Which Jubilee Will It Be?

. . . we have to find more ways to talk openly and positively about sex and bodies and spirituality

Malachi is on leave this month

Robin:

All justice is embodied justice; all injustice is embodied injustice.

Nude Shoot: Robin Gorsline, 10/3/2017I was reminded of that maxim—which I long ago adopted as a central key to understanding how the world works and doesn’t work—when I encountered an article in Huffington Post, “LGBTQ Adults in U.S. Less Likely to Have Jobs and Be Insured, Study Finds.” 

It must be noted immediately that the title of the article is misleading in that it appears to include transgender persons in the study. However, the study itself dealt only with sexual orientation, and there is no mention of gender variant or transgender persons in the report. Nor did the study indicate any awareness of queerness. My guess is that were a similar study done for those categories there would be an even greater disparity of outcomes as regards employment and health. It seems clear that in the U.S. attitudes towards transgender persons are considerably more negative than those toward LGB persons. I doubt most people, outside the LGBTQ world, even know much about being queer (and of course, many within the community debate use of the term).

huffington-post-logo-e1467848295212 (1)Despite legal gains and significant shifts in public attitudes, the reality remains that being, or being identified as, lesbian, gay, and bisexual carries considerable penalty and loss for many (and in some places, there even have been gains for transgender persons but the penalties are far more pervasive, often involving violence).

It is in the everyday interactions among people, among living and breathing human bodies, where deep, negative, often unacknowledged, attitudes and practices remain operative.

The study described in the article, led by Brittany Charlton, an assistant professor at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, confirms the results of earlier studies in showing that “overall, both male and female sexual minorities were about twice as likely to have been unemployed and uninsured over the prior year compared to straight peers. They were also more likely to report poorer health and quality of life.”

Charlton and her team also note that “Most of the study participants were white and their families had middle-to-high household incomes.” She says that this indicates “we may have underestimated levels of employment, being uninsured, and having poor health-quality of life.”

So, as always, race and class play a significant negative role.

LGBT-DiscriminationI doubt many readers here will be surprised by the results of this study, although maybe some might have thought that later results would be less negative than those from 1996 and 2004. That does not appear to be the case. This would indicate the depth of resistance that remains in the U.S. towards LGBTQ equality. And this study does not include the social attitudinal and legal effects of the Trump administration’s overt negativity towards those in sexual and gender minority communities.

Indeed, reports indicate that anti-LGBTQ homicides in 2017 nearly doubled from the prior year. According to a report by NBC News, “People of color were disproportionately represented in the findings and constituted the majority of victims. In total, 37 of the 52 victims were people of color. Thirty-one of the victims were black and four were Latinx. Twenty-seven of the victims were transgender women, and 22 of those victims were transgender women of color. Cisgender (non-transgender) men accounted for 20 of the homicides, most of which were related to “hookup violence,” the report states.

So what is my point? Again, we know we have a long way to go—that gains are not enough, and that some gains are already undermined, and more may be.

My point in highlighting this survey and other reports is simply this: we have to find more ways to talk openly and positively about sex and bodies and spirituality.

spiritual sexIt is especially important for us to link sex and bodies with spiritual life, if for no other reason than that so many retain old artificial divisions based on ancient understandings that the body is the site of unclean and even evil thoughts and acts while the spirit is pure and holy.

But frankly, we need to do this for a larger reason—namely that everyone will be helped when we, all of us, can see the divine in all things, including our bodies and sexuality. And we will not get there without also showing that the wide variety of bodies and sexual practices are good and blessed and holy (assuming there is always consent for any sexual activity).

I can say I am continually frustrated within my own faith movement, Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC), because of deep unwillingness to acknowledge and share our various sexual lives and practices. Indeed, this blog began initially by me alone, in response to that frustration, to try to start conversation. Few seemed to notice, especially within MCC.

Then, Malachi joined me and thanks to his openness and courage the range of experiences and topics grew significantly. Still, few joined the readership.

My frustration is particularly acute because we promote each of our blog posts through various MCC social media fora, and have been doing so the entire time. Still, few join.

Troy Quote 01What is particularly vexing is that MCC was founded on sex, namely to overcome the reality that open and self-affirming lesbian and gay people were regularly denied full membership and leadership in Christian churches generally and were often hounded out and deeply damaged. It was because of sex that the Rev. Elder Troy Perry called the first service on October 6, 1868.

Yes, it will be 50 years this fall since that first service in living room of Troy Perry’s little pink house (isn’t that delicious?) in Los Angeles.

Jubilee year Proclaim-LibertyIn the Jewish traditions out of which Christianity emerged, 50 years was the time of jubilee. At the end of seven cycles of Sabbath years, according to Leviticus 25:8-13, slaves and prisoners would be freed, debts would be forgiven, and the mercies of God would be particularly evident.

That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee to you. In it you shall not sow, neither reap that which grows of itself, nor gather from the undressed vines. For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you. You shall eat of its increase out of the field. In this Year of Jubilee each of you shall return to his property.(11-12)

What will Metropolitan Community Churches celebrate this Jubilee year? Will it be how we have survived (right now more or less by the skin of our teeth)?

Or will it be to return to the original vision God had for Troy and us—to truly blow the trumpet of liberation for sexual minorities and all people who see the divine in our intimate, embodied relationships, to become the teachers of the Church universal, the beacons of hope and joy, and justice, in and for all bodies?

Let us pray.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Malachi:

As we head toward the middle of February, the world paints itself in pinks and reds, expressions of affection, anatomically incorrect hearts and overpriced flowers, and a myriad of ways to say, “I love you,” carefully crafted by greeting card companies (and usually accompanied by an abundance of glitter). It’s Valentine’s Day, a strange and perplexing holiday in which we are, in general, encouraged to express love and affection for those in our lives- specifically romantic entanglements.

Certainly, those who are unpartnered are encouraged to celebrate the love of friends and family, and parents are encouraged to celebrate love for their children (usually assuming their children are prepubescent), and children are encouraged to send well-wishes to other students in their classes (even the bully that takes their lunch money), but the reality is, Valentine’s Day is a couple’s holiday, a time to celebrate That Special Someone in your life. I suppose I sound a bit pessimistic about the whole business; Valentine’s Day tends to strike me as a capitalist, consumer holiday intended to reinvigorate the market after the inevitable lull immediately following Christmas.

My somewhat cynical and skeptical perspective on Valentine’s Day may seem antithetical to the purpose of the holiday- after all, shouldn’t we take any and all opportunities to express our love and affection for the people we care about? I think a part of me rebels at the mandate- this is the day that we show how much we love one another- because a part of me believes, much like the Christmas spirit, that we should seek to live with that in our daily lives, and not once or twice a year.

Photo Credit

As a polyamorous person, I also struggle because there are few (if any) representations of the ways that I love. No one is my “everything,” nor do I have a “love of my life.” I have those that I love deeply, those that I hope to grow old with, those that I have known and loved now for over half of my life, those with whom I have deep, committed partnerships that do not include a sexual component, those for whom sex is the basis of our relationship (but that is a kind of love, too, for me). The point is, dividing my time and trying to find ways to express and share the multitudes of affection and love and care that I have in my life is an overwhelming task anyway, let alone trying to cram it all into one day.

And as I begin to think about non-monogamy, I immediately think of kink, and the ways that affection is something expressed in BDSM. Without consent and thorough discussion, of course, much of what we do in kink and BDSM would be considered abusive…and as I am mulling over Valentines day, I cannot help but think of intimate partner violence and non-consensual interactions within couples. I think of the couples going out to dinner and a movie, those who are meeting someone for a first date, and wonder how many people will have sex that night because they feel they “owe” it to their partner to do so? How many people will be coerced, manipulated, or forced into sexual situations because someone else has their heart set on getting laid on the lover’s holiday?

Perhaps this is a dark and pessimistic way to think about Valentine’s Day, but it’s a difficult thing to stomach when we celebrate a day dedicated to couples and partnerships but consistently silence those who speak out about intimate partner violence. The rise of #MeToo has certainly shown the dangers and fears that women experience- not just single women who are dating, but women who are married or in long-term relationships (and this doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of assault and abuse men experience, and the added weight of toxic masculinity making it that much harder to break the silence there).

These things also bring me to thoughts of sending my daughter to school on Valentine’s Day: will she get one of those small, store-bought valentine’s from someone in her class, asking her to be their girlfriend? At 9 years old, she’s struggling to understand what that even means. Will she have to give out valentines to her classmates- from the boy she has a crush on to the kid that makes fun of her and picks on her? I appreciate and respect the idea that no one be excluded and everyone gets a valentine, but I also struggle with the idea of teaching children to offer mandatory affection to those who consistently cross their boundaries.

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But I also think about my own partners, the people that I love deeply and dearly. I think about bringing home flowers for one, because he likes getting flowers, and flowers for the other, because people rarely bring him flowers. I think about the texts I’ll send that day- one to a similarly-cynical lover that will express affection while recognizing that the whole thing is ridiculous; one to a sweetheart who appreciates small recognitions and gestures more than they are able to articulate; one to someone who takes immense pleasure in the moments of care and affection, whatever the purpose or reason behind them. I think about how we all work together to make it work.

I don’t particularly care for Valentine’s Day, not because I dislike the sentiment, but because it feels flat, one-dimensional, and only accessible to that part of the population who has managed to find someone they resonate with. I love the idea of expressing love, care, and affection in consensual, non-coercive ways… but I don’t think that is well-encompassed in Valentine’s Day.

Show love. Express care, express gratitude, tell the people that you love them that you do, often and frequently. But do it every day… and not one the one day of the year where roses are overpriced and Hallmark has found every possible iteration of “I love you” in glittery, cursive script. Celebrate on Valentine’s Day with the ones you love… and the days before, and the days after, until love is the permeating presence in your life.

 Robin:

Nude Shoot: Robin Gorsline, 10/3/2017Happy Valentine’s Day! Be My Valentine!

It rolls off the lips and the pen pretty easily. And often feels good.

But what if it doesn’t?

I remember some years of singlehood when there was as much pain as joy on this day. I am sure I am not the only one.

There is also the question of determining just who is my Valentine?  My husband, surely, but are there others, or is this really only about mates?

When they were little and I was divorced from their mother, I sent Valentine’s to my three daughters. Then a friend pointed out that as they reached puberty it might be a little creepy. I stopped sending them. Now I send to my three- and six-year-old granddaughters.  I assume I will stop at the appropriate moment.

The traditional, overwhelming heterosexism of this social custom makes me wonder if I would have sent Valentines to my sons or will send them to any grandsons that may yet bless our lives?

But there are more customs, or history, of this day which make it more problematic than I used to understand. Like most major celebrations, some of the details can create conflicting emotions. Christmas—because the date which the church chose was intended to supersede the Roman holiday of Saturnalia—comes to mind.

Valentine’s Day seems to have had a far more checkered past. According to National Public Radio,

From Feb. 13 to 15, the Romans celebrated the feast of Lupercalia. The men sacrificed a goat and a dog, then whipped women with the hides of the animals they had just slain.

The_Lupercalian_Festival_in_Rome by Circle_of_Adam_Elsheimer_
The Lupercalian Festival in Rome (ca. 1578–1610), drawing by the circle of Adam Elsheimer, showing the Luperci dressed as dogs and goats, with Cupid and personifications of fertility

The Roman romantics “were drunk. They were naked,” says Noel Lenski, a historian at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Young women would actually line up for the men to hit them, Lenski says. They believed this would make them fertile.

The brutal fete included a matchmaking lottery, in which young men drew the names of women from a jar. The couple would then be, um, coupled up for the duration of the festival — or longer, if the match was right.

In addition to the date, Ancient Rome may also be responsible for the name. Emperor Claudius II executed two men — both named Valentine — on Feb. 14 of different years in the 3rd century A.D. Their martyrdom was honored by the Catholic Church with the celebration of St. Valentine’s Day.

Still what’s history got to do with it? Maybe more.

Greeting Card Association logoThis holiday has become a wonderful midwinter jolt to commercial activity. Prior to the development of improved printing techniques in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, most people made handmade Valentine greetings.

Now, the Greeting Card Association claims more than one billion cards are exchanged (150 million in the United States). While the number startled me when I first encountered it, it reminded that the holiday is popular in places outside the U.S.! This compares to 2.6 billion cards exchanged at Christmas. Still, when you add in chocolate and flowers and other gifts of endearment, Valentine’s Day is a commercial high point.

February also is Black History Month. I used to hear complaints from Black people that, of course, it is the shortest month of the year! I don’t know if they were being ironic or angry, or most likely both. It seems clear to me that the first half of Black History Month often gets subsumed by preparations for and celebrations of Valentine’s Day.

Frederick_Douglass_c1860s
Frederick Douglass ca 1860

I do know that Black History Month grew up organically in the African American community, instigated largely by the late and renowned historian, Carter G. Woodson. He was inspired by how in the 1890s local and state Black communities had begun having celebrations of Black History Week, built around the adjacent birthdays of two heroes, Abraham Lincoln (February 12) and Frederick Douglass (February 14).  Great man that Lincoln was, it is Douglass whose birth and life deserve far more attention than they receive.  An interesting note: Douglass, born a slave in Maryland without a birth record, decided as an adult that his birthday, known to be in February, should be on February 14—because he remembered that his mother kept calling him her “little Valentine.”

Tonight, my husband and I are planning to go out for a Valentine’s Day dinner, something we have not done in some years. I intend to offer a toast to Douglass at dinner, and I intend in the days leading up to and including February 14 to make small efforts on Facebook and elsewhere to raise awareness of Douglass.  His love for himself and his people furnish an excellent example of love in action.

Narrative of the Life of Frederick DouglassAs a queer theologian, I am unsettled by Valentine’s Day. Honoring the martyrdom of the first St. Valentine’s by the Roman Catholic Church is understandable, indeed commendable. But presumably it was their love of God and Jesus that got them killed. Now we use the day to honor people with cards and gifts. Where is the day to honor those who sacrifice for love?

It all feels too much like what we do with the birth of Jesus—make it a feast for ourselves rather than understanding and honoring the demands and possibilities of love that knows and accepts no boundaries.

Would Valentine’s Day not be better spent engaging in “love projects”—organizing and undertaking actions to create change in the lives of others? How about something as simple as going to a soup kitchen or homeless shelter or women’s shelter to offer help? What about spending the day with a shut-in who would be glad for some attention or maybe a trip to the store or a movie?

Is not love more than a feeling, more than a way we feel about one person or even a few special people? Is it not more than cards, flowers, and candy? Is it not a way of life to be shared with all, for all, through all?

I have decided to stick with love MLKI have come to believe that love is an orientation toward life, it is how God calls us to live each moment of our lives. The central question becomes not so much who do I love but how do I love—how do I love myself and the world, enough to risk it all, like Frederick Douglass, to create change? He was not martyred, but he gave unstintingly of himself to the cause of his people to rise above the vileness of slavery and Jim Crow, to create in their own eyes, if not in the eyes of most others, the beloveds of God they were and are.

For me, today is Frederick Douglass Day at least as much as Valentine’s Day.

We Want to Hear from You! Help Make this a Conversation!

How do you feel about Valentine’s Day? Do you have only positive memories or are they mixed? Please share your thoughts, your heart, on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

Mark Your Calendar! March 14, right here, the next installment of Sex, Bodies, Spirit.

Equal Bodies, White Rules

We have to do the work to identify the ways in which racism manifests in our own personal, intimate thoughts, actions, responses, and ideologies

by Robin Gorsline and Malachi Grennell

Robin:

The tragedy of Orlando continues to reverberate in many ways. Jonathan and I shared in very powerful worship on Sunday at Metropolitan Community Church of Washington (MCCDC) focused on those lost and how we need to respond in ways that promote love. In that service, Rev. Dwayne Johnson mentioned several times that many of the dead were Puerto Rican.

revrobin2-023I had already been thinking about how little was being said in the mainstream media about the loss of so many Latino/a (or Latinx to be gender neutral) people. In conversation with Malachi, he said “If Pulse had been a “straight” club, would not more have been made of the attack on Latinx people?” Would not the headlines have referenced an attack on a Hispanic club (or Hispanics at a dance club) rather than a gay club? What if it had been mostly a group of African Americans, or “African night” at the gay club? Are we incapable to dealing with all the layers of this tragedy? I hope not.

This got Malachi and me thinking, as “white” people (or as people who consider ourselves white, as Ta-Nehisi Coates helpfully puts it in Between the World and Me, or people of European descent as others say), about our own relationships with the bodies of people of color. We are intensely aware that as writers we have some serious limitations based on our social locations, and specifically in this blog by the social construction of our bodies—despite being gay, transgender, old, younger, male-centered (me with stereotypically male body parts, and Malachi with a different configuration as well as experience as a girl/woman) and the off-centeredness, non-normal social locations those characteristics set up, neither of us can claim experience as non-white bodies, bodies with the attributes of color as our society defines that.

Ta-Nehisi Coates Between the World and MeWe are wanting people who can speak from “locations of color” to write here for this blog (note: if you are interested in posting with us, please contact us at the emails listed above our respective pictures on the right).

But we also know that it is imperative for us to do some decentering of our whiteness by talking about our interactions with those who are not colored as we are (let’s get clear right off that although in the pigment spectrum, white is defined as the absence of color, in the social realm in this country and world, white is most definitely a color, the default body color for social and personal power).  At the same time, we recognize that in writing about this, we also are re-centering ourselves—it is a complicated business for white people to decenter ourselves, because the very act can at the same time draw attention to us.

Okay. What about me?

I have a relatively long history of anti-racism commitments and activities stemming from an unexpected learning experience. It was 1978 when I paid my first visit to the Oakland County Jail (the county in southeast Michigan directly north of Wayne County and Detroit). I was an elected County Commissioner and had been challenged by an advisor to do a jail inspection (something the Sheriff and others did not encourage).

black men behind bars forum davidicke com
forum.davidicke.com

I was stunned by the fact that at least 75% of the male inmates were Black—this in a county that was 90% or so white. That was the beginning of really personal awareness of how Black people, Black bodies, are viewed, and treated, since my childhood when parents admonished me to treat our weekly cleaning lady, Mrs. Kendrick, with the respect due all adults.

As a teenager in the 1960s, I had been an admirer of Dr. King and civil rights leaders and supported the cause, but that was my liberal political self, not much related to actual people and their bodies. The experience in the jail, and my subsequent work as a volunteer with Offender Aid and Restoration (OAR), a group dedicated to helping ex-offenders rebuild their lives after incarceration, caused me to begin asking questions and learning more about racism, and all this was a key factor leading me to seminary in 1981. My subsequent writing about race and racism and other activities over 30 years really, in important ways, stem from those first learnings in Michigan. I had a similar experience of a disproportionate number of Black bodies at the Deer Island Correctional Center in Boston harbor in the summer of 1984, during a seminary internship.

But what strikes me now is how unaware I, as a gay man, was over the years of the effect of racism and white privilege in selecting sexual partners, and even in building male friendships. It never occurred to me to ask myself, especially when living as a single gay man in the racial mix of Manhattan and Brooklyn in the 1990s, why I rarely seemed to encounter Black men in social situations that might lead to more than a smile and a handshake, and when I did why I did not create more connection.

Ibrahim
Dr. Ibrahim Farajaje

It is not that I did not associate with Black men—a dear friend who became a mentor in my doctoral program, Dr. Ibrahim Farajajé, was a leading African American Queer academic and activist, and I hung out a lot with him in Washington, D.C. (and he visited me in New York) and some of his friends, also Black and gay, in Washington and New York. Ibrahim, and several of his friends, were very attractive, but they showed no sexual interest in me, and I feared I might lose their friendship if I “came on” to them (today, I wonder if this was really true, or whether it was my way of avoiding dealing with feelings of “otherness”). I went to a few gatherings of the New York Jacks, a “jerk-off” club, where the racial mix was rich, but my memory is of connecting only with white men.

As I write all of this, I realize that although my mind and my heart, my ethics and ideology, have long celebrated African American culture, and I have been an advocate for racial justice, for undoing white privilege in its subtle and still powerful forms, and fighting white supremacy in its virulent forms, I do not have a completely easy relationship with Black male bodies (and with Latinx people and Asians—and it will be important at another time and context to raise these questions in relation to women in my life).

This is not easy to say, because of course I want to be seen as totally liberated. That is impossible for any white person in our culture—white privilege/supremacy/racism is the air we breathe from the moment we cry out in the delivery room until the day we die—but still I find it difficult to admit how little progress in disrupting it I have made in some areas of my life.

white privilege 2I agree with psychologist Marilyn Suchet, and many others, who claims that “whiteness is more about a hierarchal position of power in relation to another than color.” (“Unraveling Whiteness,” Psychoanalytic Dialogues, vol. 17, no. 6, 2007) No matter how much we want to stop being white, it is hard to give up the privileged place, the power, and much of it is so ingrained it is hard to know when I have and use the power because I don’t even see it. This may be especially true in terms of embodied relationships.

I am in a beautiful, monogamous relationship with my white, Jewish husband of more than 18 years, so I am not seeking sex with Black men, or other men of color, or anyone else for that matter.  But I want to learn to make myself more vulnerable, to open up to men of color more than I have. My friend/mentor Ibrahim and I drifted apart (I need to look at that, too), and then just this year he died at the age of 56 and I have lost contact with his friends (at least one has died). I don’t know if I can find them, but there are other men in my life now.

white and black hands mtdtraining com
mtdtraining.com

The church where I worship and serve as volunteer clergy is probably more than one-half Black every Sunday, and there are many wonderful Black men among them (and other men of color and white men, too). I need to remove my clergy collar, and more to the point my sense of entitlement and authority for being white (I really need to see this, and it probably will need to be pointed out to me in many instances, so I can practice letting go), and be open to engaging different realities, different relationships, on a first-hand, first-person, intimately friendly, basis. This is undoubtedly true of my relationships with men in general.

I surely don’t mean to fetishize a desire for better relationships with men of color, or to fetishize any group of men, but I know that my deep commitment to disrupting white supremacy and privilege must be intimate and embodied and vulnerable, to be true to the call of God on my soul.

Malachi:

This is perhaps one of the harder pieces for me to write because it feels so multifaceted and interpersonal. In the past two weeks, I have had five different black women who live near me comment that I have gained weight- several of them have made the comment that I’m getting “thick,” and one had me turn in a circle to inspect whether my butt had gotten bigger (she pronounced that it has).

Malachi GrennellI have incredibly complicated and mixed feelings about these interactions. As a person with a history of an eating disorder, who has struggled with addiction to diet pills, and constantly obsesses about their weight, my first response was shame and indignation. Gaining weight is a negative thing, and I want to fix it. And why do so many people feel as though they have the right to comment on the physical attributes of another person?

It was so easy to feel shame and (what felt like) righteous indignation. I’ve been around and supported many different kinds of body positivity movements, and my health and healing involved struggling with my disease and addiction. The more I think about these interactions, however, I’m forced to deal with the ugly manifestation of my own racism.

Gaining weight is negative. It’s a bad thing; it means that we are unhealthy and unattractive. At least, that is the message that we are inundated with from mainstream media. We are also surrounded by the concept of the quintessential archetype of beauty- the attributes of which are primarily white-centered.

scales help ifasters com
ifasters.com

Bodies that tend to carry more weight. Bodies with substantial curves, including hips and butts. Smaller breasts. Not only are these body types that are not readily displayed as “beautiful” in our dominant culture, these are also body types that are appreciated in different cultures, particularly within non-white cultures.

The reality is, being called thick was intended in a complimentary way. It was an acceptance of a body type- my body- that is appreciated within black culture, but not necessarily in white culture. It was a comment on my gaining weight, yes- but this was not seen as negative.

Do I think that it’s appropriate for people to make unsolicited comments about someone else’s body? Not particularly, but context is relevant. I had different levels of interactions with these women throughout the past year- they are my neighbors- and one in particular (the one who told me to spin around) is someone I sit and talk with frequently. In the context of the culture of this neighborhood, it is appropriate to make such comments.

Not-Thin-Enough runningwithspoons com
runningwithspoons.com

There is the part of me that takes it personally because of my history. And I think that piece of it is important and shouldn’t be erased. But I think it’s also important to recognize that my “ideal” is based- almost entirely- on very white concepts.

I began to think about how I felt, and realized that, at its core, my feelings were a sense of panic that I was no longer “attractive enough” (even though I was being complimented on my appearance). But it’s not that I’m not attractive enough… it’s that I don’t have the correct type of body to meet white standards of beauty for men or women. It made me wonder how it feels to live in a body that is constantly told by society that they are “not enough” or maybe too much.

This article briefly discusses eating disorders among women of color, stating that “the dominant standards of beauty are internalized and women from minority groups adhere to standards similar to those of white women.” This is one of many blatant examples of systematic racist ideology in the United States: women of color are at risk of developing eating disorders because whiteness=beauty, and white bodies=standard of beauty.

beautiful-funny-thick-thighs-things-curves-O1U3Ql-quote quoteslike com
quoteslike.com

In these interactions with neighbors, I had to come face-to-face with my own racism.  I had to be willing to understand that I did not want to accept these compliments because thickness is not something that is celebrated in white culture. I wanted to distance myself. I wanted to blame it on my own history. In some ways, I still want to. But choosing to act as an ally to people of color, I must make a conscious effort to constantly untangle myself from the racist ideology that is rampant in dominant US cultural discourse.

In the midst of all these things, I am still thinking about Orlando. And I am still thinking about the fact that the bodies were not, by and large, white bodies. I keep thinking that before they went to that nightclub, before they were part of the symbol of an attack on queer culture in the United States, many were Latinx (a gender-neutral term from Latino or Latina). I can’t help thinking about the loud pronouncements that “these were Americans that died! This was an attack on Americans!” were vocalized by many of the same people who, on a different day, would have questioned whether the deceased were in this country illegally.

black woman concerns about safety marieclaire com
marieclaire.com

The bodies of people of color in this country are constantly under attack. Whether it’s beauty standards or manner of speaking or physical appearance or assumed religious practices, we as white Americans are constantly policing people of color. We feel threatened when we see a young black man because we associate that image with gangs. We use terms like “ghetto” in reference to poor, urban areas that are likewise associated with people of color- as well as a lack of education. We see someone who appears to be from the Middle East and assume terrorist. We make assumptions about how women of Asian descent are expected to behave.

The reality is, we live in a white-dominated culture, and expect other cultures to assimilate to us. We are the standard that everyone else is supposed to meet, and the stereotypes we associate with different cultural or ethnic groups are rarely positive. It’s not only with our words or our actions- like when we lock the door because we think we are in a bad part of town, and try not to think about the fact that we are in a bad part of town because every face outside the car is a dark face.

It’s about the internal standards we hold ourselves to without thinking. It’s about realizing that we need to check our own ideas about race and beauty because someone complimented something that, in white culture, is not appreciated. It’s realizing that the words we are using further propagate stereotypes… and from those stereotypes, we are then able to justify using violence.

unlearn the lies zimgetty wordpress com
zimgetty.wordpress.com

We do not have to look hard to find evidence of institutional racism in this culture. We do, however, have to do the work to identify the ways in which racism manifests in our own personal, intimate thoughts, actions, responses, and ideologies. It can be incredibly difficult to identify these things when they are not pointed out (I was lucky that I was given the opportunity to examine both my thoughts around beauty and my own history with eating disorders and addiction), yet we must find ways to examine our perspectives and continue to grow.

My body felt inadequate because I as made aware of the ways in which my body does not adhere to white standards. I experienced complicated feelings about it but the truth is, I have a white body and I can walk away from those feelings of discomfort. I can blame them on history and feel indignant about people commenting on other people’s bodies… or I can choose to examine where those feelings are coming from and take this opportunity to examine my relationship with my own whiteness.

We Want to Hear from You! Help Make this a Conversation!

What do you think? Is Orlando causing you to think about racism? How do you understand white privilege, in your life if you are a white person or in our society if you are a person of color? Do you carry unreasonable standards of beauty in your body? Are your relationships with people in other racial/ethnic groups as strong and intimate as you want them to be? Please share your thoughts, your heart on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.