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A Meditation on Love: City of Refuge

I been missing something, I did not know to miss.

When I was 19, I spent way too much time watching wedding shows. That is the only time I can recall ever wanting a wedding. Outside of potential tax breaks, marriage was never something I desired. My visions of a future did not include images of a romantic partner. I told my parents long ago that I will be there one child who does not get married. No worries, my siblings got married enough for all of us.

I firmly believe that marriage is an archaic, patriarchal and oppressive institution. However, this belief does not explain why I never desired long-term romantic partner(s). Perhaps subconsciously I didn’t think it was possible for me. The examples of long term partnerships that I saw did not interest me. Perhaps, I did not think long term partnerships were available for someone like me. Especially as I begin identifying as queer.

I was raised in a world that taught me that queer folks were not worthy of love. While, I have done a lot of work to correct this belief- It is still something that lingers in the corners of my mind

At the end of 2017, I finally made it to “The Bay.” San Francisco and Oakland are kinda iconic for Black Queer Folks. This is where Marlon Riggs, Sylvester and Pomo Afro Homos created iconic works. Oakland is where the Black Panther Party was founded. for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf debuted in Berkeley bars. “The Bay” has always been a place I felt I knew, without ever being there. So you you know I had to stan out as a “tourist.”

Attending Bishop Yvette Flunder’s City of Refuge Church, was at the top of my to-do list. I have been following her ministry and work for years. I skipped out on going to SoulCycle with my friend to attend service. The last time I went church I left in tears and the reminder that church is a violent place for people like me. However, I knew that Bishop Flunder made space for people like me.

I don’t have the words to describe what it felt like to watch queer people of color be themselves as they worship and praise. What it meant to hear queer folk talk unapologetically about being HIV positive. To know how much harm the Black church inflicted during height of the AIDS epidemic, while also being in a church that was giving free HIV test during the service. The Sunday I went happen to coincide with World AIDS Day and the sermon was done by a HIV+ minister. That despite not being a believer, that I could fully show up and be seen.

Up until I was 20 years old I thought all Black lesbians were chronically unemployed who got kicked out of their mother’s houses. I was probably 23 before I stopped associating lesbians with predators. While my access and understanding of the queer community has grown significantly, it is still limited. Sitting at City of Refuge, I was surrounded by Black queer people of all ages. I saw something I rarely see in our youth obsessed culture, mature and elderly queer Black couples. I can’t think of ever seeing a representation of an elderly queer Black couple in the media or in my life growing up. But here I was surrounded by queer Black folk with grey hair and aging bodies-holding hands and loving each other. I could not help but wonder how my capacity for love might have been expanded if I knew this was possible at an earlier age. Would I have had the desire to share a life with a partner(s)? Having access to only heterosexual and monogamous models of love does us such a disservice.

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Walking thru the Casto and found the Bishop giving cover girl looks

Bishop Flunder wasn’t there young Tab would have left, but her wife Mother Shirley Miller was. Their love story has lasted over thirty years. They were open about their love in the highly homophobic gospel music industry, while also doing ministry as an out lesbian couple in the 90s. They toured with Walter Hawkins and The Love Center Choir. Shirley is also Walter’s cousin. Hawkins’ church, The Love Center would come to embrace the Sylvester James at the end of his life and Flunder would serve as his spiritual council. So much Black queer iconic history wrapped up in Hawkins and Flunder’s ministry. (Go watch Sylvester’s Unsung).

When speaking of their love in a 2014 interview, Bishop Flunder states: “You know, one of our church members said the reason why our church has grown so much over the years is not because of our programs. It’s because of our love for each other. Our love has shown people that a great love like this is possible.”

I wholeheartedly echo her sentiment, the love that was evident at her church, through Mother Miller’s words and the many Black queer people present in the sanctuary challenged me to think about love and expand my own desire for it in my life. I left City of Refuge wanting to cry, thinking about all the time I spent never even considering the possibility of having someone(s) continually love me. That somehow, I was taught that being Black and queer meant love was temporary and fleeting- that in the end I would be alone.

That day I learned how much I needed mature and elderly Black queer people in my life. I get so much joy from being around and seeing Black queer families and couples. But I can’t help but feel angry, that I was deprived of these representations and models for much of my life. While I still have no desire to be married, experiences like the one I had at City of Refuge opens me up to love in new ways. It reminds that I can create define partnership and family in affirming ways.

Shirley Miller is 12 years older than Yvette Flunder, their age gap love gives me hope. You know I like em’ older.

~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 few words on intentionality…

Is there anyone that you didn’t treat quite right?

My memory of how it started is similar to my memories of almost all of my relationships.

It just happened. I didn’t plan it. I didn’t even know she was interested in me. Things that I am still saying to this day.

I am a charmer and I am a flirt. Most days I am doing both without even realizing. On our last day of class together, I started to think that maybe she was flirting with me. When I saved her number in my phone, I wasn’t entirely sure what her name was. I never paid that much attention to my classmates. I invited her out to a party, turns out she was crushing on me all semester. I was curious about her, one thing made her different from all the other straight girls that have been interested in me. Conversations about our differences led to dating. Of course, I convinced myself that we were not dating. Yet, I treated her like we were. I took her on dates, brought her gifts, etc. So despite me verbalizing that I could never see us together. That difference of hers- was something I had no interest of dealing with in a relationship. I put all kinds of stipulations on our interactions. Not sleeping over. Not being friends on Facebook. Or holding hands in public. Things that were ridiculous and expressed more about my discomfort with who I was than the value of this woman. Looking back, I can see how amazing she was and my inability to accept it. I allowed her to love me in a way I had no interest in returning. At times, I used her as a boost to my fragile ego. We all want to be wanted, but I was doing it at the expense of someone’s heart and emotions. My actions were the epitome of selfishness and immaturity, even though I told myself it was her choice to engage with me.

The situation helped me understand the importance of intentionality and being intentional about love. A lesson I am still learning. In any and all relationships, it is important to be conscious about how you envision that person in your life. To be purposeful about the energy you carry with you. But to also be knowledgeable of what the other person’s intentions are. As a person that just like things to play out (with relationships- I like planning and order in other aspects of my life) this has been hard for me. I am getting too old to continue saying things like “It just happened,” things don’t just happen- we allow them to.

Today’s post is really a reminder to myself about my past failures in the hopes that I will continue to do better in the future. I am grateful for experiences that challenge me to grow. I don’t have to be trifling my whole life…

~JustTab

 
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Posted by on June 16, 2015 in Learning bout Tab!

 

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motion

Where should I begin? A lot has happen since my last post. I will venture to say for a variety of reasons this has been one of the most emotional months I have had in a long time. But through it all I am blessed. Summers have always been the time that I grow the most and with growing comes a certain amount of growing pains. There is no progress without struggle.  I defended my dissertation June 28- I passed with minor revisions. I turn in the revisions on Monday.

Dissertation Defense

I am humbled and grateful for the feedback of my dissertation committee. One of committee members told me how impressed she was with the amount of work I was able to accomplish in 9 months while also teaching. I am often my biggest critic and it is hard for me to take time to celebrate my accomplishments in the way that other people do. Its far easier for me to focus on my inadequacies. I have a PhD at 26, but yet I am still unemployed, searching for the next step in my life. At times I feel like I am not even close to where I want to be. Creating the life that I want is way harder than I imagined. As  happy as I am to say that I am not a student, I know I will miss the structure of that life. I excel in collegiate and graduate environments not because I am so smart, but because I understood that world. I knew what the requirements was to finish and I methodologically charted a plan to complete those requirements in the most efficient way. Within the first 2 months of undergrad I planned what classes to take and when in order to finish in 3 years…I finished in 2.5 years. So while my defense was a celebratory event, it triggered anxiety and depression.

Last Saturday my little brother got married to Brittannie Stanley in Florence, Alabama.

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I drove there with 3 of my sister’s kids and Mercedes.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The trip was beyond interesting and extremely draining. I maintain that I do not ever want children of my own. If you ever catch me pregnant, either my birth control slipped up or the condom broke. I did not drive the children back, but I am pretty sure they made it home safely. At one point I was dreading attending the nuptials, I am not good around people especially church people.  Weddings tend to bring up all kinds of emotion for people, not always good ones. As a safety precaution I invited 3 people, none of whom had met the bride and one person I hadn’t even met before. But thankfully I didn’t need it. Brittannie’s family was beyond amazing and welcoming. I am in awe of how beautiful her family was to me, my friends and my family. I felt a level of acceptance and love that I rarely experience.

I was a bridesmaid in the wedding, the only bridesmaid that didn’t go to college or grow up in Alabama with Brittannie. I packed a dress to wear to the rehearsal  and rehearsal dinner. Since my plan of buying new sandals and getting a pedicure didn’t happen I ended up wearing a polo button up, some pink gap chinos and Sperrys. Mercedes said I was cute. I showed up to the church- all the other bridesmaids had on dresses looking like southern belles with their pretty permed hair. I immediately felt out of place, even though the boys looked like they had just fell out of bed. I realized then that I wasn’t as comfortable with my gender performance as I thought I was. Let me be clear my discomfort was not caused by anything other than my own insecurity. I wanted a dress on so bad in that moment. But by the next day it was my shaved sides and my differences that made me not only stand out but made me beautiful. Being comfortable with who you are is always a process.

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I told the lady who did my makeup that I did not need waterproof mascara. There was no way I was going to cry. Damnit I am a THUG. I have seen 4 seasons of The Wire ( my summer project). But I will be damned if my eyes did not start watering and my lips started to quiver when Brittannie walked down the aisle to Jeremiah. I don’t think I ever seen my brother so happy. It was like he transformed to a man in front of my eyes.

That was Saturday, Sunday my grandfather made his transition. His health had been declining but he was doing better when we left Florida. He was my last living grandparent. I am grateful for his life and that I got a chance to spend sometime with him in June.

Granddad and dad

He kinda remembered me. As with both of my father’s parents they left me years before they died. The loss of memory is a hell of a thing. The funeral was today but I am in North Carolina for a conference. I feel like I am absent too much sometimes. At some point I am going to have to face what  I am running from. Three weeks has been the longest period I have spent in Florida since the move back…I could barely take it. Just itching for an escape.  Maybe I am running from my parents love. I have never really been able to believe in the concept of unconditional love. There is always conditions…

This is long. There is more I should share. Mercedes came for three weeks. I am not moving to Philadelphia. Maybe Charlotte though…still figuring things out. Remind me to tell you the story about how I officially became a heathen. My heart is a little frozen now, still deciding if I want to thaw it out.

Until the next time…may the peace and light of Blue Ivy’s smile be with you.

-Just Tab

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Ramblings mixed with some truth

I find myself wanting and needing all these things that I was once afraid to even dream about.

I am finding the courage to say I need my hand held.

and my back rubbed.

That I want to share my life with people that matter and who care.

I am becoming aware that I crave the touch of another person who knows me and puts in the work to know me even better.

I am picturing Christmases and Memorial Day weekends filled with joy and family.

Sharing Tuesday night dinners that are so routine but yet amazing simply because it shows me I can depend on something and someone.

I am overcoming the delusion that I want navigate this life by myself.

I know that can…but I choose not to.

The scariest thing is not saying that I want a life that is surrounded by love and that I need to be loved.

The scariest thing is living a life devoid of love.

 

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” ~ I Corinthians 13:13

 

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2013 in Learning bout Tab!

 

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People are still doing this?!?!?!

You would think that in 2012 this would have gone out of style. That people would evolve beyond this…

In my life I really try not to judge other people life choices. It is their life and they can do whatever that want with it . Even if I do not personally agree with it I still try to be open to others thoughts and ideas.

One thing I personally don’t believe in is marriage. Despite my parents being married for 27 years I think it pointless institution.

However, there are people who don’t agree with me and they have decided to partake in this outdated system of marriage. Because I love them as people I support their choices. I attend weddings. Hey Atira. I participate in wedding parties. Hey Tasha. So despite my disapproval for this archaic custom I am extremely happy to announce my little brother is taking the monogamous matrimonial plunge.

This is what he wants and its what makes him happy. Who am I to judge the efficacy of this descicion?

Plus I really like Brittannie, she has been around for a good little while. We skype occasionally. She understands that when I call my brother it is time for them to end the conversation so that he can talk to me. We spent time with my sister’s children.

Brittannie and I have already discussed the role I would like to play in the wedding. I want to do the wedding. Brittannie is down with this however my brother needs a bit more convincing. I am going to get my minister license online in the mean time.

Just because I think marriage is pointless does not mean I can’t perform them. I think learning long division is pointless but I still learned!

Plenty of my friends are planning to get hitched to their partners very soon. Please understand I am so about attending weddings. Partaking in the open bar. Dancing with your drunk Uncles or kid cousins. Taking a groomsmen or perhaps a bridesmaid home. I will even bring you a gift.

Anyway I am excited to welcome a new member to the Chester family. The fact that once Jeremiah is married all my dad’s children minus me will be. This does not place any pressure on me to make the same mistakes they are making.

Plus if I got married it wouldn’t be..

~Just Tab

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2012 in Learning bout Tab!, Them Black people

 

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I’m good. I’m always good.

“I understand now that the vulnerability I’ve always felt is the greatest strength a person can have. You can’t experience life without feeling life. What I’ve learned is that being vulnerable to somebody you love is not a weakness, it’s a strength.”  ~Elisabeth Shue 

“There can be no vulnerability without risk; there can be no community without vulnerability; there can be no peace, and ultimately no life, without community.” ~M. Scott Peck 

“When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability… To be alive is to be vulnerable.” ~Madeleine L’Engle 

Hi. My name is Tabitha and I have the incessant fear of being vulnerable. This fear most often plays out in my desire for control and my extreme discomfort of not being in control. If you know me at all, this is nothing new to you. You will rarely, if ever get a call from Tabitha in tears or some extreme emotional state. Despite my mental or physical state my response to “how are you?” is always “I’m good,” because the Tabitha that I prefer to show the world is always good and always in control. I have a tendency to deprive myself of things I enjoy be it food, an activity or even a person just to prove to myself that I do not “need” anything. Since I am far from okay with “feeling” things from a personal stand point, I find myself preferring highly emotional music (i.e. love songs and country music), depressing documentary and tragic romance movies. These have become a safe outlet for me to express emotion without the feelings of weakness or personal connection. I have no personal connection to the dog that died in that random country song or the heart that broke in the movie. This allows me to sympathize without personally feeling that pain.

I have an incredible gift of making others feel very safe, open and vulnerable with me without ever reciprocating the same vulnerability or openness with them. I will give my body, my time, my money before ever considering giving my heart to others. I imagine that many people share my fear of vulnerability and the underlying problem of worth. At our core we all desire to be loved and give love freely. Will others still find us worthy of love if we expose all of us? In my heart I know and feel I am worthy of love. Self-esteem issues have never been associated with “that pretty pretty girl” or “The Great”. So what is keeping me from “tearing” down the walls that prevent me from displaying vulnerability in a real way? My independent nature kept me from a lot of the “peer-pressure” issues that many of my friends fell into, but it is also keeping me from forming real connections with others. I hate the feeling of depending on something, mostly because of the possibility of being let down. We have a way of manifesting both our dreams and fears, the energy I have spent on thoughts that people will let me down have manifest into people letting me down. In two separate occasions this month I feel like I’ve expressed to two members of the “inner circle” of Tab, that I needed them in a specific way- something that rarely occurs, for whatever reason they were not able to provide the support I desired from them. Which only strengthen my resolved of independence and desire of not ever needing to be in a position of “needing” anyone in my life. While I have purposely distanced myself from those two individuals, I do realize they probably do not know how I am currently feeling about them. Perhaps I was not as clear about what role I needed them to play as I thought I was. The mature thing would be to express and discuss these feelings with them, but I rather ignore and repress until I am over the disappointment and resentment.

I really wish I was writing this to tell you that I am actively facing my fear of being vulnerable, but I am not. I will probably continue to speak more candidly Oprah’s life than my own. Sharing random news stories or celebrity gossip rather than giving any tangible news about my life. My answer to “How are you?” will continue to be “I’m good. I’m always good.” I will maintain some aspect of distance from all of those around me, never truly trusting others with all of me. While also realizing that in order for me ever to really grow as a person, friend or lover- I will ultimately have to face those fears of vulnerability.

~Just Tab

I really hate these types of blogs- the emotional/ self-reflective type, but when a girl can’t sleep at 4am her thoughts have to go somewhere. I promise there won’t be much more of these type of blogs…

 
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Posted by on August 16, 2011 in Learning bout Tab!

 

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