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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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The evolution of an ex-Christian

He asked me.
I’m lying in bed pretty much sleep it’s Sunday morning.
“Tab you going to church?”
“No why?” I mumble back half sleep not moving my head from my pillow to answer.
“You just need to come sometime.”

My father never directly asks me to go to church. I know he wants me to. I went on Father’s Day and to a service at the convention for him. Because I knew it would make it him happy and hell it was a cheap gift.

Even as teenager he never asked me to go to church. I went when I wanted to and I mostly used school theatre productions as an excuse not to go. When I moved back to from college I tried to attend at least once a month. Again for them. My mom has always been more vocal about her desire to see me in church. Perhaps speaking the things he really wants to say.

Hearing him telling me I need to come woke me completely up. I doubt he realizes but this is my last Sunday in West Palm Beach this summer. I mostly do what my parents want. Never been downright disobedient and they rarely tell me things to do. While most people won’t see this as me being forced but due to my current financial situation and pretty much being dependent on them- I doubt I really have much choice. More reason to finish dissertation pronto.

I have no clue why they want me to go but let’s make this clear. Going to church won’t me a Christian, it won’t make me straight and it won’t stop me from being their very different daughter. This blog has been sitting in my heart/head for a minute- still not sure I have all the words to explain/ articulate my current journey but I’m going to try. Bear with me.

Even as a child I was very critical of the religious tradition I was born into. I would take notes during my father’s sermon. Not to remember the key points but to later tell him all the concepts I did not buy. Predestination was one such concepts. I often wondered how I could believe that Christianity was the only way, because if I was born to Muslim parents I would believe Islam was the only way. So much of one’s belief depends on the belief of their parents. In my opinion the fact that my parents were Christians was never a good enough reason for me to be a Christian. I always said when I was older I wanted to explore other spiritual practices.

In college I went to church practically every Sunday. My friend and I called ourselves “church hoppers” due to ridiculous number of churches we visited. Close to the end of my time in Tallahassee I eventually found one I liked. The reason I went church had little to do with any type of religious need. But more of a need to feel close to my family at home, cultural reasons and structure. Tallahassee and FSU was the type of place where all the Blacks went to church. It was the cool thing to do. I knew that although I was far away from home- this was something that my family was also doing. I liked the routine of it. Church, nap, Sunday dinner. It was comforting in a lot of ways just not spiritually fulfilling.

While in Philly for my Master’s I attended church regularly as well. Philly in a lot of ways was a transitional period for me. I started questioning how Christianity fitted in my life. Part of this was triggered by  meeting so many Blacks who weren’t Christians for the first time. Being exposed to traditional African Religions (even though that was a little scary, right Atira?). Also dealing with issues of sexuality in relation to my own personal practice of Christianity all led me to really evaluate how Christianity worked for me.

Moving to Arizona prompted me to fully pull away from Christianity. I was over disappointing church experiences, the messages felt irrelevant in my life. Frankly I was tired of judgmental hate speak thinly disguised as sermons. I think the more you know about Christianity and your connection to African/Black history, the harder it is to be a Christian and to ignore the colonialist, patriarchal and racist legacy of the religion. It was even harder for me to face how much I had internalized those very things. Envisioning God Black has always been so much easier to me than envisioning God as a woman-let alone a Black women. I remember how offended I was the first time I had ever heard someone refer to God as a woman. That speaks directly to internalize sexism that I inherited from  the way Christianity was practiced around me.

I used to say I was a bad Christian because I never had the desire to “save” people, Never thought people needed saving. Then I would say I was a fan of Jesus not his followers. Which became I believe but I do not want to be identified as a Christian. To finally verbalizing and understanding that while Christianity maybe the only way for some people it is not the only way for me. I am not a fan of the arrogance and the exclusivity of Christianity. Of its need to dominate and change people. Of its insistence of righteousness.

But I can go on and on about what I do not believe or my issues with Christianity but it might be more beneficial for me to tell you what I do believe.

I don’t believe there is one way or one true religion. For the most they are all the same. Some work better for others. I like the concept of one God, many spirits and ancestor worship. I woke up at 4am this morning, Somehow I started reading my favorite spiritual book The Color Purple. The gospel according to Shug Avery has always made sense to me in a way that Christianity didn’t.

Here’s the thing, say Shug. The thing I believe. God is inside you and inside everybody else. You come into the world with God. But only them that search for it inside find it. And sometimes it just manifest itself even if you not looking, or don’t know what you looking for. Trouble do it for most folks, I think. Sorrow, lord. Feeling like shit.

It? I ast.

Yeah, It. God ain’t a he or a she, but a It.

But what do it look like? I ast.

Don’t look like nothing, she say. It ain’t a picture show. It ain’t something you can look at apart from anything else, including yourself. I believe God is everything, say Shug. Everything that is or ever was or ever will be. And when you can feel that, and be happy to feel that, you’ve found It.

……………………………………………

Oh, she say. God love all them feelings. That’s some of the best stuff God did. And when you know God loves ’em you enjoys ’em a lot more. You can just relax, go with everything that’s going, and praise God by liking what you like.

God don’t think it dirty? I ast.Naw, she say. God made it. Listen, God love everything you love—and a mess of stuff you don’t. But more than anything else, God love admiration.

You saying God vain? I ast

Naw, she say. Not vain, just wanting to share a good thing. I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.

What it do when it pissed off? I ast.

Oh, it make something else. People think pleasing God is all God care about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.

Yeah? I say.

Yeah, she say. It always making little surprises and springing them on us when us least expect.

You mean it want to be loved, just like the bible say.

Yes, Celie, she say. Everything want to be loved. Us sing and dance, make faces and give flower bouquets, trying to be loved. You ever notice that trees do everything to git attention we do, except walk?

Well, us talk and talk bout God, but I’m still adrift.Trying to chase that old white man out of my head. I been so busy thinking bout him I never truly notice nothing God make. Not a blade of corn (how it do that?) not the color purple (where it come from?). Not the little wildflowers. Nothing.

Now that my eyes opening, I feels like a fool. Next to any little scrub of a bush in my yard, Mr. ____’s evil sort of shrink. But not altogether. Still, it is like Shug say, You have to git man off your eyeball, before you can see anything a’tall.

Man corrupt everything, say Shug. He on your box of grits, in your head, and all over the radio. He try to make you think he everywhere. Soon as you think he everywhere, you think he God. But he ain’t. Whenever you trying to pray, and man plop himself on the other end of it, tell him to git lost, say Shug. Conjure up flowers, wind, water, a big rock.

But this hard work, let me tell you. He been there so long, he don’t want to budge. He threaten lightening, floods and earthquakes. Us fight. I hardly pray at all. Every time I conjure up a rock, I throw it. (Walker 168-69)

I could quote The Color Purple at length all day. In many ways it has been the influential book I have ever read. As far as religion, I am not interested in being a part of any religion. I am more concern with my own spiritual growth and my connection to the divine inside of me. I appreciate and respect the cultural tradition of Black Christianity- it is one of the reasons I love Gospel music so much. I even enjoy sermons but I find myself engaging with them from a performance or intellectual level not a spiritual one. I am extremely grateful for Black liberation theology helping salvage my connection to Jesus. I am huge fun of the way Liberation Theology  depicts Jesus as a crusader for the poor and the oppressed.. This is why on most Sundays I tune into Trinity United Church of Christ service online. I treat the Bible like any other religious text I take what is good and helpful to me and disregard the rest.

This journey of spirituality and belief is far from over. Every day is a new discovery and page. I try to keep myself away from toxic environments or things that I don’t think help me grow spiritually.

I think I am over a lot of the resentment, hurt and pain that I experience through church and because of the mindset Christianity often instills. But some baggage is still there. I try to remember the good and the positive. The potential that the institution of the Black church holds- This is an aspect on why my academic focus is what it is. For those who believe in Christianity or that’s the path they choose I want it to be a liberating and freeing experience for them. Where they do not have to deny parts of themselves in order to belong. I guess I will do a blog post eventually explaining what my dissertation project is about and how it relates to this goal. In so many ways I am a product of the Black church, but I do not have to be a part of it when spiritually and religiously it does not work for me,

This blog is not as coherent as I would like. I am working through this journey. I just wanted to share a part of my evolution away from Christianity and towards the divinity within. Bring on the holy water and people trying to save my poor lost soul.

I am obedient.

I went to church today.

Didn’t didn’t change a thang. For so long I wished that Christianity made sense for me. I am a child- I want to make my parents proud. But there is a point when the price of their pride became too expensive.

I choose freedom over pride.

~JustTab

With the utmost respect and love for whatever spiritual/religious path you are on…

(Sorry for the length and lack of cute pictures)

 
 

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