Submit! Nearly There is a zine project meant to address the serious absence and silencing of stories about the experiences of queer people of color.
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Today, on the 6th day of September, I am celebrating my 30th birthday! *include claps and applause here, please*
This past year has, per usual, been filled with growth, uncomfortable and welcomed. I learned, for instance, to harness the power of vulnerability, that people relate to the journey more deeply than they do the lessons learned, that practicing self-care literally makes you a stronger leader, and that this strength is much needed because — in the words of one of my artist friends — “haters love to comment.” For real, I had to learn that lesson this year and not take things personally.
But what I’m most happy about on my 30th birthday is that I’ve learned to love myself, deeply, through both praise and perdition. After 30 years, I realize that self-love is the most important kind of love everyone needs, and I am no different.
My writing and creativity are deeply connected to my spirituality. Hence, as I prepare for my upcoming year — yes, my new year begins on my birthday — it is part of my process to look back and reflect on the past 12 months via all my writing and every single bit of media I have created. (Sidenote: I’ve written something nearly every single day since last September, so I’ve been reading and reflecting for the past several days!)
I can’t describe how powerful and affirming the experience of looking through pages and pages of words has been; from stream of consciousness prose to pensive morning reflections, from photo-poetry to snippets and chapters from upcoming book projects, I really am blown away by how far I’ve walked, mentally and spiritually. This blog alone is a testament to how much stronger and more confident my ‘voice’ has become and I feel so lucky to have gotten the support and engagement of my readership that I have.
So, for my birthday today, I ask that you indulge me, and share at least one post that truly resonate(d) with you from the list below.
If you are relatively new to my blog, welcome! I encourage you to pick one or two (or go for it — read all five) posts to get to know me a little better. I plan to update this blog a lot more frequently this Fall now that my summer staycation is over, so there’ll be more to come.
If you have been following this blog and/or my work for a while, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your support, for affirming my need to speak, and for listening and engaging me on some very important, and often times, divisive issues, especially when we don’t agree. I hope these Top 5 Posts from Last Virgo Year serve as a reminder of the power of using online media to raise our own voices in order to change the world, one conversation at a time.
So here’s my Year in Review, My Top 5 Posts from Last Year:
+ Preventing LGBT Youth Suicides: A Case for Diversity — As new students (as well as returning) begin their fall seasons, it is worth reminding school officials, policy makers, and activists everywhere, that it’s going to take more than single-issue politics to create safer spaces for young people of color. This piece, published in Color Magazine, contains a personal account of my experience with bullying and depression as a young immigrant LGBT student.
+ In Memory of David Kato: We Will NOT Abandon Hope for Fear — When David Kato, a prominent African LGBT activist was murdered in his home earlier this year, my world stopped spinning. The only way I could push through the sadness I felt was by writing. The popularity of this post and the support I received for it was a reminder that even one person, one blog, one moment, can have a profound impact on people’s lives.
+ The Birth of Kitchen Table Converations Podcast: LGBT Africans Speak on Culture, Queerness, and Media — The post contains a link to my very first podcast in the Kitchen Table Conversation series, and includes the voices of four really inspiring LGBT Africans. The podcast itself has been downloaded ~250 times by people in the US, Europe, and Africa, many of who have reported that it’s sparked dialogue and action in their own local communities. I am so very proud of how it turned out, and will forever be grateful to the panelists (who I know call friends) for that life-changing conversation.
+ We Will Not be Unwritten: Preserving Queer Women of Color History — As someone who writes about media and the importance of documenting our own histories often, I couldn’t have asked for a better teaching moment. Bay Windows, New England’s Largest LGBT Newspaper, posted a factually incorrect article that erased the contributions of local black lesbian activists (myself included) re: an annual women’s health fair. Needless to say, I wasn’t having it.
+ A Creative Piece about Gender Roles That Caused So Much Controversy: Hunting Boi — I rarely post creative pieces on this blog. So when I was asked to contribute something to Bklyn Boihood’s site, a collective which calls for conscious masculinity through socials, dialogue, blogging, and other projects, I was thrilled, and jumped at the opportunity. What ensued was the most controversial comment thread my work has ever incited. To borrow from Erykah Badu, I’m an artist, and I’m sensitive about my shit, but the positive and negative feedback reminded me that art has the power to spark really important conversations across divisive lines (i.e. race, class, gender presentation etc), which the typical blog or “critical” essay would alienate. For the richness of conversations that followed, I am so grateful for the experience of sharing this piece and look forward to sharing more creative pieces with you all this upcoming year.
Again, to you all, thank you for your continued support of my work and my writing! There are tons of blogs on the internet, so I am grateful for every single time you take a few minutes to read one of mine. I am so looking forward to sharing and learning with you all as I embark on this next chapter of my life. Please stop by often, and remember to leave me a comment so I know you’re reading!
Happy Birthday to Me!
Founder’s Note: In the spirit of partnership-building, we wanted to highlight a community organization that has helped us make our purple pride extravaganza possible.
Through partnerships with other institutions that also give voice to members of the LGBTQ community of color, QWOC+ Boston has been able to extend our outreach efforts to include other sub-communities and networks over the years. In so doing, we’ve in turn provided frequent opportunities for other organizations to offer valuable resources and provide critical services to community members they may otherwise have been unable to reach. We believe this is an important part of community building, which is the core of our work. This is why, even when collaborating is challenging — which it often is — we believe it’s worth the discomfort to push through and find ourselves united in solidarity on the other side.
In the case of working with communities of color, and specifically, women of color, it should come as no surprise that many organizations end up doing more talking than actually working towards efforts to provide more culturally competent resources, increase multicultural diversity, or address gender inequities within their leadership. So when an organization extends themselves to us in the way that the Bisexual Resource Center (BRC) has this year, with no quid-pro-quo stipulations, no catch, no hidden agenda, just simply because they believe in the importance of the work we’re doing (and know first-hand how hard it can be for grassroots groups to get support), it’s like discovering a natural spring in the middle of the dessert, and then waiting to see if it’s a mirage…
Except it isn’t — the kind of support we have received from the BRC is the kind of support many marginalized groups are in serious need of and thus, deeply appreciate. I have been fortunate to meet and get to know a few members of the Bisexual Resource Center this year. And what has struck me about their leadership is that they continually extend their hands to us year-round; not just when they need co-sponsorship of an event or need us to sign some petition, but to offer words of encouragement after learning about trials we’ve experienced (i.e. racist venues during pride), and similarly, to congratulate us on our successes, and of course, let us know that they were down to help and support QWOC Week in whatever they could.
But what I really want people to know is this: As the co-sponsors of our Open Relationships and Polyamory discussion this past weekend, the Bisexual Resource Center remained enthusiastic and supportive even after the QWOC Week planning committee decided that the discussion would be closed to just people of color.
This meant that most (if not all) of the BRC board couldn’t attend the very event they were co-sponsoring. But they didn’t all of a sudden become lukewarm (something that we’ve seen happen time and time again once we relay that the kind of support we need is the less visible kind). They didn’t withdraw their support simply because they couldn’t be the center of attention and take credit for the discussion. They stayed on board with complete understanding of why it is that we — as women of color — needed to have the discussion in a safe-space for people of color. In fact, not only did they pay for appetizers for the post-discussion social, but they showed up after the event was over to check in with us and congratulate us on its success. I wish every other organization in Boston could be as gracious, and could push themselves to understand — as the Bisexual Resource Center does — that sometimes, the greatest support you can give communities of color is to take a back seat, and still cheer.
This is part of why we wanted to take a moment to say Thank You, to the Bisexual Resource Center. Beyond also providing valuable resources and support to bisexual women who are part of the QWOC communtiy, we have really appreciated their allyship during QWOC Week. Even though this is a relatively new partnership, we’re excited about continuing our work together and want other organizations to know that our experience so far has been overwhelmingly positive. We may run into hiccups along the way — it’s part of collaborating and learning about each other — but I’m confident that because we’re each coming from a place of real support, we’ll be able to push through any barriers and continue to create bi- and trans- safe spaces for women of color in Boston.
“QWOC, as we run in many of the same circles. My friends who are queer women of color get a lot out of her events; it fulfills their need for community, connection, and mutual understanding in a way that they can’t really find anywhere else. The Bisexual Resource Center has been providing resources to the bi community for over 25 years, and getting the message out about QWOC is a boon to the many folks we serve.”
– Jennifer Bonardi, Bisexual Resource Center
So please read about the Bisexual Resource Center below, and leave them a comment saying thank you on our behalf!
About the Bisexual Resource Center
The Bisexual Resource Center (BRC) is an educational organization that was founded in 1985. Originally known as the East Coast Bisexual Network, the organization is headquartered in Boston and provides education about bisexual and progressive issues. It also provides support services by hosting bi-positive events, promoting bi visibility, and welcoming all to their support group. The organization is the most active American bisexual advocacy and resource group. “The Bisexual Resource Center envisions a world where love is celebrated, regardless of sexual orientation or gender expression.”
This summer, we were delighted to collaborate with the BRC to put on our QWOC Week Kickoff Event: A Discussion about Open Relationships & Polyamory in Queer/Trans Communities of Color.
Other fun facts:
- The BRC is part of a state wide coalition of organizations led by Mass. Transgender Political Coalition (MTPC) to help push the adoption of H.R.1711, which outlaws gender-based discrimination and hate crimes.
- The organization joined an NGLTF-coordinated coalition of over 360 groups from across the country in ’07 to advocate for a trans and gender expression inclusive Employment and Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA)
- It is also the only bisexual organization in the National Coalition for LGBT Health
You can learn more about the Bisexual Resource Center by visiting their website: http://biresource.net/
I cannot describe how excited I am to tell you that our beloved 2010 summer intern, Erika Turner (and my adopted lil sis) has been awarded a 2011 Point Foundation Scholarship! If I’m not mistaken, the Point Foundation is the most prestigious scholarship dedicated to supporting LGBT people in their educational endeavors. Erika, we are SO proud of you.
Erika charmed (and educated) us all last summer via her bi-weekly blog, where she talked about everything from being a young queer woman of color in search of community to activism as an expression of love, and — of course — her experience interning at QWOC+ Boston, which she very generously refers to as what further galvanized her leadership and student organizing on Wellesley’s campus.
Since ending her QWOC+ Boston internship, Erika has been a passionate ambassador for QWOC+ Boston on her campus, spreading the word about our work and really upping our profile with Wellesley students (thank you, Erika!). More importantly, she galvanized BlackOUT (Wellesley’s student group for Black lesbian, bisexual, queer, and/or questioning students), spear-headed an inter-college spring social for LGBTQ students of color (which was such a huge success, they’re going to do it again!), and is currently preparing to study abroad for a year in Japan.
But wait, I’m not done yet! Erika’s new project is creating an online platform for queer students of color living or studying abroad to blog about their experiences. As if being a certified trailblazer on her campus and now nationally isn’t enough.
Erika, I am sure I speak for everyone when I say that we are all so very proud of you. By working as hard as you do, not just for your own gains, but to improve the livelihood of others around you, you’ve inspired me beyond words, and I’m sure others too. As my little sister turned warrior woman, you are way more than just an intern that passed through; you are proof, that the greatest gift we can give to the world is in the form of our authentic selves, to each other. I can’t tell you how honored I am to have met you.
Please scroll down below to read Erika’s bio on the Point Scholarship site. And be sure to leave a comment letting her know that you’re proud of her too!
East Asian Studies
Erika Turner grew up her mother and sister in the suburbs of Las Vegas. While in high school, she was surprised to discover that two of her closest friends identified as queer. Their love and support was key in her acceptance of herself as a lesbian. Though her father, step-parents and older sister were supportive of her sexual orientation, her mother found it hard to accept. She feared that Erika’s sexuality, coupled with her gender and race, might hinder her ability to succeed academically and professionally.
Undeterred, Erika became a leader in her school newspaper and earned over twenty writing awards for her journalistic and creative writing endeavors from sophomore to senior year. She graduated Liberty High School as one of the top students in her class. Upon entering college, she became more interested in social justice issues and become the sex and sexuality chair of Wellesley’s once-homophobic black social organization, Ethos. After interning with Queer Women of Color and Friends (QWOC+) over the summer and forming a close bond with her supervisor and mentor, Adaora Asala, she returned to Wellesley for a second year as the co-sex and sexuality chair of Ethos and formed blackOUT, a social and support group for queer and questioning students of African descent. Currently, Erika is preparing to spend her junior year at Japan Women’s University and Waseda University’s School of International Liberal Studies. She plans to continue working with Ethos and blackOUT while abroad and upon returning to the States in her senior year. She is also working on a blog dedicated to the experiences of black and queer students abroad. With her passion for writing and social justice, Erika hopes to enter the professional world of mainstream media to help increase and diversify the visibility of LGBTQ people and people of color. Her mother is extremely proud of her.
Originally posted at www.spectraspeaks.com
A few weeks ago, the Fenway Women’s Health Team posted a blog on Bay Windows about their upcoming 2nd annual women’s health fair. QWOC+ Boston had organized and tabled at this event for the past three years. Yet, written in an authoritative third person omniscient voice was the line, “Thanks to the dedication of a single woman, Fenway Health is proudly hosting its 2nd Annual LBT Women’s Health Fair…”
The women’s health fair wasn’t in it’s second, but third year, and long before the dedicated efforts of a single woman, an entire community of queer women of color, myself included, had worked with Fenway Women’s Health Team via a series of conversations and community-building initiatives to delimit access to health resources for queer people of color. This ultimately led to the planning and execution of the first health fair, appropriately titled, “A Little Less Talk, A Lot More Action,” and hosted collaboratively by Queer Women of Color and Friends (QWOC+ Boston), Queer Asian Pacific Alliance (QAPA), and Somos Latinos (now Unid@s, under the umbrella of Boston Pride).
But, if you’re one out of the 55,000 people that follows Bay Windows, firmly established as New England’s largest LGBT newspaper, you wouldn’t have known any of this.
A Brief History Lesson: The inaugural health fair took place on Thursday April 30th, 2008, exactly three years ago, during which various organizations tabled at the event, presenting a plethora of resources from free breast cancer screenings, safe sex toys, HPV vaccination information, and acupuncture. The main part of the event, the panel on the impact of stress, addressed health disparities between women of color and white women, from varied perspectives, including public health, mental health, socio-economic status, and more.
Additionally, the inception of the first health fair happened almost four years ago at the inauguration of QWOC+ Boston’s Pride Festival — QWOC Week — during a panel focused on health issues in WOC Communities. The QWOC Week Panel featured inspiring and touching personal stories and perspectives from an older generation of Black Lesbian activists (a few of who are my mentors/sheroes – Lula Christopher, Jacquie Bishop, Reverend Irene Monroe, and Lisa Moris) and was moderated by Dr. Konjit Page, then a Psychology PhD candidate focused on the mental health of queer women of color. The room was bursting with inspiration and empowerment when the panel ended. So much so that Reverend Irene Monroe even published a piece about it called Sisters are Doing It For Themselves
The chronology of these dates, collaborations, and events are important to note as they weave together an important part of history for Boston’s queer women of color community, highlighting the actionable steps that we took together to improve access to health resources for queer and transgender communities of color.
Yet, in one line, history had been omitted, or in this case, un-written.
It is also important to note that even though our initiative had originally set out to empower LBTQ women of color, the language that had been previously used to indicate a conscious targeting of this marginalized group had been dropped completely, however inadvertently, under the umbrella of empowering all women.
Given the context around the origination of the health fair (at a queer women of color festival), and its subsequent success — a small but important piece of history — you must imagine my deep disappointment at the ability of a single blog post to completely erase almost four years of hard work that had actually resulted in a tangible benefit for the LGBT community.
But let me be clear: I don’t for a second imagine that this near erasure of history happened intentionally. The blog about Fenway’s Women’s Health fair sought simply to highlight the efforts of their team to preserve the health fair in the face of funding cuts and limited resources. And, for that, they have my deepest gratitude and support. Without their hard work and dedication, there would be no women’s health fair at all, and the future we’ve worked so hard to create would dissipate right in front of us.
Still, as our community continues to push against the walls of oppression, whether funding cuts, racism and homophobia in the health system, and other social justice fronts, we must remember that preserving the stories of our past is just as important as fighting for a better future; history is the only way the world will ever know about the many battles we have fought, about the battles we have won, and most importantly, the only way we can leave a clear path for the generation behind us to follow. In the words of Audre Lorde, “ It’s a struggle but that’s why we exist, so that another generation of Lesbians of color will not have to invent themselves, or their history, all over again.”
It is from this place that I could not stand by while the contributions to the improved livelihood of queer women of color in Boston by community members — including my own mentors, women whose shoulders I am proud to stand on — were at risk of being erased, and not just due to an inadvertent error with dates. Perhaps Fenway failed to appropriately contextualize the event, but Bay Windows’ carelessness (or complete absence of) fact-checking, and the general callousness that I find in mainstream media outlets when covering issues affecting women, people of color, transgender people etc., isn’t a problem that I see going away any time soon.
So, as a leader I have to acknowledge my own role (or lack thereof) at arriving at this juncture i.e. my neglect for the past five years to formally document gains QWOC+ Boston has made as far as increasing visibility for queer people of color and the movement of embracing diversity we’ve created in Boston, save this blog.
As LGBT people (esp. members of marginalized groups: women, people of color, transgender, disabled etc), we all need to do a better job of telling our own stories, and in effect, writing ourselves (back) into history. As I learned from this experience, we’re not just at risk of being completely ignored by mainstream media, but about having our history being talked over, our pronouns mixed up, our hard work being told in passive voice i.e “It happened.” We do a disservice to each other when we fail to affirm the actions of the generations closely following behind us, when we fail to let them know that “We were here,” and as such, that they can do it better, and get further down the path to equality than we ever imagined possible.
I can’t say this enough: Get to it. Start a blog. Create a Youtube channel. Write a book — you can self-publish. Support organizations like the LGBT History Project who work tirelessly to record our histories (orally if need be). But whatever you do from this point, remember the words of Audre Lorde, “Your silence will not protect you,” or the words of my mentor, Letta Neely, if you like your wisdom plain, “Write that shit, down!”
Spectra is an award-winning activist and writer about all things race, gender, sexuality, leadership, and diversity. S/he is the Founding Director of QWOC+ Boston and host of the new podcast, Kitchen Table Conversations. You can read more about Spectra’s work at www.spectraspeaks.com or follow her tweets at @spectraspeaks.
QWOC Week is approaching! You’ve seen the purple ads, the email blasts, the facebook invites, and status updates. You’ve even began spreading / sharing this exciting news to others yourself! Now what? Well, surely the final step to attending QWOC Week is showing up, right? Well… there’s a pretty important step before that, and it usually involves clicking on some “Register” or “Buy Now” button. (Hope we didn’t kill your buzz just now.)
I’m sure you’ll be glad to know that most of the events happening during QWOC WEEK are free — still, I thought it would be helpful to let you know how to get the most bang for the few bucks that you may still need to spend to fully participate; it’s important that our purple pride festival remains accessible to as many people as possible.
Below, we’ve outlined a few tips, tricks, and promotions we’ve put together, to make participating easier and cheaper. Whether or not you take advantage of our suggestions is entirely up to you… Don’t say we didn’t try:
1) Organizers — Did you know that if you’re on the planning committee for QWOC Week — you help plan an actual event, attend bi/weekly meetings etc, and are a designated lead for an event during the week — you earn a full QWOC Week pass? Yup. No strings attached. It ain’t easy putting on events for an entire community. We’d like to reward people who are already paying with their time. Plus, New Organizers bring something fresh to QWOC Week each year, and are the reason our festival’s been so successful!
2) Volunteering — Every volunteer that signs up (here) and completes at least one event shift during QWOC Week earns a discounted ticket towards events happening “after” their shift. As you’ve probably already figured out, it pays (literally) to volunteer earlier in the week, than later — especially if you’re planning to attend multiple events. Warning: Don’t volunteer at events you’d actually like to attend; you’ll be working. Double Warning: We’ll be offering you your comp tickets to the ‘next’ eligible event (so you’ll need to pay to attend events you’re volunteering at, and complete your shifts, before we award you comps)
3) Community Partners — Most, if not all the groups partnering with QWOC+ Boston during this purple festival have been provided discount codes to share with their members. That’s right. If you haven’t gotten an email yet from your group’s steering committee or organizers, we suggest you send them an inquiry (ahem!)
4) Combo Tickets (Purple Passes) — In addition to single tickets, we’ll be offering Purple Passes that grant attendee access to ALL of QWOC Week’s events (unless otherwise specified). These were a huge hit last year. They’re no hassle for us (we get to have a recurring list of VIPP — Very Important Purple People — at the door), and you get to stroll in like you own the place… ok, not really. But you get the picture.
5) Discounted Online Tickets — It’s quite baffling that many people often don’t take advantage of discounted online ticketing or at times, free-with-online-registration RSVPs. Perhaps even a recession isn’t powerful enough to shake human kind’s most popular bad habit — procrastination. PLAN and BUDGET ahead once you peep the calendar. Watch out for email and social media alerts about online ticketing… it most always means that the door prices will take a serious hike (upwards) come deadline. So do your homework, or risk staring open-mouthed at the bouncer as he says “next!”
6) Social Media Perks and Sweepstakes — There are benefits to staying connected online these days, or at least we think there should be. Why “Like” us if all we do is throw marketing campaigns at you. This year, we launched our first Facebook sweepstakes for pride, and asked you to join the conversation in order to win free tickets to either of our pride parties! For QWOC Week, we’ll be offering special deals and discounts EXCLUSIVELY to “Fans”, “Tweeps”, and ”Group Members” of QWOC+ Boston. In fact, each social media profile offers something different. Figure out which of our channels you’d like to tune into and then pay close attention. You just might be the winner of our next giveaway.
7) Sponsors — Now, we’re not asking for money — the revolution will not be funded… But! Say, your organization was feeling generous and wanted to officially sponsor QWOC Week (which would help cover fliers, outreach cards, our website hosting fees etc –our official sponsorship request letter is covered here), depending on which level you choose (i.e. how much you contribute), we’d be glad to put you down as a Purple Pioneer for the year; up to four members of your staff could earn free passes to all of our paying events, and your organization would receive honorable mention on our website, per sponsorship level. Just sayin’. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
8) Students — We don’t often publish undergrad student rates / door fees, but trust that they are available. If you are a student (or a student ambassador, or administrator who’d like to offer this to your students), it’s better to ask than assume we don’t care about how broke you are already paying for college (and laundry without help from your mom). You’ll need to email email@example.com to be placed on a student list, and show your student ID to pay cash at the door. Better than nothing right? We gotchu.
9) 3rd Party Raffle Prizes – From time to time, local organizations, promoters, event-planners, and other do-gooders will reach out to us to donate raffle prizes to their cause. Now, we can’t ever offer anything except tickets/passes to some of our events. This is particularly true during the spring and fall, during fundraising high season (at least it seems that way). Even if this particular tip isn’t the most direct or sure way to earn free tickets to QWOC+ Boston events (unless you’re that lucky person who wins everything), the message is that we are VERY committed to supporting the work done by other people in our community, and moreover, rewarding QWOC+ Boston folk who do so!
10) Where’s Your Posse? (Group Tickets) — Every stumbled across a deal sooo good you didn’t want to share? We’re so grateful for those of you who show up time and time again to QWOC+ events, but the truth is this: we wouldn’t be here if you didn’t continually spread the word about us (and our mantra “Diversity Speaks”) to so many others, and bring them with you . This is why we often offer discounted duo (2), posse (5), or entourage (10) tickets to QWOC+ folk who are generous enough to share us with their friends and network. These group tickets are our way of letting you know that the more people you bring, the bigger the break you’ll get.
So, how about it? Ask your co-worker to come with you to the next QWOC+ Boston event — or your always-busy significant other, your new crush, your brother, even your mom and dad are welcome. We’re only as strong as the ‘whole’ communities and networks we welcome into our space. And that means all of you.
I hope these tips have been helpful. Please share this list with others so that they too may save a few dollars while supporting QWOC+ Boston during pride season. We look forward to seeing you all in August!
Last night, Letta told me, “I’m proud of you,” and I was speechless. She had no idea how big a part she played in all of this.
I first saw her perform more than two years ago at the Dyke March. She performed some of her poems, and then just spoke frankly about everything from trans-people, to immigration, sexism within the queer community, and being allies to other causes outside of being gay or lesbian. At the time, I was part of the planning committee for the annual Dyke March – my first time volunteering in the queer community, and had been feeling somewhat disappointed at the world of LGBT community organizing; everyone seemed to be much older and so ‘boxed-in’ to doing things ‘the way they’d always done them’; bi-phobia pervaded many conversations but went un-checked, regularly; women of color were completely ignored (‘unintentionally’ – after all, we always invite them), and I was wondering what on earth I was doing sitting amongst ultra-American, predominantly (politically correct way to say “all”) white, New Englanders who I didn’t have anything in common with. Oh, wait… that’s right. We were all “dykes”. Yikes!
Anyway (and I didn’t know this then), the Dyke March some time ago decided that it made for a sensible formula to invite people of color to be the main performers during the annual Friday rally in order to draw out a ‘diverse’ crowd. Don’t ask. (Poor Zilli Musik, I don’t know how many times they’ve been asked to perform but…) Anyway, on this particular year, Letta Neely took the stage. And, it changed my life.
As I sat on the grass listening to her, I felt like I knew her. “Finally! Someone gets what it’s like to be me,” I kept thinking. She was loud, alright. Opinionated. Strong-willed. Idealistic. Passionate. A “wordsmith” for real. Listening to her empowered me. Somehow, she’d made it up there to get people to listen. To learn something. I couldn’t help but think that I’d been wasting my time in endless, drawn-out, unproductive meetings, organizing for the social rights of white lesbians. What the hell? Needless to say, I found my calling, and left the Dyke March Committee to do… something. I wished them well, but stated that there was just no way I could go on volunteering for them when my own people had no where to go, no place to speak and be heard… no one representing them. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but being on the Dyke March, and seeing someone like Letta up on stage had confirmed for me that I could do something. I had the power to do something. And, I think, for many young idealists wanting to impact change somehow, this idea is the most important, most powerful weapon to carry.
QWOC+ Boston’s myspace page popped up that August. And the first event was planned with MadFemmePride on October 17, 2006; a bit of history someone from the crowd felt they needed to respond with last night, when Letta posed the open question, “What do you know of queer people of color history in Boston?”
It felt weird to hear my name thrown into that pool, especially since I’m so young and most of the time I have no idea what I’m doing. But I will own it today. I did do something. I did. And I should be proud of it.
Almost a year later I saw Letta perform again at a Truth Serum event at the Milky Way. I told my girlfriend at the time, “That woman… she’s the one that inspired me to start QWOC+ Boston.” Sensing my deep admiration, my girlfriend urged me to go up to Letta after the performance and talk to her. “You should tell her! I’m sure she’d be happy to know! Go on…” And so I walked over, slowly, nervously, which is quite rare for me; I’ve practiced being confident and sure of myself in public since my summer sales job in college. However, as I approached Letta, I felt really… young, and awkward, like a nerdy school boy asking a really pretty girl to dance. I don’t remember what I managed to say to her, but it couldn’t have made any sense. I probably reverted to the standard “Hi, I just wanted to say I’m a huge fan I love your work-,” to which she replied almost immediately, “Thank you. Thank you.” Of course she’d heard words like that before. I signed up for her mailing list, then promptly returned to my girlfriend. “Did you tell her?” she asked. “Yeah, kinda,” I lied.
I’m not sure when next I’ll get the chance to say this to her in person. I choked again yesterday. But at least I can say something now, on my blog:
Thank you, Letta Neely, for arming me with purpose that day. Thank you for continuing to inspire me. Thank you for everything that you have done.
I wonder how many times I can use the word “magical” in my blogs this week. I really can’t think of any other way to describe the past few days. In fact, I’m checking an online thesaurus right now…
|Part of Speech:||adjective|
|Synonyms:||charming, enchanted, fascinating, marvelous, mysterious, occult, spellbinding, spooky|
Spooky? Oh hell no. Enchanted. Yes. Marvelous. Yes. Spellbinding… in some ways. But I still prefer “Magical”; I picture sparkling lights and fireflies; children following the unexpected with their eyes, joyfully suspended in moments surrounded by warmth, laughter, and camaraderie, without a care in the world. That’s what last night’s, OUTSPOKEN event felt like to me; an evening filled with beautiful fireflies, and one to remember.
All our performers brought. it. Aliza and I worked seamlessly – and in unison – during the course of the evening, managing changes, updates, and even one cancellation. The volunteers were excited to be there, and remained pro-actively helpful throughout the night. It was good to see some newcomers really settling into their QWOC+ Boston volunteers niche’s, talking to people about the organization, the events, our recent successes, me (haha!), and the energy around them; it was clear that some of them were beginning to take on more ownership of our little grassroots organization. Everything was near perfect. But, for me, the secret ingredient to last night’s success was the age diversity in the room, and in the show.
It started with our lineup. Letta Neely and Judah Dorrington, two pioneers that paved the way to raising awareness of LGBT multiculturalism in Boston via Black Pride, Sistah-to-Sistah, and various other community engagements, were in the house. It was such an honor, for those that knew who they were, and even – I dare say – those people who had no clue; time and time again last night the theme of old school partnering with new school was celebrated by hearty cheers, “Obama” call-outs, and moments of utter silence in reverence of the words of wisdom being spit on stage. I couldn’t have felt any prouder (or more humbled) to be part of an event that helped raise these women’s voices in our community today. Both Judah and Letta said to me at different points: “I’m proud of you”, and I got all choked up.
As someone from a culture that values its elders – e.g. we don’t throw our parents into homes when they get old, they come and live with us instead – and grew up sitting in a circle with siblings, cousins, friends, listening to the funny uncle, or old grandmama telling stories of life, love, children, spirits that whistle in the night.. OUTSPOKEN was an event that felt as close as I could get to that part of home. My face ached from smiling so hard during Judah’s performance, as I watched her relish the opportunity she had to sing her heart out to a diverse crowd, and have FUN. It was such a delight. Judah and Letta brought some wisdom and perspective to the stage, alright, but Ignacio, Kay, and the Good Asian Drivers, reminded us all that our generation isn’t entertaining any ideas about letting the work of our pioneers be all for nothing.
Ignacio Rivera not only sent so many women into heat (seriously, I saw so many fanning themselves as he was talking), he stomped on so many gender stereotypes within a minute of getting on stage. Sexual liberation is my new favorite thing now. I can’t wait to see his film during the Cinemental event later on this month! Kay Barrett did what I knew he would do. Political isn’t the word. White/class privilege annihilation would be a little too strong, but that dude held no punches when he got up there. “Where are my queer people of color?” I loved it! ‘Cause at events like that, white people show up sometimes and forget that it’s not about them. But in the spirit of unity, queer pride, recognizing those of us who can’t be as loud and that we must carry on our shoulders out love, I take my hat off to the Good Asian Drivers.
Every single time I see Kit and Melissa perform, I am blown away. “Queer Nation” and “Red Guitar” are my two favorites, and I’d only just heard the latter! It was a beautiful way to end the evening, Kit speaking on our flaws even as queers, the sexism, racism, classism, and hypocrisy that we’re probably more vulnerable to as the ‘liberated other’; we have real problems, still. Melissa’s musical rage at the media and MTV, challenged us to think about who we are as consumers of pop culture, and urged us to speak up and against all of it! Wow. Thank you, Good Asian Drivers, for supporting QWOC WEEK and speaking to this particular crowd that needed to hear the truths of our community; we are all not queer-rated equally.
A number of white people came up to talk to me afterwards, moved by QWOC+ Boston’s work and wanting to volunteer. This was wonderful. I am always very excited about white people who are ready to challenge themselves and their prejudices, especially since at events like OUTSPOKEN (and many other QWOC+ events in general), it’s very common to experience groups of white people showing up just to hang out with each other. They literally will not engage with anyone but other white people. So, they never learn anything, they never challenge themselves, and I have to continue dealing with ignorant comments/viewpoints on Obama whenever I bump into them.
Unfortunately, as wonderful as last night was, it was hard not to notice that during key moments, which illuminated race/class/white privilege, a couple of popular white clubbers remained un-engaged with the performance, and instead, chatted away in the corner, and spent time ordering their drinks. I wonder if they were aware of how it looked. I wonder if they’re aware of their own subconscious discomfort with the idea that all is not fair in the world and that maybe, they should care. I wonder if this subconscious discomfort manifests itself in conscious decisions to avoid talking/engaging with others about these things. I wondered. But not for too long. ‘Cause yesterday wasn’t about privileged white people who have no wish to grow.
OUTSPOKEN was about creating a safe space for “outspoken” queer people of color – our black pride pioneers, our activist poets, spoken-word performers, immigrant self-defense teachers, and proud, sexually liberated trans-entities – being given a chance to speak, without any shade or color of resistance, even if it was just for one night.
I don’t even know where to start. I had every intention of blogging about my experience yesterday at the Monday Health panel, and talking about what it was like to sit there and listen to those beautiful, inspiring, proud, nurturing women speak to me. To ‘me’, as a queer woman of color in Boston. There were four people that had been given the space and time to address me and my concerns. That fact alone, and in itself would’ve felt warm and fuzzy enough to write about but the LOVE, and desire to guide/mentor that I felt radiating from the table was simply unmatched by any other sentiment in the room, at least for me.
I wanted to write about all of this. But after last night, quite frankly, I feel emotionally congested and choked up. In a good way. I am so moved.
It’s funny, as I started this week, I felt weary, and longed for an extended period of me time after this week was over. But after last night’s panel, I began to feel rejuvenated. This community organizing… it’s an addiction. I’m beginning to feel like Gladys, the plant that was unfortunate enough to belong to me while I was a consultant in a software company. I would travel for weeks on end, and return to see her dying, and wilted, brown from no sun or care. And then I would water her, and literally bring her back to life, only to leave again for an extended period of time. The cycle continued for about two years. It must have been so exhausting to be on the brink of death every two weeks! But I digress…
I am fully charged.
Tonight, the Center for New Words brought me back to life in a BIG way. Not only was I moved to tears to see all the interracial couples and friendships in the room, truly excited to be there and happy to meet everyone else, but I was moved by all the words… about QWOC+ Boston, about me, about finally having a space to talk. The constant words of gratitude I kept hearing reminded me that sticking to my ideals had won… QWOC+ had won the ‘hearts’ of people, not just their wallets.
So many people took it upon themselves to mention why they love what QWOC+ Boston does, why they support it, why it’s important to have, why they applaud me for doing it (which really made me embarrassed). Nevertheless, it was so wonderful to hear, especially after I had just been told by someone that these “key” people in the community don’t work with me… Interesting that the key people they mentioned weren’t key health advocates/providers, legal activists, other community organizers, or any other people working in pivotal positions required to sustain an entire community. They were business people. I see this now, and am relieved at the common thread (QWOC+ Boston isn’t a for-profit business and thus the conflict) but at the time, I did give into the insecurities that come with leadership sometimes. I did question myself… why couldn’t I work with any of these people? What was it that I was doing wrong? I was actually beginning to spend too much time thinking about why I couldn’t compromise our ideals for the sake of other people profiting!
But during the interracial relationships discussion I remembered why I’ve always been picky about collaborations and alliances, and why I’ve chosen to work on building relationships with some people/organizations over others. There were a number of reasons that came up. But the biggest and most important one was that there are some people that will align themselves with your vision and so work with you towards it. And, then, there are some people that won’t. They don’t see the ‘bigger’ importance of sticking to a vision that’s inclusive and authentically welcoming to all, above feeding off some sort of manufactured rivalry. So, all they did/do is repeatedly get in the way of it. What I saw last night could not be described by my words, nor recounted in any blog I could create. All I can say is that there was magic. People felt it. And, in fact, I’m resolved to posting people’s words on the qwocboston site/blog during the week. The world needs to see that there are women (and men!) that believe in the work that we’re doing.
I have been fortunate to work with true allies: Center for New Words (twice now in one year), Socializing for Justice, the Fenway, Black Pride, Queer Asian Pacific Alliance, Good Asian Drivers, and so many wonderful people who believe in me and what I’m doing. I am choosing to focus on these alliances, and these collaborations, because their love will always re-energize me and pull me forward.
I got this letter last night, from a straight feminist man (author of “G Spot”) that sat in the crowd. I have to share:
Hi: I just wanted to express my thoughts tonight about one of the best CNW’s “Feminism and Dessert” Workshops I have ever been to. I will never even think of touching a women’s hair, unless I am personally involved with her. I will not consider myself as not being a (racist) in the sense of not being prejudiced; Nor will I ever imagine what it must feels like being a woman of color and how she feels about growing up her whole life and how others may perceive her as beautiful (because of her pigment of her skin.) or just being born a woman of color.
I plan to write about the events tonight in my Feminist Web Blog “My G Spot” http://mygspot.typepad.com/ and mention your organization on face book, Code Pink Boston Meet-up and even NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts because I feel more women need to know about the tremendous work you are doing this week and all year long. I was really moved and touched tonight by the compassion and caring spirit everyone shared with each other and just because I felt like a minority (as being one of the only two males in the room; the big guy by the window wearing the glasses and my sandals with the painted toenails-another story all together) I didn’t feel uncomfortable and didn’t feel I didn’t belong there tonight, thank you for that.
I would love to volunteer for your organization in some capacity but I hesitate because I am just a straight white male who loves feminism and supporting/working for women’s right and women’s cause. Nevertheless, if you feel that I could be of service to your organization in the near future please let me know. I am so happy I had the chance to meet so many warm and charming women tonight and just sat back and enjoyed myself and all it’s pleasantries. Thank you again.
Peace and Love
Anyone who knows what QWOC+ Boston stands for knows exactly what I’m going to write to this beautiful person. If you get it, you are welcome. And you do, so you are ) That plus in QWOC+ Boston’s name is where all this love comes from, indiscriminately. And people like you make it possible.
It’s finally happening. I woke up this morning and thought, “It’s QWOC WEEK.” There wasn’t that much excitement in my mind as I thought about it because I hadn’t gotten enough sleep, I’m still eating irregularly, my hair needs to be done, and there was a part of me that still wondered who I was doing this for… me? Had I become this deluded person that felt like I was filling a void that didn’t need to be filled? Did Boston care that there was an entire week dedicated to celebrating the queer women of color that have contributed so much to our community for years? Did queer women of color care? I wondered…
And perhaps the self-doubt was my way of dealing with all the anxiety I’d been feeling about this week, all the stress it had created for me in additional to regular life’s pain points, all the drama/negativity from people who still don’t get what I’m trying to do, all the nervousness that comes with putting your heart out on the table, and on the line, for something you truly love… Whatever the real internal was, I resolved to be happy before I left my apartment this morning. I told myself that if I accomplished nothing from this week other than getting the volunteers/organizers together, who seemed happy to be a part of something and to be meeting other queer women of color in this city, it would still be worth it.
I have learned so much over the past year. I feel like I’ve been on this accelerated leadership development program. Images of boy tweens that I have seen, who are growing so fast – too fast – that their arms seem too long for their bodies, their ears too big, their chests broadened in defiance of puberty, but still flat with years to go… Life is moving faster than their bodies can keep up with. I feel that way these days; that qwoc+ boston’s success exploded in front of me and I was not yet fully capable; that I took on a burden that was too big for me and have struggled to keep up and ‘step up’ each and every step of the way; that my fear of letting something beautiful fall for lack of wisdom has held me back at times. This journey has been stretching. It still is. But, as I think this, I know that it has also been such a blessing to have learned all what I have learned, to have met all the wonderful people that I have met, and come to love… Even the ones that have not been so wonderful, or so nice…
Once upon a time I was naive. I thought that everyone was good. That everyone was an idealist inside. That everyone was fair. That everyone could always see the bigger picture, no matter how big their egos were. I was wrong. And there has been no stronger reminder than my various experiences this year. It’s even been a reminder that I am not so perfect myself. That I am fallible. That I am human, and that I make mistakes. However, I am proud of the fact that I haven’t lost my way, still. That in spite of how difficult it may have been time and time again – I am not thick-skinned enough to suffer continued hurt/disappointment – I have stayed true to myself.
So, it’s day one of QWOC WEEK, and here I am, the “Head Organizer”, looking like crap from no sleep, feeling like crap from no time to take care of myself, but feeling as proud as a gardener in spring. There are so many smiley faces online, so many exclamations (“QWOC WEEK!”) in my inbox, facebook updates, and voicemails. There is something budding today… and it’s beautiful.
Looking back at the past ‘rainbow year’ (June 2007 – present), I can’t help but feel proud of all our work and contributions to the community; through QWOC+ Boston, MadFemmePride, and my peripheral affiliations with other like-minded groups, change is happening… There are QWOC walking around, being screened at the MFA, planning events in PTown, being seen…
It all started last year with Optionz, the diversity pride party Femily and I decided we needed to have after such an overwhelmingly positive response to our “Unladylike” party at Umbria. It was clear that people were sick of the same old clubs, same venues, same kinds of people, and that the Boston queer scene needed a facelift. Where were all the queer women of color? Where were all the grown ‘n’ sexy, married-with-kids couples? Where were the STUDS? And since when were high femmes ostracized from lezziedom because they ‘confused’ people?
The state of the Boston scene was dismal, just dismal. And, in my humble opinion, the reason was because promoters were still running it. I still had to log on to Lesbiannightlife.com to find out what to do with myself every weekend. “Why?” I thought to myself, “In this age of web 2.0 social networking sites, free text messaging, crackberries and blogs, why am I okay with relinquishing social organizing power to THREE women?” Kristen Porter, Wendy Kelly, and Beth McGurr. Well-meaning they were, I’m sure, but the days of queers having no options but to go clubbing to meet other queers were over – or should’ve been. We’ve become much more than the rebellious, over-sexed, hot and sweaty clubbers the media makes us out to be, and our social scene should reflect that. Yes?
And, finally, it’s beginning to! People have house parties, organize wine-tastings, Obama fundraisers, nightclub options are not many but at least they’re always changing etc. And now, QWOC Week. Ah yes… stay tuned )