Feminist Reflections on my Spiritual Sabbatical

As I think about my role as a prominent leader in the Movement for Black Lives in DC and recognize the ways that masculinity and middle class dominate cultural values have biased by leadership, I am excited by the possibilities that feminism has to offer me. As I have forced myself to take some time to think about the emotional and spiritual toll this work has had on me, I am over joyed at the possibility for a reprieve. That is why I will be taking a spiritual sabbatical in the month of December.

It is unclear to me what this will look like exactly. What I have decided on is that I will be doing much much less work for the Movement for Black Lives in December. I will take time to rest, heal, reflect and learn from my community and the universe as I can. I will take the time to gain perspective and clarify my vision for myself, my community and the world. I will try to re-learn the truth that I am loved because I deserve to be loved and that I deserve to be loved because of who I am and not what I do.

In preparation for this sabbatical, I have taken to reading materials that might change my perspective on the world and give me the tools to grow and evolve in the movement.

One of the many books I am currently reading is Silvia Federici’s “Revolutions at Point Zero: House Work, Reproduction and the Feminist Struggle.” It is blowing my mind. Her perspective on the history of the feminist labor struggle and keen observations of the historic connections of the Feminist Movement in America following the Black Liberation movement seem to have important implications for the Movement for Black Lives.

BLM often talks about “re-claiming space” and understanding the spiritual importance of Black space. Her writings have me considering the economic and political ramifications of owning and controlling space separate from owning property. As I investigate what autonomy means and looks like through a Black Queer Feminist lens I am reminded of a conversation I had with Erika Totten about what I felt my role in the movement should be.

What does it mean to provide leadership as a Black man in the Movement for Black Lives? What does supporting Black women and recognizing their unique role as the engines of American history mean in practice? I think Federici’s work, coupled with authors I am more familiar with like Audre Lorde, Angela Davis and Bell Hooks, points towards a re-investment and valorization of housework by Black men such as myself.

By re-investing in “house work” [broadly defined as community sustaining activities like childcare, elder care, cooking, emotional labor, mutli-generational narrative creation and healing work] we free up women and gender-non-conforming folx to do the strategic organizing and movement work that their places on the spectrum on various oppressions give them the unique perspective the lead on.

Equally important, we provide ourselves the opportunity to emancipate our minds and spirits from the limiting chains of masculinity. The “home,” broadly defined, is the perfect space for Black men to re-invent or deconstruct or dismantle the poisonous aspects of Black masculinity in ways that both support our non-male siblings and shelters us from the daily emasculations of capitalism and white supremacy.

I have come to realize that the disempowerment that Black men feel in our daily emasculations in a capitalist and white supremacist society is the destructive fuel of Black patriarchy. We are so often disempowered in our daily existence that we reach for power in the only system in which we have it. In a sense, our oppression creates a series of voids in our psyches and spirits that we try to fill in with power and commercial validation. I am beginning to see an opportunity for us to escape this feedback loop of disempowerment by oppression followed by reinvestment in our oppression through the home.

How empowering would if feel to Black men to get our sense of human validation from emotionally supporting our families [broadly defined] rather than anxiously trying to game a system founded in our bondage in order to support them financially? Imagine what our communities might look like if we supported Black women and Black gender-non-conforming folx in transforming leadership and the workplace as Black men and gender-non-conforming folx transform the home?

As a lifelong admirer of Black girl magic and strong believer in the inherent artifice of all our identities I am excited about the afro-futurist possibilities of such an endeavor. Might we discover, through putting our Black queer feminist lens into practice, Black boy sorcery and gender-non-conforming alchemy? Might trans* brilliance an Black girl magic reach its fullest expressions of power if Black men invest in the home? Might we all find more added capacity if, understanding that ideas of the scarcity of leadership is a figment of the middle class white imagination, we step back from our positions of power over to make more room to step into our power together?

These are the things I will be exploring on my sabbatical. In glimpsing these possibilities and writing them out they feel more real to me already. I appreciate all of you who I know will support me in this month of healing and growth. I am honored by the talent and leadership of those who have stepped into power with me as I stepped back from power over certain projects. It has confirmed to me, more than anything else: that I am beautiful, I am not alone and collectively we are powerful beyond measure.

Am I A Nigger?

ASK YOURSELF!

Am I A Nigger?

               Am I A Nigger?

                                                      Am I A Nigger?

And if the answer is yes? Don’t be afraid to show it!

Cause it’s the Nigger in you that makes you BLACK!

…Once you learn to hate it…

An acoustic dialogue on respectability politics, the diversity of Black self conception and the mattering of Black Lives.

Call Me in Until You Need to Call Me Out

Reflections On Being A Leader in a Leaderful Movement

 

Rape Culture is real. It is omnipresent. It is destroying all of our movements.

I don’t know how to start this essay. I don’t really know what to say or how to say it so I’m going to be real and raw and honest. I am a local leader in the Black Lives Matter movement here in DC, which is a movement for the liberation of ALL Black People and a necessary but insufficient piece of a larger movement for collective liberation. I am leader whose followers are also leaders. I am leader who often has no clue what he is doing but decides to put himself out there because he knows that the work needs doing. I organize within a social network that is a web of mutual support, Black excellence, gorgeous righteousness and, let’s be real, shared trauma.

I organize for the liberation of my people all while suffering from the post-traumatic stress of having existed for 26 years as a sensitive human being in an insensitive world. I have been Black in society that can’t recognize the humanity of Black people. I have been struggling with mental illness in a world that would rather profit of my suffering than talk about it. I have come to terms with my attraction to all genders, including my own, in a world in which that means I cannot be seen as fully Black, really a man or completely human. All of this trauma infuses every decision I make as an organizer, as a follower and as a leader whose followers are also bomb ass, revolutionary leaders.

I say that, because it needs to be said. In the next few days I imagine a lot a of conversations will be happening about who will work with who and how people should have handled beef. I imagine a lot of people will have opinions about who did and didn’t say what where. We need to remember that we all are working through our trauma in real time. We need to realize that it is unacceptable to be traumatizing people through patriarchy in liberation struggles. We need to remember that there is a time to call people in and there is a time to call people out.

To many women have spoken to me about a desperate need to hold men in leadership in DC accountable for me to remain silent.

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I don’t remember where I was when Mike Brown was lying on the ground for 4 and half hours. I don’t remember when I first realized that I was watching the public lynching of a Black boy on television every time I watched cable news talk about the “thug” “Big Mike.” I don’t remember when I realized that the Black Lives Matter Movement was giving birth to my generation’s Black Liberation Movement.

I do remember the feeling of needing to do something, anything, after Darrin Wilson was not indicted for the execution of Michael Brown. I remember the feeling of anguish that led me to start writing nearly daily on race, racism and white supremacy after seeing how white allies showed up in spaces. I also remember when Black women leaders inspired me to get off my blog and hit the streets

I remember when my now good friend Lydia and I met at an action she planned. I remember being grateful that she brought the movement to my city. I remember talking a long lunch to interview Erika Totten and Dominique Hazzard at a day of action in November. I remember hearing Erika say that she couldn’t not get into this fight. I remember them inspiring me to get off this blog and into the streets.

Once I was in the streets I remember a shared sense of organizers not really knowing what they were doing. This is not to say that people didn’t have skills, or talents or expertise. This meant that people were angry, and traumatized and were making plans as we were executing them. I remember showing up to actions and people asking me to pitch in. I remember when I decided to be an organizer in the Black Lives Matter movement because there was shit I wanted to be happening that just wasn’t.

There were a couple of months that I was organizing around Black Lives Matter but I didn’t consider myself a leader. I would read about the next shooting, the next beating, the next sex trafficking police officer in 7D and spend hours on Facebook looking for the event that addressed it. When it didn’t happen, I would send out e-mails to all the “real leaders” and wait for a response, wait for someone to step up and let me follow them. As the other organizers got busier, and replies started to be, yeah, you should do that! That’s when I started to think about leadership.

There was point at which it became clear that other people already saw me as a leader. It took a while for me to take the mantle as my own though. Leadership comes with a number of benefits, mainly that I get the unique pleasure of actualizing my plans and thoughts. I get to see my own plans for liberation come into being bit by bit. I get to see people move. Not just bodies on the street but minds and souls be moved by my action and writing. It is an amazing feeling. Yet leadership, true leadership like the kind this movement needs, comes with responsibility and accountability.

The weight of that responsibility grew steadily as it became more and more apparent that people expected things of me. People looked to me plan actions. People looked to me to say those hard truths that needed saying. People started saying things like, I came out because you asked me. I felt proud but also scared, unworthy and incapable of seeing in myself what others saw in me.

I remember the point at which the responsibility of leadership felt the most visceral. I had called a meeting to plan an anti-misogyny training at my house and invited my people. The people who I’m in the movement for, the people’s whose welfare makes me work to end patriarchy. Most importantly, the people I grown been accustomed to schooling me on what’s what.

I remember opening the conversation with my vision for the training and having multiple dynamite, power houses of local organizing gently push back by saying “I’m here because this work needs to get done, and I trust Aaron to hold this space.” That level of trust hit me hard. It was both an unexpected honor and, to be honest, terrifying. It was frightening because I had little faith in my ability to hold a space that honored the humanity, dignity and brilliance of the women in the room when facilitating a conversation about patriarchy.

The truth is, sexism is real and embedded in the very fabric of our society. It is foundational to how we think about leadership, self-worth, and movement building. In my mind, I too was too influenced by our sexist culture to rid the spaces I was creating of its taint.

In talking with those women, I realized that every time I hold a space the attendees have to make a decision. The women I invite have to make a decision about whether or not they trust me and the men I choose to surround myself with to create a space where they feel safe.

As a leader I cannot forget about that choice. I cannot take the easy way out and operate my meetings, my marches, my healing spaces within the oppressive atmosphere of a demented status quo. I cannot choose personal loyalty over liberation. I cannot duck out of the responsibility of leadership because silence is easier than speaking out. I cannot betray the trust of the women who continually teach me how to recognize my own humanity. That trust is important and not given lightly. That trust must be earned and re-earned constantly. Most importantly, it is not to be abused.

Sadly, far too often it is.

Far too often whole sections and scenes within movements are physically, emotionally and spiritual dangerous to women. Too often women have navigate those same uncontainable impulses to do something, anything to end their current oppression with the added burden of deciding, not whether, but how much abuse and misogyny they will endure to do so. That is sickening.

That simple fact outlines the limit of how far any movement for liberation can go without naming, addressing and ending patriarchy within the movement. Black liberation can’t move an inch past the bonds that men force on women.

Men must do more. Black men must do more. The male leadership of the leaderful Black Lives Matter Movement must do more. I must do more. We must do more.

We must transform our spaces to be the reflections of the liberation we are seeking. We must hold the men we surround ourselves accountable to our shared vision of world in which our neighbors, co-workers, sisters, mothers and daughters can be their full, beautiful, Black, female and gender non-conforming authentic selves without fear of violence. We must hold men accountable to holding spaces that do not enable, praise, or excuse rape.
Those of us who have decided that this moment is our time; those of us who have chosen to be leaders in the movement for Black liberation; those of us who strive for a world in which the overwhelming brilliance of Black people is allowed to thrive and flourish, must hold ourselves accountable to ending patriarchy.

Rape culture is too acidic to liberation to be tolerated. Sexual predation is too counter-revolutionary to be tolerated. Our collective silence, my own reservations about ruffling feathers and stepping on toes, is too violent to be tolerated. We must call each other in, until we need to start calling each other out.

I am not writing this as a model for how to be a man in the movement. I am writing this as someone who fucks up. I am writing this as someone who was silent for too long. I am writing this as someone who has to constantly apologize for how I show up in spaces. I am writing this as someone who wants all the amazing women I often follow and who sometimes follow me, to call me in until you need to call me out.

To all the men that are reading this we have to do better. We have to stop allowing men to prey on women in our spaces. We have to stop interrupting women on the mic. We have to stop defending rapist because they once were a role model to us. We have to stop shaming women for speaking their truth. We have to stop refusing to put in work for the women’s liberation movement. We have to re-imagine our conceptions of masculinity, sexuality and gender. We have to check our internal transmisogynoir.We have to step way back and remember to come forward when our support is needed.

If you have questions, concerns or push back please reach out to me. We need to come together to end rape culture. We need to leverage our power to create beloved communities and liberated spaces. We need to start crafting and implementing solutions. There have been a few conversations and events on ending patriarchy and redefining masculinity so far and hopefully there will be many more to come. Please find me on Facebook or e-mail me at wellexaminedlife@gmail.com if you are interested in joining me and other men to end rape culture.

Dear Black Women and Trans* People in the Struggle

trans-feminism-rainbow_400x4001

Dear Black Women and Trans* Activists in the Struggle,

I don’t know how to begin this letter. There are so many things I want to say to all the Black women in my life. There are so many things I want to say to uplift, spread and support marginalized voices within this new movement. There is so much I want to say about the myths and sad truths of Black masculinity.

I want to acknowledge that historically the struggle for Black liberation has been dominated by male egos and interests. I want to acknowledge not only the struggles that Black Women, Black Queer folk and Black Trans* people have in the larger American society but also the pain that cis-gendered straight Black men have caused those communities.

I want to acknowledge my own need to be better on and do more for gender equality, Queer liberation and Trans* liberation. Today however, I will confine myself to attempting (and inevitably failing) to express my gratitude to the multiply oppressed Black people who are instigating and leading these wave of protests and movement moments.

I want say thank you to all the mothers, brothers, lovers, writers, teachers, artist, organizers, activists and sisters of the struggle who have been the lighting rod of the movement thus far.

The sacrifices and support of my mother, aunts and sisters are the only reason I am alive and well today. I constantly see the collaborative, inclusive and empathetic leadership model that my sisters taught me employed in movement spaces.

I see truly ego-less organizing shut down highways as easily and gracefully as they shut the Black Male Messiah respectability politics of previous movements.

Time and time again I see young Black Queer women open up our internal dialogue on Blackness to not merely include trans* and differently abled Black people of all ages but in fact for our shared identity to be strengthened by our diversity. It is no coincidence that the #blacklivesmatter moniker was coined and spread by three young Black queer women [Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi]

The intersectional analysis of multiple oppressions that is so consistently and acutely articulated by Queer Black Women, along with a growing fight for Trans* Liberation has given Black men like me the keys to begin to unshackle Black Masculinity.

It has freed me to feel. It has freed me to express my emotions and embrace my own vulnerability. It has allowed me to move beyond harmful and one-dimensional tropes of “the strong Black man” without losing an ounce of real, non-oppressive, strength.

It has allowed me to begin to construct a healthy, sustainable Black masculinity centered on community, self-love and empathy.
In short, it has freed me to love and thus fully experience my own inherent humanity.

In many ways, the growing fight for Trans* liberation is paving the way for Black Liberation by giving all of us thousands of stunning examples of a Blackness divorced not only from White Supremacy but also heteronormative patriarchy.

It is given us glimpse of the promise land: a Blackness free of oppression. But I recognize not only my self-interest and but also moral obligation to fight for trans* liberation. I know that fighting for justice means rooting out injustice wherever it might be. Even if, perhaps especially if, it is inherent in my own views of gender.

So I am not sure I have the words to describe my gratitude, my overwhelming desire to thank you, collectively and individually, for your work in the struggle; for opening my eyes and refusing to let them shut. All I can say is:

I see you.

I saw you all stand with me when America decided that I was not human. I saw you stand and be counted among those who will not rest until we get freedom. I saw you carry the banner of my liberation despite all the times I have neglected to carry it for you. I saw you, fist raised, hands up, heart-bared, shouting that you can’t breathe.

I know that we live in world that tells you be invisible.

We live in world that tries to force you into cis-gendered boxes labeled sapphire, jezebel and mammy.

We live in a world that tells you to stay down, to stay in your place until you are needed to explain my pain to the world.

We live in world that cannot stand to truly look at you in all you beauty, all your diversity, all your complexity, all your strength all your humanity and yes, all your pain.

Yet I saw you protest with me. I saw you lead our community to shut down highways, shut down airports, shut down streets, and malls and business as usual across America.

I saw you march.

I saw you refuse to play the limited, stilted and one-dimensional role society laid out for you from birth. I saw you stand when the world told you to sit and I wanted to say that your leadership in this struggle -just like your leadership in the classroom, in the arts and in our communities- gives me hope, gives me solace, and gives me the strength to carry on.
I heard you.

I heard you demand the killing of Black Women and Black Trans* people not be swept under the rug. I heard you demand that Black Liberation not come, once again, on your backs. I heard your voice cry out in the night. I heard you articulate the collective pain of our people with the same breathe that I heard you sing of the joys of the Black family.

I heard the power of your crying be outweighed by the joy of your laughter in the pews, on street corners, in living rooms and kitchen counters in between protests. I heard you refuse to be defined merely by one emotion or another.

I heard you refuse to play merely one role.

I know that the world tells you to be silent unless you are going to sing.

I know the world doesn’t want to hear from you until they need you to be the canary bird of our illiberal democracy.

I know you are told that from day one that you have nothing to offer so you should just be quiet.

I know we live in a world that cannot bear to hear your truth unless it serves our narrow interests.

Yet I heard you speak it anyways. I heard you tear down the narratives that have chained us for so long with your truth. I heard you re-define realness and authenticity. I heard you re-define Blackness as beautiful and available to all of us:

Even the nerds.

Even the sensitive brothers.

Even those of us who grew up alone in a white world; in re-defining Blackness to include us all you re-ignited a movement for Black liberation.

I am not able to even able to comprehend the complexity of the lives, identities and narratives of the Black women and Trans* people in the trenches. I cannot count the ways that you move this movement forward both loud and quiet, both brilliantly visible and unseen.

The debt I owe you, the debt the world owes you, can never be repaid.

All I can say is thank you.

Thank you for everything you have done, continue to do and will do in the future.

Thank you for leadership, for your support, for your patience and, at times, your forgiveness.

Thank you for continually holding me accountable.

laverne-cox-time-mag-cover-may-2014

Thank you for forcing me to recognize just how powerful, how diverse, how truly and undeniable beautiful you are.

Thank you for sharing your beauty with the world.

I promise to stand with you as you have stood with me. I promise to continue to deconstruct my own masculinity. I promise to not merely tolerate but celebrate you, your love, your gender and your expression of it in all of glorious permutations.

I promise to never allow anyone to say womanism or feminism or trans*liberation is a distraction from the struggle. I promise to never lose sight that this is all part of the collective liberation of our shared humanity. I promise to never ask for you to wait.

I promise to ensure in that this struggle continue until all #BlackLivesMatter, yours as well as mine.

I also promise you I am not alone. I promise you that millions of other Black men also see you and hear you and stand with you in this struggle.

I promise to work tirelessly to with the rest of us who don’t.

Love and Solidarity–