I find my lack of faith disturbing

A friend reached out to me today. Someone I’ve known for over a decade. We don’t talk often but when we do it’s always been a bit transformative. She has a way of hitting the nail on the head with precision and a gentleness that I’ve only seen in people who are truly strong.
I admitted that I felt like something was missing
It took awhile for me to realize it was confidence

I have a very tenuous relationship with confidence.
It’s why I laugh every-time someone tries to tell me I am confident as if it were a compliment. I’ve considered the assumption to be an erasure of how much work I have to do in order to do anything. I began to think of it as a contemptuous word because it was a currency I couldn’t deal in.

Defiance I have in spares but confidence?
Truth is I want to know what confidence feels like beyond 5 mins in a spotlight
Truth is I’ve been running away from some brilliant things
Truth is I’ve been running away from myself

So she told me the story of the Runaway Bunny
She said
You have to be your own Mama Bunny.
When you run away, run back to yourself and love yourself enough to be your own safe place.
Be proud of yourself.
So proud that you want to see yourself happy and fulfilled.
You give that to so many people… You deserve it too.
Don’t be Vader… Be a bunny.

Thank you Tara 💜🐰💜

Proud

While looking for photos to send as a headshot for a panel I tripped across this one. I think this is from my first photoshoot with Ryan Donahoo. It was the first time that I felt so effortlessly glamorous, interesting and unique.

I’ve had great photoshoots before but I have always been aware of the camera and no matter how confident I appeared on the finished product I was waging a silent war in my head.

One part of me replaying all the childhood tapes, the vicious words of ex lovers, every person who didn’t want to sit next to me on the bus and the other part screaming for a self sustained defiant loving embodiment. I didn’t feel that way under Ryan’s lens.

I’m forever grateful for his queer and loving eyes.

I’m forever grateful to my queer and loving peers who create art, collect stories, fight for our right to be here

I’m forever grateful to the queer and loving elders who did a lot of delicious dirty deeds in the back of windowless bars, who lost jobs and families then as we still do now, who threw bricks and shoes at uniformed zealots who called themselves enforcing a law we know to be unjust

I am forever grateful to the queer and loving healers. Those here, those yet to come and those who will come again. Those whose gender is sacred. Those who moves moves the medicine though their queer ineffable sex and fluid roots that were not bound by man or woman

I am forever grateful to the queer and loving teachers whose wisdom was handed to me in lines I had to learn to read between
I am forever grateful to his mother who wore caftan’s in the late evening New Orleans heat, who burned incense and made chamomile tea while the four of us, him and his girlfriend me and mine explored our naked bodies. She gave me a space to learn how to touch her

I am forever grateful to her.

the girl who turned me out on a sweltering Mardi Gras night, the scent of roses coming in through my window mixing with Tommy Girl and Bath and Bodywork’s Warm Vanilla… my nose was wide open.

I am forever grateful
and proud that we continue to be in this world… may it be forever so.

Letting Go

 

It took me years to process my abuser
I was told that I needed to learn to “just let it go”. I find the idea of “just letting go” to be inadequate and lacking in compassion. I knew letting it go was the polite thing to do but I left that kind of politness behind on the bathroom floor with the hair I once had.

I never learned to let go

Instead I learned how to let it pass through me.

At first it went through my head and all I could think was it
Then it went through my eyes and all I could see was it
It went through my mouth and all I could speak was it
It went through my heart and interrupted my cadence
It went through my lungs and stole my breath
It went through my fingers and I wrote it
It went through my sex and swallowed it
It went through my legs and locked all movement from them
It went through my feet and even though I cried for mercy it broke them

But one day
It went through me without taking huge peices of me with it
And the day after that
When it tried to go through me
It shattered.

Storytime: Solstice

Every year in ritual I retell this story.  I also tell it before my Bawdy Divine Workshop. It’s part of my glitter magic and as we descend into the darkest night in what seems the darkest year I cast it out again into the world as a way to reel in the light.

 

The story goes that Amaterasu Omikami the Sun Goddess was so offended by the rachetness of her brother Takehaya Susanoo-no-Mikoto the Storm God that she sealed herself in the Cave of Heaven.

No one was surprised.

Amaterasu’s ladies in waiting have the constitution of a wilting flower so over half of them flat out died when Takehaya caused a huge shit storm and I’m not talking a metaphorical one either.  This was the final straw.  He had crossed a line and Amaterasu literally could not with that shit so she sealed herself away in a cave with the same conviction that that diva cup sealed itself to my cervix this past February.

This sucked monkey balls because without the gift of the sun the earth became cold and withered away. Humanity was screwed and since Deities of Heaven need worshipers to sustain themselves (kinda like Kardashians need Instagram Followers) this was not going to work.

They pleaded with Amaterasu but she only moved further into her cave while ranting about the not figurative shit storm her jackass of a brother had caused among other things. While everyone was freaking out over the situation Uzume sprung into action.

She knew that Amaterasu for the most part was the bees knees but sometimes she could really be into herself. No one on heaven or earth could match her egoism… at least not until Kanye West was born. Uzume knew attention was oxygen to Amaterasu’s flame and Uzume was about to suck the room dry like that scene in Total Recall.

Uzume placed a huge mirror outside of the Cave of Heaven and upended a large tub, climbed on top ,yelled “All eyes on me!” and started to dance. Now it should be noted that Uzume was no covergirl. Uzume was no graceful creature. She had crass and sass and zero fucks to give. She had a belly the jiggled, she had thighs that touched, she was a round thing full of joy and as she danced she un-knotted her obi and peeled out of her kimono. The Deities of Heaven had a collective moment of:
Is she?
She is!
Oh My Myself this is Awesome!
and started cheering and drumming

Amaterasu hearing the great commotion and a bit miffed that no one was paying attention to her peeked out of her cave to see Uzume in all her glory just feeling herself and the Sun Goddess entranced, amused and slightly confused stepped out of the cave for a closer look. And that is when Amaterasu saw the mirror that Uzume had placed outside the cave and for the first time saw herself and her own radiance and how it shined!

She was like whoa.. she was like Tweet with that Missy Elliot on remix

(Missy)
(I looked over to the left)
Umm I was looking so good I couldn’t reject myself
(I looked over to the left)
Umm I was feeling so good I had to touch myself
(I looked over to the left)
Umm I was eyein my thighs butter pecan brown
(I looked over to the left)
Umm comin’ outta my shirt and then the skirt came down

*chorus*
OOPS, there goes my shirt up over my head
Oh my
OOPS, there goes my skirt droppin’ to my feet
Oh my
Ooh, some kinda touch caressing my leg
Oh my
Ooh I’m turning red
Who could this be?

So the Gods took hella advantage of this shit and rolled that stone back into place and locked it in tight.

The Storm God was cast down to earth (and I suspect reincarnated into Donald Trump) where he continues to cause shit storms, and tragedy and in his own way renewal but we are going to be okay because there is always Uzume to remind us to come together, love ourselves, be fiercely vulnerable because we can call back the sun with laughter and joy.

Tonight in ritual I will dance and sing for The Great Persuader, and The Heavenly Alarming Female. She who revels in her sensuality and dances, shimmies and shakes to bring back the Sun. Happy Solstice!!

Burn Bright.

 

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(Attached image is a portrait of me by the artist Thomasina DeMaio.  She tagged me in it this morning and it definitely brightened up my world.  It’s a real honor to be captured by someone who puts forth so much light into the world in such intensely loving and fierce ways. For more info on Thomasina and her prolific work find her on facebook and with the Art Saves Lives Gallery in Castro SF  https://www.facebook.com/thomasina.demaio)

A Letter to My Dear and Future Lover 

 (Trigger warning: sexual abuse/violence/racism)

*

*

*
This is why I’ll always flinch when you touch me.

Because at 13
in a crowded wave pool
on a sunny southern Sunday
I had to choose between drowning and biting my tongue when he slipped a hand under my bathing suit and forced two fingers inside of my body. 

Because at 15 he sold me for a pair of kicks. 

Because at 17 it wasn’t over until my blood lined the cuticles of her right hand. 

Because at 26
while at an Amanda Palmer concert the crowd gasped.
Neil Gaiman had reached inside a cherry wood box, withdrew a slip of paper and read into a microphone the anonymous words I had written there. The woman next to me turned to her friend and said “That’s rape” 

It was the first time my brain understood what my body had already known. 

Because at 27 she punched me in the pussy until I limped the next day. I’m pinned between the headboard and her body, pleading with her to stop to slow down as she confuses screams of pain for pleasure. 

Because at 28 he shoved two digits into my anus with neither adequate lube nor consent. 

 salivia on his fingers as he slobbers in my face “I’ve always wanted to fuck a black woman in the ass. Who’s a dirty girl?” 

Because at 33 he grabbed the back of my head and came down my throat while I beat his thighs with clenched fists since I was not strong enough to push away. 

He finally lets go I calmly spit
I say “no fluid exchange without consent” reminding him of the conversation we had last week, yesterday and 15 mins ago.
He freaks out so badly at his “misstep” that I spend the night comforting him
He left me with a broken bed I slept in for six months 

until D asked me what happened 

D turned ashen listening to the story told to him in nonchalant tones of cold detachment reserved for weather forecasts or morning rollcall
D went to the store
D purchased wood and nails
D fixed my bed

D left 

I stuffed a pillow in my face and screamed 

I screamed
I screamed until I ripped the metal holding my two bottom teeth aligned out of my mouth.
I stopped screaming 

I started doing push-ups
It was beneficial. 

Because at 33, when he slammed me into a wall, hands around my throat, hissed “I’m going to put a baby in your belly” I was strong enough to claw the fuck out of his face. 
No one was going to break my bed again. 

I’ll flinch when you touch me
I’ll cringe
I’ll curse
I’ll cry

But my Dear and Future Lover, I’ll let you touch me because 
She
She made me understand why the flower loves the humming bird back 

He
He was lifeline as I succumbed to la petite mort
he poured me back into myself as I constantly came undone in his arms 

They
Black with bodies abundant as all the silken river beds
Smelling of coconut oil and leather
Beat new rhythms into my heart with four fists
One hitachi
One wrist
Deep
Knocking at the tabernacle door until I opened like a cathedral singing new and holy songs 

I’ll let you touch me because three witches took me.  Covered in golden stars, moons and suns,
I was lifted by them to heaven as they wrung from me the refuse of years.
Delivered me to God who covered my mouth with Her own before hurling me back to the earth amidst howls and screams

Three witches 
Midwives and witness to the birth of a new ocean between my legs
I know how the earth was made.
But I’ll still flinch when you touch me

I’m sorry 

Four nights is not enough to put to rest 
to quiet
to lull
to smooth
to soothe
to heal
to seal a stone upon this yawning hole where my sex once was. 

It is however, enough to awaken the memory
the memory of a girl who hid bodice rippers in her satin pillow case
A girl who pulled sheets and coverlets over her head during hot as hell summer nights so Jesus wouldn’t catch her reading them and weep.
Memories of a girl who felt it when Lady Jane’s lover touched her tenderly for the first time in the moonlight.
Memories of a girl who could quote like “Water for Chocolate”, wanted to taste rose petal sauce and ride off naked on a horse with arms wrapped around the expansive waist of a revolutionary man… a yoke of bullets pressed against her breasts. 

It’s her fingers that awake me in the middle of the night
It’s her voice singing a siren song to this place I do not want to go and even though I’m screaming no I find myself at this door
My door 

Begging to be let back in
But she says I can’t go alone
My dear and future lover, 

If I run it’s not because I want you to prove your verity in chasing me
It’s because I don’t want you see to this broken home with it’s raw water damaged floors, gutted walls and blackened beams.
I don’t want you to cut yourself on sharp and shattered window glass
Shock yourself on exposed wires
Stumble on whole pieces of fallen plaster
I have been the healer of others
Reminder to those who have forgotten they are already whole 

But now 
For myself
I see…
My dear and future lover, 

I am tower and dragon and damsel three
My dear and future lover, 

This letter is map and sword and key
My dear and future lover, 

I’m ready 
Come find me.

You’re normal #nationalcomingoutday

The first thing my mother said to me when she called me during my staycation at one of Colorado Springs more middle of the road mental institutions was I love you

and

you’re normal.

You’re normal Irene. I love you and god loves you too. You’re normal sweetie. It’s just a phase. Everyone goes through it. You will make it through it. You’re normal understand. Nooooorrrrrmmmalll.

Since I had just tried to end my own life I assumed that my mother was referring to my temporary and active lapse in my own self preservation as the abnormal occurrence.

I was mistaken.

On the day I was released from the institution, given back my shoelaces and permitted to use razors and what not I found myself surprisingly alone. My relatives had decided to leave my car in the parking lot and the key with the attendant. I thought this was a little odd but I was so hopped up on the correct levels of antidepressants combined with a full night sleep that it didn’t bother me.

I felt like a goddamn Disney princess, it was a whole new world.

I had a plan.

Well a list of to-dos and the top of that list was a visit Bob.

When I got home and into my room ready to say hello to one of my little friends I saw that they had all gone missing. I searched everywhere. It took a few days before I had a very stilted and awkward conversation with my half sister who informed me that they had all been removed since they were implements of self harm and that I should consider going to church to meet some nice boy instead.

I was still reeling from the self harm talk when I received a call from my twin brother and to say he was amused would be an understatement.

You should write for Harlequin, he said.

What?

You should write for Harlequin. You know, the romance novels.

What are you talking about?

Seriously if you don’t publish this I will. You better make that money.

Publish what?

You don’t know!?

He then proceeds to read verbatim something I had written into my journal over a year ago. It was a very detailed, flowery, lust ladden account of my involvement with my first girlfriend —–.

He then informs me that during the first week of lock up my older half sister who I was staying with at the time had found my journal, photocopied it and mailed it to the entire family.

I was

relieved.

I was relived. I know that sounds like a hell of a thing to be at a time like that but I was very relieved. I actually laughed about it. See I am from the south. New Orleans to be specific. My family is very southern. We say things like bless your heart, that was a brave choice, or I find that look to be interesting.

We just don’t “talk” about certain things. “Gay” might as well have been a curse world “Queer” was nonexistent. It was all things that you just needed to take care of by sprinkling a little bit of white Jesus on top with a side dish of Hail Mary’s if you’re of the Catholic persuasion. Which I was. Kinda.

I was Catholic by default, I was Catholic by convenience. My mother wanted my brother and I to have every opportunity possible and being black in the south that meant the best education and the best schools were the private ones and a majority of those were held by the parish. My mother went a step further to ensure that I would be seen, nurtured and uplifted as a young black woman…

In 1995, at the age of 13, I was enrolled into a traditionally segregated, same sex college prep school reigned over by the of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. I attended church once a week, sang in the choir, marched in the band and took extra pride in the crisply iron pleats of my horrendously bright yellow and white school skirt.

Outside of school I had a friend who I loved very much and when people accused us of being lesbians we denied it vehemently. I mean us! We were proper Catholic girls. How dare they say such things.

She and I laughed about this years ago.

While she laid in my arms. Skin against skin. Her face pressed against my chest, my fingers combing through her hair, both of our heartbeats calming into a shared rhythm.

I had no idea then, when were were confronted by our peers that how I felt about her, that my love for her was something “abnormal”. To me it was the most normal thing in the world because it felt so right.

I mean every girl feels this way about other girls right?

Right?

At least that is what I said to —–.

—– didn’t like lipgloss and she never drank enough water so sometimes her lips had the appearance of being chapped. Whenever I saw hers I automatically licked mine. She sunburned easy. She inherited her eyes and shoulders from her father, her high cheekbones from her mother.

She often smelled of Victoria Secret Vanilla. A scent I detested until I smelled it on her.

Feb 14th 1999 while the rest of the world was celebrating Valentines day —– and I were Mardi Gras royalty. Her cousin had secured tickets to the platform stand of the coolest radio station in the city. We were jamming while the floats passed us by and the boys called up to us begging for beads or a smile.

I had marched two parades the day before and my body was exhausted. About an hour into the celebration my legs gave out and she wrapped her arms around me bringing me to the ground and giving me her shoulder to rest my head on. She smelled like lilac and tommy girl that day, sweat, split beer and heat.

Whenever she touched my head the pain eased. When her fingers brushed my shoulder it was as if she wrapped my entire self in her grasp. When I was well enough to stand she insisted that we go into a nearby hotel to cool off.

I remember

The feeling of the cold bathroom mirror against my back… my body sucking at the coolness like it was a drink. I felt her hands on my knees and opened my eyes to see her in front of me. She had taken down her hair.

She pushed my thighs apart and stood between them.

Shattered.

I was shattered

If I was not already sun drunk and flushed I would have blushed.

“You should not wear that shirt Irene” She said as she tried to make my windblow hair look more like civil and less like some feral thing. “It shows off too much”

“Like you can talk” I whispered looking away

“Those guys were talking. What would your mother say if she heard them talking?”

“My mother brought me this shirt”

“Oh… well they were saying other things too”

“Oh yeah?” I looked at her directly. She smiled again. She had the whitest teeth.

“They were saying we were lovers”

“What! Ridiculous. Who even uses that word.”

“Is it?”

“—–?”

“Truth or dare”

I thought long and hard before saying “Truth”

“Do you want to kiss me?”

“What! I.. What!?” Stuttering… like all the stuttering
like the San Andreas had opened up in my mouth.

She laughed. I felt faint. “Okay okay god don’t freak out. You’ll have to do the dare then”

“Fine Dare”

“Kiss me Irene. I dare you to kiss me.”

And I did

and we did

—– earned the deluxe toaster that day.

I was in love and I could not tell not one damn person. Well one, my twin brother but it was mostly boasting since I managed to get a girlfriend before he could.

We made promises to eachother. We were gonna go full out Tracy Chapman with a fast car and head north and as far east or west as we could. We were going to disappear in the night so we could walk down the street holding hands in San Francisco or dance a tango in a crowded bar in New York.

We were going to kiss in public!

It ended like most first relationships do. Frantically, dramatically and in flames. It was impressive for two people so young.

It had shoulder pads.

It was Dynasty.

I went to college.

I ended up dating a boy.

My mom who hinted that she knew something was going on with —– but would never come out about it was not so secretly relieved.

I told the boy about —–.

He told me I was bisexual.

I protested! I was straight. Duh I was with a guy. I was with him!

He asked me if I would be with him if he were a girl.

When I said yes he responded: Trust me. You’re bisexual. I know, I’m from California.

I was confused.

The boy told me to write about it. He actually brought me a journal and told me to write about it to figure it all out. So I did. Every single detail that my sister would later take and photo copy and send to my family…my mother who would in turn call to tell me I’m normal…

It’s a phase. Everyone goes through it. You’re normal. I love you.

My sister had outed me and I was relieved because one of the reasons I had tried to kill myself is that I was so worn out on living a lie and trying to conform to what I was “supposed” to be. I made a decision in that moment while my brother loled his ass off.

I made the decision to move to California

To be everything I was a fat , black, queer, pagan, femme… relentlessly! I called my mother to warn her that she was likely going to hear some bizarre things about me because social media is a bitch and my family is like every other (nosey as all get out). I promised to always stay ahead of the wave with her.

I insisted on total radical honesty and 13 years later I still maintain this with her.

She haaaated this! She swore I was trying to put a tag on her toe when I was actually just trying to keep one off of mine. She used to keep a spray bottle with holy water by the front door and insisted on spritzing me down before I came into the house like some sort of errant demon cat. But I was non-fucking-plussed.

When I started dancing burlesque I called her

When I started speaking at colleges about pansexuality, the invisibility of the femme and the intersectionalism of blackness and queerness I called her.

When I went though my most recent break up I called her.
I was a sobbing mess. I was convinced that I was going to be alone because who was going to love all of this. All of me. I’m too weird. I’m abnormal.

My mother told me that I was incorrect.

She said:

There is nothing wrong with you, this hurt will pass, this pain is just a phase.

I love you and God loves you too.

You’re perfectly normal child. Some one will always love you.

You are perfectly normal my child.

Hair

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This is me at 17.

 

I am the epitome of Black Woman of the future in this photo.

 

I am about to debut into society under the vigilant eye of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. I am a Senior at Xavier University Preparatory School, National Honor Society Member, Top 10 in the class of 1999, twice published writer, classically trained award winning pianist, I can also waltz and execute a straight backed drop curtsey gracefully without letting my foot peek out beneath my hemline.

 

About a week before that photo was taken my hair was “natural” My mother, a woman who insists instead of inquires actually begged me to get it relaxed for my debut.  I conceded while saying: “Enjoy it because I’m never doing it again.  In fact I am totally going to cut it all off after this shindig.”

 

She thought I was kidding.

 

3 hours after this photo was taken, after I had danced down a glossy ballroom floor with the guy who suffered the reigning terror of what was my first crush. I skipped merrily off to our hotel room and made good on my threat. I proudly showed the glossy handfuls of strands to my girlfriend who told me I had lost my mind before thoroughly cleansing the bathroom and myself like a CSI crime scene

I had left two inches.

 

Just enough to pull back under a headband wig.

Just enough to throw my mother off because while I was certainly defiant I definitely didn’t have a deathwish. There was a moment on the elevator when my mother looked at me suspiciously but didn’t pursue.  I was terrified she was would ask. Now that I am older I wish she had.

 

I wish we had that conversation.

I knew cutting my hair was akin to cutting her.

I knew that she was trying to protect me from her own experience as a child who was harassed, a young woman deemed unattractive for not having “good hair”, a grown woman who may not get that job, constant teasing, constant touching and constant explanations.

 

She gave up her own comforts to save the money to spend on this beauty regime so I could walk this world unnoticed. She worked the extra hours to pay for the hair to help me get “ahead”.  If we had that conversation I would have told her that didn’t do it to hurt her. But I would have apologized for catching her feelings and money between the crossfires of an intentional rebellion against Eurocentric beauty myths that would never deem me worthy.

I hated it.  I hated the process, the alteration, the denial of self, this way of saying I am less than.

 

7 years later

 

I am in a REI in San Jose, California.

I am hiding behind a rack of 75% off snowcoats from the white male partner of the law firm where I have recently been employed as the front desk receptionist.

My hair is freshly locked.  Like two hours freshly locked.

 

Not only am I freaking out over how different I look, how surprisingly vulnerable and unfeminine I feel I am also now shitting my pants because I need to keep this job. As I am planning my escape route out and to the nearest Michaels’ to buy some fabric for headcloths the coats part and I am face to face with his wife.

 

She leans forward unsure of who I am for a moment but as soon as she recognizes me a smile spreads across her lips.  “Irene!  I love the hair!”  She pulls me through the racks and makes a beeline for husband who is red faced from trying to force his size 12 foot into a size 11 ½ snow boots.

 

“He’s going to give himself a hernia.  You’re going to give yourself a hernia! Look who I bumped into.” My employer who is now sweating and cursing looks up at me for a moment and grunts a greeting “He’s not observant at all.  Honey, you are not observant at all.  Look at her hair.”

He pauses and gives me his full attention.  He sits up and smiles.  “Neat!  I like it.  Our son had locks.  His were blue.” He goes back so swearing and shoe stuffing.

 

“He’s going to kill himself over this sale.  I better stop him.  Nice to see you dear.  It’s really cute on you.”  She hugs me and begins to gently pry the boots from her husband who is insisting that they are supposed to be a bit snug.

 

I’m surprised by this interaction.

I wasn’t expecting such easy acceptance of something that caused me angst and agony for nearly a decade. I was expecting to take an offensive stance but not to be offended by mention of a blue eyed blue haired boy casually wearing a style that is rooted in history, rebellion and revolution.

 

For the record I did face a lot of discrimination and fascination as I continued to wear my hair in its natural state.  I’ve been pulled into HR for chats, batted away lots of hands and on a few occasions thrown synthetic hair at people from my purse but I’ve never regretted this choice I made 17 years ago in that hotel bathroom after I debuted to society as a woman.

 

 

This first decision as a woman.

As a black woman of the future.

As a black woman in this present tense.