This book was amazing in the most heartrending way – if that is even possible. You know those books (or movies) that pull you in and have you going through a spiral of emotions? Yeah…this is one of them. I was frustrated, angry, sad, defeated, but most of all I found myself empathizing with the complexities of the lives of each character, and the way in which the title “An American Marriage” ironically represents the historical black family.
This novel tells a story of a black successful man that is falsely convicted of raping a woman, and how one wrongful conviction irreparably causes damage in marriage, family dynamics, and one’s life. One of the focal points is the toll it takes on a newlywed couple who has yet to experience what true commitment is. There were various themes in this book; respectability politics in terms of articulating a positive black identity, race and class, wrongful convictions and how that affects black families, and love and marriage.
Respectability Politics in terms of Black Identity
Although the formation of respectability politics in terms of manners and morality was for the sole purpose of black people finding a way to be seen as full citizens in the United States, it is harmful in so many ways. One, it doesn’t guarantee that our white counterparts will see us as we see ourselves, and prevent us from racist rhetoric. Two, it is reinforcing the belief that to be “respectable”, we have to concede to mainstream societal values. I understand the purpose of this strategy and I believe we all have adopted politics of respectability in one way or another, but this novel just confirms that even if we’re doing it as a form of survival and resistance – to a certain degree, there is no guarantee.
Wrongful Convictions and Rape
This was a tough one for me because of how real it felt, but I love how Tayari Jones developed this storyline. It felt real for me because of the number of black men wrongfully convicted, experiencing excessive punishment and especially the very real narrative of lynching’s that frequently took place during Reconstruction on account of “black men raping white women”. In so many ways, Jones is speaking to the modern lynching’s that take on various forms. Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd…and the list goes on. These are the traumatic experiences that exist in our imagination but has decades worth of reality.
Not sure if this was intentionally done, however the title and the content of the book reminds me of what marriage was like during chattel slavery. Although slaves had no right and their marriages were illegal, they fought to create families to achieve some form of autonomy in an oppressive system. However, masters had the ability to tear apart black families through slave sales. Similarly, in the novel, the dominant race demonstrates their ability to destroy black families through the sometimes permanent effects of mass incarceration.
Beginning from the introduction up until the very last page, I couldn’t put this book down. It was everything I didn’t know I needed. In his memoir, Stevenson passionately exposes and calls us to action on the racial injustice and class discrimination that takes place in America; all while exonerating Walter McMillian, a wrongfully convicted man on death row. Bryan Stevenson selflessly dedicated his career to helping underprivileged, poor and incarcerated youth and adults, and is the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama.
In a time where I often felt angry and hopeless about the lack of difference I could make in overcoming and challenging racial injustice, Stevenson reminds me of the difference one person can make. His ability to create and fight with such conviction was so inspiring! Though it is written from the perspective of an attorney, I believe this should be a required read for everyone!
Here are some things that resonated with me:
It’s not worth being angry or reacting to someone who is rude to you. It’s better to empathize and be compassionate. Many times, their anger is not towards you, but a reflection of their own pain and their inability to cope. After reading a case in this book, I realized the same person can have a transformative experience – whether it’s based on how I chose to respond or on a personal account. Essentially, we all have the capacity to change; and I’m choosing “hope” and “faith” that this applies to racist individuals.
With my desire to help poor, underprivileged people, I realized it’s not enough to know the history and present-day issues. Stevenson puts in perspective that we need analytical and reasoning courses to better understand America’s racial and systemic issues. It’s equally (if not more) important to “develop the skills to quantify and deconstruct the discrimination and inequality” in America.
There is a strength, a power even, in understanding brokenness, because embracing our brokenness creates a need and desire for mercy, and perhaps a corresponding need to show mercy. When you experience mercy, you learn things that are hard to learn otherwise. You see things you can’t otherwise see; you hear things you can’t otherwise hear. You begin to recognize the humanity that resides in each of us.
Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy
This is the quote that brought it all together for me. There are many parts of me that are broken, parts of me that have cracks. In family, in myself, in the experiences I’ll never have – inversely, in the experiences I’ll never forget. But like Stevenson, my understanding of my “cracks” and “brokenness” is what allows me to see it in other people. It’s what gives me the strength to look for the solutions to heal someone else – and maybe a small part of the world.
On the same account, I think if we took more time to see the brokenness in our system and the oppressive experiences of those different from us, we would “beat the drum for justice” and give opportunity for mercy with our privilege.
In the wake of this new momentum, I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge all the work that we’re doing in protesting for black lives, voting for change, and donating to funds for the lives that were taken and the betterment of the community. At the same time, we’re still fighting a battle within our own communities. And to be quite honest, fighting racism alone isn’t going to bring the TRUE change we need.
We know that colorism and prejudice in black communities is a result of white supremacy in America, but we can’t continue to put the blame only on that. It’s unfortunate, but there’s still degradation directed at brown/dark skin women.
Beginning in middle school, I was exposed to colorism from my own community. I didn’t have the language I do now, but I felt it. It’s interesting how there are very specific things and moments that stay with us from our childhood. You’re pretty, but you’re just too dark. Raise your hand if you’ve heard that comment before. You’re pretty for a dark skin girl. Can’t count how many times I’ve been complimented in that way.
After a while – in my case, it just takes a toll on you. You unknowingly start to feel inadequate, self-conscious and ultimately overcompensating to overcome that feeling. In my case, I allowed someone who “liked” me, to hide their relationship with me because I was viewed as too dark. Every conversation was held in private and was treated as if I didn’t exist during normal school hours. It felt wrong, but did I stop? No.
Then high school came around. I was emotionally distant from my family and I had just lost my grandmother (someone who I was extremely close with). I met a boy who gave me the kind of affection I wasn’t familiar with. Holding hands, occasionally kissing, talking about my feelings – that was all new to me. But all of that also came with dictating how I should dress more provocatively, wear my hair down more, and using bleaching cream. He ACTUALLY bought me bleaching cream!
And this is where I began to realize there was a problem. This boy was literally one shade lighter than me and of South American descent. Not only did he give me bleaching cream but he, himself was bleaching to the point where each time he stopped, he experienced inflammation and thinning of his skin. Gross AF. To be quite honest, this was the brain washing of white supremacy showing its ass.
During slavery, slave masters raped black women to produce mixed race children that would become superior to their darker counterparts. This led to a color caste system that dehumanized darker skin slaves and gave privilege to light-skin, mixed race slaves. This essentially created a division between slaves and self-hatred of dark skin that would maintain white patriarchal power.
Growing up in America and realizing that your value is solely based on your complexion is dehumanizing in itself. I didn’t realize how influenced I was until my mother noticed that my standard of beauty was light skinned women, and I remember her telling me lighter skin women aren’t only beautiful. I took some time to process that.
Black, brown and dark skin women need love. Love expressed in protection, defending, advocating. And I say this because there’s this superficial love for dark skin women when they’re photographed and glazed in oil.
I say this because society and the black community have the same obsession with fetishizing mixed-race babies as white slave masters did. You know how often black women in interracial relationships are pressured to have babies because of this obsession with “exotic” facial features and olive skin? Sorry to break to you but that’s not always the case. I’ve been asked out on dates by non-black people for the sole purpose of exploring what it feels like to be with a black woman. I’ve even had white colleagues express their desire for me to have a baby with their siblings to produce mixed race kids.
I say this because I don’t want to be called “blacky” by Hispanics and think that it’s okay. That’s a f*cking slur and very offensive.
I say this because dark skin women are constantly gaslighted for their experience in this country. I recall dating this Ecuadorian and black woman who I attempted to have a conversation about my experiences with colorism and the history behind it, and she presumed to gaslight me; telling me that I’m being dramatic and that black women do tend to be angrier and more aggressive.
First off, if we’re angry it’s for a damn good reason. Two – for a black person to have the audacity to have that response is part of the problem. Needless to say, we’re no longer together.
And again, I SAY THIS because it is time for our community to love black women unconditionally, not just when it’s convenient. I understand that white supremacy is the cause of this – but we need to hold ourselves accountable and be a part of the solution. It is our responsibility to educate ourselves, heal ourselves, love each other – not only when one of us dies. We all have preferences, but it should never be to the point where we’re pitting black women against each other based on complexion.
Love is not just represented in intimacy, but also represented in acknowledging our experiences. Love is not just holding white supremacy responsible but taking accountability for our anti-blackness in ourselves and others. Love is changing the narratives of black women only being depicted as sexual beings and represented in undesirable ways in the media. Can you recall the last time you saw a true, healthy depiction of black women or a black family in the media?
As much as Tyler Perry has done for the community, 90% of his movies represent black women as hypersexual beings, alcoholics/drug abusers, victims and black families as unstable and broken. Look at Scandal; a black intelligent woman who has all this power is only to be remembered as the (white) president’s mistress. How to Get Away with Murder; another black, intelligent woman who has a drinking problem – in addition to all of the other issues, was with a white man.
This is not to say that these narratives are untrue, however it’s the ONLY depiction of black people I frequently see and the one’s we’re so quick to support. This is how stereotypes are created and enforced. We need to create spaces that amplify positive black voices, promote healing and unity. Spaces that are collaborative, accepting, and addresses the micro-aggressions that take place. The change begins with US.
In the midst of everything going on in America, the past week have consisted of disappointing and anxiety-driven news. Jas Waters, a writer for This Is Us died of suicide. This news is particularly alarming to me because one, I’m very familiar with the show and her intentions. Two, it’s another black woman who has died during an overwhelmingly stressful time to be black during COVID-19.
It was frightening to wake up to hear a black, successful writer had hung herself at the young age of 39. A woman so committed to being in a predominately white room to create and share black stories.
It’s unsettling to say the least.
I can’t shake this feeling that it had a lot to do with anxiety during self-isolation, but it further being exacerbated during Black Lives Matter protests of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and the black trans lives taken soon after. Here are some tweets prior to her death, confirming signs of a woman who needed support as she struggled with her mental health.
Even in her moments of darkness, she created space to offer words of encouragement to other individuals and allowed them to be seen and heard.
19-year-old Oluwatoyin “Toyin” Salau, a Nigerian activist who suffered abuse and sexual assault went missing and was found dead hours after joining an organized protest for George Floyd.
I’m tired of black women always doing the protecting, never being the one PROTECTED and never taking a moment to protect themselves. I don’t want to see black women being murdered or feeling like the only way to cope is through suicide. I want to see us enforcing the importance of our mental health and working to remove the stigmas that come along with it.
I want to see #blacklivesmatter extended to black women, black trans women, black queer women, black non-binary folks, black disabled women; all demonstrated in defending and protecting us. And most importantly, I want to see black women taking care of themselves – and that includes setting boundaries when our mental and physical health is at risk.
WE ALL STRUGGLE WITH MENTAL HEALTH
It’s already difficult for black families to acknowledge mental illness, but it’s even harder to deal with being raised in a Caribbean household. There are so many stigmas and microaggressions associated with mental illness. Being invalidated and called crazy, weak or having to always be “strong”. Believing mental illness requires falling apart and breaking down to be validated. Being asked what you got to be depressed about? Or being told you’re too young to be depressed – not truly understanding the severity of untreated mental illnesses.
In my life, I’ve struggled with mental health countless of times. I’ve experienced depression, high levels of anxiety, and have even considered suicide. I’ve abused alcohol as a means of coping with the countless times I’ve felt lonely, misunderstood, or just exhausted.
I’m currently experiencing difficulty with controlling behaviors. I don’t like to be out in the world and feel like I have no control over my environment. I’m constantly tense and unsure of how to relax. I struggle with social anxiety that makes it difficult to have the desire to go out and sometimes even managing my relationships. Even more now, I’m perpetually waiting for another black man, woman, trans person, or child to die.
I have to constantly unplug from social media, re-center/self-isolate and take needed moments for myself. It’s hard talking to people at times because it can be a lot to deal with it, a lack of understanding, or simply people aren’t always in a space to offer emotional support.
STRUGGLES WITH SEEKING SUPPORT
With my struggles, I explored counseling and therapy over the past couple of years, only to be unsuccessful. The first therapist I began seeing was an Afro-West Indian, lesbian woman. Her description represented everything I was seeking in a therapist. A face similar to mine. A cultural understanding and awareness. And a queer identity that understands the intersections of my experience.
Unfortunately, she was out of network; resulting in $250 per session for 45 minutes, (which in my case at the time would have been twice a week, on a weekly basis). That alone put me in a darker space because I just couldn’t afford it.
With the recommendation of a colleague, I took a chance seeing a white therapist who accepted my insurance, with a co-pay of $25. However, with this white therapist, it was all surface conversation and an occasional invalidating response. It all seemed generalized and lacked depth.
Further, I had fears.
One, how do I express my feelings about my personal struggles, which included my experiences with being a black woman in America. How do I express that without making this white man uncomfortable in his space or feel white guilt? It’s hard enough always being in an environment where I’m being watched as the black girl, do I really want to be in this space, as the black girl removing her armor?
Two, it didn’t feel like a safe space – I was too aware of the racial and ethnic differences in the quality of care when it came to black people. I just didn’t trust a white therapist to be vulnerable about the layers of my black pain, afraid that what I had to say would be alarming. Three, I didn’t have the patience to educate him on my cultural background and the context I would be speaking from. With all of that, I gave up and just tried to manage my issues until there was a suitable option. And there are still times when it’s overwhelming.
So, when I read that Jas Waters died by suicide and a black girl was murdered after being abused, assaulted and still having the power to stand for a black man, it brought up a lot of mixed emotions. As black women, we need to acknowledge and tend to our pain and move out of the space of silence. It’s important that we reclaim our lives and to do that, we need our allies to stand with us in unity. We need our voices heard and affirmed.
Seek support in therapy, one who understands your experience. It’s crucial that therapists are culturally competent and conscious of stereotypes. Seek support in trustworthy friends and family; it saddens me that Toyin didn’t have that. And if you don’t have either of those, please visit the link below for black owned organizations that are committed to protecting/defending black lives and encourage healing.
If you know of any additional organizations, please leave the link down below.
Resources for Black Girls and Black-led LGBTQ+ Organizations
Last week, I woke up overwhelmed with a feeling of loneliness. Lonely in my relationship with myself, with the people around me, and especially with my relationship with God.
You ever feel like you have all these people around you but you have these moments where you don’t feel present or you’re just watching everyone live their life? That’s how I felt, and it’s not something I feel on a regular basis – I just find myself sometimes trying to get through the bad days.
The past few months, I’ve experienced two sudden deaths – one of my aunt and another, my best friend. I guess I could say given how sudden they were, I’m still unpacking those feelings. I find myself either crying a lot, being angry, frustrated, but most of all confused – in not understanding God’s plan and the intention behind not people dying in itself, but the way they die.
The more I questioned God, the further I felt away from him – you could say it’s losing my faith. And I think that part was an added stressor because without faith, what do you really have as support and comfort through trying times? I guess that’s why God tests your faith.
In addition, added financial and mental stressors while transitioning into adulthood … pause …
can we take a moment to acknowledge how hard it is to be an adult? Especially when you still feel somewhat young but have all these adult responsibilities and expectations.
And with all that, we still can’t afford to go to therapy because the one place we’re supposed to go when we feel depressed and overwhelmed cost $150+ every week/session, and of course the crappy company benefits that don’t support that need doesn’t make it any easier… so inevitably we end up suppressing our feelings with alcohol and drugs, etc. etc.
With all of these issues on my mind and the state of the world, I’ve been questioning God’s plan … mainly if his plan has our best interest at heart or whether there is a plan at all. Whether, the plan he has is for his children to die prematurely and in the worse way possible.
The first time I questioned God was when my mom told me about her friend who was in a car accident on the highway – caused by a drunk driver – I remember her telling me her friend stumbled out of the car and the car blew up with her husband and two kids – instantly dead.
I couldn’t relate to that, but I felt it – I imagined that pain and STILL, I’m sure it couldn’t have come close to what this woman was feeling. I felt for her and I questioned God’s motive. I would ask God why he would cause so much pain in this woman’s life; she has nothing now. No true justification was given no matter how much I searched (frustrating as hell) so I can’t help you put this into perspective.
Second time was recently, with the sudden passing of my best friend. Car accident as well, literally two hours after I celebrated her birthday with her. That call I got from her mother around 5am to come see her body at the hospital was literally an experience I can’t put into words.
Death is one of those things that you don’t always feel on a daily basis, you go through it in waves – and these waves are getting closer and closer. One moment you’re somewhat dealing, and the next it’s a total mindfuck and you’re back to square one.
It’s a weird place to be in because the nights I couldn’t sleep out of fear, gospel music and praying brought me comfort – even while angry at God and questioned him for taking someone so close to me. For someone who had so many plans and ambitions, I couldn’t understand how her mission on this earth was completed.
I was inspired by her parents continued strength and total faith in God and wondered how I could sit here and question it.
With all of these feelings, I realized that I would never truly get the answers I was seeking – at least the way I wanted. But through reflection, I realized it’s all a process of shedding and rebuilding (and I suppose that’s getting through trying times and finding the strength in the midst of it all).
It’s all a process, but a process that no one really explains how to navigate. People always show the glory after the suffering, and this superficial narrative/idea of themselves and their lives…but it’s never like that. No one teaches you how to have faith during the darkest moments of your life.
I’ve had many conversations with the people closest to me and with myself, and I learned it’s accepting that God has a bigger plan for all of us. And as far as my best friend, she taught me so much about myself, challenged me, and taught me about friendships/relationships – maybe in that sense she completed her mission in my life.
I don’t have the answers, I still have many questions – but I guess with God, I have to release control and believe that he has a plan for me and she’s at peace. I haven’t figured much out, but I have the desire to work on my faith – especially during this time when I need it the most.
I try to remember that God see’s things that I don’t, he understands the reason behind things/actions that I don’t. I am only human and there is so much that I can’t fathom. So, I’m working on putting my trust back in him, releasing control, and letting him be the driver of my life.
I’m sure a lot of ya’ll saw Rihanna’s brief, but direct speech during the NAACP Awards last week, but if not – here’s a clip:
Now, I suspect her speech was directed primarily towards all privileged individuals in our society as a whole, however – I’m going to take it a step further and let it be known that for the many black people in my community, it’s time to take accountability for your actions – and lack thereof relating to the further oppression of multiple marginalized identities.
This is for all of my privileged, cisgender, and heterosexual black friends.
I’m sure you’ve gathered that this is about Dwayne Wade and Gabrielle Union’s daughter, Zaya who recently came out to the public, preferring to be addressed by the pronouns she/her.
I took some time and listened to the many ignorant opinions of people specifically in the black community and compared it to the thoughts of people from other races.
What I’ve come to conclude is that black transgender and homosexual individuals often experience more oppression from black cisgender, heterosexual individuals, compared to any other race.
And I know … many black people seem to think that because they experience oppression – they, themselves cannot be the oppressor.
Bullshit. You CAN, you ARE, and I’m going to tell you why:
To be an oppressor, you must have some form of privilege that the oppressed doesn’t have. That includes black people, regardless of how little privilege we do have. In this case, it’s being comfortable and identifying with the gender we were born with and being attracted to the opposite sex.
How can you be a black person repping black lives matter, but when it comes to the increasing number of black, transgender womens deaths, you’re silent. We should be asking ourselves why our protection isn’t being extended to black, lgbtq and transgender women.
Further, how can you rep black lives matter but have the audacity to make assumptions and speak negatively on issues you don’t understand.
In Zaya’s case, this is a child – why isn’t our first thought to protect her? Sometimes, the best thing we can do is be quiet and educate ourselves before speaking on things we do not understand. Listen more, talk less!
And this is not just for the black people who are oppressive, but for those who have friends that are oppressive. You’re not an ally if you’re representing only in public, and most definitely not an ally if you’re ONLY supporting your marginalized “friend/family”.
Keep the same energy you use in public and hold your friends, colleagues, and family accountable for the things they say/and don’t say relating to the transphobia and discrimination in our communities.
Black lives matter shouldn’t only represent cisgender, heterosexual individuals, but in fact represent ALL issues within the black community – regardless of orientation, gender identity, religion, and ability – because it affects us ALL.
Black LGBTQ individuals are easily the most oppressed group, but yet always finds time to pull up and protest the many issues of our community. Why ya’ll don’t have the same energy?
Black LGBTQ issues and black issues are equivalent. Stop discussing them as if they’re different – there’s no one without the other.
It’s bad enough we live in a country where black people as an oppressed community have to deal with racism and misogyny, do we really need to double down on oppression due to anti-black transphobia? What people in our community fail to realize is that black women – whether trans or not – are the most disregarded group in America.
Although this should go without saying, we have a responsibility to protect each other regardless of our differences because who tf will? I can’t speak for every individual, but I know so many black, LGBTQ advocates that protect hetero/cisgender black women AND men during adverse situations – why is it so difficult for some women and ESPECIALLY black men to do the same?
We need to confront the discrimination and transphobia in ourselves, as much as we do in other people. To do that, we need to have those conversations, take responsibility for the things we do, and take the initiative to learn and understand the true meaning of human rights that we are all due, but especially those of black LGBTQ experience.
From young, it was instilled in me to follow these steps to success;
Find a stable job,
And work my ass off to make a living for me and my family.
At the time, I didn’t think there was anything wrong with that plan – I still don’t actually. But 24 year old me – as an individual, hates every aspect of the EXPECTATIONS put on me to live that traditional lifestyle. Now more than ever, I constantly find myself asking whether I’ll be fulfilled.
This past year, I’ve truly felt challenged in life by the amount of questions I find myself asking.
What’s the right move? Am I doing enough?
At my age now, I feel the pressure of having it all figured out and doing something that the world – especially my family would approve of. I’m often frustrated and angry because of these social constructs of how society and the world wants you to be. Instead, I find myself unlearning all of the limiting ideas of my family and society, and focusing on the things I love to do while embracing my own thoughts, beliefs, and ideas.
In the process, I’ve found myself conflicted about the value of higher education and the importance of needing a 9-5 job. Mainly because:
Outside of careers such as engineering, law, dentistry, etc. that require the skills affiliated with specific degrees, I realized that getting a degree has nothing to do with my level of success. Knowledge is easily accessible, is it really necessary to learn only in a structured institution?
There’s also a big chance that you won’t get a job relevant to your degree, yet you’ll be in debt trying to pay off your loans for the rest of your life.
Even worse – I can attest to this, working low paying jobs while working my ass off for companies/corporations that don’t give a shit about you and treat you like replaceable commodities.
Settling is the art of taking the easy way out. Sure, it will work. But you will never know what was truly in store for you if you had the courage to do what was right in your heart.
The Better Man Project
Don’t get me wrong, I support higher education (if that is your choice), and fully understand why most people stay in a traditional work environment. I’m insecure about not knowing what comes next for me, not knowing how far I will actually get, and fear losing steady income that pays all of my bills and allows me to save. That shit scares the fuck out of me and enables me to complacent.
The constant downside of it all is that I realize how unappreciated I am, how burnt out I often feel, and constantly fearing that I will be stuck there. I know I’m all over the place with this post, but this is literally how scattered my thoughts are. I wake up every morning frustrated and ready to say fuck it because I’m sick of living an unsatisfying life.
I hate feeling stuck, and not being able to pursue my passions because of feeling burnt out or being told that it’s not the right time or move, and working for people I don’t want to work for. I don’t want to live in a world where I’m just getting by… what kind of life is that?
SUCCESS IS SUBJECTIVE
What I realized is that I don’t want to JUST make money, I want to ENJOY the process. I want to connect, experience, and learn to trust my abilities and go for something different. And if I’m being honest with myself, school and a traditional job just doesn’t support my vision right now.
I want to work when I’m most energetic and motivated, not because I’m obligated and because my job demands it. I don’t want to be on anyone’s time, I want to be on my OWN time.
Although I am grateful for my job and the flexibility it gives me, and the skills/knowledge school has afforded me, I am unhappy. I am unhappy in my environment as well – mainly because I see so many people like me who are just as unfulfilled. Even more, their depressed and overly stressed.
Living in New York, I feel like work is an obsession; lacking in work-life balance. I understand the importance of money and welcome professional challenges and advancement, but it is not end all be all. I’ve found myself prioritizing work over my mental health – constantly feeling overwhelmed to the point of breaking down. All for what?
Trevor Noah said we’re not all designed to live the same way. We all have different personalities, passions, and dreams we want to pursue. The one thing I’m trying to get past is doing it – even when it’s not encouraged.
At my age, I CAN do it; I don’t have anything holding me here. This is my time to be selfish and enjoy life – travel, work in between jobs to finance trips, move to a new city, work while experiencing different cultures and people, or build community. Who the fuck knows! I just want to live my life according to my OWN rules.
With all that being said, it’s time to put all of these thoughts into action and take the chance. Plan, embrace the fear, and go down an untraditional route. Learn to discipline myself (which is a challenge in itself), and do it like my life depends on it.
Like many, I made the mistake of valuing other people’s opinions over my own happiness. But they’re not the one’s living my life – so their opinions should never be the determining factor. So I am committing myself to planning and putting all of my time in things that fulfill me.
Being an advocate and a member of the LBGTQ community, I can say that I have gained wisdom, strength and confidence in walking in the intersections of my identity. Being a triple minority in my blackness, queerness, and being a woman, I have somehow maneuvered my way through adversity and carried lessons learned from my experiences.
Although I’ve made it through many trying times, I still find myself navigating my queerness identity in various aspects of my life, more recently with my Catholic faith and what that entails for a woman who identifies outside of what is socially accepted in the church community.
One Saturday afternoon, I was looking for something to watch and ran across this documentary on Hulu called the L Word Mississippi: Hate The Sin. I guess by the title I should have suspected what the documentary consisted of. Nonetheless, by the first twenty minutes, I literally felt myself on the brink of tears.
It’s a documentary that displays the social and environmental experiences of lesbian and trans identifying individuals who are attempting to understand their sexuality, identity, and how they’re expected to interact in the world. It felt powerful, but heartbreaking. I felt the hurt, the frustration, and the pain of being forced into isolation and stigmatized for living in their truth. The confliction I saw in their eyes, I often felt in my own at times.
It doesn’t come as a surprise that many individuals who have an identity within the LGBTQ community, tend to divert away from the church due to their intolerant views on homosexuality. I also recognize that many individuals are either forced out/excluded from their church and community. I, on the other hand didn’t have that experience until I began coming to terms with who I am much later in my late teens.
Growing up in the Catholic church was probably one of the main contributing factors of who I am today. My church and community have instilled in me a strong sense of belief, and core values that are reflected in the way I prioritize family, my moral ground, ethics, and especially my spirituality. It has given me direction in life.
The question I find myself conflicted about is whether they will still support and look at me as they once did if they knew that I dated women exclusively.
Although I haven’t been to church in over a year, I still continue to seek spiritual comfort in my faith. It’s even more conflicting for me because my faith centers me, and gives me a sense of peace during difficult times. However, I don’t necessarily feel peace with God when seeking clarity and comfort in who I am.
I question whether I can put my faith in the church community I grew up in; or any church for that matter, given the person I am becoming. For me, that’s difficult because that has been the fundamental element keeping me grounded my entire life.
I am constantly trying to discern how being queer and religious can coexist in a society where so many people are constantly telling you that being lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or queer is a sin, and your gender identity is an abomination. Nevertheless, I’ve gathered that despite what anyone says – I am me and still here.
Doesn’t God make you exactly who you’re intended to be?
There have been countless times where I’ve tried to seek clarity about my sexuality. I would pray, listen to gospel music, or go to church. Each time I tried, I felt further away from God; I caught subtle messages about how homosexuality was a sin in music, by pastors, and questioned whether God would accept me for “what I’d become”.
Although I am still trying to figure it out, I realized that it was ME who had to learn to accept my sexuality and the complexities of it all. I’m in a place where I’ve accepted that this is who I am, and I am content with that. The bigger question for me is, have I accepted that I am “good” the way that I am. Is this essentially the ”right” way to be?
I need to be honest with myself, the experiences I’ve had in and out of the church, where my emotional/sexual feelings are being directed to and realize that I determine the type of relationship I choose to have/or not have with God. I want to get to a place where I don’t have to separate my sexuality with my faith, nor do I want to feel like I have to repress one to be accepted by the other.
The L Word Mississippi discussed the emotional, professional, and financial cost of living a lifestyle many don’t agree with. Some of the individuals expressed that they were casted out of community organizations, forced into conversion therapy, and lost a substantial amount of business because of how they identify or who they happen to love and build a life with. This reminded me of an activity I took part in during training to become a suicide counselor.
The instructions for the activity were as follows:
Our group leader asked us to choose a cut-out star from the various color options that we liked. There was red, orange, purple, and green. With green being my favorite color, it was no surprise that’s the one I immediately went for.
As you know, a star has five points/edges (whatever you want to call it). She asked us to fold all of the points of our stars and reopen each one, one at a time and write down our responses to the five questions. They went something like this:
Name someone in your family who you can count on and will be there for you.
Name a friend you can go to who is always there for you.
Name a community organization that you are invested in.
Write down your dream career goal.
Write down a place where you can go to for a quick getaway and feel safe.
Honestly, I wasn’t mentally prepared for this activity. I realized I was only able to give an answer to two of those questions. As the activity went on, she asked us to stand in a circle and hold out our stars. As she read each of the questions aloud, we were asked to confirm whether our responses would be consistent if we identified as either a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.
For example, “Name someone in your family who you can count on and will continue to be there for you if you came out as a lesbian. “If you have a green star, rip that point out and throw it on the floor. It means that you lost the support of family when you came out.”.
All I could remember is being the green star who already didn’t have much but was forced to give up my dream career, my closest friend, and a place of safety because of who my sexual and emotional desires are directed to.
The reality of it all is that there were many green stars in the room who were forced to rip every point of their star out. There was 1 or 2 orange stars who were privileged in the sense where they had the support in every important part of their life.
Coming from a Caribbean background, the teachings were primarily anti-gay. Till this day, there are many toxic views on homosexuality – especially in the black community. Views that are completely insensitive and self-damaging to individual’s self-esteem, who are going through a difficult process of finding identity.
It’s really fucked up because, like me, many individuals attended church for spiritual guidance and a sense of community, but received hatred and disdain in return. This has resulted in many LGBTQ individuals becoming homeless and turning to prostitution for any means of support and protection; which often results in violence, death or incarceration of LGBTQ people of color, who make up the overwhelming majority.
I guess watching this documentary put things into perspective relating to my own life, and the experiences of others that I may not relate to directly. I am comfortable in who I am and do not have the desire to change for the comfortability of others; whether that is family, community, or my work environment.
I think my reality is that my sexual orientation doesn’t define who I am as a whole; I am multifaceted and although I don’t have an issue with LGBTQ affirming churches, I don’t feel it’s fair, or the need to put myself in a box so that I can feel closer to God.
I am in the process of breaking social constructed ideologies of the church and determining the spiritual relationship I choose to have with God – and how I want it to be reflected in my life. I don’t like the idea of having to repress a part of yourself because of what another human says, and I hate how it has negatively influenced me, and other LGBTQ individuals.
The choice should never be to either repress it or being condemned for living in your truth. If it means having to choose between myself and how others view me, I will ALWAYS CHOOSE MYSELF and other individuals like me.
So I went on a date this weekend and had such a weird experience, one that I know a lot of women have unfortunately experienced. From the moment I entered the car to the moment I was dropped home, I experienced sexual harassment from my date. My date gave me innocent compliments to begin with, but gradually diverted the conversation to their sexual desires with me. They expressed how I was turning them on, and how they wanted to perform sexual favors on me, and further insisting to have sex at the end of the night.
Something that is really important to me when dating is the ability to share great conversation; amongst other reasons, it’s one way to know if you guys have a good vibe or not. Good conversation also makes the other person more attractive. However, they were more interested in their sexual desires based on where the conversation kept leading to after each question. By the end of dinner, I felt somewhat uncomfortable. Repeatedly, they would disclose their intention wasn’t to pressure me but would somehow follow up with a sexual comment. It was like the whole night was built up just to have sex.
What made it uncomfortable was that in a way, they made it seem like they were entitled to getting sexual favors because they asked to take me out and covered the tab. Now, I have no problem paying for dinner or anything else for that matter. But with the suggestive comments and their assumption that they were entitled to have sex at my house, I began to feel overly pressured.
With the #MeToo movement being so significant in this era, we often think about women being victims to men relating to sexual abuse and harassment. Unconsciously, this is how I viewed the campaign. I never really considered the experiences of individuals in the LGBTQ community who have their own survivorship experience with the #MeToo campaign, until I’ve experienced it myself.
Queer individuals who live in the intersections of gender identities and expressions should have a voice and a place in the #MeToo movement. When we take a look at the intersection of LGBTQ individuals, it’s alarming that LGBTQ people of color, with disability, homeless, in prison or those who perform sex work are more likely to experience all forms of violence, abuse, and harassment.
It wasn’t built to be a viral campaign or a hashtag that is here today and forgotten tomorrow, it was a catchphrase to be used from survivor to survivor to let folks know that they were not alone and that a movement for radical healing was happening and possible.
Tarana Burke, a civil rights activist from The Bronx founded the Me Too movement in 2006 to raise awareness of sexual abuse, harassment and violence of women of color in our society. 11 years later, Alyssa Milano tweeted a message to her followers requesting that if they were ever sexually harassed or assaulted to “#MeToo”. Hours later, thousands of women responded, commenting on their experiences with men. Naively, I didn’t consider that queer stories weren’t being represented until I tried to find similar experiences like my own.
SEX, UNCOMFORTABILITY, AND CONSENT
Until my experiences this weekend, I was naïve to the idea that LGBTQ individuals could be part of the #MeToo movement. As the night became more uncomfortable for me, I felt like I had to act normal and cool, as if what they were saying didn’t bother me. I consider myself to be a very strong person, but in that moment I felt like it was easier to go further than I wanted – just to avoid any discomfort on their part, or making it into something it didn’t need to be. I stood firm in my decision, but the next morning, I realized there were many women like me who didn’t make the same decision as I did.
In certain situations, feeling overly pressured can lead to doing things that you aren’t fully comfortable doing. Many individuals in these circumstances find themselves avoiding having honest conversations about what they are comfortable and uncomfortable with out of fear of causing a scene.
No means no, but so does “I’m not ready,” “Can we take a break,” “I’m not sure,” “I don’t like this”, “I’m uncomfortable,” “Let’s just chill”, and so forth.
Mary Macrae Lynch
When we talk about #MeToo we need to be inclusive of Queer experiences around sexual abuse and harassment. It’s not just heterosexual, cisgender individuals that have these experiences, but LGBTQ identities as well. I didn’t understand the magnitude of my situation until I separated myself from them. The crazy part of it all is that this wasn’t a bad person. This was possibly, not being able to differentiate between sexual harassment and flirting on their part, and not feeling comfortable or safe enough to have a conversation about boundaries on mine.
I was very uncomfortable with the things they said and did, and although – or so I thought, my body language expressed that, it may have been unknowing. I felt like I shouldn’t have to be in a situation where I had to clearly say no. What I learned this past weekend was that two people can perceive the very same situation differently because of how our brains are wired. We see things based off of what we believe.
HAVE THOSE DIFFICULT CONVERSATION
Start an open dialogue that represents all identities, orientations, race, genders, and experiences around sexual harassment and abuse. Specifically relating to Queer identities, it’s important to determine the red flags in these vulnerable situations because I didn’t realize the signs until I was safely back home.
It’s important for people to understand verbal and nonverbal cues. For me, I sometimes smile or laugh out of discomfort. However it can be perceived as me being okay and consenting. Me accepting a drink or kissing someone doesn’t mean that I’m open to anything more than that. We need to emphasize on verbal consent to avoid more cases of #MeToo. We need to teach youth that being assertive when it comes to our personal boundaries is just as important as being nice.
The media doesn’t represent the experiences of the LGBTQ community who are at greater risk of being victims of sexual abuse/violence. It’s a priority to end sexual harassment and violence amongst women, but what about the unrepresented narratives of the LGBTQ community? The media is lacking visibility when it comes to marginalized groups.
We need to have the difficult conversations and come up with solutions to sexual harassment and abuse of LGBTQ and all other marginalized identities in the media, classrooms, and conference rooms, to create a climate that is inclusive to all identities and expressions. It’s also important to share that the #MeToo movement shouldn’t be gender based, but be focused on the experience of all those that experience sexual abuse and/or harassment.
I originally had a post about privilege and my frustration on the lack of consciousness people had. But this week is a different energy. Discomfort really. Today I found out my step-grandfather passed away in Haiti.
Growing up, I was really close to him. I remember this light skin old man, slim guy with a big ol’ belly and a cute mole on his face, with a distinctive smell I could vaguely smell right now. The first thing I would do when I saw him sitting down was climb on him just to cuddle with that big belly of his. We were always quiet for the most part – he was a man of very few words. In a way it was home; him and my amazing grandmother were home to me.
Years went by and I saw him less frequently. Not sure exactly why, but things just became hectic when my grandmother fell extremely sick. She ended up passing away from Stage four cancer, a stroke that paralyzed her entire left body, and diabetes. Surprisingly, diabetes being the same cause of death as my step – grandfather.
It was a result of a high risk surgery that led to a leg amputation. During the time of my grandmothers sickness, I found out there was some infidelity on his part. If you knew my grandmother, you would think she’s as amazing and as giving as much as I do; but maybe we all, in a way, see our grandmothers from that perspective.
My grandmother was the love of my life; the biggest loss for me. So when I found out he was unfaithful to her, I felt betrayed in a sense. I never really thought about him as much anymore or spoke to him. When I found out he was sick, I wouldn’t say I didn’t care but I didn’t think much into it. My mother recently was in Haiti, and during her time there, assisted in supporting him as his health rapidly decreased.
I vaguely remember telling my aunt that he didn’t deserve help after what he did to my grandmother. That clearly came from a place of anger … until I got that late night text from my mother that he passed away.
I wouldn’t say it hit me in that moment, but the first person I thought about was my aunt from Canada – who I rarely saw growing up because of her challenges with substance abuse. In that moment, I was scared of what this loss might do to her and her mental state. All I wanted to do in that moment was be with her and console her, even though I barely knew who she was deep within.
My step-grandfather lived in Haiti for his entire life, that’s where he passed away. That’s where he will be buried. I fear and I’m constantly thinking of my aunt having to deal with such a traumatic and life altering loss alone. My aunt has multiple sisters, we are a family that supports each other especially during times of loss.
Unfortunately we can’t physically be there for her because of all of the political and economic protests and riots going on right now. It’s dangerous, given that my mother was just able to return safely after months of failed attempts due to oil spills, fires, and killings. Who’s going to physically be there for her in such a dangerous time?
This morning, I decided to watch The Red Table Talk and today’s conversation was with Demi Moore and her two daughters. The conversation was around her experiences with substance abuse and the experiences of her children having to deal with that burden, pain, and anger silently; further reflecting on her own battles with her mother.
Jada said something along the lines of you can be sensitive while angry. That resonated with me because as I deal with the frustration of my grandfather’s infidelity, I found myself being sensitive to his passing and reflecting on how I used to feel being around him.
Our feelings are multifaceted, just as our identities. I don’t believe we have to be just one thing, or feel just one thing; and I see that now after getting wrapped up in my own anger, without seeing the various dimensions of it all.
I find myself letting go of what he did to my grandmother, and realizing that he was just a human being that made a few wrong choices; questionable choices that we all have made at some point in our lives. I think what Jada was saying, was that even though we are angry, it’s okay for us to be sensitive as well. It’s not necessarily one or the other.
I think that’s where compassion comes into play. I realize that in forgiving others of the harm they have caused me or a loved one, is the first step in freedom and truly moving forward in my life.