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Happy Coming Out (and Going In) Day!

11 Oct Donna Summer

Today is national coming out day so I called my girlfriend early this morning. “Hello? Are you okay?” she asked, sleep and worry mixed in her voice. “I’m gay,” I said. “Today is national coming out day and I thought you should know.” “Goodbye.” She hung up. She’s not a morning person. She also “came out” in her teens and I, a grown woman, am way behind. For me, coming out isn’t as scary as it probably was for her in the mid-nineties.

I’m grown. I already had a baby “out of wedlock“, so I’ve experienced the worst of the anger caused by middle class politics of respectability. I have good friends. I had queer community before I even knew what it was. I’m an academic at an institution that is at least queer friendly on paper so I’ve learned how to develop systems of belief that make room for my whole being. I have enough queer politics to believe that anyone who has a problem with the way that I identify is at least misinformed about the nature of “natural.” I believe most things are socially constructed. I believe gender isn’t a binary opposition. Nor is sex. I don’t believe gender and sex are the same things. I believe in sexual fluidity and openness. I believe that texts, even the ones we hold most dear, are signs and therefore open to infinite interpretations. So what does a person with a belief profile like mine do on a day like today?

I was going to use my rainbow umbrella but it didn’t rain.

I was going to hold hands with my girlfriend in public but I’m in a long distance relationship.

I was going to put an “Out and Proud” sticker on my car but I’m still paying for it.

I was going to write a post under my own name but I decided to create an alias especially for the family members who stalk me on this site even though they don’t understand half of what is posted here. Runtelldat.

So I’m thinking. In the Judith Butler since of the concept, coming out may really be “going in”– into a box constructed by those who are hyper-vigilant about protecting their heterosexuality, a category that is as unstable as its binary opposition. In this dialectic, gay is what straight isn’t. Gay is natural hair because straight is permed hair (no seriously. Many of you are reading this in big cities, but when I first brought my nappy head back to my hometown, I received knowing glances and women touched my thighs a lot in public. I thought they were cousins I’d forgotten until my brother told me I was being read as gay.). Gay is a pantsuit with brogans because straight is a skirt with heels. Gay is the avoidance of ridiculous shit like “strictly dickly” and other phrases that straight girls use to protect themselves from themselves. Straight is a system of binaries and gay is bending the line. So I don’t want to come out just to go into some other box that will also confine me.

No. This is gay in a box: “Help me. I’m in a box. Let me out of this box!”

In a non-Butlerian, family sense, coming out is also “going in”– to communities constructed for those who get thrown out. I know that I’m going to get thrown out. I may not get to kiss my nephews and nieces anymore, as siblings have previously told me they don’t want “that gay shit” around their kids. I may also be forced out of other communities, real and imagined. I know there are some “back-home” friendships that will sadly end. There is a person whose hand I held as her father took his last, rattling breaths. When my “coming out” reaches her, I wonder if she’ll think that while I witnessed death up close for the first time, I was actually pushing back feelings of lust for her. I wasn’t. There are places I haven’t even been that will throw me out, places far less liberal than this relatively utopian community in which I live. Especially if I stay in the South. Queer folks stay getting whipped by the Bible Belt.

Painting of queer women in rainbow colors.

This is a utopian queer community. No “isms” in this painting.

My friend also reminded me that in the black vernacular sense, coming out is also “going in.” I started this journey with a theory: sexuality is ultimately fluid (which reminds me, I need to rewrite this), and many of the behaviors that we think are natural are actually learned. I then practiced this theory by kissing a girl who smelled like fabric softener and that was the end of my heterosexuality. It was easy to give up. Why? Because it didn’t really exist in the first place. Because sexuality exists on a continuum. Because we hold onto constructs that we think will save us until our fingertips bleed, and only when we slip do we realize that the abyss (in this case, whatever exists in excess of compulsory heterosexuality) is only two feet away. And its fun down there. And that was a pun. And that, gentle reader, is going in. Which is one of the things that I get to do (in the spirit of the Lorde) when I come out.

Audre Lorde speaking.

This is Sister Audre GOIN IN!

So I return to the notion of coming out and what it means for a grown woman academic who usually feels buttressed by the discourse in which she has chosen to reside. I wonder if coming out is for teenagers in search of community and protection from a system that denies children the right to be and find themselves. Is coming out just for married men who want to scare the world via Oprah? Is coming out for those whose celebrity will help secure rights and privileges for queer common folk like myself?

I think I’d rather just skip that part and go in, like Wayne sans misogyny. What do you think?

Asking for Sex: Revisited

12 Jul

Last week, I wrote a post called Asking for Sex: What to Do When the Guy Says No. My interest in writing the post was to explore the contingencies and challenges of asserting sexual desire as a straight Black woman. What I know now is that there is much truth to that saying about hell and good intentions.

Because I respect our community of readers, I want to both take some responsibility for the lack of clarity in the post and also actively (and perhaps aggressively) respond to many of the claims (and attacks) made on and about me in light of it.

Here is the section of the post that seem to give many of you pause:

#TrueStory: chalk it up to #VenusRetrograde but last month saw exes coming out the woodworks. I had a chance to have dinner and clear the air with one that I really liked.  After a lovely dinner and good conversation (not to mention an extended drought), I asked if he’d like to accompany me back to my room.

Surprise of surprises: he declined. Exasperated (and horny) I asked “Why?” Lo and behold, he flipped the gender script and told me some version of: “I’m happy to have you back in my life. I don’t want to move too prematurely because we are rebuilding our relationship.” Riiiiight. What I wanted to know is what our “relationship” had to do with the sex that I needed to have right then and there.

 The primary criticism of my story has been about the issue of consent. My choice to question my ex’s decision read to many of you as a failure to respect the classic feminist anti-rape mantra “no means no.” Thus, one blogger whom I respect referred to my story as “rapey and presumptuous.” Moreover, some of you felt that my suspicion about his intentions and my read of his responses as a kind of patriarchal power play amounted to a bad and un-rigorous invocation of feminism. Many of our male readers felt compelled to let me know that “men are human beings with feelings, and not mindless sex fiends.” Finally, many of you felt that the post wreaked of entitlement to sex and/or partnership.

I usually move through the world with an absolute refusal to defend myself against claims that I feel are  baseless, but my feminist inspired commitment to end sexual violence has been called into question by suggestions that my actions toward my ex participate in and perpetuate rape culture. An accusation of rape necessitates a response.

Let me unequivocally state that all people of all genders have the right to say no, to withhold consent, without fear or threat of coercion. Anything short of that is rape.

I also want to revisit the narrative I told, in hopes that folks will understand the emotion I attempted (rather clumsily) to communicate in the original post.

My ex’s refusal of sex was exasperating for many reasons—this is the same man who two years ago rejected out of hand my desire to explore a relationship, because we lived long distance.  He wanted to keep the friendship – the deep emotional connection, long conversations, and access to a person with whom he could talk politics, and commiserate—sans the sex. And while I value and have good platonic friendships with men, that’s not what I’m in the market for right now.  Particularly since as I’ve written elsewhere, many of these “friendships” turn into intellectual and emotional affairs, that are predicated on me doing girlfriend duties without getting girlfriend benefits. I want and deserve more, and I am no longer willing to do this kind of prolonged emotional labor unless it has some intimate returns. And the sex I wanted that night didn’t foreclose the possibility of a relationship. 

So when he came calling last month, after a year and a half, my interests were peaked. When I saw him several weeks later, I asked why he had called. His reply: “I missed our interaction. Our friendship.”  That sounds beautiful, but could easily have meant more of the same—he wanted my emotional and intellectual investment without any intimacy investment on his part. His actions became even more telling when he arrived home a while later, and then sexted a barrage of salacious messages about his future intentions towards me. #powerplay

I recognize that women who struggle to find partners often have competing challenges – some women meet men who objectify them and want to jump into bed with them without regard to knowing them as people. Women with this experience often take great issue with my story because what they see is a man who wants substance and not merely sex. But the flip side can be equally exploitative –dudes (and that is intentionally plural) who want to use me for intellectual masturbation and who benefit from my capacity to offer deep and consistent emotional support, which they happily and thoughtlessly exploit on their way to sexual and/or full romantic connections with other partners.  And mind fucks are not what I’m interested in.

So like I said in the original post…exasperation is the word.

Now that I’ve shared more of my business than I should ever have to, I want to share a list of reflections on my story and on the general reactions to the blog.

  • Dudes be on bullshit when it comes to acknowledging the operations of (Black) male privilege.
  • Consent was never an issue in this interaction. It became a straw man in this blog conversation, used in a reactionary way by men who didn’t want to acknowledge another manifestation of male privilege, namely the fact that men do play power games with sex.
  • Consent and desire are not competing goals; the former, freely expressed, is a prerequisite for the free, healthy and legal expression of the latter.
  • Black female desire is not (inherently) predatory. But casting our desire as predatory and threatening allows others to police us into silence. Then it becomes easy to blame Black women not only for having needs in the first place but also for the failure to have them met.
  • A Black man who claims to want a relationship is inherently a more sympathetic character than a Black woman who claims to want sex, even among feminists who claim to be pro-sex.
  • Black men still feel like their needs are primary and will take up all the space (and air) in the room to protect their primacy in racial dialogue.
  • They do this without regard to how their choices affect Black women.
  • Black men didn’t create the structures that disadvantage Black women in romance and sex, but the same education and career attainments that open doors for Black men around sex and partnership, frequently foreclose options for Black women
  • These are all examples of Black male privilege.
  • No one really believes Black women when we testify about our experiences.

To get theoretical and academic for a minute:

  • Agency is not freedom. Agency is the shit we talk about in a system of limited options and choices. That means that our uses of agency are inherently limited. Enslaved folk created rich and vibrant cultures in the unreasonable conditions of unfreedom, but they never mistaked their ability to do one (agency) for their right to have the other (freedom).   
  • For some of us, trying to find partners (of whatever type, for whatever purpose) is like trying to make a dollar out of fifteen cents.  Many of us go for it, actively donning our supershero costumes, with battle cries of “statistics be damned. I’ma find me a man.”  That’s agency, for sure. And for many of us it works; but for many it doesn’t. And when it doesn’t work, surely we can be honest about that, too? Surely those who make it happen or luck up, depending on your perspective, don’t have to get amnesia and start treating other sisters like we are all working with a full 100% on the dollar.   
  • Discursive constructions of freedom and material access to freedom are not the same thing, no matter what poststructuralism would have us believe. In other words, we can’t just imagine ourselves out of this shit.
  • That fact doesn’t mean we don’t get up everyday and try again to create the world anew.
  • We would rather call the desire for partnership and sex on one’s own terms entitlement, than a basic expression of human need and desire.
  • The question of whether partnership is a right and if so what kind of right is interesting theoretically. It is perhaps more telling that the people who get asked to justify their sexual and romantic desires are lacking in some sort of obvious privileges (race, gender, sex, age, ability). 

 Readers, over these years of blogging I have shared personal narratives about my dating life with this community, because intimate interactions are one of the key places that we work out our ideas about gender, sex, and power. But this shit is hard to do. It is frequently violent (the comments section is not for the faint of heart).  If we want a sustained archive of Black women talking and testifying about sex and relationships in a substantive way, we have to figure out how to make this a less violent process. I hope we can begin that work today by engaging the comments section in a thoughtful, loving, gracious, and emotionally just manner.

 

Thanks for reading,

 

Crunktastic

Asking for Sex: What Do You Do When the Guy Says No?

2 Jul

Frequently, I tell my friends that my life is a bad romantic comedy. There’s plenty of comedy, little romance, and never a happy ending.

This has become all the more apparent as I have attempted to make sex a regular rather than sporadic occurrence in my post-30 life.

I swear that I have managed to meet the only 200 men on the planet who actually say “No” when you ask for sex. (Of course I’m exaggerating. I don’t think I personally know 200 men that I find sexually attractive.)

Feminism and becoming a grown-ass woman with a strong-ass 30+ year old monster libido has made me decidedly  less embarrassed about asking for what I want, particularly as it relates to my intimate life.

In fact, asking for what I want and need has become my mantra for 2012. One of my good friends gave me exactly this advice on January 1st of this year. And recently, I heard Joan Morgan, my feminist big sister shero say exactly this same thing at a series of wonderful discussions on Emotional Justice that I’ve been attending. “Ask for what you need,” she implored the audience, because  to paraphrase the ending, “you just might get it.”

And getting it—good and on the regular—is what I’m interested in.

But my asking hasn’t helped.

#TrueStory: chalk it up to #VenusRetrograde but last month saw exes coming out the woodworks. I had a chance to have dinner and clear the air with one that I really liked.  After a lovely dinner and good conversation (not to mention an extended drought), I asked if he’d like to accompany me back to my room.

Surprise of surprises: he declined. Exasperated (and horny) I asked “Why?” Lo and behold, he flipped the gender script and told me some version of: “I’m happy to have you back in my life. I don’t want to move too prematurely because we are rebuilding our relationship.” Riiiiight. What I wanted to know is what our “relationship” had to do with the sex that I needed to have right then and there.

For that there were no answers.

Perhaps it’s the sexual frustration talking but I have been especially annoyed by all this pop culture talk of celibacy brought on by Megan Good’s choice to abstain until her recent marriage to Devon Franklin, a Hollywood exec and devout Christian.

During last night’s BET Awards, she stayed on message, happily celebrating the fact that now that she’s married she can have all the sweaty, R&B induced sex she’d like.

Her public abstinence campaign led to several conversations about what role sex should play in relationships.

Now one could argue that men being more thoughtful about sex, rather than being the selfish entitled asses that they have traditionally been is a feather in feminism’s cap.

And I know lots of Christian sisters take Meagan Good’s story as evidence that there are good brothers who will wait.

Three things though:

A.)  We aren’t all Meagan Good.

B.)  For this one brother she found that was willing to do the quote-unquote right thing, there are 50 that won’t. I’ma PK (preacher’s kid). Trust me.

Maybe I’m just being cynical.  But there is also this.

C.)  Every woman isn’t trying to get married.

For the perpetually single sister, whether by choice or circumstance, Christianity’s general view of sexuality leaves little to hope for.

Even so, if all this celibacy talk didn’t smack of “user-friendly patriarchy” (shout out to Diva Feminist), I might be convinced.

But what I can tell you is this: Getting my courage up to ask a partner that I trust for the sex that I wanted only to be turned down left me feeling hella disempowered.

As feminists one of the major tenets of hetero-sex positivity discourse is making women feel empowered to ask for what we want, to know that our needs and desires matter. Back in the day, some of the original pro-sex Hip Hop Feminists, TLC said, “yo, if I need it in the morning or the middle of the night, I ain’t too proud to beg”

#realtalk: I’m a little too proud to beg. But not to ask. 

What should we do when men flip the script and tell us no? 

For instance in this recent piece at Essence.com, the male author had the nerve to be “concerned” that a woman might reject the possibility of a relationship with an otherwise compatible mate if his sex game was found lacking.

Now that women are prioritizing sexual pleasure, men are changing the rules. They are recognizing that sexual performance can decline with age just like beauty.

But frankly, strictly speaking from my own experience, I think that men say no as a way to regain power.

 I have a strong personality, I’m outspoken, and smart. Whatever the fuck Steve Harvey says, I know some brothers have found it intimidating. Denying sex becomes an easy way for men to let you know who’s boss.

Of late, I’ve had more than a few homegirls tell me about the negative reactions that they have gotten from men they were casually involved with, when they tried to prioritize sex in the interaction. Apparently, even when these brothers weren’t all that interested in a relationship, they took it as a serious blow to the ego, to find out that sisters just wanted to engage them for their bodies and sexual talents.

And in the classic fashion of those with privilege, they played the victim, changed the rules, and refused to give the thing they had the power to give. In this case, sex.

I wish I had some pithy insights about how to negotiate this madness. For instance, I know these kinds of stories make pro-sex feminists (of which I am one, very uncomfortable).  In a system that highly constrains choice, agency is a precious commodity, and no one likes to feel like they have no agency. And that is how this shit feels on many days.

I’ll say this one thing: I’m not indiscriminate in my sexual choices. Given the AIDS crisis among Black women, and the high rates of HPV, an STI which condoms do not offer 100% protection from and which disproportionately leads to the cervical cancer deaths of Black women at a rate 200% of that of our white counterparts, I cannot afford to be indiscriminate.

Moreover, I refuse to apologize for having standards, even for my sex life.

Truth be told, it sucks to feel like on the one hand, good long-term relationships are hard to come by (and 70% of Black women with advanced degrees are single, mind you) and on the other hand, your sexual empowerment strategy is literally a life and death situation, every single time.

This is the kind of ish that professional women of color confront on our journey to trying to find the balance, the all, that highly educated professional white women rarely have to think twice about. {Good reply here though.} I mean, fuck ALL. Can I just get some?!

But I know my desires are healthy. Human. Holy, even. I also know that #AClosedMouthDon’tGetFed. So I have no choice but to keep asking, hoping that in “asking, it shall be given, that in seeking I will find.”  And along the way, I will remember Joan’s most important words from Emotional Justice:  “I try to be as fearless as possible in my love practice.” Word. May courage be my angel.

Birthday Sex

1 Mar

Today is our second blogiversary! The journey of these last two years in community with each other and all of you, our beloved readers, has been exhilarating, soul-affirming, life-sustaining, sometimes challenging and frustrating, but totally completely worth it. Thank you for joining us on the journey!

So on this day when we are celebrating our collective effort to bring into life this space of creative praxis, healing, celebration, and the very hard work of imagining and creating a better world, I find myself thinking about what practices and relationships in our lives facilitate healing, celebration, and creativity.

Sex.

Yes, sex is not the only thing that can help us to heal, to celebrate, and to create; Our work can do it; our friendships can do it; our art can do it; our families can do it; but nothing does it quite like good sex.

And frankly, in my world, a world filled (though not solely or exclusively) with highly-educated single Black women, sex perennially gets the short end of the stick. Most often because of circumstance, not choice.

One of my close sista prof friends frequently jokes that the last time she had sex, Bush was president.  I wish I could say that that she was the exception, but all too frequently among the Blackademic set, she is the rule.

At the same time, quantity is no indicator of quality. All sex is not good sex.

So where in fact, can a sista find good, consistent, sex? 

Contrary to pop culture advice in recent days, I can beginning by telling you what and where good sex isn’t.

Good sex doesn’t begin by instructing young boys to take it to the hole, as Too Short recently did. As I said last month, little boys who take that advice become grown men with little knowledge about how women’s bodies actually work. That is, if they don’t become rapists first.

Notwithstanding the title of this post, Good sex is not about letting someone taste your birthday cake, particularly if that person is responsible for nearly shortening the length of the birthdays you might have had.

And good sex certainly won’t come from the Black church’s failure to engage with the ramifications of sexual violence, a continued practice which is reflective of a larger silencing of healthy sexual ethics in the church in general.

(Selah)

During a recent conversation, one of my homegirls and I were chatting about a major career accomplishment. When I asked what she was going to do to celebrate, she said simply I’m “getting some.” Initially, I didn’t know what she meant, not because I’m obtuse, but because I knew how long her most recent drought had been. I also knew she had actively been trying to remedy that problem through online dating. No stranger to prolonged droughts or complicated dating strategies myself (Operation: Get It In 2010 comes to mind), I told her what any good friend would: “Girl, make it rain.”

And she did.

A couple of days later, she called for our standard debrief of the encounter. (I told y’all these are military-style operations.) We chatted about what worked and didn’t, and whether she’d go back for more. And then she said the word that we are taught as good pro-sex feminists should never apply to casual encounters. She felt empty. And I understood. I have felt that way.

But, wait. Emptiness?  Didn’t we (monolithic, sex-positive, feminists) already decide that it was retrograde to think that women need emo sex?

Yes. Yes we did. And rightfully so, I think.

But let me go out on a radical feminist limb here and suggest that straight-up fucking in which folks use each other’s bodies for the sexual labor they provide is not necessarily what me and my homegirls are seeking. For so many of us who followed the good girl script that education should always come before sex and boys, we are confronting a reality in which we achieved our dreams in the most extreme sense. We have more education than we can stand, but the partners that we thought would come from ordering our lives the right way are not forthcoming.Our lives may not depend on good sex , but our livelihoods and our feelings of aliveness certainly do. We are looking for connection, not just physicality.

But can connection and the intimacy it implies be a casual thing?

I don’t know the answer to that. But I do know that’s it’s a dangerous proposition, when one considers capitalist histories of bodily exploitation, particularly as it relates to Black bodies, to ask Black women to engage our bodies in ways that make us feel like someone’s blow up doll. That tell-tale feeling of emptiness is a direct byproduct of feeling like your body is being exploited for its sexual labor, with no concern for your value as a person.

And therein lies my own ambivalence about casual sex.

On the one hand, in my own process of getting to grown, and acknowledging my needs as a grown woman, feminism gave me the language to both identify and advocate for my sexual needs, especially as a person who has been officially single for nearly my entire adulthood. Still, I find that sexual assertiveness is often met with suspicion. In the case of hetero interactions, many brothers see care as something that they only give to women they want long-term relationships with. Not fuck-buddies. Not jump offs. Not friends with bennies. Couple that with the fact that many dudes seem to have a terribly unsophisticated understanding of women’s bodies, I suspect because they gleaned many of their ideas from the 2-dimensional portrayals in porn, and you have an equation for terribly unfulfilling sex.

So how do we deal?

Well, I think that good feminist sex comes down to one basic element. No, not love. Care.

Patricia Hill Collins told us a long time ago that an ethic of care is an integral component of a Black feminist epistemology. She suggests that an ethic of care prioritizes individual expressiveness, together with a respect for emotions, and a capacity and commitment to empathy.

Good soulful, healing sex is certainly a reflection of this ethic; for it invites us to be ourselves (individual expressiveness), recognizes that our feelings matter (emotional justice), and demands that we prioritize our relationship to our partner(s) needs (radical empathy).

But in recognizing how integral an ethic of care is to our epistemological orientation (and by this I simply mean, how we know the world), we might have to acknowledge that sex without care can be and frequently is a form of epistemic violence, especially towards Black women.

How did I get there? Well, let me back up. I’m driving at something fundamentally basic.

Sex is a way of knowing the world. It is an epistemological act. There are things that we can only know about the world through sexual engagement. Great sex makes me feel fully alive, allows me to tap in to my joys, my pleasures, my desires, in a deeply embodied way.  Asexual people know the world in a different way, and I want to acknowledge that.

But what I find troubling is a situation in which Black women, both those who are highly educated, and those who are deeply ensconsed in the Church, are often forced by virtue of limited choices or limiting dogma to live asexual lives in bodies that are screaming for sexual engagement. My father, who is a pastor, once told me that a lot of shouting that goes on in churches on Sunday morning is repressed sexual energy. Since sexuality and spirituality are deeply intertwined, I don’t see shouting or its connection to sexuality as inherently a problem. But if this act of sexual-spiritual expression is happening in a context that demonizes all non-marital expressions of sexuality, then the church is creating an unhealthy mind-body split for Black women. (And there literally seems to be no fucking way out.)

Free sexual expression allows us to feel fully human. And anything that helps us colonized peoples—Black, Brown, Indigenous—to know how fully human we are is dangerous. That is why we live in a world hell-bent on regulating our expressions of sexuality.

But it is also precisely the reason why we owe it to ourselves to foreground an ethic of care in our sexual interactions. And to know that it is a feminist act to do so. 

If no strings attached is your thing, more power. I think we would do well to acknowledge, though, that sex is very much about empathetic, emotional connectivity with another person. When did it become un-feminist to desire that connectivity in a casual situation? I say the desire for care is quintessentially feminist.

 Care means that you recognize and respect another person’s humanity. You are attuned to their needs, and to the extent that you can meet their needs, you are committed for the length of the interaction to doing so. Care is not love. We do caring things every day for people we don’t even know: we hold doors open for strangers, let folks cut in front of us in traffic, pick up an item that a person has unknowingly left behind and return it to them. These are acts of care. And yet, sex-positive feminism seems to suggest that the only care required in sex is a willingness to use a condom, honesty about STD status, and a commitment to gaining consent before proceeding. If sex is purely transactional, these ethical practices are enough.

But if we want something more, then respect is just a minimum. As I said in a post last year, sex is a form of creative power. And that power should be exercised with all diligent care.

Communion

14 Feb

*** NOT WORK APPROPRIATE

“Why Miss Celie, she say. You still a virgin.”
–Alice Walker, The Color Purple

“can/you touch yrself/&/when you do/ do you rush to say/ ‘get thee behind me/Satan?’”
–Ntozake Shange, “intermittent celibacy”

One.
The First Lady and the girl are tarrying for anointing. She has spent her teenaged summer wondering why God has not made her body worthy of the Spirit that stretches women across the Pentecostal pews, speaking in tongues and falling out under the touch of the First Lady. She has finally walked down the carpeted aisle toward First Lady’s towering hat, her outstretched hands. Together, they pray until cloven tongues like as of fire make the girl’s “hallelujahs” indiscernible to the natural ear. “Be patient,” says the First Lady. “You have to ask for your anointing and even then, it takes its time.”
The prayer room in the back of the deserted church is spirit-still. The parishioners have long left; the pastor is doing important pastor things in his office while his wife tends to woman things like tarrying for tongues. “Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, halle…” The girl’s tongue trips. She pauses, impatient. Sweat pools in the small of her back. “Be patient,” First Lady coos, speaking in her anointed tongue until it fills the room with thunder. The girl braces herself in the straight-backed church chair and speaks the twisting praise until numbness spreads from curled toe to tingling scalp. Her tongue slips again. And again. The fire that the apostles wrote about is trapped in her bones, and she speaks in the tongues of angels, shaking and shouting like women with twice her burden. “You see,” says the proud First Lady, “The holy spirit is a gentleman. He will not come unless you ask, unless you are sure you want Him. You’ve got to commune with the spirit.”

Two.
The girl/ woman knows now the crucible that birthed First Lady’s analogy. She lies frozen beneath a man who is neither gentleman nor spirit, holding her breath and praying for more anointing. He is the second man to surprise her with his erection, to take what is not offered, to violate sacred ground. She wonders if/ when she said yes.

Three.
The woman has lost his face beneath her navel, this man who knows her fear of flesh, the man who has told her that sex is body-worship. She prays under the ceiling fan as the room spins ecstatic. She feels every second of the minutes that go by. He caresses her clitoris with first the broad flat of his tongue, then teases her with the fluttering tip. She grabs ears, rakes hair… He draws her full pearl into the vacuum of his mouth, sucking her through her spasms. She rides the waves with her bucking hips and begins to shake beneath the hands resting on her stomach. She anoints his face with her oils, pouring from a reservoir unknown. She holds her breath and freezes, bracing herself for what she has imagined inevitable. But he is a just glistening smile, retreating and moving close until he rests against her shaking body, head to pounding heart. She feels him flaccid against her knee and begins to breathe again, wondering if she owes him. In the morning, the fried-egg, burnt-toast answer is no.
She spends many nights beneath the ceiling fan that sticky summer. She has bucked against his patient mouth, bounced God’s name off paint-chipped walls. They take his sheets to the Laundromat; the spinning suds remind her of her liquid self.
One night, he stops her before she shimmies her panties to her ankles, prepares to climb into fresh sheets. “Do you know there doesn’t have to be an after? This is sex too. I’m not going anywhere near you until you ask me. You don’t have to be afraid.” She rewinds the nights, lets the pattern play back in the theater of her mind, and shimmies unafraid.

One day soon, she will make his bed a river and forget to feel pressure. She will grab ears, rake hair, and shout all the gods from all the heavens. She will ache to ride his patience, long to extend an invitation for flesh. But her tongue will be tied. She has never asked for it before.
That truth will make her nakedly giddy. She will have answered the question that she had asked for years. Was there some truth to the Paul of Tarsus/ R. Kelly, mind/ body split? Had she ever asked for it before? Had she given signals? Had her eyes been deceiving? Had she made some sort of inadvertent hip movement, unknowingly signaled some sort of go-ahead that only her partners were taught to read? No. Never. Not once. In that moment, she will know those other men to be liars, know herself capable of wanting this communion of flesh.
“Please,” she will say, pushing boxers past his slight hips, nodding to the drawer where she knows he keeps gold packets like treasure box toys. “I want to feel you.” He will ask her if she’s sure, remind her that sex is not a three-course meal. He will lick shoulders, kiss moles, and dip below her navel to fill her with the whole of his tongue. When she is brimming over like a baptismal pool, when she has exercised her rights and exorcized her wrongs over and over and over again, only then will he enter gently, kissing her “Yes”-ing mouth.
She will know for the first time what it is to breathe through the initial moments of puzzle piece bodies. She will know what it is to willingly expand to accept flesh, to make room for an invited guest. She will know what it is to ride hips, lick lips, and suck the flesh of collarbone without praying for a swift end. She will intimately know the spirit of sharing pleasures, the resounding clarity of yes.

Four.
Who will divide this woman? Who will disregard the temple of her body? Who will dictate her alienation– tell her she is either spirit or flesh, blessed or cursed, all evil or all good? Who will deny her the healing of communion?

Living Single

7 Feb

Living Single TV Show Female Cast

I hate the term single. Despite the fact that most of us come in to this world by ourselves and leave that way there’s an expectation of partnering in the interim. And while you are granted a bit more of a reprieve from single shade* in queerdom, there’s still a palpable partner privilege that operates. Couples only hang outs, automatic invites to your partner’s friends’ functions, less unwanted amorous attention because you’re read as off limits, more respect for your time as it’s obviously being impacted by another person, etc. I’ve had the unfortunate but not uncommon experience of losing friends to relationships, only to be heard from again in the equally unfortunate but not uncommon instance of the break up. As a non-partnered person I also feel some pressure when hanging out with half of a coupled couple. I sometimes sense suspicion of my intentions. It seems non-partnered people are read as a roving threat to relationships. There’s always some pop culture plot point where a generally good person, usually man or masculine, is tempted by an evil single seductress who doesn’t give a damn about the existing relationship. Y’all saw Obsessed right?

As I age, I am curious about that moment when singlehood switches in peoples’ minds from the willfulness of youthful independence to tragic pathological existence. I think that timeline is too short maybe even non-existent for straight women and while there’s a bit more leeway in queer community, there comes a point when casual dating isn’t cute anymore or perhaps even possible because folks are booed up. It has me wondering if there’s room to maintain a single life as an older person, like still dating in your 50’s and 60’s? And how do you find folks to date if all your peers at that age are married or partnered? I mean the Golden Girls had it rough but they’d all been married before. I really struggle with this as someone who is ambivalent about romantic relationships, particularly as constructed in this society.

Co-dependent love is constantly represented as the ideal.  “I can’t sleep/think/ live/function without you, romantic partner” leads to the inevitable crash of despair when things don’t work out because you’ve set up someone else to meet the impossible expectation of completing you. “Forsaking all others” doesn’t just imply sexual partners but in a nuclear model of family, seems to also speak to friendships and extended family. Why do mother-in-laws stay getting a bad rap?

And yet, there’s something really real about co-dependence in a culture that doesn’t value interdependence. A romantic partner is expected to be there, in “sickness and in health” in ways that we don’t demand of friendship. Subsequently, a spouse or partner has legal and social rights that a friend does not. For queer folks this is particularly important when unsupportive biological family can legally trump chosen family. Our legal system actively limits who we can call on which reflects and exacerbates social beliefs about relationships.

I have a more playful, flirtatious way of thinking about intimate relationships which usually rubs up against (and not in a good way) a social expectation for monogamy. I have romantic friendships that are not quite platonic, sexy time friends that aren’t quite lovers, close kindred spirits that should really be on my insurance before a romantic partner. And while pop culture flirts with poly possibilities, it never quite goes all the way. There are an endless number of songs that reference men cheating or women cheating on their boyfriends b/c of the supposed sexual prowess of whomever is singing/rapping the hit. So while there’s a tacit tolerance of cheating, intentional polyamory remains off the table. And even with an occasional “my girl’s got a girlfriend” and “ain’t no fun if the homies can’t have none,” women are tools for male fantasies, heterofying homosocial sexual behavior.  Folks are more into the illicitness of affairs and the freakiness of multiple sex partners than building articulated intimacy with more than one person. I digress…

I want to live in a world where there isn’t a hierarchy of relationships, where romantic love isn’t assumed to be more important than other kinds, where folks can center any relationships they want whether it be their relationship to their spiritual practice, kids, lovers, friends, etc. and not have some notion that it’s more or less important because of who or what’s in focus. I want to feel like I can develop intimacy with people whether we are sleeping together or not that I will be cared for whether I am romantically involved with someone or not.  I want a community that takes interdependency seriously that doesn’t assume that it’s only a familial or romantic relationship responsibility to be there for each other.

I didn’t just dream this way of relating to each other up. Other cultures and communities throughout time have had more options in terms of how they construct connection. And we are doing it now. Folks are creating interdependent relationships and community that disrupt popular perceptions of appropriate partnering. I just wonder what it will take to get more of us to honestly evaluate the realities of our love and determine whether we are actually getting what we want. Love is abundant, not scarce. Why would we ever want to limit or narrow its flow?

Asking for a Lift …From the Bathroom TOSD from Mia Mingus on Vimeo.

Sincerely,

Living single

Hat tip to Zachari C. for bringing her brilliance to the piece.

*Single shade – the general social derision of single people and singleness

Single, Saved, and Sexin’: The Gospel of Gettin’ Your Freak On

3 Feb

Note: This is the first post in our month long series on sex, love, and relationships. To protect the anonymity of the CFs and so that we may speak more freely, many of us will be posting this month under the Collective pseudonym CrunkAsHell. We will also let you know whenever a post is NSFW (not safe for work). Happy Reading!
Like most conservative Christian folks, I grew up believing, that sex was reserved for marriage. For years my sexual experiences were laden with guilt. I routinely went years at a time with no sexual contact, until I would finally, in a fit of weakness give in to my urges. I was caught in a continual cycle of self-denial, self-indulgence, guilt, confession, rinse and repeat, topped off by five years of celibacy. I was treating sex as if it were a bad habit that I desperately needed to break.

All of that is a prelude to a confession: I’m single. I’m saved (as in born-again Christian). And I have sex. Unapologetically.

At my former church, I spent at least one Friday a month, hanging with the dynamic, beautiful, thoughtful, educated sisters of faith who did ministry work. These women were not stuffy; they were totally real:  about how lonely it is without someone; about how they never saw themselves at 35 or 40 still being alone with no prospects; about how frustrating the prospect of perpetual celibacy is. But I respect these women because they decided that “doing it God’s way is best,” even if that means an indefinite period of celibacy. And so inevitably there would be the roll call of who had been celibate the longest. 5 years, 10 years, etc… And because these women believed strongly in the Bible as a rule book, no extramarital expressions of sexuality are permitted, not even masturbation.

I, however, have had a long-standing off-again/on-again relationship with more than one B.O.B. (battery-operated boyfriend).  And I simply don’t believe that someone else should get to touch my clitoris when I don’t.

So while I love these women and while I believe we love the same God, I do not love their sexual ethics. I do not think one can live and thrive in them. For me, Christianity is too much about grace, too much about freedom to engender the continual guilt, frustration, and anxiety, which I continually confronted merely for expressing my sexual selfhood. Surely there must be a better way.

But when it comes to the sex life of the single Christian, it’s hard to take the Bible as the gospel truth, because for us, their ain’t no good news in it. Song of Solomon’s erotic imagery notwithstanding, no scriptural loopholes permitting me to get my much-needed freak on presented themselves.

But a loophole is not what I needed. I needed a bigger view of God.

For so many women, the biggest faith struggle of their life has been “believing God for a mate.” Year after year, these women serve, pray, and live chaste, believing that God just requires more faith, or alternately, that God is still working on them. And the Black church, in its refusal to consider the impact of over-incarceration, poor education, underemployent, violence, and AIDS, on Black families and heterosexual Black marriages, only makes it worse by reinforcing Black women’s feelings of personal and relational inadequacy.  The Church’s parochial sexual politics and double standards have made it even harder for Black women to find the kinds of relationships they so desperately seek.  My sister friends want dudes who are in church often, “know the Word,” love God, and are willing to court them for as long as it takes with little to no physical contact. Most preachers don’t adhere to that standard, and while there are some men who would, there are many many, legitimately good brothers who won’t. Our churches rarely even preach celibacy to men. <Side Eye>

So when I recognized the way social conditions and religious guilt shaped my options for partnering, I began to ask different questions about my relationship to God, to the Bible, and to faith. Because my friends were following the rules, to a tee, and yet the rewards elude(d) them.

I don’t want the good stuff, sexual or otherwise, to elude me while I’m over here dutifully following the rules, so I’ve actively and painfully gone in search of a better way, filled with life affirming principles and enough grace to let me enjoy my life and some good sex, too.  ‘Cause frankly, now that I’m over 30, getting some, getting it good, and getting it on a regular basis is non-negotiable.

I refuse any longer to live a fear-driven life, based upon a set of rules that mete out punishment and reward based on how well I perform.  I think Jesus came to free us from performance driven living.  As women, we are no stranger to performance driven lives, which often leave us empty and unfulfilled as we try to be all things to all people. And then we turn around and try to do this same thing in our faith, and it isn’t working. For Black women who are already forced to be superhuman in every other aspect of the world, our faith space, personal and communal, can only be liberatory when it permits us to be fully human, sexuality and all.

If we choose to be honest and intentional, we can build life-affirming intimate relationships, both inside and outside of marriage. But our conservatism has stripped women of the right to be intentional about engaging  and enjoying their sexuality, even causing some women to avoid condoms and birth control, so they don’t have to acknowledge their choices. AIDS is real, fam.

Sex is a form of creative power. And it is in the literal fact of its creative aspects that we feel alive, fully human, and connected. I think God wants nothing less than this for us, and that requires regular, intimate connections of bodies, or at the very least a very regular, intentional and unapologetic intimate connection with our own body.

So sex is back on the table for me in an emotionally safe intimate connection with another person. Because marriage or no, I am clear about this one thing: celibacy is not for me. I need connection. I need intimacy. I need sex. Period.

That’s why I’m unapologetically single, saved, and sexin’.

Do Good Guys Always Finish Last?: Thoughts on Dating in the New Year

2 Jan

Happy New Year!

If you are over 30, highly accomplished and yet still single, perhaps you are breathing a sigh of relief at having survived another holiday season of prying questions, inappropriate remarks, and even, loneliness. This year, all of my aunties informed me at Christmas that they needed to know if I had a man, because they were diligently searching for one for me. Lol. Sigh. Where’s my drink?

Even as a New Year dawns and a brigade of single sisters marches forth declaring boldly that “this is gonna be the(ir) year,” I am easing in, like one dips a toe into potentially frigid water, hoping to find the dating scene warm and inviting, but fully prepared to bail if conditions are not favorable.

I really am an optimist, and I have never wanted to be a bitter black woman. But [you knew it was coming] after having my feelings hurt for the umpteenth time at the end of last year, I’m struggling to stay open.

I want to give brothers a fair shot, because I want them to do the same for us.  And I definitely believe there are some good brothers out there, just like there are loads of excellent sisters.

The problem, of late, however, is that good guys seem to be my problem.  Take my most recent prospect:

We met in graduate school, but lost touch after he moved away. When he found out I was in town for a conference, we met over dinner. At dinner he revealed that he had a huge crush on me in grad school, a fact to which I was totally oblivious. This interaction led to months of text-based flirtation (initiated by him), good phone conversation, and a very sexy rendevous the next time I was in town.  For several weeks after, he texted me every morning, followed by mutual texting throughout the day, long phone conversations on weekends—conversations in which he revealed deep hopes, dreams and goals. Conversations in which we talked about negotiating gender roles because he’s a self-avowed feminist.  I thought we were moving in a particular direction, not because of the sex, [we had agreed that the sex did not equal commitment] but because of all of the emotionally intimate interactions, which followed it.

Like a sucka, I began to feel something. And because we had a renegotiation clause in our verbal contract, I broached the subject, only to be quickly, if sweetly rebuffed. Dude did not want a long distance relationship, was emotionally incapable of it, he claimed.

What then was I to make of all his conversation about marriage and relationships, and personal likes, needs, wants?

When I explained that I felt misled, he was quick to whip out the terms of our verbal agreement. He cared about me, yes. But our deep emotional interaction should be understood only as friendship, not intimacy. When it came to anything more, he had stuck to our agreement. In fact, he had been explicit about the terms, because he didn’t want there to be confusion. He didn’t want to be in his words, “that n*gga.”

He’s a good brother. A good brother who suffers from what I call Good Brotha Syndrome. I have encountered two types of it.

Type A manifests in the dude who has degrees, a stable level of income, material means, and decent conversation. He knows that he is a commodity in this dating market, and based on the above assets alone, he feels that Black women should do his bidding. Since he holds a job, can take care of a household, and can be taken to professional outings without fear of embarrassing one’s colleagues, he does not believe that he should have to do much in the way of emotional work. He wonders why sisters aren’t falling all over themselves to be with him, although he might be totally emotionally effed up. He reasons that he’s a good brother and any woman that doesn’t want him has unreasonable standards or is herself emotionally effed up.  This dude looks good on paper, but his fatal flaw is that he tends to believe his own press release.

Type B manifests slightly differently.  This dude recognizes and doesn’t want to be a brother with problems. He acknowledges sexism, claims to like powerful women, and surrounds himself with a fair amount of them. He’s thoughtful, understanding, and can offer a certain level of emotional support. This is a brother that you can call and commiserate with, and he will listen, affirm you, and generally offer good reasonable advice.  He’s fairly self aware and gives the appearance of being introspective. Because he’s  committed to being “one of the good guys,” he often becomes decreasingly self-reflective, mistakenly believing himself to be incapable of the immature sh*t dudes often do. So when this dude engages in actions that are clearly problematic [treating you as a conquest, jumping ship in the middle of the ocean, blurring emotional boundaries and invoking y’alls “agreement” when he’s called on his b.s.] he refuses to acknowledge it. Why? Because he’s a good guy and good guys don’t do ish like that. So, in his mind, the problem must lie with you or your interpretation. This dude puts you in the mind of the classic white liberal do-gooder type who abhors racism, so much that they can’t see when they themselves are being racist.

My former “friend” is definitely a type B.

Reader, I know that I am not without responsibility or agency in this matter. I recognize that I agreed to nebulous terms and that I allowed the emotional engagement to continue long after it was productive for my needs. I have rectified that.  But the problem does not lie entirely with me.

I love myself. I know I am worthy of being treated well. I didn’t play games, but communicated my specific needs and desires to this brother explicitly.  I think there are good guys out there who I can reasonably expect will treat me well.  I, in turn, treat brothers well, am thoughtful, willing to grow, emotionally generous, respectful of boundaries, etc. And I have enough sense to walk away if I’m not getting what I need.

I have done and am doing the work.

And yet, I’m still a magnet for knuckleheads. So before I don my blind optimism and charge boldly into the New Year, I need some help figuring out what to do differently.

In the words of Iyanla Vanzant, “What’s the lesson when you think you have figured out the lesson, and you really haven’t?”

I’d love to hear your thoughts…

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