Spears & Flowers: Reflections on Queer Alienation

I have been very introspective recently. The beauty of radical queer politics, and the benefit it holds for all political tendencies and struggles, is it’s unflinching quest to challenge all aspects of the culture, including ourselves. radical queer politics questioned the family, feminism, patriarchy and other aspects of society through a look at their workings within human beings and our interpersonal relationships. In a recent meeting of a radical queer space that I love and am connected to, I was inspired to write this piece.

I often catch glimpses of who I want to be staring at me in the mirror, waving. I see a lot of what I am and more of someone I wish I was from time to time. But the purpose of all of this is to come closer to loving my reflection for what it is, when I see it. It is becoming more evident to me that self-improvement and self-love are not mutually exclusive. As I stand I see thousands of contradictions and things I despise about myself, but I also know that many of these are a result of being out in the world. They are not essential components of my character and I can change them. It also is important to look at that image, in the mirror, and love it fiercely. To embrace it for what it is at that moment: not who it was, could or should be. It is only when we strive towards a place of love for ourselves that we can truly work to combat the negative traits we despise.

P.S. I wrote somewhat dry because I wanted to get the thoughts out as clearly as possible without too much colorful language possibly getting in the way.

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In my younger years I sought to craft a master heterosexual disguise. This desire came from the fact that I knew that the boldness exemplified by some of my “out” peers was something that was not tolerable, something that was often met with violence. The most disgusting incident of this manifested with the murder of someone who lived on the same street as I did. The young man, who often cross dressed and defied the code of conduct by talking back to his hecklers, was found stabbed to death with shards of glass in his anus. Daily, I knew of boys who were raped or beat in school. The general attitude around these attacks was silence from the administration and larger community. Because of this, I learned, very early, that my survival was dependant on my ability to make myself invisible. Part of this pact with oppressive patriarchy, meant also that I had to often partake in the demonizing of my queer brothers and sisters. Eventually this meant that I began to absorb the rhetoric, let it run through my blood, and define myself with those same horizontal lines.

I hated effeminate men. They were something unforgivable to me, something disgusting. I would lash out at my friends, and police them when we hung out. I despised the fact that I possessed those same qualities and wanted to exorcise them, from myself, through verbal assaults on other effeminate men.  Often times, in oppressed communities, the qualities that are picked upon by the dominant culture are those that are most harshly policed. It’s the same as problem I sometimes see occur in Black communities around “loudness”, “Black English”, and “dress”. Because we live in a society that is dominated by the straight white male lens, we must all act accordingly in order to move about with the least amount of trouble. Albeit, oppression and trouble are mainstays regardless of how much people desire to assimilate to the prescribed aesthetic. So we come to a place where we, as the various oppressed peoples, see ourselves through dual lenses and we posses what Dubois coined as “double consciousness”

“It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.”

–        W.E.B. Dubois

Recently, I have been challenging the way this internal hatred manifest in a different way: by looking at the men I lust for. I’ve always been attracted to a specific kind of man. My day dreams and night fantasies were dominated by very hard, masculine men. My dealings, in real life, have been the same. Regardless of the tragic amounts of repression within them and the dysfunction that it brings to the relationship, I wanted a “MAN”. I remember having a conversation with an ex, while we were dating, where he forbid me to be around other queer black men. This was also the same man who refused to engage with the option of versatility in the bed, who refused to acknowledge me sexually. And none of this is said with the intention of demonizing him. Quite the contrary, he represents the psychic dissonance formed within us in this society, where oppressed folk cannot fully come to a place of reconciliation with themselves and develop into semi-formed humans. The same thing goes for myself and my attraction to men like him.

In a recent video, the poet Yolo Akili, challenged the culture, specifically of Queer Black men, when he asked the question: “Are You The Kind of Boy You Want?” The video, which features a range of men, focuses on the fact that often times we pursue partners, and friends, out of a longing to negate certain qualities within ourselves. It highlights the lack of self-love we have. Personally, I know that my desire to be with stereotypical images of Black men or damaged men, who would ultimately lead to hurt, came from a disgust I had for myself. I outright rejected the notion that I would be in a relationship with effeminate men, with larger men etc . . . Looking back, I see a lot of my attitudes towards potential partners as reflective of a kind of alliance with White supremacy and patriarchy. I projected this prescribed image of Black manhood onto these men, dehumanizing them. At the same time, this image was something I desperately wanted to be because of my learned hatred of the effeminate parts of myself.

The nature of life in this society teaches us many things; among them is an intense self-loathing. From birth we are told that we are lacking and taught to consume in order to fill in for, or cover up our flaws. Combine this basic rule of Capitalism with White Supremacy and Patriarchy and we have generations of oppressed people consuming an ideology that is slowly killing them. And for that we both desire and loathe societal poison. The society hates womyn and defines “male” by what the former is not. And so it follows that men embodying traits relegated to womyn are seen as pariahs, or backwards. The tragic error in this confusion is that it continues that dissonance we spoke of by ignoring the full range of human expression and the material fact that nothing is essentially “male” or “female”.

In my search to come to a deeper love for myself, and therefore coming closer to a greater capacity to honestly love another person, I have come to some very hard truths. And it is difficult to approach a place of self-love after years of taught hatred but it is a healing we need. Many constructions of relationships between beings fall between the pillars of co-dependence and co modification. Our alienation brings us to seek an unhealthy validation in romantic partners. We disguise this often as “love”, all the while afraid to see our tolerance of abuse and longing for what they really are: reactions to the fact that we have not been told enough that we are loved or deserving of love. We commodify one another: looking at the value we acquire through virtue of being involved with another. I believe that this comes from the lack of self-love that comes with life under White supremacist, patriarchal capitalism. That’s why “love” is something radical, something golden, something revolutionary: because it is something diametrically opposed to the progress of the society which oppresses and exploits us. If we as militants, as revolutionaries, as any people who hope to bring joy to the world and ourselves, cannot deal with the love most essential to the revolutionary project then we have lost.

I look out, as I try to free myself, and see rooms filled with Black men like me. Sitting underneath the horror of that ceiling and knowing, each day, that its existence is becoming more and more real – the air a little more thin.

I also see that, like all things, this doesn’t have to be the permanent definition of our existence. I draw inspiration from healing spaces, from spaces of challenge and love. It is easy to become overwhelmed and see it all as insurmountable. But that is the exact the opposite of reality: our individual projects of self-help and improvement lead us to a greater love for ourselves and for humanity. This has a material effect on our conditions because it brings to the surface a counter ideology that will move with us through physical struggle. The scars of the racist and sexist capitalist system are seen beyond economic oppression, they are apart of our spiritual fabric. Our oppressions intersect and harm on multiple levels. That is why this work and kind of analysis was crucial to the Queer liberation movement and Feminist theory. That is why revolutionary self-reflection is crucial to me.

I want to end with a quote, and some commentary:

“I believe that many of the destructive lessons taught in our childhood homes is the result of the desperation of our parents. They were children once and learned those same lessons. I don’t know how we begin to unlearn that behavior.” –Essex Hemphill

I believe that many of the destructive lessons learned in this society are the result of the desperation of our parents and the ailments of our society. As children we are torn asunder learning these lessons. The beginning of the unlearning, of the reconciliation of our torn selves lies in our ability to grasp warmly, hold up and affirm one another. Our power lies in our ability to recognize and reconcile with our own humanity: to take our scarred inner children and embrace them, allow them to cry and finally, to speak. Much of Western culture is a about running away from ourselves, being terrified of what makes us human and repressing it. It is my sincere intention to do away with this within myself. I want to see every raw bit and say “I appreciate you.”

4 thoughts on “Spears & Flowers: Reflections on Queer Alienation

  1. This is really beautiful and honest Crunch! Thank you for sharing! It is important for us to look within and grapple with these issues; the immense pain we have had to suffer from an early age; the pain of our parents and our families that we silently carry with us. I think writing and radical politics empowers us to dig deep and examine the pain. It doesn’t alleviate it (that comes with struggle) but it can give us a voice. It can inspire us to write about it, and have our writing connect with others, which is what you are doing here. Lovely.

    Recently, I have been writing and thinking about very similar topics. Alienation is so real. We live in such an individualistic system that tears us apart from each other and ourselves, and does not teach us how to love and appreciate each other and ourselves. I think you are right on here,

    “We commodify one another: looking at the value we acquire through virtue of being involved with another. I believe that this comes from the lack of self-love that comes with life under White supremacist, patriarchal capitalism.”

    We do commodify each other. And commodification brings this sense of owning and control. I think we seek to be validated by others through these co-dependent social relations and that can result in us not loving our partners/lovers in a healthy way and not loving ourselves in a healthy way. I have been thinking about this recently as I reflect on my recent experiences with lovers. I have not always felt accepted by my lovers; I have felt that they have wanted to control me or ‘fix’ me into something else that will make them feel better. Ultimately it has left me feeling defeated and insecure. I think we all have a tendency to act that way, because that is behavior we are taught.

    But if we are to truly love ourselves and others we have to accept ourselves and our lovers in their totalities. Understand the ways we are all hurt and scarred by this system and be in solidarity with ourselves and each other in changing it and growing together. And I look forward to doing that work with you!

    Thank you for being my soul brother.

    1. mmmm. Thanks for this response, Chaka.

      We were talking alot recently in the Radical queer group i’m in about co-dependency and it’s roots being tied to the destructive society. It makes sense for people to hold onto, commodify, and objectify our partners and ourselves when we live in a society that tells you how worthless you are from day one. It’s interesting to see these links between human suffering, ideology and alienation as they relate to the captalism.
      I feel my lens expanding and enriching due to these discussions and my relationships with powerful radicals, like yourself.
      Thanks for reading, as always. ❤

  2. This is great! I love to see you really dwelving into understanding the practice of self love and I also find it interesting that we’ve been thinking about a lot of the same things lately. When it comes down to it, every single man I have dated, talked to or “messed around with” have been working class, masculine, black or latino men. I struggle with the fact that the type of men I have been socialized to be attracted to are patriarchal in many different ways. Haven’t I made struggling against patriarchy part of my identity and political perspective?? I also (predictably) have had many negative experiences dealing with these real patriarchal men; from cheating on me to various forms of emotional abuse ect. ect. But Im STILL attracted to these men! And I am not attracted to other groups of men. I think part of the reason is that I feel a certain allegiance to my class and ethnic background (as well as feel rejected by other groups of men) and most of the men I find that I can relate to culturally have been deeply socialized to act out in these ways. Part of it is also my desires to be validated by these particular men. Feeling double devalued as a womyn and as a biracial black and latina person, I have seeked validation in many different ways from these men. Feeling rejected by a white supremacist culture I longed to feel accepted somewhere. Being biracial has lead to a lot of discomfort in both the black and latin@ communities and male validation has been a way of trying to feel accepted. I have felt like black men have been my primary connection to the black community because white supremacy and patriarchy have negatively affected my relations with black womyn. In that sense I have used black men to validate me, not only as a womyn, but as a black womyn; to affirm by blackness. Dating latino men that were lighter than me made me feel like an exception, they still found me attracted despite the fact that my skin was darker than theirs; despite my blackness. I longed to fit into both communities so conforming to the deeply patriarchal cultures of both communities was also a part of “fitting in”. Anyways I really don’t have answers or real solutions to a lot of my questions right now but Im really trying to explore this.

    “Looking back, I see a lot of my attitudes towards potential partners as reflective of a kind of alliance with White supremacy and patriarchy. I projected this prescribed image of Black manhood onto these men, dehumanizing them.”

    Yes! This is a powerful statement. Its really painful to realize that I have been deeeply socialized to cause myself pain; to box those around me into very restrictive and alienating roles and, therefore, box myself into really restrictive roles. It goes real deep. At this point Im trying to work on self worth and self love because I understand that I have used male attention to soothe my feelings of valuelessness and alienation which have led to me causing myself a lot of pain.

    I loved reading this piece!! Very honest and insightful. I could relate to it a lot and I thank you for sharing 😉

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