Tuesday, April 15, 2014

For Karyn Washington



Your silence will not protect you. Your silence will not protect you. Audre Lorde


Those words were rolling around in my mouth as I read through the several blogs posts and articles chronicling the untimely suicide of Karyn Washington, founder of For Brown Girls. Immediately, my bones stiffened like concrete and my heart began to thump briskly behind my breasts. This response is familiar; it arrives as a protective warning and physiological memory of trauma. Karyn and I had never met but in solidarity we carried a kinship of resonant armor. I was distressed by the reality that the darkness of mental health had taken another one of us. A darkness that has also visited me.


Here lies a complicated conversation surrounding silence. It truly demonstrates the abstract space of the individual, the shadow that seals the body in tight, discoloring our vision and making the world appear to exist very far away from us. A scrim used to protect and sometimes hide behind, but cannot always be removed. Her singular experience may never be able to be examined. The private qualities to mental illness. The darkest parts of vulnerability. The depth of repressed pain. These complexities are difficult to pattern or describe. They are real. Real enough that her emotional experience most likely existed like a violent, but familiar enemy lashing out unexpectedly. As we have seen. Some may believe that Karyn had the resources and belief systems she needed to rise above social naysayers and tackle the dense barriers inside of a black female body.


Is this proof of our silence not protecting us?


One will never know exactly what weighed on Karyn's heart. It is clear that there was a separate voice. Some of us will perceive it to be the consistent intake of obtuse energy towards black woman and the surrounding images that do not validate our experience. Otherness as a black body is frequent and discernable. It is consistently difficult, and inevitably comes within our deeply colonized territory. As a black female bodied individual, our oppression is like emptiness. It provokes a space of nameless importance, where beauty, generosity, creativity, and heart go unexamined. And when something is “left behind”, it can recoil and unleash in challenging ways. One can have the resources to advocate for others. Or one can fight alone. Now, it is difficult as her community wonders how things could have been different. Perhaps there was a missing phone call and lunch date. Or... perhaps there were particles that none will ever be able to understand or describe. I extend support to her community by reminding them that none of this was their fault. Karyn’s life, her work, and the hearts that she influenced will carry on through the spirit she developed within the mission of For Brown Girls.


In a piece by Ty Alexander entitled, I am Karyn Washington: Suicide, Depression, and the Mothers Who Left Us, Ty shares with us several email exchanges between her and Karyn, where Karyn reached out. They were commiserating as they individually and collectively coped with losing their mothers. (thank you for sharing, @allisonrhone) Karyn reached out to her for support and guidance as her mother was dying; Ty was deeply nurturing as she offered suggestions for Karyn to "remember" her mother (On a personal note: I was extremely moved by Ty's suggestion of photographing their hands clasped with their mothers' hands. My favorite part about my mother was her hands.) and Ty also checked in on after Karyn shared her mother's passing. Thank you Ty Alexander ( @gorgeousingrey) for writing this piece.


“What we know is that something went terribly wrong and we owe it to Karyn, and others with similar struggles, to find out what happened and work to fix it.” For Harriet, All is Not Right with Our Girls


Therefore, amongst many things weighing on my heart throughout this tragedy is Karyn’s age-- 22 years old. At 22, I had also just buried my mother and was preparing to graduate from college. This left me living a few steps behind everyone else. Losing my mother had taught me to “perform” my life as best I could. It was hard for me to focus on the things that were REAL. My slate had previously been etched with a clear reality, but post trauma, it had been wiped clean. I would wake up every morning, read the script and step out on stage. No one could really know me. And not unlike this very moment, my depression was ripe. On a recent night--I found myself stuck within a tilt of depression where I truly needed someone. Negativity and anguish once again were clutching me so tightly, altering my vision, and luring me with the always consistent bait of self hatred. It was late afternoon, and I felt lost. My heart was full-- ushering my trauma in to break the dam of my rising predisposed chemicals. I reached for my phone and sent out text messages to a collection of friends and people that would pause and hear me. I do not remember if I possessed the awareness around "unlocking my silence." The truth is, I don’t always reach out. I am fortunate that I am healthy enough to share this. I am also fortunate that I believe in sharing. It is privilege that I can articulate these words.


“That asking for help was ok.” - Ty Alexander



When I consider Karyn’s age, I immediately think of the young women identified youth that I work with. They live in a fast paced, technology driven world of objectivity, public discourse, emerging desires, and incommunicable concerns. Their hearts are enormous; they give so much of themselves to their families and communities. These battles are public, allowing for little space to air their personal and inner warfare. These are my little sisters. Their existence is a fight towards justice. I have listened and witnessed so many of their narratives of this war. Thus making the loss of Karyn another reminder to me as a youth worker, that there is so much that will never be seen or heard. This taps into my greatest fear -- that my words of love and support may never be enough.

I am left wondering, where does our work begin?

When we look at the qualities of leadership, our perspectives need to shift. Our leaders appear stalwart and resilient to us, making their struggles uneasily accepted. Karyn Washington demonstrated her humanity through fateful actions, but her leadership has not wavered. She leaves us with an empowered vitality and a duty to ourselves and our communities. We are to live our stories. And our humanity has little to do with our skill or representation. Those are only threads within the diverse fabric of who we are. My favorite kind of woman is a complicated one--with a pulsating heart, incredible laughter, and tangled eyes. And after scrolling through #KarynWashington, it is clear that we have the capacity to support one another and share in our complexities.


My [our] task is to explain how black women's citizenship is shaped by their attempts to navigate a room made crooked by stereotypes that have psychic consequences." Melissa Harris Perry

For me, our fighting begins with listening. It involves eliminating judgment and developing community spaces that allow for young women to just BE. There are not a lot of spaces even amongst my queer community of color that I feel safe enough to share my challenges with mental health. At times, my fear is a fabrication that is symptomatic of my condition. And, unfortunately, there are other community members within these spaces that are struggling themselves and need to make this conversation difficult for the rest of us. A lot of black folk believe that therapy is just for white people. The young black mental health professionals that I have had the privilege to work with are reminders that not only is this NOT the case, but this IS our issue.


In Karyn’s honor, I refuse to be a “strong” black woman. I don't want to redefine it or reclaim it, I want to destroy it. I want the courage to be able to say that I cannot handle some things. And that I can ask for help. And I demand for a world that not only will accept this, but will listen.


I strangle my words as easily as I do my tears

I stifle my screams as frequently as I flash my smile

it means nothing

I am cotton candy on a rainy day

the unrealized dream of an idea unborn

I share with the painters the desire

To put a three-dimensional picture

On a one-dimensional surface

Nikki Giovanni (thank you Nadine, @freid_pod)




Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Invited to the Table

As a queer woman of color, I have been called to break bread at multiple tables. Activist circles, nonprofit structures, social gatherings, creative projects-- and alongside of noted artists and thinkers. I am aware of these spaces being gifts. It is fortunate that most of these gatherings or "meals" are shared spaces full of like minded souls with similar backgrounds, cultures, and belief systems. However, the the flip side is the "invited space". This is where I am considered an outsider. My label must be worn because it played a part in how I got there. And at times, the troubling acceptance that these are invited spaces is usually hindsight.

I bite down hard on my womanist courage as I enter these spaces, asserting my existence and advocating for my community. Allies are crucial to every movement - just as much as the importance in “assuming best intentions”. I have been to the White House, but certainly on the shoulders of the folks in front of me.

In other instances, I have been the perceived “woman of color” or been labeled as “the black lesbian” in multiple instances and have received community flack and have been treated as a martyr. I was regarded as the one that overlooked my sisters. This is a circumstance of being invited and still being viewed as faulty and irresponsible. The power in the “smoking gun”. Our experiences are emotion filled and deserve real listening, compassion, and a genuine acknowledgement of black and brown women identified folks. We are complicated and evolving across gender and race lines...thus causing us to not engage sisterhood and to truly miss each other. One can only screw on their own head, let alone everyone else's.

But I want more. How do we invite ourselves to the table?

I find this to be even more complicated in my workplace. I inhabit the usual sentiment of the black woman in predominantly white space of power, hustling that “dance to make her dance” in order to use my steps to get some funds. Without actually being considered a part of the collaborative quotient. As the silent black woman, whose work is used, and back is broken, and needs are negated. A white or male perspective is valued in every community, even from the queerest standpoints and most feminist spaces. When I am asked to contribute, I am treated as a representative and never as a collaborator. It is difficult to be heard amongst my white counterparts and queer brothers who inadvertently may repeat what I have already said and find themselves being touted as the owner of my thoughts, opinions, beliefs, and philosophies. Male bodies get listened to. And the formula becomes even more tangled when gender politics surpass race. When the societal oppression that sexuality carries, is set aside and you are still just some black lady at the end of the day. Again, when men of color get served first and white bodies are allowed to enjoy the actual feast. Therefore, I was never actually invited or meant to be invited in the first place.

Who's table is it? And when can it be mine?

One of my artist sisters, has been hitting the ground tirelessly for years as a well known photographer of homeless and transient LGBTQ youth of color, but was quickly overlooked for a highly earmarked magazine portrait of a young woman who is living on the streets, chronicled by a white woman. I could see her digesting this emotional slap for weeks to follow this occurrence. The disregard for our work is REAL and deeply racist. We are silent and it hurts.

And earlier this year, it became a complicated honor to embark on a highly publicized brainstorming session for an anti-violence campaign. I sat as one of the few queer women of color on this board. It was a stark contrast to my previous experiences because I was actually being heard. I have done much work to not hate myself in these spaces. It informs my previous experiences of “being the only” and I “out” myself on a consistent basis....to make my point. Perhaps this is a choice, but in these circumstances I don't know how else to live. I have put myself out there for my unheard sisters and deeply want to push for spaces of inclusion and access for folks that will never get to recognize their personal ability to “rise”.

In order to live, women of color adjust our perspectives. We see the way things are, move towards acceptance, and eventually make the changes and enter the roads that perpetuate our truth. Our stories, our innovation. But on these roads, how do we heal?

I will have the opportunity to speak with community and to air my thoughts at a conversation on November 13th. I hope that you will be there. Information to follow.

Friday, August 23, 2013

primary colors

Earlier this year, one of my memoir essays was published in The Feminist Wire. It is called victory and chronicles the phonics of being a black girl in Amish country, praying at the altar of Judy Blume's timeless white girl protagonist, Deenie. Judy Blume colored my life at that time. Superfudge and Tales of Fourth Grade Nothing were on heavy rotation within my pubescant bedroom literature. It gave this black girl/woman a very complicated coming of age. However, victory, shared a small slice into my deeply layered imagery of white role models and sexual performance. More recently, an article called "The Politics of Being Friends with White People", by Brandy Cooper was forwarded to me based on its mention of Deenie and social and racial cues and duties. The writer discusses coming of age as a black person, her experience growing up and out of her white friendships, and how race can become a priority in relationships for some adults of color. I would like to continue the conversation.

I grew up in a predominantly...almost completely white town. I had one black friend. She was the daughter of my mother's principal at the elementary school where she taught. We didn't really spend much time together and didn't actually meet one another until I was in Junior High school. When we hung out, it was as if our mothers plopped us face to face into a sandbox like toddlers in juvenile solidarity saying, "Be friends." It may not have been that archaic or cinematic, even.... but it was certainly deliberate. Our families knew that we needed each other, however we both were resistant. We knew "why" we needed to be friends, but we weren't automatically in dutiful agreement that our race and culture were enough for us to break bread together. For a good solid chunk of time, we actually didn't like each other. We stormed one another with knowledge wars, fear tactics, and shaming. Neither of us knew what was up with our hair, and, for that matter, neither of us liked our small town. But we both had a slew of white friends and was okay with that. We found our actual solidarity in sharing stories as outsiders, amidst the snide comments from white fathers and athletic assumptions - volleyball for her and ballet for me. Our main connections lied in our not discussed girlhood, and sometimes books.

As I got older and moved out of my tiny town, I flung myself into New York City. My sister went to an HBCU, which, at the time was of no interest to me. I was seeking diversity. On long drives, my Dad would ask me what kind of school that I wanted to go to and I would usually respond with "as much culture and difference as possible". A big part of me was yearning, and I wanted to share that yearning with other people that did or didn't look like me. I had the not so unique desire of an eighties baby that was raised in the ninties - to uncover utopia. This glimmer of internalized racism indicates that I wasn't necessarily ready to look at myself as black, I was more ready to be amongst other people that were "different" and then seek safety there. Unfortunately, one of my first experiences with being "black" was when I was questioned as a shoplifter at Urban Outfitters on 6th Avenue. "Let me see that shirt you put in your bag," the security guard said. Tears burned my heart as I walked down 14th Street to Avenue A, wandering East...looking for someone to express my rage to. At that moment, there were few people that I could call to garner support from. My black friend quotient had grown, of course, now that I was in New York, but I was still negotiating these relationships for myself. When I was able to identify a friend to share this experience with, I felt one of my first connections to the importance of my community of color.

"We couldn’t giggle about the same kinds of boys since our tastes fell along racial lines, couldn’t trade makeup or hair products, or move through each other’s social circles with ease any longer, because increasingly these things were defined by race. So I decided that I needed black girls for friends, girls who liked the boys I liked, who went to churches sort of like mine.... girls whose cultural experiences were and would be closer to my own."

My friendship evolution wasn't as "natural" or "predictable" as Ms. Cooper's. I didn't automatically start liking black boys. I can honestly say that the pictures on my walls growing up were of white girls and white boys, fantasies about their lives and public profiles. Sounds like a nightmare of confusion to most of my contemporary black and brown radicals, but it is an actual account of a very queer upbringing. Queer without being named as such. I was raised by powerful black parents that taught me to always think for myself, however my eyes were filled with whiteness. Therefore, my cultural evolution was morally sound but slow going.

The first college club that I belonged to was the Gay Straight Alliance. I was an ally with periodic cornrows and over sized t-shirts. I was a curious closet case that could have had "green" emblazoned on my forehead throughout my entire college career. While tabling during National Coming Out Day, I can remember a new pal asking my home girl, "Is Erica gay?" In my distinctive way, I blurted out, "do I have to be?" It's funny to think of that moment now. It's amazing the things that I thought I couldn't do. My definitions of blackness and sexuality had been wrapped around social duties that I was resisting. I had never really seen myself before.

Therefore, my heart echoed with a lot of the writer's experience. Feeling like a guilty outsider as a young girl was terribly uncomfortable. I shared a sink pretty regularly with a white friend in first grade. When she chatted up her father about the school day, she always included this tidbit. Once he asked her, "why? did you want to see if it would wash off?" She reported this back to me gleefully the next day as we resumed our bathroom dance. I can definitely recall the way those tears felt in my eyes, almost 25 years ago.

"When you are 9, or 12, or 17, it is easy to overlook racist comments. That your friends’ dad does not like black people has little to do with what your friend thinks, right? When you cannot yet vote, the fact that your friends’ parents are Republicans means little. With age, these things start to matter. At 25 or 32, it is harder to overlook the inevitable racially ignorant comment that will come, especially when you have had access to friendships where this is never an issue. At 30 or 35, the fact that your white friends now vote Republican alongside their parents strikes you as a choice that detrimentally impacts your material existence."

There are white people that I will never speak to again because of their political standings. They will never know how deeply their aim towards my silence wounds me. Some of these people are the source of many years of personal shame. Because of this, they can never be a part of my life. However, my father always told me to be friends with my allies as a formula for power and solidarity. Perhaps, this is why I don't hold an accountability compass of racial duty to my comrades to maintain a friendship color quota. I'd prefer for it not to be false or phony. That's just going to make me more uncomfortable. There are certain groups where I am one of few black friends. I don't feel like a mascot; yet I do take note. And, these are also the groups that don't necessarily live within the same arm's length/reach as my more familial priorities. This may change. I do make internal decisions based on some of the convoluted shit that comes out of some folk's mouths. Ignorant people could color the rainbow....some even look like me. This is why I don't find myself requiring such a declared distinction.

I just want to receive respect and honor for my experience in the same way that I expect the same. I feel that the denial of these complications can allow racism to become as real and intrinsic as its definition. Sometimes, it is just black and white, but in this case, I feel that it's not. I think it's a matter of identifying your kinship needs and perhaps limiting preconceptions of binary. Completely eliminating the ones that I love and that love me is not an option. I would like to continue to surround myself with people that believe in love, and have a willingness to unpack their diverse privileges--big and small, black or white. It is deeply profound when that love can be magnified by culture, background, and experience. I find this to be a part of my own personal survival and examination of rage. There is a protocol--I know the specific things that I can talk about with specific friends. But when I look another sister in the eye and discuss the fiery undercurrent of racism I have to regularly surmount at the nonprofit circus that employs me, I breathe a sigh that my mother's grandmother can hear. I also find this to be a safe examination of rage.

I inhabit a variety of circles. That is also a privilege. My close knit crew demonstrates an array of cultures, genders, sizes, ages, and interests. But my best friend in the whole wide world is white and that's rarely what we talk about. That is my identity information. So, I do think that it's political, but personal as well.


I could die of difference, or live, myriad selves. - Audre Lorde


Friday, June 7, 2013

portraits



February 21, 2013


The night before my first trip to the White House, I found Frida in a closet. I was staying with a friend in Baltimore and had been searching for a hanger for my dress. There was a calendar of portraits of Frida Kahlo, leaving me taken by her earnest presence in my immediate life. I leafed through the months, vigorously, in need of late night inspiration.

The following morning, I would attend the 4th Annual Black Emerging LGBT Leaders Day hosted by the National Black Justice Coalition. I’d utilized my last ounce of energy leftover from a month of “weekend organizing” to exit the city and head towards DC to "emerge". The NBJC created this as a platform to network and identify as a community of black leaders and change-makers. At times, my identity as a black woman enters rooms for me. And, even, being a "professional gay" is a space that I am privileged to exist within daily. However, this very public acknowledgment as a leader was powerful and certainly validated any additional and unique space my black womanhood does not always allow for. It was a rare opportunity that empowered me to wear my "three pronged" identity very proudly. I woke up expectant and ready, circling my suitcase as I decided between the lipstick from my girlfriend's hands or an additional pair of tights to meet my peers on Capitol Hill. 

The National Black Justice Coalition started out the day with a caucus at the Russell Building. The eagerness in the room of activists was palpable; we all seemed to gain motivation from being around one another. We were given an exuberant welcome by the staff of the NBJC. Their initiative is run by a small group of stellar young activists, fueled by their community's reach. Twitter hashtags were exchanged and folks in front and beside me were rapidly drafting their 170 characters to claim their online “presence”. The founder of the NBJC, Sharon Lettman-Hicks, commanded us to “use this space and act up”, in order to truly benefit from the hard work of our brothers and sisters that may have never even walked nor identified within these halls. The souls of these individuals steered the ship that afternoon.

I met a young sister who attended an HBCU for a semester. She left because she found it difficult to connect with her peers and to also experience consistency within the gay student association there. She also showed me pictures of the damages Hurricane Sandy caused her family and community in Far Rockaway, and how they continue to rebuild and recover. Her attendance at the day's events truly exemplified Sharon's request to “act up”.

After lunch, I exited with my pals from Brooklyn Boihood and boarded the Metro with my newer compadres from the Bois of Baltimore—powerful queer folks prepped to enter the White House and speak about their similar initiatives. We arrived on the steps of the Eisenhower Building, greeted with hugs from Janet Mock who seemed elated to be in DC at this historical day and to gather in solidarity. Janet is a divine sister and an intense voice for our community's emergence. The lot of us wrapped ourselves into the entrance of the Eisenhower Building as we handed off our ID's and buzzed in small cohorts to stay warm and make connections. I observed the network of young, local activism happening in DC from sexuality educators, diversity trainers, policy analysts, and NBJC volunteers. Everyone wanted to help, everyone wanted to support, and everyone was thrilled to be in the room.

We dove right into the briefings from several offices- from the Small Business Association, Foster Care, and Criminal Justice. Our content remains confidential but the room rumbled with questions and it became a bit of a relay to get up to the microphone to air a concern.

The evening was completed with the reception hosted by the Human Rights Coalition. I met up with a pal and brilliant feminist and “politicked” with excitement while getting lost on 17th street. At the reception, we indulged in second helpings of community with performances and folks plugging their initiatives. I left quickly to catch the train and record my inspiration from the day in my fluorescent notebook.

That night, I returned to Frida. She stared at me, silently, as I peeled off my dress and emptied my thoughts. The previous night, I had decided to hang a September portrait of her from 1941. In the photograph, her long braid was coiled comfortably on top of her head and her eyes were slightly weary. Frida was in reaction. She looked ready, and prepared to make a move.


Friday, August 3, 2012

dessert

Nu Assis, Egon Schiele

Of all the things she could have learned
Throughout the drama she never confirmed.

She saw her days as hungry displays
Of unusual advances and disoriented ways.

She dove into truth like a handsome lunch,
Never suspecting that she'd ordered too much.

And now with full belly and sore arms,
She's ready to send it back or beyond.

Purging the bounty that gave her this,
Enormous space of emptiness.

A stomach filled with the pain of indulging,
Too fast and too slow for her insatiable longing.

Discovering late that she was stuck in the middle,
And the reality was, that she'd eaten too little.

Her choices are like that of a game,
Multiple options that she was unable to claim.

She swallowed down hard on the remaining crumbs,
Completing the meal of what she had become.

But reversing the already eaten plate,
Would put her body behind its fate.

..................................


newfavoriteperson favoritenewperson

Thursday, July 5, 2012

training wheels


Living in a state of psychic unrest, in a Borderland, is what makes poets write and artists create.*

I taught myself to ride a bike when I was around seven or eight years old. For some, that's a bit late for a young kid. Now, almost 23 years later, my current bike's front tire is slightly crooked and in need of some attention. Recently, I realized that I have taught myself most of the things that I know and have come to rely on. And that's not usually my first instinct.

When I first began to learn, my dad would run along side of me, with one hand clasped over my tiny brown fingers. The other hand held onto the back of the bicycle seat, guiding it along. I would pretend like I was riding alone, despite the fact that someone was holding onto me. He knew it, too. I could tell. Still in his slacks and tie from working all day and a Kool Mild tucked under his top lip, he would hide an exhausted smile. And, I would look up at him instead of the path ahead, enjoying the ride. My driveway was this long slab of cement that extended the span of my house, past our yard with the grapevine and maple tree, ending at the storage unit. The cement of the driveway was cracked and uneven, certainly not ideal for bicycle lessons. Although, most folks saw our home as the "neighborhood house". It's where all the young kids that lived on my block would come and play. My parents and other neighborhood parents would trade off on who kept an eye on the youngins that were riding around in our Big Wheels and terrorizing weeds with garbage pots and kitchen utensils. Therefore, I often found an audience for my consistently failed sessions on my big girl bike.

There was also a tiny ditch. It ran along the grass in the yard of the duplex next door. It was a wide dip in the soil that was combination of broken cement and consistent mud, regardless of the weather. A mud puddle, essentially, but it appeared enormous to my rebellious, doe eyes. I could feel it preparing for my young fate. And there was evidence. The little boy next door had cracked his head on it one day while playing wildly without his helmet. Since then, my pals and I were scared of that ditch.

Picture language precedes thinking in words; the metaphorical mind precedes analytical consciousness.*

When I began to realize that I was quickly becoming the oldest person with training wheels in my neighborhood, my dad removed them from my bicycle. I don't remember the specific day that I rode forward freely, but I do remember this day. Several months passed, and I had resigned to not riding at all since that meant that I would have to learn. I could identify a clear desire to ride independently, but I also wasn't quite ready. I began to hide indoors in the AC when I noticed more of my friends whizzing past me on two wheels. It was time for me to get out there.

One summer afternoon, I decided that I was finally ready to learn. And I knew that it needed to happen on my own. I ate dinner and stared out of the window at my opponent--the cement driveway. I asked my mom if I could go outside. My dad was away for the weekend on Reserve duty, so I knew that this was opportunistic Peter Pan time. The yard was empty and my mother kept the back door open and sat by the window, either reading or watching evening television. "Be careful!", she hollered out the window as I ran out of the house, missing the last porch step. This was a great start. Undiscouraged, I stood up and threw myself onto my bike, believing that I would expertly ride off into the sunset, because at that age, my fresh inner faith was my superpower. I believed that it was all that I needed. And it was. Not just yet, though. I needed to fall a couple of times, get up, and fall all over again. I needed practice.

So there I was in a tangled heap of pink bicycle and brown body, lying on the concrete with cuts on my elbows and ankles. My arms had been flung above my head and immediately, I jumped up wondering if anyone saw me. No one was around. Except my dear mother, shouting out the window, "to get my ass inside". That summer, she would occasionally stand with me as I tried "walking" my bike with one leg, letting the other leg dangle over the seat. But my mother wasn't too fond of the heat. She preferred her indoor AC serenade in her nightgown, with her latest Danielle Steele close by. I couldn't blame her. As an elementary school teacher, summer was her time to chill.

I brushed myself off, lifted my tiny bike upright, and prepared to jump right back on. Again, I haphazardly threw my leg over the seat, extending my foot towards the pedal, pushing off, hoping that my other foot would make it to the other pedal. This second fall hurt more. I landed hard and the handlebars whipped around and smacked me in the face. The wind flew out of me which was challenging because I hadn't quite caught my breath after the previous fall. It was becoming clear that I had no idea what I was doing. I lay there for a moment, scanning the grass, suddenly wishing that I wasn't alone.

And then I saw it. The ditch. At that moment, my bicycle had been replaced. Now, overcoming this ditch became my new priority. All of my self determination had escaped me and I became fixated on avoidance rather than completion. Eyeing the ditch, I stood up, very carefully. Determined that if I saw it, watched it, and kept it in sight, it couldn't hurt me. I fell several more times after that, ripping my baby skin and engraving my checkbones and knee caps with gravel. I began to feel, less and less--pain and fear. My determination to ride had become a bit blind. Invisible, even. This fleeting destiny that I believed in my young heart would be fatal, couldn't happen to me. However, I wasn't aware that it already had. The abstract fear of falling into that "ditch" had been a successful distraction from actually learning how to ride. Instead, I was continuing to repeat my flailing series of falling and catching myself--creating new scars. Marks that discolored my skin and not my memories. However, my skin's disappearing marks represented the "forgetfulness" that was beginning to inform my personhood.

And, eventually, I fell in the ditch.

I survived.

I did manage to ride for a brief moment. My pedals rotated around my bike chain, at least 3 times that day. Immediately after, I leaned a bit too far to the left and landed in the soft grass. My equilibrium tactics were a tad off and I kept trying to push forward a bit crooked and off balance. I could never do anything in a straight line. But fortunately, I finally learned how to land.

She learns to transform the small "I" into the total self.*


(excerpt from Letting Go)
*Borderlands/La Frontera, Gloria Anzaldua

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Visible


About a month ago, I turned 30.

My birthday was nothing more than a tale of voodoo and mischief and it had been a long while since I'd laughed that hard. It was a very special surprise to have so many people in attendance.


We ambushed my regular birthday joint, Royal Bangledesh, with 20 folks (the early headcount and reservation number), however, they weren't prepapared for us......and their other innumerable Friday night parties. We had to make some guerilla-style endeavors just to get menus, but we managed to fill our bellies and have a fabulous time. And as the festivities grew, and the wine (and whiskey!) were flowing, so did the people. After the restaurant take-over,(and after wine bottles were opened on the front stoop) the party drama parade commenced at a nearby bar, where we got our late night party on. It is apparent that the need for decadence was urgent for most of us that evening. Delicious.

Again my laughter was almost overwhelming (still laughing) and I am warmly and eternally grateful to EVERYONE in attendance.

I am fortunate to have so many special and loving people in my life.


Since then, I have experienced several revelations. Intense identity crises, deep love for myself, and also deep examination of my previous thirty years. It's been tough for me to realize that I have even lived 30 years and also simultaneously humbling. I hope I can remember it all. I probably don't. Somehow I feel responsible for every second within my past three decades. But because certain experiences are over, does not mean that they did not happen and I will not remember them. History does not require history books, it just requires repetition. And after the last 30 years, I think it's safe to say that I am willing to learn from my history. Learning by provoking change instead of repetition. Learning by stepping forward. Learning by speaking up. My life has been comprised of interesting, amazing, harmful, exciting, and liberating people, experiences, and LIVES. And I think that I am within my 13th. Life, that is. The Lucky Number. My rebel heart has brought upon most of the risks, happiness...and suffering...and I wouldn't change a thing. And as outspoken as I am, or claim to be, the truth is, I have been the author of my own silence for 30 years. My tiny hand is on the volume button and hopefully my voice will crescendo louder into all of your ears.

One day, you will hear me. Unless you already have. My voice has a tendency to shout before I can adjust the sound.

Or maybe you will even read what I have to say. Like now.

Nonetheless, I am finding myself at some level of one. This oneness should be almost divorced of a feminist lense, if you will. This exploration is provoking me to explore a separate existence. A concept of oneness that is simultaneously a belief in sisterhood, but also coupled with individuality.

And....suddenly, there was ONE.

These thoughts have led me face to face with Frida. One of her self portraits. Singular Frida. In a suit, surrounded by clippings of her own hair. Self Portrait with Cropped Hair. A piece filled with pain, transition, love, confusion, release, and HAIR. These words I use are thoughts, and also based on my presumptions. Here is another word. Joyful. This should be included.

If I could change the title of this self portrait, I would call it,
Talking to Myself.


drawings and scribbles, scribbles and drawings

Below are my delayed thoughts on Beyond Visibility, feminism, and otra brain matter. Most of which was written a few months prior, therefore pure and exceptionally honest. Please be gentle when examining my axis. Ah, that's what she said.

.....................................................................
BEYOND VISIBILITY HAPPENED!!!



Honestly, I glow as I write this and immediately begin to recollect. I spent the afternoon truly humbled by the femme presence. I am so grateful for the opportunity to facilitate. It returned me (fearfully!) to ownership via community organizing and DAMNIT, I liked it. I am ready for more.

We called it "Aligning and Illuminating Femmes"...and it sure did. I felt re-acquainted with a community I didn't realize I needed so much. And could also be so incredibly triggered by. And I LOVED that. My wheels were turning for dayz...

Topics surrounding working class, intersectionality, survivors...

I found that as much as we all wanted to "kick it" in solidarity, there were still some feelings. Processing needed to happen. And of course, may not have been fulfilled in one afternoon. As an individual that "passes", whether I want to or like it, found myself stunned by the feeling of being on display as a facilitator and just being OUT. As queer, as black, as femme-identified. It was powerful. And full disclosure, I boundaried myself and my Erica emotions by not reading my work that afternoon. I had an essay that I had been fine-tuning and was dying to share, but found myself handling my self in enormous ounces that I knew that I would feel diminished post the experience...with minimal opportunity to release or relaxe. I am not sure if this was my objective, but I am able to recognize my own red flags and decided to wave them. In solidarity.

The power in not just identity, but identifying...is incredible. And audacious. Both things that I enjoy staring directly into. The Abyss of understanding, perhaps? Methinks that connection at that point was too connected.

Three of my femme identified youth came and blessed the Femmes of Color Caucus with their brilliance and positivity.

"This is A LOT." Nefertiti Martin


I quote her because I fel that she said so simply what everyone felt. It WAS a lot. And that's okay. I hope we can begin from here.

When I had to dip out for nourishment, Aisha (my AMAZING Women's Task Force intern), coordinated the Caucus by asking femmes to define what makes them "femme" in one word. The feeling of the room changed considerably as I re-entered to give a time check after disappearing for a bit. Perhaps because my hungry melodrama had exited, or more appropriately because we let the youth take the lead.

I am ready for more events like this. I think we can all agree that it was one entire day of 4 events: skillshare/brunch; fishbowl/breakout groups; caucauces; literay salon; and caberet/party. Whew! So femme, so spectacular. I look forward to a weekend of similar programming!

accidental feminist thoughts

I have found myself consistently invoking the musings of my previous sisters leaving me to contemplate educating our brown girls. Such a wanton outcry (a la bell hooks' yearning!), from the youth I work with, but also within myself. Call it over-identifying or just call it detectingtheneedforaDETECTIVE. The fearful feminist is in search of some answers. My outcry for sisterhood grows stronger and my desire to redefine feminism is overwhelming. A movement IS upon us...and now it's up to US to get it poppin.

Elizabeth Catlett Mora (April 15, 1915 – April 2, 2012)

More specifically, I am seeking the deconstruction of the myth and the truth of the "strong black woman". Been wondering how many black women, girls, trans women and girls, and other gender non-conforming black woman identified folks can relate to its mythical quality. Duty and presumption continue to astound, confuse, and infuriate me. This is a current project. And like most projects, it found me. Mostly because it IS ME.

grad school plans

I have offically begun the doctorate crawl. Officially, as in, I have plugged in some names of schools into my search engine and made some lists. As usual, the omnivore is having trouble deciding. And my search engine consists of google, but also the genuis minds of my colleagues, pals, party goers, acquaintances and new strangers. So, if you you've got any suggestions for a decidedly disoriented artist/thinker interested in anthropology, gender, sociology, education, and ART ART ART....then hit me up.

..................................................................

Joie Lee, She's Gotta Have It


I complete this post with a pictures of folks that make up my Femme Root Equation. After much processing ...and over-processing...my equation consists of this:

Clorinda Bradford + Denise Huxtable + Annie Hall
Divided by Brandon Boyd,
And multiplied by Sesame Street's own Abby Cadabby.
All equalling good old E DAWGS.


Enjoy friends.
Until...when?
Then.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Queer? Yes. Femme? Perhaps. On the femme spectrum? DEFINITELY. Then this event is for YOU.


Beyond Visibility is happening...this Sunday. Info is below. Please pass on!

*A Message from my hard-workin' Organizers:

Please keep in mind that this an event created to give space to queer femme folks. As some have asked, this event is not primarily feminist or woman-identified, but for queer femme individuals to develop community, congregate, and share. ALL and we look forward to celebrating and dancing at our evening's programming.


Allies are welcome to the multidisciplinary event, Illuminate: A Femme Salon, at 7pm, as well as to the Cabaret/Dance Party curated by my sweet sista, Heather Acs, at Public Assembly immediately after!

..................................................................................................................................................

Website - http://beyondvisibility.femme2012.com/

FB event is here: http://www.facebook.com/events/143595372417669/?ref=ts


Beyond Visibility January 15, 2012: Illuminating and Aligning Queer Femmes in NYC

Beyond Visibility: Illuminating and Aligning Femmes in NYC is a day-long event for LGBTQQI2 folks on self-identified femme/inine spectrums to come together in conversation, coalition, and celebration of *all* the parts of ourselves and our many communities. Events are taking place in NYC, Toronto, Philadelphia, San Francisco, London, Los Angeles, and beyond.

The NYC extravaganza celebrating femme/inine queer accomplishment includes a Brunch Skillshare Salon, a Community Discussion with Breakout groups, and a Literary event at Judson Memorial Church [all-ages, Assembly Hall at 239 Thompson Street, NY, NY]. In the evening there is a Cabaret and Dance party at Public Assembly [21+, 70 N 6th St Brooklyn, NY]. Both locations are wheelchair accessible. Daytime events are only for self-identified femme-spectrum people of all ages, genders, and abilities.

The Literary event and Cabaret/Dance Party is open to everyone, allies strongly encouraged to attend.

More information is below including details on the events, Vision and Schedule ofthe Day. Please feel free to contact organizers with any questions and forward widely!

Heather M. Acs and Damien Luxe
Organizers of Beyond Visibility
www.beyondvisibility.femme2012.com/
http://www.facebook.com/beyondvisibility

Fab organizer, Damien, during our recent planning meeting.

Description of Events:

On Sunday January 15 from Noon-2p, femme/inine folks are invited to enjoy aBrunch and Skillshare Salon. At 2:30p join a Community Discussionmoved along via transformative facilitation, where everyone will have theopportunity to contribute their needs, desires, and celebrations. This will be followed by break-out groups to continue engaging in intersectional topics such as Safety, Pride & Shame, Truth-telling, Health and more. From 5-6:30p, take a dinner break and participate in documentation including a zine table, blogging station and photo booth!

Because Beyond Visibility aims to create and hold femme/inine queer space to ally with and learn from each other, and to discuss ways to align organizing and organizations to ensure that femme communities grow as intersectional sites of gender justice, the brunch, discussion and break-out groups are free, intentionally safer-spaces, and for only femme-spectrum people of all ages, genders, and abilities.

An additional function of Beyond Visibility is to illuminate the cultural, political and artistic work of participating individuals and groups, and so all are welcomed to the two cultural events taking place. At 7pm at Judson Church, join us for a Literary Salon including Kate Bornstein, Trina Rose, Cristy Road, Nath Ann Carrera, Dondrie Burnham, Alejandro Rodriguez and more. This event is $2-$10.

Starting at 10pm, head over to Brooklyn and the Cabaret/Dance Party where Hana Malia & Glenn Marla bring biting performance art, Serpentina of theConey Island Side Show makes sparks fly, musical stylings from Jazzmen Lee-Johnson & new work by Sassafras Lowery! DJ's Shomi Noise and Nolita spin fierce femme tunes all night! Allies welcome to attend & dance the night away with us! This event is $5-$12.

This event is co-produced by 20 local organizers and is partnered with the bi-annual Femme Conference [www.femme2012.com/]. Beyond Visibility takes place the day the Conference releases its 2012 call for performers and workshops, and aims to generate conversations that grow local community as well as resonate into the Conference, which is taking place in Baltimore August 17-19, 2012. Co-sponsoring organization include the Heels on Wheels Roadshow [www.heelsonwheelsroadshow.com], NYC’s own glittery performance art queer femme tour, Feminist Press [www.feministpress.org/], and QUORUM Forum [http://quorumnyc.org/].

For more information on the NYC event, please visit: www.beyondvisibility.femme2012.com/
Or find the event on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/beyondvisibility

A toolkit of ideas for femmes in other towns to hostess their own femme gatherings are here:

www.heelsonwheelsroadshow.com/toolkit/

Vision:

Beyond Visibility: Illuminating and Aligning Femmes in NYC will be a day-long event for queer folks on a self-identified femme/inine spectrum to come together in conversation, coalition, and celebration of *all* the parts of ourselves and our many communities. We aim to illuminate the cultural, political and artistic work of all participating individuals and groups; to create and hold space to ally with and learn from each other; and discuss ways to align organizing to ensure that femme communities grow as generative, intersectional sites of gender justice.

Schedule for the Day:

12-2p – Skillshare Snack Salon!
Show off your skills! Bring some delicious snacks and learn about changing a bike tire, tiny nail art, create Intersectionality Mural, and much more!

2:30-4 -- Roundtable Discussion
Participate in a co-facilitated community “temperature check” where we reflect onthe resources we have and create action for moving forward.

4-5p -- Break-Out Groups
Continue engaging in self-selected smaller groups based on topics such as Safety, Pride & Shame, Truth-telling, Health and others TBA.

5-6--Caucuses- Femmes of Color, Trans-Femmes

6-7pm Dinner Break
Grab some food or bring your own and visit the documentation table for zine making, photo shoots, and blogging!

7p -- Illuminate: A Femme Salon
Join us for an incredible line-up of performers in an all-ages, sober-friendly space.

Performers:

Kate Borenstein
Alejandro Rodriguez
Dondrie Burnham
Cristy Road
Nath Ann Carrera
Trina Rose
Kirya Traber
MB Dance
Erica Cardwell

10p -- Cabaret & Dance Party
Celebrate gender justice with a wild revue of femme/inine performers and DJs as we dance the night away!

Monday, January 2, 2012

greenery


I have five plants--Harissa, Medusa, Glory, Nessa, and Pete. All are women and extremely youthful. I am terrible at knowing the species of each plant and of most wildlife and botany. Some would like to think that, "you are where you came from," but you also are where you are. Nessa was gifted to me via one plucked leaf from Jessa and Nathaniel's plant life in Brooklyn many moons ago. She grew almost immediately...I would like to believe that she began to grow within the paper towel I transported her in back to my apartment in Queens. She gets her name from a combo of Jessa and Nathaniel's names...mostly favoring Jessa, of course.

Harissa, Medusa, and Glory have lived with me for one year this month. They were amongst four plants sent to me in a condolence package when my godfather passed away. They were the trio of survivors and appear to be in it for the long haul. Harissa is named for her one bright leaf that she hides which I think makes her secretly sassy. Medusa was named for her random long leaves that monopolized our dish drain this summer from her spot at our kitchen window, causing my roommate Luca to name her Medusa out of irritation. And Glory is glorious with her leaves consistently in "testimony", reaching upward to Heaven.

I found Pete at the Union Square farmer's market this summer. I exited the subway intending to purchase some tomatoes but took a disoriented stop in front of a plant seller and decided to go for it. She boasts two new long leaves in the center of her pot. She is the most colorful of the five. Her name just tumbled out of my mouth about a week after I bought her, I can't recall my intention. Maybe because she seems like the little one, the little sister.

There is a new plant in my house. She's not that tall but her branches are long and appear ancient but sturdy. She is youthful like the rest. And there are some tiny green buds sprouting on her branch tips that can be observed if one decides to lean in and look closer. Like the rest, I am unsure of her species, but something tells me that it's new. Perhaps a hybrid of the spider plant, based on her spirit of possessing numerous and entangled arms reaching out to feel the layers of life and of previous lives that exist within the air. She is also extremely thirsty. And her country of origin doesn't exist. She is "where she came from", but not anymore, at least. And she seems content knowing this, and is ready to grow in her new homeland. Perhaps I miscounted. There are six plants in my house.

The sixth one is named Erica. Please water her.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

CHOSEN ONES


Check out my review of Pariah on Ikons Magazine site, here.