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

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

That Time My Uber Driver Spent The Entire Ride Hitting On Me (A.K.A. On Challenging the Urge to Minimize Predatory Behavior)

670px-Say-No-to-Sexual-Harassment-in-the-Workplace-Step-3Public transportation in Boston is infinitely better than in Providence, but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect, or that getting from Point A to B doesn’t sometimes take 1 hour when it could take 10 minutes by independent car. Fortunately, there are private-driver services to fill in the gap (for those who can afford it), especially if you don’t own a car or, like me, don’t even have a license. In short, you download one of the apps and request a ride, then someone comes to nab you and you can track their trajectory on your phone. Easy peasy. No cash needs to be exchanged because you enter your Paypal or card information into your phone.

I started out by trying Lyft in Providence and was charmed with their super friendly service. Now I regularly use services like Lyft or Uber to cut my transportation time or get me places public transportation doesn’t easily access. But this post isn’t about the wonders of getting to and from places. This post is about sexually predatory behavior, customer service that didn’t suck, and how victimized people often have an urge to minimize the actions taken toward them.

(So trigger-warning for descriptions of sexual harassment)

Update 7/8/15: TO BE CLEAR, I’m not trying to say Uber is a great company here. Their RESPONSE to me was really stellar, but there is a LOT wrong with Uber as a business. They have a bad track record of ignoring activists and denying sexual assault allegations, they have some senior executives that spout tons of sexist statements, and let’s not even get into their business model. As more information about those things has surfaced, I have worked to wean myself off supporting them.

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