Radical Faeries, Radical Male Feminism & Radical Love: An Interview with Poet Franklin Abbott

 

Franklin Abbott is a radical feary, profeminist activist and poet. He is also one of the most beloved members of the Atlanta LGBTQ Community. Franklin’s work spans several decades. As a pro-feminist he has published three anthologies on men and gender: “New Men,New Minds: Breaking Male Tradition”, “Boyhood: Growing up Male”, and “Men and Intimacy:Personal Accounts of the Dillemas of Modern Male Sexuality”.

He also published two books of poetry; Mortal Love & Pink Zinnia’s; and founded the Atlanta Queer Literary Festival.

Much lesser known about Franklin  is that he was in a relationship with  the late black gay poet Assotto Saint and had friendships and emotionally intimate connections to a generation of black gay activists and revolutionaries, including Essex Hemphill and Cary Alan Johnson.

In this interview I sat down with Franklin to talk about radical fearies, inter-racial relationships and what it was like being a pro-feminist before it was even mildy popular.  As expected, his answers reflected the magic and wonder that he is. Enjoy!

 

How do you define queer?

I think queer defies defination. I am as queer as I am exactly as I am.

Well alright!! So tell me,you have edited three anthologies on men and gender, during a time when being a male feminist was definitely not in vogue. What was your sedgeway into gender activism and feminism? How did you first get involved and why?

I had been exposed to women’s liberation in college at the same time I was learning about Black liberation.Viet Nam was going on as well and I was drawn to the anti-war movement. I was most profoundly affected by Black liberation because of the black students I met on campus. Women student friends were beginning to question the different rules for men and women. I was questioning my sexual orientation and as a consequence I came out at age 20 in Macon, Georgia on a small Southern Baptist campus. This was in 1970.

 

When I moved to Atlanta four years later and began to look for literature to help me understand gender I found women’s writings to be most helpful. I was particularly drawn to Adrienne Rich and Audre Lorde.


I attended lots of women’s music events, often as one of two or three men in the audience. This all influenced my work in gay liberation which put me at the birth of the radical faerie movement and ultimately drew me to the pro-feminist men’s movement. I edited the poetry pages of the radical faerie journal RFD and the profeminist journal M; gentle men for gender justice. Neither were widely circulated. My experience with the faeries propelled me into coalition with other gender activists.

(Pictured: Two of Franklin’s Anthologies)

What, from your perspective, is a radical faery? and how do you feel like your experiences within the radical faery community impacted your activism?

Radical faeries are a group of mostly queer identified men who began to gather in rural settings in the late 70’s and early 80’s. It is a group without structure or leadership where most members espouse a highly individualized spirituality that is often earth-centered.

Gender and its expression as male or female is often called into question both philisophically and through personal presentation. There are faerie groups and gatherings all over the US, Europe and Australia and most recently in Thailand.

I admire those who can work within or against the system but for me the art of being my fairy self is my radical contribution. I cannot imagine anything more seductive or delicious. ( For more on the Faeries, click here: )

 

Did you experience push back or “raised eye brows” from women feminists when you began your work with gender and feminism? Can you give an example or an experience?

In the late 70’s and early 80’s women had every reason to distrust anyone with a penis.The radical faeries and pro-feminist men failed to change that attitude.

The immense compassion, particularly of lesbians to gay men during the horrible early years of AIDS bridged the chasm. Even though I was sympathetic with lesbian separatists I was often treated differently in public than in private. Women who knew me and liked me sometimes were aloof if other women were around. It was a hard time for women to build bridges with men and not be seen by some as traitors.

 

What do you feel like your time working on gender and race privilege has taught you about white people and whiteness?

Most white people are still scared of anyone who isn’t white. That is why social integration is so important. Prejudice is always emotionally based.

Connecting with someone who isn’t like you disrupts the predisposition to marginalize/minimize qualities that are foreign to your experience. The fear that was put into me as a child can reassert itself in many situations. The relationships that I have with people who are not of my background (race, religion, class) ameliorate my reactions.

(Pictured: Assotto Saint)

 

You were in a romantic relationship with black/Hatian poet Assotto Saint and good friends with Essex Hemphill, what was it like for you as a white gay male rolling with that crew?

Well, Assotto was one of the most intense, complex people I ever knew. Our attraction was in some ways about how utterly different we were on all kinds of levels. What I most appreciate about him is our long talks on the phone as everyone around us was getting diagnosed and dying. Our sexual dialogue was like the language of twins that no one else can understand.

Essex {Hemphill} was reticent with white people. He was a brother to brother man on a mission. He embodied what Joe Beam and Marvin White described.

And then there was Daniel Garrett, Isaac Jackson, Craig Harris, Tre Johnson, Cary Alan Johnson, B. Michael Hunter…some were friends, some lovers, all collaborators, some still here, some long gone. There is a moment in the communion of souls where all differences vanish. And when a black hand holds a white hand in public history can change in an instant.


Were there ever times in which you experienced hostility from other gay folks for dating black men? How did you handle this?

I don’t think I ever lost a white friend over my intimate involvement with a man of color. I have always been good at picking my friends…

Dating anyone who is different from you in a major area be it race, age, class, HIV status, education, adds challenges to the already difficult proposition of two men being in an intimate relationship.

Had I known this when I was younger I would have tried to find a way to be more patient in my relationships with men who were different from me and more compassionate with myself for not being able to fix everything all at once.

I believe we are lucky if we find a few men in our lives who we can truly love and who can love us back. I feel that those who limit themselves have fewer possibilities and those who judge others do so out of fear of judgement.

At the same time it is naive to assume that two men from different racial backgrounds will not have work to do understanding themselves and each other in the context of a society that is still racist at heart.

 

As a survivor of the 1980’s, you lived through the passing of many friends. How do you think living through this period of dramatic loss of community and friends has impacted you and your peers emotionally and spiritually? What work have you done to help yourself heal and work through the pains of those losses?

I am an unwilling expert on post traumatic stress disorder.

{ Meaning} Most gay men of my generation are traumitized by what we saw happen as so many of our brothers suffered and died. Most of us lost more than friends or lovers but a sense of safety in life and abandon in love.

The experience is different for men who came out after there were effective treatments for HIV. The losses were far fewer and unfortunately many gay men have forgotten both about the importance of working for better treatment and support for those living with HIV and ignore the rules of safer sex.

I understand why many of my peers withdrew into conventional relationships or dived into the circuit party scene. I know I am a rare bird given the losses of my generation first to Viet Nam and then to HIV. I wish I weren’t so hurt but then who would I be if I shrugged it all off. If I had given up I would not be still writing, still organizing, still planting flowers, making love, cooking dinner. Grace is as simple as the next breath and as profound as the last breath.

 


How do you identify spiritually, if at all? What is your spiritual practice and perspective?

Spirituality for me is what connects my one with all. I have tried lots of spiritual practices, lofty and esoteric. In college I was influenced by radical progressive Christians who loved me but had a very hard time with my being openly gay (in their defense it was just after Stonewall).

I lived in a zen house for awhile and learned to meditate but found the austere life was not for me. I went on a witches’ tour of Ireland with Starhawk and ReClaiming and learned rituals in old sacred spots but found it difficult to ritualize my life with the cycles of the moon or the meaning of colors or gemstones. So I returned to my ordinary everyday life experience and when I looked again there was nothing missing but me being present.

What nourishes and enlivens you in your life? What brings you joy?

faerie circles, full moons, moonflowers, the Taj Mahal, Newgrange, cornbread, field peas, a lover’s caresses, the song of the soul, Sacre Coeur, poetry, wet sand under bare feet, Moss Temple, Big Sur, the sweet of melons, ripe tomatoes, fried potatoes, okra fritters, pound cake, and Angel Falls.

How do you want to be remembered?

As someone who planted flowers and sang to the moon, loved too fast and loved too soon who couldn’t care more and couldn’t care less, a delightful mess 😉 yes? yes!

———–

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“Queer At MoreHouse College with Comic Books & Feminism”: Yolo Interview’s Activist & Filmmaker Daniel Edwards

 

This past year in Atlanta I had the privilege of meeting upcoming Film-maker, Queer Feminist Activist  and former Co-President of Morehouse College’s Safe Space, Daniel Edwards.  Daniel and I met at “Pride Week” at Spelman College, where he spoke on a panel that addressed homophobia in the Atlanta University Center. Daniel’s energy immediately intrigued me, and after exchanging emails he introduced me to his amazing short film work, which I found equally as fascinating.

Most captivating to me was his interview of Melvin Mohammed, a man who has bought a house, several cars and has made a living for over a decade by selling bags of fruit for $2.00 on a corner in the West End Atlanta neighborhood.

When I lived in Atlanta, I actually bought fruit from him several times! This interview put me in the mind of Zora Neale Hurston, who once sold hotdogs at a park just to record accurately “the way in which the black people spoke.” It carried the same spirit of reverence and celebration of blackness. Not coincidentally, Daniel and Zora are share the same zodiac sign of Capricorn.

One-Man Market from Daniel Edwards on Vimeo.

Equally intriguing, was his  short film “By Any other Name” a documentary that is a portrait of  Cindy Lutenbacher, Ph.D., a white English professor at Morehouse College and her mixed race adopted family.

By Any Other Name – Part 1 from Daniel Edwards on Vimeo.

Interview:

Yolo: How do you define queer? And why do you/ or do you choose to identify as queer rather than or/in conjunction with identifying as gay? Or do you choose to identify with any of them at all?

Daniel:

I define queer as anything that is not easily readable. Anything that keeps you guessing because it’s constantly evolving.  Queer for me ranges from personality to sexuality.  I often use queer and gay interchangeably.

I know gay, queer, etc. are White-constructed socio-political terms that did not include people of color.  However, that’s what I came to know first and how I came into my own.  The rainbows, the “Out and Proud” consciousness may have came from people that do not look like me, but I am affirmed.  It’s an affirmation that I’ve had to create in my own Black community because we don’t readily give it to each other.


Yolo: Whats Your favorite comic book superhero/heroine? And what do you think is your psychological connection to them? How do you see yourself reflected in their character etc?


Daniel:This isn’t a fair question!! lol.

My favorite hero is Ultimate Spiderman and my heroine is Storm.

In the “Ultimate” storyline, Spiderman was drawn up as a small, skinny, 15 year old that lived with a single parent who had a side hustle to help support his home.  If that isn’t a Black Classic, I don’t know what is lol.  Storm, simply, is a powerful Queen.  Just like all the important women in my life.


Yolo: Recently Marvel Comics has got alot of attention from it’s choice to make Spiderman Blatino ( Black & Latino) As an avid comic book fan, what do you think of this choice?

Daniel: I’ve always been able to relate to the themes in the Spider-man storyline even though it was a white face being used to tell the story.  I’m glad the writers decided to try something different.  They definitely went for it when they decided to make him a minority lol.  I’m interested to see how they develop the themes of Spider-man with a younger character and the different realities of all the minority statuses they applied to him.  If it’s anything like Spider-man: India, it’ll be great

 

Yolo: Have you experienced a lot of diversity in regards to race and sexuality in the comics you read? What titles would you recommend?

The only title I have read that has a minority as the lead is Black Panther and Batwoman is a leading character that is lesbian, other than that there is a scattered presence across Marvel and DC Comics.  I don’t believe the characters get as much shine as they deserve.

For anyone that’s interested: Black Panther, Falcon, War Machine, Batwoman, and Young X-Men are  great characters.

 

Yolo: How you think being raised by three women has impacted your relationship to the world and to feminism?

Daniel: The women that raised me did not gender my teaching.I was first and foremost taught to be an adult I never heard “a man is supposed to do…”

I remember my grandma telling me ” I don’t want you leaving this house having to depend on no woman to do anything for you.”  So, I learned everything from sewing to changing the oil in a pick-up truck.  I am an active listener because of my three parents.

They taught me that no one is above or below me, just at different places in their journey.

As for feminism, I guess I fit the mold of how a male feminist would act so that is a label that I happened to acquire along the way.  I’m really just being me and respectingall those I come in contact with.


Yolo: As the President Of Morehouse’s Safe Space  have you ever encountered prejudice from black heterosexual women in the AUC? Are there any ways in which you have experienced Heterosexual Black Women in the AUC attacking/putting down or ridiculing black queer/gay men on the campus?

I’ve encountered more false pre-conceived notions about gay men more than anything.  A lot of women like to talk about how I don’t fit a stereotype. 

I did have one girl ask me to be her “gay best friend” and I told her no, that I would just be her friend lol. Some passion arises when there is mention of more feminine-acting gay men.  Most Black women want to know where that persona comes from because if it is supposed to be a reflection of what women are/act then it’s offensive..

 

Yolo: What is your spiritual vehicle or do you have one? How do you identify or do not identify spiritually? And if you do have a spiritual perspective, how do you see your spirituality operating in the context of your film work/activism etc?

Daniel: I was raised in the Christian church.  It’s where I got a lot of my values regarding how to treat people and how to be a good person for God.  That was when I was religious lol.  Now I think I’m a step further by claiming my spirituality and personal connection to God.  A relationship that’s not based on any stipulations of my creation.  My spirituality is present in my activism because I am Actively renewing my mind everyday, educating, and livng fearlessly to the best of my abilities.  With my filming, it’s all about moving those in the margins to the center of the page (or the frame in this case lol), in order to highlight the divine creation of as many as possible. Altruism is my spiritual base.

 

Yolo: What do you feel like is your purpose artistically and creatively for your time here on earth? Why do you think you came to earth as opposed to somewhere else?

Daniel: My purpose…..I think my purpose in life is to help those around me in anyway I can.  Artistically, it’s to create life-changing, life-highligting, enlightening stories.  I believe in a higher self, a self that is connected to my past, present, and future.  A self that is connected to a higher power, a common thread between all life.

My freshman year, my brother Matthew and I had a conversation about not being meant for this Earth.  He called me an Old Soul and an Angel on Earth. That was a lot to take in then and it’s still a lot now lol, but I am here and I am going to do/be the best I can be.

———

Daniel is the current CEO of D.D.E Productions and can be contacted at edd_kmt_1789@msn.com

 

 

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The Brilliance Of Baldwin: Some of my Favorite Quotes. Add Your Own!

 

Happy Birthday James Baldwin!  

In celebration of one of my Favorite Leo’s, I thought I’d take the time to post some of my favorite quotes from this brilliant spirit.

Check them out, and please post your own favorites in the comments section!

Happy Birthday James!

 

Quotes:

“Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live  within.”

“I am what time, circumstance, history, have made of me, certainly, but I am also, much more than that. So are we all.” 

“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with their pain. “

“People who treat other people as less than human must not be surprised when the bread they have cast on the waters comes floating back to them, poisoned.”

“Everybody’s journey is individual. If you fall in love with a boy, you fall in love with a boy. The fact that many Americans consider it a disease says more about them than it does about homosexuality. “

” There are so many ways of being despicable it quite makes one’s head spin. But the way to be really despicable is to be contemptuous of other people’s pain.”

 

“Every legend, moreover, contains its residuum of truth, and the root function of language is to control the universe by describing it.”

 

“Anyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor.” 

 

“It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.”

 

“It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.” 


 

“People pay for what they do, and still more for what they have allowed themselves to become. And they pay for it very simply; by the lives they lead. “

 

“You know, it’s not the world that was my oppressor, because what the world does to you, if the world does it to you long enough and effectively enough, you begin to do to yourself.”


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“A Queer Chicana Femme Kind of Revolution”: Yolo Interviews S.O.N.G Co-Executive Director Paulina Hernandez

As the conservative gay agenda becomes more and more visible to the american ideological imagination, many of us whose politics focus on systemic transformation instead of inclusion and assimilation must work to ensure that we are not erased.

In the spirit of supporting this work of visibility, I took the time out to interview my colleague Paulina Hernandez, a long time farmworker rights, LGBTQ, immigration activist and fab femme. As expected, Paulina had alot of brilliant insight to share about our collective movements for justice, spirituality and more. Enjoy!

Yolo: What do you mean when you say you identify as Queer? How do you define queer? And why is that different, for you, then identifying as lesbian?

Paulina: I identify as a  two-spirit and a queer chicana femme.
I identify as queer femme & as two-spirit rather than as a lesbian because I think often ‘lesbianism’ assumes that there are two genders to be attracted to: female or male… and i believe gender often manifests itself in a spectrum and variety of ways that go beyond male and female.

{ To me} Queerness is NOT a new or an western thing: many of us come from communities where gender & sexuality was acknowledged to be more expansive than male / female & gay / straight, and if anything, it’s been western colonization that has institutionalized homophobia, transphobia and sexism into our belief systems.

Yolo : How do you experience, or do you experience the marginalization of queer Latino culture in the context of broader so called “mainstream” gay Latino culture? Do you experience intentional erasure from the mainstream Latino gay community based on your queer politics? Please feel free to cite specific examples

Paulina: (Laughs) Well, this is a great question! …Yes and no (laughs).

I often find that along with the migration story many  of us share, many  Chicano / Latino kin who were born on US occupied territory (the American southwest, Texas, California) and other latino-heavy places are struggling with the same fears as other ethinic and immigrant communities face in the south: { which is}

“How do you hold on to a sense of tradition and culture that creates unity and not an erasure of our complicated identities, struggles, diversities and diverging points of view and values? …”


{ You see } I came out of farm worker organizing and immigrant rights organizing in the South, and my being queer wasn’t always central to the struggle for survival in my mainly mexicano / latino community in NC, and I have to say a lot of that was also because I have passing privilege (as do many other queer femmes & other more feminine identified women) so it was easy to assume I was / could be straight… and it wasn’t until it became CENTRAL to my political organizing that I saw the push-back from folks that I’d organized with, and had been in community for years.  Then again, not because of what I look like but because of the refusal to not speak to homophobia, transphobia, the narrow roles sexism and misogyny places upon us, and of course Machismo.

Within the larger latino gay / lesbian / bisexual communities have to say that the divides are often generational & political in my experience: in the SE we haven’t always experienced an abundance of community and so we hang on to our trusted relationships for dear life.

I experience that often times our (latino gay/les/bi/trans/queer) people have been exposed to the Mainstream Equality Agenda that they KNOW isn’t often inclusive of people of color, let alone immigrant folks, and told that’s what G.A.Y. in America is… and it’s the breaking out of that and towards something more organically ours that we ALL struggle with… because I don’t think equality is enough, nor is assimilation…nothing will buffer us from oppression except liberation: and THAT is often where I break from other Latino gays I know lol.

Yolo: As a Latina queer serving as the co-director of a southern based organization, ( S.O.N.G) what tensions have you observed and or experienced between people of color communities and how has that impacted your organizing? For example, I know that all too often in the south in particular, people of color becomes a code word for “black”. I am also aware of the tension between working class African Americans, Latinos and API folks in the south. How have you worked on these issues?

Paulina: I have, and I’ve experience those tensions all too well (Laughs).

I’d say that like most other communities experiencing oppression and repression …within our own ethnic communities we come out swinging into other communities we are also part of, and so as part of the lgbtq community you can see that trauma, sense of scarcity, depression, loneliness playing out: in our organizations, our homes, our bedrooms.

I don’t think movement work is about ignoring that or brushing past it, but to see what we make of that, and how we see our own trauma and healing from that trauma as key to the survival of our people.

I think I often recognize the tension  as being about scarcity: the sense that there isn’t enough.  Not enough people who will love us, not enough community, funding,  not enough resources and visibility, and we HAVE to get over that to build together, we just have to. I don’t think many of these tensions are necessarily out of our own creation, rather are part of our ethnic communities and permeate the rest of our lives… and that’s ultimately the role of white supremacy & capitalism: to pit us against each other for SCRAPS.

Literally: scraps.  How we work past that, and build People of Color unity to me is also about survival, and learning to speak to each other in non-coded ways that don’t always center whiteness and / or speak to Whiteness as a way to relate to each other… not that we all don’t bond about racism, etc., because we do lol but that we have to find more organic ways of building relationships that aren’t just always about shared trama: but a shared longing to be in communities where we are treasured, valued and loved.

Yolo: The recent legislative moves on Immigration in Georgia specifically have been very frightening. What strategies is S.O.N.G seeking to employ to help address this recent conservative push?

Paulina: Oh god it is scary isn’t it?!

The new right wing scares the shit out of me (Laughs) they’re myopic and vicious!  The strategies we’ve been building a lot around are the LGBTQ Coaliton to help strengthen our capacity and coordination to create a LGBTQ left response to HB-87 and calling it for what it is: another legislation to police identity, racist, and meant to fragment communities and drive many of our people further underground.  If they could legislate us into non-existance they would do that: and this is the perfect stepping stone in GA.

 

The main strategies inside of that work as well is the National Call for the Boycott of GA (which you can check out more info on www.somosgeorgia.org campaign website of WE ARE GEORGIA, which SONG is a part of) for convention / entertainment / sports / vacation travel.

We see this as key to divesting from GA’s economy which is heavily built on Conventions and Sporting events, to acknowledge that if people of color and brown folks (who’ll be heavily targeted with this) aren’t safe in GA, why should OTHER folks of color and allies spend their money here?  It’s a lead we took from AZ whose lost MILLIONS of dollars due to the economic boycott post the passage of SB-1070

The other strategies is what we are calling the GA Buy Spots (for busineses) and Sanctuary Zones (for places of worship & organizations / centers / etc.) who identify themselves as Immigrant Friendly places and places of non-compliance with HB-87 (you can also see listings of those on the www.somosgeorgia.org website) that pledge to not allow law enforcement (police / ice) into their places of worship or business for the SOLE purpose of checking someone’s status,

pledge to NOT contribute financially to this right wing crackrocks that are pushing this type of racist legislation on our communities, and to display signs of solidarity with our communities.  We see this as key to the fact that we don’t believe anyone can afford to be neutral around this issue: and will not support businesses that don’t support our communities in creating safety, and seeing their role as privately owned spaces who are part of a public resistance.

We have lots of plans about continuing to fight against all kinds of Identity Policing, { that suggests it is acceptable} to police anyone because of the color of their skins, their gender / sexuality, and presumptions of class / language / etc…

Yolo: What is your spiritual vehicle/ and or how do you or do you see yourself as a spiritual person? How do you understand/enact and or embody your spirituality/religiosity in the context of your activism, if at all?

Paulina: I see myself as an indigenous spiritual person: I try to reflect about what my role is on this earth, what has been given to me, how I can honor my ancestors by being a warrior for my people, and with my people.

I ground myself in ceremony as my main practice of spirituality, and see movement work as one of the most central healing forces in my life.

Being part of the First Nations / Two Spirit collective & one of S.O.N.G.S sister organizations Kindred (the Southern Healing Justice Collective) has challenged me to blend my political work with my spiritual life, and I still have much to learn.

Right now, my main spiritual practice revolves around my altar and the ocean: those are two places I feel deeply drawn to and the most spiritually open.  I believe in the idea of sacred time & sacred space: and that I need those two to have be my best, operate with the most openness and honesty, and generosity.

I believe that where my spiritual practice blends / manifests in my political work is in the belief that politicizing moments where you realize what your calling on this earth: that it is sacred, and that there are consequences for not responding to that call.  That our work as movement people is to NOT fuck that up, and support other people in seeing their role in the survival of our people: that’s ultimately what it’s about for me.  The belief that my ancestors & the creator put me on this earth for a reason, and that our ancestors crossed paths so that you and I could meet: and our we cannot lay down till we are ALL free.

Yolo: How do you want to be remembered?

Paulina: How do I want to be remembered?  I want to be remembered as funny!!

(Because I try! I swear (Laughs)  I think am HILARIOUS, my 3 brothers have a hella sick sense of humor, and if anything: we ALL think we’re funny as shit (laughs).

{I also want to be remembered} As trying to redeem myself for my mistakes whenever possible, as someone who places people above profit and ego (which I think we ALL struggle with) as someone whose life couldn’t be possible without all the fierce queens, jot@s, femmes & elders in my life…

If my life means anything at all: it is because it was gifted to me.  SONG elders have taught me ALL I know about scandalous behavior as a tool to sexual liberation, and how individual safety will not save you: we are better together.  Oh, yeah lol and that gay/homo/queer sex is the truth & the light! 🙂

Paulina Hernandez can be reached at Paulina@Southernersonnewground.com

You can learn more about her work at www.Southernersonnewground.com and Kindredhealingjustice.com

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Se-lah: Ode To E.Lynn Harris


This post was originally published July 23rd, 2009

Today I learned of E. Lynn Harris’ untimely passing. In his death, I am left to mourn him in much the same fashion as I celebrated him in his life; as an enigma to me; one who created works that in so many ways, broadened and brought black gay life to mainstream black America and yet at the same time as one who painted a picture I could never find myself to fit in completely…. a picture marked by a class experience I had no cognizance of and a measure of hetero-normativity I did not desire to harbor.

I remember him as one whose works contributed so much to fostering dialogue about the woundedness of being male, black and gay in America and also remember him as one whose work helped to further conjure and consolidate so much of the gendered muscle queen chaos of black gay culture.

I do not, nor will I pretend to, remember him or his contributions as perfect. I will remember him bright. young. Crafty. Intelligent. I will not eulogize him into a cast of iron that robs him of his uniqueness, his contradictions, his  work’s shortcomings, nor of his brilliance.

I will remember him as human.

I will remember when I came across his novel “Just As I Am”.

That book to me was the first affirmation of my existence. It was the first work I came across that described me, as a black gay man, as something more than an object to be studied; or as more than a black heterosexual woman’s buddy to be leaned on.

It was the first time I even considered the possibility that I could live a life loving a man…. or that a man might love me. It was the first time I was offered the opportunity that I could create beyond the confines of heterosexuality a space where I could breathe and be. It in many ways, helped me plant the seeds that would sow my sensual freedom. For this I am forever grateful to him.

Throughout the years I followed E. Lynn’s writings and had more than my share of challenges. My favorites were his early books, Just As I am, This Too Shall Pass, If this World Were Mine, etc.  His books shifted as did his style and in later years I was not a frequent follower or fan.

He & I met in many comings and goings, but he was not someone I knew well or was close to.

However, his contribution to the current state of black gay literature, in all it’s complications, is irrefutable. That he was a pioneer is undeniable. That he was not perfect, is evident. Coming from a space of critical queer voices, I know that all too often E. Lynn and his contemporaries  were ( and still are)  the subject of harsh ridicule for being imperfect or for their failure to produce “non-problematic” work or embody a specific politic.

Yet I do not believe sainthood,  however it may be constructed, makes one worthy of recognition.  I believe its our humanness that makes us wonderful, beautiful and yes, that sometimes makes us ugly… and I believe that all of it is worthy of celebration.  & so In memory of E. Lynn Harris  I will remember all I know of him and of his work and celebrate his life.

Thank you E. Lynn, for going to places many of us did not have the courage to go and for giving so many of us, the gift of ourselves in your reflection.

May you rest in peace, in love and in wonder, knowing that you will not be forgotten and that we are thankful for the fruit that bore from the tree of your brilliance.

In love always,

Yolo

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Breaking The Pattern of Emotional Economics; 3 Statements About Money Beneath The Surface

In this economic climate, everybody wants to know how to get more money. Self help books and money gurus  are popping up everywhere with promises that if you just follow a few easy steps, you too can  have all the abundance you could ever desire.  The gurus and books can  generally be split into two categories: The Prosperity Teachers & The Financial Disciplinarians.  The prosperity teachers suggest that your economic flow is connected to your spiritual energy. They say that what you have to do to acquire wealth is to give to the universal flow (or the church)  with the  understanding that this money will be returned to you by virtue of spiritual law. The financial disciplinarians are a bit more pragmatic. Their  vantage point is that you can have more money over time if you watch every coin, save all your pennies, and get rid of ( or over-use) your lines of credit.

There are extremely useful tools in both schools of thought. There are also some things that are harmful in both as well. One thing that both often fail to realize is that in addition to the spiritual and logistical nature of our relationships to money, each of us also has an emotional connection to money.

We each have a history of hurt feelings, wounds and trauma around money that inform how we relate to it, the choices we make, and the narratives we tell ourselves. A large part of this emotional relationship is created in our early stages of life  by our caregivers and those around us. We often  inherent the anxieties and narratives our primary caregivers have about money unconsciously. It comes from what we heard about money, what we were told when we asked about it, and what we saw people do for it and with it.

It is my belief that these feelings and patterns, unexamined in our  own income histories must be taken into account if we are to help ourselves and our communities heal economically, develop different ways of relating to and supporting each other economically or even just stay afloat in these hard times.  To illustrate this point, I am going to take three economic statements that many of us who grew up in working class households often hear as children. Using myself as an example, I am going to show how they can impact us emotionally and affect our relationship to money.

1. “Don’t Ask Me About No Damn Money!”: For me, whenever I asked about money, this was often the response. Many of us are familiar with this statement in some shape or form. Mind you, my family was dealing with a lot of stress around economic woes, but as a little person this taught me to shut up and never ask people things related to income. It taught me that if you did ask people about money it would make them angry. That shame carried unconsciously, showed up in my inability to ask questions about fiscal matters in my own life. Because of this belief I suffered in my relationships to banks and credit card companies. Why?  I was afraid to ask too many questions. Many of us have suffered due to the same thing from signing dangerous loans or applying for credit cards with astronomical interest rates. The fear and of asking questions either cause we feel we may “look dumb”  about money is something that has impacted a lot of African Americans.

2, “We Ain’t Got No Money”: Growing up almost everyone in my family said this. It was a casual statement spoken sharply and angrily. When it was said, you could feel the tinge of shame and hurt that we didn’t have money. Somehow in my mind it communicated that we weren’t worthy of money; or that we had done something wrong to not have any money. In addition, the fact was very rarely did we not have any money at all; we always had something. It may have been a very little, from a few hundred dollars till next month or even less than that, but we had something.

As an adult when I would say that I would feel remnants of that guilt and shame. These emotions would lead me to a “who cares” attitude with the little income I had which in turn led to very unwise decisions. I would be like; hell I ain’t got no money anyway, who cares?  I had to realize later in my life that even if I had two cents or two dollars, I had some money and that not acknowledging or being grateful for  what money I had wasn’t helping my attitude or my wallet. It was just beating myself up and making myself feel worse. Feeling worse helped nothing; it just built more shame and sadness and depression, preventing me from thinking critically and seeking support to aleviate the situation.

3. “There Is Never Enough”: I can remember specifically hearing adults say this all the time when I was growing up.  As an adult I always just believed this to be true.  Holding on to this concept, I just shrugged my shoulders at my bank account  and said “there’s just never enough”. This attitude prevented me from realizing that many times I had the privilege of having my needs met; but instead it was my wants that I flustered over. Perhaps I didn’t have enough to spend sixty dollars on drinks or thirty dollars on a taxis; but I always had the privilege of having enough money to eat and meet basic needs.

Yet thinking that there was just never enough prevented me from even looking that deep into myself.  I also had to wonder, is there really not enough money? Is that really just the way money is?  All of my spiritual teachings from the prosperity folks said abundance was our right, but how can I say there is abundance when people are starving? We live in one of the wealthiest nations ( well, at least it was at point) in the world, yet everyday people go without basic needs for survival and nourishment. I had to think, maybe there really is not enough! But then I realized something.

The economic system that we live in helps to perpetuate poverty; it is not the fundamental state of reality. According to the World Institute of the United Nations, in the year 2000 the top 1 percent of the world captured 40% of the world’s wealth. We ourselves have created and participate in this economic system that creates this kind of disparity. So the question becomes, “Is it that their is not enough or that we have created systems that make “not enough” for the other 99% of the planet a reality?”  I also had to look at myself and how I was using my money. There were times when, in trying to keep up with the consumption culture of America, I would go along and go out and spend money that I knew It was unwise for me to spend. For me, like our world community, the question was not that “was there enough?” but was I  using what I had wisely and was my system productive for my well being.

I believe In order to change our relationship to money, we have to do more than just make more money. We need to examine our own family patterns and emotional relationships towards money. We need to  see how the things we heard  and saw  impacted us then and are affecting us today. We have to learn to forgive our caregivers and release the economic patterns of our past.  Healing these patterns can help free up energy for us to learn how to use what we have more wisely and help to create economic systems  that are more equitable within our own communities whether they are systems of bartering, shared “pots” of income, or more. But these things for many are increasingly difficult if our “stuff” around money is under examined. We don’t have to perpetuate cyclical patterns of scarcity. What we can do is take a look back on the pain of the past and transform it into tools for economic healing in the present.

In the Spirit of Love, Healing and Peace

Yolo

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I Have Made A Decision..

I have made a decision*.

I have made a decision to not allow my life to be over-run by anxiety and saddled by fear.

I have made a decision.

I have made a decision to not live my life rushing towards some unknown destination, trying to be approved or validated by anybody else.

I have made a decision.

I have made a decision to not live my life by the cultural codes and norms of this world that are intrinsically anti-wellness, anti-life, anti-diversity and anti-love.

I have made a decision.

I have made a decision to not spend every waking moment of my life, focusing on that in the world which is horrible, unjust, and deplorable, but instead to focus every waking moment of my life trying to model, trying to create, trying to conjure, a world that is loving compassionate and in the process of  healing.

I have made a decision to live in abundance that is not driven by fear.

I have made a decision to not built a false sense of self esteem, by belittling others who do not believe what I believe or know what I assume I know.

I have made a decision to love my body.

I have made a decision to love myself.

I have made a decision to look at those who create hurt and pain in the world and find  a reflection of myself, that I can have compassion for.

I have made a decision to be accountable to the reality that I don’t know everything/ will never know everything/ and will never ever try to pretend.

I have made a decision to trust the universe within me.

I have made a decision to no longer demean my inner voice, but to trust it to guide me to where I need to be, to trust that it will show we what I need to see,  will teach me what I need to learn and to trust that whatever happens, I am divinely guided and equipped to handle It.

I have made a decision.

And today, this decision will be.

Ashe’
Ashe’
Ashe’

And so it is!

Question: What decisions are you making in your life? I encourage you to write your own affirmation. And read it aloud to yourself each day.  Or read this one each day. Whichever you like 🙂

In Love & Peace

Yolo

*Definition of  Decision:  The act of or need for making up one’s mind.

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Se-lah: Learning to Respect the Power of Love

I love the song the”Power of Love” by Stephanie Mills. Every time I hear it it’s like a celebration to me. It helps me to remember and affirm all the love that I have shared and all the love that I have been given in my lifetime. It helps me to remember and reflect on all the poor choices I’ve made in love and all the crazy, mixed up situations I have gotten myself into. It makes me realize that I have learned so much and makes me grateful because I know I have so much more to learn.

One of the things I have learned is that so much of what we have been taught and have not been taught about relationships creates alot of suffering. When I look back on my life; had I had the ideas and understandings of love that I have now, had I had someone to share with me what they knew-there would have been so much pain I could have avoided.. so much less struggle I would have had to go through.

So today I wanted to share some of things that I’ve learned with you. Some of them you may know and some of them may be new to you. Yet in the slight chance that they may be helpful; I have decided to share.

I hope you enjoy:

1. You Are Not Responsible For Your Partners Infidelity:

I remember as a young person believing this. Believing that if he broke our agreement on a monogamous relationship that it was really because of me.. Because of something I was not doing right…Because i was not “taking care of home.” His infidelity was always linked to the idea that I had an inadequacy. And it was my inadequacy (and the idea that I had an inadequacy) which was  always the problem. As I grew older I realized, a man or woman’s choice to break a monogamous relationship agreement (cheat) is about them and them alone.

Someone’s choice to cheat is reflective of them and not the partner who is being “cheated” on. If the person who cheats has challenges with the relationship, is not being fulfilled in the relationship, or is just having challenges with monogamy as a construct; then it’s up to them to communicate that challenge maturely and directly. Their choice to not communicate it and work through it; but instead cheat and then place the responsibility for their own behavior on the other partner; is, I believe, both abusive and violent.

2. We Come to Relationships to Work Out Old Wounds:

I think the more we understand this the easier our relationships can become. We have to understand that our attractions to our partners are often connected to childhood trauma and past experiences. Romantic Relationships ( and relationships of all kinds) offer us the opportunity to heal those wounds by challenging us with similar situations in the present. Study your relationships. There are patterns in them. Learn the patterns and how you respond to them.

For instance: Do you attract partners that do similar things as your primary caregivers as a child did? What is being asked of you to learn in this relationship? What is the opportunity for growth here?

4. Stretching Beyond Your Version of Reality.

Non romantic friends often uplift our ego’s and validate our sense of self. Romantic partners however, often challenge our sense of self because they bring a starkly different reality and worldview. Romantic relationships are an opportunity  for us to get out of our heads and our narratives and be present with someone else’s experiences and narrative.

The people who we attract often “rub our wounds” because I believe that is the universe’s way of saying “hey-you know this scar right here? You still have not attended to this…”

Remember that your version of reality, while valid and real, is just your version of reality. Your partner and all people will experience reality differently based on their own history, trauma and wounds. Relationships are often radical opportunities to get out of our own heads and see things from someone else’s perspective. If we can learn to do that, we can get through alot in our relationships.

5. We Often Have Many Relationship with the same people:

We will often attract the same person in the same dynamics; until we as individuals learn what it is we need to do with ourselves to work through those dynamics.

The one thing you have to realize is that the only common denominator in all your drama is you. In order to change the equation you have to go to work within. Get support. Get help from a therapist, a counselor-or seek support in books. Iyanla Vanzant, Kate Bornstein, Rob Brezsny, Thich Nhat Hahn, Susan Taylor are some of my favorites. You can look them up or just find something that works for you.
Whatever you do. Do personal “work” with yourself. Journal about your life. Reflect on your experiences. It can make a world of difference.

These are just some of the things I am learning and have learned. And there will always be more to share. Always. Life is a journey encouraging us to always respect the power of love. I hope these may be helpful in your own journey. Because you are love. You just have to remember. 🙂

In love & peace

Yolo

 

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An Open Letter To Our Dad’s: It’s Time To Forgive Yourself

It’s time for you to forgive yourself.

It’s time for you to forgive yourself for all you didn’t know, all you didn’t do and all the times you tried and failed.

It’s time for you to forgive yourself.

It’s time for you to forgive yourself for all the times you called and said you were coming and didn’t show up. It’s time for you to forgive yourself for every time you did show up, but were not present. It’s time for you to forgive yourself for not always having the money your children needed.

It’s time for you to forgive yourself for not always having the skills your children needed.

It’s time to forgive yourself for what you have done to the mothers of your children.

It’s time to forgive yourself for the hurtful things you have said, the derogatory words you have used and the denigrating ways you have used the mothers of your children.

It’s time for you to forgive yourself for your silence when we needed you to speak.

It’s time for you to forgive yourself for talking too loudly when we needed you to listen.

It’s time for you to forgive yourself fathers, not because you are no longer accountable, not because the impact of your choices does not linger, not because it will be over and will never come up again, but because we need you to release the guilt, the shame and the self -directed rage so that this energy can be shifted, transmuted and transformed into the healing you need and the love we all long for.

You see, Wounds entrap energy when unprocessed. And though little is ever said of  it, I know you carry  pain, guilt and rage at yourself, for who you were often not able to or didn’t know how to be. This anger and rage, though it has often showed up against your children and the mothers and co-fathers of your children; is preventing you from pressing forward. It is preventing you from helping us to transform our communities. It is preventing you from transforming you.

Your forgiveness of self does not mean those who you have hurt will no longer be angry. It does not mean that the “past is just the past”. No manipulation of new age doctrines of “living in the now” will be accepted when your past transgressions are raised. You are still accountable and you forgiving yourself will not be a one day process that alleviates all of those who you have wounded.

It will be only be a beginning.

But it is a beginning that is desperately overdue…

Today, give your children and our communities, the gift of forgiving yourself.

It is the gift that keeps on giving and the gift that may just help give us the world that we need.

In the spirit of love, peace and healing,

Yolo

© Michael Robinson 2011

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I Made The Wrong Choice: A Personal Essay on Accountability & Forgiveness

Sometimes we have to make a wrong choice.

Sometimes we have to make a wrong choice, because we have to learn.

Sometimes we have to make a wrong choice because we have to strengthen our resolve.
We have to make a wrong choice because we have to have our committment to ourselves tested and our willingness to follow our dreams questioned….

A little over a year ago, I made a wrong choice. I chose to continue a relationship with an organization that I loved in a manner that would dramatically inhibit me from pursuing my passions and my dreams.

No one made that choice for me.

I made that choice.

Were others complicit in my choice?
Yes.
Were their individuals encircling me, afraid to acknowledge the looming psychological disaster that pursuing this endeavor would orchestrate?
Yes.
Were there others around me, pushing me in this direction, even though they knew subconsciously, that this was not in my own creative best interest?
Yes.
Yet even as others contributed to this pot, even as others fears,silence, trauma’s and wounds simmered in the stew, It was I who made this choice.

It was me.
Me.
I did this.

When I made the decision, I have to be honest, on some level I really didn’t realize what I was doing. I was so blocked by my fear and the bright shiny lights that I didn’t realize that I was on a one way road to resentment and rage.

That path became evident once the consequences of my decision became clearer. I was working on a project that was far too much for one individual, under expectations and objectives that in retrospect, were ambitiously irresponsible if not outright ridiculous. Those standards were constructed by me, with my input and often my sole directive. Naively I thought that I would be able to handle these responsibilities and still pursue my much broader career path. So you can imagine, when I came into a full consciousness of what I had created for myself, I was furious.

I kept wondering, How could I sell myself short? How could I forfeit my desires for fear of having my numbing sense of comfort stripped away? What opportunities was I missing because I took this road when I knew, had to know, must have known, somewhere deep in the pit of my soul that this was not what I was being called to do?
After having chances in the past to pursue my passion, how could I abandon me again? How could I let others coax me out of dreams and who I desired to be?

That rage and anger,which was at myself and should have been directed as such, predictably became projected on the organization. It was them, I was telling myself that were responsible for holding me hostage, preventing me from my dreams. Attempting to own my labor, own my talents...own me.
Initially I could not see nor did I understand that while they were complicit in the hijacking and the abandonement of my dreams… they were not responsible.

I moved to end our “formal” relationship and in the wake of this ending said some intense things. Some of the things I said  spoke to the inequities of the ideas and products of that collective. I do not take them back.

I do however, have guilt over my timing choices and the energy through which those messages were channelled; which was primarily the spirit of ego and self righteous anger. I know that my actions could have been hurtful and frustrating to others..
so why would i enact such energies?

I think i was afraid that If I didn’t sever the bonds completely, I could be lulled back into the comfort that kept me complacent. It would become too lucrative to stay somewhere where it’s easy, versus going out there on a limb and doing what it is hard, but what is ultimately necessary for my growth. I felt I had to burn a bridge to make sure that no matter what happened, I wouldn’t turn back and forsake my destiny. I could have still ended this relationship differently. Those feelings are not excuses.

In the fray of ending this relationship. I lost connections with the people in this collective that I loved and cared for deeply. People who had, through the years I had been there, deeply loved, cared for and struggled with me.
I realized that me making my initial “wrong” choice to stay with them, it was not just about me being dominated by fear; it was also about me being dominated by love, and the concerns that I would lose a family that I cared for very deeply if I left and worked towards my own personal goals. Truth is, a big part of the reason I made the “wrong choice” because I didn’t want to make a choice that would mean losing them.
But In the end I lost that connection anyway.

It is A lesson learned.

And it is a lesson that you do not have to repeat.
Hear me:
Create your own path.
Conjure your own rainbows.
Don’t accept the continuim of colors canvassed before you as the only prisms of light possible. There are more.

The “wrong” choice, does not have to be your choice. And if you are in that choice now, if you have sojourned a path that you know will soon forsake you, I encourage you to do what I am trying to do everyday:
Forgive yourself. Transmute your rage. Transform your apathy. Channell it into any medium that makes a healing possible.
If there is nothing you can do for those who you have hurt, if they do not desire your presence or your company, You still have to do your work. You still have to look at you.

While in this essay I use the language of the “Wrong” choice in reality, there are no “wrong” choices, or “right” one’s for that matter. There are only choices that have consequences. Consequences that can hurt others even as they heal some. Consequences that people celebrate in one hemisphere, yet are oppressed by in another. Consequences that take us off on a path that we have to travel for our own learning. The consequences of those choices spiral off into infinity impacting much more than we as humans could ever imagine….

So make choices my friends. Consider the Consequences. Be accountable to the impact..and always..always.. Be open to the change the universe is always offering to you.

In the spirit of love, light and healing always

Yolo

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