Monday, December 14, 2015

Intersectionality Through the Lens of a Queer Black Man - The Guest Posts

George M Johnson On Erasure & Historical Intersectionality

I often see these meme's of "we were kings" or "queens" or relating that we derived from royalty. And yes, SOME of us may have but why does black history have to be this all or nothing doctrine with complete removal of intersectionality and full insertion of respectability politics.

By this I am saying that we didn't start at slavery, but all of us aren't derived from royalty either. Some of us lineage will start from being slaves, or kings, or share croppers, or shepherds, or blacksmiths, or Egyptians or Mesapotamians or a plethera of other things.

All this to say, we need a full appreciation of what our history is. Erasure of where some of us derived is just as bad as white washing it or starting our history at slavery.

In remembering that ‪#‎allblacklivesmatter‬, we must know that a slave has just as much value as a king. It doesn't matter where we start, its all about where we finish.

Leslie Speaks

It is with some reservation and hesitance that I post this profile picture because there is so much I want to say about my identity and there is only so much time and space for me to do so. I am very grateful to Seek for his work on these images. 

To say I am black and gay is a limiting identification and not a full representation of who I am in totality but I do believe for the sake of this discussion it should shed some light on my struggles and accomplishments. My experience may be very different from others who live at the intersection of black and gay.

In my early years, from elementary until the spring semester of my sixth grade year I lived amongst black people and I attended a predominantly black school. I was constantly taunted and bullied – it was very common for me to be called a fag at least once a day. Through much therapy, reflection, and prayer over the last ten years, I now understand how traumatic this experience was and how it has shaped who I am today.

After we moved to the suburbs during my sixth grade year, I found acceptance and peace among white people. I was not taunted and bullied. And maybe using the word acceptance is an overstatement but I never felt shut out or marginalized. My grades went from C’s and D’s to A’s and B’s. This wonderful transition came at a cost. Due to the trauma I experienced amongst black people and the welcome I experienced among white people, I developed a bad case of internalized racism. For years I despised my skin because it was people who looked like me who showed me so much hate – white was obviously right and certainly best for me. I remember being asked to be the Master of Ceremony for a Black History program and I was worried about what it might look like for me to do so but the gay side of me couldn’t resist the spotlight so I accepted the opportunity.

To this day, I’m still friends with some of these folks who showed me so much love during my formative years. To this day, these same friends who are white, conservative Christians and Republicans have shown support for gay marriage while still holding their religious convictions regarding homosexuality. To me, they have embodied Christian love better than some liberal Christians I know.

The hate I felt for my skin was one of the major driving factors for my success. I worked hard to put myself in environments that made me feel comfortable and those environments were the void of black people for the most part. I had to do what was comfortable for me and in doing so garnered much success.

The Navy was no different! I felt I had to work very hard to get ahead of everyone else not because I am gay but because I am black. No one in the Navy knew this. No one in the Navy, not even my boyfriend at the time, knew how much I sought success in order to get ahead of everyone else so that I might not be considered “one of them.” Yet again in the Navy it was white people who welcomed and supported me, and on occasion, when I was harassed it was by black people, and that only further reinforced my internalized racism.

It wasn’t until I went to Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York that my internalized racism was challenged. My academic advisor, Dr. James Cone, forced me, literally forced me to claim my identity. I was so against defining myself that I almost failed his class. At the same time, the school itself engaged in a level of racism I had never experienced. The school struggled to understand the black experience. It struggled to understand the evangelical experience as well. It was institutional racism that opened my eyes, and at the age of 32 I started the journey of learning how to love myself. I was very outspoken about racism at Union, and little did anyone know, I had just begun to love my skin. I graduated with honors because of my outspoken work regarding race and much needed changed at Union. Many have criticized Union and still stand in opposition of the institution but I think it was the academic rigor and the institutionalized racism that changed my life for the better. The school gave me my voice by giving me an opportunity to finally experience racism and to speak against it.

For years I abused my body, contemplated suicide, and shut out the black experience. It has been a struggle that I don’t wish on anyone. All the while everyone saw success and a person with great promise, there was a struggle going on inside of me. I was fighting for my life! When people talk about getting delivered, I want to share with them that I didn’t need to get delivered from homosexuality, I needed to get delivered from people, places, and things that didn’t affirm the fullness of my identity.

As we celebrate the Freedom to Marry and the advancement of the Gay Rights movement, we should also conduct an internal audit of the gay movement itself. We suffer from racism. We are not stepping up for the Transgender community. We are not stepping up for the education of all children. We are not stepping up for hunger and food insecurity. We are not saying, “This movement is about more than marriage or rights in the workplace.” More than anything, we have also failed to see that our movement is a movement of justice and that none of us are free until all people are free. Never before has one movement cut across all identities: race, class, gender, poverty, hunger, immigration, religious freedom, and so much more. This is our power! We need to claim it! We need to harness it for the good of the diverse identities in the LGBT movement. I long for the day when the Pride flag will be a symbol not just of the gay movement but the movement of justice.

I am so grateful to my Mother who has shown me nothing but acceptance even when I didn’t accept myself. I am so grateful to my Father and Step-Mother who through their struggles being an interracial couple have shown me how to press on when others don’t want to affirm your relationship. I am so grateful for my mixed-race sisters who have added another layer of complexity to how I discuss race and identity. I’m so grateful to Unity of Houston for teaching me how to value myself as a unique expression of God – there will never be another me! I’m so grateful to Pilgrim Congregational Church in Houston (a historic and predominantly black church) that welcomed me and Marcus with open arms. I am grateful to Union Theological Seminary for just being…well, Union! I am grateful to all the students at Union who called me to be a voice for them. I am grateful to Cathedral of Hope-Houston for welcoming me and allowing me to just be me. I am grateful for all of my experience, even the ones that pushed me to the edge of taking my life. More than anything, I’m grateful to Marcus for being a proud black man that knew I was struggling with race yet stood by me. All of this has made me who I am!

I am grateful to be one of the unique expressions of the ever-living God who chose to express himself as me: a beautiful Black and Gay Christian man with moderate theological and political views. I am grateful to still be a work in progress. The Master is not done with me yet! And for that, I AM OH SO GRATEFUL!

What I once perceived as a weakness has become my greatest strength. In the words of the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians: I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

Leslie Jackson

Brandon's Independence Day

I have never felt a connection to the 4th of July. I know that is the day that Americans celebrate the United States independence from England, and its supposed to be a collective celebration of freedom and independence. However, I have never had a connection to the holiday because, July 4, 1776, those were like me, black, gay, male, we were not free in this country. We were still enslaved in the United States. You couldn’t marry or be publicly be in a relationship with someone of the same gender. You couldn’t really be fluid in terms of gender back then. Therefore, it makes sense why the 4th of July has never really resonated with me.

I am a survivor of many things in my life. I have survived Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma twice. I am a rape survivor. I am a child-abuse survivor. Combine all of this with the daily struggles of being black, gay, and not 100% male conforming, it is a lot! I deal with all of these issues in my own way and in many ways in silence. One of the reasons why I deal with them in silence is because I’m often told to deal with them in silence because the world doesn’t like to hear people talk about the painful difficult aspects of their lives, especially if you have many. I also deal with them in silence because many of these experiences have been belittled and minimized by other people and you get to a point where you do not want your experiences to be minimized so you just remain quiet about it. Well, today I guess I am celebrating an Independence Day by saying to the world through this post that I am a Black Gay Male, Cancer, Rape, Child Abuse survivor who is dealing with all of these issues simultaneously each and everyday and I’m doing my best to handle it in the way that is most comfortable for me to handle it. It may not be the way that you deal with it, but at the same time, you’re not living with it. We as Black people have often been told that we have to love our enemies and understand others, without that same understanding coming our way. We as Gay people have often been told that we have to respect everyone else’s marriages and loves without having that same respect coming our way. We as gender non-conformists, have often been told that we need to not put ourselves out there, that are non-conforming behavior is problematic for other members of the LGBT community, and that are non-conforming is damaging to society. I say, why should any of us understand, respect, or conform to those who are not understanding, respecting, or behaving in a way that is pleasing to us.

I have spent a great deal of my life, silencing myself, understanding others, helping others, and trying to conform to standards that don’t have me in mind or are in my best interests. I know many of you who are reading this have also silenced yourself, given of yourself, minimized yourself, and conformed to standards that do not fit you. Today, I say, celebrate your Independence Day, and be free from all things that are inhibiting your voice, your progress, your growth, and your ability to freely live in all your intersections. Don’t wait because trust me as someone who has had his own family turn away from him, friends who may or may not be there when you need them, no real sense of consistency when it comes to love, you will drive yourself crazy if you keep conforming and waiting for these people. As my best friend has to often remind me, no one owes you closure, and at the same time, no one owes you, YOU. YOU owe yourself to be fully who you are.

So don’ t wait for others to grant you independence, claim your own independence in being freely all of who you are and expressing in the ways YOU feel you need to. I’m celebrating my Independence Day by claiming my own freedom in being fully who I am as a survivor of a whole lot of shit and someone who is finding his way the best way he knows how and marching to the beat of his own drum. I invite you to celebrate your own and let what ever flag you carry fly!

Kedric Speaks

It was the summer of 2001. I was sitting in a church worship service in a city in East Texas. I am an avid church attendee and volunteer member at the church that I consider a home church. This particular church is a large church in the city that I lived in during that time. They have a fabulous choir, an awesome youth and young adult ministry and great outreach to their local community. Every Sunday is always a pomp and circumstance with the music, dance and sermons. The pageantry is an epic occasion of people driving their freshly washed cars, wearing their newly pressed outfits, women with their new hair-do, the men with their fresh edges and tapers and the clergy and choir dressed in their angelic dress and robing. The sanctuary was always filled with standing room only crowds with a visual average of 30 years to 50. The last Sunday that I was in attendance there, the assistant pastor at the time was in charge of the pulpit as the orator of the sermon. He was a young man at the time in his mid-30’s. He was doing great with the delivery of his sermon until the speaking about the seven deadly sins. One of them being homosexuality.

I believe it was sin number five on the list. As soon as it was mentioned with his personal interpretation and elaboration, the congregation rose in a responsive shout of support of homosexuals “going tell hell for doing what they do.” As the eruption and uproar happened, I just sat in the pew. I immediately became upset, somewhat depressed and felt outcast. As soon as the hoopla was over, I made my exit out of the building with haste. I arrived to my car and the tears flowed. At that time, I was really dealing with my own self-identity and spirituality. Being a man who grew up in church, I love God and I worship God as my creator, comforter and parent. I didn’t want to do anything wrong against God. According to them and my childhood church, I did. It was that day that I decided to make a change for myself and not attend any kind of church until there was one for me and others like me. I then began a quest of find a community of spirited people with the same ideals as I had. I heard about a small community of faith not far from where I lived that was inclusive of all people. I started attending and soon became unhappy because I then realized that I didn’t want traditional church. Yes they preached a God of all but, they were not practicing what they preached. Lots of closeted religion was felt and that was not good for me and the lack of community involvement because of the fear of being put on front street. It was then that I decided not to attend church of any kind. I have always known that Sunday morning church doesn’t enhance my life or get me closer to God. Within several months, I moved here to Houston and I didn’t attend church for a two years.

Before and after my arrival to Houston, I heard about this church named Resurrection. I heard that it was a “gay church” and that phrase alone made me a bit leery at the time. I decided to give it a try and see what happens. As soon as I arrived, I noticed a very large building. I immediately thought it was a dream! A gay church. This LARGE?!?!? In the south?!?!?!?! I hope it is a church beyond the thought of just “gay church.” This has to be a joke right? So, I gave it a try. I drove up and parked. I was hesitant to leave my car just to walk in. I mustered up enough energy and where with all to get out and walk to the door. I entered the building and was immediately greeted with a hearty hello and a warm embrace. I was then a bit nervous. I walked into the worship space. Soon as I entered, I noticed a diverse group of people. Male and female. Black, brown and white. The attire of the people were very casual and the gospel choir was singing that day. I was immediately drawn in! At least 500 people were in attendance that day and I immediately felt at home. I have now been there for 11 years and it has been a blast! Since I have been here, I have learned that we are a Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) denomination with over 300 churches across the globe. We all serve a God of all. A God that loves all people of different life experiences, faith/spiritual/denomination backgrounds…churched and unchurched. I will admit, we also have our challenges as a church/Christian organization.

The preaching, teaching and living the life of a Christian has it’s challenges when educating people here in the south that we are good people who will not judge or bash a person for being basically different. To earnestly and honestly live out the golden rule of loving your neighbor as yourself is a huge challenge. We as adult people have the tendency to become rigid in our thoughts and feelings that will cause us to become oblivious to anyone who is willing to extend a Christian hand of love and full acceptance of you…not just tolerance…and not just LGBTIQA. I have invited people to our place of worship numerous times. I always have a hope that they would attend immediately following the invitation. However with Houston being a mega city with mega churches where people can get lost in attending, I have come to let people come and attend on their own. I have also seen a growth of new churches who are inclusive as well. Now this makes me a bit sad because of two reasons. The first is the thought of church competition: who has the best worship experience to get the people to attend?

The second is the thought of leadership minded people with a personal and strong conviction, taking their original faith and denomination backgrounds, starting these religious organizations and (seemingly) not healing from their own personal oppression. What I love about my local MCC church is that we do the work for healing and wholeness. We challenge the book that is called a bible and collectively talk about the history of the text as a community. Our church is not a church of pomp and circumstance. It is really about people and their wellbeing. The trick is for a person to really have the willingness to open themselves to doing church differently. It’s about personal and spiritual growth. Personal and spiritual development. Personal and spiritual change. If we as people would just do the work and gather together to talk about intersectionality within in church and religious context, the thought and practice of intersectionality will be null.

 Having a church on every corner does not help when they all have the same faith roots. I understand that organizations do have an influence based on the community they are surrounded by. For example, it is important to have a Spanish, Asian and Jewish language church. It is also great to have different practices of faith and religion. I feel that it is not ok to have two of the same denominational churches a block away from one another. Why can’t they blend and work together to build community? Also, will there ever be a day where we can all bring our differences together and talk about them without demeaning one another? This is one experience that I am glad about MCC churches. We have every kind of makeup of people in our congregation and spiritual development classes every week. It is with this kind of experience of creating a place and space for people to freely be themselves that will stop self and public oppression. Respect all to love all.

- Kedric Brown

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