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

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.

The Neverending Story (A.K.A. The Ballad of Margaret Brooks and The CSPH)

I love open letters, especially humorous ones like those I used to read back when I was 13 years old and were aimed at celebrities like Tom Felton (who played Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter series—don’t judge me). Coming in close second, my other favorite types of open letters are those that shed light on things that had previously been hidden in the shadows.

Today, an open letter went out—from Erin Basler-Francis, one of our champs at The Center for Sexual Pleasure & Health, to Margaret Brooks. (This is not the first time she gets an open letter like this, though the one I wrote years ago was much shorter and crankier). You should click over and read it, stat. Here’s some context:

The CSPH has faced a fair amount of adversity since its inception in 2009. Members of the Citizens Against Trafficking (an anti-rights, sex work abolitionist group) continue to harass staff and supporters of The Center, particularly regarding our outreach on college campuses. These bullies use both overt and hidden tactics in an attempt to delegitimize the importance of conversations about sexuality, pleasure, sex work, and sexual rights.

Most recently, Dr. Margaret Landman Brooks, director of the Economics Department at Bridgewater State University, sent a series of emails to the provost of Vanderbilt University using a series of red herring, slippery slope, and equivocation arguments as well as ad hominem attacks in an attempt to convince the school that it would be legally liable for sexual assaults that occurred on campus after the Study Sex College Tour workshop, “Brilliant in Bed.” While not the only protestation, Dr. Margaret Landman Brooks decision to use rhetoric causally linking pleasure focused sexuality education to sexual assault on campus is both inaccurate and insidious. 

We at The CSPH have chosen to address this issue publicly because the tactics used by Dr. Margaret Landman Brooks in this case are irresponsible and dangerous when the context of the climate at Vanderbilt University, as well as the current conversations around sexual assault, BDSM, and Intimate Partner Violence.

While part of me kind of wants to commend Margaret Brooks for her passion, it’s terribly saddening that it manifests in the ways it does and I cannot in good conscience do so. We shouldn’t stand for the bullying of youth, and we should also not stand for the bullying of adults at the hands of other adults. Obviously, if you’re working toward social justice and not ruffling feathers, you’re not making big enough waves (to, uh, mix some metaphors there), but man—the repercussions aren’t pretty, and we need to change that.

boston snow

Pictured here: the Snowpocalypse that’s as cold as the attitude from Donna Hughes.

It’s not like we haven’t reached out to Ms. Brooks, either. We’ve personally invited her and her crew to our events, and extended olive branches in the spirit of dialogue both online and in person, and none of them have been acknowledged or even accepted. In fact, we’ve been pretty straightforward and transparent in all our dealings. To her credit, I guess, she DID shake my hand once? This is when I was trying to show her I was a real person and not some nameless undergrad she could just bully without having to ever face. That is more than I can say for Donna Hughes (a professor of Women’s Studies at the University of Rhode Island—how appropriate, right?), who very much did not shake my hand when I greeted her and gave me a cold shoulder of Boston weather proportions. It was pretty epic. But I digress.

Margaret Brooks is the same person who (along with Donna Hughes and Melanie Shapiro) tried to get a slew of events (including KFAPVD) I organized at Brown University canceled while I was an undergraduate. This is the cohort that misrepresented SO many things about the work the Sexual Health Education & Empowerment Council (SHEEC) at Brown and The CSPH were doing. This is the person that sent countless emails to Brown’s administration (including the President) warning them of the “dangers” of these events, blatantly spread inaccurate/misleading information, and wrote bulletins claiming that we were to blame for a spike in young RI men contracting HIV. This is one of the people that made my time at Brown tough for a while, and made me have to watch my back really carefully.

On some level, I’m glad it started early so I could protect myself before things got too serious, and I’m very fortunate to consistently work in spaces that respect my endeavors and where I can be open about who I am and what I do, but many people aren’t as fortunate

This is the person that sent my personal Twitter account to professors and deans before it was something I shared as publicly as I do now. This is the same person that sent critique-laden, alarmist emails to my supervisors at Sojourner House—about my personal life and affiliations to organizations that believe in kink/BDSM education and reproductive justice—trying to possibly get me fired, and definitely trying to put me in hot water and endanger a health fair I was coordinating. Fortunately, I was out about my identities at Sojourner House, because if I hadn’t been, she would have outed me to the director and my supervisor, as well as other colleagues. That is not okay.

I am eternally grateful to all the professors, deans, staff, friends, and colleagues who were and have been supportive, understanding and wonderful throughout all this and its multiple iterations. You know who you are. Thank you for believing in me and in sexuality education. While Brown is a deeply flawed institution, certainly, I am incredibly proud that they institutionally backed up my right to hold the events I did, and supported my health and dignity during that process. I firmly believe I didn’t bear a bigger burden while I was an undergrad because I was still a student and thus not as “fair game” as professionals in the working world.

You know who was the fairest game of them all, and the original target? Megan Andelloux—one of the best and most hardworking educators in the field today. megan andellouxMargaret Brooks is the person that time and time again contacts places where Megan Andelloux and her close friends/colleagues present with scare tactics in efforts to squash their/our attempts at education. This bullying not only harms the institutions and their populations who are sometimes deprived of accurate sexuality education, but it takes a huge emotional toll on honest, hardworking sexuality educators and advocates who are trying to make the world a better, more sexually literate place. The case with Vanderbilt is not the first time this happens.

This is the cohort of people that tried to stop The CSPH from opening back in 2009/2010. The same cohort of people that have accused my colleagues of pedophilia because they believe in giving kids accurate sexuality information and answering their questions at whatever age they start asking them. This is the cohort that, under the guise of “academic” and/or “professional” writing used blatant inaccuracies and decontextualizations (not to mention shoddy record-keeping and citations) to “make points” about how, basically, we are The Worst.

As far as ethics and academic integrity, I would expect better from a Brown alumna/Economics professor and a Women’s Studies professor.

This needs to stop, and we need people to listen. We will keep doing the work we do because we believe in it, and these things are not going to stop us, but we are not made of steel. We are committed to bringing these issues to light, but remember—all this takes a toll. How are you helping break down this misinformation? How are you supporting the victims of bullying and stalking and professional attacks? If you’re not already, imagine having to watch your back constantly for people like this. Where will they be next? What professional gig will they try to wreck soon? What kind of misinformation will they try to spread? This is why we need to speak up and support each other.