Archive | March, 2010

Reflections on coming out and family

11 Mar

As a queer Latina I juggle intertwining, complex and often competing identities. One of my most defining identities is that of daughter. My mother is one of the most amazing women I know. Although she would never refer to herself as the “f” word, I firmly believe that I am the independent, strong, determined, educated and fierce feminist I am, thanks to her example. Growing up in a single-parent household meant that for most of my life, my mother was my best friend. That all changed, however, when I came out to her.

Although realizing that I was queer meant finally figuring out another important part of my identity (and one that made me incredibly happy), it was a part of me that my mother refused to accept and in most cases even acknowledge. In her eyes I couldn’t be both a good daughter and gay. Inevitably, I lost my best friend and in many ways a part of me.

The journey has been a painful one and one that I am still healing from. I have had to distance myself from friends and family that could not accept all of me. Throughout this journey, however, I am happy to say that I have been blessed. I found a community of crunk feminist sisters who not only accept and love all of me, but challenge me to learn, teach, grow and forgive everyday.

In an effort to find some humor in all of the sadness that oftentimes comes from coming out to family, I decided to compile a list of some of the most memorable conversations between my mother and myself. I shared this for the first time at a QWOC+ (Queer Women of Color and friends) event titled: “Queer Multiculturalism: A Discussion about Coming Out to Different Cultures and Communities of Color.” I share this again with this community because you showed me that although you can’t choose your family, you can always choose to have more than one.

Top Ten interactions with my mom: chronological order may have happened within minutes, days, weeks, months, years

Numbered items are my mother’s words, items in parenthesis, my responses

10. Why don’t you have a boyfriend?

(I’m the first to go away to college. Why don’t you ever ask me about what I’m learning in college and where the heck is my care package? My white friends get care packages every weekend!)

9. If you don’t find a boyfriend soon, how will you ever get married?

(Mom, seriously its after midnight – I have a paper to write.)

8. When are you going to have kids?

(I don’t know mom, I’m at an all women’s college, might be tough.)

7. What do you mean you don’t want to have kids! You’re already a graduate student! How much more do you need to study? What else is there to learn? Are there men in your classes?

(Mom, seriously stop oppressing me.)

6. Why is your friend’s hair so short and why is she always here?

(Yeah about that….mami, I’m gay.)

5. How could you do this to me?

(Mami, look at me…I’m glowing! I’m so happy! I’ve never felt this way about anyone else in my entire life! It took me 22 years to figure it out but everything in my life finally makes sense now.)

4. I’d rather see you pregnant with a drug addict’s baby than see you with a lesbian woman.

(I was not expecting that one. None of the ‘coming out to your parents’ books mentioned that as a possible reaction.)

3. Don’t tell your younger sister or she’ll think she is gay too.

[Rolling my eyes]-(Yeah mom, its contagious. You better watch out.)

2. Your sister is gay and it’s ALL your fault!

(That’s impossible, she’s gayer than I am.)

1. You are my daughter and I love you but why do you always have to bring up the fact that you’re gay.

(Because, you keep asking me about my boyfriend).


Mo’Nique at the Oscars: Politics vs. Performance

8 Mar

Happy International Women’s Day! Now let’s get to it . . .

Mo’Nique might have said last night that it was about “the performance and not the politics” but when she invoked the legacy of Hattie McDaniel, the first African American woman to win an Oscar, she proved that it is always about the politics. Back in 1939, McDaniel wanted simply to be “a credit to [her] race.” Beyond merely paying homage to McDaniel in words, Mo’Nique attempted to embody her, wearing a large white flower reminiscent of the one McDaniel wore when she received the award. By (rightly) situating herself within the tradition of Hattie McDaniel, Mo’Nique invited us through her own words –and through her superbly troubling portrayal of Mary Jones—to ask: What is our racial credit score? Do we have enough cultural capital to be able to afford yet another troubling representation of Black motherhood and womanhood?  For these two women and their Oscar winning roles book-end a catalogue of representations of Black mothering, that leave one staggering for perspective and grasping for any slice of reality.

To offer another metaphor, they create an arc, an umbrella that starts with Mammy and ends with the Welfare Queen, and ensconses every negative stereotype of Black womanhood in between. Memorialized by McDaniel in Gone with the Wind, the Mammy– that ever-nurturing, sometimes sassy, always-loving, self-sacrificing and asexual mother– continues to anchor White Americans pastoral remembrances of girlhood and boyhood. At the other end are the Mary Joneses of the world, the welfare queens, the lazy, cunning, ignorant, abusive tangles of pathology that remain a thorn in the side of Black America. And if McDaniel’s and Mo’Nique’s performances are the umbrella of representations of Black mothers, then Sandra Bullock’s Oscar-winning performance of the heroic white mother in The Blind Side is the curved handle, the lever at the center, which has the power to make the umbrella as narrow or as wide as we wish, as formidable or innocuous as we need. And it is a curved handle because such performances hook you and handle you, while making you believe you control the lever.  If our recent credit crisis has taught us anything, it is this: when White America gets a rain shower, Black America gets a hurricane.  And when you’re caught in the whirlwind of volatile representations, wielding your umbrella is surely an exercise in futility.

A Counterstory: Gabourey Sidibe Academy Award Acceptance Speech

7 Mar

CFC’er Sheri Davis imagines the kinds of cultural work a Gabby Sidibe Oscar Speech might do:

Presenter: And the Academy Award for performance by an actress in a leading role goes to Gabourey Sidibe.

Sidibe: Wow Oh My God Wow. I’m so um. Let me just read because I have so much to say and so many to thank.

I’d like to thank my mom for exposing me to the arts, teaching me to express myself and to love being a black girl and a black woman. I gotta thank my professors for encouraging me to pursue all my passions. I want to thank my dance instructor for teaching me to focus on what my body can do and Monique for being one of the few celebrities who has encouraged women to love their big beautiful bodies. Most importantly I want to thank Sapphire for being courageous enough to give voice to a young fat black female character and Lee Daniels for being courageous enough to push Precious Jones into the mainstream to tell her story.

I accept this award on behalf of Precious and her Each One Teach One crew who are African-American, Puerto Rican, Jamaican, lesbian, teen mothers, survivors, poets, cooks, supportive, loud, and fabulous young women. I accept this award on behalf of Celie, played by Whoopie Goldberg in The Color Purple, and all the black girls whose stories are often dismissed and ignored in the media and whose experiences are often marginalized or completely absent in scholarship, I was in college so I know from experience.

“I hope this film changes the industry a bit in my favor. I want to be funny. I want to be the romantic lead. I want to do something that nobody expects, because nobody expected anyone that looks like me to be the star of any movie. So I want to keep changing people’s minds.”

To all my big girls, I say throw your weight around and get active in the health at every size movement because loving ourselves means loving our bodies and knowing that we are worthy of being loved. To all my young sistahs, (I know I know I hear the music playing) but to my young sistahs I will continue to use my voice and my power to speak up for your right to be safe in your homes and communities, to be educated, to be nurtured, to be heard, to be loved, and to be free. Thank you. Thank you all so much for listening.

Audience: (on their feet clapping and cheering) Ga-bou-rey.

First World Fatigue

4 Mar

This past weekend an 8.8 magnitude earthquake rocked Chile. There have been cries of condolence and global relief efforts for the Chilean people, but after a day or two, news about Chile had largely disappeared from the news cycle. News of the earlier massive earthquake in Haiti has already fallen away from the mainstream news for quite some time, eclipsed by the Winter Olympics and the latest headline about the Kardashians or “The Bachelor.” Indeed, I’ve hardly seen any Haiti news of late,  except for discussions of the sort-of -sucky remake of “We are the World” (Justin Bieber? Really?) and the parodies thereof.

I’ve heard and read of folks complaining about the depressing news regarding Haiti, claiming they eventually had to “tune it out” because they were so fatigued by the devastation and the sadness. I have also heard folks–people of color too!–protesting the sending of funds to Haiti until “we take care of home.” That we should spend our money here rather than “always” trying to run in someone’s backyard to take care of someone’s business, when our own yard is a mess.

I agree, our own yard is a mess. A hot mess, to tell you the truth. But, to my knowledge, the entire earth is our home. Not just the little patch of dirt we name and claim. Though we treat it like Niecy Nash or some other cleaning guru will come and save us, we have to be accountable to each other in a global sense.  I rebuke First World ostrich-in-sand isolationism. We must recognize that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere–and not just when it’s convenient or when we are feeling sentimental or paternalistic. Taking care of home and taking care of each other are not mutually exclusive concepts. If  I can buy Maxwell’s new CD, then I can send $20 to charity or volunteer my time for a cause other than my own indolence and indulgence. Me sending $20 to Haiti or Chile is not going to break America’s bank. Sending thousands of men and women (and dollars) to fight in a fruitless war of attrition will, however. Let’s not get it twisted.

I don’t have the space to name all of our enemies here, but trust that our enemies are not the battered and bruised folk trying to make it among the debris of fascism, imperialism, and Mother Nature’s fury. We cannot afford to act against our global best interests as human beings by feigning or feeling First World fatigue. We could be the next ones under the rubble–what then?

Hip Hop Generation Feminism: A Manifesto

1 Mar

We are Hip Hop Generation Feminists.  We unapologetically refer to ourselves as feminist because we believe that gender, and its construction through a white patriarchal capitalist power structure fundamentally shapes our lives and life possibilities as women of color across a range of sexual identities.  We are members of the Hip Hop Generation because we came of age in one of the decades, the 1990s, that can be considered post-Soul and post-Civil Rights. Our political realities have been profoundly shaped by a systematic rollback of the gains of the Civil Rights era with regard to affirmative action policies, reproductive justice policies, the massive deindustrialization of urban areas, the rise and ravages of the drug economy within urban, semi-urban, and rural communities of color, and the full-scale assault on women’s lives through the AIDS epidemic. We have come of age in the era that has witnessed a past-in-present assault on our identities as women of color, one that harkens back to earlier assaults on our virtue and value during enslavement and imperialism. Our era has likewise been marked by an insidious reimagining of earlier forms of violence to include the proliferation of stereotypes both from the public sphere and from our communities which have now named us welfare queens, quota queens, baby mamas, hoochies, golddiggers, wifeys, bitches, hoes, and tricks, along with a range of  (un)creative rhetorical permutations.  We identify with Hip Hop because the music, the culture, the fashion, and the figures provide the soundtrack to our girlhood and our young womanhood.  Our coming-of-age happened in the linguistically and rhetorically rich cultural milieu and transformation that was the 1990s, the decade of the woman, but also the decade of the female emcee: Queen Latifah, M.C. Lyte, Da Brat, LeftEye (and TLC), Foxy Brown, Lil’ Kim, and Lauryn Hill. We not only jammed to New Jack Swing, we reveled in the beats of New Jill Swing too because we understood what Queen meant when she sang, “in a 90s kind of world, I’m glad I got my girls.” We witnessed Puffy “invent the remix,” Mary J. Blige pioneer Hip Hop Soul as she looked for a “real love,” and FUBU  start a global black fashion trend that was for us by us. We were captured by Darius and Nina falling in love, breaking up, and falling in love again, even as we observed that the art of Boyz in the Hood and Jason’s Lyric imitated a side of life and death seen too often in our communities. We grooved to sounds of the G-Funk era and wept at the murders of Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. We are Hip Hop’s middle children, folks who fell in love with Hip Hop at the tale end of the “Golden Age,” came of age during the “Modern Era” and find ourselves increasingly concerned with the gender and race politics of Hip Hop in the “Industrial Era.”[1] We unapologetically blend the terms Hip Hop and Feminism like our Hip Hop feminist big sister Joan Morgan did more than a decade ago when she invited us to “fill in the breaks, provide the remixes, and rework the chorus.” So we call ourselves Hip Hop Generation Feminists, because while many of us appreciate the culture and the music, we do not have a blind allegiance to it, nor is our feminism solely or in many cases even primarily defined by Hip Hop. Yet our connection to Hip Hop links us to a set of generational concerns, and a community of women, locally, nationally, and globally.

We also recognize the Hip Hop Generation as a community of men, some progressive, but many, many more who are not. Our brothers are either with us or they are not. If you are with us, your life and your politics—and not just your rhetoric—will reflect a commitment to the health and wholeness of women, not just as sisters, as wives, as mothers, or as daughters. We don’t need protectors or providers; we need partners in (the) struggle. We will not be battered or bruised by your words, forced into submission by your accusations of racial disloyalty, or tolerant of your homophobia or religio-patriarchal zealotry. Neither will we be silent in the face of rape, sexual abuse, intimate partner violence, and/or the psychic and rhetorical violence that daily reduces us to both sexual objects and objects of scorn. We welcome thinking brothers who appreciate thinking sisters, brothers committed to strategizing with us for a gender-inclusive world.

We have spent our twenties negotiating the uncompassionate conservativism of the Bush era, with its brand of fascism marauding as patriotism. We entered the workforce en masse in the era of boom and bust laissez faire capitalism, where we are still paid less than our white sisters, when we were employed at all, and where our places of employment still operate under a politics of surveillance and containment, many times rendering us “outsiders within.” Daily, we negotiate our work lives in places meant to discredit our truths about the operations of racism, sexism, and heterosexism and to disregard our attempts to resist the power of those forces in our lives. Whether we identify as activists, academics, health care professionals, spiritual leaders, caregivers, or any of the above, we eschew any false divide between public and private, as we hold dear the principle that the personal is indeed political. We claim the right to resist the forces of racist, sexist, heterosexist domination by any means necessary. Through our written and spoken words, our activism, and our collective work, and our support of one another, we will act up, turn it out, set it off, bring wreck, talk back, go off, or get crunk whenever and wherever necessary.[2] These are the strategies of survival for a generation of women never meant to win, and who yet survive.

While our declaration of feminism pays homage to our feminist foremothers and big sisters, Hip Hop generation feminism is not just a remix but also a remake that builds on the beats and rhythms from the tracks already laid down, but with a decidedly new sound, for a new era. This, in other words, ain’t ya mama’s feminism. This is next generation feminism, standing up, standing tall, and proclaiming like Celie, that we are indeed Here. We are the ones we have been waiting for. We love ourselves even when we get no love. We recognize that we are our own best thing, our own best argument, and patriarchy’s worst nightmare.

This manifesto is a living document that reflects the evolution of the CFC.

[1] Jelani Cobb, To the Break of Dawn: A Freestyle on the Hip Hop Aesthetic, p. 41.

[2] Gwendolyn Pough. Check It While I Wreck It: Black Womanhood, Hip -Hop Culture, and the Public Sphere. See Chapter 3: “I Bring Wreck to Those Who Disrespect Me Like A Dame.”

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