This entry is going to be all over the place, because there’s a great deal going on lately that doesn’t feel connected (but I know it is somehow… I’ll improvise at the conclusion).
- The Michael Brown incident is currently triggering demonstrations all across the United States, now that a Grand Jury has decided not to indict Officer Wilson.
- Two weeks ago my friend, and former boyfriend, Shane passed away from heart and lung failure.
- One of my former high school students posted a picture of me from 2003 for Throw Back Thursday (tomorrow is Thanksgiving, so she did it today to avoid missing it tomorrow).
I want to reiterate a point I made on Twitter earlier today: If you are white and LGBT but decry the Ferguson riots, you should learn more about your own damn history. STONEWALL WAS A RIOT. It is extraordinary to me that I hear white gay men criticize the black community for having notoriously homophobic churches (“How can THEY be homophobic, when THEY should understand oppression better than anyone??!”), but then have the audacity to say (this quote is lifted directly from a comment on my FaceBook wall), “Stonewall was about oppression. Ferguson is about spoiled babies who didn’t get their way.” Or this gem that someone left on my Twitter feed: “Um, slightly different circumstances since the police were harassing and arresting the calm crowd at [Stonewall].” Exactly how is this productive? The irony that gay white men now have the luxury of being complicit in the system just blows my mind. Barely more than twenty years ago I repeatedly had to fight, defend myself, and face fear… When I came out in Harlem, GA in tenth grade in 1991, it almost got me killed on many occasions, but now I get to just dismiss the plight of oppressed people, because I have the right to get married in fucking Mississippi and South Carolina? WHATEVER!!! People are so fucking lazy when it comes to freedom… so long as they have the parts of it that they want for themselves, they no longer feel obliged to make sure it extends to everyone else?? What, so you think that because gay marriage is being forced on every redneck in the nation that you get to just sit by and pick out curtains while other people get killed by a militarized police force?? You think legally binding a single dick to your asshole means you yourself have achieved “equality.” Man, fuck this noise… None of us are free. It’s an illusion, but so long as we all have access to “rights,” internet, video games, and McDonald’s we’re happily immobilized at home (and NOT rioting about what’s really important).
I’m not trying to imply that black people are victims who are incapable of helping themselves – I believe they have shown many times in many ways as a community that that is absolutely not the case; however, I think it’s VERY IMPORTANT to try to understand how a situation looks from the perspective of the people who are being harshly and unfairly criticized. It’s very easy to simply accept that how you see something is how every “sensible” person should see it as well. I would also point out that The Revolutionary War was the biggest riot in our history. Trying to frame it as something more noble than it was belies ignorance of the history, context, and situation the American rebels were facing. Also, we fought a Civil War about all this a long time ago, and it’s time we started valuing ALL Americans as much as we do ALL Corporations (which are evidently people now with rights, but actual people don’t have rights??? WHAT THE ENTIRE FUCK?). If you are asking yourself, “Why do they burn down their own neighborhood?” I think you would benefit very much from taking five minutes out of your day to read this eloquent and evocative essay about what this situation looks like from the perspective of black people, especially black men.
On this blog I have mentioned Shane only once that I can remember. He was part of the narrative in the entry entitled The Seesaw. Shane is the former boyfriend who inadvertently triggered what became my very long struggle with anorexia.
He is the second of my five boyfriends to pass away. The first to pass away was Randy, back in 2010. The circumstances couldn’t be any more different. Randy and I had been estranged for a while, whereas Shane and I had reconciled many years ago, and I had chatted with him only weeks before his death – we had plans for looking at his graphic designs, so they could be turned into t-shirts. I was so disconnected from Randy that I didn’t find out he had died until over two years after the event, but with Shane I knew the moment he had departed this life. With Randy I felt intense guilt, but with Shane I felt authentic sadness. I needed to mourn Randy to help myself, but I have needed to mourn Shane because he was a sweet, smart, talented artist whose talents were cut short by ill health. Randy died after drinking a fifth of vodka every day for years on end, even after being hospitalized repeatedly. Shane died after struggling for 38 years with a heart defect he was born with. I had no intention of reconnecting in a meaningful way with Randy. I wanted very much to have Shane in my life.
I didn’t think two deaths could be more diametrically opposed in how they affected me. Yes, it is true that my romantic relationships with both were untenable; however, I believe that once you genuinely love someone, you always do on some level (or else it was never really love in the first place). Yes, they can hurt you – even destroy parts of you – but part of what is infuriating is that very deep inside there is a small box at the back of a dusty closet in the hallways of your heart where a tiny fragment of that love is still stored. I have that for both of them, and I always will. But with Randy it makes me feel melancholy and sometimes anger to ponder what we had together, but with Shane it is something more akin to parental exasperation. Randy eventually died alone after alienating EVERYONE around himself, but Shane was surrounded by friends and family at his final moment. Shane married and fathered two beautiful kids. My best friend Becky got Shane’s art logo tattooed to her arm. It says a great deal about a person when you look at the way people respond to their passing.
When I was a high school teacher I got severely depressed (and if you have ever been an educator in the United States, you will understand how that would be easy to do). But despite the very many and severe complications of teaching at an all-black high school in the inner city of Columbia, SC, I had some students who I will love for as long as my memory allows me the pleasure of remembering them. Just last week, yet another of my reckless teens found me on FaceBook and we reconnected. It happens several times each year, and it always impresses me that I impressed them (especially since at the time I thought I was talking to a room full of people who were deaf to everything I said). One of my former students posted the picture that you see. It’s from 2003, and what struck me is this: Once she posted the pic, lots of people (both those I know and some I don’t remember ever having enrolled in my classes) began liking the pic and saying how awesome I was as a teacher. She took the picture at a moment when I was genuinely happy. I was always happy to see her. She was the kind of person and student who is delightful in general, and she has grown up to be a wonderful woman. But for my black students to be pouring Throw Back Thursday love on me on a day when I have been scolding gay white men all day just seems… I don’t know… poignant? Is that the right word??
Everyone, whether they know me deeply or casually, knows that I love Janet Jackson. I think that what many people don’t fully appreciate is how seriously I have always taken the concepts that underlie the Rhythm Nation 1814 album. It has literally informed or influenced practically everything I have ever done, and how I have done it. Becoming a dancer and choreographer. The way I aspire to interact with people. My interest in diversity, and my willingness to be in situations most people would completely eschew. Everything about my new site grew out of the ideals expressed in that album. My going to get an education in the first place was because of that album – I hadn’t intended to go to college, and I barely cared about graduating high school. Why bring that up? I don’t know, but I think that if more people took that album to heart the world would be a better place.
So, here we are: The conclusion. How do I bring all this together into a coherent point?? Michael Brown, Treyvon Martin, Matthew Shepard, Brandon Teena, Larry King, Angie Zapata and countless other marginalized people have been brutally killed, but those I mentioned have been immortalized (hopefully for some purpose that leads to improvements in our society); Shane is dead, but his own legacy is warmly felt and celebrated; and I see a picture of myself for the first time from an era in my life that I had thought largely inconsequential (only to be reminded it was vital to many people). What legacy do I want? What is my impression of myself that I hope lasts after I am gone? I’m looking at the picture of myself, and I hope that people will remember me for my genuine love of learning, my passionate need to give and receive nurturing, and my willingness to say what I think (even when it causes me more trouble than what is fair). Now I just have to live up to all that… lemme go put Rhythm Nation on…