Archive | May, 2010

She Just Wants to Dance, but She Can’t Fight the Rhythm

13 May

(A Performance Excerpt by Caitlin O’Connor)

She just wants to dance.

He just wants to groove

In his fly dancin’ shoes.

Seconds lapse between his favorite steps, Doin’ tha

Ass tap, dip back, hip thrust, she like that.

She dances because she can’t fight the rhythm.

He grinds, he grins at the lyrics that he’s hearin’.

He thinks he’s got his certified ho and she’s deafly dancing so she don’t even know.

She just wants to dance.

He just wants to groove.

But the lyrics, they spit bullets

Into the faces of dancing girls

Who hope to exist meaningfully in this world.

As the music races, his hand he places in her face, in her spaces she had felt
His breath on her neck before
On the dance floor with the beat no longer
Against space,
Behind a locked door.
Muted beat,
Lyrics play
She finally hears what he’s got to say.

Ass tap, dip back, hip thrust, she like that.
He think she like that.
Syncopated rhythms of harsh hands.
Syncopated rhythms of harsh hands.
Syncopated rhythms her heart stands…Still. You dance.

You can dance. Do a dance-step
At a funeral or at the scene of a crime.
Rape with the
words and rape of the body
Are both rape of the mind.

A victim of dance can promise you this:
When there is no longer a beat
The music doesn’t always sound so sweet.

I open with this performance excerpt because this past week Caitlin closed my office door to purge a poem she’d been holding since we parted. It was a poem purposefully memorized. For months we passed each other, pitching empty promises and pocketing good intentions about reconnecting. When others cycled through my office, she sat unmoved–clutching her bag over her gut as if secrets were stashed there. She said I had to see her, to hear her—the near-tear and the crackle. She wanted me to bear witness to the poetics of her life.

Her poem haunts me.

On the one hand, I am ecstatic she distilled a semester-long discussion about hip hop feminism into a performance. The teacher-me says well done. On the other hand, the need-to-be-togetha-me has come undone with the fleshed-filled reminder that to do this work is to engage constantly in collective healing and self recovery. And women, we are not well. The stories we choose to tell are often triumphant yet traumatic. I wonder if the two represent our carefully choreographed two-step, our coping with the incomprehensible. So, we dance. So, we write. So, we try to get back (into) ourselves that thing that has been lost or taken from us. The triumph of self awareness and the trauma of sexual assault converse. Caitlin crystallizes what we’ve managed to dance around: the psychic toll of violence—real and representational. The victim-survivor trope she uses is a familiar one in our feminist creative-intellectual work. Why this trope? Why these stories?
We empty ugly onto the floor and the page to form art that moves folk, an art form that propels (a) movement. What are we moving toward? What do we make of this cathartic dance we write? Caitlin demanded that I see her, hear her. With recognition comes accountability. I just want to dance right? I just want to dance right. I just want to dance.Write. I sit with her poem and can’t shake that we are stuck in a groove, listening to another woman trying to fight the rhythm while we sing the same tune.


The Twilight of Good Sense

10 May

Yes, this is a post about Twilight. Well, sort of. If you break out into hives at the mere mention of the series (ahem, “saga”) that has tweens, some of their older sisters, and a lot of their mamas enthralled, keep it moving.  I understand your pain.

I was anti-Twilight from the jump. I remember seeing the cover and thinking it was interesting.  (Whoever designed the eye-catching covers for the series is brilliant). Then I read the jacket flap and saw that it was pure crap. In fact, this happened to me a couple of times; I’d see the cover and think, great design and then when I opened it I saw it was the same crappy book. I know the axiom about not judging a book by its cover (or, in this case, by its jacket flap). In fact, I remember going to a book store and seeing the striking cover for asha bandele’s memoir The Prisoner’s Wife and being immediately intrigued. I read the jacket flap and was like, I don’t know if I’m up for this. Fast forward more than ten years later and it’s one of my favorite books and I’ve taught it several times. But, let’s keep it real, Stephanie Meyer is no asha bandele.

And lest you think I’m a sci-fi/fantasy/paranormal romance hater, I’ll let you know I’m not. I grew up reading all of that, in addition to a healthy dose of Harlequins, Danielle Steele, and V.C. Andrews. I devoured Terry Prachett, Piers Anthony, Anne McCaffrey, random sword and swashbuckling dragon-fighting novels, and anything that was about mythology or folklore. I read X-Men comics (and watched the cartoon), I was addicted to Batman: The Animated Series, and I watched all of the Star Treks. To this day, Robin McKinley’s The Hero and the Crown is one of my favorite books. (How I managed to sneak in some Jane Austen and Toni Morrison is rather surprising, in retrospect).

I mention my sundry literary history to say that I’m what you might call an Afro Nerd. (And that’s Dr. Afro Nerd to you in the back sniggling). Point is, I know my weird. But just as I was spreading my feminist wings in high school, I began pushing away from the sci-fi. I was reading all this stuff about knights and ladies and traveling into space and I was not seeing myself reflected in the pages. Eventually, I stumbled on Parable of the Sower and it changed my life. I still gave sci-fi the side eye for its racism, sexism, and imperialist fantasies, but I was so happy to find a black! woman! writing! in the genre that I loved.

Anyhow, with my nerdtastic credentials I can smell paranormal bullshit (i.e. Twilight) a mile away. But, when Crunkista said, “Watch Twilight, you’ll enjoy it,” I couldn’t just cast her recommendation aside. I mean, Crunkista knows her stuff. So, I rented the movie and you know what? I laughed my tookus off. I know it’s not supposed to be funny, but that’s half of the fun—guffawing at the ridiculous high school angst and the corny lines, all the while admiring RPattz’s blush and eyeliner, not to mention Taylor Lautner’s abs. (He makes me feel like an old dirty lady, but I digress). I have even read the “saga.” (All I can say is I can never get the hours back that were sucked away by thousands of  cringe-worthy pages. They were good for a guffaw or two, I will say that. Anything to not grade papers).

So many others have rightfully lambasted Twilight (see here, for a start), so I’m not going to reinvent the wheel, as it were. I do want to give a shout-out to some good fantasy/sci-fi/speculative fiction, works that don’t feature vapid, listless, uninteresting protagonists who cannot live without a man and that don’t feature characters of color as the animal attachés to a set of heroic whites. How about Octavia Butler’s Fledging (a great twist on the vampire novel), or Jewelle Gomez’s The Gilda Stories (black lesbian vampires, ftw!), or if you want to get a little more fluffy, check out the Vampire Huntress series by L.A. Banks, which features fierce vampire hunter Damali and her on-again/off-again vampire beau, Carlos Rivera.

I’ve been thinking a lot about CF Chanel’s post about meeting girls where they are. Like other crunk feminists, I see the efficacy of using what girls are watching, listening to, and reading as a way to engage them. And as Chanel and others have suggested,  we need to show them (and ourselves) that there are choices. And if they haven’t read a novel or story that features the world as they (would like to) see it, they should, as crunk foremother Toni M. suggests, write it. I wonder if when we see our sisters, cousins, daughters, and/or friends reading New Moon or what have you, if we can’t also just slip them a copy of The Gilda Stories (or a blank notebook and a pen) and see what happens. I’m just saying.

A todas ellas…

6 May

Two weeks ago the flu colonized my immune system. I lay in bed for what seemed like an eternity. I cried for my mami each and every one of those days. I am nearly 30 years old and I’m not kidding. I cried for my mami…sometimes for hours. This recent incident and the many hours of subsequent heavily-medicated-induced hallucinations forced me to think of all of the women who, along with my mother, cared for me as a child, as an adolescent and as a young adult. With Mother’s Day around the corner, I’m reflecting on all of the amazing women who loved, nurtured, protected, fed, instructed, encouraged, disciplined, motivated and inspired me. It takes a community to raise a child and it took a strong community of women to raise me.

I’d like to take the time today to thank all of those women: the babysitters, teachers, dentists, waitresses, sweatshop workers, cooks, seamstresses, lunch ladies, doctors, nurses, farmers, bus drivers, bakers, artists, hairdressers, dancers, bodega owners, nosy neighbors, crazy neighbors, grandmothers, godmothers, aunties, sisters, cousins, step-sisters, friends and cherished memories of lost loved ones. You were my role-models: my beautiful, intelligent, bossy, courageous, hard-working, curious, persistent, flawed, funny, brave, nostalgic, moody, warm, tired, gossiping, immigrant, loving, crazy, nurturing, bilingual-enough, selfless, angry, honest, struggling and complicated community of miracle workers. I took you for granted but I will never forget the lessons you taught me. Thank you. A million times…thank you.

To my own mother – You amazed me then. You amaze me now. I needed you then. I continue to need you now. I love you more than words could ever faithfully express. Please love me. All of me. Please.

Still gay, still me,

Meeting Girls Where They Are

4 May

Continue reading

Blogging Against Disablism

2 May

I wrote this last year for BADD and it’s still true. I want to highlight it again in light of what’s happening in AZ, the fact that the Atlanta protest had just a handful of black folks and others marching in solidarity with an almost entirely Latino crowd, and the fact that movements really need to figure out how to connect to each other. I hope this piece will ring a little less true 2011.

So I’ve been reading the blogs for Blogging Against Disablism Day 2009 (2010) and I’m overwhelmed with the daily violences enacted through ableism. So much of ableism seems to be connected to a capitalistic understanding of the body, i.e. the body is a tool for generating capital in the world as constructed by temporarily able bodied people. There’s no understanding or room for folks who challenge the very structure of our social structure with the ways they move (or don’t) through the world.

I’ve been trying to imagine a different world, one in which “work” was not assumed to be a requirement for anyone. Instead of thinking in terms of what people can do, it would be about how people care for one another and the earth. How can we each do a bit to care for each other and help sustain each other and help sustain the things that help sustain us (plants, animals, ecosystems, etc.)? A radical decentering of humans is necessary, and even how we understand humanity has to shift too right?

Critiques of temporarily able bodied or nondisabled bodied folks fears of disability, particularly drugs and disability, really reached me. I wonder about my own problematic beliefs about drugs and my desire not to use them, my own belief in an evil consumerist big pharma selling sickness to the world. And I wonder if this might be a both/and. That I am both ableist in my thinking that I’m a wimp for needing tylenol for cramps every month but biomedical interests need some serious critique for testing in Africa, patenting plant compounds that indegenous communities have been using for centuries, and over medicating the world. Isn’t some disability the by product of oppressive capitalism and other isms, like racism, sexism, and ageism?

As today was also May Day, Labor Day, International Workers’ Rights Day, I was thinking about the connections between the two and how these blog communities seem so segregated. Race is rarely mentioned in these disability blogs. Class, gender, and even sexuality come through more clearly than race. Yet if we investigate, we see that most of these bloggers are white. Most of these bloggers live in the US and UK. White is a race. Race matters. This always makes me wonder.

I have a lot of people in my family with disabilities, though none of them would consider themselves disabled. In talking with another radical woman of color, it seems that disability is so the “norm” in our communities, it’s often not marked as an identity unto itself. I often wonder about what a release it might be for women of color to see disability as a framework that intersects with race and gender, to not always feel the need to keep fighting, even when it hurts, to let go of the ways that we as cis and trans women of color in particular, have taken up ableism in ways that reproduce harm to ourselves and the communities we “work” so hard and care for. Why does disability mostly look white?

And while it seems so necessary, to bring these movements and experiences together, to use an intersectional lens, I think it’s so important that we don’t flatten out difference when we look for similarities. I think we are so use to ticking off that ever expanding list of race, sex, class, gender, sexuality, age, dis/ability, indigeniety, etc. we forget that intersection does not necessarily mean equal or parallel. While there may be no hierarchy of oppression, I think that there are ways in which our tendency to compare racism to ableism to sexism to homophobia can make us miss the nuances and the unique ways each of those plays out in the unique constellation of individual lives.

This is why I’m so excited to be a part of this blog community. I think this is proving to be a space where we all see the situatedness of our analysis and yet we still reach for each other and understand the value of each others’ standpoint. I’m ever hopeful these days and I thank you all for contributing to my optimism.

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