Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Mexican Immigrant and a 1st generation Chicana raised a baby and this is what they got

Two weeks ago, Facebook was flooded with the flow of memes of John Pike’s famous and atrocious pepper-spraying of UC Davis Students. Last week, the most popular thing to share was a YouTube video circulated by Titled “Two Lesbians Raised A Baby And This Is What They Got,” the video is of Zach Wahls, the son of two lesbians, addressing the Iowa House of Representatives public forum on House Joint Resolution 6. (The resolution proposed an amendment to the Constitution of the State of Iowa specifying marriage between one man and one woman as the only legal union that is valid or recognized in the state.)

Chances are, you were already familiar with this video. And chances are, you shared it, liked it, commented on it, and maybe even shed a tear while watching it. Truth is, the video is very inspiring for many. The post has been rather successful at bringing awareness about, and (at a minimum) stirring the emotions of supporters for, marriage equality. At least in that way that marriage equality is a one-dimensional fight that cannot be bothered with analyses of racism, classism or sexism. This is his testimony:

By now, I am sure you are expecting me to bring forth a critique. And I will. But first, I must clarify that my critiques will not be of Zach Wahls or his family.

I am writing this post inspired by this video because of the rich fodder it provides for having a dialogue around some of the underlying assumptions, narratives and values that carry the marriage equality movement. But more so, because these assumptions, narratives and values live comfortably within the subconscious rhetoric of white progressives and progressive people of color who buy into them, making it ever challenging for some of us to be a part of the conversation.

Call me crazy. Call me a writer. Language matters.

Now, on to the conversation.

A friend observed (and I agree) that this speech has a very specific context and, within such context, it is relevant, strategic and effective. Although the resolution did pass, the impact of the speech is significant. Now, considering that lawmakers and the experiment of government are not who and where we have traditionally gone to for leadership on matters of racial or economic justice, it is quite possible that Zach Wahls was the best person to have addressed these lawmakers, and that his message was the best message to deliver in this context. (It has been over a decade since I abandoned the silly idea that the first person lawmakers think about for matters of non-punitive government action looks anything like me.) I will even suggest that the strategy of suggesting that the Chairman would be proud of such a son could not have been delivered by a better literal embodiment (even if the chairman were a person of color).

The place where my critiques begin to surface is not where Zach Wahls enters the scene of the marriage equality movement. Rather, my concerns are triggered by the reality that this speech, with more than 15,000,000 hits on YouTube, no longer lives solely within the context of legislative hearings. This speech and, more importantly, these assumptions, narratives and values, live in the subconscious, in the conscious mind, and in the national “equality” rhetoric that so readily embraces, coddles and nurtures such ideals and standards. By bringing this speech to the forefront as a national movement strategy, (or the person who posted it onto the Moveon site) has provided an opportunity for public discussion and debate about the speech and its content.

For purposes of attempting some semblance of organized thinking, I am laying out a few concerns based on themes in the speech. This is not with the intention of contradicting the speaker as these are his words and I am sure they are very true and real for him and his family. Instead, I offer these thoughts hoping to engage in dialogue around how such language, in a broader public realm, affect and marginalize communities of color, and contribute toward making the marriage equality movement (and the LGBT Movement for that matter) irrelevant, and antithetical to racial and economic justice movements.

[Note: There are many themes, spoken and unspoken, within this video. I am only focusing on a few.]

Theme 1: Our family really isn't so different from any other [Iowa] family. 

In a society wrought with ignorance and fear, a common strategy for changing people’s hearts and minds seems to be that of assuaging their fears by humanizing the disenfranchised. A popular tactic has been that of pointing out the similarities between the fearful and powerful, and the vulnerable and powerless. By similarities, we are not talking about a shared human experience, but those ways in which the dominant culture sees a reflection of its own values, religious practices, and socioeconomic status(es) (or aspirations) and allegiance. Whatever the success rate of such a strategy, I question what it means to bring about “justice” by placing the burden of societal ignorance and fear on the shoulders of those targeted by injustice.

Secondly, we live in a country where phrases like “All-American” and “boy next door” are thrown around carelessly. They are a part of a public lexicon and illustrate a specific ideal and physical standard. They define the epitome of gay male desire, including particularly for many fellow gay men of color.

Who do you think of when you hear these phrases? Chances are you do not think of me. I certainly would not. Which is an interesting irony to live with given that throughout my life, the “boy next door” has never looked like the boy such a phrase evokes. So, when the speaker, who embodies the dominant culture and is, in fact, the “All-American boy next door,” says “Our family really is not so different from any other Iowa family,” I stop to wonder, what images of families are going through the minds of his audience (legislators and YouTube viewers alike). Let us not pretend the speaker’s race, gender identity, assumed class status and religious inclinations are irrelevant to his message. These factors are embedded in the delivery of the speech, and, more importantly, in the constructs of its recipients.

So, what happens to those families who are very different from any other Iowa family? Those who, by their very existence, render impossible the concept of "any other Iowa family"? What happens when the subconscious fails to help pretend they do not exist?

What of the family that does not frequent a church, was not in the position to subsidize their child’s public education, nor send their child to a university? What of those families that are not and will not birth and/or raise children? On their own externally defined merit, are these families worthy of marriage equality? If so, let us make viral a YouTube video of their testimony, with their own markers for success, as well.

Theme 2: We’re Iowans, we don’t expect anyone to solve our problems for us. We’ll fight our own battles. We just hope for equal and fair treatment from our government.

Perhaps I have watched too many Republican primary debates, but this smells a little much like “Bootstrap” dogma. We live in a society of relationships. I have never solved my own problems, nor fought my own battles. Sure, I worked like hell and fought like hell, but all aided by a number of critical factors, such as: publicly subsidized medical care during my mother’s pregnancy and the day I was born; a publicly funded primary education; a publicly funded college education, which I was able to complete while riding a public bus that navigated the publicly funded streets of San José, CA, and so on (you get the idea).

Besides irrational, this theme struck me as problematic in that it begins to set a classist and racist undertone. This is one of the ways the marriage equality movement has failed to understand how distant its vision is from the realities of everyday life for poor and working class people of color. In essence, this “theme” begins to make a distinction between “self-sufficient” “Americans” who do not “need” the government to fix their problems, and those “other” “Americans” who do (translation: poor people, people of color). This narrative begins surfacing the truth that the marriage equality movement is ready to leave poor and people of color behind once its goals have been met.

I was raised by a gay couple and I’m doing pretty well.

Standing alone, this statement sounds pretty harmless, and potentially moving. Until we learn what “doing pretty well” means. For a plethora of reasons, these definitions of “doing pretty well” do not apply to a lot of people. In a merit-based society, the belief is that this is the result of laziness, lack of ambition and publicly funded mediocrity. For those of us interested in structural analysis, we believe that the story is far more complicated, with roots tracing back to the early invasion of these lands, American genocide domestically and internationally, slavery, the wrath of a post-slavery America, and so on.

Yes, there is Oprah, President Obama and Jennifer Lopez. Hell, even I made it through college, grad school and into a comfortable middle class job. But let us not kid ourselves. A number of conditions beyond hard work and perseverance were necessary for such “successes” to exist.

I was raised by a Mexican immigrant and a first-generation Chicana, and I am doing pretty well by socially accepted standards. But, just as my experience is not universal, neither is Zach’s. Which is not to say that this is what he was arguing. Rather, it is to caution those inspired by this speech to stop to think about what your subconscious is telling you.

Once we start applying ideals of universal success and results, we begin making distinctions between who is worthy of justice and who is not (a tenet of the criminal justice system). What of the two lesbians who raise a young adult who is doing pretty well by their own standards? What if those standards not only fall beneath the universal ideals we embrace, but are also considered morally or legally reprehensible? Will you applaud them too?

You are telling Iowans that some among you are second class citizens who do not have the right to marry the person you love.

Ah, the “second-class citizens” argument. It seems incomprehensible for the privileged white, those born in this country, those born into a financially stable family, those born with a penis and testicles, to understand the apathetic rolling-of-eyes they receive from those of us who come from generations of second class citizenry (I will not get into the absurdity of “citizenship” altogether).

I agree that preventing same-sex couples from partaking in a civil engagement afforded opposite-sex couples is unjust. However, until the marriage equality movement privileged gays and lesbians start aligning themselves with the rest of the second-class population, I say: 

Welcome to our world.

One could say my words only serve to polarize or derail the conversation. This is not my intent. Rather, I hope to offer that the conversation is not broad enough, that it excludes far too many of us (most of us, I would argue). If we are to bring about meaningful transformation, a change that is sustainable, we must include the voices of those who hold an intellectual, physical and spiritual understanding of the complexities and contradictions of living within ever-racialized economically exploitive contexts; those who do not have the choice to pretend to be oblivious to injustice; those who are called to arms by conviction, not by the sudden realization that their entitlements have been compromised.

Finally, the sexual orientation; race; gender expression(s); immigrant, poor and working class experiences; language; and, languages, of my parents have everything to do with the content of my character. That 27-year-old immigrant mexicano and that 21-year-old first-generation Chicana raised a baby, and I am what they got.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Do you support drug testing to get approval to be on Welfare? If so, why are we friends?

In a country where people are exploited on a daily basis, what do we do to relieve or ignore the feeling that we are oppressed? Well, we oppress others-- if not by hitting the voting booths, by participating in a Facebook poll.

Yesterday, my Facebook feed featured several friends who had clicked yes on the following poll:

Now, I do not know Nathan Skol Vikings Lee, an adult man who wears his favorite sexual position on his jersey (talk about flaunting your sexual preferences). I do not know any of his 60,544 friends and I, hopefully, do not know most of the 1,748,371 people who participated in his poll. I do, however, know some of them as they somehow ended up on my Friends list.

I know that Facebook friendships can often be as deep and memorable as a Republican's logic, but some of my "friends" on the social networking site are actually my friends. So, while not surprised, I was deeply disturbed to see some of these friends exercise their right to self-righteous policy-by-mouseclick action. [Side note: Facebook was useful in getting Betty White to host SNL, but if this is how we start changing policy, I'm moving to another planet.] More disturbing, however, is that all of these friends voting "YES" on Mr. 69's poll are people of color-- all from poor and working class families.

A bit irate, I posted the following status update last night:

As I noted in the stream of dialogue that followed, my status update is in response to people readily jumping on the opportunity to endorse, collude with, and push for the criminalization of poor and working class women (particularly women of color).

There seems to be a sick belief that by virtue of paying taxes into a government that then (very conditionally, and after multiple hoops and vicious monitoring) provides public assistance to people in financial need, "we" somehow earn the right to strip those in need of fundamental rights (such as Privacy, as a friend noted in an earlier comment) and impose economic and criminal sanctions at will. What I found discombobulating about my pro-drug testing friends' actions, is that they, like me, are children of poor and working class women of color. In essence, they are saying that in the event of financial hardship, their mothers must also be drug-tested in order to receive financial benefits.

I am not arguing against the reality that our communities struggle with and against substance use and abuse. I am arguing against the fact that this poll and those voting for it ungently suggest women receiving or applying for welfare are substance users. And, in any event, to be so eager to impose economic sanctions on our mothers, sisters and grandmothers when it does little to nothing in addressing the substance use and abuse challenges our communities experience, is awfully disturbing to say the least.

For medical reasons, I have blood drawn often. Each time I visit my local phlebotomist, I read the statement of regulations telling people what will disqualify their urine sample. I am disturbed, not by the existence of regulations (I seem to have grown accustomed to being policed on this planet), but by the tacit assumption that, left to our own accord, people will veer into criminal activity ("criminal" being an arbitrary concept, applied mostly on people of color, of course). 

I am disheartened by the hypocrisy, moral myopia and plain ignorance in those who find pleasure in the criminalization of poor and working class women and women of color, without recognizing that these women are our mothers, our grandmothers, our sisters, and, one day, our daughters and granddaughters. By this logic, we should also start drug testing our 80 year old abuelas before granting them Medicare benefits.

Lastly, I find it ironic to focus on imposing accountability measures for poor and working class women at a time when people around the world are revolting against the lack of accountability of corporations that receive more public support than our mothers ever will. As it turns out, not only are corporations now considered people, they are people who deserve more respect, privacy and freedom than poor and working class women do.

To close, I must again ask those who voted "YES" on this poll: 

How and why are we friends?

Friday, October 28, 2011

Remembering the Roots of Consciousness: Why I support New Fire

Theater and ceremony, New Fire follows
the sacred geography of Indigenous American
ancestors to tell a story of rapture and return.
For a few years, my blog description read: 
I was supposed to be a Mexican, then came Manifest Destiny and I became a Mexican American. Then came that second grade teacher and I became Hispanic. Then came that one white woman and I became a spic. Then came that one college course and I became Chicano. Then came Cherríe Moraga and I became Xicano.
My path toward consciousness has been a lengthy, complex and ever-invigorating process. There has been much I have had to unlearn in my search for a colored enlightenment. A search for self-realization. A surfacing of self-determination.

This has not been a solitary path. The aisles I walk through are covered with graffiti scripture left behind, being written as we live, by the hearts and minds of my elders and my sistren. The mesquite-lined veredas I travel were cleared long before I learned to pronounce my name. I come from somewhere.

The writer in me descends from those who came before, those who write today. I am a part of a future ancestry, crafting for future generations. And I know, I came from somewhere.

The consciousness that carries and guards me through a world replete with misogyny, white supremacy and economic exploitation, has been shaped by the pens of women of color. Women by the name of Cherríe Moraga, Sharon Bridgforth, Gloria Anzaldúa, Ana Sisnett, and so, so many more. I know where I come from.

It is in remembering where my consciousness comes from, where its first roots sprung, that I recognize, not the obligation, but the opportunity to be a part of supporting bringing about story-making that will guide us further into consciousness. This is why I support bringing to the stage Cherríe Moraga's newest play, New Fire: To Put Things Right Again.

If you once took a class in Feminist Studies, Women's studies, Ethnic studies, Chicana/o studies or anything of the sort, chances are, you have come across the words of Cherríe Moraga. If you have moved within progressive womanist, people of color circles, you understand that these, too, are informed by Moraga's craft. Whoever you are, if we know of each other, chances are your own consciousness has been touched by Moraga's work.

As one within a communal practice, politic, of consciousness, join me. Be a part of story-making, support bringing New Fire to fruition. Be a part of bringing this new play to the stage.

Donate today by visiting the New Fire Kickstarter Campaign Page.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Under Threat of Marriage

In a family, indeed a culture, deathly obsessed with normalcy and public opinion, marriage has been perhaps the only constant and universally applicable aspiration. Every one of us, girl or boy (gender dichotomies being the only other familial constant), groomed (poorly at that) to one day become someone’s wife: the abnegated and obedient giver of unconditional love, devotion and body; or, someone’s husband: the selfish and conditional taker of love, devotion and body.

More than a right of passage, marriage was the inevitable step to take toward fulfilling one’s purpose in life: produce and reproduce. Those who failed to reproduce this home-based structure of capitalist and moral manufactured goods were begrudgingly seated at the children’s table, looked upon with sad and disappointed glances accompanied by profound sighs of hope. At least this was the fate of ripe –and past due– for marriage single men. Single women of age and beyond, who had failed to meet their obligation were either left para vestir santos or relegated to the status of whoredom if they had failed to marry or maintain a marriage; the status of those who entered motherhood outside of marriage was (is) much worse.

As a young boy growing up in Chihuahua, marriage was held to a sacred standard that surpassed even Catholicism. My abuela Antonia, who readily abandoned the Pope for the arms of Baptists missionaries, even attributed health benefits to those who exchanged vows. She believed marriage even helped overcome lifelong medical conditions.

Mirroring the story of many queer people I know, I worked tirelessly to compensate for the fact that I would never grant my family the joy of seeing me standing at the foot of an altar waiting for a woman who, more than being dressed in white, was worthy (in their eyes) of wearing such a color. Early on, I knew I would fail to perform the most sacred of acts. My only other option was to excel in every other possible way. My academic and professional achievements became the consolation prizes with which I attempted to hide the lifelong shame I brought to the mythological family legacies of marriage and happiness.

The night I was disowned my father called me a rama seca, a dried branch, of our family tree. The son of the patriarch, my body and way of loving cut the circulation of Herrera genes. I strangled the hope for offspring and desecrated the purpose for which my family’s white and male creator brought me to this world.

It was in the process of mourning the consequences of loving with integrity that I learned to celebrate the painfully earned immunity that my queerness had given me. As one whose unconsecrated love would never be condoned or celebrated, I was free to love on my own terms. Most liberating of all, I was free to equate and separate love and desire as I pleased, with whom I pleased, and with as many as I pleased. I was no longer bound.

In the midst of my newfound joy and newly discovered emotional and sexual freedom, came the right to marry. With the strike of pens, elected officials and courts in various parts of the world began granting same-sex couples the right to enter into legal and, in some cases, moral contract.

I confused our path toward government-sanctioned love with the possibility that this love, this way of loving, would one day also become sanctioned by the world I live in, and more importantly, those with whom I share these last names. Sadly, with some exceptions, I was right.

The advent of equality has granted others the right to toss my love and way of loving to the wretched realm of normalcy. My relationship to one man now grants me the privilege of being distinguished, respected and called upon for matters of family and industry. Yet I am not allowed to speak, much less openly live, the sexuality of my queerness. The casualty of equality has been my desire.

I support the right to marry in as much as it is unjust for it to be a special right reserved for those who partake in heterosexual dyads, but I do not abandon my convictions in the process. I celebrate and honor the legal marriages of my loved ones, and truly cherish those whose legal contracts exist within revolutionary constructs of love and partnership, while remaining critical of a movement that has fed my desire to the gods of normativity and acceptance. 

I do not believe it serves anyone for us to witness the shaping of homonormative mores without being critical. This movement toward equality has made marriage sacrosanct, at times mirroring the oppressive dogma-infused enforcement laid upon the opposite gender loving. My fear is that, as our once queer cultures shift toward normalcy, we may be giving up the right to choose in exchange for the right to marry.

Sacred as it may be, the marriage we seek access to is not void of the pervasive ills feminists have long warned about. Even as critiques of the marriage equality movement persist, critical dialogue around “marriage” itself is an unspeakable sin. It is dangerous to believe that marriage, an institution infused by (some would argue, born out of) misogyny, racism and economic exploitation, is immune to such forces simply by existing within same-sex contexts. There is nothing about the modern-day LGBT movement that leads me to believe this would be a given.

Certainly, I hold hope that the manufacturing of equality will lead toward a changed social consciousness that values the same-sex performance of couplehood, such that the bodies of such performers are treated with dignity and respect. But I do not fool myself in believing that those who refuse to perform legislative and morally approved relationship roles will enjoy the same treatment. 

Such happiness is not bestowed upon those who dare love on their own terms; those who love more than one; those who love multiple genders, as well as genderless and multiple-gendered bodies; and, those who refuse to love at all. It seems we have conflated the right to marry with the obligation to do so. For others to assume I will marry one day is dangerously close and familiar to the expectation that I will. For marriage to be an option for queer communities might be a sign of progress, yet for it to become the norm is a sad tragedy.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Imagining Ourselves Possible: 26 years and counting

The poet Marvin K. White speaks often about the importance of knowing one’s lineage, remembering who signed our birth certificates. He has said that “we don’t just appear out of nowhere, we come from somewhere.” These are teachings I carry with me daily.

My heart and skin are tattooed with the names of the midwives, parteras and healers who walked me into this world of consciousness and art. Women, men, some who are both, others who are neither, were all a part of bringing me into a world of resistance and possibility— the names written on my birth certificate. The birthing center, allgo, a statewide queer people of color organization.

In 2001, the organization went by the name of ALLGO (Austin Latina/o Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Organization). It was a thriving organism of arts, health education and critical organizing. It was a center of cultural awakening and engagement. It was a site of change.

Over the following eight years, I went from being a client, a volunteer, a board member, associate director, executive director, and director of arts & community building. In these eight years of growth and learning, the organization changed names to allgo, a queer people of color organization (to better reflect the wholeness of the organization's community), to allgo, a statewide queer people of color organization (as part of efforts to support organizing and the arts across Texas).

My eight years at allgo were the most transformative of my artistic/activist life. I was held by an incomparable ever-expansive community of queer people of color, white and straight allies, students, teachers, artists, organizers, elders, children, youth and the occasional elected official. Raised in Christian traditions of second-births, I now know that allgo was where I truly was born again. Only this time, I was born into a consciousness rooted in ancient traditions, critical resistance, artistic fervor and communal imagination. allgo is my birthplace.

Today, allgo turns 26 years old. What began as a pool party on October 12, 1985 (Día de la Raza) -- with over 200 guests in attendance –- has grown to be an important and unwavering space in the history and ongoing redaction of the realization of social justice movements. One of the longest standing queer people of color organizations in the country, allgo is a living testimony to the power of a people who dare imagine ourselves possible.

The further this economy and politically centric agendas continue to exacerbate the marginalization and disenfranchisement of our communities, the more critical organizations like allgo are.

Be a part of continuing the legacy of resistance and possibility by supporting allgo today. Whether you are in Texas or far away (as I am today), all of us have an opportunity to sit at the intersections of possibilities, arts and organizing. Join me.

Be a part of the next 26 years.

Click here to learn more about allgo's work.

Click here to join the mailing list.

Click here to donate today.

Monday, August 1, 2011

White men are sacred, the rest of us not so much*

Perhaps one of the best explanations for the ways in which white male privilege is nurtured and sustained by white supremacy (and the structures of racism that surround us) I have ever heard is that white men are sacred. Although, not in the way that all beings and all of nature are sacred. Rather, in the way that white men are sacred and the rest of us less so.

The lesson came from the one graduate school professor I encountered who ever dared utter the word “racism.” She, out of some 30 all-white professors St. Edward’s University put me in front of over the course of two graduate programs, was the least liked by her peers and the Jesuit institution that upheld their collective (and sacred) whiteness. In one statement, this professor articulated what was simultaneously the most perturbing and the most logical explanation for the world of racism I have struggled to make sense of since childhood.

Through the lens of (white) feminism, I understood that capitalist, as well as sociocultural and religious (both of which arguably serve capitalist purposes) institutions sustain and require the throne on which white men sit. Through women of color feminisms I learned that these same institutions create a hierarchy of privilege that is not entirely linear. For instance, as white women celebrated the victory of entering the workforce, women of color were not only already working, but now had more white women’s homes and children to tend to.

Yet the sanctity of white maleness is not irrevocable. White gay men’s argument that they are “second-class citizens” is a perfect example. White gay men appear to be, by virtue of being gay, less sacred than their heterosexual identifying (not necessarily practicing) counterparts. Although, they are certainly more sacred than someone like me.

And so, with years of attempting to make sense of the LGBT movement’s inability and unwillingness to be inclusive of the L’s, the B’s, the T’s, the non-white, and so on, successively, I turn to this professor’s logic: white men are sacred, the rest of us not so much.

Understanding how the LGBT movement simultaneously erases those not white and male from its history, and maintains us at the margins of its present, is a daunting task. [Note: I must recognize that there have been some selective, at times strange, nods to people of color.] The fact that primarily white men lead the LGBT movement today defies any practical logic I can conjure. The idea is absurd simply by looking at our communities demographically. Even strategically, it makes no sense to sustain a mostly white male leadership structure at a time when conservatives court communities of color against LGBT rights by insisting that all things LGBT are white, middle-to-upper class, and male. And yet, look around.

I have been in countless spaces in which queer folks of color argue against the LGBT Agenda (known also as Gay Inc.), insisting that its priorities are inconsistent with those of LGBT people of color. I disagree.

I believe that marriage equality, the dismantling of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT), and the passing of a (trans-inclusive!) Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA), to name a few, is in fact relevant for communities of color. Certainly, I continue to believe marriage is a capitalist, sexist and racist structure; I am not in favor of enhancing the military industrial complex and further enabling U.S. imperialism and ongoing global massacring; and, fighting for ENDA implies people 1) have or can attain a job, and 2) can be safeguarded from nuanced institutional discrimination. With all these contradictions, assessing the ways in which queer communities of color are further disenfranchised and harmed by the absence of marriage equality, the existence of DADT and the lack of employment nondiscrimination policies, tell me these issues are relevant and a priority to people of color as well. That said, I understand how our communities contest these issues as our priorities, particularly when compared to issues such as healthcare, housing and immigration. Gay, Inc. does an exceptional job at making "its" issues irrelevant to our daily lives.

When marriage equality is defended through public examples of affluent white male couplehood, I find myself making leaps of faith to believe marriage equality is about people of color— especially people of color who partner with people of color. In 2004, conservatives in Texas pushed for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as being between a man and a woman. Arguing in favor of what was known as Prop 2, anti-LGBT advocates strategically described marriage equality as something privileged white gay men wanted. In turn, the LGBT leadership of Texas reinforced this image by offering mostly all white couples in their messaging. The occasional appearance of a person of color happened when their significant other was white. I never saw a couple in which both were people of color. Apparently we are as common as unicorns or hot summers in San Francisco.

In 2008, the fight against Prop 8 showed that even in *ahem* liberal California, marriage equality is a white gay male issue. Conservatives made the argument to communities of color, and LGBT leadership again reiterated this through its “No On 8” campaign. And yet, what came after November 4, 2008, was perhaps the most telling.

Angry that people of color had taken away their right to marry, white gay men took to the streets, the blogosphere and traditional media to make their anger known.  Dan Savage even called it “Black Homophobia.”

And so it was, in 2008, white gay men came out of the racism closet, and openly articulated what the LGBT movement quietly nurtures.

While Dan Savage and Andrew Sullivan blamed communities of color for taking away their right to marry, I was left with a choice. Either I agreed and blindly and uncritically denounced my communities, or I contested such arguments as racist and untrue. I chose the latter.

What I once believed to be reluctance toward inclusion, I now understand as simple logic. On its own accord, the LGBT movement is not a women’s movement, a bisexual movement, a transgender movement, a people of color movement, and so on. It is, from what I have witnessed first hand and from the inside, a movement that aims to reinstate the rights and privileges that white gay men lost by virtue of being gay. The LGBT movement –unceasingly breaking the hearts of so many of us– is for the sacred, the rest of us not so much.

California’s fight against Prop 8 illustrated the LGBT movement’s relationship to people of color: we are either the conduit or the barrier to a movement aimed at reinstating the privileges of white gay men. And while some of us consequentially benefit from the LGBT movement’s progress, by looking at its leadership, messaging and strategies, one might not know these benefits were intentional.

Luckily, queer people of color, my trans sisters, brothers and those who identify as both and/or neither, those who are bi, and those who fall under none of these (often) rigid categories, are not leaving the LGBT movement to its own accord. Not only do we belong at the table, we insist on building a new one.

*No white men were harmed in the writing of this post. White male privilege, however, hopefully was. 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Amy Winehouse: An honoring and a farewell to one of ours

Today, artists around the world can feel a shift in the incandescence that connects us. A “shift in the force,” if you will, at the expansive loss that is the departure of Amy Winehouse.

A woman whose brilliance crooned the deepest corners of souls refusing to take love and loss for granted. A lyricist whose craft confronted the troubling complexities of love, embraced the ridicule of desire, and forced us to bask in the limelight of our own tragedies.

Those of us who write, paint, dance, move, photograph, etch..  from those dark corners, those shamed and pained moments most people ignore or bring to light only in the darkest hours of the night, know tragedy is more than performance.  And yet, audiences applaud our performance of tragedy as if it were entirely fictionalized and ungrounded in the realities of our lives. Even as we seek to overcome the tragedies of our pasts, the suffering of our present, and the prophecy of tomorrow’s pain, performance is all you might care to notice.

So as you dismiss the tragic loss of Amy Winehouse as “unsurprising” or “inevitable,” think about the painting you pass by today, the song you hear but don’t listen to, the dancing body you are too busy to pay attention to. Stop to look, listen and feel. Artists are more than your servants of entertainment, we embody what you might be too afraid to recognize in yourself.

Let Amy Winehouse’s death weigh on you, be surprised, mourn and sit silently with the rest of us, as we honor and send love for the peaceful transition of one of ours. 

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Vandalism comes in many forms

Somewhat big news on the LGBT front is that HRC’s Dupont Circle Action(?) Center and Store(!) in D.C. was vandalized over Pride weekend. Apparently a group calling themselves “The Right Honorable Wicked Stepmothers’ Traveling, Drinking and Debating Society and Men’s Auxiliary” (as much as I hate acronyms, I think they need one) took responsibility for the action through a press release. HRC’s interpretation: “…some are more interested in fostering division in the community.” 

A few thoughts…

After living in San Francisco and being indoctrinated in its composting ways, I would disagree with the paint-throwing tactic; it’s not very green. The spray painted “Stonewall” on the sidewalk, while symbolic, will end up washed away into sewer drains, more than likely eventually landing in the drinking water of poor families or what wildlife is left surrounding D.C. No es bueno.

However, there is something to be said about acts of resistance. In its press release, the Urgently In Need of An Acronym group evokes the three nights of Stonewall, ACT-UP and the first Pride march in New York. And while folks at Queerty are right to say that these three historic efforts were all public, I wouldn’t completely dismiss this weekend’s actions as mere irresponsible or drug and alcohol-induced vandalism. I think there is more to unearth here.

To be clear, I am not a member of the pink paint group (I would have insisted on a less tongue-twisting name), nor am I interested in throwing paint or any other materials at people or organizations. But I am interested in thinking about the ways in which acts of resistance serve to agitate and make clear that the status quo institutions pretend to glide through does not go unnoticed. Vandalism comes in many forms.

HRC’s betrayal of Trans folks by standing behind a non-Trans inclusive Employment Nondiscrimination Act was an act of vandalism against our communities. The consistent exclusion of people of color is an act of vandalism against our communities (one report does not constitute inclusion nor relevance). The obscene argument for “incremental gains” is an act of vandalism against our communities.

Our communities have a history of being vandalized. We carry the scars and remnants of the paint of betrayal and indifference thrown at us year after year. This paint is toxic too.

I am not proposing we go on defacing organization’s storefronts or enacting any form of violence. What I am proposing is that we remember and be critical of the fact that HRC and other LGBT institutions have long lost the pulse of our communities (assuming they ever knew how to find our pulse). To assume that embodying values and carrying forward agendas that are at once irrelevant and fundamentally against queer liberation, racial justice, economic justice, gender justice, and so on, without being held accountable is both irresponsible and offensive. This is how division is fostered.

If there’s one thing that pink paint left spelled on the HRC glass, it’s that our communities are watching. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Poetry: On This Lake

today I found you
perched as an eagle straddling my legs
devouring my serpent
surrounded by the lake of your bed
staring back at me with a prophetic gaze

years of nomadic fate, choked
as your claw tightened further
I built an empire on this lake
if only for a moment

your throat erased political divisions
territories became regions
you had no beginning
I had no end

as Aztlán returning to its whole 

       and holy state
these bodies of men merged
you found the native in my fruit
I fulfilled my purpose if only for a moment

            © Lorenzo Herrera y Lozano

[Originally published in the Yellow Medicine Review: International Queer Indigenous Issue, edited by Ahimsa Timoteo Bodhrán. With over 80 contributors from indigeneous communities around the world, this book is a must for your collections. To purchase a copy, visit]

Saturday, June 4, 2011

[IL]LEGITIMATE POETICS: Reconciling (or not) Radical Craft & the Literary Establishment

Have you ever asked a poet why they write? It’s a fun question to ask. I would venture to say you would typically hear a profound (at times, perhaps cliché) response that evokes or explicitly articulates a philosophical and/or spiritual purpose. I have heard poets say they write for their community, they write to remember, they write to hold hope, they write to survive… and so the list goes.

No matter the oil that fuels our midnight flickering flame, most poets I have broken bread and stanza with write from sacred spaces composed of intricate amalgamations of memory and prophecy, affliction and bliss, irreverence and worship, insurgency and pacifism, desire and duplicity. The poetry I have been blessed to caress over the years show signs of roots tracing back to the richly complex wombs of inspiration. I insist poetry is more than compiled descriptions of dichotomies. Rather, gathering places of sweet-layered literary cacophonies spinning, resting and exploding at the speed and mind-baffling complexity of a planetary revolution.

Given that I liken the craft of poetry to the sacred scribing of biblical verses, I struggle to wrap my head around the bureaucracy of poetics. Not that I am entirely against institutional constructions of form. But, as I do with all institutional inventions, I call them into question, abstain from revering and resist abidance. Having questioned the existence of god, I must also hold the poetic establishment against the sun.

In my fervent resistance against the institutionalization of a sacred act, I spent a good eight years refusing to entertain the prospect of MFA programs. I met heartbroken writers who barely survived their MFA experience, including one novelist who stopped writing upon graduation. Over the years, I pictured MFA programs as predatory monsters taking the form of the Little Mermaid’s Ursula, offering their gift of legitimacy in exchange for the voices of their prey. Of course, my fears, while not entirely unfounded, were not completely fallacious either.

Although I remain skeptical of the industrialization of poetry, I decided to apply to a bilingual MFA program— and was admitted. Primarily, I applied out of the longing to receive the same degree of support and feedback in Spanish poetry as I receive in English. Having heard from other bilingual poets in monolingual English programs, who receive mere pats on the back for their Spanish work, I decided against applying to such linguistically enfeebled programs. I am honored to have been one of the six writers admitted to the University of Texas-El Paso’s Online Bilingual MFA Program. I look forward to the growth my writing will experience. Yet, I remain fearful of what I (not necessarily my writing) will look like in 2014. To be clear, I do not fear the MFA itself, but the culture of MFAs.

As with MFA programs, I have looked at publishing with a sense of reluctance. I was raised within a queer people of color-led movement of radical thinking and doing— a movement of transgressive people, thought and action. So when the world of publishing declares rules for what acceptable and legitimate forms of publishing are, I find myself resisting.

From the queer communities of color context I was raised in, publishing is not about profit or notoriety. Rather, the purpose of publishing is, to quote my sister and fierce poet, Rajasvini Bhansali, for the “production of knowledge.” As radical community-rooted poets, our stanzas do more than describe our values— they construct manifestos. Within this context, institutional standards of legitimized publishing become irrelevant, if not direct ideological and pragmatic impediments to the production, dissemination and engagement of our knowledge.

I come from the Bridgforth School of Writing where truth is inherent to craft. A school where one is asked to articulate how one’s resistance speaks to the work. A school where community is not forged, but in a constant organic process of birthing. A school where the body and its memory are mightier than the pen. It was under the mentorship of the brilliant Sharon Bridgforth that I found my voice and purpose on this planet.

As a radically trained cultural worker, I spent most of my 20’s advocating (at times fighting) for queer artists of color whose embodied artistic intention push against conventional white and heterocentric standards of art. Fueled by the values and training of queer people of color and radical ally sisters who created and sustain allgo (a statewide queer people of color organization in Texas), I stood-up to funding bodies who would rather fund the regurgitation of works by a European man dead nearly 400 years, over the innovative cutting-edge and autonomous craft of Southern butch dykes.

Inspired by, and in collaboration with, the genius of Joe Jiménez, Sharon Bridgforth, Jennifer Margulies and Dr. T. Jackie Cuevas, allgo launched itself into publishing. This energy led to the publishing of Virginia Grise and Irma Mayorga’s The Panza Monologues (based on the play by the same name, which engages in community dialogue on the Chicana body), as well as two anthologies, Queer Codex: Chile Love (a collection of works by queer men of color writers, performers and visual artists) and Queer Codex: ROOTED! (a collection of works by queer womyn and trans writers, performers and visual artists). During this period, my own book, Santo de la Pata Alzada: Poems from the Queer/Xicano/Positve Pen was published by the radical and feminist Evelyn Street Press.

And yet, with all my training in community-based publishing and arts production, as well as the beautiful and caring experience I had in the publishing of my first collection of poetry, I found myself allowing notions of legitimacy to plague my mind vis à vis my future in publishing. The more I began to move in the world as a Writer, the more the structures of industrialized poetics questioned my relationship to the establishment they jealously protect.

This is my retaliation.

What does Vanity Publishing mean to someone who has lived an entire life at the margins of institutional acknowledgement? Are we to assume that a self-published author has no writing community that offers support, feedback and spaces for growth? Thus, rendering the self-published work substandard (insert “whose standard” here), as if all work published traditionally were of supreme quality. By these rules, is the self-published person even an author?

Similarly, while theater companies producing the work of its membership are treasured, nonprofit publishers and collectives are called into question when publishing the work of their own. Even as ethical inquiries arise for poetry contests where winners have questionable ties to judges, the books remain published and valid in the eyes of the industry. In a world of such artistic double standards and, dare I say, classist, sexist and racist assumptions, what hope is left for writers whose training takes place in community backyards and living rooms, and not in the pale halls of the academy?

When so many of us come to poetry hoping to make sense of ourselves and our surroundings, and longing to imagine a future that is possible, being confronted with structural regulations for valid writing is a challenge, if not a reappearance of oppressions we sought to overcome through our art-making. Poets enter non-linear processes of craft-development, self-discovery, self-defining and self-identification, only to be forced to define ourselves by the rigid terms of institutions (e.g. AWP Conference bio guidelines and restrictions). Dare upset the poetic establishment and find yourself relegated to the outskirts (at best) or becoming (or remaining) irrelevant in its eyes. The poetic establishment has the final say.

I do not mean to disregard MFA programs or their value as spaces for writers to develop and refine their craft (for god’s sake, I’m about to start attending one). Nor do I intend to dismiss the role of traditional publishing in the lives and careers of my sistren, or demean their successes. To the contrary, I applaud and celebrate with them as they receive acclaim, distinguished awards and residencies, and publishing opportunities. I believe our communities deserve to enter and exist in those spaces. For without us, the literary establishment is illegitimate.

I raise these questions to engage my fellow writers in dialogue, to engage in public self-critique, and to open my own submission to the literary establishment for the critique of my sistren. I refuse to hold myself to the standard of a profiteering self-serving machine, but will submit to the voices of my peers. I look to you, my sistren, for guidance on how we might hold the establishment accountable, and, more importantly, how we continue to develop sistemas autóctonas (autochthonous systems) for the production of knowledge. 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Ricky Martin's MAS Tour: Por esto, y tanto más, gracias.

I’ve made it pretty clear that I’m a huge Ricky Martin fan. I’ve been a lover of his music since the longhair days of “Fuego Contra Fuego.” In the early 90’s, I’d rush home to catch him as “Pablo” in Alcanzar una Estrella II, and Sundays I would be glued to the tv waiting for Ricky to make an appearance on Siempre en Domingo.

Years later, the very thought of Ricky’s music takes me back to my pre-teen years of crushes on boys in Secundaria, and the silence that stood between us. Having collected all of his albums and holding “Las Almas del Silencio” as his most artistic effort yet, I couldn’t help but (literally) jump out of bed when a cousin sent a text offering me tickets to Ricky’s MAS concert in San José.

After inviting and coordinating with a few friends, we were on the road from San Francisco to my hometown of San José. On the way, I played a number of Ricky’s songs ranging from “Dime Que Me Quieres,” stopping at the infamous “Livin’ la Vida Loca” crossover days, cruising through his tattooed reggaetón days of LIFE, and landing with the music video for “Lo Mejor de Mi Vida Eres Tú.” I was ready.

Although much of my time thinking and writing about Ricky this past year has been less about his music and more about his coming out and what it means for our communities, I wasn’t expecting anything overtly queer at the concert. Well, except for the sea of brown gay & bi men, of course.

As we arrived at the venue, I was happy to see my fellow jotos and patos representing with fierce rhinestone shirts and enough sharp eyebrows to cut a Luis Miguel fan. What I didn’t expect were the Christian protestors holding up the “Gay Sex is Sin” signs I’m used to seeing at Gay Pride.

I felt terrible thinking I had underestimated Ricky and that the Christians knew him better than I did. Never had I imagined a Ricky Martin concert would be worthy of warnings of a burning Sodom and Gomorra. The Christians did. And they were right.

Ricky’s MAS tour delivered on each letter of its acronym. He brought the música, he gave the alma, and baby, he delivered on the sexo.

I realize this is sacrilegious, but Ricky’s concert was gayer than any of the seven Juan Gabriel concerts I’ve been to. Yes, Juanga prances about, says things like “Si me caigo me cogen,” and has grown mustache-sporting men crying like Sanjaya’s preteen fan on American Idol. However, for all of Juan Gabriel’s beautiful femme fierceness and the lovemaking that goes on between him and his audience, it all remains masked under the clout of the unspeakable.

Ricky, on the other hand, left me speechless when he held one of his male dancer’s head as the dancer slid his hands down Ricky’s thighs. I’ve been gay long enough to know, that there is a gay move. And he didn’t stop there. The electrifying erotically sensual bi-gendered orgy-like performance that took place on a long sofa while he sang “I Am,” was enough to have the gays fanning ourselves and clutching our pearls (pay attention at 0:24 and on):

Still, for those who thought they had room to dismiss the (not-so)subtle sensual man-on-man moments in the concert, Ricky made the queerness explicit. In what reminded me of Madonna’s “Confessions” moment in the Confessions Tour, one of Ricky’s dancers performed solo as his coming out experience was narrated overhead. Beginning with the struggles of growing up with a father who insisted he learn to box and arriving with his libratory moment of discovering his love for dance and his revelation as a gay man. The screaming of the crowd erased all remaining ambiguity: This was a queer Latino concert.

Topping off what was a surprisingly gay and expectedly delicious concert, was Ricky’s encore performance ofLo Mejor de Mi Vida Eres Tú.” The feel-good song that brought us the queer and different-affirming video, was brought to a close by Ricky offering the following words:

“Lo único que necesitamos en este momento son los mismos derechos para todo el mundo. Lo único que queremos es igualdad, ni más ni menos… I’m talking about equality, ladies and gentlemen, not more, not less, just equality.”

Now all you bitter gays who dismissed Ricky Martin’s coming out as inconsequential and cowardly too late, imagine an arena of Latinas and Latinos, many of whom speak Spanish as their primary (perhaps only) language, applauding an openly gay, culturally rooted and historically present artist delivering words that many queer Latino men like myself could never say to our own families.

Early on, I saw Ricky Martin’s coming out as an important opportunity for queer boys in the U.S. and Latino América who, in their isolation, would now have the opportunity to bear witness to a Latin superstar move openly in his public’s eyes as gay. Months after his coming out, I hailed Ricky’s appearance on the front cover of People en Español’s Father’s Day issue as an important historical moment for our communities. With a readership of 6.4 million people, Ricky, with his two children (Valentino and Matteo) in arms, would be on Supermercado stands and coffee tables across the country.

And yet, it took Christian protestors to make me realize that even I, in all my pro-Ricky arguments, had underestimated just how important he has become. I only hope that in the future I am not blindsided by my own limited capacity to imagine what Ricky Martin has in store for the future.

As the poet, Marvin K. White, recently said, “As with Don Lemon, Ricky Martin is one of the few who came out with his ethnicity intact.” 

Por esto, y tanto más, Ricky, gracias.