Free Write: Pretty Dancer

What follows is more of a long rambling of abstract thought that spawned from a free-write about my childhood. It isn’t polished or edited or very cohesive but I would like to post it because I haven’t written in a long time here and because I feel the need to release this:

There’s a storm outside and when it rages like this my mind races back to memories of my childhood. The face of my friend Eugene (we’ll call him this on the blog so as not to out his identity) who was hit by and car, and survived, during a storm comes forth. Our 4-year friendship was filled with many more ups and downs than perhaps nine year olds should endure. However, we know that childhood isn’t ever really childhood for most of the children in this world. And in this country, if you happen to be born into the ghettos of America as an ethnic minority . . . you might as well skip school and head straight for the work force. Childhood is a word rarely heard or understood. For Black children, “childhood” is training. We are prepared for what pain the world seeks to inflict. We learn how to act, think, and speak. We learn what it takes to survive in the great White world from our parents. We learn the horrors of racism from the institutions that occupy our spaces. We learn of the embarrassment that accompanies Black bodies in white spaces when we leave our neighborhoods. And for Black boys, this also includes lessons in manhood.I want to talk about Eugene and I today, not because he was hit by a car, but because of the dynamics present in our relationship and the ways that we were socialized at an early age.

I remember our friendship coming to a thunderous crash when I heard the words “fucking faggot!” directed at me. Eugene and his brothers were spitting venom from across the street as I sat on my stoop. For the entire time I had been friends with him, Eugene and I hadn’t come anywhere close to exploring one another sexually. Although, it was becoming more and more known in our neighborhood that I “experimented” with other boys. I had never held those thoughts in regards to him. I remember being told by Eugene’s brothers that I had better not touch him that I was lucky I wasn’t being beat up and that Eugene could still come to my house. I didn’t pay any of it attention really because by this point, I was aware that most of the neighborhood boys didn’t like me, despite the urgings that would bring them to me then and later on until I moved.

From what I remember of his life, Eugene grew up in a family of boxers. He was being trained as one and that included regular hyper masculine abuse. Occasionally I would get punched in the chest by my male family members and told to “man up” at random, but for him it was commonplace. He was routinely checked on his emotions and at that young age I saw him begin to harden. A lot of our friendship revolved around art because we both drew, but there were times when he wasn’t allowed to because it wasn’t as important as his boxing training. When my mother would argue in favor of us being allowed to create more art she was usually ignored.

Towards the end of our friendship, Eugene became increasingly antagonist towards me. He would ask me if I liked being the “faggie boy” or if I was going to stop hanging out with my more feminine male friends. I would remain silent and just ask if he wanted to draw more or if me playing football with the other boys would help with my isolation from the rest of them. His brothers would become more antagonistic towards me and very soon I found myself talking to a wall. Eugene would ignore me or not even come to my house. When I went to his house I would either get beat up by his brother or ignored while they boxed.

Looking back, it would be very easy to paint the picture of the ostracized faggot and go on a tangent about how lonely and lost I was. And all of that would be accurate. But that’s not the point of this entry. I recognize the turmoil and hell Eugene must have been enduring, especially at such a tender age. For Black men, who find that their patriarchal power, which we are socialized to value, is stripped by the dominant culture, it becomes necessary to define ourselves by dominating those in lower caste within our community.  We learn this very early on. Eugene’s brothers sought to severe his ties to me because I represented the antithesis of Black manhood. I was not buying into the power of the penis, not seeking to take part in the brotherhood and thus not a true brother. Our indoctrination into patriarchy, as young males, often means learning whom the enemies are: the faggots and the womyn. Those two groups must be subordinated and beaten into states of fear.

In developing, we also see how this socialization creates half formed human beings, men who are cut off from themselves intimately. In telling our young Black boys that they cannot befriend who they wish, that they cannot express themselves how they wish, that they cannot grow to be the person they wish to be, we are creating the basis for our continued oppression. I think about my father, who cannot express himself through words very easily and would rather strike out in order to solve his problems. I think about the time I saw Eugene years later and he still looked as though he wanted to spit on me. The hatred we create within ourselves for ourselves and one another causes nothing but damage.

Many of the dangers of patriarchy lie in the fact that we are engaging in a system of violent thought that supports the dissonance between one another. In earlier postings I have spoken of the importance of queer politics and feminism in the struggle for human liberation and I still hold to that. I am saddened to think of the thousands of boys who will grow up in an atmosphere that clips their wings before they know how long they can spread. And it also creates a fire within me because I acknowledge the historical task ahead.

I believe that the damaging lessons we learn as children are done so out of necessity. They are learned for survival. Because if Black boys are not able to separate themselves from the “weaker members” of the pack and help to exile them, we suffer greater trauma and scrutiny from the larger society and our calls for justice become invalid because of the basic patriarchal thought of the dominant culture.  This means that there was a dual character in my oppression at the hands of Eugene and his brothers. Not only was there a need to assert “manhood” but also a need to “protect” the Black community through the removal of problematic elements.  I’ve spoken to many Black queers who don’t advocate for queer politics and identities to be accepted because that would mean the removal of their voices all together. We have often been told that the struggle for race is central and that all other issues are either moot or can wait till we have reached some mythical mountaintop.

Recently I was volunteering for a Black non-profit in downtown San Francisco and I noticed a game of football between some young boys become very rough. One particular boy began crying after being tackled, and like clock work he was attacked verbally. As I braced myself to intervene, I found myself cut off. Another male volunteer, who’d spoken all day about his time in prison, jumped into the fray. After immediately separating the boys, he began to talk about the need for young Black men to express emotion. He told the boys that the biggest problem for him was that no one ever acknowledged his ability to cry as something natural and that he wouldn’t be in his current situation if he had been taught to express himself without violence.

It was encouraging to see this take place. The potential for radical change within our communities around issues for gender is immense and indeed must be dealt with if we are to grow into a people who can bring forth any kind of change.  And this sentiment goes beyond the Black community, of which I primarily spoke about in this piece, because it is a topic relevant to all communities.

I’m going to stop here because this post has taken a remarkable amount of energy from me. And I am not even sure if I have expressed myself as fully, or as detailed or as cohesively as I would like but I am hoping this experiment in therapeutic writing yields some positive results for dealing with childhood trauma.

Writing Exercise I: Xavier.

So I am beginning a new writing exercise that has me super happy. The challenge is to free write (at least a paragraph) every morning. It doesn’t have to make sense, it doesn’t have to have a direction in the slightest, it doesn’t even have to be based in real lived experience. The challenge is to just write and allow your mind to pull you where it wants to go, instead of dictating what journey you will be on today. This morning found me in a very poetic and nostalgic place.

 

Writing excercise 1: “Xavier”

 

Flashes of boyhood come and go like ships in the night, some linger on longer than I would like. Memories of man-sized hands pulling at seems, or the taste of warm blood, fresh from your nose, when it meets your tongue, the boy who caused it standing feet away chanting, “faggot”. Other ships leave before I am ready to part with them. The mischievous smile of your mother when she would lean in and whisper secret plans that involved you skipping school with her, finding a lost present months after Christmas, or finally getting to sit next to the boy you’ve crushed on for weeks.

I remember being held, looking Xavier in the face for the first time as our 9-year-old frames swayed, slowly, in my living room. Saturdays meant sleepovers for us and tonight we were practicing dancing like grown ups. Marvin Gaye’s “If I Should Die Tonight” made the magic hour almost unbearable. My nerves prevented me from keeping up with his two-step. There I was stumbling in his arms, attempting to dance to music I didn’t understand, and all he kept doing was smiling. Occasionally he would laugh and help me back into the steps.  Then “you dance like you white” followed by “shut up”.

I remember the way he would say “put your lips like this” when we would practice kissing and the look on his face when we would take turns touching down there.

I remember what it felt like to move down there, to have that sensation tingle and to see his sun-lit smile when I did the same to him. Xavier’s face lingers in my mind at times, like a ship slowly coming to port. First a distant glimmer of his teeth, maybe a hand then brighter; his arms. Even more bright; him standing in the doorway. I keep him in the front of my mind when I need a little piece of joy. In the times when it seems the world is a small and cold place. Times when I find my mornings filled with disappointment and dread.