Two Weeks After The Presidential Election of Men Who Want Me Dead

Two Weeks After The Presidential Election of Men Who Want Me Dead

1.

I pause
to sit quietly and gather myself back
together, after all of the coming undone.
I’ve been running around with all of my parts
in the wrong places.

My heart in my hands, my guts in my mouth,
my eyes stretched out over my skin
so I can see in all directions –
a panoramic view of potential violence.

Yesterday, I sat next to another
Black woman on the train,
because statistically speaking,
according to the election results,
there is no safer demographic
of people – or more sane.

My brain pounds through my arteries and veins
pressuring my feet to run, to run, to run, to run, to run.
My feet flee without waiting for the rest of me,
to take up residence in another country,
one I pretend will love and shelter me,
but there is no home,
there is no sanctuary.

All of my internal architecture
is shattered and smashed.
I’d patched it back together hastily
with lots of rolls of duct tape and a staple gun
and several gallons of krazy glue.
It held up well for a week or two
while I kept alive the traumatized,
the desperate, the targets of hate crimes,
the ones they want to put on a registry for death.

But, traumatized myself
and with a bullseye on my back,
who will keep me alive
as my insides begin to buckle,
to tremble, to crack?

2.

I sit by the lake
where birds come to take
breadcrumbs from little ones
and dazzle them with their freedom.

A little brown child
in a bright pink bicycle helmet
runs to the edge
of the water, squeaking at birds
and stomping with giggles.
This is still possible, I think.
When will it end?

The geese honk at me.
“They’re coming for you, too,”
I say, seditiously.

Clouds billow and gather all the pink from the sunset.
They make an offering of softness and empathy.
I drink it in. My lungs are where my ears used to be.

3.

I sit in the grass and dismantle myself,
unpeeling the duct tape, prying out the staples,
spreading out the wood and memories,
the broken foundation of faith and hope,
the flesh and all its tenderness,
sharp shards of heart and glass,
the bone and bricks that I am made of.

Blood and bile and fear and panic,
dread and devastation and grief and gastric acid
splash out and drench the grass,
the crickets and ants, the loam.

I give up any hope of putting myself back together.
I surrender to gravity,
the grasp of the earth holding me close
clasping me between her solidity and the spaciousness
of the sky, infinite, and expanding
full of patience and possibility.
I drink in all that vastness with what is left of me:

Flesh, ear, tongue,
Skin, eyes, nose,
Heart, hands, lungs,
brain, brick, bone.

I become all that I behold.

4.

When my feet have been found and returned to me,
I stand and feel the enormity of the earth inside of me
and the vastness of the infinite sky
and everything they know
about patience and persistence
spaciousness and solidity.

Relentlessly resilient, the earth
who has seen several mass extinctions already
and is unperturbed by the possibility of another,
determined to make life emerge again and again,
drinks my tears and drains me of my desperation,
tells me, “Anywhere you go, you are always home.”

Anywhere you go,
you are always home.

In this moment,
I am here and I am whole,
relentless in my resilience.

If my days are numbered,
I will cherish every minute.
If I am imprisoned,
I will cherish every breath.

The birds and the little brown children
dazzle me with their freedom
and draw me on.

11/20/16 – 12/01/16

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#YesAllWomen and #YesAllMen

Since my last post about sexual assault, I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I wanted to post a couple of articles I saw go by about these matters.

The first one is a really good piece about – in contrast to the common refrain #NotAllMen – why “Yes, actually, it is all men.” Not all men sexually assault people, but all men have been trained to perpetuate patriarchy and that helps create the conditions for sexual assault and other less violent but significantly impactful and pervasive problems described in more detail in the second article (scroll down for this one).

I think that just as I have a hard time when white people talk about being not racist when racism is in the air we breathe and the systems of power that dominate all of our lives, I have a hard time when men distance themselves from the kind of sexually aggressive behavior that I was just describing in my last post, because the subtler underpinnings of that behavior are so universal.

Obviously, not all men sexually violate people and it makes sense that one who does not would want to distance himself from one who does. But, the kinds of behaviors that lead me to feeling unsafe and uncertain (and worse) with men come from all men.

I love, value, and respect the men in my life (and feel loved, valued, and respected by them, in turn) and I can’t think of a single one that I am close to that doesn’t sometimes evince behaviors associated with patriarchy. The men I feel safest with understand and acknowledge that this is true and want to hear when I’m being impacted by it, even as they understand that I will not have the energy to talk to them about the barest fraction of the times it arises, because that is grueling emotional labor for me.

Behaviors associated with patriarchy are often subtle or not-so-subtle patterns of dominance that are usually invisible to the person performing them, because they are largely unconscious. So, while I may notice a half-dozen go by during the course of an evening (and feel the impact of them keenly), the person performing those behaviors might not notice any of them at all.

Furthermore, if #YesAllWomen – half the population – have countless stories of sexual assault, groping, boundary violation, and then innumerable garden-variety experiences of being socially dominated, discredited, talked over, invalidated, objectified, ‘splained to, and patronized, it does beg the question of: If not you, Sir, than who?

Who has been doing any of this? Given that women have come to understand that more often than not it will bring them more harm (including potential violence) or trouble to bring it up than to pretend it didn’t happen (see article #2), how would you even know for sure that you didn’t behave in a way that was problematic on the basis of unconscious patriarchy?

You have no idea if a woman has a story about you.

You may have no idea if many women have stories about you or if a woman has many stories about you.

I have many stories about many “good” men, liberal men, feminist men, and even men that I like, love, respect, and value evincing patriarchal behaviors of social, physical, or sexual dominance – and more pile up everyday. Every single day. Most of those times, informing them of the fact that the behavior they were performing was problematic, painful, or injurious on the basis of patriarchal forms of social, physical, or sexual dominance was not worth the potential harm or trouble that could come to me if I did so. While some men are grateful for the feedback and respond with curiosity, interest, and care (and those are the ones I prefer to spend time with), most men do not. So, for the sake of my own physical safety and mental/emotional health and well-being, most of the time, I pretend that nothing untoward happened. Especially if the situation feels dangerous.

My male partners and friends are phenomenal humans – awesome and thoughtful and skillful and kind and feminist and really good at examining their shit and literally I’d estimate that unconscious patriarchy finds a way to show up half-a-dozen times an evening, on average.

This doesn’t mean that anyone is bad or evil. We’ve all (people of all genders) been programmed by patriarchy. It’s not anybody’s fault that they were programmed by patriarchy. You can’t have grown up in this culture and not have been programmed by patriarchy. But working to undo that is the responsibility of each of us, looking inside of ourselves to root out the unconscious patriarchy that is operating there, largely outside of our awareness. This will not happen if we distance ourselves from the problem.

Given that patriarchy and misogyny is in the air we breathe and the systems of power that dominate all of our lives, it is impossible to avoid their influence. So, rather than hanging out in the notion that “I’m not like that horrible, abusive guy,” I think it is more useful to inquire, “How might patriarchy or misogyny be showing up in my life, in my thoughts, or in my behavior in ways I might not be aware of?”

So, here’s article #1:

think-its-notallmen

This next one was going around almost a year ago, but resurfaced in light of the recent current events that has brought the universality of the sexual assault of women to the forefront of national attention. I hadn’t read it the first time. I read it a few days ago and felt chills, recognizing myself so completely in what writer Gretchen Kelly was saying, even though she is talking about something that is so second nature to me that it is hard to even think about, let alone describe. It’s something about the continual dodging that women do, pretending that nothing is wrong, while we are objectified or violated or subtly threatened, because to acknowledge that it is happening is more dangerous than smiling and pretending that nothing just happened. I alluded to some of this process in what I wrote, but she fleshes it out in so much more detail and specificity than I did. For those of you who are, understandably, more moved by the stories of your personal friends and find that more meaningful or impactful than the stories of strangers, just imagine that I (or that some beloved female friend of yours) wrote every word. Because I could have. (Or your beloved female friend could have.) What the writer is describing represents my daily lived experience that is nearly invisible to most men and I believe it is an important one to understand.

So, here’s article #2:

that-thing-all-women-do

Together, they fill in some of the very subtle, very pervasive aspects of how patriarchy and misogyny impact the daily lived experiences of women in ways that are often invisible to the men who are witnessing or even participating in them.

Again, I do not mean to imply that all men perform egregious sexual boundary violations. Not remotely. Far from it. But, all of us who occupy positions of privilege would do well to think about how we may perpetuate those systems of dominance unconsciously, rather than distancing ourselves from the problem, deciding that the problem lives somewhere else, in the obvious and extreme cases.

As I said before, I will say again (and even bold-face it for emphasis, because I believe it is important):

Given that patriarchy and misogyny is in the air we breathe and the systems of power that dominate all of our lives, it is impossible to avoid their influence. So, rather than hanging out in the notion that “I’m not like that horrible, abusive guy,” I think it is more useful to inquire, “How might patriarchy or misogyny be showing up in my life, in my thoughts, or in my behavior in ways I might not be aware of?”

The truth is, as a cis woman, I have to ask myself this, also, although the internalized patriarchy and misogyny in question is sometimes self-directed (being perpetually “nice,” undermining myself, believing that my worth is wrapped up in my physical appearance or sex-appeal, having trouble speaking with confidence, making myself smaller, participating in keeping men happy, believing I have to say yes to ever advance or offer, subordinating myself to men unconsciously, and the list goes on and on) and sometimes the internalized patriarchy and misogyny are directed towards other women (for example, judging them according to whether or not they are complying with the list of patriarchal standards I have internalized).

The work to overcome the influence of patriarchy and misogyny is for all of us to do. It works so much better when we acknowledge that it is in us and not just in that asshole over there.

 

I Am Very Lucky. I Have Never Been Raped.

Check out the Washington Post Article: This Is Rape Culture.

I am very lucky. I have never been raped.

The first time I can remember being sexually assaulted, I was 13, a friendly kid who smiled a lot. Not yet sexual in any way. We were moving out of our apartment. One of the moving guys reached out and grabbed my breasts. I was shocked and horrified and scared. I ran into the apartment, curled up in my now-empty bedroom closet and cried and cried and cried. I didn’t tell anyone. I barely understood what had happened to me, but I knew it was wrong and awful and I would be blamed for it. Even then, I knew that I would be blamed. Many years later, my godfather (who did not know about the assault) would recall that day to me as the day I was flirting with the moving guy.

I am very lucky. I have never been raped.

When I was fifteen, I had an internship at a wood-carver’s shop. One of the guys I apprenticed for was in a wheelchair. He was probably in his mid-30s. He and I were close. He had a great sense of humor and taught me how to carve faces into sticks of wood. His hands were strong as rocks. He took me out for lunch one day and groped me in the front seat of his van. I was terrified. I didn’t know what to do. I had to get safely home. I had to keep my apprenticeship. I had to get out of there. I had to keep from embarrassing him. I felt bad for him. I knew his life was hard. I felt, somehow, like I should have been willing, but I wasn’t. I was scared and fifteen and he was an adult I respected and felt close to. I felt like I had to protect him as much as I had to protect me. I didn’t know how to handle the situation. I never said no with my words. It seemed safer not to. I was wearing a burgundy cap. I ducked my chin down and away, so that the hat would block his view of my face. My body was twisting and turning and cringing away as he put his rock-strong hands all over me. I kept thinking, “How can he keep touching me when every part of my body is screaming ‘No’ except my mouth?” I didn’t tell anybody, but I did stop working at the shop after that.

I am very lucky. I have never been raped.

Shortly after my sixteenth birthday (I imagine this was intentional – if I consented, it would no longer be considered statutory rape), the 50 year old step-dad of one of my closest friends called me up and asked if he could come over and take me on a drive. I was afraid that he was going to tell me that his step-son, my dear friend, was dead. That was the only reason I could imagine him calling me like that. He and I had a very positive relationship at that point. He was someone that I trusted. I got in his car. He confessed that he was in love with me, that he and my friend’s mom were having a hard time in their marriage, that he was terribly lonely, that I was so mature, that I was so special, that I was so beautiful, that he knew I was lonely, too, that he knew I must love him because of the warm way I always interacted with him. I was not willing to have an affair with him, because that was totally wrong. I didn’t want to break trust with my friend’s mom and with my friend, but I worried about this man. I cared about him and he seemed to be so depressed. He seemed to be having a hard time in his life. He seemed to be. I tried to be a good friend to him, to get him out of his depression. He pursued me aggressively, lied to me, manipulated me, and at various points, kissed, touched, and caressed me, when I didn’t want to be having any physically intimate relationship with him. I think he was sort of into consent. In that fuzzy way that men in rape culture can sometimes be. He would try to convince me that sex with him was a good idea and he would lie and manipulate me in order to try to convince me. I was never willing to have sex with him, but I endured a variety of physical and sexual contacts that I did not want while I tried to navigate my way through the situation. I felt so responsible for everything. I knew if my friend found out, he would hate me forever. I knew his mom would feel heartbroken and betrayed by me. I felt like the things that had already happened were all my fault. Yet, I also felt like if I hurt this man’s feelings by saying no, I would be the one doing grievous harm to him.

I am very lucky. I have never been raped.

When I was 18 and new at college, I went on a first date with an upper classman I didn’t really know. We were supposed to go out to dinner and then go to a movie. He was running later and later. Eventually, he suggested that he pick me up and that we go over to his place and he would make me dinner and we could watch a movie on his TV. Reluctantly, I agreed, thinking I should meet this person in public for a first date, since I didn’t really know him at all. But, I went to his place for dinner, anyway. I had been flattered that he asked me on a date. I didn’t get a lot of date requests back then. He poured me a glass of wine. I wasn’t really a drinker, at that point. He tried to get me to drink more and more wine. We cuddled on the couch after the meal and he put on a pornographic video as the “movie.” I felt very uncomfortable. He grabbed my wrists and held me down underneath his body. He was incredibly strong. I can still feel the strength of his grip on my wrists as he pressed his body into me and forced contact with me that I was desperate to get away from. I panicked. I knew he was going to try to rape me. “How could I have been so stupid?’ I asked myself, “How could I have gotten myself into this position?” My mind raced, trying to figure out how to get out of the situation. Somehow, I managed to convince him that if I didn’t use the bathroom, I was going to have diarrhea all over his couch. I escaped to the bathroom and locked the door and sat on the floor and tried to figure out what I could say or do to get him to take me home. I didn’t know where I was. I was new to the area. It’s not the kind of town where you can just expect a cab to come by. Cell phones weren’t a thing, yet. I couldn’t call for help. It didn’t occur to me to just run out of the building and trust that strangers would help me find my way. Or believe me. It never occurred to me to just run. I thought I had to convince him to take me back home. Somehow, I did. Can’t remember how. Probably pleaded sickness or stomach flu. During the drive home, he talked to me about how he was a nice guy, how the world has it out for nice guys, how nice guys (like him) never win. Girls are just awful to nice guys. He dropped me off at my gate. I entered, closed the gate and ran and ran and ran. I called up my best friend and she answered, though it was the middle of the night in her time zone, and she supported me as I cried and cried and cried and cried and cried.

I am very lucky. I have never been raped.

This is not, by any means, an exhaustive list. These are just the episodes that stand out. The commonplace episodes – receiving aggressive come-ons from strangers on the street, having my ass grabbed by men at a club or in a crowd, having men I barely know or don’t know at all hug me and force kisses on me, having my sexual boundaries pushed, being in sexual situations with people I feel ambivalent about sexually but to whom I deduce it would be safer to say yes than to say no – are all part of the ordinary regular experience of being a woman in the United States.

As I review these experiences, working hard to remember what each one felt like, it is the theme of self-blame that catches my attention. In each case, I had a sense that I was to blame for the situation that I was in. That I shouldn’t have smiled or been friendly or warm or kind or caring or that I shouldn’t have been unwise enough to be alone with a man I didn’t know well or a man I knew very well. That if I were honest with people about what had happened, there would be no support for me. I would be in the wrong or no one would believe me.

Where did I get these ideas? I’m sure I did not make them up all by myself. By the time I was 13, I had already internalized this aspect of rape culture.

Now I know that it was not my fault. That none of it was my fault. That I don’t have to protect the reputation or the tender feelings of someone who would assault me. Now, I use the word “No,” more liberally and have more power to enforce my own sexual boundaries. Now, the worst violations are off in the distant past and my sexual life is characterized by enthusiastic consent with respectful and skillful partners. Hallelujah!

Yet, in the moment something untoward is happening, I still have to calculate the safest response. The safest response I can come up with often involves not shaming someone who is capable of assault or of a boundary-crossing violation by bringing to their attention the fact that they have done something wrong. “No,” or “Get your hands off of me,” are often enough to trigger an aggressive shame response. Men who are feeling shame can be dangerous. #NotAllMen, obviously. But, #YesAllWomen have experienced this danger. I wouldn’t play Russian roulette with it. I have endured and watched women endure sexually aggressive or sexually entitled words and behaviors from men without saying “No,” not because there was anything whatsoever wrong with the woman in question or her powers of assertiveness, but because to say “No” was not the safest way to get out of the situation. “No” is, unfortunately, not a magic wand that makes the danger go away. There is no magic wand that makes the danger go away.

No magic wand. No nail polish. No skirt length. No protocol.

Rape culture has to be dismantled, brick by brick by brick. Mostly by men. In locker rooms. In frat houses. At military bases. In cars and basements and bars. In the writing rooms for TV shows. In boardrooms. In the offices of politicians. In places where men spend time talking to other men about women as objects when women are not around. Mysogynistic code switching (here’s how I talk about the woman when the woman isn’t around versus here’s how I talk about the woman when the woman is around) is a problem.

While not assaulting women (or anyone, for that matter) is a really good start, it is not enough. The behaviors and norms that lead to assaultive behavior are legion. Those have to be acknowledged and checked and questioned and changed. Everywhere.

Because women are assaulted everywhere, men need to stop assaultive behavior everywhere.

A prominent man who was recently revealed as a sexual abuser said, during his abusive faux-apology: “Let’s be honest. We’re living in the real world. This is nothing more than a distraction from the important issues we’re facing today.”

I am living in the real world. My real world involves repeated sexual assault and sexual boundary crossing. Half the population has stories like mine. Many, perhaps most, of those people have stories far worse than mine. This is an important issue that we face every day. On days when we are not being assaulted, we are often giving significant thought to how to not be assaulted. It becomes second nature.

If men gave as much thought to the problem of how to prevent men from assaulting women as women give thought to the problem of how to prevent men from assaulting us, there would be no problem.

I am quite clear that I am very lucky. I have offered you my very mild case of being female in America.

Kelly Oxford asked women to share the first time they have been sexually assaulted. I started reading some of the stories that women have shared using the hashtag #notokay. It is an on-going horror story. “Not okay” doesn’t even begin to cover it. The ongoing systematic abuse of half the population is phenomenally #notokay.

If you don’t believe in rape culture, check out that hashtag. Read the stories that go on for days. More than a million of them and counting. Then wonder about the next woman you see and the repository of stories that she carries inside of her. Repeat with the next woman and the next woman and the next woman.

Consider: What’s your brick to dismantle?

Jiggle it every day.

Chip at it and keep on chipping.

Start now, please.

When You Can’t Call The Police Because They Might Kill Somebody

Here is a link to a resource for: What to Do Instead of Calling The Police, compiled by Aaron Jones

*

The police exist to protect white people and respond to white fear. That is their core function. That is what white supremacy means in practical terms. So until white people say “We don’t need you, we don’t want you killing for us anymore, we are going to stop paying you to kill for us, you’re fired.” Then the killing will likely continue and escalate.

–Taj James

*

I sat by my window and I watched. Across the street, a party had turned ugly. The windows had no blinds. It was nighttime and all of the lights were on. I could see into the kitchen. There were too many people in that too small space and each one seemed belligerent and trying to hurt somebody or trying to keep somebody belligerent from hurting somebody. Everyone was shouting. Loud enough to raise the dead.

Their kids had been playing in the street. Before the shouting started. Little black kids running around, racing on their scooters like I used to be.

The fighting was getting intensely physical. People were clearly real, real intoxicated. They knocked the refrigerator down and kept on going.

My heart raced. What should I do?

I knew I wasn’t going to call the police; that’s for damn sure. I knew that these people had a better chance of surviving their own drunk or drugged violent impulses than they did of surviving the police’s sober violent impulses.

I didn’t notice any kids in the rooms with the violent adults. Some were crying outside. Some were in cars waiting for their parents to take them home.

Everyone in the block could hear the shouting. The fighting was loud and public and chaotic.

I was so afraid for them. I was mostly afraid that some neighbor would call the cops. It’s the kind of situation that would inspire that kind of response. I wanted to go over there and try to deescalate it, but I didn’t know how and I was afraid. And if all of those people who were already trying to get the fighting parties to calm down weren’t helping at all, what on earth could I do, but add stress to the situation? I could go over there and warn them that someone might call the police on them and that I didn’t want them to be subject to that, because I wanted them to survive this night, but I knew that no one would hear me. No one could hear anybody over there. The cacophony of angry human voices was incredible. It seemed to go on forever.

I thought to myself, I wish I knew who to call. I wish there were someone safe to call. Someone who could help support them in this moment, make sure the kids were okay, help deescalate the situation and make sure nobody got hurt – or, well, more hurt than they already were, treating everyone with respect the whole time. Mobile mediators for angry intoxicated people. I imagine that even now, most people in the United States think of the police that way. Most white people, that is, of a certain class level.

But there have been too many people who were killed by the police for calling for help. Too many people who were victims of crime being killed because the police thought they were suspects of crime. Too many people who called for the police’s help with a mentally ill, disabled, or distressed family member – someone they loved – only to have the police kill them.

That’ll solve the problem, won’t it? When in doubt, just kill the black person.

Too many, too many, too many. Their stories ran in front of my eyes. Their images. Their names.

I seemed to recall that there had been a workshop that went by too fast for me to catch on that very topic: “What to do instead of calling the police.” I wanted that knowledge so badly just then, transfixed as I was by the human drama playing out in the street below my windowpane.

The only thing I knew clearly was that if anybody called the police, everybody would be in more danger. Everybody on the street and spilling out of the house was black. I thought to myself: “Any of them could be killed by the police tonight.”

I do not pray, but I hoped desperately that they would find a way to calm themselves down before someone called the cops.

After a very, very, very long time, they did.

I was proud of my little neighborhood for having enough care for their lives to let them hurt each other rather than calling the police and putting them in greater danger of death.

For the love of black people, please don’t call the police on black people. Please do anything you can to avoid it. The police cannot be trusted to serve or protect us. They put us in greater danger.

If you are white, please help other white people understand this.

This link contains a list of resources regarding how to understand the function of the police and what to do instead of calling the police. It is provisional and incomplete and growing. If you have additional resources, please post them in the comments and send them to Aaron Jones, the curator of this resource, at the address he provides. If there’s a better resource for this, let me know and I will update this post accordingly.

Many thanks.

*

#AlfredOlango  #TawonBoyd #Terence Crutcher #Gregory Frazier

 

I Paused To Watch Terence Crutcher Die

I was going to do work when I got home tonight. I was going to eat dinner and do some work. I was going to reduce my stress by dealing with my neglected to-do list and tidy up my bedroom. After salmon and salad greens and maybe some quinoa. But, I paused to watch Terence Crutcher die.

I paused to watch him walking with his hands up in the air. I paused to watch him be tazered and fall to the ground. I paused to witness him be shot on the ground, after being tazered, after having his hands up, after being no threat to anyone at all, after his vehicle stalled in the road.

After he needed help because his vehicle had stalled in the road.

A crowd of cops standing around with their guns out like their pants down. A crowd of cops, guns drawn, backing away from what they did. Their murderous fear.

The dash-cam video. Then the helicopter view.

The amused commentary of the helicopter pilots. The grave commentary of the lawyers representing the family. The measured commentary of the family, mastering their grief to call for peace.

I have no commentary. I have not had dinner. I have not done work. I have stalled on the road.

My eyes are fixed. My heart rate is high. My breathing is shallow. My belly is tight. I have been stuck to my seat. I have been arrested in my movement.

Another snuff film, courtesy of the Tulsa Police Department.

This is what lynching looks like in 2016.

This is the sort of thing that gives me pause.

I Advocate for Hope, Because Hopelessness Does the Oppressors’ Work For Them

A few days ago, I came back from a meditation retreat for People of Color. Today, with all that has happened, I am feeling so much gratitude for the socially engaged Buddhist community at the East Bay Meditation Center and for my meditation practices and the ways that these practices help deepen some sense of groundedness and some sense of spaciousness where these horrific things can happen and can land in a more balanced place in me, somehow.

Today, I have witnessed horrible things that I cannot now unsee. The killing of Alton Sterling. The aftermath of the killing of Philando Castile. And, while there is more equanimity present for it all to land in, I have also been feeling sorrow, I’ve been feeling grief, and I’ve been feeling the physical impact of what I have been exposed to. I have felt the clamping down of my body, the hollow in my chest, the tightening in my belly, the stiffening of my jaw and the tug in the direction of despair and the tug in the direction of hopelessness.

But, there’s some way that it feels more possible, having spent four days meditating really solidly, to turn my intention towards hope and towards faith and towards optimism in this horrific situation when the circumstances are not inspiring hope or faith or optimism. It feels really important to practice the discipline of hope and to find the ways to cultivate and nurture it, even if that is not what the circumstances are inspiring, because the cost of hopelessness on one’s personal being and on our community and our energy and on our effort and on our dedication to the work of making change is too great.

I believe that hopelessness is internalized oppression. It does the oppressors’ work for them. It exhausts, it demoralizes, it overwhelms, it paralyzes. It dissipates energy. It leads to despair. It also leads to depression, to stress-related illnesses, to addictive behaviors, and to suicidal ideation. Hopelessness is one of the precursors to suicide. Not everyone who feels hopeless will commit suicide; but everyone who commits suicide has lost hope. And if I know anything for sure, I know that if White Supremacy or Homophobia or Misogyny wants me dead, somebody’s going to have to do the work of killing me themselves. I am not going to do the oppressors’ work for them.

I will not shoot myself
In the head, and I will not shoot myself
In the back, and I will not hang myself
With a trashbag, and if I do,
I promise you, I will not do it
In a police car while handcuffed
Or in the jail cell of a town
I only know the name of
Because I have to drive through it
To get home.

–Jericho Brown, from “Bullet Points

Hopelessness also halts resistance. The powers that be would like for us to believe that there is no hope. That our actions do not matter. That change is impossible. When we believe that change is impossible, it is hard to throw our energy into the monumental work required to change systems of oppression, to educate, to donate, to demonstrate, to activate, to organize, to agitate, to protest, to heal, to inspire, to vision, to nourish, to care, to create, to shape sustainable systems, to change hearts and minds and laws and culture and values. When we are hopeless, it is hard to put one foot in front of another, let alone to launch a revolution.

I do not advocate for hope because I believe that our current situations inspire hope. I advocate for hope because our current situations require hope.

If we give in to hopelessness, we stop fighting and we damage ourselves, instead, and everyone with a secret wish for our annihilation gets their way.

If we give in to hopelessness, we will not do what hope would do to transform the world we live in.

Even if it will take hundreds or thousands of years, Hope says, “Keep going. Don’t stop. We’ll get there, in the end. No matter what it looks like right now, we’ll get there. Keep going. Don’t stop. What you’re doing to help is useful and important. Your small part in this colossal movement matters. Keep going. Don’t stop. Connect with some other people, because change requires us to work together. Keep going. Don’t stop. Do a little more, if you healthily can. Take care of yourself, take care of the world, take care of yourself, take care of the world, take care of yourself, take care of the world. Don’t stop. Keep going. You’re doing great. Thank you. I love you. Keep going.”

Thank you. I love you. Keep going.

2016-06-02 Oakland-2

Before This Week, I Have Never Felt Afraid for My Life as a Queer Person the Way I Have Routinely as a Woman and as a Black Person

I highly recommend Staceyann Chin’s powerful, poetic response to the Orlando Massacre.

Staceyann speaks from her perspective as a black, lesbian immigrant, about the experience of coming to this country to evade persecution as a lesbian twenty years ago and being lulled into the false sense of security that so many of us have that things are getting better for queer people – and about what happened when we wake up and see how unsafe we are – and what to do about it – to wave our rainbow flags – to love and celebrate and take action to make change, because, as she says:

“After 20 years of safety, my lesbian body is awake to the terror of what black body, my woman body, my immigrant body, has always known. These barbaric ideologies are only getting bolder and bolder by the proverbial hour, as a whole.

As a whole person I have never been more aware of how race and class and religion and sexuality and hate can converge into some bizarre concoction of violence and rage and prejudice and the vulnerable target of an unsuspecting crowd.

These young men in a dance club, in a dance club in Orlando, were simply looking for a space to love and live and be safe and be celebrated inside the borders of a country whose history whispers the tradition: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” ”

In that first sentence I quoted, she essentializes the truth that has so upended me for the past week. For 22 years, I have been aware of myself as a queer person and for 22 years, I have had the great good fortune and the extraordinary privilege to feel safe in my body as a queer person.

I spent most of those 22 years in the San Francisco Bay Area, so surrounded by queer community that I have had the privilege to feel safe walking down any street holding hands with my lovers, making out at intersections or across the table at restaurants or in airports or in front of kids or cops. As a queer woman, I have not felt afraid that to do so would garner anything more violent than a surprised or rude look or comment.

I have known discrimination as a queer person and I have feared discrimination as a queer person. I have experienced overt and covert homophobia. But, before this week, I have never felt afraid for my life as a queer person the way I have routinely as a woman and as a black person.

I am conscious of my blackness and of my femaleness as sites of past, future, and potential life-threatening violence almost daily.

What must it be like to go through life unlikely to be raped, shot by the cops, or massacred by racists or homophobes? What must it be like to walk down the street, entirely unconscious of your embodiment & what you are wearing & whose hand you are holding, because it is entirely unlikely to be a factor in your assault or your untimely death?

No wonder I and so many of the strong, brilliant, beautiful queer people I know and love have been losing our minds with grief and fear and anger over what has happened in Orlando. It didn’t just kill those 49 people and harm 53 others and those who knew and loved them. I hazard to say that it impacted almost every queer person in this country in a fundamental way. It obliterated our illusion of safety.

Taking away someone’s sense of safety impacts a person on a bodily level, as well as an emotional level. It impacts the physiology of the human being. It isn’t just a theoretical thing that happened; it isn’t just mental or emotional. How many of us are dealing with some kind of trauma based in the realization that our bodies are not safe and have never been safe and may never be safe again?

It is no wonder that queer people all over the country are losing our fucking shit over this. Something happened to each and every one of us, not just to the people who had the horrific misfortune to go dancing at Pulse on the night of the massacre.

I want to acknowledge that not all of us have felt safe. Many of us – maybe even the majority – have known very keenly that we might die for being queer or trans or gender nonconforming. Many of us have lived with that daily fear – the same daily consciousness that hatefulness might result in murder or assault – that I have known as a woman and as a black person. For the very many that have always known fear as queer or trans people, this event may have confirmed and validated the fear that has always been there.

But for many (especially those of us who are younger and cis – perhaps especially cis female – and living in liberal cities) it has been a horrible waking up out of an illusion of safety, a dream that things have been getting better and safer for queer people over the years. I want that to be true so badly that when the worst shooting on American soil in my lifetime targeted brown queer people, I almost lost my mind with the cognitive dissonance of it all.

I am in the center of a bullseye that too many different systemic forms of hatred are taking shots at.

A year ago, almost to the day, I was shaken and unsettled by a massacre that targeted black people. My embodied sense of vulnerability as a black person was renewed. Now it is my vulnerability as a queer person that is getting burned into my nervous system.

This is what intersectionality feels like in my black, queer, female body.

Today, in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, a white male stranger on the street hailed me and asked, “Do these pants make me look gay? She thinks these shorts make me look gay.” The “she” in question confirmed that she thinks he looks gay in those bicycle shorts and should get rid of them. I reeled. This is a question that a stranger might casually toss out to a person on the street? How socially sanctioned is casual, microaggressive homophobia in this town that you can enlist a stranger to participate in it, less than a week after a queer massacre? I felt sick to my stomach and my heart started pounding and my eyes lost their ability to focus as my fight flight reaction engaged. While I wished I had said, “Well, as a gay person…” and then launched into some succinct and powerful retort that helped wake them up to the impact of their casual homophobia, that is not what I did, because I am newly in fear for my life. Because I am more aware than I have ever been that homophobia is potentially life-threatening, my amygdala took over and I could barely think. I stammered something inarticulate and vaguely gay-friendly and I fled.

Tomorrow, I will figure out how to be brave. Today, I am still integrating the reality of just how unsafe I am.