Monday, August 25, 2008

Women Deserve Better

Just found this fierceness via Uncensored Feminista who in turn re-blogged this from Feministing. Sonya "The Drama" Boom Renee, a finalist in the 2006 Individual World Poetry Slam Finals delivers a performance that makes you want her to stand up and applaud, and book her to represent at any event where the subject of women and choice is being discussed. Well, that was my reaction anyways! "I" statements richard, "I" statements...

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Jay Smooth: A Beginner's Guide To "No Homo"

I found this great clip on postbourgie via illdoctrine. It really breaks down the origins and psychology behind the hip hop coined phrase "no homo", which is used by hetero men to qualify that their words shouldn't be taken as "being gay". ie, "man, that was smooth how you just slid the ball up there, no homo." This really defines homophobia for me, when straight folks are needing to re-assert their heterosexuality again and again, for fear (phobia) that they may be seen as gay (homo). Someone once defined homophobia to me in literal etymological translation: homo(same)phobia(fear). Fear that you are the same.

In Jamaica, there is definitely a similar dynamic, maybe there is a new phrase by now, but 2 years ago the qualifier was "a nuh lean talk". translation: I am not making lean talk/talk that leans. I am making straight talk. Its pretty amazing, and a little sad to sit in a group of men and hear this over and over, this self-policing. Really feels stressful, like a lot of energy has to go into this constant self monitoring. So basically, though of course LGBT folks have an inordinately rougher time from homophobia and heterosexist oppression, in my opinion hetero folks also suffer psychologically from homophobia. In every model of oppression, i think it is safe to say that both the oppressor and the oppressed lose some humanity in the process.


Monday, August 18, 2008

The Men's Story Project = Incredible

Wow. Something called The Men's Story Project happened yesterday people. Something that needed to happen and needs to keep happening. Something healing, transformative, and also hugely triggering for a lot of people. Such is way of transformation....

We saw men talk about their legacies of inflicting (or receiving) violence, how they learned to do that in the context of manhood, how they came to a place of no longer being violent, and what it took. We saw a man come out on stage for the first time as HIV+, and share a heartwrenching story about how his parents have since completely abandoned him. We watched this man share his struggle, tears welling up, voice faltering, as he still proclaimed himself as an emotional survivor, making the best out of life. He had a tearful standing ovation before he was even finished. We also heard a letter from a transman to his folks, folks still trying to understand him. We saw amazing dance that portrayed aspects of black masculinity and survival in this country. We saw a man with cerebral palsy fiercely reclaim his sexuality and beauty in lieu of being invisiblized by so much of society. Another man dealing with the inevitability of having a testicle removed, which mixed humor with vulnerability in a masterful way. We saw more whimsical pieces, dealing with men's no-eye contact urinal rituals, pieces that dealt with hetero men not feeling able to be affectionate and loving to each other, pieces that dealt with the messages of fathers, some extremely toxic, some good. Stories of women being the formative and positive role models when dads weren't around. Tales of struggling with sexuality, tales of spiritual awakenings, and surviving prison. Tales of reclaiming an emotional life, tales of over coming self-hatred for being male, tales of advocating for other boys so that men can be non-violent, loving men... and testimony that despite the hype and images in the media, that black men are loving and compassionate.

And more, much more. (**YouTube updates of the show coming to this blog soon!)

At the end, there was a long thunderous standing ovation, tearstained cheeks, shouts from the audience.

The question and answer period after the performance was charged. People were intensely moved, and people were also intensely triggered. One woman commented that stories of contributions of women felt absent to her (besides being targets of violence or romantic partners) especially in comparison to The Vagina Monologues where women seemed to evoke male influences all the time. Another woman felt that though she appreciated that men were telling these vulnerable stories around how they have been damaged by patriarchy, that the missing piece for her was the privilege that men have to be in these positions in the first place.
And there were other comments asking about violence, including how men could reconcile loving violent fathers... and one disabled woman who experienced the noise level of the music as violence, which was an intense moment. I saw one of the participants get into a open hearted conversation with her afterwards asking what can be done to have the music "NOT be violent."

My feelings about the first two criticisms was that the legacy of fathers is a huge component around how we reproduce patriarchy. As is the reinforcement of fellow men to "man up". It was powerful for me to hear men admit to when they used to hit women. I have never personally known men who hit women. I can see how that can be triggering for women to hear, on many levels, including the representation that women would have in these stories. If anything, perhaps this was a glimpse into the boys club of power that a lot of us live in, shared with vulnerability and awareness. Around the second comment, Josie Lehrer, the person who conceived the project, introduced the show as being a healing process that deals with the effects of patriarchy and imbalances of power. For me, most of the men's stories were testimonies around the toxicity that comes with our privilege, and a lot were also rays of hope around how to transcend the reproduction of these patriarchal behaviors. I am hoping that most people didn't leave this performance thinking this was about men complaining and being oblivious to the power granted us by society. But the comments were duly noted, and perhaps will be formative in the next show.... which i hope to be in this time!

I left La Peña with my mind twirling. It was an intense show. Possibly one of the most impactful shows i have seen in years. It also left me thinking about gender and organizing men with progressive projects. This might just be a personal thing... but i am finding it interesting that i had zero response from other men to do the Walk Against Rape with me, but Josie, an awesome woman, was hugely successful in getting this already historical project going. I want emphasize that this isn't to detract from Josie, i am so thankful for her doing this. I am just looking at a curious dynamic. Of course, men start projects all the time, i know this is just a reflection of my experience. But perhaps it takes someone who is receiving the oppression to really have the solutions. For example, the National White Privilege Conference was founded by Eddie Moore Jr., a black man.

In the meantime, I am glad that this new expression exists. Not men's stories in the patriarchal canon of his-stories, but a breaking of silence around codes we are expected to maintain in order to keep the status quo. Hetero men being able to look at each other and say "i love you". Men transforming their experiences with violence and being a model for youth so that new generations don't replicate the oppression. I am glad i listened to myself and stepped down from performing this time, but i am so looking forward to making a contribution in the future, and i thank Josie and all the men for bringing the realness.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Important Bay Area Events: Men's Story Project, 2008 Black LGBT Film Festival, Prisons.

A lot of good and important stuff is about to go down Bay Area! Here's a brief rundown:

~Starting Today: Oakland Black LGBT Film Festival, @ Parkway Theater
~This Sunday, August 17th: The Men's Story Project, @ La Peña, 7:30
~Friday & Sat, August 22 & 23rd: Shanique S. Scott's Prisons, @ La Peña, 8pm

Mark your calendars and at least peep one people! I know i am going to the Men's Story Project to see my fellow mens get up and perform truths around our experiences, like growing up conditioned in patriarchy, how that hurts us and others, and also stories of vulnerability, strength, sexuality, triumph over obstacles, and much more. I was actually all set to perform in it as well, but had to pull out for personal reasons... but i am still gonna be in the house! I definitely wanna also catch at least one of the films in the Oakland Black LGBT Festival, would love to see "U People", especially since i've been trying to see that for a minit. They say this is the only (or longest running?) Black LGBTQ Film Festival. And last but not least, Shanique S. Scott is back again with her critically acclaimed one woman show at La Peña, Prisons. I have heard earth shattering things about this autobiographical play of a black woman growing up in the Bronx and dealing with very serious choices and issues of struggle and survival- and i have also been tryin to see this for a minute! I need to stop playing around and get some tickets. Support Oakland art & artists y'all! Details at the hyperlinks above. Bless

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Ancestral Roles Of Two-Spirit People In Africa

I came across this very interesting clip on the Jamaica Land We LGBT blog. It deals with the idea of LGBTQ folks being Two-Spirit, and hetero-folks being One-Spirit. Its deep!! I just came back from Hawai'i a couple weeks ago, where i was told that the keepers of the sacred dances tend to be mahu... which translates into Two-Spirit. And Two-Spirit is also a Native American term. In the Santeria and Yoruba communities, I see surviving African tradition and dances also kept alive by many LGBTQ/Two-Spirit people. IN FACT, in Jamaica, there is only ONE man who is known to be not-straight, and still is a respected elder by all. Some may call him "Sexy Rexy", but to most, he is The Honorable Rex Nettleford... who among many deeds is majorly responsible for keeping traditional sacred dances alive in Jamaica. I remember my dad introducing me to him when i was a young pre-teen in Jamaica... and simultaneously being in awe, and also being all too aware in my young culturally homophobic mind that i was shaking hands with someone gay. Woy! Come to think of it, I think he is the first essentially out queer person I ever met, though I myself have never heard him own it... it just seems to be island knowledge that is accepted.

In the clip, the commentary on traditional Two-Spirit roles as shamans, priests, "gatekeepers" between earth and the divine realms in comparison to One-Spirit roles of making sure the earthly realm is taken care of (reproduction, making sure families prosper, traditional "hunter gatherer" gender roles, etc) make a lot of sense to me. Though of course, hetero-folks can also be very spiritually connected priests and shamans, and queer folks can also reproduce, have families, and thrive in traditional gendered roles. It however makes me wonder if a part of our colonial experience was the colonizer seeing that LGBTQ folks had roles as powerful medicine people, so it is possible that the demonization of queer folks came in strategic tandem with the demonization of our indigenous ways?

The "gatekeeper" term strikes me personally because the Orisha that i am aligned with in Yoruba tradition is Eshu, the Master Of The Crossroads, The Divine Communicator Between The Earth And The Divine, He Who Teaches Through Tricks... The Gatekeeper. It makes me wonder if I am a child of Eshu because I do not inhabit a masculinity that is common to many hetero black men. The journey continues....