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Father’s Day

“We don’t necessarily know how to hear stories about any kind of violence, because it is hard to accept that violence is as simple as it is complicated, that you can love someone who hurts you, that you can stay with someone who hurts you, that you can be hurt by someone who loves you, that you can be hurt by a complete stranger, that you can be hurt in so many, terrible, intimate ways.” Hunger, Roxane Gay.

 

This is a story of hurt.

This is a story of violence.

Sunday, I went to church. Ya’ll know I don’t go to church. My reason for going was similar to some children going to church on Mother’s Day. I knew it would make my father happy. I am a child, I like to make my parents happy.  In the 7 weeks since I moved to Florida I have rarely been in town on a Sunday. I have rarely left the house other than to find food or go to Crossfit. I spend my days largely at home and since my father works from home – I spend a lot of time with him.

I get anxious when I go to my childhood church. At times, I bring friends to deflect the attention that is geared towards me. I am rarely seen- people get excited to see me. Their excitement also comes with a host of questions, many of which I do not want answer. However, there is a beauty in returning that I see more as I age. On Sunday, I remembered feeling a warmness of being surrounded by people who have known me all my life and who I have known all their lives.  The children I left when I went to college over 13 years are young adults-who appear older than me. My father became the pastor when I was 6 months old, I have history here. Often the bad history overshadows the good. But there is a lot of good. After the passing of the peace, it was time for the sermon.

Shortly after he stood to start the sermon, my father made a joke that I found transphobic and repulsive. His words caught me off guard. I have no memories of my father every being homophobic or transphobic from the pulpit. The laughter echoed by some in the congregation made the violence of his statement reverberate through my spirit. Violence accompanied smiles and laughter still causes harm. It is as harmful as violence accompanied by screams and physical harm. My whole body changed as I heard his words. I was confused. I did not understand the purpose of the “joke.” Just moments before he had been relatively inclusive about ideas of “fathers,” just to ultimately define one ability to be a father by their genitals.

The words spoken by my father would have caused me to get up and leave the service if it was spoken by anyone else. I sat and wrestled with my inability to leave. I did not want to upset my father or throw his focus off during his sermon. Although, I believe he saw my face and body shift when he spoke those words-he quickly shifted to another topic. I was shock to a point where I could not really move. I felt betrayed. Gender is my life. I wonder how real the conversations my father and I have had about gender was? I thought that he would be more conscious about the harm his words can cause from the pulpit.

As I sat the harm that I experienced in the church came back. The realization that the church will never be a safe space for folks like me and those I love.  I have stories of harm inside of those walls that seem endless. Those experiences have led me to research and do the work I now do. These experiences taught me that my queerness and my gender were problems, that they prevented me from truly being loved by my creator. So much came into my head. By the time alter call came, so did the tears. So did the tears. I remember someone rubbing my back. They probably thought I was overcome with the “spirit.” I was crying because I had been hurt. I was harmed by his words & his laughter. I was harmed by someone I love more than almost anything in the world.

We are a family of awkward and corny jokes. These jokes at times reveal the truth of situations. I believe and know I am my parent’s favorite. Not despite my queerness but because of my queerness. I joked with my father that I didn’t have the luxury of heterosexuality so I must be perfect. I wonder how much my performance of “good” is tied to my queerness, to me not being a “believer.” Never asking too much from parents. Always giving. Always wanting to help. My drive to finish school and get degrees. My need for them to be proud of me. For them to know I am still good even though I am not a Christian. That I am still worthy of their love even being queer. I see this same drive towards perfection and “success” in many of my queer friends. They are doctors and lawyers- they are the ones their families go to for financial help. Yet, they are the ones being encouraged to change. They could never do half the things their trifling siblings do.

I was grateful that I sat near the back of the church. I left immediately after alter call. I did not have the strength to engage in small talk with anyone.

During the service, I texted my younger brother and told him what had happen. He told me that those words did not even sound like our father, something I agree with. I wondered who is this man speaking right now. He was so different from the man who I have deep and meaningful conversations with. My brother- the pastor told me he was sorry for the harm I experienced.

I called him when I left. He was preparing for his own Sunday service. I appreciate him taking the time to talk to me. I appreciate his love for me. I love him for his desire (and his actions) to make church a safer place not only for me-his sibling but for all of us.

Typically, when one experience harm from the pulpit, they can walk away from the church. I live with this man. I live in his house. His face looks like mine. My plan was to be out the house as much as possible on Sunday. I didn’t want to see him but I also did not want to ruin his “Father’s Day.”

I called my childhood friend. She was at work. I called her because I knew she understood harm through her adolescence experiences growing up in my father’s church. The church (my father included) allowed a man and his unchecked toxic masculinity to destroy young adult lives. He outed my friends. Force her to tell her mother about her sexuality. Prevented her from participating in the choir all in an effort to make her “straight.” There were other things, but that’s not my story to tell. Sunday, my friend told me she was broken by that experience and she believes it change the trajectory of her life for the worse. The pain was still there. The hurt was present in her voice.

Growing up I knew pieces of her story. I knew how they were treating her was wrong. Her experience was a cautionary tale for me. It showed me what happens to queer children. I was charged somehow with being a good role model for her. I remember her mother telling me, “I wish she (her daughter) was more like you.” That does something to a child. I knew her adoration for me had everything to do with my performance of heterosexuality and my “good” grades. I knew I had to maintain those things to avoid being an outcast. My friend was an outcast, I knew I didn’t want to be treated like they treated her.

On the phone I wished my friend a Happy Father’s Day.- for her role in raising her girlfriend’s child. We talked to her shift was over. I follow her girlfriend on snapchat- I saw that they surprised my friend with a Father’s Day celebration.

I want to tell my father that people with penis do not own the title of father. Just like they do not own masculinity. I want to tell my father that people with vaginas do not own the title of mother. Just like they do not own femininity. Black and Brown Queer folks have redefined and created families when their own families were inhospitable and violent places. See the real work that house mothers and fathers have done to care and nurture Black and Brown Queer youth in ballroom culture and beyond. Shit, I can let you know why they called me daddy but that’s a NSFW topic.

Staying out the house was harder than I expected. My date went ghost on me. I aint trippin tho’ we had one good tipsy night together.

My natural reaction to being hurt is to shut down. Close myself off to others. Try to ignore the hurt until it is a distant memory.

Since Sunday morning my father has told me he loves me more times than I can count.

Monday, he came in my room. Told me he never wants to hurt me. That he loved me. That his greatest joy is seeing me happy. That he is sorry for anything he has done to hurt me and he loves me unconditionally. Then he grabbed me and hugged me. I wept. There is so much I am unpacking.

I do not doubt my father’s love for me. I do know his love and ability to see me is clouded by what society and religion teaches us. We live in a transphobic, homophobic and anti-Black world, it is only natural that he/we internalize these messages. I am fighting to unlearn these messages.

Monday night, I left for Colombia. I am grateful for the time away to think and process. I am thinking about what happens after harm. I am thinking about what healing and reconciliation looks like. I am committed to liberation and wholeness in my life. I am not afraid to leave those behind that do not contribute to this. But I am invested in building bridges and trying with those who so clearly love me, but have not been taught how to love and protect people like me.  Love is not enough action is needed. So perhaps, when I get home I will have real conversation with my father and explain to him the work he needs to do if he wants me in his life in a real concrete way. It is enough for me to feel safe with him, I want to know that those around me can also feel safe and free to be themselves. There is a lot more to this. I am reminded of the ways that unaddressed trauma resurfaces. I am grateful that I have more tools and language to deal with trauma than I did at 19.  I am thankful that I know “I am holy, by my own.”

 

 

 

(You like how I slide in that I am in Colombia for the week. Estoy en Medellín)

 

-JustTab

 

 

 
 

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Blocked

Blocked.

Not in the social media sense. Though I am all about blocking people as a self-care practice.

But Blocked in the sense that I am not able to write.

The thoughts that are in my mind have not easily translated to the written word.

So here are some thoughts.

I turn 30 at the end of this year.

They tell me that is a big deal.

I agree.

Not everyone makes it to 30.

Mike-Mike didn’t.

Tamir didn’t.

Renisha didn’t.

Mya didn’t.

Marshawn didn’t.

The list goes on and on.

I mean I aint even make it…yet.

I had so many plans for where I would be by now.

I wanted more figured out. More accomplished.

I still got time to change some things but I feel blocked.

Stuck.

But maybe it is a sign to be patient. To be still and think about the things I have done.

To be still and think about the things I have done.

The people I have loved. The places I experienced.

The places I experienced.

They say people are a mess in their 20’s.

I say people don’t start looking right until their 30’s.

You know Tab likes them older.

They tend to grow into themselves and find a level of self-acceptance that only increases with their age.

I am looking forward to that.

If I am 30 that means people gotta take me serious.

I gotta take myself serious.

No more blaming my recklessness on my youth.

Tomorrow I am going to New Orleans.

I have never been.

It is part of my list of things I want to do before 30.

  1. Visit 3 new places
  2. Go skinny dipping.
  3. Skydive
  4. Cuba and Brazil for my birthday

The rest of the list are personal growth things like unapologetically engage in practices of radical love for self and others.

Can’t be going into 30 with the baggage from yesteryears.

This means doing the work.

Even when I feel blocked.

Or especially when I feel blocked.

I’m looking around at how lucky I am to be alive right now.

Hamilton reminds me to look at where I am and where I started, the fact that I am alive is a miracle.

And if I can stay alive that would be enough.

Because I am enough.

 

~JustTab

 
2 Comments

Posted by on July 15, 2016 in Learning bout Tab!

 

Boots Tuesday

4-5-2016, 11:00am

“Do you have a hard time asking people for things?”

“I don’t really need to ask people for things. I am pretty self-sufficient.” That’s the response that first came to my head. I didn’t respond. I sat with it. This woman stays trying to see me. To read me. Demanding I drop whatever mask I think I am wearing. This  annoys me. This makes me uncomfortable. So I fade away.

I met her last summer at the Movement for Black Lives. While the conference was officially over, we just had an impromptu action against the Cleveland Police.  Afterwards- in victory we chanted, “we gonna be alright,” in unison with over a hundred Black people. Someone started a healing circle. Others dealt with those who were pepper sprayed. I noticed her boots before I noticed her. Cowboy boots and shorts. She stood out. She was cute and different. As you might already know, I am smoother than freshly churned butter. I went to her and asked her about her boots. Somehow this turned into a whole conversation, where she gave me the origins of her boots. She got them on a trip to Arizona with her ex-girlfriend. She was quick and witty. We exchanged info, for you know community building, the revolution and what not.

Power to the people.

7-27-2015  Facebook messages

Me: Nice meeting your boots as well as you yesterday. Stay in touch. I’m sure you have great stories about the places the boots been.

Her: Ha! So many stories.

Me: Maybe you should do Boots Tuesday and tell me a new story about you and those boots i lusted after. (I’m good now, I have accepted they are yours :))

 

And just like that, she started sending me weekly stories. She never told me which ones were fiction. Her stories were great. Moving. Interesting. Insightful. All keeping with the theme of the boots. I found out later that she majored in creative writing. So yes, she had skills.

Eventually, I asked what I could give her in return. I was enjoying the experience of a weekly story so much. I didn’t want to take and not give. There is beauty in exchange.

I was going thru a Tab love crisis at this point. Feeling like I was fucking up with multiple people. I abruptly ended a relationship that I had been cultivating. You know Tab shit. She wanted me to write through this. Sometimes she gave me a prompt sometimes she didn’t. I would write about my journey of being a better person.

This went on for almost 2 months. In retrospect, this impromptu writing exchange/collective was pretty amazing. It gave us both an audience and reason to plan writing into our busy lives. She was always on a plane flying somewhere. I never knew what city she would be in.

Maybe it was one too many ignored questions that made me call her secretive. Maybe I am. I just don’t like questions. I like the control of the information. I will tell you everything if you just don’t ask.

She told me that sharing was invasive. She wasn’t willing to be vulnerable and share aspects of her when it wasn’t reciprocal. She heard my confession that I struggled to be open and honest. She pushed me to know why (more for myself than for her knowledge), She asked did it help with others are open and honest with me? She pushed me on my evasiveness.  I answered briefly. And then stopped answering. You know Tab shit.

In the last two months, I have spoken to her more. Thanks to the snapchat and a new phone that makes texting easier. She mentioned my disappearance early on in our “reunion.” I think I briefly addressed it. But we continued. No stories tho. And not many questions from her.

This morning I was reminiscing on Boots Tuesday. Sent her an email inquiring about restarting Boots Tuesday.

She replied “Dr. Chester, don’t you believe in assessment and reflection before repeating a course.”

Guess who didn’t respond.

She texted me about a favor I asked her to do for my class. I told her never mind. That we can try for another time. Maybe next semester. Some shit about me knowing she had a lot on her plate.

She responded: “Do you have a hard time asking people for things?”

I remembered how much I hated her questions and her ability to not only see me but ask me the questions I hate to answer. She doesn’t know me but she knows me. She is a reminder of how transparent I am even when I believe I am performing cryptic and complex.

 

~JustTab

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Lovers. Friends. A Story.

A story.

As I remember it.

Eight years later.

We had met before. She was “hanging” with a classmate of mine.

I had recently moved to Philly to start grad school.

She was tall. Very tall. 6 feet tall.

I was 20. Head-strong. Bold. And Christian. Very Christian. More than I even realized at the time.

On this particular night- her, the classmate and this really zealous girl I had met at lesbian club my first night out in Philly. How that experience scared the hell out of me is a story for another day.

But they were over my house. We went to get barbeque. Those were the days I was in love with pork. I wrote poems about this love.

This night stands out to me for several reasons. 1. The overzealous girl called God a she. I was Christian remember, very Christian. The type of Christian that thought calling God a girl was blasphemy. I don’t remember what she said, but I remember telling them (all three of them some type of queer-identified) that they were going to hell for being gay. I was righteous with my condemnation. Because I was Christian, very Christian. Of course, I had gay friends….I grew up and in the theatre and church. I also went gay clubs, but that was them and not me. And I mostly kicked it with gay men. Lesbians scared me. I thought they were all predators. I made sure to keep my distance from lesbian women.

I had never kissed a girl. Because that was gay. And a sin.

Times passed. I learned more about Philly. Dated some guy. He took me on my first $100+ date. I was 20 and easily impressed. He was sweet. I should gave him some. But not because he paid for dinner or because he offered to buy me a winter coat.

Anyway she stopped “hanging” out with my classmate. I say “hanging” in quotes because they were dating. Something she still refuses to admit.

I would see her around. I think she invited me to a sex toy party. And we were Facebook friends. Sometime over Christmas Break we started interacting via the FaceBook heavily and decided to hang out when I got back.

This a good point to mention I flirt. A lot. Most of the time I don’t even know I am flirting until the person is trying to pull me into the restroom for a quickie. (That has never happened, but you get the point.)

She liked men as well. So we would go out and scoop out dudes. I know…anyway she wasn’t really a threat because we would talk about boys. And she wasn’t one of those scary lesbians. I told you, I had issues with lesbians. Thought they were all predators. Over the course of the next couple of months we hung out. Heavy.

I remember one time we made plans for a sleepover and cuddle sessions. All this sounds very gay. I promise you the gayness escaped me at the time. Cause I was straight. But everyone loves to cuddle.

For Spring Break that year I went to Jamaica. I came back with a hickey. Some drunken night with some guy who worked at Dunns River Fall…who still calls me. But that is another story.

She was so mad about the hickey. I did not understand why. Cause me and her was friends and I was straight.

One day when I left her place. She asked me why I never kissed her.

I thought that was the most ridiculous question ever.

“Because I don’t kiss girls!”

She knew this, remember I been told her all the gays were going to hell. I went to church every Sunday so clearly I wasn’t going to hell.

But all the next day I would wonder…”Hmmm…why don’t I ever kiss her. Her lips are pretty nice.”

I figure I can like a girl and not be gay. Looking back I don’t understand how the fact that we were basically dating the whole spring escaped me.

The next time I saw her. I fixed the not kissing her thing.

What came after is none of your noisy ass business. We begin dating consciously.

We begin dating…consciously.

But you remember I was Christian. Very Christian.

So this did not work well for my consciousness. I was a wreck. I would have to take shots to be intimate with her. I was on the “Jesus don’t love me” ride. Blasting Tonex’s “Lord Make Me Over” and crying. Would not hold her hand in public. Would jump when she touched me. All that self-hate shit.  Plus I did not know anything about dating a girl. Did not understand why she expected me to open the door for her cause she was a girl….I was a girl too. Very confused about so much.

We had good times but this did not bode well for starting a relationship. To add to this one of my closest friends was dying from cancer. I was an emotional wreck.

I was getting better though…I might have been down to one shot before. And I only jumped sometimes when she touched me.

I understand now why she eventually ended things. It was a lot. I had my own experience being some extra-Christian woman’s first. I understood even more after that.

(I am almost to the point.)

I spent weeks trying to win her back. Maybe I wasn’t in love, maybe it was deep infatuation. I would write her poetry weekly. They are still saved in my email…some are better than others. But Lorde, I was serious.

She was the closest to love my young heart had experienced. The months that follow was rough. I could not see a place for her in my life as anything other than my lover. Part of this was me not be comfortable with my sexuality. If she was the only girl I ever dated, I could convince myself it was just her and that in general I wasn’t into women. So somehow not as big of a sinner. This is my 21-year old logic.

She taught and showed me how to form a friendship with someone you were so intimately connected with. Eight years later, I can text her at 1am about how ____has moved on and doesn’t want me no more. (This happened last week, I been in my lightskinned feelings). I can go on trips with her. I can hear about her relationships and not feel jealous. Legit be her friend. This took time I got the (email receipts to prove it). This also meant time away from each other. Open communication.

She is finally (kinda) over the fact that she had the Tab who didn’t hold hands in public with girls in public and not the Tab who makes out with women in Baby Gap. (This has not happen but I would be open to it).

I read a facebook post the other day from a friend from college.

“For those of you who have break-ups, just know that love is not limited to a particular person or situation. If you have patience, love will find you again (and again if necessary lol).

For those of you who have a hard time celebrating the successes and happiness of those who you have dated and loved…maybe you did not love them in the first place…maybe you just loved what they were to you.

For those of you who are battling to make a relationship work, because you have invested time, you love the person, and it seems like the both of you are good people outside of the pressures and confines of a relationship… it is possible, though unconventional, to resort back to a friendship, and it may be healthier for you both.

It takes a different way of thinking, a greater understanding of life and love, and an appreciation for the person beyond the relationship once shared…but in the end, “friends can become lovers, and lovers can become friends”.

When I am feeling like I can only be in someone life as their lover. I am reminded of her. I am reminded of her teaching me how to be friends with a former lover. I might have to take time to mourn the person as a lover and have patience imagining what new space we will occupy in each other lives.  The love does not have to go away, like energy it can just be transferred or transform until a new shape. Another type of love.  Transitions. Love has the ability and power to help transform us. When I say I love you I mean that forever. Anyone I have ever loved is still in my life.

I am not very Christian anymore. I am still not gay though.

I wrote this for me. I might currently be in the phase of ceasing communication to stop myself from writing a poem a week to proclaim my love to someone and remind their new boo ain’t got nothing on Tab.  I wrote this to remember what it was like making a lover a friend. You know…a friend that I don’t have sex with. I wrote this because I needed to affirm that things will be ok. I’m be ok.

Oh and just because you waded through this long ass story. Here is an excerpt of a poem I sent during my poem a week to reclaim the love phase. Hey, before you judge let me remind you I was 21.

If you had never ask why I didn’t kiss you
I would have never kissed you
If I had never kissed you
I wouldn’t have wanted to taste you
If I would have never tasted you
I wouldn’t have desired all of you
If I didn’t desire all of you
I would have never ask you to be my girl
If I never asked you to be my girl
It could have never been over
If it had never been over
I would have never try to forget you
If I never tried to forget you
I would have never known how much I valued you
If I never knew how much I valued you
Then I would never had the inspiration to write a poem a week for you
If I never wrote a poem a week for you
Would you have ever known how much I cared for you?

~Just Tab

 

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A untimely love letter…

Hey you,

I remember your grandma.

She was so mean. Mean to a 5-year old is anyone who restricts her chance to play. Your grandmother’s funeral is one of the first I remember attending.

I remember your mom, she wore a lot of jewelry.

Your mother was my kindergarten teacher. At least until she decided she didn’t get paid enough to deal with a too smart child who tried to throw a chair at her. It was decided that Mrs. Knight’s class was more suited to dealing with a child like me. Despite our “interactions,” I always liked your mom.

I remember you.

You would visit your mother’s class. You were in your 1st or 2nd year at State. I thought you were so cute. Funny the things I remember about my 5-year-old self. Your mom and everybody was so proud of you. You were the “dream.” An example of the kind of child a Black single mother could raise- excellent student, man of God and handsome. You stayed with a fitted shirt showing off those muscles. I can see the pressure you were always under to be perfect, to be an achiever. I think people like us- who are what our elders deem as respectable and admirable (minus that one thing) struggle with perfection. Our difference, our queerness drives us to achieve these unrealistic standards of perfection. You were a Black male coming to age in a Black religious working class community. You were the dream…the hope.

The early 90’s were a time that more and more Black people had to face the fact that AIDS was not just a white gay male disease. It was something that infected us, too. Many times we never put a name to the disease that claimed our brothers and sisters, the official statement from families was that it was cancer or pneumonia that claimed their loved ones. Which of course, was true in many cases, but they were opportunistic infections due to immune systems being compromised because of HIV/AIDS.  Often our churches and places of worship failed us. Be it through preaching that HIV/AIDS was a plague sent by God to punish those engaging in sexual deviant acts. Or through the defining silence.

My Lorde, I can’t imagine what it was like growing up in this era navigating hegemonic notions of Blackness with your own sexual desires. I will never know your internal journey, but you presented excellence. Pledging a NPHC frat, graduating with a Masters and having one of them good jobs.

Growing up I saw you at conventions and church events. From afar I observed your journey to the ministry. Big Daddy had everybody preaching at that church. You had grown up in that church, you were everybody’s golden boy. An example of the type of good Black man that the church could raise. But then again you were always suspect. Never really received fully by the men in the church.

In high school while I ignored my queerness in many ways, I was also surrounded by many young men. Men I imagine who were not much different from you. Young men raised in the church but who struggled reconciling their sexuality and their relationship to God. I would hear stories about you.  Particularly your friendship with one of those young men. Your falling down and getting back up. The shame you felt after sexual experiences and your desire not to do those things anymore. I am trying to remember what gay dating site you were on then.  My mind is blanking. The young man you had that friendship with, is now on Facebook testifying about the power of deliverance.

As I moved away from home I heard less about you. I would see you from time to time on breaks. Looking buff and shit. We were Facebook friends. When I think of you- I envision the picture you took at the southernmost point in Key West. Beautiful brown skin and muscles rippling. You were a beauty.

Flash forward to early this summer, pictures of you came across my newsfeed. Pictures that claim to be you but they did not look like the man I have known almost my entire life. Physically you were smaller and look tired. There were no muscles, your clothes looked to big. I immediately called my father and asked him what was going on with you.

He mentioned he thought he saw you at a church event. When he saw you leave you looked like a ghost of a man. He wasn’t even sure it was you, but the person he saw got into the kind of car you drive. After asking some people at your church, he relayed the news that you were sick to me. I ask some of our mutual friends about you, but they didn’t know much.

The images I saw of you haunted me.

I posted on May 17th 

“When Deliverance was never enough”(Random thoughts to a man):
I sure hope it was worth it. Spending your life never really being true to yourself. Trying to please your church and your frat and whoever else. In the end what do you have? Cause with all your fronting and searching for deliverance they still never picked you. You worked harder than anyone but still they never saw you. From my outside perspective all I see is a middle aged man searching for happiness and fulfillment externally- all the while self-hatred is eating you up internally. Here’s to hoping that one day you will say “Fuck you” to whatever religion or entity that taught you to hate the divine being God created you as. It’s never too late to live an authentic life.

Reading that I see that my response was riddled in judgment. It lacked empathy and critique of the systems that regulate Black masculinity. Who am I to judge anyone? It’s been almost 2 years since I have been home and the sexuality thing factors into my absence more than I care to admit. My critique should have dealt with systemic and institutional oppression. I don’t know what internal struggles or resolutions you came to in your life. I do wish you knew that it was a better way.

A little over a week ago, my newsfeed was flooded with prayers for you. I called my dad, asking what happen to you. He found out that you were in a coma, dealing with the advance stages of cancer. They said the family isn’t disclosing many details. My heart sunk. I watch people flood your wall with well-wishes, prayers and later remembrances. I wonder how many of these people who professed to love you were complicit in your death. I wonder how many people really knew you. Allowed you to be the divine creature God create you to be. I wonder who was with you as you took your last breathe.

I asked my dad did he know if you had a partner. He said at your ordination there was no woman there as your girlfriend. No woman sitting in the area reserved for wives or wives to be of ministers. I asked my dad was there a male there. He said he didn’t think so, but if there was that person would not have been recognized.

I wonder who you loved. Who loved you. I wonder if at the end of your life did you have a lover holding your hand…someone to ease you into the next world.

I hear your mom is not doing good, she is also in the hospital. She wasn’t even able to make it to your homegoing service.

I don’t know your official diagnoses, but I do know what killed you.

Toxic theologies.

If we did not internalized some of the homophobia we were feed, where would we be?

I want to end this letter with an excerpt from a book (I stay quoting this book). The character George has secretly engaged in relationship with males his whole life. Something he was ashamed of. At the end of the book, he dies. Due to the details given and time period we can assume the disease is AIDS.

George’s senses were the first parts of his soul to die, so that the boundaries of one passed away into the others, and for a few of his last moments in the work he could see touch, and hear smell, and feel taste. As he lay sunken in his sickbed, undignified and emaciated, little more than a pile of twigs, a cricket of a man, on the threshold of a shameful death, he suddenly remembered his boyhood. Down Georgia. Where he once ran barefooted in tobacco fields, his feet barely touching the hot ground, his face to the sun. As he lay in bed, now too weak to move, the crumbly smell of Georgia bird songs danced before his clouded eyes. The salty tastes of down-south sunsets were loud on his lesioned skin. And he remembered knowing he was good then. A good boy who did what he was told and helped his mother with the washing and knew God. He remembered climbing trees and how his skinny legs looked like two more branches as he sat high and leaned his head against the breathing trunk. He had known then that he was part of creation, made by God with intention, pure and right as grass and bees. He did not know the moment when he had forgotten it, the moment when his desire for other boys’ mouths and hands and things started to mean that he was not good, not something the Lord made. He had spent his life since  moving from moment to moment between longing and shame, and as he lay on his deathbed he could no longer remember or understand the self-hatred he had carried for so long a time. He could no longer taste the scorn, once like a stew on which he had gorged and fattened himself all the days of his life.

But he could remember the taste of Chuck’s quiet eyes, and the ruddy smell of Butch’s voice. He could hear Robert’s smooth skin now, and see James’ silly and abundant heart. And the same for all of them. Louis. And Bud. And Tony. And Richard. And Red. And the boy with the cigarette behind his ear and the eight-shaped scar above his lip, who never said a word but smiled almost to laughing the whole time they were together. And the man behind the shed by the train tracks, who shuddered and cried like a child when he came, and held George to him for hours in the dark. And so many others. He remembered them now, not with the deep hatred of himself with which he had always tried to forget them, a deep hatred which his dying mind and body could no longer clearly recall, but with as much joy and light as the coming of sure death would allow him. They had all been so beautiful, black and soft, brown and wiry, red and lithe. Southern boys the color of Georgia earth, who had run in the same tobacco fields, with their faces to the same sun and the sounds of the birds on their same skin. They had been more than his lovers, more than secret tousles in tree-hidden places. They had been his kin, too, they had been of him and of God. In his last moment, he did not have to wish that he had seen that truth before, that he had understood more, that he had loved them better, and himself. When the shame fell away, ashenly, quietly forgotten, it was as if he had always known, and that trick of memory was a tender mercy before he died.”  (McKenzie, The Summer We Got Free)

I don’t pretend to know where we go when we die. I don’t believe in hell, so I question if there is a heaven. But I pray you received the same type of solace when you took your last breathe. That whatever shame you held drifted away. That you knew you were something the Lord made, that you were/are of God, that you were made with intention. That you were/ are loved.

Your death is a reminder and a push for me to go back home. That in our hometown we need more examples so that those that come behind us don’t suffer the same issues we did. You are a reflection of me.

I remember you and all that you push me to be.

Rest in Power.

~Just Tab

These are my memories and my perceptions. I do realize that they may not be his truth or his expierences.

 
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Posted by on November 10, 2015 in HIV/AIDS, Learning bout Tab!

 

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When You Can’t Do Teach- Teaching the Erotic

“S and I was snap-chatting all weekend about how Professor Chester’s knows soooo much about us.” –Student

I made my students write biomythographies. We read Audre Lorde’s Zami, since she is the prototype. Students were resistant, they always are when they have to talk about themselves. Be vulnerable. We did free writes in the days leading up to the assignment. Overall, I was pleased with the work they put in. The student was right, I know a lot about them now.

When you can’t do teach.

Reading their words made me reflect on the honesty of my writing. My ability to be vulnerable. Reading Zami always pushes me to interrogate my identity, the feeling was even stronger coupled with these 18-22-year-olds grappling with who they are and who they want to be.

This week we are reading another favorite of mine, The Summer We Got Free (one of the perks of my job I get to force people to read my favorite books with me).

The opening lines…

“Ava did not remember the taste of butter. It had been seventeen years since she had last moaned at the melt of hot-buttered cornbread on her tongue. She was not bothered in the least about it, because she did not know that she did not remember. At breakfast, when she dropped a square of butter on grits, or on yams at dinner, and laid a spoonful of either on her tongue, she believed what she tasted was butter. She did not know that she was only tasting milkfat and salt, the things that make up butter, which, of course, is not the same thing. She certainly did not know that the taste of butter was a thing that had once made her moan. Ava did not remember what it was to moan” – Mia McKenzie, The Summer We Got Free

I love the beginning. Its sets the book up beautifully. Beyond that, it resonated with me. I mean it has been almost 5 years since I tasted “real” butter. The funny thing about taking certain things out of your diet you tend to forget the taste. I remember the feeling I got eating things like pork chops (I wrote poetry about it) or macaroni and cheese…but I don’t remember the taste. I eat “vegan” pizza and enjoy it. It is my normal, now it is what pizza should taste like to me. I don’t really remember how cheese taste, yet in the back of my mind I know I am missing something.

Watching other people eat pizza, they seem almost orgasmic. I enjoy pizza but it in no way borders on a erotic experience.

I remember rolling on my bathroom floor after stuffed crust pizza first came out, moaning “My tummy gonna explode.” Moments before I stuffed slice after slice in my mouth.  Unable to control myself from the buttery cheesy crust.

I enjoy pizza now in nice moderation. Stopping before I am even fully full.

In The Summer We Got Free, Ava’s awakening in the book exemplifies the erotic that Lorde speaks of in “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power”

“During World War II, we bought sealed plastic packets of white, uncolored margarine, with a tiny, intense pellet of yellow coloring perched like a topaz just inside the clear skin of the bag. We would leave the margarine out for a while to soften, and then we would pinch the little pellet to break it inside the bag, releasing the rich yellowness into the soft pale mass of margarine. Then taking it carefully between our fingers, we would knead it gently back and forth, over and over, until the color had spread throughout the whole pound bag of margarine, thoroughly coloring it.

I find the erotic such a kernel within myself. When released from its intense and constrained pellet, it flows through and colors my life with a kind of energy that heightens and sensitizes and strengthens all my experience.” -Audre Lorde, Uses of the Erotic

I am teaching my students to see and understand the erotic as empowering, as a life force, as affirmation, as power.

Theoretically I understand the intense power of the erotic. Someone once told me, that I am good in theory but not so good in practice. I am a preacher who can preach beautifully about the pitfalls of sin and the power of deliverance, yet am unable to find that deliverance in my life.

When you can’t do teach.

When I am honest about myself, I know that the power of the erotic that Lorde speak of is absent from my life. The creative life-force that color one’s life…that empowers one to change is barely visible.

I get glimpses of it and its power. Those glimpses have inspired me to write over the few last week’s more than I have in months. It inspired me to create a practice. To open myself up and embrace vulnerabilities. I feel it. I can see it changing me.

However, the pellet that is the erotic is constrained. Only really moving or coloring certain aspects of my life. The key to accomplish the change needed to demand more from myself and those around me is to let those aspects of color paint my whole life. But rather than “evaluate those aspects honestly in terms of their relative meaning within our lives” I am here unable to find the words to return two emails and one voicemail. To try something new and claim my happiness in a different way.

When you can’t do teach.

As a child growing up in the church often pastors would say that the “word” they were giving was for themselves.

As a professor sometimes the lessons I craft are for myself. So I am hoping that my pedagogy can help both me and my students get a bit freer and embrace our erotic as power.

But until I can do it, I will teach the good news of Lorde and Black Feminism.

When was the last time butter (or anything) made you moan?

~JustTab

 
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Posted by on October 20, 2015 in Academia, Ima Read, Learning bout Tab!

 

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Sleep Deprivation, Misogyny and Thug life.

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Around 3:30 am, Tuesday morning I pulled into a 7-11 somewhere in Maryland.

At this point, Mercedes and I had been driving for a couple of hours. She had to work that day so I told her she should sleep some.

Perhaps I should explain why I was in Maryland at 3am. I spent the previous weekend in Montreal for a Theatre conference. I should have been home Sunday night but due to bad weather, I missed my connecting flight in Toronto. I ended up at the hotel the airline got for me at 1:30 am, after landing in Toronto at 8:30pm. This meant no dinner for Tab. I have a lot of unkind things to say about Toronto’s airport and AirCanada but I can do that later. My new flight left Monday at 8:30am. Which meant I needed to be up before 6am to catch the shuttle to the airport.

Still wearing the same clothes from the previous day. I landed in Columbus at 10am.

Great. Tab can rest! Naw. Mercedes and I previously decided we would take her three nieces back to Philly on Monday. They had been staying with us for two weeks.  So I rented a car and drove to Philly, leaving a lot later than I originally planned. Remember I was supposed to be home Sunday night, in bed by 11pm. But since I am thug and driving long distance runs in my blood, the 8 hour drive (with kids) was not a problem.

Three kids, three different mommas meant I was playing bus driver making multiple stops. The run also included getting some of Mercedes stuff from her old place to bring back to Columbus. I had to pretend like being in a basement at after midnight didn’t scare this never had a basement Florida girl. Plus, I gotta impress my lady and show off my Crossfit strength.

Tab: “Don’t worry boo…what box you need? I got this.

You know I still aint really had meal since brunch the previous day. The thing about the drive to Philly, it is really expensive, $60 in tolls roundtrip. Damn, the Pennsylvania Turnpike. However, your girl was feeling bold and cheap. So I decided to take another route. Technically it was 45 min longer but would save $30. That’s like a lap dance and a half. We got on the road around 1 am but for some reason all the entrance to the highway was blocked. We spent almost an hour trying to get on. Remember, ya’ll I still haven’t really eaten or slept. The plan was to stop get some fruit for me during the drive. The first place was some rest stop type place. It was $5 for thing of grapes. Hell no. I ended getting a banana for free because the lady didn’t know how to charge me for it. So, since I was still hungry I stopped at the 7-eleven, I figured it would be cheaper.

Yeah. That was long intro. Hope you are still with me.

When I pulled up I notice this black man playing music in his car. He looked about 30ish. Nice beard and good build. I walked in and got what I came for. Mercedes is still in the car, half sleep. As I was in line, I noticed him talking to this woman. She was paying for her stuff and she appeared to either be going to work or just getting off.

She was clearly not interested in dude.

W: I’m married.

M: How long has that been a problem?

W: It’s not a problem for you, it aint a problem for me.

The man continues his advances.

Tab is in line behind them. And of course she has to say something.

Tab: “Yo, clearly she isn’t interested. Chill man”.

M: “Who the fuck was talking to you? Mind your fucking business.”

Can we just say that went from 15 to 100 real quick! I am not letting anybody talk to me like that. So me and dude went back and forth until he left. During this time he told me I was lucky the police was across the street and that I was a female. He also mentioned going to my car and getting at my girl. I pretty much told him he wasn’t going to do a god damn thing and he was an ignorant ass motha fucka…among other things. When I left he is staring at me smiling from his car. I pulled off and he attempts to try to follow me and scare me. He got stopped at a light and I sped off to the highway. I guess I will never know if he was really trying to follow me and do me harm or was just trying to scare me.

What bothered me the most about this situation was the (lack of) response of the other two Black men present. When the guy left, the clerk asks me if I knew him. I tell him hell no, I have never seen that man before. The clerk tells me I am “a tough lady.” He tells me that guy has been bothering every women that walked in and he should have left her alone because she said she was married. I told him even if she wasn’t married he should have left her alone.

As I drove away I reflected on how vulnerable women are in this world. This man watched another man verbal harass several women and threaten to assault me. Yet, he did nothing and said nothing. He could have easily asked the man to leave the store or even called the cops (who were camped out in the parking lot across the street). But he didn’t. Him and the other employee sat silently by despite knowing the man was wrong.

I am left wondering where are the men who will interrupt patriarchy and misogyny. Who will say not on my watch, not in front of me. Who will make it their business to speak up. I want my brothers to know that their silence makes them complicit. That their silence will never protect them.

Until then I guess I will have to stay on my thug life swag.

While I can joke about this now. I do want to acknowledge how scared I was. In that moment, I didn’t have the luxury to show fear.

I have never directly experience such aggression from a man. The reality was I had no clue where I was, what this man was capable of and despite the other men presence, I was alone.

I drove away fully awake but oh so tired.

~JustTab

 

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