orlando shooting victims

A Queer Latinx Mourning After The Orlando Shooting

I was back in my homeland of Puerto Rico—the first time in two years—for a professional conference when I heard the news about the Orlando shooting.

I sat around a table, ordering pancakes as big as my face, surrounded by fellow members of the Women of Color Sexual Health Network. We ate, talked shop, and decompressed after some difficult events that weekend. There was a TV on next to us—flashing lights and “ORLANDO SHOOTING” in big letters displayed on the bottom of the screen.

It’s too early for this. We’re already so weary.

Not until later did I actually pay attention to the news. I was in work mode, though, and nothing sunk in. Later that night, I hopped a plane back to Boston and came home to an empty bed. I craved human contact, craved my queer partners, craved community as I read the names of the dead late into the night, crying and unable to sleep. I wanted to light candles, whisper Spanish into the sky and honor the dead, but I could only witness the little information available and sob in the dark, thankful I only had a few clients to see the next day.

On Monday, I watched a mother recount the last words she exchanged with her son as they texted during the shooting. On Monday, I watched the last Snapchat videos various victims filmed that night, including one with gunshots in the background. On Monday, I couldn’t feel rage because my nerves were too tangled in sadness and exhaustion. On Monday, I told one of my partners that I was randomly crying throughout the day.

“It’s not random if you’re grieving, boo. They killed your *family*”

Their words settled in my chest. They killed my family. 

I’ve never been one to grieve over strangers, but this felt personal. They were fellow queers, fellow people of color, fellow Latinx, fellow people of complicated genders, out to have a good time. 

23 out of 49 victims were Puerto Ricans like me.

So I could try to speak of the rage at how many White queers have put themselves at the center of this grief like they were the center of the universe. I could try to speak of the disgust at how many have spun this into Islamophobic propaganda, speak of the frustration at how this has been turned into a detached debate about gun control.

I could try to speak to how I see this as part of a web of violence, threads connecting the ALMOST WEEKLY murders of trans people and especially the violence against trans women and femmes; the slaughter and erasure of Natives; African enslavement; police brutality targeting Black and brown bodies; harsh immigration policies; lynchings and gay-bashings; harmful legislation about where we can go to the bathroom, how we can dress, and how we can reproduce (or not); and the present-day colonization of Puerto Rico. 

And I could try to speak about the hope for the future and the ways we are strong and resilient, of how I see love as the long-term fuel we need for our movements.

But all I can speak to right now is holding sorrow in the same hands I try to hold hope, and how sometimes my hands don’t feel big enough.

All I can speak to right now is my fear that one day it will be me and my familia… and realizing that it already is.

All I can speak to right now is how intensely I want to protect my communities and how I want to care for my QT/POC lovers with such ferocity that the world trembles.

All I can speak to right now is the grief at those misgendered after death, those outed to families who would reject them, those whose undocumented status prevents families from reaching their bodies, those who survived and are wracked with guilt…all the ripples of pain spreading throughout Orlando and mi isla and the entire continent. 

The atom of the Latinx universe is the family, not the individual, and so the number of broken hearts balloons much larger than the 49 dead and 53 wounded. This is why community matters. This is why we gather together at places and times like these.

So I hold space for all those who grieve in secret, whose workplaces and families and surroundings don’t acknowledge how this has carved open their chest. I hold space for those who are in helping professions trying to keep their ish together in front of clients as their insides splinter. I hold space for you, for me, for us. For those who are confused about their grief, for those who are numb, for those whose rage rises like bile, for those who have lost so much already and feel this as another drop in the bucket that’s already overflowing. 

By being queer and trans we have inherited legacies of mourning, loss, and persecution. By being Latinx, we have inherited legacies of discrimination, colonization, and diaspora. And we must remember that we have also been passed down resistance, power, healing, life. 

Como dice el refrán: “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds”

To all those who were taken too soon: descansen en poder, and may you never thirst. 


Part of this was originally published on Autostraddle’s roundtable of queer Latinxs, and the rest was crafted for a vigil in Boston focusing on Q/T/POC in the wake of the Orlando shooting. Header image via a Buzzfeed article on the Orlando Shooting victims

12 Ways To Celebrate Trans Day of Visibility Year Round

If you didn’t know, today is Trans Day of Visibility, started in 2010 by Rachel Crandall and now spearheaded by Trans Student Educational Resources. Unlike Trans Day of Remembrance, a day of mourning, this is a date for celebration, recognition, and honoring. 

The Theme For This YeaR’s TranS day of VisibilitY:

trans day of visibility

 

We need more than representation, more than just people seeing and recognizing trans faces. Show your support for trans people of all stripes year round. Think of how you can be an advocate for trans rights in the day-to-day, especially in alliance with trans folks experiencing the intersections of White supremacy, misogyny, ableism, classism, and other forms of systematic discrimination. How can you interrupt when people misgender your friends, lovers, colleagues, family-members? How can you educate yourself and others about gender identity and expression? How can you support trans people around you in concrete ways? And though this list is, in many ways, written for a cisgender audience, a bunch of the things here also apply in cross-trans-identity solidarity and celebration. So regardless of your identities, I invite you to keep reading.
 

Here are Twelve Ways You Can Start To work on This:

1. Uplift trans-focused organizations like Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, Casa Ruby LGBT Community Center, The Audre Lorde Project, the Transgender Law Center, the TransLatin@ Coalition, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, the TransWomen of Color Collective, and many more (including this excellent list of trans Native and two-spirit organizations).

2. Practice using pronouns beyond she/her/hers and he/him/his with this fantastic website. If you’re wondering what you say when you ignore people’s pronouns and don’t respect people’s identities, this comic and this infographic explain it perfectly.

3. Read amazing articles centered on trans experiences and stories, and particularly those written by trans women. I’ve linked to the exceptional work from Autostraddle here, and I also post a bunch of trans-related stuff on my personal Tumblr which you can peek at here.

4. Fight the slew of “bathroom bills” and related legislation that seeks to dehumanize, hurt, endanger, and systematically disadvantage trans people. You can find a recent list of them here. If you live in the following states, there are some bills you should be paying attention to: Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Tennessee, Washington.

5. Remember LGBTQ history and commit it to memory. Learn the names of Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, Storme Delarverie, Raymond Castro, Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson, and so many more trailblazing trans people.

6. Support trans people in ways that acknowledge value and experience beyond the label of trans. In other words, if you only care about trans people and talk about trans people in the context of trans-ness, you’re doin’ it wrong. Trans people are rappers, nurse practitionersfilmmakers, attorneys, activists, porn performerspoets, doulas, researchers,  multimedia artists, legislators, schoolteachers, performers, indie game developersnews reporters, authors, mixed martial artistsNavy SEALstattoo artists, sex educators, storytellers, and more. Being trans is part of being a whole complex human with varied identities and experiences, not the totality of what someone is or can offer the world!

7. Buy educational resources like Scenarios USA’s amazing curricula on Black femmes titled “What’s the REAL DEAL about Love and Solidarity?” written by Bianca Laureano, The Gender Book, and The Teaching Transgender Toolkit by Eli R Green and Luca Maurer. These can help you educate yourself and others! You can also consider donating them to local school, libraries, or community centers.

8. Share resources about trans and trans-related identities in other languages and from non-Anglo-U.S.-centric perspectives. I compiled a bunch of resources for Spanish-language trans information, for example.

9. Observe Trans Day of Remembrance, Trans Day of Visibility, Trans Day of Resilience, and other relevant dates and celebrations.

10. Interrupt instances of transphobia, cissexism, and cisnormativity. When people are actively misgendered, when LGBT events don’t actually include trans people, when trans women’s voices are overshadowed (including by trans men), when discussions of police brutality don’t include trans people, when people in positions of power refuse to use someone’s pronouns, when people randomly ask trans folks invasive questions, when trans people are stereotyped in casual conversation, when someone’s trans identity is the butt of a joke, the list goes on. Take action.

11. Soak in the amazing creative work featuring trans people and/or made by trans people. Here are some places you can start: DARKMATTER‘s poetry, the amazing children’s books by Flamingo Rampant Press, “To Survive on This Shore” which focuses on older transgender and gender-variant adults, Micah Banzant’s art for #TransLiberationTuesday, the Trans Day of Resilience Art Project by varied artists, a collaboration between Liz Andrade and Dani Weber on the latter’s “Journey to Femme Power” as a genderqueer person, “Vírgenes de la puerta” showcasing trans women in Peru, the GLAAD trans microaggressions photo project, the “Assigned Male” webcomic,  and so many more I can’t even list them all here.

12. Move beyond thinking of trans people as all being “people born in the wrong body who just want to be like cisgender men and women.” The trans umbrella is way more varied than that. Learn about nonbinary trans people (including the varied celebrities who have described being nonbinary in some way) as well as those fitting other labels within and adjacent to the more “well-known” understandings of transness, such as genderqueer.

3 Things I Unexpectedly Learned From Jehovah’s Witnesses to Honor Martin Luther King Jr.

Many people know Jehovah’s Witnesses as “those people who come to your door to talk about the teachings of God and aren’t Mormons.” You may also know Jehovah’s Witnesses as “those people who don’t accept blood transfusions or celebrate holidays, including birthdays.” Growing up, I was part of their world—raised within this minority religion on the predominantly Catholic island of Puerto Rico. From approximately ages 1 to 12, I didn’t really do holidays or birthdays. Reluctantly, I was eventually allowed to attend birthday parties around age 13. So how did my religious upbringing in the JW universe leave me with valuable lessons about celebrating Martin Luther King Jr.’s birth, life, and death? Read on.

Note: This post isn’t meant to holistically explain JW doctrine or take a stance on their overall existence, but use some of the teachings I digested as a vehicle for remembrance of a key historical figure. Though it’s been ages since I left the faith, my family’s still in the JW world.

1. Beware of Birthdays Being Used for Shady Purposes 

I remember being told that part of the reason we didn’t celebrate birthdays as JWs is because they had pagan roots, and historical birthday celebrations were tinged with violence and “sexual depravity.” I vividly recall the story of Herodias asking for John the Baptist’s head at the birthday of Herod Antipas, and stories of a baker being hanged at a pharaoh’s birthday. Part of my child’s brain didn’t get why we had to worry about ancient history if birthdays were something different now, but clearly roots were important somehow. To celebrate birthdays was to invite paganism and a history of sin into my life. Fast forward to the present day, and though I disagree with many teachings of the JW faith and their interpretations of the Bible, the importance of history is front and center in my life.

The roots of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and work are important, as is the history of how he became the only non-White person to have a federal holiday named after him in the U.S., especially for someone who didn’t hold public office. Still, for many people, Martin Luther King Jr.’s day is just an excuse to get out of work and perhaps a reminder to post a half-hearted meme about nonviolence on Facebook. In fact, this is one of the peak days for non-Black folks on social media to misquote and misinterpret a lot of Martin Luther King Jr.’s teachings.

This holiday is a time when people spin his relentless anti-racism work into a palatable mush. It’s easy and convenient to misuse this holiday and spit out words about “turning the other cheek” and “peaceful activism” to condemn activists doing disruptive protests, to explain why people of color (and particularly Black people) have to be eternally accommodating and kind to those that infringe upon our rights.

I’m not here for it.

the real martin luther king jr.

I am not interested in celebrations, awards, or acknowledgement given as a silencing tactic or as table scraps.  I am not interested in holidays meant to make a community feel complacent or satisfied. Don’t give me a sanitized version of Martin Luther King Jr.’s politics. He was a radical and he was considered a dangerous rabble-rouser. Don’t buy the modern-day fairytale that somehow the United States government and its White leaders were welcoming and thankful for his nonviolent approach, especially in contrast to Malcolm X’s.

Don’t forget Martin Luther King Jr.’s comments on White moderates, and how he felt they were one of the biggest threats to Black people in the United States, more so than the extremists and Ku Klux Klanners. Don’t let people flatten his history and use his birthday as a way to squash radical anti-racist work. Don’t let those around you repeat the most general statements about “equal rights” and blatantly ignore past and present calls to specific action.

2. Celebrating Birthdays Can Detract From The Issues And WHO/What Should Truly Be Honored

For Jehovah’s Witnesses, birthdays celebrating individuals detract from the glory that should be going to God, seen as the true and only creator of any life on Earth. Additionally, many JWs stress that focusing on celebrating a person’s birth ignores what they did with their life. The latter is way more important to Jehovah; it has implications for one’s place (or lack thereof) on an earthly paradise post-Armageddon! So what does it mean to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday with a modified version of that in mind? To me, it means we should look at his life’s work, and that shouldn’t divorce said iconic work from the people who propped him up and helped him become the figurehead he is in our modern day.

There are those who knew Martin Luther King Jr. as a human, and have a visceral, personal understanding of his legacy. There should be space to understand Martin Luther King Jr. as a whole person, flaws and all. However, what he is to most of the U.S. is a symbol, and we can’t forget what that symbol stands for. Here, the man turns into shorthand for a larger story and a struggle for justice. The symbol is useful, but we have to be wary of mistaking the signifier for the signified

So, I don’t generally use the “behind every man there is a great woman” line because it feels really limited and way too heterosexist for my universe, but there is truth in its spirit. Behind our great leaders we have those who support(ed) them in myriad ways (e.g. in the case of MLK Jr., two obvious names are Bayard Rustin and Coretta Scott King). Behind our tireless activists there are the community-members, partners, friends, families, that help feed them, clothe them, tend to their physical and spiritual injuries, love them, laugh with them, cry with them.

None of us are or work alone, even when we feel like a tiny pinprick in the fabric of the universe.

Celebrating Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday can be a way to elevate those connections rather than a way to erase MLK’s sins, prop him up as an exception, and/or spread misinformation. We can take this as an opportunity to reflect on the past and current civil rights movements he influenced, and those he did not live long enough to witness. We can take this as a time to hear about and honor other influential (and often under-praised) figures like Miss Major, Sylvia Rivera, Maria Elena Durazo, Mary Church Terrell, Dorothy Height, Dolores Huerta, Audre Lorde, Diane Nash, Marsha P. Johnson, and Claudette Colvin. What would our struggles for justice be without the femmes, without the women, without the queer and trans people? Let’s give credit everywhere it’s due.

3. We Shouldn’t Wait For Birthdays To Rejoice And Remember

Being part of a minority religion with “weird rules” like no birthdays meant that I had to defend my views pretty often. Though not a religious institution, my K-12 school operated under laicism, or “French secularism,” but still somehow managed to have a catechism class, a place in the yearbook for First Communion pictures, and participation in Christian sports leagues. Birthdays were often celebrated in the classrooms, and by the time I was in 5th or 6th grade, I had vast experience with deflecting criticism and annoying questions. Heck, I had stock answers ready, like “I can receive presents all year round, so I’m not missing out!” or “My family can have other celebrations, and we don’t need to wait for a birthday!”

Though I’m no longer part of the JW faith, those ideas have stuck with me. Anniversaries, birthdays, other holidays can serve as convenient markers of experiences and excuses to party, but it’s silly to relegate all our joy, love, and sharing to those dates. While I can use, say, Valentine’s Day to tell my partners and loved ones how much they mean to me, I don’t wait until that date to do it. Furthermore, in a capitalist society, I should get creative with how I honor the people and values I cherish rather than defaulting to just buying things.

Similarly, we don’t need to wait until Martin Luther King Jr. Day to acknowledge the history of White supremacy in this country. We don’t need to wait until this holiday to acknowledge the great strides being made by the Black Lives Matter movement. We don’t need to buy something to signify our commitment and wear it like an empty promise. We don’t need to wait until Martin Luther King Jr. Day to speak about racism, raising the minimum wage, the importance of climate justice, or any of the other areas of inequality and injustice King talked about.

If this holiday is the only time during the year that we discuss anti-racism and Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy, we’re doing something wrong.

Let’s discuss these issues and individuals year round. Let’s use this annual date to expand our celebration and acknowledgement, to provoke brilliant and multifaceted conversations!

martin luther king jr. and BLM protest

Use of this unchanged image is allowed under a CC License. Click through for the original.

So, Go On, Celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s LEgacy For Longer than Just 24 Hours:

  • Learn about Martin Luther King Jr.’s history.
  • Teach the little humans around you about MLK Jr. and the civil rights movement.
  • Listen to a Spotify playlist merging his famous speeches with music inspired by his work.
  • Witness the queer activists of color taking disruptive action to protest.
  • Read about the activists reclaiming this holiday in a way that acknowledges the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life.
  • Support actions to restore voting rights to all, particularly in light of the impending elections and some of the egregious candidates running for office.

martin luther king jr. clippy quote

David Bowie: Time to Mourn or Call Out?

Every other week, I co-lead an all-gender process and support group. Last night, one of our topics of discussion was, of course, David Bowie. Some of the people in the room felt displaced, distraught by his death. In this intergenerational space we held those who grew up knowing David Bowie was a big deal already as well as those who grew up along with David Bowie and saw his career take off. In this space, we shared stories of the personal meanings of his life as well as the confusing feelings left in his wake as some of us discovered information about his abuses and problematic behaviors. Yesterday, all throughout social media, I saw countless stories shared of how David Bowie’s music touched a million queer and trans people of varying races, ages, and countries. I have seen my newsfeed inundated with people’s shock and memories, with the ways in which he inspired them in ways they did not even know until he passed, with the ways he changed music, science fiction, and gender.

And yesterday is also when I found out about the rape allegations against him (that were cleared by a jury, but I also know that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen) and the facts of his statutory rape of a 14/15-year-old. And so my feed has also been ripe with explosive anger as well as nuanced discomfort, frustration, and exhaustion.

David Bowie and J. C. in Labyrinth Stanley Bielecki Movie Collection / Getty Images

David Bowie and J. C. in Labyrinth Stanley Bielecki Movie Collection / Getty Images

So what am I, a gender/queer Latinx, supposed to feel and do about this cultural icon? As someone who has worked for years on preventing and dealing with sexual assault and abuse? As someone who teaches on consent and believes in the incredible power and knowledge of youth as well as the incredible vulnerability of the teen years? As someone who sees White stars get a pass for things that celebrities of color get crucified for? As someone who works with many people feeling intense things about David Bowie’s death? As someone who grew up watching Labyrinth way more than should’ve been allowed but still did not feel the connection to Bowie that so many others do?

And how should others feel? The survivors of sexual abuse and assault hearing the streams of praise for someone accused of rape? The queer and trans kids of yesteryear for whom David Bowie’s music became a lifeline, became a hope when they considered suicide? The people living at that intersection? I don’t ask this because I have the ultimate answers or get off on telling others what to do (I mean, maybe, but that’s another story), but because we need to have the discussion and figure out where we stand and what that means.

Help: Feelings Are Hard and Complicated!

Our reluctance to have an honest and open conversation about the flaws of celebrities we love stems from a simple fact: we see ourselves in them. If your favorite smart, talented, successful celebrity can be classist, sexist or racist then what does that say about you? Well, it says that you can be classist, sexist, racist, homophobic, or transphobic.

But you can and you are at least some of these things sometimes. So am I. Own it. Learn from it. It’s not an attack, it’s the truth. Nobody is a perfect example of civil rights virtue. If you aren’t screwing up, you aren’t trying.

– Ijeoma Oluo

For those who are not mourning David Bowie: We can and must critique deplorable actions regardless of who is committing them. We must also acknowledge space for people’s grief, and respect the very real pain felt by people when in mourning. This does not mean erase people’s problematic, terrifying, horrible, disgusting, whatever actions. It means respect the fact that many people are feeling sadness. Bowie is dead; the people we should hold in kindness are those that feel the loss. It does not mean we have to mourn, erect banners, engage in commentary that doesn’t feel authentic to us. It does not mean we shouldn’t feel our feelings and get enraged at the ways the media perpetuate rape culture and gloss over issues we care about. It does mean we should allow for space to exist where people who are sad and hurt can congregate and feel their feelings. It means we should find those who are in a similar spot as us and vent our rage at this situation and David Bowie’s actions but not at the expense of those who are mourning.

Are we critiquing Bowie or his fans? Are we centering the cultural object or the person? Are we critiquing the abuses he committed or the fact that people can have big, complex feelings about it and are mourning his death? Are we critiquing how certain stars get so much praise upon their death and get their sins wiped away, but certain stars don’t? Are we critiquing how, due to ignorance and White supremacy, many mourn the loss of a White star and ignore the losses of countless people of color at the hands of police brutality? Are we critiquing people’s sadness to get cool points for not feeling anything? Are we assuming people can’t feel multiple things at once?

We must think about our audience and the impact of our words on our communities. We must think about the intersections and how we highlight or erase them. We must ask ourselves why we are raising our voice and in service of what.

hunky-dory-sessions david bowie

For those who are mourning David Bowie: We have a right to time and space to grieve, to heal, to reminisce, to do whatever we have to do to feel whole. And we must not use our grief as a way to silence survivors of sexual abuse, even if we are survivors ourselves. We must remember that we do not have to immediately engage in a discussion of the problematic aspects of David Bowie with strangers (or even friends) if it feels too raw. We eventually must, however, engage with these and incorporate them into our understanding of Bowie because he was an icon but also a person. We should allow space for the pain of those who have experienced abuse and been repeatedly silenced, especially because so many have been abused by people like Bowie, by people in positions like his and with followings like his, and people have looked the other way “because they have done so much good for the community.” It means we should find those who are in a similar spot as us and air out our feelings in ways that feel helpful but not at the expense of acknowledging rape culture and abuse.

Are we conflating our mourning of Bowie the person with Bowie-what-the-icon-and-the-music-meant-to-us (and thus really mourning a piece of ourselves and our world)? Are we mourning in a way that erases all wrongdoing and promotes Bowie as a perfect cyborg of queer and trans visibility? Are we ignoring the impact of race, age, and money in these discussions? Are we mourning in a public forum and keeping eerily silent about the ways in which David Bowie abused his power? Are we mourning for David Bowie and ridiculing or ignoring the mourning for countless lives lost in places like Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq?

We must think about our audience and the impact of our words on our communities. We must think about the intersections and how we highlight or erase them. We must ask ourselves why we are raising our voice and in service of what.

OUR FAV IS PROBLEMATIC (#SorryNotSorry, David Bowie)

We tend to hold the people of whom we are fans to the same moral standards we hold friends, often expecting them to echo our politics or sensibilities in the same way that their art, whatever it may be, speaks to us. By definition, fame requires those on the outside looking in to rely on imagination to prop up celebrity narratives; the public’s glimpses into the lives and personalities of the famous are so mediated that though we think we know, we have no idea. Fame encourages us to fill in the blank spaces around these people with what we want to see, with what reaffirms our pre-existing assumptions. It’s no surprise, then, that when it comes to art we like, and to the artists who make it, we expect to see reflections of ourselves in them, even on the simplest of levels.

– Rawiya Kameir

Understanding that “our faves are problematic“is not a carte-blanche to excuse people from their wrongdoing because “everyone is problematic” (and trust me, there are a lot of examples/receipts showing that most of the people we like have shoved their foot in their mouth pretty deeply). We still have a matter of degrees and impact. And we must also remember that a mentality of “kill all people who do anything wrong ever” won’t get us anywhere in the long run. We can both remember and forgive as a people. We can hold folks accountable and keep them with us. We can remember, not forgive, and still move forward. We have options.

David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust

Most of us know of Bowie as an icon, as a rocker, an artist, an actor, a pioneer—a larger than life concept—rather than Bowie as a living, breathing individual. We have to contend with the fact that the human Bowie (not the persona he crafted or what he meant to us or what his music did for our souls and survival) abused his power and privilege.

It can be difficult and scary and destabilizing to hold the reality of loving someone and/or thinking they’ve done amazing things with the realities of those same people doing horrible things, but that’s how the world is. This is what intersectionality is all about—about understanding the ways our intersecting identities make up our privileges and oppressions, about the complex ways in which our experiences and pieces form our whole.

Just like the queer and trans people who aren’t survivors of sexual abuse/assault should acknowledge the pain coming from survivors, straight and cisgender survivors should acknowledge the pain coming from queer and trans people. And those at the intersections—the queer and trans survivors—who feel confused as hell and torn (or staunchly on one side of the fence!) need our holding too. In discussing David Bowie’s death, we need to eliminate the transphobia, homophobia, and rape culture apologism in many of these conversations. These are all toxic forces that hurt our world.

We should not simply dismiss David Bowie’s artistic legacy and the impact he had on many AND we should not dismiss the allegations of rape and the realities of how he had sex with a 14/15-year old when he was a powerful and revered adult.

We must also listen to the people who interacted with Bowie instead of putting words in their mouth while also recognizing that there are larger forces at play—that just because someone does not feel victimized, it does not mean David Bowie did not take actions that were predatory and could have victimized someone else in the same situation. We can say “it was the 70’s!” and “things were different back then with all the free-flowing drugs!” or whatever to give context, but not to justify abuse and harmful behaviors. Some of us may feel puzzlement, disbelief, discomfort, and a lot of other emotions toward Lori M.’s account of her relationships with David Bowie and Jimmy Page, but we must understand that it is her story and not ours. Just because some of us would have felt or acted differently does not erase her reality and her truth. And we must also pay attention to what this narrative does in the public sphere.

Marginalized people and experiences are usually not neatly categorized and picture-perfect for the consumption of social movements. And when they ARE, or seem to be, something fishy is probably going on.

Older David Bowie

Moving Through & Beyond “KILL ALL RAPISTS”

A carceral, punishment-based justice system where we value an eye for an eye will not save us. It may feel good in the moment and scratch that “revenge” itch, but it will not save us. Booting “bad people” off the island will leave us with an empty island. What will save us is compassion, understanding, accountability, transformation, and restoration of justice. This is not easy, but it is what we must do. And it is not SIMPLE, but it is what we must strive for if we truly want to live in a different, better world. It does not mean we ignore bad things or ~*~magically forgive people and hug them even when they threaten our existence~*~ (more on this in a second).

As far as David Bowie and his work, each of us has to figure out how these things connect in our lives. Some people may swear off his music, some will not. Some people may feel revulsion when they seem him in movies they used to love, some may not. We can figure out how we as a society may honor the great work and things he put out in the world while not erasing his wrongdoing. Bowie is neither the first nor the last celebrity we’ll have to think about in these ways. We better start practicing these trains of thought if we weren’t doing so already (and many of us have been thinking about this for a while, especially in POC communities).

It’s easy for me to have compassion for people I like and see eye-to-eye with, for people who haven’t harmed me. Seeing those people as valuable humans who have worth, who deserve kindness and safety and care from the world and from me personally – that’s easy. Extending the same compassion and open-heartedness to everyone – to the people that have hurt me, to the people I disagree with about everything, to the people who would never listen to me or extend any care or empathy or understanding to me, to the people who don’t think I deserve humanity or kindness or safety – that takes a little more doing. Giving that kind of love is hard and painful.

Now, to be realistic about this, having compassion for people that have harmed me or that mean me harm doesn’t mean I need to allow them to be near me. It doesn’t mean I need to put my own safety at risk. And it also doesn’t mean that this compassion can’t genuinely coexist with real and powerful rage. But my hurt and my rage don’t obviate a person’s right to exist, to feel compassion, to be loved.

– Andy Izenson

As for me? I feel as Andy does. I choose to come to this from a perspective of radical love. Not always and not easily, but with intention and complexity and imperfection.

http://subtlecluster.tumblr.com/post/134001552016/this-radical-love-fosters-community-and-emerges

Got Feelings About Non-Monogamy? Time To Share!

Update: Since this event passed, you can find the archive of the Tweets and conversation here. The chat was on FIRE, and the amount of responses definitely gave us all a finger workout.


 

Non-monogamy can be a tricky beast, and I want you to tell me what you think about it. Join me at 3 PM EST on Twitter next week when I’ll be guest moderator for #SexTalkTuesday and the topic is (you guessed it): navigating consensual non-monogamy!

NOTE: We are not just talking about polyamory. This is about the broad umbrella of consensual non-monogamy, so if you’re monogamish, have a steady boo but also a cadre of play partners, are curious about having more than one sexy-friend in general, identify as asexual but have multiple romantic sweeties, the list goes on, I WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU.

non-monogamy sextalktuesday

I believe in the deeply transformative and revolutionary power of both sex and technology, so doing things like this? That mix both to create dialogue and spread knowledge? You can always count me in, and I hope I can count you in too. You can stay for as long or as little of the conversation as you want, and you can check out the archived tweets after the event as well.

The Scoop on This Non-MonogamY Chat:

  • Date: Tuesday, September 22nd
  • Time: 3 PM Eastern,  2 PM Central, 1 PM Mountain, 12 PM Pacific
  • Topic: Navigating [Consensual] Non-Monogamy
  • Participating: Log onto Twitter at the times indicated above and respond to the questions as I post them live, one by one. Make sure you include “#SexTalkTuesday” on your tweet so it’s part of our discussion! You can follow me at @neuronbomb.
  • Witnessing: Don’t want to chat? Don’t have a Twitter account and staunchly refuse to make one? You can still follow along by watching the hashtag in real time here.
  • Sharing: If you want to tell others about it, you can share this post [use the link bit.ly/nonmonofeels] and/or share the following banner on social media:

STT promo

Questions About Non-Monogamy We’ll Be Discussing:

  •  Q1 What are the biggest misconceptions people have about consensual non-monogamy? Tell us your pet-peeves! #sextalktuesday
  •  Q2 What are some of the best and worst “rules” you’ve heard about when negotiating consensual non-monogamy? #sextalktuesday
  •  Q3 What class and money-related issues come up in non-monogamous arrangements? How do you navigate them? #sextalktuesday
  •  Q4 While non-monogamy can be tough, it can also be amazing. What are some of your happy non-mono stories? Time to brag! #sextalktuesday
  • Q5 What advice would you give your past self about exploring consensual non-monogamy? What would you tell your future self? #sextalktuesday

Header image is an oil on canvas painting by Joy Garnett. Image has not been modified, save for cropping due to header size, and is used here under a Creative Commons License.

Stop Saying “Poly” When You Mean “Polyamorous”

Quick clarification [Added 09/05/15]:  Please read the full article before commenting. This post is primarily meant to explore the confused, defensive, and sometimes outright racist/sexist/etc. reactions to a call-to-action around language use in the polyamorous community. The specific linguistic issue is concretely addressed in the final section.


Doesn’t it suck when someone tells you to stop using a word you’ve been using for years because they say it’s oppressive or harmful to their community?

Do you feel personally angry and/or persecuted when a term you use suddenly comes under attack? Do you think “this is political correctness run amok“?

That’s how a bunch of polyamorous folks felt when they were asked to stop using “poly” as an abbreviation. In case you haven’t stumbled upon this (I just heard about it two days ago myself),  here’s the scoop—a Polynesian person on Tumblr made the following call to action:

Hey, can any polyamory blogs with a follower count please inform the palagi portion of the community that “poly” is a Polynesian community identifier, and is important to our safe spaces.
Using “polyamory” is cool just like using “polygender” and “Polyromantic” and or Polysexual” is cool. But the abbreviation “poly” is already in use.

Then, when people pushed back saying “chill out, lots of words have multiple meanings” or “people have been using poly as an abbreviation for polyamorous for decades already,” they responded with this. Now, do I agree 100% with their statements? Nah. And regardless of my post’s title, I don’t actually want to obliterate “poly” from your vocabulary. But before you breathe that big ol’ sigh of relief, keep reading.

Poly: Polynesian, Polyamorous, PolyWrath?

People are now discussing this debate on various Facebook groups dedicated to sexuality education and polyamory (one of the biggest has over 18K members), on Reddit  (as well as the cesspools of Reddit) and on Tumblr. It’s apparently been brewing for a few months, if not longer, and some people are PISSED. Those under the delusion that polyamorous people are all kinder and more open-minded than the general population clearly hasn’t been in one of these circles and looked at it through a social equity lens.  But that’s a post for another day. Back to the anger.

See what I did there? You're welcome.

See what I did there? You’re welcome.

Being on the receiving end of “stop using a word” or “you’re being oppressive” isn’t an easy pill to swallow. Whenever I get called out for something—most likely ableism since it’s an axis of oppression I don’t personally experience and am still learning a lot about—there’s often a knee-jerk reaction in there. A “don’t tell me what to do” demon on my shoulder who loves getting self-righteous and hates being wrong, whose first line of defense is “it’s not even that big of a deal.” Heck, I’ve definitely felt it as a sexuality educator when I’ve merely read up on newer sexuality labels and no one is even talking to me. Though most of the time the reaction is “COOL, NEW WORDS,” I’d be lying if I said I never think “this is just going TOO FAR” or “WHY SO MANY LABELS” when hearing some new categories of identity, especially if people are getting defensive about them. That gut reaction is normal…

But then I take a breath and realize I’m being ridiculous even if it’s normal.

I’m not being my best self in those moments, and I need to hold compassion for my own feelings but also push past them if they’re not serving my values of kindness and justice.

Overall, individuals and communities are perpetually trying to find ways to describe themselves and their lives, and that can be really tough especially if the words are related to identities that are devalued and marginalized. While “labels are for soup-cans” and we’re so much more complex than words could ever describe, language is a powerful thing that helps both reflect and create our world. It helps build communities, express our emotions, and even pass down our histories. It helps us name our struggles, craft banners for solidarity, and connect for change. It makes sense people have a lot of feelings about it!

Language is ever-evolving and it’s a beautiful thing when more words can become available, when more ways of understanding our world are accessible. But that doesn’t happen without friction. Sometimes our knee-jerk reactions to new words or identities come from a place of holding onto what we’ve been taught and being uncomfortable with change. Sometimes the new labels contradict, criticize, or make obsolete other labels we’ve been using—or even identifying with—and that can feel like a punch in the gut.

WAYSA

Art by Amanda Watkins, my other boo. Click on the image to check out more of her art!

Often, and as I recognize is the case with me and my pride,  immediate rage comes from not wanting to think that we’ve been ignorant and/or messing something up THIS WHOLE TIME. If XYZ person is right that usage of a particular word is oppressive, then what does that say about me, who has been using it for years? Does that mean I’m an oppressive, irredeemable jerk? (The answer is often “no, it just means stop using it” but the visceral reality doesn’t allow us to understand that quickly.) For more on this phenomenon, check out this video by Ian Danskin [one of my partners] and his overall series “Why Are You So Angry?

Point is we need to evolve with language and work through our gut reactions to change.

Now, that’s not to say we should forget about the roots of certain words or suddenly say that terms like the n-word and the r-word are chill because “we’re past them being a slur” [hint: we’re not, and racism/ableism aren’t over either]. What I mean is that we need to hold space for growth and be willing to move in new directions with our terminology—that regardless of how defensive our initial “Don’t Tell Me What To Do” shoulder-demons might be, we MUST move in a direction of empathy and kindness, particularly to those in marginalized communities with long legacies of experiencing colonialism and other forms of structural oppression.

“But Poly Is a Latin Prefix; You CAn’t Claim It…”

Yes, poly is a prefix for dozens of words and it actually comes from Greek. Even the “poly” in the naming of Polynesia came out of super uninventive naming schemas (Polynesia means “many islands”). So? No one is saying the prefix needs to be eradicated. When talking about polycarbonate lenses, polygraphs, polygons, or polydactyl kittens, they’re not being referred to as “poly[s]” on their own. There’s the qualifier afterwards, but that is not always the case when talking about people. If someone states “I’m poly” you can’t immediately tell if they’re saying they’re Polynesian, polyamorous, polysexual, polyromantic, polygendered, or a host of other identity labels [without further context]. Heck, they could be a FEW of those labels.

So what we’re talking about here is clarity as well as empathy and willingness to listen.

Whether these Tumblr folks represent a few dozen, a few hundred, or a few thousand, the questions remain the same: what are we, non-Polynesian “poly” people and our allies, going to do to provide clarity to our language and stand in solidarity with however many Polynesians want this change? More importantly, what does this situation, and the pushback from members of “the polyamorous community,” tell us about language adoption and resistance to change in our communities?

When people say this is “being politically correct,” they are trying to make basic decency into a politically contested issue and make it sound bad. Some people even think they’re brave if they’re politically incorrect, conflating deep-rooted anti-authoritarian work that seeks to dismantle structural power with, like, flipping the bird to someone on Tumblr talking about racism. Being a jerk and using oppressive terminology isn’t brave. Whining about trigger-warnings and “preferred pronouns” and “social justice warriors ruining fun” isn’t bold or radical. Saying we’re “coddling our new generations” and actually harming survivors of trauma by being more thoughtful is missing the point (and it’s not even medically accurate). Being unwilling to even consider a minor shift in language to give space for another community to flourish is not living in a space of goodwill.

So What Should We Be Doing?

As someone in the sexuality field AND a polyamorous person with a big tech geek streak, I value useful search terms and disambiguation. Heck, as a super Type A person that drools over nice spreadsheets, regardless of other sexual or racial identities, I think it’s crucial that we make the Internet an easier, more organized place to browse. I already avoided using “poly” online in any meaningful capacity  because it felt too ambiguous for searches and helpful tagging, and this debate is just another great reason to avoid it: because it’s a term that a racially marginalized community uses to self-identify and build community. If “poly” on its own works for them, more power to ’em. Even in sexuality-specific circles, using “poly” can be possibly misunderstood because there are other labels that start with poly- as well, so again, not the most useful.

Some have suggested “polya” or “polyam” as possible abbreviations that don’t conflict with usage by other groups. Personally, I think “polya” looks ugly as a word and makes me think of Dubya [never a good thing]. I feel “meh” about “polyam” but could see it as a better alternative, I guess. To each their own, and I won’t be adopting either of these abbreviations soon, but what I do advocate for is mindfulness around when and where we use “poly” to mean “polyamorous.”

Here are some questions to ask ourselves:

  1. Is the word being used in a space where the meaning is clear to everyone witnessing the content?
  2. Is using “poly” for “polyamorous” making it harder for another community to disambiguate and find “their own kind”?
  3. What impact does the term’s usage have on search results, tagging systems, and online spaces?
  4. Is the decision to keep using “poly” for “polyamorous” coming from a place of spite and thoughtlessness or from a place of informed compassion?

Personally, I will continue to use “poly” in private situations or verbal conversation where people know what I mean, BUT in tagging things online—a place where categorizing information is important, where people use those systems to search for others like themselves, and so on—I will use polyamory specifically and avoid “poly.” Again, this is work I was already doing, but something that is generally not a huge effort for folks to start doing if they hadn’t been. I encourage this level of specificity in others, for the sake of more than just random Polynesian folks on Tumblr.

But in regards to those “random Polynesian folks” on Tumblr, it doesn’t matter if most of us “don’t think about Polynesian people when we say poly” or that “our Polynesian friends don’t care.” While that may inform how radical our changes are and where we enact change, it shouldn’t mean that we ignore the issue entirely or dig our heels in the dirt because we don’t want to change. To questions of “couldn’t they just as easily pick a new tag/abbreviation?” my answer is just “maybe.” But when it’s a horde of predominantly White, Western polyamorists asking that question and refusing to consider where they may change, that says something.

At the end of the day, these are people asking for us to collaborate in making the Internet and its communities easier and better to navigate for all.

If you live in a place where you are guaranteed free speech, calls for space and respect like this aren’t censorship—they’re calls for consideration. You still have the power and right to make whatever decision feels best for you, but my hope is that you will prioritize the expansion of kindness and reduction of harm in the process.

One of my favorite poly-related words. This image by Robert Ashworth used under Creative Commons license. Click through for original.


Header image of Moorea in Polynesia shot by Loïs Lagarde and used under Creative Commons license. The only change to the image is that it’s cropped a bit differently.

Update 09/04/15: Poly as a prefix actually comes from Greek, not Latin as I originally wrote. Made the correction. I always get those mixed up because they’re both present in the full word [polyamory]. Thanks for the person that caught that!

Update 09/05/15: Unsurprisingly, I’ve heard from Polynesian folks on both sides of the issue. Some use “poly” while others don’t. Some think it’s useful while others don’t. Some use the ‘net regularly while others don’t. Interestingly, the “poly-as-Polynesian” definition got added to Urban Dictionary back in ’06. Anyway. I clarified a bit of language in the post, most notably in a sentence that could be interpreted in two ways and most people were reading it differently than I intended it [the one about calling something “‘poly,’ period”].

Orgasm Justice: Are You Entitled To Climax?

Header image source: Getty Images / Mic

If you’re a woman and listen to Nicki Minaj and Amy Schumer, sounds like you should be! But is there more to the story? Read on to find out. My colleague Rachel Kramer Bussel wrote a piece on orgasmic parity and interviewed me for it, where she explained the impetus for the article:

Recently, both Nicki Minaj and Amy Schumer have come out swinging for “orgasm equality”—namely, that when a woman has sex, especially with a man, she is entitled to an orgasm. Minaj declared in Cosmopolitan’s July issue, “I demand that I climax. I think women should demand that.” Schumer told Glamour in the August 2015 issue, “Don’t not have an orgasm. Make sure he knows that you’re entitled to an orgasm.”

It’s a great article that raises many valuable points, including how some people use orgasm as a bargaining chip or power-play tool, and I’m so glad I was able to contribute to it. Alas, as often happens,  I had way more to say than could fit in someone else’s article, and so here’s an expansion on my thoughts, beyond what got used.

Orgasms: What Do The Numbers Say?

orgasm gap

Jessica Valenti, in an article defending “orgasm equality” and Nicki’s words, gave us the scoop:

According to the Kinsey Institute, while 85% of men believe that their partners had an orgasm during their last sexual experience, only 64% of women report actually having one. And the Cosmopolitan’s Female Orgasm Survey this year shows that only 57% of women climax regularly with a partner. Those numbers change a bit depending on who women are having sex with though – a 2014 study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine showed that lesbians had a nearly 75% orgasm rate.

Men across the sexuality spectrum, however, all reported around an 85% orgasm rate, and another study shows that 75% of men report always having an orgasm during sex. Every. Single. Time.

Nicki And Amy’s Rx For Orgasm: Too Prescriptive?

I bristle at most definitive statements about how people should exist in the world. Whenever I hear “always” or “never,” it sends up red flags in my brain because those words usually erase a lot of nuance and variability of human experience, and often go hand in hand with oppressive ideas. I can’t help but eye-roll when people, especially professionals and/or media darlings who have big platforms, use prescriptive language about how people should be having sex  or perpetuate the assumption that everyone WANTS to be having sex in the first place. Still: that doesn’t mean Minaj or Schumer’s comments are entirely off the mark or unimportant.

I believe that Nicki Minaj is speaking from a place of seeing societal orgasm disparities and trying to resolve them in her own life, then, at its core, giving advice to others to not put up with inconsiderate partners [particularly men] who demand orgasm but do not reciprocate. That’s the key message I think people should take away from her comments. I see her speaking from a place of empowering women, even if she isn’t doing it in the most nuanced or inclusive way, and suspect that’s also because she wasn’t giving a manifesto on the matter, but instead briefly commenting on it. The people criticizing her for being “demanding” or “not caring about the man’s feelings” are missing the point AND also contributing to harshly judging the words of women of color, and especially Black women, who are already culturally presented as “loud and angry” for even existing.

Honestly, I care less about if Nicki self-identifies as a feminist or somehow embodies “perfect feminism” for all [coughrespectabilitypoliticscough] and more about what she says and does, and what we can learn from her that supports our personal visions of feminism—and there is a LOT there to work with. As scholars, educators, sexuality professionals,  activists, whatever: our work shouldn’t be to undercut Minaj, but instead further nuance her statements and get at their roots rather than a superficial understanding, especially if we want to reach the people she’s talking to.

Similarly, Schumer speaks about body positivity, being deserving of love regardless of size, introducing partners to the marvels of the human clitoris, and not letting dudes get away with just ignoring her pleasure. But her entitlement isn’t exactly the same as Nicki’s stance that women demand orgasms, and Schumer’s feminism often lacks a critical race analysis  that Minaj consistently brings to the table. In fact, Schumer has shoved her foot deep in her mouth around racial matters various times and excused some of her actions by holding steadfast to her “feminist” label. Is Nicki perfect? Of course not. But as far as I know she’s not pretending that her feminist cred exempts her from messing up.

amy-schumer-race

Entitlement: Revolutionary, Oppressive, Or Both?

The idea of ensuring women’s pleasure without an underhanded agenda is a radical idea, period. Even the heading for the Cosmo article where Nicki was interviewed—that calls her demands for orgasm “high maintenance”—shows why such demands can be revolutionary in a society that teaches women to be servile; the idea of women putting their pleasure at the forefront and on equal footing to men’s is seen as “too much.”

Especially for women of color, and particularly Black women, that message is key in a society that also exploits our sexuality and makes us objects much more than subjects. Heck, this also connects to age and ensuring that sexually active young women learn how to achieve or at least communicate about orgasms from early on instead of wasting precious years of sexual encounters being too timid, uneducated, unempowered, or whatever to navigate those waters. [That said, I’m not saying it’s young women’s fault that society does a terrible job with sex education or empowering us.]

From a feminist standpoint, demanding orgasms makes sense. “We’re here, we’re horny, and we want to come!” But which women are doing the demanding and which women are prevented from doing so?

In a White supremacist society that hypersexualizes women of color and gives more overall bargaining power to White women regardless of how sexual they are assumed to be, Schumer’s call to be entitled comes from both her body-positive feminism as well as her Whiteness. For both Nicki and Amy, this also intersects with their able-bodied-ness. For women with physical disabilities, who are often desexualized entirely or fetishized by select groups of the population, being entitled to climax with partners intersects with a host of other issues, including mobility concerns and worries about not being able to even enter a partner’s house if it’s not accessible. [Check out the work of Robin Wilson-Beattie with SexAbled, Bethany Stevens with Crip Confessions, and Shanna K. (as well as her peer-reviewed papers) if you’re curious about that!] For Millenials [shout out to my generation!] who are already billed as “spoiled brats” or “lazy and entitled” people who “haven’t paid their dues yet,” demanding better sexual encounters also operates at an interesting crossroads of identities, including age.

So while there can certainly be strength in entitlement, as well as the ensuing action when things aren’t up to snuff, we must not ignore the structural barriers to being able to demand orgasms and the reasons why some people find it waaaaaaay easier to be entitled than others. In short: if we truly want life, liberty, and orgasms for all [who want them], we need to do a lot of social justice work, not just generic sex ed and feminist action.

Is Orgasm Equality Where It’s At?

As was mentioned by other sexuality professionals in the Bussel article, people’s understandings vary in regards to how orgasms happen in the first place, who is responsible for whose orgasms, the value of orgasms vs. the overall sexual journey, and if one can ever truly “give” someone an orgasm or if a better word is “facilitate.” Because of that variability, I don’t really care to focus on the “should you be entitled?” question once I have your attention. I’ll even let you in on a little secret: I actually don’t believe in orgasm equality. I think it misses the mark.

What do I advocate for instead? I believe in striving for pleasure equity and orgasm justice: pleasure, including but not limited to orgasms, for those who want them in the amounts they desire. It’s about giving people autonomy to figure out what they want from sex, the space to communicate it, and the resources to work toward it, not forcing people to have sex to fit someone else’s standards. It’s not about EQUALITY, which means SAMENESS; it’s about FAIRNESS. This graphic that has made the rounds in activist circles explains it perfectly:

equity-vs-equality

During sex, if orgasms are desired, I see them as the product of collaborative effort unless negotiated otherwise. I believe in sexy times where the goals are negotiated among its participants, whether that’s one or twenty one. Is the goal overall pleasure? Is the goal orgasm specifically? Is the goal stress-reduction before a big event, building intimacy, making a baby, making money, something else? Whatever it is, it can’t just be unilaterally decided.  Each person should measure their sexual satisfaction based on their reasons for having sex in any given instance, and goals can be multi-faceted and complex.

On Facebook Silence Regarding Charleston Shooting

I usually post a lot about current events on Facebook, and I have no qualms about bringing POC struggles into White spaces, but my Facebook friends list has a lot of POC and I’m going to be limiting these posts for a while [or, if needed, put them under heavy content/trigger warnings]. It’s important to raise awareness, and White people shouldn’t use “I don’t wanna traumatize POC” as a cop-out to NOT talk about these issues, but right now I am taking a step back and hoping my wall can offer more healing for my communities, and especially the Black folks with whom I stand in solidarity because even in POC spaces we aren’t the same.

To my Black loved ones:

I see you, I witness you, and I stand with you.

So consider this my main post, and read this news roundup by Autostraddle. I’m not quiet and I will never be quiet about these issues, but right now, my wall will not be the place for them. That said, as someone on Twitter so eloquently put, if you’re calling 21 year-old Roof a “child” and had no issue calling 18 year-old Mike Brown a man, you need to check your internalized racism. If you call Roof “a lone wolf” and focus on “wow, he must have a mental illness” instead of on the fact that this was a hate crime against Black people in a country that wholesale devalues Black people while it appropriates their culture, you need to check yourself. You need to recognize that the narrative of White crime is always “lone wolf” and “mental illness” whereas any POC get immediately labeled thugs and terrorists. As someone IN the mental health field, discussing mental health and care is vital, but NOT when it’s a tactic to derail conversations about hate crimes and structural racism, or try to explain away actions like the shooting in Charleston.

Beyond our U.S. borders, we need to open our eyes to see the connections between the mass planned deportations of residents of the‪ #‎DominicanRepublic‬ who are of Haitian descent and the “social cleanses” in other countries. The Holocaust is not our “biggest and baddest” systematic extermination of people, and we need to stop pretending it is or was. We need to see the connections with mass deportations and ICE holds here in the U.S./Mexico border.

If you think that racist jokes are harmless, and that “it’s not like my friend Joe Schmo would actually hurt Black people or something,” remember that that’s the same exact thing Roof’s friends thought. Think of how many POC have been forced to leave spaces they once considered home because of racism, big and “small.” Think of how many POC on social media now are needing to take breaks from all their platforms because this is too much to bear—too much violence, too much hate, too much White silence and complicity. Think of how many POC feel an undercurrent of fear and anxiety every day due to White supremacy in this society. Think of how many POC are not even in a PLACE to avoid most racism in their lives even if they try. Microaggressions are violence, period, and we need to stop acting like the only “real racism” requires a massacre to qualify.

If all you see when you look at videos of police brutality—and especially of police beating up 12 year-old Black girls, of police arresting and dragging Black youth at pool parties—is “police in a tough situation making the best of it,” you need to crack open a newspaper, read a good history book, open up social media sites, look around, and see what’s actually going on and has been going on for years. If you reply with “All Lives Matter” to Black cries for justice, accountability, and visibility, you need to stop and understand that BLM exists because in our current society, all lives are NOT seen as mattering, and that’s what some of us are seeking to change. If you “don’t even see race, and didn’t even realize the races of the people in the videos,” it’s time that you bucked up and acknowledged you do see race unless you are LITERALLY VISUALLY IMPAIRED and you’re pretending it doesn’t matter in this world. Your “postracial, colorblind” rhetoric helps no one but White supremacy and those who benefit from it. If you think this post involves or implicates you, it certainly does.

If you know the name of ‪#‎RachelDolezal‬, but don’t know the names Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi [the founders of the‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬ movement], learn them. If you know Roof’s name, but don’t know the names of the people he murdered, you better learn them today:

  • Cynthia Hurd, 54, branch manager for the Charleston County Library System
  • Susie Jackson, 87, longtime church member
  • Ethel Lance, 70, employee of Emanuel AME Church for 30 years
  • Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49, admissions counselor of Southern Wesleyan University
  • The Honorable Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41, state senator, Reverend of Emanuel AME Church
  • Tywanza Sanders, 26, earned business administration degree from Allen University
  • Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., 74, retired pastor (died at MUSC)
  • Rev. Sharonda Singleton, 45, track coach at Goose Creek High School
  • Myra Thompson, 59, church member

I try to channel as much empathy as I can muster, and I work hard to educate others, and I remember when I was a teenager who had no clue how racism was still so very real because I was consistently told “it was still there, but mostly a thing of the past,” and I try to be compassionate…but once you see the belly of this beast, it is the most tiring of endeavors to have to unearth it again and again for people who claim there’s not even a beast in the first place.

It is painful, and often even lethal, to have your humanity and the humanity of those you consider family denied. It is horrifying to have friends, family, siblings in fraternal bonds, co-workers, colleagues, deny these realities and try to explain away these inequities. If you don’t see this pain manifested, it’s probably because the POC around you don’t trust you to share their pain with you. Just because you don’t easily see it around you doesn’t mean it’s not there. How many POC friends do you even have, if you’re White? For a great majority of Americans, the answer is zero/few. Think about that.

If you do have POC around you, especially Black folks at a time like this, don’t ask them to explain racism to you. Don’t force them to discuss these issues. Ask them how you can help. Work to honor their feelings, their likely rage, and their inevitable sadness. Help them heal, or give them space if that’s what they need. Respect their words, as well as their silence. Stand in solidarity with them, with us, and ACTIVELY do something to make the world better and less racist. TAKE RESPONSIBILITY.


 

A version of this post was originally published on my personal FB account. Never fear: I will continue actively blogging on here and other platforms about these issues.

Header image source.

Honoring MLK: Racial Justice and Social Work

Martin Luther King Jr. getting quoted out of context is one of my pet peeves. Thankfully, that did not happen on Tuesday, when I attended a panel on racial justice in honor of his legacy.

The Massachusetts Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers organized a forum to discuss the current state of racial justice and the social work profession in Boston. It was originally scheduled for January, but as luck would have it, Boston faced the snowiest, most bananas winter in history and the well-laid plans had to be changed.

An eternal live-tweeter and sharer of information, I documented the event and created a Storify where people can, essentially, virtually tag along for the ride after the event. You can find it here. The panelists were as follows:

MLK Racial Justice Panel Cohort

Left to right: Melendez, MacArthur, Belkin Martinez, Copeland. Photo credit to Shabnam Deriani.

I don’t generally go to panels on racial justice to learn new information, as someone steeped in this on the daily and who also presents on anti-racism. I go to these events to have more bodies in the room, to hear my colleagues speak, to nourish my spirit with the shared passion of those dedicated to social change. However, I often do learn new nuggets of wisdom—new quotations, new strategies, new frameworks—and this event did not disappoint. The biggest takeaway? The work of Whitney Young Jr.

Dr. Phillipe Copeland—one of the panelists and one of the professors at the Boston University School of Social Work where I’m pursuing my Master’s in Social Work—quoted Whitney Young Jr. and his thoughts on the social work profession as it connected to racial justice and social justice overall. I wanted to share that with all of the budding social workers and seasoned vets in my community, because they are POWERFUL.

Here’s an excerpt from from Young Jr., in “Social Welfare’s Responsibility in Urban Affairs” [emphasis mine].

Let these words ABOUT RACIAL JUSTICE/SOCIAL JUSICE sink in, marinate, and transform you and your practice.

It is not enough for the social worker to teach the poor how to survive on a substandard budget. We must plant the seeds of indignation and of desire for change in the mind of every citizen suffering in want. We must be the catalysts of change, not the maintainers of the status quo. Establishing rapport, cutting through defenses, is the only way we can achieve anything of value. We must let people know that we are not just interested in establishing eligibility or in granting minimal services. We must see them as individuals.

We must help them understand that we are not just a part of the faceless bureaucracy which regulates their lives, but that we are concerned with helping them, as individuals, get into the productive mainstream of society. We must fight against red-tape restrictions and requirements which deny people their humanity. We must tell the unemployed that they have the right to work, the right to education of high quality for their children, the right to be trained, and the right to support themselves and their families at a decent level.

We must tell families in poverty that they have a vote and can use it to secure a more sympathetic ear in our corridors of power; that they must broaden their children’s horizons; that change is a law of life, and reform must be a way of life. These are the basic means of humanizing the city.

In a society which has succumbed to an excess of professionalism and technology, materialism and theoretical concepts, we must, in order to redress the balance, succumb to an excess of feeling, of courage, of caring, and of decency. I believe the time is ripe. The problems of our cities are begging for solution. Our profession is now mature and secure enough to provide leadership in this effort. A society that would call itself civilized is at stake.


 

The photo at the top/banner of this post illustrates Martin Luther King Jr. addressing a crowd from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where he delivered his famous, “I Have a Dream,” speech during the Aug. 28, 1963, March on Washington, D.C. [and is in the public domain].

Reproductive Health and Teenage Pregnancy: Tips for Providers

Curious about updates to standards around contraception, reproductive health and teenage pregnancy care, and safer sex for adolescents? Here are my livetweeted notes + some slides from a webinar overviewing key evidence-based practices which streamline reproductive health and teenage pregnancy services for adolescents. The webinar also gave data on what teens need and what kind of behaviors they’re engaging in. Though aimed at medical providers, I think the session produced nuggets of information for all kinds of folks!

The Time is Now:
Adolescent Friendly Reproductive Health Care Webinar

Speakers:

Erica Gibson, M.D., & Judy Lipshutz, MSW, RN, NYPATH
Heilbrunn Dept. of Population & Family Health, Columbia University

Topics that were covered include:

Quick Start Contraceptive Initiation
Emergency Contraception
Pregnancy Testing
Long-Acting Reversible Contraceptives (LARCS)
Expedited Partner Therapy (EPT)
STI Treatment

Did you know?

  • In 2013, the Youth Risk Behavior Survey said that over 60% of HS students reported using a condom at their last sexual encounter.
  • The average sexually active teen waits 14 months before seeking reproductive/sexual health services, and the catalyst is usually the desire for a pregnancy test.
  • The types of emergency contraception  in the U.S. include Levonorgestrel pills (e.g. Plan B), the copper IUD (e.g. ParaGard), & ulipristal acetate pills (e.g. ella).
  • In July 2014, the The European Medicines Association issued the following statement: “emergency contraceptives can continue to be used to prevent unintended pregnancy in women of any weight or body mass index (BMI). The available data are limited and not robust enough to support with certainty the conclusion of decreased contraceptive effect with increased body weight /BMI.”