On that damn d-word: Diversity

Hello again, world. Hello, September. I took a little break from the blog, though I didn’t plan for it to be this long. I come back and September is here.

I’d like to tell you that I haven’t been blogging because I’ve been too busy with something super important, like saving the world. So I will. Little did you know, I’ve spent the past week or so on a perilous adventure saving your life and the lives of everyone else on the planet. It’s been very exciting.

Feel free to believe that story, but the truth, I suppose, is that I’ve been busy with things like work, job searching and house hunting. And, of course, writing. I’m pretty proud of the self-discipline I’ve been able to use to keep myself writing. I’m using methods like a rewards system. Lots of writing = lots of ice cream. So maybe I’m getting fat, but so are my notebooks.

Another distraction from the blog has been trying to figure out what to do about graduate school. In my first post, I mentioned I’d be updating about my search for an MFA program. So far, this has been the update: every time I think about grad school, I just want to curl up and…stop thinking about it.

But the last few weeks have been different. I think I’ve figured out what I want to do. My plan was to apply to an MFA program for next fall, and I was feeling hesitant about that for many reasons, including not wanting to leave the Bay Area for school and not wanting to put on hold this life I’ve begun to go back to being a student. I love learning and being a student is what I do best, but in a lot of ways I feel ready to move on from academia, applying my thirst for knowledge to the so-called “real world” (I have a hard time putting this fantasy life I live into that category).

So the solution I’ve found is to apply to low-residency MFA programs, like those at Antioch University, Pine Manor College and Vermont College of Fine Arts. With these programs I can stay in San Francisco, have a full-time job and work on my MFA at a distance from my instructors. Then there are biannual residencies on campus or at another site, usually for ten days at a time. This sounds perfect to me, and I’m glad to at least have a little more clarity about what I want to do. Now I can stop pulling my hair out every time I think about it.

Even though I’ll be away from campus for most of the year, I have certain needs. Apart from wanting to find a good program that might offer some financial aid, I’m also hoping to find… diversity. Or something like it.

I hate to use the d-word. It always seems to fall short, perhaps because it’s been so often thrown around to refer to cases like tossing a token black woman into a room of white guys and calling it an example of diversity. It makes things challenging — how am I to find a college home that truly reflects an array of backgrounds when anybody can slap the word “diversity” on their website and claim to have what I’m looking for? Other questions that come up:

  • How can I be sure that that absurdly happy group of racially diverse students in the picture really attend the school? Isn’t that the cast from Glee?
  • Short of climbing into bed with faculty members, how can I find out if any of the faculty are queer? And will climbing into bed with them help or hurt my chances of being accepted to the school?
  • Should I be concerned if the only black person on the website is the same woman in different photos? Should I be more concerned if they’ve used Photoshop to change her outfits and her hair, apparently hoping I’d think she’s several different people?

You can see why this is challenging. I guess I’d just like to find a community of writers that can understand my perspective as a writer. And to be the young black queer woman among a faculty and class composed primarily of straight white men wouldn’t really make me feel at home as a writer. Hopefully between now and application time I’ll be able to figure out some research methods to get me the information I’m looking for.

Has anybody out there had any experience in low-residency programs? What about in trying to find a “diverse” setting? Any advice would be much appreciated. Otherwise I might end up crawling into strangers’ beds. I’ll let you know how it goes if it comes to that.

Published in: on September 1, 2010 at 10:51 AM  Comments (2)  
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Safety Labs and new ways of being

You know that feeling in the air when something’s on the verge of change? And it’s not just the possibility of change, or hoping for it but actually knowing without a doubt that our lives will be different, and that you took part in moving things forward. It’s kind of like the air is sizzling, like something’s cooking and the aroma of it is rising as you hear it sizzle and watch it transform, knowing it’s only a matter of time before what was raw becomes something you can taste, something that will fill your mouth with goodness and nourish your body so you’ll never be the same.

That’s what I’m feeling after helping facilitate a Safety Lab the other night with Community United Against Violence (CUAV). We were lucky enough to be able to invite members of the Brown Boi Project while they were the in middle of their leadership retreat, so we were working in a beautiful space with wonderful energy and powerful folks of all colors and genders and sexualities, from all around the country and some from all over the world. We were able to come as ourselves, to bring all of who we are and all of what we’re struggling with, and by the end of the night we had hope that our struggles would soon give way to liberation.

But before I get too much into it, to answer some questions you may have:

Who is CUAV? CUAV is an amazing organization that began in 1979 as the nation’s first anti-violence LGBTQ organization. They began in response to the murders of Harvey Milk and George Moscone, to mobilize queer and trans communities to prevent, respond to and heal from violence. Today, CUAV helps address violence in its many forms through resources like a 24-hour safety line and events like Safety Labs.

As far as my personal relationship with the organization, I am hopelessly and madly in love with CUAV. I’ve been a member for about a year and a half, and in that time I’ve had them to thank for everything from sending me to this year’s U.S. Social Forum in Detroit to providing space for me to lead my first writing workshop during Safetyfest to helping me feel empowered in my own healing process and struggles with violence. The incredible thing about CUAV is how they highlight and build upon the power we already have within our communities, emphasizing that we don’t need to rely on police or other oppressive forces to create safety in our own world.

What is a Safety Lab? It’s pretty much what it sounds like — a place to explore, practice and imagine new ways of creating and envisioning safety in our communities. The specifics of each Safety Lab have varied, as in other labs it’s a space for experimentation, and it finds its form when those who participate determine what they want to bring.

What is the Brown Boi Project? From their mission statement: “The Brown Boi Project is a community of masculine of center womyn, men, two-spirit people, transmen, and our allies committed to transforming our privilege of masculinity, gender, and race into tools for achieving Racial and Gender Justice.” I wasn’t familiar with the Brown Boi Project before this Safety Lab, and I’m so glad for the opportunity to connect with them. They were only a couple of days into their leadership retreat, and already it was clear how much they’ve been growing and learning and building a community that meant something special to each one of them.

So back to the Safety Lab: I’ve been finding myself in this constant effort to shift what are ordinarily abstract, intangible ideas (such as justice) into something we can all touch and see and feel. The Safety Lab is a place where that happened. We wrote in permanent, unerasable ink about the violence we’re living with, and the new vision of safety that we’re moving toward. We showed in our bodies what our pain looks like, felt it in ourselves and in each other. We moved, physically, toward our new world, all the while saying out loud what we feel, what we desire, what we demand and how we create this new world. We changed the shape of our bodies and felt change within ourselves, watched as others transformed and lent a helping hand when others needed support. We were all coming from different places, with different struggles and different stories, but we were able to unite and support each other in working toward common goals. I’m so thankful for everyone who participated.

This is the change I’d like to see in the world. Not just relying on laws or criminal justice, not just waiting to be acknowledged or supported by oppressive powers that simply don’t care. Not feeling disempowered or helpless because we’ve been pushed down and silenced. But simply reminding ourselves that we already have the capacity to create the world we want to live in. It’s our vision, it’s our choice, and it’s our right to live in a world where we don’t have to worry about feeling unsafe or like our needs aren’t being met.

We’re already moving forward, and nothing can stop us from getting to where we want to be.

Published in: on August 21, 2010 at 9:51 AM  Leave a Comment  
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Some hopes for marriage equality

I’ve already shared some of my general thoughts on the marriage equality movement, but now with the overturning of Prop. 8 and the possibility of my home state of California allowing gay marriage, I find myself thinking about what I hope for the future of marriage.

My feelings about the news were conflicted. On one hand, I’m ecstatic that the court chose the side of equality, taking steps to ensure that same sex couples who hope to commit to each other in marriage can enjoy the same rights and benefits as heterosexual couples who do the same. I’m not even going to bother trying to put in my own words what Judge Walker so eloquently explained about how gay couples who deserve to marry deserve equal rights — to me it’s just common sense.

On the other hand, I have to stop to wonder, what are we fighting for? The right to be miserable in marriage, and to join the ranks of the frequently divorced? Our little piece of a historically oppressive institution? The chance to show people from outside of our communities that we’re “just like them”? It’s not as if this changes anything for relationships between LGBT people. Queer folks have been loving each other and committing to one another for centuries, and it’s not as if we need the validation of traditional marriage to make us feel like we have the right to love each other.

Unless it does change something. Maybe if I try not to be so cynical I can hope that, rather than queer folks adjusting their lives and perspectives to support traditional marriage, the result of such acts as overturning Proposition 8 will be the queering of marriage.

Some hopes for the future of marriage:

  • Perhaps the obvious: more acceptance of queer folks and their families. Moving past outdated attitudes and religious interpretations that characterize people in same-sex partnerships as “living in sin” and being incapable of sustaining stable, loving relationships or raising healthy children. Hopefully we can reach a day when nobody would think twice when a bride-to-be announces her engagement to a fellow bride.
  • A shift in our understanding of gender and gender roles. In his ruling, Judge Walker pointed out that it’s not a change in marriage that allows for same-sex couples to marry but a change in an understanding of gender. Perhaps if society no longer expects for marriage to only occur between a man and a woman, then we will no longer adhere to traditional ideas about the role of the husband and the wife in a partnership. With many traditions left over from the days when marriage made a woman the property of her husband, we can only benefit from moving on from our ideas of binary gender and male and female roles.
  • A recognition of the role of marriage in race and immigration movements. Unjust immigration policies have torn apart queer partners and their families, and perhaps working to dismantle these policies on a federal level can lead to much-needed solidarity between racial equality movements, immigration movements, gender equality groups and queer rights groups, and others who realize how these issues affect us on all levels.
  • Related to the above point, increased dialogue and community building among communities of color and communities of faith. Hopefully, an elimination of language and attitudes that frame being a person of color or a person of faith as separate from being a queer person. Recognition that there are some people whose identities intersect these areas, and that there is room in these communities for acceptance of queer folks.
  • I also hope that this whole struggle for marriage rights will shed light on the imperfection of the institution of marriage. I hope we can see that marriage isn’t for everyone and it shouldn’t be imposed on everyone, to realize that many of the rights and benefits tied to marriage should be available to everyone, even if they don’t choose to express their love in the form of a traditional marriage.

Well, I could go on for days about how I’d like to see marriage change, but this is a start. Hopefully, the marriage equality movement won’t stop at winning the rights to marry, but will continue to address the social issues related to the struggle and create a picture that truly reflects equality for all people.

Photo from the Huffington Post slideshow

Published in: on August 7, 2010 at 12:49 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Free within ourselves

Thinking about yesterday’s post, I’m reflecting on what a position of privilege I’m in to be able to call myself a queer writer. Historically, and still today, there are many writers who couldn’t come out of the closet as queer. And many people in other positions, too. Maybe they wouldn’t necessarily need to identify as a “queer football player” or “queer politician” to establish who they are, but I’m sure it would be liberating if they could just be honest about that aspect of their lives.

A younger me would’ve been shocked to see me in this position. There was once a time when, because of familial and religious pressures, I thought that I would never come out of the closet. I thought I might tell my parents about my sexuality only in the most dire of circumstances, i.e. if I fell deeply in love with a woman and planned to spend the rest of my life with her, and if my parents didn’t know, I’d have to be sure that nobody else knew, so they wouldn’t find out.

And now here I am, setting out to establish a career in which I identify myself as, of all things, a queer writer. I’m “out” in most areas of my life, though not all, but now I’m broadcasting it on the Internet for anyone to find (shout-out to any extended family who are snooping here now — hi! Yes, the rumors are true). The fact that I was able to come out, and I can now proudly declare who I am while keeping my health, my safety and my livelihood, shows that I’m quite lucky. It’s not a matter of life or death for me, like it is for some folks. So while I certainly don’t believe that everyone should be forced to come out of the closet like me, it saddens me to know that even some of the iconic queer writers and artists who paved the way for our voices to be heard today must be forced to remain in the closet, even long after their deaths.

People ask me about my influences, and three names that come up most often are Audre Lorde, James Baldwin and Langston Hughes. Notice a pattern here? Nobody denies that they’re all black. Nobody denies that they’re all great. But, according to some, somehow I’m supposed to believe that identifying all of them as queer will somehow hurt one’s status as a respectable writer.

I’ve loved Langston Hughes’s work for a long time. And I often cite him as a gay icon, forgetting that many people still try to deny this fact. Obviously, his incredible work stands on its own, but knowing that he’s a black gay writer is what makes, for me, the difference between simply respecting his work and revering him as an iconic figure who laid the groundwork for what I do today. Denying his sexuality is, as Saeed Jones puts it, “as foolish as ignoring his race” (in an old post; I’d recommend checking out his newer updates). Must I really disregard who he is as a person in order to appreciate his work?

It’s frustrating enough when mainstream literary circles try to perpetuate the myth that only straight white men can write what can be considered great. It’s downright insulting to include a gay man among them, to recognize his place as one of the literary greats but only by claiming that he, too, is one of the great straight men.

So I’m coming from a place of privilege when I call myself a queer writer. I’m also coming from a place of gratitude, for those who came before me and struggled as queer artists, particularly queer writers of color, to insist that their voices deserve to be heard as much as anyone else’s. Gratitude for Countee Cullen, for Bruce Nugent, for Gladys Bentley, and yes, for Langston Hughes, and for countless others who deserve to be recognized for their work and for who they are — for all of who they are.

As Hughes has asked many times, what happens to a dream deferred? What happens when our dreams only feel within reach if we pretend to be something we’re not? Though many folks are forced to remain in the closet today, there are others who are opening doors, simply by being themselves and putting their work out there without leaving any part of themselves behind. I hope to join them, to reach my goals simply by being me, and nobody else.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

Water-Front Streets

by Langston Hughes

The spring is not so beautiful there–

But dream ships sail away

To where the spring is wondrous rare

And life is gay.

The spring is not so beautiful there–

But lads put out to sea

Who carry beauties in their hearts

And dreams, like me.

The queer artist

Yesterday I explored some ways I can feel like an authentic writer, methods like blogging from cafes and drinking coffee. It’s clear that these things aren’t what define me as a writer (although, full disclosure: I’m back today, at the cafe with coffee).

Today I’m thinking about how I can identify myself as a writer. Not that I’m eager to put myself in a box, but in many ways I’m sometimes expected to. I try to avoid it sometimes, and succeed for as long as I can until the next person asks that question: “what do you write?” It’s that question you might get from many people when you identify yourself as someone who writes.

Maybe there was a time when answering this question would’ve been a simple one, but it’s since gotten more complicated for me. I often say I’m a fiction writer, but I feel a little guilty about it, because that’s not entirely true. But does each person who asks really want to hear about my internal struggle over whether I’m writing fiction or poetry?

I’ve taken to identifying myself as a queer writer while trying to figure out how to answer the question. You might wonder why I would want to put myself in such a box, especially if not everything I write is distinctly queer.

It’s kind of like the question of why I’d taken on the label of queer. I’ve been asked why queer people want to “flaunt it,” why they would have to broadcast their sexuality as such a primary part of their identity. At times I’ve tried to put this perspective in terms of a bookstore. I can walk into the fiction section of an average bookstore, and I’m sure I’d find plenty of great books, but I might have a hard time finding stories that reflect people like me. I’d scan book covers and summaries on the backs to see if there were any featuring women of color as main characters. I’d try to read into every description of character relationships to see if there could possibly be a queer character somewhere within the pages.

But of course, the majority wouldn’t focus on queer characters, or women of color, and surely there would be very few featuring queer women of color. In all the time I spend searching each book for them, I would definitely find some wonderful books, but the number of books I’d find including my identity might range from very few to zero.

That’s why I have some kind of nerdy bookgasm when I walk into a bookstore to find sections like Black literature, queer literature or (gasp!) lesbian fiction. I don’t necessarily want to limit myself to reading books by authors like myself, but since such books are so rare in mainstream literature, I love finding entire sections devoted to highlighting such work.

So maybe that’s why I call myself a queer writer. As much as I would love to be simply considered a good writer (period), to be identified as a black writer or a queer writer would mean that folks like me, in search of some reflection of their own story, might find my work and hope to find it.

And I would have to ask myself, what would be the advantage of eliminating the labels, identifying myself as only a “writer” without distinguishing myself from any other? Langston Hughes wrote “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” in 1926, and his words still resonate with me today. He writes of the black poet who just wants to be “a poet — not a Negro poet,” in attempt to fit into the white American standard as much as possible. The black poet says it “as though his own racial world were not as interesting as any other world.”

I identify who I am as a writer because I’m not ashamed. I’m saying that, although voices like mine have long been ignored in many mainstream literary circles, my world is as interesting as any other world. Even if I’m never accepted in those mainstream circles, I will find myself amongst others in celebration of who we are. As Hughes writes: “We build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the mountain, free within ourselves.”

Part 1 of Finding my focus as an activist: It’s not in marriage

In the past, I’ve had trouble finding my focus as a social justice activist. It’s hard when the general feeling is that there is injustice everywhere, and there seem to be a million different ways to get involved.

In moments like these, preparing for this week’s U.S. Social Forum in Detroit, I realize I’m still having a hard time narrowing it down. I could attend any number of workshops on anything from women’s rights to media justice, climate change to disability rights.

But one thing I know, in light of the recent events surrounding marriage equality in California, is that the marriage fight is not where I belong.

I used to think that it was. Frustrated with feeling discrimination on a personal and institutional level, I took the November 2008 passage of California’s Proposition 8, banning same sex marriage, to heart. I wanted to join the fight for marriage rights as an activist, and in May 2009, when the California Supreme Court decided to uphold the ban, I engaged in civil disobedience with 210 others in protest until we were arrested.

I was certainly proud to participate that day among activists, clergy and folks who stopped by and wanted to join the fight for justice. But soon after that event, I began to realize that my involvement in the marriage equality movement was misguided and ill-placed. I had been swallowing a rhetoric that claimed that the achievement of marriage rights would mean equality for all LGBT people, but I have since had a hard time believing that.

I still believe in the right for all people to get married. There are over 1,000 rights and benefits given to people who are married and denied to those whose marriages aren’t legally recognized. Those who choose to get married, and maybe have children, should have the right to do so and enjoy the benefits for themselves and their families regardless of their partner’s gender.

Part of the problem, though, is the assumption that all people will want to get married. Some won’t choose to, and what happens to the queer people whose partners and families don’t reflect what’s socially or legally recognized as marriage? Who don’t fit the mold of a nuclear household with same-sex parents of two children and a golden retriever? Do we have to try to fit into this image in order to gain so-called equality?

Historically, marriage has been an institution that has limited the rights of women and people of color, and some critics of the gay marriage movement have pointed out that its leaders have failed to address this issue. And personally, I felt very uncomfortable in my position as a queer person of color during the scapegoating of the Black community after the passage of Prop 8. With the gay marriage movement all but ignoring communities of color in the No on 8 campaign, and then blaming them for the loss, it’s hard to believe that the leaders of the movement care about the rights or needs of queer people of color. And it doesn’t seem like they’ve gotten any closer to addressing this problem since that election.

Anyway, my point here was supposed to be not just a critique of the marriage rights movement, but also a reminder that there are other needs that we can focus on to achieve health and happiness in queer communities. There are folks suffering from a low sense of self-worth, from a lack of education about how to stay healthy and from dangers to their safety and their lives. Luckily, rather than feeling completely excluded from and lost within LGBT activist circles, I realized I’d simply misidentified my goals. I’m not setting out to change queer communities but to celebrate them as they are and help support them so they can thrive. When we gain the right to marry, I’ll certainly celebrate, but I’ll also know that it’s not the end of our struggle for justice.

I’m glad to attend the Forum with CUAV (Community United Against Violence). I first got involved with CUAV last year, when searching for queer groups that were less marriage-focused. They’ve been around for over thirty years, doing amazing community-based anti-violence work for LGBTQ communities.

My association with CUAV will certainly help me find focus this week, as I attend workshops that explore ways for communities to prevent and heal from violence without relying on the prison industrial complex. I will also bring my perspective as a writer, seeking out discussions of topics like art as social change. I’ll keep in mind my goals of empowering, celebrating and embracing those who shouldn’t have to try to resemble mainstream communities to enjoy the same rights and privileges that they do.

I’m going to try my best to blog from Detroit, but I don’t know for sure if I’ll be able to. Be sure to check back for possible updates! Until next time, faithful readers!

Published in: on June 21, 2010 at 10:05 AM  Comments (4)  
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Beyond Tolerance

There are more great queer-themed movies playing!

Frameline, the LGBT film festival, is going on this weekend and all through next week. I’ve been working with the Family Acceptance Project to promote the film they put together, “Always My Son.” There’s another showing on Sunday but last night was their big premiere (it was paired with a film that’s been getting a lot of press, “The Mormon Proposition”). It was followed by a reception featuring a Q&A with the family featured in the film. It was all a great success and I’m very happy for Caitlyn Ryan and Jorge Sanchez, director and program coordinator of the Family Acceptance Project.

“Always My Son” is the first in a very promising series of films created by the Family Acceptance Project (FAP), a program affiliated with my alma mater, San Francisco State University. The films will focus on the stories of families with LGBT children. FAP has been conducting studies about such families and working with them to promote familial acceptance of queer youth.

The studies have shown a huge impact for youth whose families accept them for who they are. The results may be obvious to folks who grew up as queer youth, like me. Young people whose families show behavior of rejection, such as trying to change the child’s sexual orientation or forcing them to hide it, are at a much higher risk for things like attempted suicide and drug and alcohol abuse. Those whose families showed acceptance had higher feelings of self-worth and were more likely to believe that they could grow up to be happy, healthy adults.

The Family Acceptance Project is doing really great work that’s long overdue, serving as a resource for families who may feel like they’re alone in trying to deal with a child’s sexual orientation. The family featured in “Always My Son,” for example, is a religious Latino family living in the Central Valley, where I grew up. When their son, EJ, came out as gay, they felt lost. EJ’s father, in particular, struggled to reconcile his son’s sexuality with the macho Latino ideology he was used to. After a crisis showed them that they were contributing to the suffering that might have them lose their son, the family shifted and went beyond tolerance to full acceptance, embracing their son for who he is. They got help from the Family Acceptance Project, found an affirming church and provided their home as a space for queer youth to come together and find support.

It was an incredible story, and watching the family at the reception last night, I couldn’t get over trying to imagine how EJ must feel. To go from feeling rejected and hated by your own family to having your family serve as an example for others learning to accept LGBT youth must be a great feeling, and it’s probably why I never saw EJ stop smiling. The fact that this was a Central Valley family of color from a faith background touched me personally on multiple levels, and I’m so glad that the film showcased a family that people may not ordinarily think of as a leader in LGBT equality. I think it really shows the potential power of unconditional love to transform hearts and minds in ways that may be difficult to imagine.

I really recommend seeing this film, if you get a chance. There are rumors that Sunday’s showing may be sold out, but it’s definitely worth it to try to get some of the tickets they’ll sell right before the show starts. Even if you don’t get a chance to see the movie, check out the Family Acceptance Project and see if there’s any way you can help. It’s wonderful work that will hopefully continue for a long time.

Published in: on June 19, 2010 at 9:27 AM  Leave a Comment  
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Queer words

In an ideal world, maybe, we would be free of labels. We would respect and care for one another not because of what we’re called by others but because of who we are. People often claim to have moved beyond labeling but clearly we have a need to hold on to some types of categorization as a way to understand and evaluate each other.

“What are you?” we ask, squinting at the light-skinned girl with freckles and an afro.

“Wait, are you gay or straight?” we ask the guy whose ex-girlfriend introduced him to his boyfriend.

So, though I’d ideally rather not label my sexual identity, the closest I come is identifying as queer. I’ve heard and participated in many debates and discussions regarding this term, queer, and about categories in queer communities in general. I’d like to explain my use of “queer” and what it means to me, but I want to emphasize that this is my perspective on terms as they apply to me. Part of what can make these conversations so difficult, I think, is assuming that what works for me works for everyone else, which simply can’t be true.

That said, since I could ramble for days about queerness, I’ll organize my thoughts into reasons I identify as queer:

1) The pressure to identify as something. I suppose if I wanted to I could refuse to succumb to all labeling when asked about my dating experiences or attractions, because it’s frankly nobody else’s business, but for the sake of those whose minds seem to be BLOWN if they can’t identify someone as gay or straight, I identify as queer so that I have something to say if asked. They might get it then, or they might still be confused, in which case it’s a chance to teach them about something they don’t know much about.

2) Also because I’m very proud to be queer. Don’t think that wishing I didn’t have to label my sexuality means that I’m ashamed of it. I’m proud of who I am, and one advantage of finding a word that fits is being able to declare it proudly. I love that identifying as queer means taking a word that was once used to oppress people and declaring that we have nothing to be ashamed of.

3) I find it easier/more inclusive than trying to find an all-encompassing acronym. Besides simply rolling off the tongue easier, I feel more comfortable using queer than LGBT… (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender…) because the acronyms always seem to leave someone out. In some circles saying “GLBT” is sufficient, while in others it’s “LGBTQQI…” and so forth. While I don’t have a problem adding on letters for the sake of inclusion, our attempt to do so suggests that we can include everyone. We might say, “well, as long as I include both Qs and the T I’ve got everybody!” when in fact we’d have to include every letter of the alphabet, twice, if we were to truly seek out how each person in the world would like to identify. There are many other questions too, like why is the “T” so often added at the end as a sign of inclusion while transgender concerns are ignored? But on the other hand, perhaps it’s a mistake on my part to use “queer” as a substitute for all these terms, because inevitably there are some within those categories who are uncomfortable being identified as such.

4) “Bisexual” doesn’t cut it. I guess if I were to find myself in the often-used LGBT acronym, I would fall under B, because I’m attracted to both men and women, which implies bisexuality. But in my experience, identifying as bisexual often leads to a fundamental misunderstanding about my sexuality. For one thing, in our society the term comes with several negative connotations, such as a person being “confused” or “slutty.” I could reclaim the term and fight for its true meaning, of course, but its true meaning doesn’t resonate with me either. The prefix “bi” supports the binary gender system that I believe is so hurtful to those who don’t fall under typical understandings of gender and sexuality. To say that I’m bisexual would imply that I’m attracted only to traditional men and women, disregarding the genderqueer folks in between. And I view my sexuality as fluid, rather than strictly defined, so I feel that “queer” comes closest to capturing that.

5) And finally, queer can refer to more than who I’m sleeping with or dating or attracted to. Like the dictionary definition, it can refer to someone who’s just different in some way. I feel that it encompasses more about me, supporting what I believe about my identity, that I am who I am regardless of the romantic partners in my life. So often we base our opinion of people on who they date, labeling them straight or gay and piling on all of the ideas we have about either identity. For the love of all divine things, I am not confused. I’m not going through a phase. I am. I just…am. I only ask to be accepted for who I am today. Because let’s face it, I’m a fucking weirdo. I do things like take myself out on dates, and have conversations with my cat, and then I don’t even have the sense not to blog about it. So yes, I truly am queer, in more ways than one. It works for me.

But like I said, this is only what works for me. What do you think of the word queer, or the acronymns? Are there any arguments against queer that you think I’m missing or don’t understand? I’m always open to conversation about this.

Published in: on June 17, 2010 at 9:48 AM  Comments (3)  
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Thoughts after the Queer Women of Color Film Festival

I began this post by titling it “Queer people of color and the arts,” and then sat here as my mind went on a million different tangents. Obviously I could say a lot on the subject, but I’ll start here:

I love San Francisco in June! There are so many great things to do, from literary events to queer events to self-created sit-at-Dolores-Park-and-play-with-other-peoples’-dogs events, that I hardly know how to choose. Happenings that make it fun to be queer in this city in the month of June include: Frameline, the LGBT film festival; the National Queer Arts Festival; and, of course, Pride.

This past weekend I volunteered at the Queer Women of Color Film Festival, which was tremendously fun, thought-provoking and empowering. I always know it’s true, but each time I see an event like this I’m struck again with awe at the power of the arts in communities like these. This is what thrills me — I have my nerd moments over seeing things like women who once felt powerless and voiceless finding their voices and sharing it with others.

I’m not thrilled when people try to divide these communities, using powerful forces like faith or family or tradition to say that queer people and people of color live in different worlds with opposite ideas. The strength, joy and community in the space at the theater yesterday says otherwise.

CUAV co-presented a group of films that included Susannah Hong’s “Pretty Ugly,” challenging standards of beauty that fail to appreciate queer women of color; “Ferment Me My Heart,” Louije Kim’s hilarious kimchee chronicle; and “Our Houses,” in which queer women recount self-discovery and desire in their own terms. KB’s “Bulldagger Women and Sissy Men” approached a subject that’s close to my heart, queer people in the Harlem Renaissance, to illuminate their undeniable place in the movement.

All of the other films were incredible too. An audience member commented during the Q & A session that we are in a renaissance now, a thought that sent chills down my spine. The Harlem Renaissance intrigues me as a time when Black people, including many Black queer people, demonstrated the use of the arts to celebrate themselves and each other, to heal from their wounds and to proudly show beauty and strength. Even if it’s not as pronounced as the Harlem Renaissance, if we’re in a time when the arts can have a similar impact, then I’m thrilled to the bone.

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Let’s tell them where we’ve been, sisters,

so they will know our stories.

I’ll tell them where I’ve been,

and maybe I’ll remember too.

Published in: on June 14, 2010 at 12:29 PM  Comments (1)  
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Uniting in our difference

It’s funny what isolation can do to us sometimes. We can feel alone in our struggles, convinced that we truly are alone, that nobody else could possibly understand the individual intersection of the identities that make up who we are.

As a Black queer person, for example, it’s easy to feel this way. And I could pile a bunch of other aspects of my identity on top of those to make this point. It’s a feeling of never being whole in the way one presents oneself. Always having to leave a part behind, based on surroundings. I find myself in communities of faith and communities of color where I can identify with those around me on one level, but in order to do so I must keep another part of me hidden, like my queer identity. Or, I might be in queer circles where issues of race and gender are trivialized, and I’m expected to set aside my perspective as a Black woman for the sake of queer unity.

The intersection between Black and queer is on my mind especially because of a meeting/gathering I went to last night. I’m really glad that I went because it was one of those instances when I would’ve assumed I was alone if somebody (namely Eric Martin) hadn’t reached out to see if anyone else was out there.

In a couple of weeks I’ll be attending “Another World Is Possible,” the U.S. Social Forum in Detroit. It’s a huge event full of workshops put on by activists and organizers from around the country and the world. I’ll have more details on the event and on CUAV, the incredible organization I’m going with, later. Last night’s gathering was called “To Detroit with Love,” and it brought together Black queer people, most of whom are attending the USSF, to discuss our role, hopes and goals for the USSF.

We might think that at an event like the USSF, filled with folks who envision the world as a place of equality, it would be easy for anyone to come as you are. But it might be harder than it seems. Even the most informed social justice activists can play a role in the systems that exclude certain identities. There will certainly be workshops that discuss racial and gender equality while disregarding or forgetting about what the inclusion of queer voices brings to the table. Likewise, there will be activists who focus on queer issues without including the perspective of queer people of color.

The process of full inclusion is a complex one. I’m trying to find a different word than “inclusion” to use, because it doesn’t feel like quite enough. We must include without tokenizing. Speak to the voices that couldn’t be present without misappropriating their struggles, and claiming to understand without walking in their shoes. Move beyond the differences that divide us by finding our common ground, while recognizing those differences that make us unique, that make it so that there can be no one voice that speaks for an entire group.

At “To Detroit with Love,” we all brought our unique experiences and perspectives to the table, creating what felt like some multicolored quilt of thought that held both our similarities and our differences. It doesn’t mean that our experience at the USSF will be perfect or that our presence there will make the change we see necessary to let everybody be free to be all of who they are, but we’ve started a conversation that will continue on. To really make another world possible.

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From the morning’s freewrite:


How will I find you in the dark?

Our black bodies swallowed by the shadows

Remembering what we’ve been told

about what darkness means:

confusion and loss,

wickedness and despair.

How will we find each other?

By remembering we were born in the dark

and within us still

the proud, dark continent

is unearthed in our blood.

Some will call Black a bad word

so we’ll claim it as our own.

A word whose power grows as we do.

Published in: on June 10, 2010 at 9:53 AM  Comments (3)  
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