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Friday, February 20, 2009

I was a bit hesitant about sharing this with the masses, probably due to an underlying insecurity with coming off as arrogant and/or self-centered, but I'm going to share it anyway.  Head first.  Here I go.  It's brief, so stick with it.

Last Saturday (Valentine's Day, to be exact), I ended my night by going to That's My Jam, a queer dance party in "Bed Stuy," (more or less Clinton Hill area) that hopes but alas fails to be a diverse representation of the queer population that exists Brooklyn.  Yet, it's super white, super specific and reflective of all the other "queer dance parties" I venture to go to in and around Manhattan, Williamsburg, etc.  Same sea of white faces, same overwhelming feeling of feeling like a little chocolate chip and not quite knowing where to go to have a nice night of queer dancing in the neighborhood if you don't want to go to The Lab and also want a nice mix of gender representations and spectrums of gayness, queerness, etc.   But at That's My Jam you get some brown hopefuls who drop in or like me, keep dropping in in hopes that someday it'll be a little browner.  In any case, I digress.  Back to the point.  Stick with it.

As I was dancing with friends at TMJ last Saturday I got a tap on the shoulder.  Intoxicated and socially awkward to boot, I turned to the young woman with big hair as she leaned in close to me.  I made eye contact and over the thumping vibrations of the unsatisfactory soundtrack in the background she said to me, "I just wanted to let you know that your cipHER helped me come out."  I don't remember what I said.  I think I awkwardly smiled and nodded.  I was a bit speechless.

I just wanted to make note though, that whoever you are, thank you so much for sharing that.  Zami was a dream of mine and though often selfish when thinking of the impact it has on a larger scale, I forget that as a collective, we all made something memorable and inspiring happen those days in April.  Let's work on making progress this second time around.  Let's work to create our own histories and support one another in ways we don't even know.

I'm down.  Are y'all?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

We Got NEXT!

On February 26, 2009, the Audre Lorde Project's Safe OUTside the System Collective (S.O.S) is organizing a Provocative Discussion called "We Got Next!: Change For Obama Elected, Now It's Our Turn" Please join us. We are a group of LGBTSTGNC People of Color interested in challenging violence that affects our communities. Let's talk about how we can harness the power of the political hype from Pres. Obama's Change campaign and use it for our own struggles for community safety.

Thursday, Feb 26, 2009. 6:30 - 9:00
85 S. Oxford Place, Brooklyn, NY.
Jarvie Room.

C-train to Lafayette.
G-train to Fulton St.
2/3/4/5/B/D/N/R/Q to Atlantic/Pacific Street. Exit at Hanson Place, walk up Hanson Place to S. Oxford, make a left, cross Fulton.
OR B52, B26, B25 Bus to Fulton & Greene.

Monday, February 9, 2009

"Who do you become when you can't be yourself?"

Last week, a friend randomly posted a movie trailer for Pariah (2007) on my facebook wall, with nothing else said. After watching the trailer, I realized that there was in fact nothing to be said about this upcoming feature-length film about a gender-nonconforming young lesbian of color. Check out more about the film at PARIAH The Movie. I am very excited and something in me feels like I'm, again, discovering something good for us as a community. "Who do you become when you can't be yourself?" asks the film's tagline. It's an important question, one that I often grapple with myself. For those of us in the midst of trying to navigate how to be ourselves in all capacities, this movie will probably guide us through the experience, even if we aren't youth.

If you get the chance, please check it out at the Pan-African Film Festival. I'm trying to figure out when it's being released to independent theaters.
In the past, our community has witnessed images of us in the media, many of them inaccurate and some of them simple documentations of our lives and reflections of our voices as created and spoken by us (Daniel Peddle's The Aggressives and my homegirl tiona.m's black womyn: conversations with lesbians of african descent). We've seen ourselves on screen in random spaces amongst the sea of white lesbian and queer mainstream media culture (think The L-Word's Carmen, Papi, and Tasha, and the lil tastes of brown lesbians, remember the oh-so aggressive Latina that shared a jail cell (and every white lesbian's puesdo-racist jailhouse/brown girl sex fantasy) with Helena?) and throughout history we know ourselves to have been integral parts of many different histories. If we were lucky we caught hold of narratives of ourselves in complex ways (one that surprised me was the character Dill in Suzan-Lori Park's Getting Mother's Body) and currently, we are writing our own narratives to leave behind. I hope Pariah serves as an accurate, multi-facted narrative that speaks to us not only on screen but in the cores of our many beings.

Tell me, what narratives helped you become who you were even in moments when you couldn't fully be yourself?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Lately, I feel like I'm in the midst of histories to be remembered. In the past week, and certainly this past month, I've been searching for a reason as to why I've been feeling off kilter. Yes, it's almost 2012 and we've all heard the conversations around the impending date. You know, the Bible tell us so, Zietgiest, the Mayan calendar... various theories of the sort. I am coming to terms with something in between all of these, maybe a combination of all, but more than anything, I feel like what's happening in this lifetime of mine is that the universe is demanding that as a queer, gender-nonconforming, person of color, I move against the current of the present and the past, and develop a new script for what it means to be an activ(ist) human body in the future in a sexist, heteronormative, racist, classist, and patriarchacal society.

Last Tuesday I flew to Denver, Co. to attend The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's 21st Annual Creating Change conference, a 5-day intensive conference, or retreat-ish style academic forum, with dozens of workshops, day-long institutes, and Leadership Academy sessions surrounding a variety of issues pertaining to the LGBTQ-GNCTS community. I was thrilled to go, as I'd been anticipating this for a year (last year it was in Detroit and I couldn't go) and was utterly blessed and privileged when my work was willing to send me to Denver all expenses paid.

See, I was sent on behalf of the high school I work for, a small alternative transfer high school with a student population with ages ranging between 17 and 21. As a school, it was created to educate and thrive under our mission of social justice and community liberation. We are a public school but do not have metal detectors, surveillance cameras, or NYPD hired as security in our school. We have 400 students, have one exit and entrance, and everyone is called by their first name. (No. Ms. and Mr.) On our walls we have murals painted by students, (fine art of black and brown students in graduation gowns with fists raised high holding diplomas in their hands), we have pictures of panthers and Che Guevera plastered to walls, and our school slogan "All Power to the People!" is hung up high. Our student population is one that thrives on immense and intense lived experiences on various ends of the spectrum. We have brilliant students who are parents and just as brilliant students who are in gangs. We haven't had a fight occur in 6 years and we have been voted as one of the safest schools in the city.

And yet, while we were in the midst of educating students on the oppressive history behind the "N-word," and having anti-Columbus Day assemblies, and anti-Thanksgiving Day open mics, we failed to realize just how ill equipped our community (staff and students) is as a people when it comes to queer and trans issues.

For the past month, our staff has been having small and large drawn-out conversations about what bathroom our first transgendered student would be using when she officially entered this new semester. There's no need to go into particular details about what's been said in these meetings, but what became very evident to the majority of the staff involved in these sit-downs is that the "bathroom issue" that has taken so long to resolve among staff and administration seems little to be about what bathroom the young woman uses and more about the deep-set transphobia that arose out of some staff and is feared to potentially arise out of students and parents alike.

"What do I tell a parent when their daughter comes home and tells them that a "boy" was using the same bathroom as them?" our principal asked the staff. Many were appalled by the question itself and others perhaps inadvertantly appalled at the principal for even raising the concern. Though not supporting the root of the transphobic language in the hypotehtical question from the hypothetical parent, I recognize this as a very valid concern coming from an administrator. Here you have an altnerative high school trying to truly educate and not merely school students who have been cast to the social fringes; trying to provide a safe community space for a population prodominately seen and treated as criminals; and investigate social injustices that take a more than a life time to tackle. Here you have adults, who by all good intention, are trying to sustain such principles, even if they don't fully consider themselves activists or "radical" and what's very clear is that throughout all of this, the "What if's?" stand to be very real obstacles in the process of creating safe and liberatory spaces that counter the status quo.

The first day of our second term student orientation, close to 30 teachers and staff sat in a classroom discussing how best to attend to the needs and wants of out first trans student. Personal stories were shared, tears fell, transphobia and misunderstanding unfolded, and respect, love, and liberation unified an intergenerational, multi-ethnic, cross-faith, cross-gender, cross-orientation group of educators, social workers, and counselors who all stood behind one student's right to walk through her education as she defines it. I went home that night, head heavy with some words saddening me and others simultaneously reminding me why I chose to be an educator. The next morning in the Dean's office, after sharing her similar reaction to the last "bathroom meeting," one of the Deans (I'll call her, Her Royal Fierceness) put it all into perspective. "It's frustrating," she said, "But it's a good thing. It's a good thing. I mean, what other schools across America do you think are having this conversation right now?"

I'd bet and assume, not many. This is history.

QUESTION: As LGBTQ-GNCTS people of color, what are some of your experiences with witnessing, battling (and conquering, of course!) sexual orientation and gender in education and work spaces? Is your "Eye on the Prize" in regards to liberation of queer bodies in heteronormative spaces? Write! Shout! Yell! Discuss! Complicate! Or raise another issue ...

Comment and tell us all what you're thinking. Please, join the cipHER.