Tag Archives: Family

Homosexuality doesn’t destroy families, homophobia does.

Homosexuality doesn’t destroy families, homophobia does.

People rest comfortably in the sentiment that they don’t ‘hate’ gay people. They simply feel that gay relationships are unnatural and that the people in them are confused. They don’t wish harm on gay people, just wish they’d stop being so burdensome on the psyche with their…presence.

“I don’t agree with your lifestyle, but that’s just my opinion,” they say, citing the usual suspects as reasons — religion, biology, zoology, and the always high-minded “eww” factor of gay sex. 

But you know what? I call bullshit.

Homophobia is a choice. And all the justifications for why you “disagree with that lifestyle” are rooted in an inability to imagine life outside of your own box. It would be different if homosexuality was linked to some degradation in society, much like violence and ignorance are. But it isn’t. It would be different if you had to be gay. But you don’t.

Gay people haven’t perverted marriage. Same-sex parents aren’t raising damaged children. On the contrary, people have been experts at ruining their own lives, and those around them, for centuries without help from the gays.

If you’re curious about what homophobia (and sexism) looks like, check this: Dr. Umar Johnson, “Educator, Psychologist, Political Scientist and Pan-Africanist,” according to his website, recently argued that overbearing Black single mothers are responsible for the existence of gay Black men. This is so dangerous.

And yet, so easily disproven. For example, I submit the [Magic] Johnson family. How does this happen, Dr. Johnson?

http://marcgordonshow.com/rich-kids-of-beverly-hills-star-ej-johnson-signs-with-wme-exclusive/

Fabulous son, E.J. Johnson, mama Cookie, daddy Magic. (Just so we’re clear: EJ flames, honey. He’s gay.)

Couldn’t be because people are, I don’t know…different? That even a father could be different from his son? The psychologist, scientist, and educator didn’t find this explanation in any of his life studies? Homophobia makes you blind to evidence that’s right before you.

Don’t let people with credentials consign your ignorance.

As National Coming Out Day approaches, I urge families to be better than their biases. Be better than your fears of the unknown. Be better than your disappointment about your expectations. I understand that you may never understand how a person could be into someone of the same gender. But consider this: It’s not about you.

I don’t understand how people can listen to Bob Dylan or consider Wiz Khalifa attractive, but that’s not my bag. I don’t have to understand it to respect it. To regard it. Homophobia is the opposite — because you don’t understand, you disrespect and disregard. There’s nothing noble about that, even if, in your rationalizing, you believe you’re doing the Lord’s work. One person’s salvation doesn’t depend on another’s, does it? I only went to Vacation Bible School for the snacks and the $20 my parents gave me, so I could be wrong.

Even if I am though, how do you know that my spiritual convictions aren’t just as strong as yours? Don’t assume faith has to look the same; don’t assume family has to look the same. Don’t assume life has to look the same. It does not.

Remember that few rational people would risk family shame, abandonment, and judgment by coming out if it wasn’t something they felt compelled to do.

If you find out this weekend that a loved one is gay, don’t let homophobia destroy your relationship. Be better than your fear of what you don’t know. Be better than your disappointment about your expectations.

Nobody’s going to talk to you about sex on the same day they come out. But if you find that that’s all you’re thinking about, then you’re dropping the ball. Snap out of it and get back to the person who just bore their soul to you. It’s about more than sex to them.

Advertisements

Alabama, the Beautiful

I spent most of last week in Alabama, my home state. And I think, somewhere along the way, I began a love affair with it.

As y’all know, I’m hard on the South, particularly because I grew up in Alabama, and because, in a way, I guess I grew out of Alabama. As I write this now, I understand that in the process, I lost some appreciation for what Alabama has meant to me. Today, I want to rectify that.

Women’s Leadership Institute – Auburn, Alabama

I spent Monday through Thursday with the Women’s Leadership Institute (WLI) at Auburn University. It was a week of sessions and workshops dedicated to telling a different story about women and girls – that our value goes deeper, and stretches beyond our bodies and pretty faces.

The WLI Class of 2012 included a diverse group of dynamic women from all over the southeast. They came to us at various stages in their careers, education, and in their personal lives. Some had grown children, others had babies. Some had earned their Bachelor’s Degrees just days or weeks before we met, while others were working on Doctorates or their second or third Master’s Degrees. It was, for sure, an impressive group.  We celebrated the courage it takes to face your fears, to lead a team, to trust your team, and to trust your leader. We recognized our power, and we acknowledged the ways in which it is brokered – either for some greater good, or because tradition/genetics/culture dictates that we should.

Throughout the course of our lives, women bear unique burdens and take on responsibilities that our male counterparts simply don’t. Man-struggles, though they exist and are no less challenging to the individual, aren’t even within striking distance of women’s uphill battles for respect, for power, for voice, for equality.  For autonomy. Men’s opportunities aren’t limited by their chromosomal make up. Rather, they are expanded by it. Infinite possibilities await if you happen to be born XY instead of XX. For men, the range of human emotion isn’t considered a liability. Questions about work/life balance, and who takes care of the babies while you chase ambition are realities men rarely face. For women, these features of life aren’t really optional. If you’re born with a uterus, limitations come standard.

For centuries, women have shattered false conceptions about their abilities to achieve great success outside of the home. The untrustworthy prism of sexism conveniently forgets that it was Harriet Tubman who risked her life returning to the South on missions that rescued more than 70 slaves. And it was Cleopatra who tactically employed beauty and charm as she ruled Egypt and was the alluring, elusive mistress to Rome. Queen Cleopatra and Harriet Tubman were merely women, and yet they succeeded in altering the course of world history. There’s nothing “mere,” minimum, or paltry about such a feat.

In the same way, women have enjoyed success in every facet of human life: family, business, science, medicine, and technology, the arts, research, and politics. But the psychology of sexism persists. Though the glass ceiling may be cracked in several places, it remains firmly in tact.

And chief among the reasons why, I think, is women’s lack of control over narratives about their own lives – their needs and ideas based in the context of their life experiences.  On Monday night, we watched the documentary, “Miss Representation.” The film lifts the veil from media’s influence on the way we value women. Media messages would have you believe that women are, or should be, “forever 29” or younger, size 4 or smaller, married and mothering or laying looking under every Tom, Dick, and Harry to chase that dream.

It’s hard to be a girl, and then to grow up and be a woman. You’re measured against a standard that doesn’t exist. Perfection, as determined by men who never stray too far from their inner 13 year-old boy, isn’t an achievable goal. Media pushes the message that you need to be as close as possible to perfect to have value, and the market creates the illusion that you can actually buy your way into the mirage. But it’s a ruse. A clever, disheartening and disastrous ruse. Because the truth is that imperfection – the differences among us – that appeal to those among us, that’s “perfection.” Perfect. Defined by me, for me.

This was the second time I served as a Faculty in Residence with WLI. And, just like the last time, I came away inspired. The Residential Intensive Training week at WLI reminds you that women are powerful, brilliant, courageous, AND nurturing, beautiful, sexual beings. And it gives you license to be that, without contradiction.

Here’s my favorite photo from my week with WLI. It is what teamwork and sisterhood looks like.

No matter what you’re going through, sister, I’m determined to get you over this wall. The mission isn’t complete until we all make it over.

Tuskegee University – Tuskegee, Alabama

The base of the statue reads: “There is no defence or security for any of us except in the highest intelligence and development of all”

Like many ‘Skegee Alum, before I ever enrolled at Tuskegee University, I already had roots there. My dad, uncle and auntie had already taken the journey. So in August 1999 , when I showed up with the FAMU bumper sticker on my car, I wasn’t the most enthusiastic Golden Tiger.

But a couple of months later, I met a person who changed life as I knew it. And not long after that, I went to my first football game (as a student), and I saw my first probate show – it was Alpha Phi Alpha, the Fall ’99 line. And then I experienced my first Homecoming. Despite my best efforts, I began to let the “Tuskegee Experience” seep in. It was one of the best decisions I never made.

It just kind of happened one day, and I remember it so clearly. I was leaving the Union wearing yellow Old Navy flip-flops. I stopped at the top of the stairs for two seconds, and realized that I belonged there. Not on the stairs, of course. But on campus, that campus.

I felt the same way when I visited last Thursday. My dad’s roots are there, and now, so are mine. My best friend is a Tuskegee alumna, and my girlfriend is a double Tuskegee alum. I’m lucky. I get to have a little Crimson and Old Gold with me always. Last week though, it was nice to be there – to smell it, to see the caf, the yard, the valley, the ave, and the monument one more time.

Say what you wanna about my alma mater.  It is in the middle of nowhere.  It is  country.  And it is dysfunctional at times.  It’s also amazing and majestic in a way.  And for that reason, I wouldn’t trade my Tuskegee experience for your college’s any day.

“I’m so glad I went to ‘Skegee U.”

Mike & Ed’s – Phenix City & Auburn, Alabama

If you’re one of those people who proudly doesn’t eat pork, then go on ahead and skip this part. If, however, you appreciate swine for its delicious contributions to humankind, then you understand my love of good barbecue. I’m talking about ribs, friends. Ribs.

Forget anything you’ve ever heard about DC or Maryland barbecue – that is, if anyone’s ever raved about DC or Maryland barbecue.

I had to go home to get a decent rib dinner. And if I’m going home, then I’m going to my favorite barbecue spot in the world, Mike & Ed’s. The original, and best one, is located in my hometown, Phenix City, Alabama. The building looks exactly like it did the first time my mom took me there for a chipped sandwich, when I was 5ish. The sweet hickory sauce still tastes the same. The thick-cut pickles are still the perfect accompaniment to ribs drizzled with their vinegary hot sauce. And they still serve white bread with a dinner.

The one in Auburn serves sweet tea in a garbage can container – with a spigot on it. I fucking love Alabama.

🙂

My Family – Phenix City, Alabama

I gotta be honest. I struggled with whether I would visit my family on this trip. But my favorite auntie said, “You’re this close. Go see your parents.” So I did.

And I’m glad I did. I needed to see their faces and feel their hugs. I needed to feel them squeeze me like they missed me. And I needed to squeeze back so they knew I missed them too.

We caught up on the last few months, and we resolved the respect issue. However, my mom is still my mom, and my dad is still my dad. And things are still rough and sensitive. But I realized that’s ok. I don’t need it to be more than it is anymore. It was just nice to see my parents and hold them again. That works for now.

And the bonus was that I got to hang out with Granny for a while.

Alabama fed my soul last week. It is indeed a beautiful place.


“sometimes you gotta walk away and let em grow.”

i hope y’all don’t mind if i get personal for a moment. and truthfully, i probably shouldn’t write this now because the feelings are so fresh. but alas, here we are. you’re stuck with me.

the title of this post was actually a tweet that found its way into my timeline yesterday. i’ve used it probably four or five times in the last 24 hours. most recently, i used it in reference to my parents – two people from whom i never imagined i’d have to walk away.

but alas, here we are.

all my life, my family has been a proud family of three — just me, my mom, and my dad. after graduating from college and before i left home for graduate school, i lived with my parents for about two years. in that time, i grew to cherish the relationship that we’d built. my mom and i had found common ground; my dad and i talked endlessly about politics – we loved it. it was our thing, and i began to see that my dad respected my perspective. but more than that, my parents and i grew close. we loved each other, and we enjoyed each other. we liked being around one another.

i remember the day we gathered in my bedroom and watched Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon on the tiny 13 inch tv my parents got me when I was, like, 9. that story was one i told for years. we had the works set up in the den – stereo surround sound, plasma screen mounted on the wall, a couch. yet, there we were. the three of us. smashed onto my childhood bed. watching Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon on a 13 inch screen.

my mom has struggled for the last two years to wrap her mind around my life. and her struggle has manifest in some foul ways. to be sure, i’ve seen the face of ignorance and homophobia real close up. and it is ugly. aint nothing pretty or pleasing about it.

but i’d come to expect blowback from my mom. i know who she is. i know where she comes from. i know the people with whom she surrounds herself. i could handle her better because i understood that her sickness was about the limitations in her life experience. her perceptions of gay people and what gay life looks like were woefully flawed. but in her view, she was spot on. and not even close proximity to one whom she already knew as so many other things – in addition to gay – could penetrate that force field of ignorance. such is life. it sucked, but i could deal.

my dad though. his rejection. that rejection hurt. it hurt like i imagine it would have hurt if i was six and i’d watched him walk away, knowing he’d never come back. i idolized my father. he was the smartest, kindest, most wonderful man. but he had his deficiencies too.

my dad’s beef wasn’t that i like girls. he actually handled that news well, and with a remarkable degree of love, support, and grace. what he can’t seem to grasp, however, is that i refuse to permit disrespect and disregard for my happiness – no matter the source. lord knows i love my mama, but when she steps out of pocket, she’s not immune to being put back in place. he knows she’s wrong. knows how vitriolic her words can be. but insists unceasingly that “you gotta respect ya mama.” no, dad. no. respect is a two-way street. you don’t hold open the door the next time for the cat who spat in your face and stepped on your wingtips the last time.

unfortunately, my dad is the product of a different kind of ignorance. one which affords you the freedom to spread your wings, to explore, and go far – but not too far. it’s like he encouraged me, and gave me all the tools i’d need in order to be amazing. but wanted me to stop just short of being amazing. he wanted me to grow up and be an adult, but he wanted me to accept treatment not even befitting a child. he wanted me to accept treatment that was beneath the person he raised me to be. no, dad. no. i won’t do it.

and so here we are.

it took me 31 years to see my parents as people – as man and woman, and not only mama and daddy. that it took so long, i think, is a testament to the strength of our familial bond. but also, i suspect that i wasn’t yet strong enough to handle life without my rose-colored glasses. i needed time to grow a thicker skin.

i love my parents. i miss them. i live a great life, and, naturally, i want them to be part of it. but i won’t negotiate respect for love; my “lifestyle” for my parents. I shouldn’t have to choose. I should never have had to choose.

but sometimes you just gotta walk away and let ’em grow. because if you make me choose, then i choose me.


For Goodness’ Sake

I’m no stranger to cynicism about many aspects of life, and I don’t mind making light of matters folks consider sacred.  What keeps me from being completely jaded about living, however, is being conscious of and receptive to the notion of goodness.   For me, goodness is defined by selfless acts of kindness and decency, intentional efforts to renew the human element and re-create the human connection.

I firmly believe that no one has to do anything they’d rather not do.  Sure, life offers incentives for folks to make this choice or that choice, but altruism is never really a given.  You can’t rest comfortably at night assured that someone would help pull you up if you ever needed it.  You can hope, but there’s no guarantee.  I know people who make an active choice every day to not give one solitary fuck about their neighbor.  You’re lucky and/or blessed if said reality isn’t one to which you can relate.  Be grateful if you know more than one person who’ll answer your call in the wee hours of a random night.  Because you got yourself something special.

It is true that no man is an island, but that fact has never stopped one from believing he is the exception to the rule.  See Exhibit A below:

Tony Montana was a beast, wasn’t he!?

…And I suspect that not too deep down, many of us want to feel this grandiose just once in our lifetimes — living so large and so insulated that we buy allllll the way into our own hype.

But Tony was wrong, and his bellicose celebration of “me” ended badly, if you’ll recall.  It’s hard to navigate this minefield known as life without trusting, depending on, and loving another person.  People need people; we need each other.

Goodness acknowledges that fact — that we aren’t alone in this world.  It bridges disparate interests, personal problems, issues, and biases.  It allows me to see  you, to see the dignity in you, the light in you, the hope in you.  It allows us to connect.

One of my best friends is moving out of her home this week.  When she moved in six years ago, she found that the previous tenants had given her her first housewarming gift — a bottle of Stoli chillin in the fridge.  She plans to pay the gesture forward, leaving a bottle of something nice and a note to welcome in the new energy.  Hopefully, whoever takes her place will carry the torch of Morocco by engaging in reckless intellectual debauchery, and enjoying great times with great company.  Hopefully, whoever got next will continue the tradition, lengthening the chain of human connection one link and one bottle of liquor at time.

I flew to St. Louis last week to celebrate Thanksgiving with my girlfriend’s family who, I’m grateful to say, have also become my own.  On my first flight, there was a little boy, Liam, whose first birthday happened to be that day.  Because the family had to travel, his parents provided Rice Krispy treats for everyone on board, so that all of us could share in celebrating their son’s first year of life.

Liam ‘s parents didn’t know us, and we didn’t know him.  But we clapped and cheered for him nonetheless as he deplaned.  And he smiled for us.  At this early stage, Liam knows little about the difficulties of life, and that’s cool.  What’s cooler though, is that he now knows the feeling of collective goodwill.  Liam may be only 1, but even he got how good the spirit of human connection felt.

Goodness is about being selfless for a moment.  It doesn’t require that you give over every dime in your pocket, or every morsel in your fridge, or every second of your time.  Rather, it is reflected in the effort you make to remember someone’s name, or the details of your friends’ stories.  It is reflected in opening the door for someone, or sharing your umbrella in the rain, or looking a stranger in the eye and acknowledging her presence.  It’s reflected in calling your Granny regularly, despite your “busy” schedule.  And it’s reciprocal too —  the law of humanity, the universe, your God, your Creator — will see to it that the goodness you give also gets back to you.

As I’ve gotten older, the holidays have become less about gifts** and Black Friday sales (I don’t yet have little ones so I’m sure that has a lot to do with it).  I’ve grown to love the holiday season because this is the one time of year when folks seem to reflect on how good life can be.  You look around and you’re surrounded by people you love, and who love you for no other reason than the nurtured connection among you.  The concept of “family” gains new meaning and new significance because you’re blessed to have the one you were born with, and also, the one you chose.

While in St. Louis, the family got a visit from a Godmama that they hadn’t seen in two decades.  The air in the house was thick with anxiety and emotion, but whatever had caused the initial separation had no place in the reunion.   Misty eyes and warm smiles spoke life to everyone’s appreciation for the opportunity before them — to simply share with each other moments so special.  Although I was an outsider to this history, it was easy to get caught up by the goodness that brought an extended family back together.

In that spirit this holiday season, give a gift that lasts long after the “season of giving” is gone.  Give love, man.  Give respect, sincerity, and genuineness.  Give trust and honor.  Give happiness and joy, and make yourself available for them too.  Give you, man — the authentic you.  Do it for Christmas, and then do it everyday.

It might hurt you Scrooges a little at first, but it gets better as you get better.

…and if you’re really good, you might get to be bad.  In all the right ways.

**However:  Blair, if you’re listening, that Mercedes Benz G Class would be dope with a lil purple ribbon on it, and a fresh new pocket square in the glove compartment…  I’ll take it in black, please.  


My Mama and Me

This Mother’s Day was a bittersweet one for me, as my relationship with my mother can best be described as “complicated.” And at worst, we are estranged — indefinitely. Last year for father’s day, I left my dad a you’ll always be the best man I’ve ever known message on my parents’ answering machine. My mother replied jokingly, but more seriously than she meant to let on, that I “never say that kind of stuff” to her. I never thought much about why I didn’t. In my mind, the bottles of perfume, and the iPod, and the shoes I’d bought over the years, meant the same thing I’d said to my father. But it didn’t to her. And in all honesty, it never occurred to me that she was receptive to sincerity in that way. As a matter of fact, when it does occur to me to describe my mama’s character, sincere just doesn’t come to mind.

Lest I seem too critical of the gorgeous woman that gave me life, I do acknowledge the sacrifices my mother made early on so that I could be anything and everything I dreamed I could be. I appreciate that she pushed aside her personal ambitions to ensure that I had the chance at a better life than hers. My parents nudged me gently, but unmistakably in one direction — up. They encouraged aspiration as opposed to complacency, and brilliance when good enough would do. I knew with absolute certainty that I was my mama’s “pride and joy.” I was her greatest accomplishment and her biggest investment. And I’m pretty sure she cheated on something to get me into Head Start early. But such is life — early bird catches the worm, right? Even if said bird is shady than a mug…

When I was little, my favorite books were The Cat in the Hat and Ferdinand and the Bull. My mom read one or the other to me every night. And although by about time 20, she was over Dr. Seuss and all his carryin on, she kept up our nightly ritual. In part because I was her little girl, and you can’t deny your little girl. And I mean, have you seen my little girl eyes? They really were undeniable. But also, my mom got a kick out of me memorizing the words, and “reading” to her like I knew what I was doing. I think she really just got a kick out of me too. She used to tell me that I used words way too big for someone aged in single digits. So you see, I talk fancy in spite of myself. I’s bo’n this way; can’t help it one bit.

My mom was always so proud of me. She cheered hard and loud at my basketball games, and boasted the way parents do when I excelled at the academic stuff, too. I know my mama loves and cherishes me. Because at 30 years old, I still have trouble saying goodbye at the airport without choking up. In fact, I usually lose my inner gangsta completely on the final embrace, just before we part ways at the security check-in. She may get on my nerves when I’m home, but that last look into her eyes before I leave gets me every. single. time.

But love and pride were never our problem, mine and my mama’s. Since I left for college, we’ve been stuck at acceptance. It’s been difficult for my mother to accept that I grew up, that I’m not the snaggle-toothed kindergardener on her wall anymore. And since I came out, we’ve really just been stuck. Now, I love women in a way that my mother doesn’t, and I’d be frontin with y’all if I pretended not to understand the massive weight of such a revelation. But my degree of gayness is merely part of our overarching issue, which can be defined quite simply. Fundamentally, my mama and I are completely different types of women. While I accepted that fact long ago, and although I suspect that my mother has always known it too, “coming out” as the polar opposite of who she is, has emblazoned our differences. And every day since August 17th 2010, she can’t understand them; she can’t overlook them; and she won’t accept them.

One of my very good friends often challenges my anger at my mother’s stubbornness. I may be oversimplifying his point, but it seems to me that he thinks it permissible to be “disappointed” and to lash out because the morals we cherry-pick are compromised in some way, or because of the romanticized aspects of our heritage. But I’m from the same place they’re from, and I managed to pull my head out of my ass. Is it really too much to expect that others could do so also?

But let me not pretend that “others” are who I really even care about. This is about my mama. And me. And why I didn’t call on Mother’s Day. I did send a card because, despite all that’s happened over the last year, I’m grateful that my mama still lives and breathes, and smiles a beautiful smile. However, I cannot escape the hurt and anger I feel that she can’t accept me as I am. And in my understanding of family, “home” is the one place where acceptance isn’t subject to if-then equations. If you are who I want you to be, then we cool. Home love is supposed to be unconditional, save some really exceptionally foul shit. And for me, being gay simply does not rise to that level.

It hurts that I haven’t spoken to my mama in nearly two months. I know she misses me because I miss her. The reality is, however, that she has dug in, and so have I. I can’t rationalize the things she’s said, the callousness she’s shown, and the choice she’s made to step out of my life. I am her only daughter — her only child. That alone should curry enough favor to get me a ‘I don’t understand, but let’s see where we can find common ground’ conversation. I mean, shouldn’t it? Life is short as fuck sometimes. It is a pity to waste time over issues so small. And we don’t get this time back. And we can’t take the words back.

This is the first time in my life I’ve ever had to stand up for me — in opposition to the folks who created me. I didn’t ask to be born into our family. And, as another very good friend would say, “but I got over it.” I didn’t shun my family fuck-ups. I don’t speak of my own disappointments with family folks who turned out to be, or to not be worth a damn. In my view, being in the world everyday offers enough criticism. My job is to provide support, to exist among the roots and branches of our family tree.

It took me a long time to understand why it was so difficult for my mama and me to connect. The compassion and reason that I give so freely has never really been reciprocated from my mother when I needed it most — when shit was hard, and when compassion was challenged by reality. When I totaled my first car; when her favorite photo from her first cruise flew out of my car window; and when I told her that I was gay. For this reason, I know for sure that my spirit is my father’s. He gives of his time and attention, and his talents because he believes doing so is the right thing to do spiritually, humanly, and universally. He is a good man — not just a great father, but a genuinely great guy. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve recognized how difficult it is to be genuine and sincere and decent in a world that thrives on something else. I respect my father’s ability to remember to extend a little grace. He isn’t perfect, and he’s certainly had his share of asshole moments. But who hasn’t? I’m not still mad about when he snapped, “don’t nobody care about your bullshit phone calls!” when I asked him for a pager in 9th grade. Yes, I am. He aint hafta say that shit like that.

So yeah, Mother’s Day was bittersweet for me. I can’t not love and appreciate my mama. But I can’t sacrifice my dignity, or my self-respect, or my confidence in the woman she taught me to be either. I’m so comfortable in my own skin. I won’t give that up. I can’t be who she wants me to be because that’s not who I am. My hope going forward is that one day who I am is enough for her. My work going forward, however, is accepting the possibility that that day may never come.

So yeah, this Mother’s Day was a bittersweet one for me.