social change. I must admit, sometimes I have my moments when I wonder about these parts of myself colliding, the activist and the writer. There are times when I'm upset enough about the state of things to take the to the streets and yell until I'm voiceless, and instead I take to my notebook and write. And for just a moment, I wonder. Is it worth it? Am I really doing any good at all, sitting here writing a poem, of all things, when people's lives are at stake?Today's one of those days when my worlds come together and I can affirm that yes, it is worth it to write about the issues that matter to me. Tonight I'm reading poetry in a performance event
celebrating queer and trans survival and resistance. My co-workers aren't saying, "Are you crazy? Reading poetry when there's violence happening?" No - my fellow CUAV staff members are the ones throwing the event. Pinch me, I'm happily affirmed in the work that I do, both on the page and in the office. Tonight's event, The Color of My Spirit, starts at 7 pm at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts in San Francisco.
It will also be broadcast live on Comcast Channel 76 and streamed over Bay Area Video Coalition's
SF Commons livestream. Details are below. I can't wait!
Details from the Facebook event page
Back by popular demand! Community United Against Violence (CUAV) and the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts invite you to an evening of queer and trans artistic offerings in honor of survival and resistance. Join us for this follow-up to last year’s wildly successful revue of local LGBTQ talent. Artists will share a collective vision of liberation through video, song, poetry and dance.
Poet Yosimar Reyes returns to MC a spectacular line up including Nomy Lamm, Maisha Z. Johnson, Josh Merchant, Our Space, El/LA, and more!!
Buy tickets online or pay at the door! http://missionculturalcenter.org/MCCLA_New/events.html
This event will be televised LIVE! on Comcast Channel 76 and streamed LIVE at SF Commons.
ACCESS: Fully wheelchair accessible. Please refrain from bringing scents or fragrances on your body, clothes, or hair.
BREAKING NEWS: May 11th will also be the release of four beautiful new posters illustrating key tools that we have developed during the implementation of our transformative strategic plan. The set of posters, designed by Tim Simons, will be available for a suggested donation of $10-20.