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“Tried (It) Again” – Examining ableism & homo-antagonism in Burrell’s sermon

Let’s talk about what’s going on in the Black church, at present.

On Dec. 30th, I spent an evening-to-morning good time with my gurls from my college years. It’s not often that we get to see each other, so we spent most of the night sharing life updates and talking about almost every topic under the sun. Despite those good vibes, I woke up late the next morning (read: early evening) to a barrage of texts & inbox messages about singer & pastor Kim Burrell’s homo-antagonistic sermon.

My initial response was anger.

My thoughts swirled for days after, as I reviewed the sermon itself, her subsequent faux apologies, and many spot-on analyses from friends, peers, and colleagues.On a personal level, I needed to wait to weigh in. Far too often, the name of the game is to “cover xyz topic first” and in this case (like many others), there are far more connections to make – and some of the connections take some mulling over to explore or even articulate.

One such connection, for me, included Kim Burrell’s display of both homo-antagonism and ableism in her recent sermon. She begins the clip by lambasting the LGBTQI community with a barrage of insults and accusations of “perversion”. She, then, goes on to use Andrew Caldwell – recent internet sensation best known for the viral clip from the COGIC Convention in which he states he was “delivered” from being gay – as an example. This is where she implicates that sexuality and disability are both at the whim of ‘spirits’; and / or and indicator of ones relationship with God.

Burrell states:

“Mr. I Am Delivert with all these different types of spirits… on Jimmy Kimmel… you see what the enemy is looking for?… The minute somebody comes out with a deaf and dumb spirit… a mute spirit… one that can’t even talk… and that has a perverted spirit says that ‘I am delivert’ and makes it all the way to Jimmy Kimmel. You think the enemy isn’t trying to make a mockery of the church?”

To be clear, her sermon was primarily (read again for emphasis) antagonistic for community members within the LGBTQI community. This was her key focus, and the reason why she has been / is being uninvited from many opportunities.

However, what she also did as (a perceived) “aside” included situating gender identity, next to disability, next to sin. The implications here are HUGE – because in this, she implies that both LGBTQI identities as well as disabled persons are inherently possessed by spirits / dealing with sin.

Inclusive Jesus, help us.

Dr. Fiona A. Kumari Campbell (2007) asserts:

“A chief feature of an ableist viewpoint is a belief that impairment (irrespective of ‘type’) is inherently negative and should the opportunity present itself, be ameliorated, cured or indeed eliminated. What remain unspeakable are readings of the disabled body presenting life with impairment as an animating, affirmative modality of subjectivity” (p. 5-6)

Thus, Burrell’s sermon included statements which were both homo-antagonistic and ableist. Whether or not this was intended is beside the fact.

We ought to know that it is highly offensive to even use the phrase “deaf and dumb”. It is even an issue to suggest that the ways in which folks walk through the world (as it pertains to both queerness and disability) are due to “spirits”. So, to check* her (a colloquial term, rooted in AAVE, which means to correct and / or unequivocally challenge) via social media on one aspect, without examining both is something we can’t afford to do.

Surely, we ought to understand in 2017, that being LGBTQI does not involve or imply a spiritual shortcoming (as resources, please refer to Darnell Moore’s works on this, Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas’ 1999 text Sexuality and the Black Church: A Womanist Perspective, Dr. Pamela Lightsey’s 2015 text Our Lives Matter: A Womanist Queer Theology, and then some…).

Surely, we ought to understand in 2017, that being disabled does not involve or imply a spiritual shortcoming (refer to Belser & Morrison’s 2011 article, What No Longer Serves Us: Resisting Ableism and Anti-Judaism in New Testament Healing Narratives).

Surely, we ought to be able to see that in this instance (like so many others), further marginalization happened from the pulpit – and as a minister of the Gospel – this should not be so. At this point, we need to understand that systems of oppression are inextricably linked – especially when we cannot / refuse to see its connections.

Additional Resources & Notes:
Belser, J. W., & Morrison, M. S. (2011). What no longer serves us: Resisting ableism and anti-Judaism in New Testament healing narratives. Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, 27(2), 153-170.

Campbell, F. A. K. (2008). Exploring internalized ableism using critical race theory. Disability & Society, 23(2), 151-162.

*Title references Kim Burrell’s 1997 album & single by the name of “Try Me Again”

*This essay is posted with special thanks to those affectionately know as my “e-cousins” for helping me to flesh these thoughts out more fully

Photo credit: The MEPR Agency via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-ND

Jade’s Faves Features: Coriama Couture

Amazing initiatives have the power to bring amazing people together. This past fall, I facilitated a Beauty Breaks workshop session on style & resilience. [Beauty Breaks is is a life-giving and innovative series on Black beauty & holistic wellness, founded by artist Amina Ross (who is one of my favorite people, truly)]. Coriama Couture was also presenting on affordable grooming & beauty practices. [You can click here for the recap].

Since that time, coriama couture has taught me a great deal about the ways in which we can de-stigmatize sexuality, beauty tips for Black women / femmes (especially ones that can fit my budget), and more. Of course, I wanted my readers to meet her too and get a chance to see her work! Text below is largely her own, used with permission, in order stay true to the heart of her work & mission.

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Photo Credit: Kamali Whitney, 2015

Coriama Couture is an Artist, Activator, and Aesthetician who utilizes the ABCS (Art, Beauty, Culture, and Sexuality) to encourage radical dialogue and community building. She sees the ability to explore and challenge taboo topics within culture as a rite of passage; a necessary element for liberation and freedom that should be celebrated. Currently, she is curating a community popup forum called sex KiKi and hopes to encourage more radical dialogue and safe spaces for queer black femmes* in Chicago and beyond. sex KiKi is inclusive space that privileges the spectrum of black femininity so trans* and cis women are welcome, as well as allies.

Her work primarily serves femmes of the Black diaspora, ages 21+, as she notes:

The Beauty Industry is constantly bombarded with images of a European aesthetic, the policing of the black femme body, and an overall lack of resources for us. For example, the beauty industry is saturated with beauty advisors who often don’t know how to color match for foundation or choose to tell black femmes anything (in terms of beauty practices / products) to get our dime. In addition, we already deal with economic oppression, so the resources we have might be limited and contingent upon what is necessary to live.

In this field, sometimes I deal with community members (black femmes) who prefer to only see white colleagues / beauty advisors to find the proper cosmetic products. My hands-on experience has been that this may be connected to deeper issues of acceptance (and internalized pop-notions of “beauty”). I have much compassion for that, since I have had to deal with my own issues with embracing my black beauty.

Honestly, I believe your trauma can often be connected to your work! I grew up with serious self-esteem issues. I hadn’t grown into my full lips and feared my melanin. The beauty industry happened to be one of the first places I landed a job; since my temper in my younger years caused me to switch jobs often.

Now, I believe that beauty is a tool for empowerment. I continue to challenge myself to utilize it for that purpose and not to mask insecurity (as it can be / has been used). I encourage with warmth and enthusiasm. I always lead with kindness and compassion in these situations because I have been them and see myself in this process toward liberation. I am still undergoing the decolonization of my own lifestyle and mind, as well!

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Educating & brow mapping at Beauty Breaks workshop, Photo Credit: Ally Almore, 2015

Coriama Couture is also the curator for pop-up community forum, titled, sex KiKi. In regards to this area of work, she says:

“Sexual liberation is really important to me. Sexuality was always apart of my life. In my late teens, I can recall enjoying lesbian porn (the good kind; there is a difference)! Yet, there can be a lot of trauma that comes with being a sexually free person. People can equate / conflate freedom with having no boundaries at all, which isn’t true!

Oppression and internalized oppression is also a part of the battle when it comes to sexual wellness and conversations about sexuality. For example, we can deal with some very problematic ideas – about gender, gender roles, notions of what family is / can be, harmful views about homosexuality. I’ve also seen misogynistic views expressed, even coming from cis-het* (cisgender, heterosexual) black femmes in the space (I understand much of this phenomena as a coping mechanism, to somehow fit into the constraints of the patriarchy while simultaneously being denied access). These challenging conversations have their pros and cons but ultimately, I believe are powerful and pivotal when breaking the mental chains of colonization”.

Her advice to readers:
“Exploration is apart of growing and sometimes the worst judgements we experience are the judgements we put on ourselves. It can be liberating to do things for our own lives! Keep a beauty journal, a sex journal, or just journal. I feel fresh and renewed each day that I decipher my own thoughts from those of others. The more I worry about others, the less effortless my life becomes… the less I am able to live on my own terms. This process is difficult but I feel less anxiety living this way.

Find rituals that help ground you – music, chanting, dancing, or bitching in front of the mirror for 10 minutes to get the bull out! Hey, it works! Lastly, don’t be scared to explore another lifestyle option. I’ve found that hetero and married doesn’t always equal happy and in love (as is often suggested). So, we have to be sure to love on our OWN terms”.

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Facials, brow waxing, and refreshments from coriama couture’s Wax Day Off

Check out more of her work on http://www.coriamacouture.com/ and if you live in the Chicagoland area, check out sex KiKi or Coriama’s Wax Day Off! 

What the [Cuss] to Say While Suffering?

“When did you begin experiencing Writer’s Block”?
“After the election…”
“How does that feel”?

I get it. The point of therapy is to talk about our thoughts and feelings – the ones that threaten to undo us subtly, bit by bit. Breaking our resolve in increments. Or the ones that come flooding into our minds and hearts before we can even catch them. Knocking us on our asses. Forcing us to see them.

But I did not want to talk about this.

“It sucks. Like, it literally just sucks. You can make up all kinds of philosophy about why Trump’s election sucks. Sure, we are reckoning with the practices of White supremacy in new ways due to his impending office / administration. We’re also reckoning with the fact that he doesn’t seem to know what he is doing – in a literal sense, he doesn’t seem to know what a “President” does. But no matter how many angles I take to look at this – the bottom line is that it sucks. How do I feel? I feel that it sucks… on a deep, subconscious level”. 

I always imagine my favorite writers sitting at their desks with a steaming hot cup of tea or coffee. I imagine their well formed thoughts – sounding immediately beautiful all the page. I also know this vision is oft-times, a scam.

And I thought about my friends who must address people after “the Tower” has crashed: after all of our constructions about the world we live in have been violently toppled. I thought about the friends who write and preach – who create art and engage in direct action. And I thought, “So, what the (expletive) does one say…”

Especially now that the one thing I don’t want to say is even the name of the newest President-to-be. I figured if his presence could be absent from my written world, perhaps I could deal with it a bit more in the material world. I also know that vision is a scam.

I found my words this evening, as I reflected on a Dharma talk by Buddhist monk Ajahn Achalo (Peace Beyond Suffering). In “Waking up to Deeper Peace”, he explains that the monks begin the morning chant that goes a bit like this:

“Birth is suffering”

Acknowledging this, he asserts, is a step toward less suffering. (I’ll be reflecting on this for a GOOD while).

As a note of review, I was raised in a nondenominational Christian tradition. While we had some view of suffering (especially the suffering of Jesus), there were also implications that “if we lived right” there was also a chance of circumventing this type of thing. Another popular theory in that space is our experiences of suffering were due to cosmic battles between Light & Dark. Thus, it flowed that all suffering – from cranky coworkers to cars that ran out of gas – were game to be included in the endless “tricks of the enemy (the Devil)”.

I moved away from these theories long ago, in my teenage years, but that doesn’t mean they have left my subconscious. So, I battled with my thoughts: What in the literal and figurative heavens were the Deities DOING? I heard many theories on that question in the weeks that followed. Some were okay. Some, I understood and believed (’cause no one can tell me that White supremacy isn’t demonic). Others were… well…

There is immense pressure to explain away why things happen the way they do. On both a spiritual / cosmic level. And on a material level. To a large degree, I appreciate this. Let’s be clear: I spent a good amount of time constructing a theory of my own work that is based on Critical Race Theory and sociological concepts. In that respect, I can tell you precisely why this happened – this upswing of fuckery…

Yet, as I reflected on the dharma talk I realized that right now, the message (for me) is to first acknowledge the suffering and the potential to suffer due to circumstances BOTH inside and outside of our control. Internally facing the fuckery that is to come is… It’s brave. It readies us. It steadies us. That doesn’t mean we don’t fight against it. But as someone who does a lot of “addressing”, I’m feeling rather done with the empty platitudes of “It’s going to be okay” and “The Deities are in control”. Perhaps, they are. But that does not provide me with any “today” comfort.

Right now, my synopsis and synthesis is…
This sucks. 

This present moment. Sucks.
And at the same time, I’m still here. As my good friend, *Jae says, “I’m still. the fawk. here”( say it aloud until you get it 🙂 ).

My amazing friend Alicia just got back from Standing Rock, in solidarity with the Water Protectors. From the trip, she found this beautiful mural by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, in Oklahoma City, OK:
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So, the inhale on which I acknowledge “This sucks”, becomes the exhale that “We’re here”. And because of this, our intentions and commitments for moving forward are important. I believe this deeply.

So, I’ve spent some time lamenting, some time doing some deep facing-of-fears, and some time making my commitments a bit more clear. I can’t say that this will help you, reader, as much as it does me – but that is my sincere hope. Join me in these commitments, if you can, and let’s see what we can do together:

And neither are you.

Things I Would Add to My Resume if I Could

It’s been a while since my last post. Part of that is because of election day anxiety (Jesus in God, the Saints, all of the Orishas, and more). The better part of that is because #BookMe2016-2017 has really been fruitful. I’m absolutely loving the projects I’ve been able to take part in and many of them have had me thinking about my own “professional identity”, both online and offline.

During my time at Kansas State University, I talked a lot about how we can use socioculturally centered theories to assist us in our career process. It was a two day stint of thinking deeply about this notion of “professionalism” which many scholars posit can be inherently rife with issues. Writer, Carmen Rios, says “Often, the way professionalism dictates we should act at work also falls in line with stereotypes and predetermined roles based on our race, sex, gender, or class” (2015).

My initial foray into Student Affairs work was in the realm of Career Services. So, I know all too well how delicate of a dance this is… especially when it comes to advising. For example, general advice posited that we should tell women to keep their hair off the face in interviews. But as a woman with natural hair that is not easily “swept up”, I realized that this advice isn’t always inherently helpful. The same went for gender and professional dress. The same went for the affordability of formal business wear. Lordt.

Yet, these are the waters we often find ourselves navigating and *sigh*, it gets deep. 

Earlier this week, I spent a few days talking with students, staff, and administration about some of these nuances. I spent the rest of the week thinking about how I bring my own identity into the work that I do (both formally and informally). So, today, we’re going forward with a light-hearted post, if I can help it.

Resumes are often used to navigate current and potential forms of work (I’ll leave it to you to interpret what that work is / could be / looks like). However, here are some of the things I would add to my resume if I could:

  • Interdisciplinary bridge-builder – Because all of my seemingly random interests and levels of expertise would probably fit really snugly under this title. It’s pretty much like when I studied “Integrative Arts” in college. Folk didn’t usually know the details of all it meant… but I could always say it like I was out here doin’ the damn thing.
  • Language

    Because if I could add that, I would. I’m also conversational in Beyonce gifs. Beginner’s level in all other gif forms. (Because when you’re fluent in Prince gifs you have a large spectrum of reactions to choose from). One of my personal faves:
    princegif3

  • Teaologist – Do you have a headache? I have a tea for that. Folk on your nerves? I have a tea for that. Your hands ashy? Tea. And lotion. But first, tea. I didn’t get the nickname “The Apothecary” for naught.

    (Head over to Amazon to purchase the Lionel Richie mug and the Mana-tea infuser).

  • Musichead – It has been a longstanding value of mine to spend as little time as possible listening to trash music. Live instrumentation is important and I feel like our ears need it. In just a few minutes, I can likely come up with some dope music recommendations to fit your preferred style and genre. I will also encourage folk to stay on their note, and that’s important in life. It builds teamwork competencies. Cause don’t nobody want you jumping up on their note all the time.
  • Natural hair and organic beauty product tester – If there were a such thing as a “tab” at Lush Beauty Products, I would have one. If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me about natural hair care regimens and products I use, I would be sending big bucks to my past student loan providers. Sooooo…
  • Petty Theorist & Petty Flow Chart Co-Curator – I don’t talk much about #pettyflowcharts here but it’s one of my favorite side projects. However, I literally spend time with a good friend curating flow charts to help people get clear on a variety of things. I can’t add it to my resume because… well… petty. But it sure is fun!
    petty-flowchartYou can check these out on IG: https://www.instagram.com/pettyflowcharts/
  • Churchy Linguist – Fluent. Can I get a degree in this? I feel like that’s a possibility. Being raised in an eclectic nondenominational Black church afforded me an entire lexicon of churchisms that I randomly use in everyday life. Last heard at a keynote speech: “I’m feeling moved in that direction”. Announcing a performance, as an MC: “Please clap for them, as they come”. Recently seen on Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/terrynredd/posts/10112034039704854My friends and I have a running joke that I am “Culturally Churchy, Theologically Complicated” because my spirituality includes sacred texts, rituals, and practices from quite a few traditions. However, I just cannot shake churchy linguistics. Pray my strength.
  • Crystal Collector – Beginner’s Level. Because who is tryna be out here with their chakras out of balance? Not I. Go talk to my friend Ebony Janice of the Free People Project about why it’s so important to balance those chakras.
  • Headliner for the Shower & Car Concert Series – Some of you may know this, and some may not. A few years back (like… a GOOD few), I provided background vocals for a few local Philly artists. A while before that, I was the director of the student-led gospel choir in college. I don’t sing formally at the moment. (Bae does though, check him out). However, my car concerts are on. point. To me, at least.What would you add to your resume if you could? Leave it in the comments below! Or you know, wherever else you find me on these Internet streets.

Featured Photo Credit: Createherstock.com

Story Time – Family Vacations, Healing Services, & Smoke Machines

What I’m about to tell you is certified “family business”.

For the sake of context, you should know that for the past few months I have been doing some emotional and spiritual work in the areas of familial relationships. It’s been equal parts exhilarating and tiring – charting out the emotional / spiritual histories of family members (for as much as I know). This year, I’ve realized that family & ancestor dynamics shape us in deep ways – some we see readily, even written in the features of our face! However, uncovering other inherited traits, dynamics, spiritual practices, and emotional ‘fallbacks’ can take a bit more work.

The fun part about all of this is that I’ve been re-acquainting myself with some very colorful family stories that we share. In the past, I’ve written quite a bit about my family (it may or may not be fodder for our ‘family meetings’. I’m not sure if they would ever tell me that. Ha)! However, these stories have mostly been serious in nature – the time my Mother ‘stuck it to the man’ in a sacred space, the very deep and multifaceted levels of my Gramma’s spirituality [I’ve written about that twice, actually].

So, this tale is a light-hearted family account that includes smoke machines, driving all across Florida, healing services, and shenanigans. If you’re looking for something a bit more serious, look here. If you’re game for this, come sit with me while I share! (Be careful about drinking water during the tale; you just might spit it out a few times and Mercury is in Retrograde. No one has times for those kind of technology-games).

My Gramma taught me a lot about the mystical side of life – the things that could not be seen. We often disagreed often on the details of these things, but nevertheless, she’s gotten me familiar with a very interesting view of the world.

One year, my family decided to change up their approach to ‘family vacation’. Each member would choose an activity for every day of our trip. The other family members… well, we would deal. This sounds mildly stressful but it was actually quite enjoyable since, generally, I trust them to not have me “out here”. We spent the week going to parks, doing mini golf, riding on jet skis, exploring new restaurants, and more. All the things you think of when you consider those fancy-schmancy vacation and travel blogs.

Then, it was my Gramma’s turn to choose her activity for the day.

We would be going to The Holy Land Experience, which – for those who dont’ know – is described as “a Christian theme park”. (No, I’m not making this up. The hyperlink is there so feel free to explore… Also know, I’m REALLY fighting with myself to refrain from unpacking all of the dynamics of the fact that this is a thing… oh the bed mates that are White Evangelical Christianity and Capitalism… I’m stopping here. The point is that my Gramma wanted to see it… because ‘Christian theme park’… and what Gramma wants, Gramma gets. Who gone argue with my ancestor? Nobody).

It was also decided that we would be going to a healing service afterward. In Tampa. We were going to drive. From Orlando. To Tampa. Gramma’s excited smile was the gavel slam. We were doing this.

I’m going to take a moment here to shout out my Father. Dad was the one doing most of the driving for the entire trip. This morning, he woke up to find that he was driving us about an hour and a half away from the resort space and back. After the theme park. I can remember catching his eye and learning a valuable lesson: Sometimes, in order to keep peace and show love, you gotta drive an hour and a half away from the pools you thought you’d be swimming in by sun down.

It would take an obscene word count to explain the theme park. So, if you are able, I suggest that you go, then call me, we’ll both pour a really big glass of wine, and compare notes. I’m going to focus here on our time in Tampa.

Here is what I was expecting from “healing service”:

It seemed like a logical conclusion, given the strong data from our collected familial, cultural, and spiritual backgrounds. At about 8 pm, I woke up from my car-nap, to my Dad saying, “This looks like… was this maybe a supermarket before… are we in the right place?”

Here’s the picture:
Four family members (myself, Mom, Pops, & bro) are hanging back trying to figure out where in the ham-sandwich we’ve landed. We were also trying to figure out how Gramma heard about a healing service in this church, at this time. She wasn’t on social media. Perhaps, a friend told her. Perhaps, she saw it on tv. Perhaps, it was an unction. I’ll have to consult other family members to get their working theories.

Nevertheless, we were there and in front of us, I think Gramma was enclosed in a ray of metaphysical light. She smiled as she pushed the door open. Everyone else looked around – possibly hoping that one of us would suddenly feel queasy and we’d have to go home. That didn’t happen.

We were greeted by the sounds of heavy metal worship. This is not hyperbole. I am not kidding. And it sounds exactly how you imagine it sounds.

Everyone meets new experiences in different ways. My mother is the most logical person I’ve ever known. I could see her mental wheels spinning in this moment – perhaps, recounting the decisions that got us here. My brother attended to his physical health, as his asthma made itself known – given all of the smoke machines that surrounded the pulpit space. I’m sure I texted a friend – I don’t remember, but it sounds about right. My father chose to count all of the congregants there who had on matching camouflage outfits.

My Gramma was certain that some powerful healing was going to take place. So, as a note for those who aren’t up on the general charismatic church order of services:

  • ‘Healings’ typically happen during altar call
  • Many times, altar call is at the end (after worship, tithes & offerings, announcements, any additional sermonic selections, preaching)
  • Guess how long we were staying…

The preaching started approximately 30 minutes after the heavy metal worship set. My family tends to have a natural aptitude for music. So, after a few measures of each song, my Gramma could get the melody. She sang along during the entire set – a consummate cultural anthropologist.

This next part will be hard to describe in words – which, is ironic, because I’m using a print medium to tell this story. However, I called my brother, and he agrees with me. This experience… words will fall short and that’s where I need you to use your imagination at some pretty epic levels.

The minister / healer approached the pulpit (I use both minister & healer loosely here). I’m hesitant to describe her in too much detail, but the image of a shiny green skirt suit with a brooch, hair that was whiteish-grey yet dyed in pale blue and secured into a bouffant ought to suffice.

After her brief sermon (approx 15 minutes), she introduced us to her practice of “prophetic rapping” (approx 2 hours). The practice (and some people would say ‘gift’) of prophecy entails some sort of divine insight into a situation partnered with the ability to speak on it with clarity and conviction. Prophetic rapping… well I’ve seen it, obviously… but I’m still unclear on the details. It sounded a lot like… well, regular rapping. Key words like Jesus, God, healed, Bible, holiness, were placed into the lyrics as well.

Soooo… I’m going to steer clear of making value statements on that. But I will open an invitation to my religious-scholar-friends (and by religious scholar, I mean… actual religious scholars): Is this a part of a larger charismatic movement? What religious studies classes do I need to understand this? Who has receipts? I need answers. 😉

Meanwhile, back to Gramma…

At this point, it was about 10:30 pm, and we had an hour and a half left to travel back to the hotel resort. My Dad was asleep with his arms folded in his chest (to his credit, again, he was doing all of the driving). My brother’s head was on my shoulder. My mother was trying to reason with Gramma that perhaps it was time to make our exit. My little brother piped in with a performance of Grandson-Charm that I will never forget. We were out within 2 minutes.

We left and debriefed – leaving the actual ending of this encounter still unknown. But it’s a story that my brother and I still recount. It’s one of my favorites and here’s why:

Besides the fact that it’s just a good story and these types of shenanigans follow me around…

I learned a lot that day from my Gramma. We never practiced faith in the same ways. However, she taught me an openness to at least see and bear witness other people’s expressions of the Divine. In the midst of our side eyes, she was game to see whatever that encounter might bring.

I remember her posture whenever I’m invited into a new sacred space – and to be clear, that doesn’t automatically mean “a church”. Since then, I’ve found myself in all kinds of spaces – places I never thought I would get to see. I’ve been in labyrinths, temples, and edifices with a host of different customs and scenery – all with the intention of touching the Intangible.

So, I learned about my capacity to stretch, suspend, and reserve judgment for the things that my ancestors thought were important to watch. Even if I found them to completely unexpected and different. ESPECIALLY if I found them to be completely unexpected and different. I was a teenager at the time this story occurred, so trust, that was a big lesson. I also learned about the allowances we make for love’s sake. (Because if it was anyone other than my Gramma making the request…)

I miss my Gramma’s physical presence on earth. Yet, I also understand her better now. Small annoyances become life lessons. I’m grateful for each one now… even the ones that involve smoke machines and camouflage church-wear.

Image Credit: Isha Gaines, Createherstock.com

 

 

 

Dating with Chronic Illness(es) Pt. II: “Let’s Talk About Spoons, Baby”

It has been so wonderful talking with you all about dating with chronic illnesses. I send my deepest appreciation for the ways you have exhibited community, solidarity, and reflection!

In my last post, I promised a follow up and I was able to chat with Jene again and a few other good friends about this topic. Please read this information responsibly, knowing that this post does not speak for an entire community. Let’s get into it!

“Being well can get expensive” – Jene A. Colvin (JAC)

There can be significant costs associated with the treatment of chronic illnesses. Visiting Dr.’s and specialists costs money. Getting tests done requires money. Insurance deductibles… money. Medicine… money. Vitamins and supplements… money. Appointments for therapy… money. ER visits… money.

Chronic Illness Cat 2

Photo Credit: Chronic Illness Cat

You’re probably sensing a theme.

“Budgeting for your illness when you share finances or just respecting your partner’s health budget is important when dating with a chronic illness. We might not be able to go out on the town… because I just got my doctor bill” (JAC)

So, it’s important to ask good questions about what a date might entail. Discussing the financial and physical commitments to the time clears up expectations.

Re-imagining Dates and Netflix & Chill

One of the most swoon-worthy moments I’ve experienced is when a partner looked deeply into my eyes and said, “Is today a Netflix & chill kind of day?” Originally, we’d planned to go sightseeing downtown. My body had other plans.

I tried to ignore it for the better part of the morning. I wanted to follow through with these plans. I knew they were genuinely interested in the sights we planned to see.

There are days that I can lovingly encourage my body to come along with me. I give it tea and medicine. I give it warm baths and light stretching. I give it orthotics, a meditation practice, and bland foods for digestive upset, as needed. Yet, there are some days where none of this will work. I needed a way to spend time with my partner, while being attentive to my body’s limits. So, Netflix & chill it was.

My good friend Athena (1) talked to me about her experience with this, and I paraphrase it here with her permission:

I’ve had dates set and then would suddenly have to change them (due to illness). I got the feeling that I seemed like a flake, because I didn’t feel comfortable disclosing my illness. Many people would lose interest because it would take me so long to get back to “normal”. It can even make friendships hard, because I have to make plans with a contingency. “If I get a nap before… maybe I can go out” or “Let me rest a day before and we’ll see”. Or I just become an entire recluse – sick and shut in list.com. Scheduling almost makes me itch because I’m so organized. I like things to work. I get really frustrated with myself because people expect me to be the one who has to change

Dating (or even maintaining friendships) with chronic illness(es) means being flexible. In my own experience, most of my physical energy goes to my professional life and supporting myself in that area. After that, I’m looking at my wellness goals. Somewhere in between (not before or after), I’m thinking of ways to consistently show up for those relationships and partnerships that are important to me.

In my life, I’ve seen that it can be done. But sometimes, well planned dates require a change of plans. Sometimes, my body needs my throw blanket, hot tea, Netflix, and legit… chill. It’s important to remember that honoring the limitations of others is a hallmark of romance. #bodyroll #ifmybackisuptoit 😉

Paperwork, Pills, & Emergency Processes

I don’t particularly love talking about this part (sigh) but it is important to ensure that there are emergency and contingency plans. In the case of an emergency, you’ll want to know if your partner equipped with information about medical needs, allergies to medicine, signs of an illness flare-up, emergency contact information (if it’s not them) etc. to come through in the clutch. Let me be clear, whatever you disclose or expound on with your partner is. YOUR. business. I know how sensitive these things can be. I simply want to call into the e-space that a plan for paperwork, pills, and emergency processes is helpful and oftentimes, essential. Because “shit gets real when everyone else is asleep and ya’ll are at the ER” (JAC).

Doing Your Research, Suspending Assumptions, & Curating Language

Yesterday, Jene talked about using a light / color system to communicate about chronic illness. I resonate deeply with some of language around the Spoon Theory, originally created by Christine Miserando (read it here) (2). It’s not perfect, so I pair this with Johanna Hedva’s Sick Woman Theory. In my life, it’s important for baes and potential baes to have this kind language – to know that through my daily activity, I’m negotiating energy through the lens of whatever physical limitations I have aka “spoons”.
Yes… last week, I was twirling with you to vintage Prince cuts.
Yes… the other day, I waited with you in line to get to that new brunch spot.
But it helps if you know that I’m negotiating with my body to do these things. I’m enjoying myself but I might also be looking for a seated area. I’ve bought along an assistive walking device. I have my orthotics on inside of my get-em-gurl shoes. I’m stopping to stretch and to rest. I’ve saved my “spoons” – I’ve cut out another activity so that I could be present in this activity. I parked close to the venue, because I may not be able to walk back without significant pain. Or I could have to cut out an activity (or multiple activities) to recoup from being present in this activity. Again, I’m negotiating “spoons”.

So when I say, “I have about 4 spoons left”, I need bae to have done the research & have a reference point for that. ‘Cause bae can’t be out here saying, “But, if you did [fill in the blank] yesterday, why can’t you do it today?!” (Answer: I had a different amount of spoons).

Ending Notes & Points of Dialogue:
1) Athena is the pseudonym I chose for my friend. She said “Make it a spicy one so I can chuckle”. I told her I didn’t know if I could do spicy, but I figured the name of a goddess might suffice.

2) For those who are unfamiliar with this language, please do take the time to read Christine Miserando’s Spoon Theory. It does not reflect an intersectional approach to chronic illness (imagine I said that twice, for emphasis). So, read through it, take what works, and leave the rest.

For a more intersectional approach, I suggest following Spoon Theory up with Johanna Hedva’s Sick Woman Theory. There are a great deal of resources (limiting it to two here for word count) and if you find any that you want to share with me, as well, leave them in the comments below.

What language do you use to talk about chronic illness with bae or potential bae? Do you use a light / color system? Spoons? Something else? Feel free to let me know in the comments and / or through the contact form! I’ve enjoyed hearing from you all.

Perhaps, we can also talk about baes & holidays (because – whew!), sex & sexuality, and more. If you want to get in touch with me about these things, contact me here!

Image Credit: Createherstock.com

Dating with Chronic Illness(es): Healing Conversations with Sister-Friends

The constant, chronic pain hummed at a 3 in the electric wiring of my body. Through each city block, my body spoke to me, “Okay, slow down”. First, an uncomfortable warmth in my feet, hips, and lower back. Then, a distinguishable ache. Finally, sharp pain. We got to the bakery just in time for me to sit and re-group.

Our double date was wonderful in every respect – good food, great friends, in a city that we love. Yet, when we sat down with our pastries and coffee, our conversation pivoted quite a bit from those things.

“Yo, I’m not sure many people understand what it’s like to date with a chronic illness that isn’t visible”

This conversation was called into the space by my sister-friend, Jené  Colvin (whose awesomeness really does surpass words). It was the conversation that engaged us until the bakery closed for the night. It was a time to vent, to acknowledge this reality, and on some soul-level, to continue healing. Our partners sat in (mostly) quiet reflection, open body language, and a few knowing nods along the way.

This was the start of a brainstorming process for the things we’ve learned about dating with chronic illness(es) along the way. We want to share those things with you.

It’s important for you to know that we present our knowledge and lived experience to you with both anticipation and trepidation. For me, it is the continuation of a project I started (got scared of, and then stopped) a year ago. Typically, we both tend to be extremely reserved about the life cycle of our romantic relationships. Yet, through our conversation, we’ve realized that this is the moment to open up about this.

As a note, for the sake of “not all our business needs to be out on these Internet streets”, I will not directly name the chronic illnesses involved – unless it serves a key point. Jené’s comments will be marked with JAC, and my comments will be indicated by JTP. It is my great hope that this information is helpful for you as you reflect, adjust, engage, (and – lowkey / highkey – dismantle ableism).

Disclosing Chronic Illnesses

JTP: I’ve had some very interesting first date scenarios when it comes to disclosing an illness. Let me say from the gate, I still haven’t found a rigid, catch-all rubric for disclosing a chronic illness in a romantic setting. For example, the first time I met up with V in person, I knew that I would have to disclose some potentially uncomfortable things. I honestly didn’t know how that would sound:

“Yes, I’d love to go out to eat with you! But because of a chronic illness that impacts my digestive system, we just might end up going home a little earlier than anticipated if my body decides it just isn’t having it”.

“A walk around the park sounds lovely! Also, I’ve got chronic plantar fasciitis in both feet and this impacts my overall gait. So, if I stop in the middle of a ‘moment’ to stretch, then that’s why…”

“I promise I’m so excited to be with you right now! Yes… that’s exactly why I’m breaking out all over. My body has an interesting way of processing adrenaline…”

Sometimes, my body decides to be incredibly kind and sweet. Other times? Well…

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Photo credit: Chronic Illness Cat, Facebook page

With V, I ended up disclosing very early on in the process because of the circumstances. In other situations, I waited a bit longer. There have been times I’ve disclosed and ‘potential bae’s’ have looked at me in shock, surprise, and even… fear. (Needless to say, they didn’t last very long). There have also been times I’ve disclosed, expecting fear, and have been met with deep understanding.

It takes a lot to disclose because of the stigmas we have around health. In a society that hinges itself on capitalism and production, saying, “I have chronic illness(es)” can be seen as a detriment. Oftentimes, people go immediately to, “Have you tried (insert random healthy thing here)” – going to the remedy. Understand that chronic illness means… chronic. That’s not to say that there is no possibility of wellness or even complete healing. It just means that most chronic illnesses happen and will happen across a long period of time, or even a lifetime. (And yes, I do have to say this because too many people ask, “Are you better yet”?)

I don’t have a ‘thesis of disclosing’, and I’m not sure that a neatly-written script is possible in every case. What I’m here to share is that since we are all temporarily able-bodied (read up on Johanna Hedva’s Sick Woman Theory and get clear on that), disclosure is a very real part of life. So, it should be met with honor, care, concern, and confidentiality (when we share something with you… we’ve shared something with you).

Going Out!

JTP: In my experience, going on on dates has been great, as long as we think creatively and carefully about everyone’s access / accommodation needs. (Which, honestly, is just good general practice. You should be doing this even in friend outings. I try not to use a lot of ‘shoulds’ in my writing, but really… it’s 2016… like… think about people’s accessibility needs).

It’s important for both of us to be mindful: is there seating around a particular venue? How long is the walk to the venue? Should I bring an assistive walking device? If someone approaches me about my handicap placard because I don’t “look sick” (yes… it happens… a lot), who will deflect the individual that day so that our date isn’t spoiled? Whose got the medicine? What does the menu look like (for dietary needs)? In the event of an illness flare up, what is our emergency plan?

Perhaps this doesn’t sound sexy. But knowing that someone cares about your safe and enjoyable access is body-roll-worthy-do-you-hear-me?!!! It’s important to extend this framework to anyone that you’re planning to go out with (in any capacity). Practicing equitable relationships and bae-ships includes being mindful of accessibility and accommodations.

Communication Ain’t a Game

JAC: You might have to come up with your own language for what is going on so that communication is easy on bad days. It’s been really helpful for my partner and I to use an alert system for anxiety. For example, “We’re having a red / orange / yellow day” (as opposed to a ‘green day’).

It’s important to share that and to share what helps / what hinders in communication. As an example, being told “It’s okay” can be the worst thing to hear at times. It’s nice to know that your partner isn’t mad at you, doesn’t blame you, still loves you, and understands the situation. But “It’s ok” really may not be the best way to communicate that. Sometimes, “It’s okay” is like nails on the chalkboard.

It might be okay for you that we can’t have sex because fibroids are making me feel like my body isn’t mine this week – which peaks my anxiety – which makes sex too hard to engage in. You might not be mad at me for that. Yet, I might be furious and frustrated that I can’t be intimate in that way, at that time. I’m not okay. So, I don’t want you to tell me it’s okay.

In regards to overall communication, you should be able to talk to your partner about chronic illness. But you won’t always be able to talk to your partner about your illness
you just won’t. Sometimes, they won’t get it. Sometimes, it’ll frustrate you. So, you’ve got to have some other folks to lean on. You also don’t have to expend extra energy making someone else feel okay about not being able to fully understand.

JTP: Right, and that’s why I appreciate the community I’ve found with other people who suffer from chronic illnesses. I’ve found a lot of this community online, in the humor of Chronic Illness Cat. There are some things that my partner doesn’t understand, but it doesn’t mean they don’t care about it.

I’ve found that asking, “Can I help” and then, “How can I help” gets us to solutions fairly quickly. There are times that my body is just going to do whatever it wants to do. So, “Can I help” is just a good starting point. From there, we can decide what needs to be done. Sometimes, it’s as easy as, “Please put your hand on my back so that I can have a bit more support”, or “Please pass me the Motrin from my bag”. It sounds over-simplified when written but in times where my body is being very… demonstrative… it’s an efficient practice.

Maintaining Balance and Respecting Boundaries

JAC: It’s important to figure out what still makes you feel like partners. There will be times where they are caring for you because you just can’t. It’s already hard feeling like a grown ass person when your illnesses tell you, “You can’t”. But your relationship shouldn’t make you feel like their child, the burden, or diminish your dignity.

There has to be mutuality in the relationship.

JTP: Right, and these can be practical things. Often, standing for long periods of time can take a toll on my body. This means that household chores such as doing the dishes can be a bit taxing. Mutuality means that I’m being honest about those things and contributing in the areas that I can, when I can. Mutuality also means that the limitations of my body are being respected and that I’m respecting the limitations of my partner’s body.

JAC: Healthy boundaries also include getting acquainted with the ways we apologize for our illnesses without saying the word, Sorry. Sometimes, we can apologize without using words (by overextending ourselves). When we don’t take care of ourselves, shit can get out of hand very quickly! Arguments and fights are often at the end of that barrel and often, you don’t even know how you got there. So, try to gauge the things that you do with / in / through your body as a way of trying to ‘apologize’ for an illness.

On Intimacy #Bodyroll

JAC: Sex requires SO much communication and your needs will CHANGE. This is true of sexual interaction in any relationship, but it’s also real when you have to juggle your desires with what your body is actually capable of.

JTP: That definitely requires some concentrated unpacking. So, perhaps a Pt. II blog post would be best. I think it’s good to rest here and pick it up again later. At this point, I’ll also open this up for my other spoonies, friends, and family who live with chronic illnesses. If you’re interested in unpacking what dating, intimacy, life, etc. with chronic illness is like, please do contact me here! I would be honored to hear your stories!

Click here to read pt. II.

 

 

 

 

Creation in the Time of Death

“They ain’t tryna’ to see me shine, shine
Bullet on my time, time
But fuck it, I’ll live forever…” -NoName, Telefone, Track: Forever

One of the hardest questions I’m asked is, “What is your creative process?” It’s even more difficult to answer from where I’m sitting in history today.

At this moment, I’m alive in a nation of police brutality and state-sanctioned violence. At this moment, #BlackLivesMatter is the rallying cry – the reality that we deserve to live and to thrive. This cry has consistently been met with the pithy and subversively racist #AllLivesMatter cry – diverting focus from those whose Black bodies are being ripped from our Black souls in these United States of America.

At this moment, I’m alive but grieving the death of Korryn Gaines – a 23 year old mother whose home was broken into by the police – after her on some bullshit traffic violations. This encounter ended with her murder, the wounding of her son, and her story obscured and picked apart.

At this moment, I’m alive but grieving the deaths of Joyce Queweay, who passed because her boyfriend and his friend thought they would teach her a lesson about “submission” to male authority. She was murdered. And at this moment, I’m grieving the death of Skye Mockabee, a transwoman, murdered and left in a parking lot.

My sisters are being murdered. My brothers are being murdered, too. And everyone’s fighting about the fucking details.

And someone’s asking me about what my creative process is. Now.

I’ve never been more sure of the importance of writing, rapping, singing, sharing personal and cultural pain, joy, healing, lament, and strategy. I’ve never been more convinced that the writers of color are called to be the griots, healers, and purveyors of cultural / ancestral knowledge. There is necessity of creation in the time of death.There is something healing about the practice of wrangling cohesion from chaos – even if the healing happens only in the Self.

But this shit is heavy. It gets heavy. And it BEEN heavy.

“What’s your creative process?”

These days? Cry a bit. Write. Wipe tears. Cry a lot. Stop crying. Feel numb. Writers aren’t made of numbness. Stare out the window, and look at what is alive. Trees. Birds. The moth that just settled on the window. Write a bit. Stop writing. Allow my sisters to sing and speak to me…

“And I’m afraid of the dark
Blue and the white
Badges and pistols rejoice in the night
And we watch the news
And we see him die tonight” -Noname, Telefone, Track: Casket Pretty

Allow my sisters to write me through:

Erica Thurman’s, Black Folks Are Dying and I Just Keep Buying Lipstick. And Crying: On the Emotional and Economic Expense of Existing Through Trauma
The Churched Feminist’s, Litany For Black Children Who Became Collateral Damage
Brittney Cooper’s, Connect The Dots: For Korryn Gaines, Skye Mockabee and Joyce Quaweay
Nicole JhanRhea’s, Korryn Gaines I Speak Your Name

Try really hard not to play the videos or recount the events. End up doing both of those things anyway. Hoping that somehow they could live forever. Knowing that they will, somewhere, even if in the Remembrances of their Stories and the Saying of their Names. Lavishing sisterly love on them, carefully listening for the lessons they want to teach me, and wishing them well from the other side – from this fucked up plane of reality.

 

I Didn’t Choose Mystic Life, It Chose Me! (Also titled: Inheriting Mysticism from Other-mothers)

Monday – Group Meditation and affirmations
Tuesday – Chat – “Sounds like your sacral chakra might be out of balance. Let’s see if there are any exercises we can do to help with that”
Wednesday – Too-good-to-be-true coworkers lovingly refer to me as “The Apothecary” – known for having an assortment of herbal teas at the ready to ease things like stomach discomfort, lack of focus, headaches, and so on. 
Thursday – Text from friend: “Thanks for letting me know about the sage! It seems like things are looking up”
Friday – *Research on contemplative practices rooted in my cultural heritage

Many of my friends refer to me as “mystical”. I grew up in a pretty theologically conservative (yet, sometimes subversive) place for most of my childhood. In that space, we were discouraged from that which we could not easily understand through literal readings of Biblical text.

Yet… at the same time…

My other-mothers, who are now my ancestors, taught me to have a life filled with mysticism.

My godmother, Lynette, was one of the joys in my world. She became my mother’s best friend when they were both in the fourth grade. She was a consistent force of love in my life. She passed when I was 12 years old. For years, after my dear Mother woke up early, kissed my forehead, and set off on her long commute to work, I spent the remaining hours before school at my godmom’s house. She made sure I was washed, dressed, fed, and that my hair was neatly arranged before I went out.

She lit a candle for me everyday, so that I would have something delicious to smell, first thing in the morning. She regularly brewed me cups of Lemon Zinger and Raspberry tea, and introduced me to new blends when she could. I learned mindfulness from her as we sat at her dining room table, slowly sipping, sometimes listening to music – mostly, just being present.

My godmother believed that what the earth offered us was good. My mother, a medical professional, taught me about biology, different types of medicines, and their effects on the body. Simultaneously, my godmother, a children’s occupational therapist, took me to orchards to pick fruit and taught me their properties. She explained the usages of tea and the benefits of the probiotics in yogurt. She made things from scratch and believed in the healing of laughter.

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Circa Age 5-6 at Net’s Home

My grandmother was serious about God. She grew up in the Baptist church, in the lineage of the Reverend Lewis Rice, who helped to form  African Zion Baptist Church,  with “a group of free Black families” in 1852. She would often tell the story of how she was “born again” in her 40’s – converted towards a charismatic, nondenominational, Evangelical display of belief in God. When I wasn’t home, I accompanied her almost everywhere – to her home town of Charleston, West Virginia, in the summer, through her everyday errands, and to countless tent services and churches during their Revivals and Healings.

My grandmother believed in God and in spirits -in benevolent angels and vicious demons. She believed in the power of anointing with oil and the symbolic protection of a Cross drawn on the foreheads of her grandchildren. She believed that healing could happen through prayer and “laying on of hands”. She took me to places where I might encounter healing energy. She hid me in her car, armed with snacks and a coloring book, during services that intimated that an evil spirit might be nearby. She would stand watch and pray.

Afterward, she told me that when I’d encounter an evil spirit, I would know it by my “gut” and by the Spirit. She gave me rides through our city, casually making conversation about where she believed the warlocks and haints might be. She taught me to be vigilant against that which would steal my joy and peace.

When I got older, when I learned more, when I started using “big girl” words like hermeneutics and epistemological, I found a great deal of her expression of belief to be a bit odd and a bit “problematic”. I craved and loved the intellectual rigor and on visits home, I would share what I’d learned with my Gramma. She would smile deeply and genuinely, saying:

“Jadey-Mae, sometimes I don’t know what you’re talking, but you sure are talkin’ it good”. 

For a long time, I distanced myself from this type of faith and mysticism… for so many reasons. It took me a while to see the deep spirituality in what my Grandmother and Godmother were offering me – even if we didn’t verbalize these things in the same way.

As I grew older, I began making my own tea blends to assist with some of my ailments (ginger/licorice root/cinnamon & clove for stomach upset, chamomile and lavender for sleep), and I thought of my Godmother. I learned about chakras and practice of reiki – energy healing – by the hovering or laying on of hands and I thought about my Grandmother. I recalled the way she would whisper prayers and rub our backs, lingering on those places where she felt a bit  of tension. She was the first person to verbalize the importance of regarding our bodies with loving and healing touch.

I learned about mindful meditation, and then, circled back to the shared moments at the dining room table with my Godmom. I made decisions and reflected on my Gramma’s lesson that I’d know what would serve me well “from my gut’s response” to a person, place, thing, energy, spirit. I began buying essential oils for varied reasons (eucalyptus for cold / flu season, lavender for calm) and mapped it with my Gramma’s Christocentric understanding of “The Oil”. What I gained from Gramma’s impartation is that not all energies are good ones, and that I must be vigilant against that which would harm me. What I gained from Lynette’s impartation is that slowing down, meditating, stretching, brewing, were all gifts that could center me throughout my life.

In the year 2016, I opened up a chat with my good friend and asked, “Gurl, people swear I’m mystical. They might be right”. Her response told me that I was probably the only one still working through this fact (lol)! I responded offhandedly, “I didn’t choose the mystic life – the mystic life chose me” and then I realized what I said was true.

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Delivering the Invocation at Princeton’s Black Theology & Leadership Institute – Photo Credit, Dr. Regina Langley


I talked about these experiences with Ebony Janice of the Free People Project on her vlog. You can view that here!

Featured Image Credit: Createherstock.com