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.”