Preface: I’m not typically one for “hot-take” pieces, but there’s something about Ayesha Curry’s Red Table Talk (and the subsequent social media feedback about who is / who is not a “pick me”) that has caught my attention in so many ways.
I’m not here to debate Ayesha’s feelings, because feelings are very natural things and as stated in the interview, she is working with a support & care team (namely, a therapist) to do that inner work.
But while folks are talking about feelings… I want to talk about the politics of desirability.
The history of sensual and sexual desirability for Black women in America is already a tense one. This was the silent elephant in the room with the Red Table – one that morphed into many shapes and takes on social media.
Evelyn Hammond’s “Toward a Genealogy of Black Female Sexuality: The Problematic of Silence,” explains:
“In the late-nineteenth century, with increasing exploitation and abuse of
black women despite the legal end of slavery, US black women reformers
recognized the need to develop different strategies to counter negative stereotypes of their sexuality which had been used as justifications for the rape, lynching, and other abuses of black women by whites.” (96)
Hammond argues that they did this by conforming to the Victorian codes of morality. Adopting a politic of Victorian era morality and propriety allowed Black women to be seen as “respectable” members of society. Being seen in this way translated to more opportunities for work and material needs. It might have held the promise of a way to participate in society. Moreover, it was a method of survival.
And we are feeling the reverberations.
I felt the reverberations when my Grandma spun tales of “loose women” – whose lives always inevitably ended in a tragedy. I felt the reverberations every time I was told over a Sunday morning sermon that in order to be virtuous and worthy, I had to repress my sexuality. I felt the reverberations every time an uncle or cousin would disparage someone who was “dressed like a hoe.”
Perhaps Ayesha felt them too.
In 2011, Ayesha tweets: “At the auto bell getting a much needed car wash. Don’t really need the men tryna holla though. I’m engaged!! Geez!! Off the market!!”
In 2015, Ayesha tweets: “Everyone’s into barely wearing clothes these days huh? Not my style. I like to keep the good stuff covered up for the one who matters (laugh emoji).”
This digital documentation serves as commentary on Curry’s ‘true womanhood’ by comparing herself to women who ‘barely wear clothes’.
Then, in 2019, Ayesha Curry shares this with the Red Table team after being asked about how she dealt with women being interested in her spouse:
“Obviously you know the devil is a liar, and the ladies will always be lurking, hoping for their moment and waiting. You need to be aware of that…”
“Honestly, I hate it… I don’t like when I feel like, leveled off with somebody. It just irks my nerves.”
This requires deep listening. The first thing that Ayesha Curry does is to signify the disdain she holds for the women who dare to share their sexual attraction with her husband. She does this by using an old saying that comes many Black church contexts: “The devil is a liar.” In this way, she signifies that the devil and the ‘lurking ladies’ are connected. In another breath, she asserts that when her husband is shown attention by other women, she feels “leveled off” with them. Ayesha does not want to feel that in the politics of desirability, she is leveled off with the ‘lurking ladies’.
The rhetoric is all too familiar to me (and to many other Black women healing from spiritualized sexual repression).
In “Private Lives, Proper Relations: Regulating Black Intimacy”, Dr. Candice Jenkins states that in the 19th century, “Special attention was given to the ideal of purity, for perceived sexual immodesty – and any expression of overt sexuality might qualify as such – could banish one from the realm of womanhood entirely… Such a prescription makes clear that the cult of true womanhood was never assumed to include all women.”
So, while I honor Ayesha Curry’s humanity in stating her feelings… I expect more from her. I expect the same of her that I expect from all of my sisters. That we shift. That we discontinue any effort to feel / be desirable or worthy at the expense of those who (through identity or expression) do not fit within this “cult of true womanhood”.
Black women have been navigating both invisibility and sexualization from American society since the 19th century. In doing so, we have made demarkations among ourselves as a survival strategy. But it is something that can not carry us any longer. It does not make us free.
In a recent Facebook post, I mused:
I’m critiquing a world that makes the Ayesha Curry’s feel like the male gaze is so prominent that it alone is a marker of desire or desirability.
I’m critiquing any hard & fast separations of “groupies” & good girls / wives…
I’m laughing with my poly /open / experimenting / anywise & otherwise queer friends & babes at the fact that like… Lol shit just work different in other spaces and she needs new friends. (Let me be clear, nothing is perfect. I’m just saying… you can tell when new perspectives are needed. Bc I wonder what would happen if they – in the intimacy of their relationship – reconsidered what might desirability / desiring look like in the absences and *phone dies)
I’m chuckling because legit… 4 years ago I was like, “Ayesha gurl… 🧐”
But ultimately, I’m wishing her continued wholeness bc I wish that for everyone & every thing.
Also – on a rant but – if I thought A.C. would accept I’d be like, “Honey… I got jars, candles, crystals, colors, chants, herbs, and all kinds of brews for when you wanna feel desirable. The folk magic will supplement any other magic she’s been pursuing. (She’d prolly call me demonic though LOL).
So, if Ayesha Curry sat at my brown, 25%-off-on-Amazon table, I would likely greet her in my favorite black cotton Target-sale housedress or caftan. And she would see the ways I have found to begin my own ancestral healing of this rift. She would notice how the fabric shifts and stretches across my ass. And how I like to watch this as much as I can in the mirror.
As usual, the brown candles would be lit as reminders to always go to the root of a thing. I imagine that I’d pour her some tea with rose petal, damiena, and cocao and invite her to sit. We’d sit there while my girlfriend stirred something savory-smelling into a pot. And if by chance she shared some of those Red Table thoughts with me…
I would tell her…
“I believe that through folk magic, sensual movement, creative experimentation, and women & femme love, we can conjure up new ways to relate to desirability that do not insist that we vie for the attention of one man, that are not so deeply tethered to Straightfolk as a standard, and that do not come by way of comparisons.”
It was about 12 a.m. when I realized that I was still at my friend’s house binge watching Insecure. It was good medicine for me after our quality time and a glass (read: glasses) of wine. She’d agreed to rewatch Season 1 with me. I was utterly enthralled by the story (and utterly irked by Lawrence’s character). It was evident that I’d be spending the night there when we got to the scene where Tasha (a character played by Dominique Perry) has had enough of Lawrence’s ways and says to him…
“You worse than a fuckboy. You a fuckboy who think he a good dude” (my paraphrasing)
In that moment, Tasha spilled the strategy, delusions, & illusions of churchy fuckbois.
There have been multiple status updates and conversations from my socials around what it can be like to date an “esteemed” man of the church: a minister, a musician, a deacon, and so on. Because before I settled into this beautifully queer synchretic spiritual life I have created… I was churched. That is, I grew up in the Black charismatic church and was taught that these men were the ‘grand prize’ – a sign of God’s pleasure about my actions.
And every time I posted something about dating churchy fuckboys there was a visceral and immediate response. There was a sense of ‘knowing’ shared in the threads and I think it’s important to disclose that the responders were, very many times, other Black churched women.
When I posted, in jest mostly, about launching an “I Dated a Church Musician Support Group” my inbox and threads suggested (in no uncertain terms) that I had identified a theme about churchy fuckboys (in general). It was a theme of disreputable conduct, control tactics, and the tricky nature of navigating these relationships in light of their statuses within the church. In using my lived experience as text and corroborating with the stories of other Black women & girls, I’m now clear that we can call it what it is. Churchy fuckboys have origin stories steeped in spiritualized misogyny masquerading as theology. This does deep personal damage to those they are in relationship with and adds to climates of spiritual abuse.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline explains that spiritual abuse includes (but is not limited to):
Ridiculing or insulting the other person’s religious or spiritual beliefs
Preventing the other partner from practicing their religious or spiritual beliefs (Jade’s addition: This piece also brings to mind all of the ways that women are systemically excluded and / or underrepresented in things like call to preach, church leadership, and the performance of religious rites)
Using their partner’s religious or spiritual beliefs to manipulate or shame them (“Don’t you want to be a ‘Proverbs 31’ woman?”)
Forcing children to be raised in a faith that the other partner has not agreed toWhat Is Spiritual Abuse?, Nov. 12 2015, Emphasis mine and additions italicized.
To be clear, I am not a psychologist or trauma expert (outside of my personal lived traumas). My undergraduate degree was in Integrative Arts and my Masters degree was in Higher Education. The mission of my broader work is to encourage greater inclusion to sacred and secular spaces, especially for Black women, femmes, QPOC, and disabled POC.
Yet in this span of time, I have served on Domestic Violence / Assault hearings within the educational system. I have received specific training through Master’s program and ongoing professional development to assess and provide crisis referrals. I’ve spent 8+ years doing this for young adults. I have also had to do this through my coaching and intuitive wellness work. I have been in therapeutic relationship of my own volition since 2013. My collaborator and partner in the mysticism work that I do (Teresa P. Mateus) is a licensed psychotherapist and has written extensively about spiritual trauma. All this is in addition to my own depth of experience as a Black church(ed) woman who (formerly) dated churchy fuckbois. So, in that spirit, and in the spirit of our liberation, I reworked a popular diagram that we know as The Cycle of Abuse.
These additions are working thoughts around how this cycle (which folds in and around itself) manifests particularly in these cases. I present it here as a wish, hope, and prayer that by naming some of the particularities, we can be more equipped to notice them and to challenge them – especially if we are someone with power and privilege in sacred spaces.
It was a long time before I could recognize the profile of a churchy fuckboy because a strength of theirs is convincing others (and themselves, at times) that they are above this cycle. They are often fuckboys who believe that they are godly, righteous, and should rightfully become “the head” and “leader of the home.” Fuckboys whose behavior is all too often reinforced by codes of silence and unequal distributions of power. Fuckboys who gain credence as we cast them as a mythical Boaz: a man, sent by God, who sweep you off of your (virginal) feet, baptizes you in a whirlwind spiritual romance, serves “your covering”, and becomes your husband. Fuckboys that too often receive praise from elder pastors, mentors, and parishioners for how well they present as they are wreaking havoc in their personal relationships. So, may we notice these behaviors, these cycles, and this pattern. May we, from now on, call it what it is.
Thank you for reading this material! If you enjoyed what you read, please consider becoming a part of my Patreon e-family. Patreon is a subscription based platform which helps to fund creatives & their work. One of the things that I’d like to do is offer more FREE workshops, content, and materials per year for spaces & organizations whose missions align with the work I do but who might not have the options to pay travel fees, labor fees, etc. Patreon sponsors can send as low as $7 per month to help the work to grow and become more sustainable! Patrons champion the creative process through support, being a ‘first reviewer’ of certain content & creative processes, and create space for me to think ARTSY CULTURAL WORKER INTUITIVE CHURCHY MYSTIC thoughts MORE often. And Omg, the budget-does-anybody-have-frequent-flier-miles LESS often. Join us at patreon.com/jadetperry
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Feature Image: Createherstock-2016-Buckhead-GQ-Neosha-Gardner
These days, when people ask me about mysticism, ritual, or healing practices, I can tell that they are looking for something very specific. I know this because there is a mystical “come-up” happening on social media forums like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook – and I’m here for it (to the degree that it doesn’t appropriate & desecrate other sociocultural-spiritual practices). This pattern of moving towards more contemplation – of the self, of the stars in astrology, of tarot cards & intuitive healing arts – is something that I celebrate. When I’m working with a client, we may even discuss or use some of these modalities. It is hardly a secret that I read tarot cards for intuitive coaching, got attuned to reiki, and certainly know how to work my way around crystals & herbs. All of this, I learned along the way and become ever-proficient. But to be clear, my first initiation into mysticism & the contemplative came from experiences in and around the Black, charismatic, mystically-centered (“Spirit-led” is the lexicon most used in these spaces where there is potential for the mystical), church.
My family of origin are church goers to this day – although I lapsed in regular attendance years ago. Each week of my formative years were punctuated by our visits to the all-day affair that was Sunday church service. Each Sunday the ushers would give us fresh, warm copies of the program. Yet, our pastoral leadership (like many in Black charismatic church spaces) referred to the program as more of a living document or merely suggestions for our time together – because “Spirit* was not bound to a program”.
This reorienting of time meant that if something spontaneous, fascinating, or unexplainable happened, we would give free space to see it through. When used with integrity & the absence of White, Western, imperialistic, repressive theology – it seemed that practices of healing were made more possible.
I don’t believe that I’m the only one whose noticed that deep practices of intuitive listening, personal contemplation, personal connection to the Divine, as well as guided rituals, and varied healing modalities (e.g. energy healing through consenting touch, sound baths, intuitively led conversations). This occurs despite the often restrictive theologies which present in these spaces.
A few questions emerge from that understanding:
- How do those of us who understand this specific tradition & are attuned to the mysticism in these places – eat the meat and spit out the bones” (to quote some of my Gramma’s wisdom)?
- How do we embrace the contemplative & mystical practices of the Black charismatic church in ways that help us to deconstruct repressive theology and the suppression of our identities?
One of the things that I think scholar & friend, Ashon Crawley, does beautifully in his book BlackPentecostal Breath: The Aesthetics of Possibility is digging deeper into the possibilities of some of these practices. I’m particularly struck by his notion of the musicians in these spaces playing “nothingness” music – a padding of sound that erupts during certain spaces in service e.g. altar call, transitions, pastoral reflections. The musicians improvise with lulling chords which in turn encourages contemplation in the parishioners in the spaces of those sounds – rather than the ‘silence model’ so typically espoused in Western contemplative circles & schools of thought. (Seriously, get Ashon’s book).
My work here (and beyond) is to interrogate the following:
- How do we embrace the contemplative, mystical, and intuitive practices of the Black charismatic church – as re-imagined, expansive, & important healing modalities to be used with the utmost integrity?
I’m also ever-pondering my own questions around these practices and how we use them to help each other heal. (Healing, as I’m defining it here, includes deeper understanding, compassion, and integration of any disparate / disembodied / fragmented pieces of the whole Self; to bring into deeper balance with Self & others).
For example, might it be possible that these chords act in the same ways that sound baths do? In those sonic spaces or ‘pauses in service’, does the vibration of sound act to soothe us & ground us again after highly intense spiritual experiences? I believe so.
For example, in the practices of consensually laying hands on someone who is feeling fragmented or disembodied, there remains the possibility of reminding someone how to feel safe within their bodies and to embrace the limitlessness of their soul. There is even the possibility, with directed intention, integrity, and much practice to facilitate energy healing within someone’s auric field (that is – to use consensual touch to detect where there might be imbalances or blockages to their highest potential & to assist that person in letting go of blockages, tensions, burdens that now have an energetic ‘life’ in someone’s personal space). I got this in the hugs that the church mothers would give. The guides & mothers that combined integrity, consensual embracing with directed intention often gave the back rub, the touch, or even the extension of hands through prayer that made me feel physically and energetically ‘lighter’ – more integrated & comfortable with myself, the Divine, & others.
Is it possible to look at ‘speaking in tongues’ as improvisational & intuitive sound-making? If so, it may work toward the end of intuitively communicating a reality in the space where language has failed us. We might open up the possibility that ‘speaking in tongues’ becomes a healing method to help both speaker & community feel seen & understood BEYOND words. Through intuitive improvisation, the practitioners offer sonic metaphors for inexplicable grief, joy, ecstasy, consummation, tension, and energy. The art itself – varying pitch, arrangement, and delivery of ‘tongues’ – creates a self expression that heals both the practitioner & the parishioner. (In my personal life, a connecting metaphor is that there are some healing modalities – reiki, for example – that work to also heal YOU as you practice for others). This practice is HIGHLY dependent on context & community – so it is not my recommendation to bill this as a ‘service’ in an ‘intuitive healing suite’. (I mention this lightly & jokingly but the thing is…)
It does not feel like such a tall order to acknowledge that many of the threads of the Black charismatic ‘Spirit-led’ church has hints and reminders of culturally specific, historical understandings of healing. It does not feel strange (to me) to acknowledge that so many in the lineage of the Black church were also root workers, mystics, and conjurers of various levels of integrity & power (see much of Dr. Yvonne Chireau’s work). In some of our ancestry, that work morphed into practice through ‘socially acceptable’ modes within the life of the church (e.g. healing prayers, divination through opening up Bible text to “see where it lands”, faith healings, spontaneous & intuitive ‘words of knowledge’ or ‘prophecy’, etc).
I want us, ESPECIALLY us mystics who have come from the Black church, to look deeply into these practices and to deconstruct them to see if there is any fruit that may be yielded. Is there a way to re-imagine the ritual, detox from repressive theology, and unpack healing art or story in the overall experience?
To be continued…
Until then, let me know your thoughts!
Originally published on Facebook (Jade T. Perry) & IG (@terrynredd). Pictured here: 78 Degrees of Wisdom by Rachel Pollack
Responsible and ethical tarot readers:
- Study! There are so many elements to tarot and while using intuition is a BIG part of it, that should be supplemented with study. If you charge, be sure to calculate the costs of further study in the form of books, courses, training, etc.
- Are in conversation with other responsible readers!! It’s important to have a community to go to for advice, accountability, & further knowledge. (My examples include: Damascena Healing Arts ,@aniysathementalpoet, The Rooted Turtle, @thedejaspeaks are a few that come to mind readily
- Know when to refer. Readers are privileged to get to know some intimate details of the people they see. And when a detail comes up that you are not licensed or skilled to speak to, you MUST refer!! Tarot readers are not long or short term therapists, financial analysts, or Drs. In sessions, we might discuss or uncover a detail that needs further diving into by a therapist. That is the time to refer! Be sure you have a few contacts on hand for this purpose. Most of the contacts that I use come from The Healing in Our Times Project mini-directory.
- Keep confidentiality (unless there are threats to the safety of themselves or others)
- Admit when there is something you don’t know & ask questions on interpretation. Reading is a conversation in that AS you read, the querent is also sitting with / processing the images that come to light. There are so many dynamics to attend to and so many reasons why information in a reading may come up “cloudy”. Maybe they aren’t really ready to go “there” – where the card is hinting. Maybe something came up that has yet to develop fully in real-time. Maybe you’re having an off day – we’re human! It’s okay to be honest when there is something that you don’t know. Perhaps it’s only there for the querent to know, decipher, or reflect on. At that point, you become a guide into the symbolism, imagery, and archetypes while they lend their own personal interpretation to that guidance. This is still the work!
- Have skill in active listening ALONG with a keen personal knowledge of what grounds you! Before readings, I like to drink a strong tea and make sure I’m warm enough. Simple! But it helps keep me focused on the moment.
What might you add to this list? What do you look for in a wellness provider, reader, or helper?
On April 24, 2018, I was in a hotel room overlooking the Chicago River as a treat for my 29th birthday! I decided to take some time to reflect on the year before and to write out 29 affirmations for the year ahead. (As a note, even though I believe affirmations can be very powerful, I admittedly don’t engage them as much as I could, I guess. So, writing down the 29 affirmations was something I wanted to do to get a picture of where I was, what I needed, and where I was going).
While most of them had to do with my emotional / spiritual Self, I had some that talked about transitions: from work, in physical location, and in everyday life. I remembered that The People’s Oracle told me that things would be changing very much in the summer months and I smiled at all of the possibilities.
But transitions often sound sexier than they feel! And from June until September, I:
- Resigned from a job position
- Started a new job position – in a different field!
- Transitioned into a new phase of a romantic relationship
- Left the neighborhood that I lived in for 4 years!
- Moved to a new neighborhood
- Found new & different collaborators in passion projects & business
- Made new friends!
- Experienced changes in my health – some for better, some for… not better
- Launched a Patreon account to make the work more sustainable (patreon.com/jadetperry)! (I’m really excited about this because the tiers range from as low as $7 up to the Intuitive Wellness Coaching package which is more intensive AND I get a chance to offer some of my regular sessions, workshops, training, pep talks, and Q&A in a way that isn’t bound by location! No worries, this platform will still be up too!
Needless to say, life has been a conglomeration of DEEPLY exciting and nerve-shaking Unknowns.
One of the things that this platform (and others) allow me to do is to continue to dream, evolve, grow, and change alongside ya’ll and I appreciate that. Thanks for honoring the silence between last post and this post! Thanks for being on this journey with me.
Recently, I was one of the featured readers Whine Club #14 , described by its co-founder Keisa Reynolds as “a monthly storytelling series for women and non-binary people who enjoy writing, whining, and drinking wine”. Our theme was “Resilience”, and as you can see from the timing of my previous posts, it had been quite a while since I’d written anything for public consumption. During that time, I was navigating a medical leave, a significant trauma, and re-entry into the various points of work (higher ed, Mystic Soul, #EmbodiedRitual project, etc). In this piece, I explore the concepts of:
- Trauma as undoing the illusion of time
- Navigating trauma as similar to “time-travel”
- “Sexting” & nudity as building viable senses of possibility outside of trauma while providing various tools within trauma
- Sauna baptism, strip class exorcism, and charismatic Christian spirituality
This piece happens in Three Movements:
Movement I: Dream Traveling
Movement II: A Timeline Folding in on Itself
Movement III: The During-After & the Future-Now
I’m SO excited to present Movement I and half of Movement II in video format for you! The rest of Movement II & Movement III will be provided in text, below. Journey with me! (CW: Discussion of mental illness, suicide, and religious practice)
Movement II, Cont’d:
When I was a little girl, I gained quite the education about exorcisms. My Grandmother studied them informally. She was a religious woman who had left the Baptist church for a more charismatic experience: one dripping with the unidentified tongue, channeling new forms of ring-shouting, writhing bodies falling to the ground in ecstasy a commonplace sight. She gave up her conventions for the heavy drums, the percussive conga, and the slippery knowing if whether what moved us was “The Holy Ghost” of God, ancestor, shaking loose of chakras, pent up expression, exorcism of grief, the overflowing of thanks, or all of the above.
There was a time when we went from dingy tent to storefront church for what they called “deliverance services”. Congregants came with various ailments. Some said they were grappling with malevolent spirits (and whether those spirits were otherworldly or the strongholds of racism, ableism, homophobia, and the like was not accessible knowledge to me then).
Exorcisms were always such messy business. In my little-girl-mind, it seemed that the congregants’ bodies were made of spirit, bone, muscle, electricity, and mists. They went up to the altar – however formal or makeshift – to allow someone to lay hands on them.
Exorcisms were always such forceful business. The malevolent spirits were directly addressed, commanded to do this or that. Come out! Go back from where you came from! Each individual reaction was different, but it often involved lots of tears, lots of sound, perhaps some rolling about, or signifiers of purging. I was both afraid and intrigued. What had taken hold of this person… and how? How did we know that it needed to be cast out? What could I do to keep from being taken hold by something that I could not control?
I had an exorcism as an adult. I was in the middle of the #ReclaimingYourSexy Strip Class Intensive – I lie to you not – and our instructor told us to strip with the intention of letting go of whatever we felt we needed to let go of. I didn’t feel that anything malevolent had taken hold of me. I just couldn’t make peace with my grief. I couldn’t plan enough. I couldn’t outrun it or out-sleep it. In the middle of my stripping, I collapsed with my face down to the floor. My dance partner circled around me, pulled me into their arms. We sat there for a while, them slowly, consensually caressing my scantily clad and grieving body – completely silent. As my body racked with silent, heaving sobs, I thought, “Could this be a form of exorcism too?” Perhaps the particularity of trauma should also be directly addressed, but instead of commanded – caressed and held for a moment, and then, coaxed away so that the person could be delivered for a moment, a day, perhaps forever. I’m not sure.
Week 6: Friends began slipping larger pieces of food onto my plate. And this time, I ate them. Family came to my doorpost. And I received them.
Week 7: Another month of medical leave. Another diagnosis added to the chart. Another month of experiencing my own breath as the loudest sound in the room. When I woke up at 3 am,I would turn on the music, and do a “shaking” practice. Both my therapist and my meditation teacher agreed: The shaking was connected to memory. Memory trying to make its way through the body. Memory trying to find a place to break down, transform, and re-conceptualize itself. I thought it might be right to create a shaking practice set to music. I’m detoxing myself from trying to do everything right (but that was a damn good idea).
Week 8: A Text. Please pick up these things from the store for me if you can. I’m not able to get out today.
Bath bombs. Either lavender or rose.
Lavender scented epsom salt.
A bag of salad greens
Dried fruit and protein bars
Incense from the store down the street
A green power smoothie
Salmon patties that I can throw in the oven with seasoning
Movement III: The During-After & the Future-Now
“I never thought I would be sending a ‘Wassup big head’ text but… here I am”. They are everything I said I would never entertain. I have no big expectations of them. No desires to carve them into the grooves of my everyday. I have asked only one thing: Add material to the flames of my erotic. I will keep the fire stoked. If Solange sexed it away, then I have “sexted” it away: relishing in the cushion that the distance provides. For now, it is all elusive possibility and perhaps, there is something to be said about the traumatic loss of one possibility and the option to create others – even if they are primarily works of lived fiction. He is a Gemini – as equally real to me as unreal. As equally accessible to me as inaccessible.
The people in my strip class convinced me to get on the dating apps. I scrunched my nose at them first, but 30 minutes of their stories of finding good friends, a husband, and a few friends with benefits got me listening. I was ovulating then and God knows…
Was creating a profile admitting defeat? Was it throwing myself into a void? Would I know if I was being swiped left?! That night, I mindlessly scrolled through the profiles, the swiping motion giving me a welcome and calming activity to do with my hands. My eyelids became heavy after a while as I read the About section of a woman who said that she really was just here to find a third for her & her partner. Half enveloped in my dreams I thought, “How did we all fall here together? And when might we all collide?”
Some days, I have subsisted on cups of coffee, Zoloft, and the prayers of my ancestors. Other days, I have maintained through the texts friends sent, the care package that comes in the mail, the tea offered at my best friend’s kitchen table, and the bittersweet remembering of all of the ways that they loved me. There are other days that I wake up early, attend to the dishes, feed the kittens, and enter seamlessly into a version of the life I used to live. Trauma breaks the illusion of organized time. For months, I have been time traveling in, reality melting around me, doubling its power, reshaping its own voracity. And I am simultaneously strengthened and shattered.
“The current iteration of my work as a “millennial womanist” started as an approximately six person online book club, a website domain name purchase, and a post about “inheriting mysticism from my Christian other-mothers”. Up until that point, my M. Ed journey in Higher Education / Student and subsequent years spent working in university contexts had me informally considering the many ways in which students of color learn and / or unlearn toxic theological lenses that might impede upon their identity development. Additionally, my own “biomythography” [i] writing allowed me some space to unpack how I was unlearning toxic theological lenses. I didn’t go into any of this work considering that I would be contributing to the emerging millennial womanist framework and I didn’t understand how quickly the work would expand. However, I realized that if I needed more formal space to question how the Christian faith intersected with the lived experiences of Black women, queer people of color, persons with chronic illnesses & disabilities, etc., others might need it too.
Thus, the online book club grew to a closed group platform whose formal outcome is to support “those who are seeking solidarity, community, and intersectionality as they navigate feelings, experiences, and questions that come with theological shifts”. It is a fully affirming, recommendation only space, with a community library, and dialogue series on a range of topics. The domain name purchase, jadetperry.com, became a way for me to do autoethnography work around matters of inherited spirituality, womanism, and more. Perhaps most surprisingly, the post on inheriting mysticism from Christian other-mothers grew into co-founding a non-profit called Mystic Soul, which seeks to center the voices and indigenous spiritual practices of people of color “from the Christian tradition and beyond”.
Currently, I am working with other millennial womanist scholars to consider theory on sexuality for Black churched women, curating a specialized list of resources for holistic wellness, and more informally, supporting the spiritual processes of faith & community leaders by offering intuitive tarot readings & pursuing reiki certification. The “sacred platforms” on which I stand most often often bring me into “hybrid” (interspiritual & interdisciplinary) spaces to work with visual artists, storytellers, scholars, preachers & ministers, reiki healers and acupuncturists – all working towards the collective healing & wellness of Black women. It has been a work of healing justice and decolonizing spiritual practices. It remains difficult to find a singular definition for this type of work, because it is continuously revealing itself…”
“So, I approached my spiritual activism work with an ethos similar to that of interdisciplinary millennial womanist & popular R&B singer, Solange Knowles: “We aren’t thanking anyone for ‘allowing us’ into these spaces… until we are truly given the access to tear the got damn walls down” [ii]. I don’t believe that the assertion here is that gratitude is inappropriate or that access to additional opportunities are unnecessary. I believe it channels an ethos connected to the millennial womanist framework of “moving beyond respectability politics with an intentional call for recognition and reciprocity”. Moreover, I believe millennial womanism envisions our work by moving through walls, when necessary, and at times, disregards the niceties that keep walls intact…”
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This piece was offered as a reading / storytelling piece for Mothering, “a program of performances queering the construction of mothering as an action rather than an assigned and gendered role”, organized by artist Amina Ross, hosted by Compound Yellow.
It is hard to write about the dead. And it is hard to write about the living. To offer a rendering of them that is not solely romanticized, not solely demonized. To tell you that, like everyone else, they were-are complex. To express how the complexity showed up in them… “as told by” me.
My biological mother is alive and has recently discovered emojis.
My “other-mothers” – women who took me to school and picked me up when my mother worked early morning to late in the evening, women who enabled my sweet tooth by teaching me to make strawberry icebox pie & buying cream puffs each Thursday for an after-dinner treat – both dead. Cancer, both times.
For a long time, I have been pondering how to share “mother” with the world, hoping that by providing some kind of access, the world might better understand me. Hoping that I might better understand myself. What you are about to hear are some snippets of things I have written throughout the years and in recent months – perhaps we can connect these pieces, together…
*Names have been changed & in some instances, facts include fiction to protect those living who deserve this protection
I was 13 when I found out that my Mother hates Mother’s’ Day.
“Because who can REALLY say who the day is for, who is a mother & who is not, who qualifies to get a card & who does not? And why should I be asked to choose whom to celebrate: my mother or my mother in law – spending the day with one OR the other? And if I’m spending the day with them, then how shall my children celebrate me?!”
Those who do not know my mother might think this is about the logistics of a holiday. But I know better. There was a critique in the tone of conversation – just missing the words that I use in written posts & during brunch with my friends:
“on capitalism and adding profit to reproductive capability, on policing modes of mothering & leaving out or being forced to choose among with Patricia Hill Collins calls ‘other-mothers’, on the patriarchy my father had internalized – asking her to relinquish her time with her mother (a biological mother of one) so that she could be more present to the celebrations with his mother (a biological mother of 8)”
Years later, when I’d come home from grad school, I would try such words out on my mother and she’d listen if it caught her interest. I would try them with my Grandmother and she’d up from her coffee, slowly, saying, “Jadey Mae, you’re talking so good but I don’t know what you’re talking about”. Needless to say, this changed my public, externally-facing writing style.
At 13, I learned that after presenting Mom with her card, I could go over my friend’s house and eat the slightly under-seasoned food that their barely teen aged children prepared for them. I would place my napkin neatly in my lap and say, “Happy Mothers Day, Mrs. Stevens”, as she opened up the gifts that her children bought her. She opened them slowly, animated, delighted, and tickled to find whatever was resting in the bottom of the bag.
Age 9 – Philadelphia, PA – Sunday Morning – Church Name: Redacted.
As we walked in, the ushers held out one box of white roses and one box of red roses. “If your mother has passed, please take a white rose. If your mother is alive, please take a red rose.” I asked, “Which mother?” They looked at me as if it wasn’t a shared cultural practice to be raised by multiple women, femmes, femme-identified persons, non binary persons…
And how could I take that red rose when my friend Valerie, also 9 years old, was left with the option of the white rose, pinned to her chest – a reminder. I decided that if I ever had a church, a church of misfit mystics looking for the Divine, there would be no red or white rose choices. Take a flower, if you’d like. Leave a flower, if you’d like.
I was still regularly going to church when I was 19. I was trying to find a theology that fit this spiritual eclecticism that I was quickly encountering inside of myself. “On this Sunday, we want to acknowledge all of the mothers.” Let us say that by 19, I’d inherited the side eye of my mother.
The pastor said, “If you are a mother, would you please stand to be acknowledged.”
“Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck…” I whispered this under my breath… briefly considering whether I should begin speaking in tongues lest Mother Gail hear me cussin’ in the sanctuary. (I didn’t. Some things you just don’t play with).
As much as I tried to block out the voice of my mother in my head, she was there just the same: “Because who can REALLY say who the day is for, who is a mother & who is not, who qualifies to get a card & who does not?”
What about my friend Alicia? She had a baby that year but they shamed her during the pregnancy because she was unmarried. Should she now stand to be acknowledged by the same people? What about Mrs. Dempsey? She asked us to pray that she and her husband conceive this year but if she didn’t stand this year then…
…And my godmother, who didn’t want to be partnered. She called my mother every day with updates on how the adoption process was going. It seemed like all things were moving ahead, but her son just wasn’t here yet. The women who were biological mothers and did not want to be. The persons who mothered past time, space, and even biology.
“WHO APPROVED THIS?”
I thought I said it in my mind but then I heard my friend lean over and say, “Chiiiiiile…”
Now, I am closer to 30 than I am to 19 and it has crystallized in some ways for me, as it did for my mother. Mothering is complex and contextual. There are nuances upon nuances, and nuances beneath those. There are those of us who have had to learn, as Audre Lorde said, “to mother ourselves” (1) – maybe at certain points in our lives and maybe our entire lives (2).
I’ve decided to contact my mother after the dust has settled from reading this piece. Currently, we are struggling to decide who gets to mother me. For there are some moments where I really need her to mother me. And there are other moments where… [redacted]. I believe this is what we have been arguing about lately, even though it typically masquerades as being about faith, spirituality, living arrangements, or a piece of juicy gossip that a stepsister told her regarding one of my post on Facebook.
Yet, I want to know more about my mother because of her life before me, her oldest, and because her face implies that she has stories that she hasn’t told quite yet. When I call her, I think I’m going to say, “I know that you hate this day. But I also know that you appreciate a call on this day. Life sets up such delicious ironies. And none of them are comfortable with being denied”.
1. “Eye to Eye: Black Women, Hatred, and Anger,” Sister Outsider: Essays & Speeches. Berkeley: The Crossing Press, 1984.
2. Gumbs, A.P. (2010). “We Can Learn to Mother Ourselves: The Queer Survival of Black Feminism 1968-1996” (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from https://dukespace.lib.duke.edu/