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I’m a writer.
A word alchemist.
I am well-read, with a hungering curiosity and the desire to continue to master this craft with these 26 letters. Make no mistake, I am fiercely protective of my gift, and don’t make that secret.
Which makes what happened to me all the more–infuriating.
In keeping with the theme this month about speech, words and voice, I would be dishonest not to share this. The situation has been rectified as of this posting, but I think it bares confronting for further edification of other writers and artists.
I was asked to write poem for The Awakenings Project , cycle 1 (A1) and I agreed. I wrote the first poem as favor to the artist,Marissa Southards. with the reception of that piece, which yielded the mantra for project: I Am She, She Are We, found in the poem First, Awakenings. It was most excellent to have my work well received. I am still in awe.
With the reception of that work, and the quoting of my work, I was elated. From that popularity, I got the invitation to write another piece for this project, this time for the second cycle, A2. I wrote a piece called *HOW I CAME TO BE, and read it at a celebratory gathering for A2. This piece was written from a hetero-normative, Judeo-Christian vision: seeing as the author identifies as a Christ-believing cis-gender heterosexual woman.
Now, did I need to preface that? Nah.
But I did because I respected all those that were in attendance to the project, regardless of orientation or belief system.
During the reading, I was fine. The poem sounded just like I wanted. In the aftermath, however, there was coup brewing. There was participant, Marcia, whom identified herself as a queer atheist. Okay, fine. She told the creator of the project, and I quote “she was a fan of my work, but she felt that my poem did not represent her, and she didn’t like how I used her word–Amazon.”
By now, y’all know that I am black woman.
Marcia is not.
She wanted me to change my work, and she wanted to see the revision going forward.
Yes, I’m deadass serious.
She didn’t any make effort to speak to me personally, but the artist–whom is a dear friend whom happens to be white. Before I explain the resolution, let me tell you why this is a problem.
No one, and not NO ONE, takes my voice from me. If you take issue with what I said, or how I wrote something, come see me. I don’t need a handler, and I ain’t never been a mammy.
She pulled her white privilege on me, and circumvented me–with the same erasure that she perecieved she had been given. Marcia, I can only persume, thought by doing that I would change my work, or be manipulated to change it. The worse thing? She said she was a fan of my work.
Backhanded compliments do not work. I remember I was insulted and beyond pissed. I felt as if someone had watched me open my mouth to reach in and snatched my voice from my throat. With shock and rage, I called my husband and told him what happened with my immediate thought and quote being:
Who does this bitch think she is?!”
I come from a people where everything we have and had is fought for–even the right to tell our own truth. So, I was comfortable in telling the artist, and I quote, “I am not changing a damn word of it. I can write something else, but I am not changing a word of that.” Some indignities go beyond, “How dare you!” This was one of them.
I was ready to fight!
As long as I have been reading–since 4, writing–since 8, you don’t get to dictate my imagination. You don’t get to pull offense as rank over something I wrote. I have fought too hard to get back to this gift to be punked to change anything.
I thought about that episode of Good Times, where Thelma won the contest but the contest sponsor wanted her to change the phrase black woman, and she wouldn’t. And because she wouldn’t change it, she lost.
I thought about how Phyllis Wheatley. I thought about how brilliant, versed, and enslaved existence– and how she died penniless when given freedom. I thought about Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Sallie Hennings, my grandmothers (Mollie and Arceal) and my beloved Oracle Grandmother, Maya Angelou.
I thought about the women and men of and from whom I am descended and how they may or may not have even known how to spell their names. I would not change a word. It was my work. I made the decision to not be dictated regarding my work. Nall.
The artist sided with me. She put Marcia in her place (before I had to). As a result, Marcia pulled her photo from the project, and my work stayed in tact.
Marcia didn’t apologize to me, and neither did I. I expected what I got–nothing.
I snatched my voice from being stolen.
For my sake, and the ancestors.
*The poems listed are featured in a compliation book for The Awakenings Project–click here to order.
I’m a cisgender heterosexual married mother of two daughters. As a mother, I try to encourage my daughters to think and reason, have a consistent work ethic, and treat people with respect—even if they are different, or look different, than you.
In the face of trying to raise my beautiful black daughters, my heart is broken for the mothers whom have to bury their transgender or gay children. I don’t know why that soft spot is there, but I believe the root of that tenderness is being alive to remember whom Matthew Shepherd is. Even thinking about it now, from a parent’s empathy and depth of compassion, I want to throw my arms around Mrs. Shepherd and cry with her and tell her how sorry I am—and that is nowhere near sufficient.
I won’t go into the specifics about what happened to 17-year-old Ally Steinfield from Cabool, Texas Country, Missouri. What happened to her is beyond anything I want to repeat. The fact that she is dead because she was transgender is reprehensible. As a mother, you want to protect your children and show them how to fight off the sneaky and open evil which will set out to destroy them.
I tell my children that there is never a time you should attack someone because they are different. And no one should attack you because you may be different. There will never be a need to be part of a pack of jackals on another human being.
I think about what she might have thought, seeing that her ‘friend’ brought her to this place knowing —KNOWING what would happen to her.
I speak out on these issues because to be silent is to be complicit. Being silent shows my daughters that complicity is normal and the goal in conflict. It is resistance that causes and provokes change. Resistance is what agitates complacency to move so change and advocacy can come.
In order to be the change you wish to see in the world, you must see the world as it is. The murder rate of trans people in this nation is horrendous, even higher for trans women of color. This type of evil cannot be dressed up in anything less than what it is: evil.
It’s not ignorance. It’s not fear. It’s evil.
AND DO NOT THROW A CORRUPT INTERPRETATION OF THE BIBLE ON THIS BEHAVIOR!
Ally was still a child of God. No one’s child deserves this. No one’s child deserves to be lured, stabbed in their genitals, eyes gouged out and set on fire. No one’s child deserves that.
The Bible says that a friend loves at all times. I cannot imagine why Ally’s friend would betray her like this. And it has to be unfathomable for her mother and family.
I told my daughters when they were younger that no monsters lived under their beds. I would check and make sure, even ‘fighting’ a few. The monsters are often outside the doors you lock.
I don’t know when this transphobic-fueled silence will stop, but I know where complicity stops: Right. Here.
I will speak, because to be silent is to agree with the forces that desire to kill you and all you love.
I advise you to do the same. Speak up.
“It was never about bathrooms, just like it was never about water fountains.”
I am astounded by the cruelty of the human condition. I am amazed how apatheic and evil we can be towards other human beings. From slavery, to internment of Japanese-Americans, and the expatriation of those of Chicano/Latinx ancestry, and now the policing of crotches…CROTCHES.
Since the introduction of this nos infamous bathroom bill in North Carolina, I have not seen before or since ignorance ramp up with superhuman boldness. Nevermind the fact the bill is steeped in stupidity and hate, and really impossible to police, it goes to the point LGBTQIA activist and actress Laverne Cox mentioned on Late Night with Stephen Colbert earlier this month: it’s about existing. EXISTING. To deny the most basic of human function is to eliminate and erase the deemed undesirable from your comfortable spaces. The root for that sort of elimination is fear and profit. Those of this human condition seem to thrive on the fear of what we don’t understand. What we don’t understand we seek to subdue, control or eradicate–even if it’s people.
I recognize my privilege as a cis-gendered woman. I have never been in a position where I had to adjust myself to conform to a self that is or was alien to what my mind new to be true. I cannot imagine what is or must be like to know what you are, and a reflection not agree or project that. I cannot imagine what it is like to have to lie to those closest to you about what you believe you are. I cannot imagine what it is like to be told by people that love you that you indeed or an error, a sin, a freak or a mistake. I have never encountered such fervor in objection to my right to exist. I have never, nor will I ever be affected by these silly bills that tell those of trans-experience in order to be accepted you have to follow this law–when there is not enough stringent legislation that protects women (PERIOD!) from predatory attacks. The most recent in my mind is the case of an adult man that was in a Target bathroom and tried to attack a child that was using the bathroom with her mother present. That mother beat him to protect her daughter, and he has been arrested and imprisoned.
The hate that I have seen from some communities of faith has shocked me to a level of rage I had not seen before. I saw memes depicting crass jokes, and sentencing damnation. I have never been in a state of discontent strong enough to deny my faith, however, I have been in emotional places where I believed the better thing to do was, indeed, model what Christ would do. Where we find Christ in scripture is out among people, listening and helping and offering truth in love. HE gave room for disagreement (arguing with scribes and Pharisees), discussion (the woman at the well in Samaria), and even dismissal of His wisdom (in case of the rich young ruler). He gave the RIGHT to exist…as should we.
I joked that when I got to the bathroom that I am there to pee and leave. Most people are. If you present as female, use the ascribing bathroom. If you present as male, use the ascribing bathroom. Why is that difficult? What I see is the major difficulty for those that imbibe and spew this level of hatred and avarice is the lack of grace. You don’t have to always agree with something when you don’t believe in it–however, you must have enough forethought to think it may benefit someone else. Like the passing of the 19th Amendment. Like the Emancipation Proclamation. Even the Declaration of Independence and the ratifying of the US Constitution. This life we live, we do live in parallel realms: individually (my life) and corporately (the lives of other people). This nation has not grasped that yet.
We love to inflict rather than invite. We desire dominance and shun understanding. We would rather rule and subvert rather than govern. In order to do the latter of what I have mentioned, you must allow space for the benefits of others, realizing that those rights DON’T supplant your own.
So no, this isn’t about ‘protecting children’, or ‘protecting women’–there are cis-gendered men that are free or have served little to no jail time because they have chose to violate a woman whom all she did was exist, or tell him no, trying to maintain protection of her own personhood. Spare me the confusion that these people invite Jesus into. I understand that we are to make no provision for the flesh, but we are supposed to apply and give grace–no matter the person. The final authority being God, this same God that loved all of us, HIS CHILDREN.
How about we allow God to be God, because we aren’t…and we can all pee in peace.