Thursday, July 17, 2014

A letter for my grandmother, on what would've been her 100th birthday

I miss my grandmother, Eliza Jane Ege, everyday. There's usually a point in my day when I remember something about her, hear her voice, smell her or something that reminds me of her--the smell of tea or roses (or tea roses, her favorite)--or see something that reminds me of her. For a long time after she died, I thought that anytime I saw purple flowers in random places: along the highway, on the side of a hill; it was her. After she died, I needed something, anything to remind me that she was here, with me.

She's been gone for 9 years.

Today would've been her 100th birthday.

I can feel my chest begin to swell as I type this. And I have to take little breaks as I write. See, my grandmother was everything to me. And still is, in many ways. She was the first person that I loved, like truly loved. Loved to be around, loved to hang out with, loved to talk to, loved to laugh with, loved to watch TV with (Young and the Restless and The Guiding Light lovers, represent!), and loved to go on adventures with. I could say much more, almost everything really, because that's what she meant to me. She meant everything. Some moments I (still) feel totally and completely lost without her.

But, I find her in different places. I seek her out. For instance, it's no surprise to me that I married a baker. I mean, we just had homemade pork. pot. pie. for dinner. Outside of her being my true love, that pork pie alone...But, a baker was the first person I ever loved. Like, really truly loved. She wasn't a professional baker, but it seemed like she baked everyday. Our house consistently smelled of homemade bread, pies, and general cooking. One of my most vivid memories, one that I can feel in my bones, is of sitting at the table in the kitchen on Kansas Avenue--the first house, the one across the street from the one my mother and her five brothers grew up in--when I was probably four, but maybe even three. My grandmother was at the sink, her back turned to me and I was sitting at the table, which was decorated with jars of flour and sugar, a bowl full of cookie dough, and chocolate chips on the table. There was yellow everywhere: the wallpaper, her apron, my clothes. I can't remember at what point in the process of baking the cookies were were in exactly, but the feeling is that it was the safest I have ever felt. Ever. With anyone.

And that's what my life was like with her. Safe. Warm. Home.

The things I know to be most true about myself are because of my grandma. I know I'm my own person and that other people have shaped who I am--my parents for instance, who love me like no other and who I treasure. But, my connection to my grandmother was ours and ours alone. She didn't give birth to me but, she guided me, rocked me, held on to me, and made me trust the world in a way no one else did. She let me know I was hers. When I was little, she watched me walk to school everyday. She'd stand on the porch until I couldn't see her anymore. And I always looked back, knowing she'd be there. She was mine and she never let me forget that. And it wasn't a "grandmother's love," or whatever people want to reduce it too. It was, of course, she was my grandma. She was other people's grandma. Side note: when I first heard the chorus to "Favorite" by Neko Case, where she belts out "But I know that I was your favorite and I said amen!," I immediately thought of my grandma. I felt like her favorite. I don't think she had a favorite, that's just the way she made me feel, like I was the only one. But, it was beyond that. There was actually a responsibility that she took, a stand that she took with me (and my younger brother), some decision that she made about me that my life was going to be good. I've been thinking about this a lot as Joan and I have entered into the process of adoption and wait for a woman, a birthmother to decide that we are the parents she wants. We go over the list of possible people that have looked at our file--African American, Native American, "Hispanic," biracial--and I worry sometimes that not having given birth to a child, not having her/him have the same racial makeup as me or Joan, that there will be something we'll miss or be unable to do. I don't dwell on it and it's not even that big of a concern, but, you know, sometimes...

But then I think of my grandmother who always looked out for me and protected me from many things. It was a decision, the way she protected me. And, sometimes I think that it was a decision rooted in the fact that I was her first Black grandchild. I don't know that it was that conscious and, it probably had everything to do with her relationship with my mother whom she loved deeply. Still, I'm going to go with the former for a minute, as I distinctly remember that whenever I was with her on the streets of a predominantly white city where her and I would take the bus and go to Woolworth's for lunch in 1974, I never felt unsafe or alone. I always felt wrapped up by her and safe in the world. And that had everything to do with her and who she was--English/Irish, Oklahoma raised, farmer's daughter/daddy's girl with an eighth grade education. And this isn't a piece "about race," in the way that if you mention race, racism, or point out the differences between you and another person, particularly your blood relatives, it's making it "about race." But, you know, it is, because, it's about my grandmother. And one of the things that's true about our relationship is that everything that I know to be good about the world, to be safe about the world is because of her--a woman who was white. A white woman who made this Black, biracial girl feel like she could fly. Even when "dangers" came around, as they sometimes do for little Black girls, I knew that nothing could hurt me. Or stop me.

That's how it was then, that's how it is now. I think, that's how it will always be. Yes, I experience safety, home, warmth with others--particularly Joan--but she was the one who ensured that that's how I was going to live my life. That's what she wanted for me. Every girl should have that in a world that doesn't like girls or women much, but perhaps, especially little Black girls.

So, today, on my grandmother's 100th birthday, I'll remember that I'm safe. That I'm held. That I'm loved.

Happy Birthday, grandma. You are with me, always.



Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Kiss or a Kick?: Public Expressions of Love and Violence

Image c/o blacksportsonline.com
Ok, this is a little bit of a revealing post. I don't mean to suggest that all of my posts aren't personal, but I'm going to say things that I feel some kind of way about and you may disagree. That's cool, disagree. But, there were two events this week that had me feeling all kinds of ways as a queer Black feminist. The first, as sports fans and non-sports-fans alike know, occurred over the weekend with the St. Louis Rams NFL draft pick of linebacker Michael Sam, who kissed his boyfriend after finding out where he'd been drafted.

And the world celebrated!

Here's the thing though, and I'm just going to say it: I felt a little uncomfortable. The first kiss, I was all, "Excellent, that's totally hot." The second kiss, I almost squealed, thinking "Aw, what sweetness." On the third kiss, I started to feel my ears get warm as an uncomfortable smile came across my lips. By the fourth and final kiss, I was like "Dude."

Four kisses? Really? I realize that the auction-block NFL draft and most other sports events are just backdrops for straight couple PDA, i.e. the recent over-the-top on top of the empire state building marriage proposal to his girlfriend on the first day of the draft by first round pick, Eric Ebron (who, when he was actually picked cried, hugged a bunch of folks around him, except his fiance). So, why am I tripping? Plus, I'm queer. I should be jumping up and down, as many others--gay and straight--have in the days since. It was, truly, awesome. And, folks may want to throw me in the (internalized) homophobic "I'm turning the channel cause I can't watch this shit," camp, but know that I'm still trying to work it out, it's deeper than that. Even though I have a really hard time when I feel like or am actually unable to hold hands with my woman out of fear and safety, I'm not a huge PDA fan. Ask my really good friends who I became friends with when they were both single and then they got together and, in those first few months, anytime they kissed I was like--and said out loud--"Ew, gross." My feelings about PDA know no bounds. Frankly, it feels entirely too performative sometimes--and that's how Sam and his partner felt--like "Look, this person I'm standing next to with my arms wrapped around is the person I'm in love with, having sex with, am married too and I really, really like her/him, so I'm going to touch her/him every second just to prove how straight (or gay), f*ckable, attractive, generally awesome, and cool I am."

Sometimes, it really is just pure, overwhelming love for the person you're with and you have to touch them. HAVE TO. I get that and I feel that, often with Joan. But, I'm less convinced when you're making out in the to go line at the pizza place. Or on television.

Mostly I have this feeling about straight folks who get to do that every single second of the day, anytime, anywhere they please. "I'm going to kiss you now, here at my family gathering..." "Oh, thanks for dropping me off at the train where all these folks are standing, waiting, kiss kiss." Not a thought. I'm sure there are one or two straight couples or scenarios where they don't feel entirely safe everywhere, but you get my point. It's gross.  And that doesn't mean that I justify or can understand one, single homophobic, sexist or racist comment that has been directed at Sam or his partner. And there have been hundreds, probably thousands. Every time someone refers to a gay man, especially a Black gay man, as a 'sissy' or a 'fag' or says something like, "I think I'm gonna puke because of this," I feel homicidal. Like, I want to jump in their face, scream and definitely kick them. Hard.

Which, um, brings me to the second thing that unfolded this week, in public:


It took me a long time to watch the video footage of Solange attacking Jay-Z in an elevator (I understand that 8 hours is not really a long time, but in the scope of Facebook and other places where things "trend," it's a couple of years. You may not even remember Michael Sam or the kiss heard round the world when you read this). Mostly because, personally, I'm not committed to all things Bey and Jay. But, I do love me some Solange with her driving the car with the top down music. She's a little bit like Res. Plus, she sings lyrics like, 

"Convinced myself you were the sh-i-it. 
Convinced myself you luh-uh-ved me-he-e.
So baby is that all you got? 
Tell me if you've got some more-ore" 

in an entirely too fun, sing songy sweet voice. So, I didn't want to interrupt that flow with an image of her tearing into to her brother-in-law in what, she thought, was a private space. 

And then, of course, I had a moment to myself in between classes yesterday and...I clicked on it and then immediately placed myself on #TeamSolange. 4ever. And, I hesitated to write that in different, public spaces because I know how folks feel, understandably about violence. I have those same feelings...mostly. I don't advocate violence and would certainly think up and act on about seventy-five hundred different alternatives and then still walk away before engaging in violence.

But. 

There was something about seeing her unleash with the sound down and in black and white that totally fit with what I imagine I would do when someone says some totally f*cked up shit to me like, "[insert daily, maybe weekly, occurrence here]." Just once. One time. I wish I could when a mutha---- would, you know? I wish I could and I totally do in my fantasies. It helps. It helps to have that fantasy. It's not something I would ever act on. I've never been in a fight in my life. I've always, always "turned the other cheek." Let it slide. Taken the higher road. Ignored it, even though whatever it was later replayed in my mind, over and over until I reach some level of satisfaction with how I reacted or said something back to the person in my head. I've done that, you know, since 1976.

So, yeah, just once. 

Just once I'd like to totally embody what folks think I, as a Black woman, would do in different situations. "Kick their ass," people have said to me. "Totally go off," others suggest. "Snap my fingers and neck roll before I pop off in this b*tch." Just once. I wish I could. Watching Knowles was like watching a movie or the reality television shows where violence happens and we watch it every day. Still, in a different way, the silence of the elevator experience caught my eye in a way that these other venues don't. It resonated and relieved a frustration or something, as a pause, as a break, from my day--one filled with what folks are calling microaggressions of sexism, homophobia, and racism. Like, "finally." And, "thank you." The difference is, I wasn't watching a film, which is for public consumption, but something happening to real people in private.

So, sure, do I wish that I didn't have a look into an always photographed, never a private moment, looking really intoxicated celebrity letting her family member, the husband of a sister she looks up to and loves, and father to a niece she, probably, adores, act in a way that she's maybe never allowed to in what she hoped was a private setting and didn't realize it would be leaked and promptly caricatured over and over and over again as some version of angry Black woman one week later? 

Yes. 

And, I wish she had considered seventy-five hundred other options in that moment. And it's an inadequate justification to say, "but, it made me feel good." But, I'm sorry, it did. Just like the folks who feel good, get some release, or feel connected to other folks when they watch Black and brown--mostly straight, but now with one, out gay brotha--smash into each other over and over again on the football field, causing irreparable damage to their minds, bodies, and spirits for the benefit of a group of small, wealthy, white, straight men. Yeah, it was kind of like that.

Friday, May 2, 2014

In Defense of V. Stiviano

Yeah, that's what I said. You didn't misread it. 

In defense of V. Stiviano, 

the woman we have all probably forgotten about in the days since we congratulated ourselves about Donald Sterling being fined and banned for life from basketball. The woman who argued with Donald Sterling about photos she posted on Instagram, posing with Magic Johnson. The self-described mixed race Black and Mexican woman who Sterling directed anti-Black racism at in between calling her "stupid," an "enemy" and other such descriptors. 

Yeah, in defense of her. 

Because, why not? Where's the line between her and any other woman of color, when it comes down to it. But, mostly because she had to listen to some foul shit directed at her from a man she was in relationship with.

I've been surprised this past week at the outrage directed at Donald Sterling's behavior. The words he said were racist, but it's hard to believe that anyone was surprised that he had these feelings. That this is the way anti-Black racism operates. I'm sure there are other owners, um, yeah, "owners" who feel a similar way. Not to mention that these tapes were revealed a few days after the Supreme Court upheld racism in the form of "color-blind" ideology and "racial preference" discourse. That seems all but a distant memory in comparison...until Fall 2015. 

I wasn't really upset by Donald Sterling's comments--were they racist, illogical, and hurtful? Yes. Ban him for life. Done. But, there's still the pesky little detail that he said all of these racist, illogical and hurtful things TO HIS BLACK AND MEXICAN GIRLFRIEND. To her face. The woman he calls a "delicate (white or Latina) girl." The woman he called an enemy for posting Instagram photos with Black men. Who, in direct response to the question, "Do you know I'm mixed?" said, "No, I don't." The woman who, in her response, was forced to, oddly, defend herself or something, by saying "I wish I could change the color of my skin" and "I'm mixed race, whether you like it or not. I'm Black and Mexican." (yes, I listened to the whole 9 minutes...)


Before we all invoke the tragic trope, can we just be a little bit outraged by that? 

I'm not going to defend their relationship, mainly because I don't have to.
But, we're all outraged
because he said these things about other folks--folks he's friends with, who work for him, who he doesn't mind her sleeping with but also about the woman standing in front of him who also self-identifies as a mixed race Black woman. I'm even more outraged by the fact that the reason few of us notice this is because she's a "gold digger thunderously unintelligent mistress whore porn star barbie who hangs out with with pimps," And who, someday, wants to be President of the United States.

She's an easy target, I get it.

But, all of these insults are said with such a level of disdain and disgust that I even feel a little defeated by it. Defeated because she's so easily tossed aside. Two weeks ago, no one knew who she was and, the minute that she emerges on the scene, speaks, or is seen out on the town with her, man, there's a collective tone of "shut up, bitch." I had something similar said to me recently when I asked a man to back up at a concert because he--in a space where everyone was pushing to the front--continually bumped into me as we danced. "Fuck you, bitch. SHUT UP. I didn't even touch you. You ain't even that cute." Um....good thing I was steps away from Prince.

But, that's all it takes. Say excuse me: "Bitch shut the fuck up." Have a 50 year age difference: "Fuck you, whore." Fall in love with someone you're organizing with and have a complicated history, "Bitch needs to be dealt with." Especially when it comes to matters of sex and sexuality, women are simultaneously harshly dismissed and always available for consumption. Now, I'm just as outraged, stunned and unable to breathe because of the kidnappings and forced into marriage of close to 300 girls in Nigeria, there are not enough words to adequately capture the anger there. Still, I don't think it's much of a leap to say that the same sexist and misogynist discourse that allows for the discardment of "gold digging, attention seeking whores" is connected to the practice of human trafficking and other forms of kidnapping, slavery, and murder of women of color around the world. 

So, yeah. In defense of V. Stiviano. In defense of all of us.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

On Lesbian Death and a Fight Worth Fighting

Photo Credit: Galveston Daily News
I wish I could cry.

I really wish I could.

But

I haven't been able to.

I can't.

Because

I can't breathe.

Every time I think about, see pictures of, am asked a question about, come across a news story about the murders of Crystal Jackson and Britney Cosby, two Black women, a lesbian couple, raising a child who were found in a dumpster near Bolivar, TX over a week ago, I've been frozen. My chest freezes. Lungs frozen. And no breath comes out. Because I'm terrified. Literally terrified and heartbroken.

Even more heartbroken, frozen, and stunned to hear that Cosby's father was involved in the murders and quite possibly responsible. He didn't like that his daughter was gay and didn't want her bringing that "gay shit in the house."

So he (most likely) killed her, with blunt force to the head and then shot Jackson before throwing their bodies in a dumpster. I can't even imagine this. I try, but it taps too much into the fear that often inhabits me and freezes my body. I freeze because yes, sometimes, especially when I'm driving across country with Joan say, I fear death.

No, really.

I fear the remote gas station in Wyoming, which is the same place that I shook because I didn't expect the woman's second glance when I said (and maybe grabbed Joan's hand?) that "No, we didn't want the room with double beds, but the queen." I forgot. And then I became terrified. My body freezes when we're in my hometown and I go to grab her hand and she pulls away. I forget and I'm terrified. Sometimes I'm terrified just three hours or so away in Nevada (well, they attack Native folks there too, so there's that...) where either one of us may whisper, "Don't touch me, I don't know these people."

You may think that I don't get scared, freeze, and fear death. Or, you may think I have some internalized homophobia where, even though I write this blog with the names 'queer' and 'feminist' for all the world to see, I still get scared and fear death. Because I live where I live.

Because I live in (what once was) one of the gayest areas in the United States: the San Francisco Bay Area. Yet, increasingly, I walk around these streets with a familiar terror, frozenness and (more often) anger, that sometimes takes my breath away. It's not the same kind of terror that shoots through me when I hear that two Black lesbians--my sisters--have been murdered and carelessly thrown in the trash, but a terror nonetheless. A fear.

It's a fear of being erased. Erased in an area, on streets that I have come to call my home.  It's a feeling of loss and isolation epitomized in an experience Joan and I had when we were walking in the Mission the other day on our anniversary--something we have done less and less in the last couple of years, because of the rapid changes. We passed old haunts: the very much missed Osento Spa (women only), the on its way out but not without a fight Modern Times Bookstore, the recently closed Esta Noche. I could go on and on about the death of a city, of the space that was once gentrified by lesbian families and is now gentrified again (and again) by wealthier and wealthier folks men.Which is what I noticed as we walked around Valencia that day: both of us were struck by the number of straight, mostly white, 20-30 year old men walking up and down the streets, playing a folksy guitar with an amplifier (seriously), walking in packs to the nearest bar, and crossing the street with hands clasped around their phones. They seemed like recently transplanted or recently minted techies, yes, the kind that are now, apparently, flying women into the city to date. As we walked around unnoticed and unacknowledged as two lesbians of color, I realized that we were walking in what has slowly become a city of men. And not the kind that I love, the kind that helped make this city the one I ran away to (and sometimes felt invisible in):

http://www.allemanphoto.com/
But the kind that slowly, but surely represents death. A lesbian death.

It's callous and cold. Dismissive. Not in the same way as the murder of Cosby and Jackson, but one that coincides with and supports a culture in which they were no longer allowed to live. A culture where someone couldn't make sense of their relationship. Didn't acknowledge it in any way and didn't want it to exist. That's what it feels like to walk these streets sometimes. Not that we're not wanted, because we've felt that way before by our 'brothers' (and sometimes sisters) in the community. But death in the sense that our existence isn't seen or felt, not just historically, but face to face. And then I'm terrified all over again. I'm furious too, of course. But, when faced with this death rather than making me want to fight, fear takes my breath away. And, I need to fight now. I want to fight now. And so, even though it doesn't ever occur to me to ask because it feels like this space is only ours to inhabit and to fight for, I need your help. I need you, as allies, to fight the fight for Black lesbians. Not a fight for all women because all women are worth fighting for. That's true, but I need you to fight explicitly and specifically for Black lesbians like Britney and Crystal because the perceived 'threat' of being Black (Native, Chicana, Palestinian), a woman, and a lesbian still exists. And it still dangerously insinuates--and intimidates--that we shouldn't be those three things at once. That there is no place for us.

And it still allows us to die. To be killed. To be erased.


And, to update the words of Audre Lorde, who wrote about a time decades and decades ago, "Any world which did not have a place for me loving women was not a world in which I wanted to live, nor one which I could fight for."

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Conflating Movements: Same Love?

fb.com/larryulibarri
So, it's that time of year again. The time when members of the LGBTQ community thoughtlessly make links between previous civil rights struggles--often the African American civil rights movement--and current, LGBTQ oppression. You know, because those things are always and only experienced separately. I'm not sure what to do in these moments. Other than scream. Then curse. On the one hand, I identify as queer, but I'm not much moved by recent LGBTQ campaigns--including marriage, even though I am married to my partner. Yes, discrimination directed at L, G, B, or T  people is...discrimination, homophobic, wrong, whatever you want to call it. But, it's not the same as the racist targeting of African Americans during the the very specific moment that four students: Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, Billy Smith and Clarence Henderson, (shown above) from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College, planned, strategized, and organized a sit-in at the whites only counter at a Greensboro, VA Woolworth's.

It's not the same time. The threat--not reality--of being turned away from a restaurant, denied service because of a queer identity in 2014 is not the same as walking into a restaurant in 1960 and having the knowledge that you may not walk out of there alive. That you'd have to come to peace with that--and also the knowledge that no one would be prosecuted for your death--then by all means. (p.s., where were you when this happened?)

But that's the not the situation for LGBTQ folks today. Yes, we are denied rights, and are physically and emotionally violated, tortured, and murdered, but the violence that structured and continues to structure Black lives, Black bodies (past and present) in photographs you so carelessly reference is different. And I really don't understand the parallels. The need to make that connection. To use Black faces to characterize a community that many of us experience, collectively anyway, as white, often male, and increasingly normative. No, it's not that I don't understand them...it's that I don't have access to them. I don't presume.

And I don't think I have to explain why these are not the same struggles. The same oppression. Why they should never, ever be compared. And why I want to move just a little bit further away from those queer folks who want to post and repost images like the one above. Who don't hesitate to make casual references to the violent racism that brutalized African American civil rights organizers--um, some of whom were gay--in the mid-twentieth century. I can't muster much more energy trying to communicate why those comparisons feel dangerous, divisive, not to mention wholly inaccurate. Or why, in those comparisons you effectively try to erase my entire existence. Instead, I'll leave those words to CherrĂ­e Moraga who said,

In this country, lesbianism is a poverty-as is being brown, as is being just plain poor. The danger lies in ranking the oppressions. The danger lies in failing to acknowledge the specificity of the oppression. The danger lies in attempting to deal with oppression purely from a theoretical base. Without an emotional, heartfelt grappling with the source of our own oppression, without naming the enemy within ourselves and outside of us, no authentic, non-hierarchical connection among oppressed groups can take place.When the going gets rough, will we abandon our so-called comrades in a flurry of racist/heterosexist/what-have-you panic? To whose camp, then, should the lesbian of color retreat? Her very presence violates the ranking and abstraction of oppression (from "La Guera," 1981).

Or maybe Perez Hilton, the Cuban-American (often read as white) queer explains it well in his recent claim that "every gay man has a (fierce!) Black woman inside him." Does he mean Celia Cruz? Just curious.
soundcolourvibration.com
What kind of fierce Black womanhood is being displaced in this instance? He's certainly not the only gay man to say this--maybe the first to be kicked so swiftly--or, probably to turn around and compare us to Hitler. But, the performance of an exaggerated, assumed, and racist caricature of Black femininity seems to a staple for (white) gay men. If I had a dollar for every time a gay man, often but not always white, um, but never Black has snapped his fingers, neck rolled, and said honey--or some variation--in my direction at a club...you know how this ends. And here lies part of the problem, yes? The many times  I'm told that I search for racial politics, not looking at our shared "universality" was a recent word, conflates our experience and reinforces that we queers don't walk in the same worlds. Inhabit the same bodies. Come from the same struggles, even when those overlap because of some shared moniker. Most of the time, you barely see me--in a restaurant, on the street, teaching in the front of your class, writing these words. You don't see or acknowledge me as a comrade, as a woman, as a queer, a person, or, because I don't fit into the mythical Black woman that you internalize, into your oppressive fantasy. Neither does CeCe McDonald. Or Sakia Gunn. Or Lorraine Hansberry.


So don't compare what you have delineated as y(our) struggle with mine. 'Cause your blues? Ain't.