Sunday, December 1, 2013

It's World AIDS Day and I am grateful

It's World AIDS Day and I'm grateful to be alive. 

Less than two decades ago, men who look and love like me were dying in mass, buried under their mourning families' lies about the cause of their deaths. People were afraid to touch us, let alone share our drinks or kiss us. These men were taken from us, from men like me, the generation that followed and had few to no men to hold our hands, mentor us, scold us, teach us about queer brown life. To teach us about love, sex, and loss. But I remain grateful. I am grateful for their legacy, grateful for their footsteps, grateful for their memory. Grateful for the brothers they left behind.

I am grateful for the men of that generation who are still with us. I am grateful for their kindness when I annoyingly try to read the history on their palms. I am grateful for their admonishments when I pretend to know what they went through, what they saw. I am grateful for their stories, especially the ones they do not tell, the ones they hold so close to their heart that they cannot and will not be spoken. I am grateful to have found them. No, I am grateful they found me.

It has been 25 years since the first World AIDS Day and I am grateful. I am grateful for the generation that follows mine. Grateful for their beauty, for their audacity, their tenacity. Grateful for the ways they are making the world bigger, pushing the boundaries of the world my generation created. Grateful to chuckle when they call me elder. Grateful to know that for many, I am an elder. Grateful for their irreverence toward us, grateful to bear witness. Grateful when they make me laugh. Grateful when they roll their eyes at my peers and me. Grateful when I am annoyed by them. I am grateful they are alive.

I am grateful to be in the position I wish more of my older brothers would have been, to look onto a generation that, in their agency, take and leave what they please from what their predecessors imagined and created. I am grateful to see my ideas grow old, become obsolete. I am grateful for their new constructions of love and desire. I am grateful for them.

I was nine years old when the first World AIDS Day was observed and I am grateful. I am grateful for my brothers, my peers. Those who, like me, came of age hungry for stories, for examples, for mentors, for older lovers. Those who, like me, found few or none. I am grateful to be counted among you. I am grateful to witness our graying hair, to witness the loss of hair, the gaining of weight, the aches, the occasional cough that interrupts our laughter. I am grateful to be growing older with you. I am grateful that we are alive to grow older. I am grateful for you. 

I am grateful for us.

This post is a stream of consciousness. It has many holes, many faults, I am sure. Point them out, fill them with yours. Let your consciousness flow freely as well.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

When consciousness makes us each other's enemy.

If you've ever walked into a student activist space, an organizing meeting, or a conversation about fast food on Facebook, you've probably heard a few key words sprinkling every other sentence. Words like "privilege," "colonial," "elitist," and "ageist" (to list a few). These words, as with all words, hold meaning. They tell the room or the Facebook thread that you are politically conscious, that you've read Marx and Anzaldúa, or at least enough excerpts to quote them at will.

We use words to identify and articulate oppressions, and occasionally to imagine a world where we are no longer oppressed. We describe the wound ad nauseum, and sometimes, just when it's about to start healing (another key word), we gouge it. Perhaps because we haven't fully imagined what our bodies look like without gaping wounds. Perhaps because we're still figuring out what the wounds are and what medicine is necessary. Or, perhaps we fear the loss of credibility, or worse, our identity, when all we have left are the scars to remind us of our suffering.

But words aren't used to describe oppressions or issues alone, they are also used to point to or, in activist speak "call out" who we, through our lackluster and outward assessment, deem oppressors. Yet, in this pursuit to rabidly articulate and describe everything and everyone around us, we fail to articulate what we carry inside and what it has done to our capacity for kindness.

The project of colonization is profound. Standing naked before a mirror, I can trace acts of violence against my ancient and contemporary ancestors. My tongue has only known European languages, my legs move at glacial speeds compared to my running kin, my chest exposes the presence of another continent. I am the manifestation of an occupied land, an occupied people. But recognizing the virus that flows through my veins, the pollution that runs through these rivers, is not enough. The pain has done something to me, to us. Something we still struggle or refuse to articulate.

So that when we speak using key words from our activist dictionaries, and have not done the work of sitting with the pain that is inside, we lash out against each other. Others become our wealthy elite. Others become our straight person. Others become our white man. Others become our wealthy straight white man who has and continues to bring a great and profitable grief against us and our own. Others become our enemy.

In our pursuit of radical credentials, we assume things about each other, rarely pausing long enough to develop the sufficient curiosity to ask, Tell me more or Help me understand you. Instead, we take what we believe we see before us, load that image with our own projections, layer with our radical lenses and theories, and speak as though we know the person's story, the path that brought them here, the path they are on. And because we are radical surrounded by other radicals, our accusations begin to write our target's story in the minds and hearts of others.

We call someone elitist and privileged loud enough and enough spaces, people begin to believe our story. With no room for self-reflection, we begin to strip someone of their own story, draft our own based on our own assumptions and pain, then walk away leaving them to fend for themselves. This is how we treat our kin? This is the path toward liberation?

There is no question in my mind that language is important and useful in identifying, articulating, and addressing. Privilege is real, but it is also complex. Privilege shifts in every context we walk in. Skin color, language(s), income, immigration status, age, size, gender, etc. We are privileged and less privileged depending on where we stand in relationship to any of these and many, many other markers. But our privilege is also based on where we stand in relationship to each other.

Yet, when a person is accused (I say accused because it has been years since I've heard someone speak of privilege with kindness and for the purpose of developing awareness in the "privileged" one), the narrative seeps as though assuming privilege is static, fixed, and without context. Perhaps if, before accusing people, we reminded ourselves, and believed, that privilege is something we all benefit from depending on our context and our relationship to each other, we might begin to speak to each other with kindness, with an invitation for self-reflection and the development of consciousness.

I am not advocating for a silencing of analysis. Nor am I advocating for us to sit silently as people move unconsciously or consciously with their privileges at the expense of others. What I ask is that we hold the complexity that is the concept of privilege, that we hold each other with kindness, that we hold our breath long enough to remember that we are not each other's enemies.

If I've learned one thing over my bumpy path, it's that the world we believe possible tomorrow, must be the world we begin to create today. The road for liberation must be one where we treat each other with kindness, not as our enemies.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Pride, Joy, and Mourning

Another Pride has come and gone. As with every year, the youth are getting younger and I am getting older. For this, I am both grateful and full of mourning.

I am grateful to see young people coming into their own bodies, desires, and expressions in a world that is a bit more welcoming (and for some, affirming) than the world I came of age in. I am grateful. I am grateful to be alive to see them come of age, to watch them mad-dash into their queerness when I was barely taking baby steps at their stage. I am grateful to see them embrace the rainbow, critique the rainbow, add colors to the rainbow. I am grateful to witness the growing alphabet of our identities, and with them, the possibilities.. and even some limitations.

I am grateful to sit in poetry readings and watch them get on stage and wax poetic about their bus ride into town, their latest rendezvous, their first love, their 50th love. I am grateful for the Facebook status updates that inspire and frighten me. I am grateful for the Instagram photos that arouse me and make me blush. I am grateful for the fashion statements that make me smile and those that make me cringe (skinny jeans!). I am grateful for the reminders that I am getting older. That I am still alive.

Roy Lozano, Jr. 
one of my ancestors
And I am full of mourning. I mourn that the generation that preceded my own was largely not there to witness my coming of age. That while I was rambling through what I thought was poetry, they were not there to giggle and roll their eyes. I mourn. I mourn that they were not there to hear me pontificate about the meaning of love, that they were not there to teach me about love. I mourn that they were not there to sit me down when my self-important and self-righteous ego would not shut up. I mourn that they were not there to hear me call them ageist and bitter for trying to pass on knowledge. I mourn that my crushes and fantasies about them were mostly limited to photographs on altars. I mourn that I kissed so few of them; that so few were there to kiss me.

And yet I am grateful. I am grateful for the legacies they left behind. I am grateful that they made my world a bit more welcoming than their world was to them. I am grateful for the foundations they built, for the writings they left behind, for the organizations they built, for the battles they fought. I am grateful. I am grateful for those who did not die. Those who took me in when all they wanted was silence. Those whose burden it was to mentor me, even as they continued to pick themselves up. Those who loved me, even as they struggled to learn how to thrive in the aftermath of their lovers' / brothers' deaths.

I am grateful for the mujeres, the women, who cared for them. The women who loved them, buried them, mourn them. The women who were loved by them, those who carry the stories. Those who shared stories with me. Those who keep the memory alive.

I am grateful to be 34 years old. And I mourn that I am 34 years old. I am grateful for each gray hair, every ache. I am grateful to stand naked in front of a mirror and notice how my body has changed, and foresee the changes to come in the bodies of older lovers. I am grateful to still be alive, when the odds and history predicted I would be gone long ago. Gone, not only because I am gay or brown or opinionated or conscious. Gone because that which makes me whole, all of who I am, is not welcome in this world.

I am now older than many of the men in photographs who were the object of my crushes and fantasies. I am grateful, and I am full of mourning.

So I sit here, at my computer, no longer using a dial-up modem or America Online chatrooms. I sit here and read the post-Pride Facebook status updates of a younger generation. I am smiling, I am blushing, I am giggling, I am rolling my eyes, I am clutching my proverbial pearls. I am happy that they exist in all their complex splendor, and that I am here to bear witness to their lives, the way I wish more of mine were there to witness my life.

Happy Pride, beautiful ones.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Problems with Branding Something "The First Ever," An Example

About a month ago, I learned that a Latino Institute was to be held at Creating Change, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's annual conference. Creating Change is an important space where activists, professional LGBTs, policy influencers, etc, come together to share, learn, strategize, and build community. I attended several Creating Change gatherings over the years and have always left feeling reinvigorated by the opportunity to be around those who share similar values and ways of being and knowing in the world, and to dialogue (at times argue) over strategy and our understandings or relationship(s) to history and current experiences.

It is based on my experiences at Creating Change, my past as an organizer of, and in, LGBT (in some instances Queer) Latina/o spaces, that I offer some thoughts on the Latino Institute and the language deployed in its branding.

I sincerely hope these thoughts are taken as an offering, rather than an attack or an attempt to stir the pot with gratuitous bitterness (I try to be explicit when the latter is my intent). Specifically, I want to share thoughts on language, history, and lessons I learned over the years.

First, I'm filled with a mixture of sadness and pride that a Latino Institute has finally become part of the institution that is Creating Change. Felicidades, kinda.

Second, the language used to brand the Institute is problematic. This was not the first time queer Latinidad came together at Creating Change to have conversations about intersectionality of identities and experiences, as well as dialogue and strategize around pressing issues affecting our communities. There were meetings before. 

Of course, we can talk about the effectiveness and efficiency of these meetings (being messy was basically a ground rule), but I cannot sit idly without reminding or informing folks that these gatherings took place and that, in many ways, these created much of the foundation on which this Latino Institute stands. While it is technically true that this was the first ever Latino Institute at Creating Change, important historical facts can be inadvertently glossed over or erased with language and branding.

Third, the Latino Institute does not stand on past Latina/o spaces alone. Creating Change has had a Queer People of Color Institute for many years. And, yes, the QPOC Institute was deliciously messy in all kinds of ways (perhaps it still is-- it's been years since I've attended). From white folks and light-skinned folks being asked to leave or prove their "ethnic'ness" to disagreements over sex-positive icebreakers, we laughed, rolled our eyes, cried, and sucked our teeth. But above all, we came together. That these spaces were about coalition and community building in ways that sharing a particular colonizer allows us to take for granted, should be learned from, rather than overlooked as a non-Latina/o space.

I do not seek to diminish the work of bringing together a Latino Institute at Creating Change. But I do hope to bring forth a perspective that comes from years of introspection, heartache, and a commitment to remember and document the complexities of our histories.  

Hopefully the Latino Institute was better structured and better facilitated than we were capable of. Hopefully folks in the room were able to get past the political stumbling blocks we encountered time after time. Hopefully, history will be better preserved and shared so that future meetings know and remember, they were not the first either. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

On Being Brown, Queer & Prochoice

As a queer man of color I am adamant about having a public ideological and physical pro-choice stance. I believe that queer men, particularly queer men of color, must not only stand in solidarity with our sisters in demanding and embodying values of reproductive justice, it is essential that we also see our own bodies as requiring a world where reproductive justice is demanded, lived, and sustained.

While I am not interested in dogmas that require one person to be wrong in order for another to be right, I do find that to be anti-choice (for to be pro-choice is, by definition, to be pro-life in its real meaning) is to be lacking in an understanding of a shared human experience; it is to be lacking in humanity.

I grew up in an anti-choice home. My father is an adamant believer in the rights of a fetus over all else. I understand the context and religious and cultural fervor from which he basis his belief. However, my understanding, or perhaps better said, my knowledge of these undergirding values are not enough for me to cease to insist that to be anti-choice, to be a cisgender male, and to be of color, are all unacceptable contradictions.

Reproductive injustice has roots in many unhealthy terrains, though I am particularly interested in the role economics have played over the centuries in insisting on the control of women’s bodies specifically, but also the bodies of people of color (understanding that these two identities are not necessarily exclusive). My refusal to procreate to parent myself is rooted in a number of ideological stances. I need only look at the many examples of men who have failed at being fathers and whose failures are celebrated by a misogynist and both anti-woman and anti-man-of-color society; something I have seen celebrated by my own family.

I live in a world where the lives of young adults (increasingly of color) are seen as disposable in the way of sending them to risk facing their own death while massacring young adults of color, including their communities. This reality creates impossibility in believing that we, as a society, collectively believe in the sacredness of all life.

As I continue to meditate on my relationship to reproductive justice values, I am convinced that it is my own queerness that fuels this unwavering commitment toward choice. Of course, I am pro-choice because I am human, alive, and conscious. I am also pro-choice because I understand and witness the economic underpinning of an anti-choice movement.

Angela Davis points out in her book “Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude ‘Ma’ Rainey, Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday,” that “the slave system’s economic management of procreation... did not tolerate and often severely punished the public exhibition of self-initiated sexual relationships.” I do not believe in hierarchies of oppression or in playing oppression olympics. I have no intention of comparing enslavement to any other act of human violence. I do, however, think often about how the “economic management of procreation” is manifested in, permeates, and feeds the anti-choice movement, and, without a doubt, in the anti-gay movement.

A world where women have agency and are able to make informed decisions about their own bodies and health, is a dangerous world to live in for those wanting to control procreation. Similarly, living in a world where I, a brown queer man, chooses to love another brown queer man (or worse, multiple), is a direct resistance to the economic control of human bodies.

While the Supreme Court ruling on Lawrence v. Texas was historic in that it eliminated the criminalization of homosexuality as an act, queer men must not limit their celebration to this decision alone. Queer men, especially queer men of color, must also remember and remain vigilant of the historical importance of Roe v. Wade. It is critical that queer men of color understand that both cases, and perhaps most importantly in Roe v. Wade, one of the questions at hand was that of self-determination and the repulsive act to legislate the body.

Certainly, the two aforementioned Supreme Court rulings have enormous implications for the lives of queer men of color. However, we must not overlook the fact that we live in constant fear that one day Roe v. Wade might be in jeopardy. In addition, while criminalizing homosexuality has been deemed unconstitutional, queer men of color continue to live under constant threat of violence and criminalization by the State.

It is my hope that in coming to the realization that reproductive justice is not the exclusive concern of women, queer men of color might insist on a comprehensively just movement for queer rights and demand that the institutional leadership of the LGBT movement manifest such values. LGBT rights (including marriage equality, freedom to serve in the U.S. military, hate crimes legislation, and workforce nondiscrimination efforts) must be informed by the other issue movement areas that pertain to the lives, experiences, and mere survival of all people of color. Perhaps in employing such values and a multi-layered, multi-issue, and multi-identity analysis will create the language, spaces, and ability to engage those LGBT rights efforts that are counterintuitive and at odds with liberation.

Originally posted on February 5, 2010. Reposted in honor of the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.