Got Pride?

What exactly are we celebrating?

Robin: 

I remember my first Gay Pride event; it was Boston 1983. I was in awe—the crowds, the joy, the chants, the idea of marching for freedom where the Sons of Liberty had dared to defy the British Crown, the Faeries and other outrageously costumed folks, so much fun!

And I remember the religious service at the Arlington Street Church (UU); it was so moving to share worship with people of many faiths,  sexualities, and genders, and to share our commitment to liberation and justice for all.

I don’t remember any festival after the march, although I am sure folks gathered to eat and talk and buy all the sorts of things that vendors make available at such events.

What I remember is the march. In fact, it is always the march that matters most to me. Pride, for me, is less a social event and more a movement for liberation, a political act, a joyful, powerful form of civil/religious disobedience.

Virginia PrideThis is why, although I faithfully attended every Pride while serving as Pastor of MCC Richmond, I was never very happy at the event. First, those in charge wouldn’t name it anything but Virginia Pride (does that mean we’re proud of our state?), and we did not march.  Anywhere.

Block parties can be fun, but I thought, and still do, that we were in a struggle to change the world—to save not only our own bodies but those of countless others in our nation and around the globe. We surely need to celebrate ourselves, our fabulousness, but we need more. We need to march, speak up, act up, speak truth not only to power but to the entire world.

My belief grows out of my awareness of how political and social change is achieved, and even more from my belief and practice as a Queer liberation theologian. Real change, deep change, transformation that is sustainable, requires great passion, long-term commitment, and ceaseless organizing.  I agree with the sentiment often attributed to anarchist Emma Goldman’s, “If I can’t dance, it’s not my revolution,” but I also know, and know she knew, there will be no revolution if all we do is dance.

CraigRodwell
Craig Rodwell 20 years before I knew him

My belief in and commitment to activism was confirmed when I met Craig Rodwell. Beginning in September 1987, I worked for him as a sales clerk for eight months at the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop on Christopher Street in the Village (Greenwich). Founded in 1967 by Craig, two years before Stonewall, this was the first bookshop in the world to be devoted to gay and lesbian literature.

Craig was not the best boss I ever had, but the books were great, some notable people came in, and I had the opportunity to hear many stories that confirm that he was, or should have been and still should be, an icon in the LGBT movement.  The truth is that we might never have heard of Stonewall if Craig had not rushed to a phone and alerted the New York Times to what was happening at 53 Christopher Street on the evening of June 28, 1969.

In November, 1969, Craig and three others at the meeting of the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations (ERCHO) proposed an annual demonstration on the last Saturday in June in New York City to commemorate the 1969 spontaneous demonstrations on Christopher Street. They also proposed that the annual event “encompass  the ideas and ideals of the larger struggle in which we are engaged—that of our fundamental human rights . . . .”

Christopher Street Liberation Day 1970Fundamental human rights. That’s the struggle they saw then, and I and many see today. That means LGBTQIA Pride events are political, they are about social change.

Of course, they also are about personal change and affirmation, and it is wonderful when we see people newly out celebrating with joy and love. This year, a friend of mine from church went to her first Pride march and festival in D.C. and was transformed by the experience. So, we still need LGBTQIA Pride.

But others in the community still find themselves on the margins. Some of them blocked this year’s Capital Pride Parade (notice it is a parade, not a march, and actually someone from outside would not know who was being proud of what). The group No Justice, No Pride, objected to sponsorship of the events by several major corporations. One member of that group who is Native American said, “Capital Pride’s list of sponsors reads like a who’s who of Native genocide: FBI, NSA, CIA, Wells Fargo, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Federal Bureau of Prisons.” Others objected to the presence of uniformed policemen marching in the parade. “We deserve to celebrate Pride without being forced alongside the police who kill us,” said another participant (read more here).

Many transgender people continue to feel invisibilized in these events as well. And D.C. Black Pride continues to be held in late May, in part in recognition of the white racism that has for so long been a significant component of community life.

Wells Fargo equals genocide protest at Capital Pride 2017I know many parade participants were angered by the protests, which caused a re-routing of the main parade. Some shouted “Shame” and other angry words. I do not see it that way. To me, these protests are in the very best tradition of the Stonewall rioters and the early activists in the 1950s and 60s, even before Stonewall. And certainly they are in line with ACT Up and other HIV/AIDS activists.

I have not attended LGBTQA Pride celebrations for several years, having grown bored with the lack of political consciousness by those who organize most of the events. I feel some guilt about this. I know it is important to participate in community events.

However, I would have been very interested in the protests, had I known about them in advance.  I am going to pay more attention during the year and see if Pride organizers make an effort to get events more in tune with our need for a powerful political movement and our need to claim the work we, as a community, still have to do. If they do, I will be at Capital Pride.

If not, I will be there, too, joining others in speaking truth to the community we love. Craig died in 1993; otherwise, I have a feeling he would be joining me—if he had not already been fomenting rebellion long before most of us understood the need.

Malachi:

14947937_10100747005631839_8991378826366585167_nI have mixed, complicated feelings about Pride. On one hand, of course, it’s wonderful to be in a space where we are able to openly celebrate who we are- our sexuality and sexual orientation, our gender identities (to some extent) and families and the ways in which we build and show and create love. That being said, however, I somewhat detest pride and what it has become.

The first pride rallies and marches were built on the momentum of the Stonewall riots. They were a time queer people could come together and stand in solidarity against the police brutality constantly perpetrated against the queer community. It was a time where we released ourselves from shackles of fear and embraced all of who we are, regardless of social messages.

Pride was dangerous. Going meant you could lose everything- your home, your family, your kids, and possibly your life. Of course, it is a result of years of pride festivals and parades that have helped push LGBT…well, L/G rights, anyway, through to where that concern, while still present for some, is not as pervasive as it used to be.

Stonewall uprising with cops.jpgAnd now, instead of protesting the police, we hire them to protect our marches and rallies and block parties. In this, we have forgotten, of course, that police brutality is still a massive problem for people of color, particularly trans women of color, for sex workers, and for non-assimilation queers, especially non-binary folks.

So when I went to Baltimore pride, I wanted to be overwhelmed and astonished at how white it was, how incredibly…normative it felt, but instead, I felt a sense of resignation. Baltimore is a predominantly black city, but here was our pride: overwhelmingly white, overwhelmingly male, overwhelmingly…normal looking, minus the plethora of rainbows.

Oh yes. The rainbows. Regular ROY-G-BIV rainbows, no black or brown stripe present. If you haven’t read the controversy around the Philadelphia pride flag (you can read it here), it appears that the rainbow is sacred and should not be altered to include black and brown stripes (we’ll just ignore all the variations of the pride flags we have had over the years, ok? See here and you can read a piece, “Is the Rainbow Enough?” from Robin several years ago about it here).

Roy-G-Biv-song-TMBGPerhaps I’m a bit cynical. But never has it been more clear to me that we need intersectional analysis around pride. We make pride unsafe for the very people who were our founders. It has become a large block party, and that’s fine… we should have block parties and dance and celebrate and wear rainbows… but to me, that’s not pride. That’s just another night at the club.

To me, the whole purpose and intent of pride is that it is a time to come together against those things that threaten our communities: police brutality, homelessness, drug addiction, homophobia and transphobia, loss of healthcare, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, etc. We still have so far to go, and it feels like pride is a celebration of winning one battle when the war wages on around us.

Maybe that seems melodramatic. We have come a long way from the social climate of the 1960’s, but I worry that we have been so single-minded in our approach that we start to view our queerness in a vacuum. And yet… queer POC still face systemic racism every day. Queer homeless youth (and queer youth in general) have a heartbreaking suicide rate. Queer sex workers are still victims of assault and violence from the police with no recourse to deal with it. Trans women are still murdered at an absurdly high rate. And this doesn’t begin to touch the intersections of these things: queer homeless youth who are sex workers. HIV positive POC trying to access medical care. And so on.

loud and queerSo, what exactly are we celebrating? I think that’s well-reflected in the demographics of our pride parades… yes. We can get married. Those are celebrating have, in many regards, “already arrived.” But I found myself wondering where these faces and bodies are when there are protests against police brutality and ending stigma around sex work and…and…

This evolution of pride does not bring me joy. It brings me a lot of sadness and grief and anger because I can see the lines of division and privilege so poignantly. This pride was not built for people who do not (or cannot) assimilate to the mainstream queer dream. This pride was not built for non-white bodies. This pride was not built for trans and non-binary bodies. This pride was not built for sex worker bodies. It was not built for these bodies… but it was built on the backs of these bodies.

Audre Lorde on intersectionalityMy pride? My pride sees color. My pride recognizes that we all face different struggles, some individual and some systemic. My pride recognizes that, until we are willing to see color, willing to see sex workers as human, willing to see trans people as worthy of respect, willing to see one another as whole people, willing to be just a little bit uncomfortable, then we still have work to do. I’ll show up for the work. I’ll show up for the intersections. I’ll show up for the grit and the grime and do the best I can, and it won’t always be right, and I hope someone has the emotional capacity to inform me that I’m doing it wrong, and I hope I have the grace to hear it and honor the work it takes to be a constant educator because of the color of someone’s skin or the shape of someone’s jawbone or the way someone makes money.

My pride is uncomfortable. My pride is loud and unashamed and talking about hard issues that no one else will talk about. My pride may or may not have rainbows, but it has a diversity of ideas. My pride is intersection.

We Want to Hear from You!

Help Make this a Conversation!

What are your feelings about LGBTQIA Pride? When was the first Pride you attended, and how did you feel? How satisfied are you with our progress in combatting homophobia, bi-phobia, transphobia? What more needs to be done? Do Pride celebrations have a role in this work? What would you change about Pride in your community, if anything? 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.

 

third Thursday
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Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please join us THURSDAY, July 20th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online from 3-4:00 EST/19:00 UTC. To access the call, please click here. Please note that some members of the call (including Robin and Malachi) choose to enable video during the call. Video is not necessary; we encourage participants to participate as they feel comfortable. A sidebar chat option is available to those who choose not to enable their audio/video components.  If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.

Previous month’s sessions can be watched here.

A Summer without Body Shaming?

let’s come from a place of loving our bodies . . . .

Malachi:

My day job is in a coffee shop. The past week or so that I’ve been working, I’ve noticed a14947937_10100747005631839_8991378826366585167_n significant uptick in the number of sugar free, nonfat, no whipped cream drinks that have been ordered. As I’m chatting with customers while making their drinks, I’m hearing a lot of comments like, “Time to get that beach body back!” or “Gotta lose these pounds now that it’s getting warmer!” or some variation thereof.

There is also an increase in gym membership deals right now (I know this because I have been shopping around for a gym, and all of a sudden, there are a whole bunch of really attractive offers). There are also more and more ads on social media for “lose 10 pounds in a week!” or some new fad diet or reminders that we may have fallen off the New Year’s Resolution, but now is a great time to recommit. All of this is to say, it seems to be the season where people are focusing more and more on their figures.

And I think it’s great to be healthy. Please let me say this first: being healthy, caring for and supporting our bodies is a great thing to strive for. But far too often we equate “thin” with “healthy,” and around this time of year, we are more focused on how we will look in a bathing suit (or naked) than we are on making substantive changes that will have a long-term effect on our overall health.

From this perspective, I think we need to be really careful about how we approach these warmer months, and be aware of our capacity for body-shaming… not just other people, but ourselves. I would hope that people wouldn’t make negative or derogatory comments

bodyshaming men
Link

about another person’s body, but we know that those comments happen, and they are immensely hurtful. But as much as we need to ensure that we do not do that to others, we also have to be careful that we are not body-shaming ourselves.

Again, this comes down to the focus on health vs thinness. If we are saying to ourselves, “I don’t feel very good in my body and I want to get healthier,” that’s one thing. But if we are focusing on appearance and thinness, then we run the risk of shaming ourselves for our bodies which, in and of itself is hard enough, but it also has a cascading effect.

In this society, we tend to associate certain physical traits with certain character traits (which is the heart of systemic racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.). We associate thinness with success, beauty, responsibility, self-control. We tend to associate heaviness with laziness, out-of-control (particularly eating habits), irresponsible (especially with food choices), and not attractive. So when we view ourselves as not-thin and reinforce those messages, we are also reinforcing the connotations of those messages: that we are not attractive, or make poor choices, or aren’t responsible, or are lazy.

For example, it’s easy to slip from, “I really need to lose a few pounds,” to, “If I were motivated enough, I would start walking around the block,” or “I feel so guilty for eating that brownie; why did I do that?” or “No one will be interested in me if I look like this.”

The truth is, health and weight are related, but they aren’t the same thing. Some bodies

BodyShaming-FB4-1200x630
Link

are simply larger than other bodies. I have friends who are larger than I am, but significantly more healthy in their consistency of working out and how they eat. Conversely, I have other friends with significantly more unhealthy habits, but a high metabolism, so they are consistently thin and slender.

I have a history of diet pill abuse and addiction. I remember the positive reinforcement I got when I was underweight and how much harder it was to quit, knowing I would have to endure comments about gaining weight. It has taken a long time to learn to love the body that I have, and I still have to be careful. I’ve joined a gym recently, but only after having long conversations with my partner about where I was coming from (wanting to be in better shape) to make sure I wasn’t in a toxic place of self-shaming and wanting to be thin.

We don’t always know what’s going on with someone else’s body. But we can be aware of what’s going on with our own. So as we approach these warmer months of bathing suits and shorts, nudity and tank tops, let’s come from a place of loving our bodies. A place of perfectbody.jpgnot comparing ourselves to an unachievable (and very white) beauty standard. We can want to improve, strengthen, and support our bodies. We can seek to be healthier. But if our bodies are temples, then approaching them with self-deprecating messages isn’t the way that we make space for them to be holy places.

Let’s be kind to ourselves, and be aware of the messages we are sending to ourselves, and strive to love the bodies that we have- rather than listen to the messages of the bodies we are told we should aspire to have.

Robin:

I have heard several people in the past couple of days speak about getting back to the gym—“summer’s coming,” one said, “and I want to look my best!”  Frankly, I have seen that friend naked and I think they already look fabulous. But I understand that most, if not all, of us have insecurities about our bodies, specifically about how they look—not only to others but also to ourselves.

I have been talking about looking for a new bike because I want to start regular riding. Around our home are some good streets for riding, including bike lanes, and I want to enjoy them and outdoor exercise. I also need to build lower- and mid-body strength and flexibility.

But the biggest impetus for me to ride now is to be prepared to participate in the World Naked Bike Ride in Philadelphia on September 9, 2017 (click here for more information, and let me know if you are interested in sharing it with me). But this is not a competitive or long-distance event, so I don’t need lots of preparation.

What I do want (as opposed to need) is to look my best. When I take my clothes off in public I don’t want excess body fat, I want to be, and feel, lanky (see “Who Is Your Type?” for more about my lankiness), sleek, while riding and while standing around with lots of other unclothed, and even clothed, people. I want to look my best in photos, too (and I hope there will be photos).

I remember my New Year’s resolution to lose 10-15 pounds—the commitment I failed to keep for more than a couple of weeks, if that.  Why did I drop the ball, not the pounds? I think a major reason is that I need more incentive to eat less and exercise more.

It doesn’t even have to be the beach or a naked event. We are getting ready to change wardrobes, too, wearing fewer and less bulky clothes, making our bodies more visible. We want to look our best, and for many In our culture, that seems to mean “thin,” or at least not “fat.”

Who tells us that? And how are “thin” and “fat” defined? How do we feel about whatever category in which we, or others, place us?

According to a standard BMI (Body Mass Index) chart from the National Institute of Health, I am overweight, not obese. Do both mean fat? Probably, at least not thin.

According to a different standard, offered by the Smart Body Mass Index, my weight is appropriate for my age, height, and sex. So I am not overweight? Not fat? But am I thin?

I want to be thin!!!

BMIAccording to the standard chart, I’d have to lose 22 pounds to be “normal” (as opposed to “overweight,” “obese,” and “extreme obesity.”) What is that? I have never thought of myself as normal, and don’t intend to do so now.

The use of that word on the government chart speaks volumes about the feeling so many have about our bodies.  We want to be “normal” and seek some sort of “Good Bodies Seal of Approval” for ourselves—and most of all we want to feel we can apply the approval to ourselves. But we are sure we fall short. We are not normal; the (mostly white) models in magazines are normal, our neighbor without any visible body fat is normal, the hunky guy or curvy woman at the gym is normal. We are not.

So we carry shame, or at least embarrassment.

beauty pageant swimsuit competitionFemale-bodied persons generally carry the heavier burden, because they, more than male-bodied persons, are subject to constant aesthetic scrutiny—standards about everything from hip and breast size to hair and makeup (they are the ones expected to wear make-up), and certainly weight. Some of this is not under their control—hip and breast shape, if not size, come with the body. Genes count—even though they are rarely considered by those who judge.

But that is not to say that men don’t have issues, too. I have known some really gorgeous men—by worldly standards as well as mine—who carry negative feelings about at least some aspect of their bodies. For some, it can be penis shape and size, or it can be “spindly” legs or flat butts, and just like women, they come with the body (working out doesn’t always change legs or butts on men). There are men, as there are many more women, who feel they can never be thin enough.

I don’t want that sort of thinness and I do not suffer from anorexia, but I want to lose my belly. The rest of me is pretty good for a 70-year-old man—not muscular but not seeking big biceps, etc. I wouldn’t mind being more toned and defined, but it is the belly that really gets to me.

Of course, my husband loves my belly. And I love his belly. But I want mine gone. This has at least something to do with the fact that my father had a belly, too. He had spindly legs and while strong—he spent his days in physical labor—was not muscular. But his belly was big. I never liked how it looked.

food plus feelingsBut there are social factors at work, too. Pictures of beautiful (mostly white) people who are thin do much to create the social standard that beauty is thin. Moreover, incessant advertising about the joys and coolness of fast food and good feelings when enjoying desserts, lead many to adopt unhealthy eating habits.

I know from personal experience that it is easy for parents to use food as a way to incentivize good behavior, and even to use food to convey love. As a parent, I hope I did not do either of those too much. I know as a child that my parents used food to anesthetize feelings, their own and mine, and to convey their love for me and each other.

In fact, I was a skinny kid until about age 10 when my father began making a large batch of peanut butter milkshakes to share with me every night. In one school year, I went from skinny (early lankiness) to overweight, teetering toward really fat. I have been fighting it ever since.  The only time I have ever been thin since then was when I was diagnosed with adult mononucleosis at age 36—considered a very serious illness at that age—and lost more than 70 pounds. Then I was truly skin and bones. Too thin.

large group of naked people
naturalian.blogspot.com

I have woven personal history with some social commentary because body image is both a major social issue and a deeply personal one. We carry our own feelings, our shame and disappointment in ourselves, but that personal reality affects those around us, too.

We are at our most spiritually and emotionally healthy, as individuals and a society, when we realize that no body—including our own—whatever its shape or condition, reflects anything other than our innate beauty as beloveds of God.

We Want to Hear from You!

Help Make this a Conversation!

How do you feel about your body? Why What standards do you apply in evaluating it, and where do they come from? When and how do you judge the bodies of others, or don’t you do that at all? If you do this, what is the source of the criteria by which you judge others’ bodies? 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.

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Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please join us in about three weeks, THURSDAY, May 18th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online from 3-4:00 EST/19:00 UTC. To access the call, please click here. Please note that some members of the call (including Robin and Malachi) choose to enable video during the call. Video is not necessary; we encourage participants to participate as they feel comfortable. A sidebar chat option is available to those who choose not to enable their audio/video components.  If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.

Bodies on the Line

This is the time to reach out in support, to create new networks, to open spaces and create something new.

Robin: 

revrobin2-023Bodies are always at risk in the world. But it feels to me that many bodies, and in some ways most bodies, are under attack in the United States these days.

Here are a few items in the news that create that reality for me:

  • Trans Bodies. In one of his first acts as the new Attorney General of the United States, Jeff Sessions has alerted the federal appeals court in Texas that the government will no longer appeal the ruling af the district court judge who blocked, nationwide, Obama Administration rules protecting trans students in public schools. Read more here   This raises concern about how the new administration might position the government (or if it will try to do so) in a case, involving an appeal from the Gloucester County, Virginia, School Board already scheduled for hearing at the Supreme Court (the board appealing an appeals court ruling granting the right to Gavin Grimm to use the boy’s restroom at the county high school). Every trans public school student and their parents are facing great risk, not long after the Obama Administration raised hopes for real change.
  • ice-police-raids-pj-media
    PJ Media

    Immigrant Bodies. In the past few days, there has been reports of a marked increase in the number of ICE raids and arrests of immigrants who are without the necessary papers and those with criminal records. The targets have centered on eleven states, including California, New York, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Illinois. Some of this continues Obama Administration practice of expelling immigrants with criminal records, but it also seems more people than under Obama have been deported for not having papers. The actions seem clearly focused Mexican nationals and other Latin Americans living in the United States. Articles in various foreign-language local media outlets have reported on widespread fear. Read more here and here.   Who knows where this will all end, but it is safe to say that millions of bodies, not just those who are deported but also those left behind, are likely affected.

  • Refugee Bodies. Closely connected are others from foreign lands, especially those fleeing horrible violence in their own land who, according to the President and others in the government, allegedly want to wreak it here. Clearly, we do not know how far the current government will be able to go, but in the meantime it is pretty scary–tens, nay hundreds, of thousands, at least, are at risk. .
  • Bodies Needing Healthcare. The continuing uncertainty about whether there will be any realistic replacement of the Affordable Care Act (after its almost certain repeal) leaves many facing not having health care that is affordable and accessible. The legislation to repeal seems stalled at the moment, as apparently those rabidly opposed to the program are realizing that though they belittled it many people depend on it for adequate health care. What does not seem to be going away however, is the determination of the Republican Congress and the President to end the Obama version even if they cannot agree on what the new one should look like. The anxiety for many with clear and ongoing needs for care is real—millions of bodies are at risk.
  • protect-womnes-healthWomen’s Bodies. Connected to the future of health care is the effort to defund Planned Parenthood. The bodies of at least two million low-income women are at stake if Speaker Paul Ryan and Vice President Mike Pence succeed in doing what the Trump campaign promised last fall: take all federal Medicaid funding from Planned Parenthood and give it to local community health clinics. Even if that does not happen, the health of many other women will be impacted due to the high proportion of women’s services, other than abortion, provided by Planned Parenthood clinics all over the nation. Read more here.
  • LGBT Bodies. And even one bad action averted is not fully reassuring. After public pressure, and according to some sources, the intervention of the President’s daughter and son-in-law, the rumored Executive Order to rescind protection of lesbian and gay persons in federal employment decisions was withdrawn. Read more here. The White House even publicly announced the change, touting the President as supportive of LGBT rights. Read more here.  Still, the Administration has not yet issued an expected order about religious freedom that would undermine LGBT rights, and Vice President Mike Pence has a long record of championing anti-LGBT causes. These factors leave many nervous about how far protections for LGBT will be undermined and rolled back. It seems clear there will be no forward movement—queer bodies again in jeopardy.
  • protect-my-vote-chip-somodevilla-getty-images
    Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images

    Black Bodies, Poor Bodies, Elderly Bodies. The confirmation of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General causes a rising concern among African Americans, and other racial minorities, about federal protections. It seems clear that the Justice Department will slow down, or even end, efforts to help, and certainly stop suits against, local police departments to end racial profiling and other racist practices. In addition, voting rights seem likely to be under threat, and that involves not only African Americans but also poor people and elderly people of all races.

It may be then, that white straight men (WSM), at least those not poor, have little to fear, especially in their bodies. Those who want to grab pussy can still do so—just don’t talk about it in the locker room (someone might take you seriously), and their voting is not at issue.

I am old enough to remember days like that, the days when America was really great, at least for middle- and upper-class WSM. I don’t want to go back there. I doubt you do either.

Malachi and I usually write more obviously about bodies as connected to sex. However, he and I know that patriarchal constructions of society are never far removed from sex. And bodies are always at risk—even, potentially, some of those male bodies that look secure (e.g., men with LGBT children or siblings, friends and neighbors or business associates or co-workers who are Black or LatinX or Muslim, etc.).

bayard-rustin-angelic-troublemakersThe theological truth is that every body belongs to God, is part of the family of God, and deserves not only respect but also tender care and opportunities to thrive and glow, each in their own way. I am at a loss to explain how people who say they are conservative can so easily not engage in conserving each and every one of these glorious creations, and even more, actively engage in opposing efforts to care for every single body.

I shall resist as best I know how all anti-body rhetoric and activity. That begins with writing the truth as I see it, and asking you and others to join me in more truth-telling, marching, writing letters to Congress, and agitating wherever and whenever we can, being the “angelic troublemakers” (St.) Bayard Rustin called up decades ago.

 

Malachi: 

14947937_10100747005631839_8991378826366585167_nMy childhood minister (prior to Rev. Robin), Rev. Gill Storey, told me once that “patriotism is the birthplace of racism.” That phrase has stuck with me throughout the years and has greatly influenced and informed my perspectives and beliefs on patriotism (particularly post 9/11) through adulthood. Right now, though, I think that it’s a particularly poignant message, as we have seen an uptick in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids behind the banner of “Make America Great Again.”

Indeed, how can we not see the link between patriotism and racism right now? But beyond racism, we see an assault on all bodies that do not conform to the accepted “all-American” look. We see, as Robin has linked, article after article in which different groups are being actively targeted because of their (actual and perceived) race, gender identity, sexual orientation, gender, religion, ethnicity, and/or country of origin.

Today, I don’t come with facts and figures, theory and substantiation. Today, I come with stories. Memories. Moments in my life that resonated so strongly that, when I see the echoes of them today, they make me shake with rage and fear.

I remember being trans in high school. I remember going by the name “Tony” on days where I wanted to be a boy. I remember, in acts of solidarity (as we understood them at the time), guys from band sitting with me on the bus and explaining which pocket you put your wallet in and which wrist should carry your watch. I remember, for the most part support. Except for that one day, when I needed to pee, and went into the bathroom, and freaked out a younger girl coming out of the stall. When I told this story to my friends, they looked at me and said, “Well… duh. You should have used the men’s room.” I didn’t know how to explain my fear of what would happen if I did, and instead tried to avoid using the bathroom at school, ever.

I remember changing band uniforms on the bus- they had a boys bus and a girls bus, and I was never sure which I should be in, which half my friends telling me one thing, and the other half saying something different.

I was on a trans panel a few years ago, and I listened to a friend talk about

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http://www.travelheals.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/drinkmorewater8x10.jpg

being in a chronic state of dehydration because he didn’t want to navigate the public bathrooms on a college campus. I was floored, realizing that I, too, don’t drink nearly enough water and live in a chronic state of dehydration as a subconscious method of avoiding bathrooms. This is not a particularly good thing for me, as an adult, but it’s significantly worse for children and teenagers, whose bodies are growing and changing. It’s one small side effect of these bathroom bills and anti-trans laws that is rarely talked about, but we (as trans people) are doing violence to our own bodies to mitigate the fear of violence being perpetrated onto us.

Compared to what kids are facing now (and what many other kids faced when I was in school), my experience coming out as trans in high school was positively charmed. But I also remember the tension, the fear, the anxiety, the nervousness I felt in an environment that was, for the most part, fairly safe. And then I think about what these laws could do, the impacts they could (and do) have on kids who are struggling to figure out everything from who they want to take to prom to where they want to go to college to how to explain to their parents about why they missed curfew, and it makes me sick with rage and fear and concern. I want to be there, to be able to support these kids, to take something off the stress they are feeling from every other part of their lives. I see high school teachers struggling to connect and wanting to support their students, but not knowing how to.

I have friends that are undocumented, who are struggling to figure out next steps for themselves, their partners, their families. I have friends directly impacted by the ICE raids, struggling to figure out where to go to get away from the threats and realizing that there is nowhere to go. I have other friends talking about trapdoors to basements and who has enough space to house a family for a little while.

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I have known someone whose visa ran out, and she and her partner had to figure out next steps because her partner, who was chronically ill, was as a vet and received all medical care through the VA. Leaving wasn’t an option for her partner, staying wasn’t an option for her, and being apart was an option for neither.

I have known black and brown bodies, black and brown friends who have been targeted by the police and civilians because of the color of their skin. I have known queer women who have committed suicide because of sexual assault. I have known sex workers who have been threatened with “outing” and prosecution unless they provided services to the police.

These are not abstractions for me. These are my friends, my people, the ones that I have potlucks with and watch their dogs while they’re away. These are the people whose postcards cover my kitchen wall and whose heads I have held while they cried. This is not statistics or figures or even something new for me. These are the people that I stand beside at protests, watching their courage as they hold signs and claim their lives and identities.

These laws enshrine an attitude in this culture that many have tried to deny for years. Yet as the days pass and executive order followed by cabinet appointment followed by misinformation continues to come from the White House, more begin to see the atrocities and we are banding together.

relationshipsThis is the time for community. This is the time to reach out in support, to create new networks, to open spaces and create something new. Now is the time that we must persevere, and the intersections of our identities give us different abilities and privileges to work within toward that goal.

If patriotism is the birthplace of racism, what then is the birthplace of freedom? Extending our communities to those of different experiences. Inviting refugees and welcoming immigrants. Holding hands on the street. Stopping and witnessing when the police have stopped and questioned a person of color on the street. Actively working against rape culture.

These executive orders and lawsuits and appointments are dire, and they are an assault on bodies- all bodies. So perhaps, those of us with more privilege can use our bodies- our whiteness, our straightness (or straight-passingness), our American citizenship, our maleness- to protect those who might otherwise be killed in the onslaught. We build community and protect others against this assault on our bodies, our beings, our existence. And through community, we are able to truly find freedom.

We Want to Hear from You!

Help Make this a Conversation!

What are your thoughts and reflections on Ruth 4:7-17? Have you had any experience with non-monogamy and unconventional relationships that have brought you joy to think on? 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.

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Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please join us tomorrow, THURSDAY, February 16th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online from 3-4:00 EST/19:00 UTC. To access the call, please click here. Please note that some members of the call (including Robin and Malachi) choose to enable video during the call. Video is not necessary; we encourage participants to participate as they feel comfortable. A sidebar chat option is available to those who choose not to enable their audio/video components.  If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.

polyamory-symbol-happy-parties-com
happy-parties.com

Workshop description: Non-Monogamy 2 continues from where a previous workshop ended. On December 15, 2016, Malachi and Robin delved into non-monogamy. Malachi described its various forms in contemporary culture and offered observations from personal experience. Robin commented on some of the positive aspects and understandings he has gained through learning more about non-monogamy and reflected on his own feelings (which are more positive than he would have thought). There was a good discussion among those participating on the call, and questions were raised. Malachi and Robin plan to offer more information, and specifically some responses to the questions. If you were unable to be present on December 15, we are hoping a video of the presentation (but not the discussion) will soon be available.

Keep Marching

Malachi and Robin each participated in the recent Women’s March in Washington, D.C. They offer some observations below.

14947937_10100747005631839_8991378826366585167_nMalachi: 

There has been much discussion- before, during, and after- on inclusivity and intersectionality at the Women’s March held in DC (as well as the hundreds of sister marches that occurred around the world). I was fortunate enough to be present at the march in DC with my family and several dear friends and, miraculously, managed to stay with the same group of eight people.

I have many complicated feelings about the march- some positive, some negative, and some that are just observations. Because, clearly, the march was a huge success- although the standards for what makes a march successful are nebulous- and it was empowering to see so many people uniting against a common cause.

I think, perhaps, that’s the most poignant piece of the march, for me. It was not a group of people uniting FOR, but AGAINST: against oppression, against corruption, against invasive laws, against Donald Trump. But the things each person was FOR varied widely: some for pro-sex worker visibility, some were pro-LGBTQ equality, some were pro-Black Lives Matter, etc. I’ve talked some about this in other places, but when you have a collection of people whose unifying factor is what they aren’t, rather than what they are, it risks reinstating a hierarchical system that priorities of those with the loudest voices.

There were many wonderful things about the women’s march: some really powerful signs (the one that has stuck with me, for example, was the woman who carried the sign, “I refuse to be gaslighted” which, to me,

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https://www.spreadshirt.co.uk/image-server/v1/designs/15856169,width=178,height=178/who-run-the-world-girls.png

spoke volumes about history of emotional abuse as well as the ongoing rewriting of facts coming from the political arena.) My goddaughter joining in on the chant, “Who runs the world?” “Girls!” and watching her sense of empowerment growing. Her discussions of “my body, my choice” in the car on the ride home. Watching the people I was with proudly sporting signs and buttons that spoke to the visibility of sex workers.

The march was powerful to be at for many reasons, but it was also a complicated place to be. With the exception of our goddaughter, everyone else in our group can pass as white (although I don’t know how they necessarily identify). We did not experience firsthand some of the direct harassment and erasure that I hear many POC folks talking about.

I did feel a little uncomfortable about the pink pussy hats, however. I understood the point behind them, but there is an underlying message that implies that genitals are pink (not true) and ownership of a vagina defines womanhood (also not true).

I have heard POC women say that the pink pussy hats didn’t bother them; I’ve heard others say it felt exclusionary (some knit brown and black pussy hats instead of pink). I’ve heard some transwomen say they felt excluded, and others say they didn’t have an issue with the genital-focused discussions.

Again, there isn’t an objectively “right” or “wrong” answer to this; this is

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a natural byproduct of the unifying force being “against” rather than “for.” When we march against, that ends up looking distinctly different from person to person and group to group. But I do think there are some important points from the women’s march that should be addressed.

I feel like there has been some criticism of the criticism aimed at the women’s march. Because yes, we should celebrate that it was a success and felt empowering. And it was, and we should, and many are. But I also think there is a vital part of the conversation that involved intentionally recognizing that intersectionality, while present in some aspects, felt glaringly missing in many regards- never mind that telling people how they “should” feel is an erasure of differing experiences altogether.

I think of the history of social justice movements, and recognize that there is some degree to which the freedoms afforded to one group often feel like they come at the cost to another. Many in marginalized communities have felt the sting of being told to “wait their turn.” I remember when HRC dropped gender from the Employment Non-Discrimination Act because they didn’t think they could get it passed if trans people were included, and “something is better than nothing.” Trans people were effectively told that our presence wasn’t worth fighting for, that gay rights was more important than trans rights. I have not supported HRC since then (as they have continued to have policies that I found problematic).

The criticisms I see of the march feel very much like they are coming from a place of understanding- and not wanting to repeat- the mistakes of the past. Because so often, people don’t keep showing up once they’ve gotten the freedoms that personally affect them. I truly believe that the best way to ensure freedoms for everyone is to bind together the fates of different communities and identities. Thus, we arrive at the basis of intersectionality.

None of us are single-dimensional people. We all have privileges and oppressions that contribute to our ability to navigate the world. It’s not

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that the experiences of one community are “the same” as the experiences of another community; it’s understanding that, when something impacts one community, all communities are residually impacted. It’s the essence of the quote “oppression anywhere is a threat to freedom everywhere.” We may not have the same struggle, but there is room for your struggle in my resistance. And if there isn’t… am I just interested in representing my own interests? To me, that undermines the purpose of social justice.

I truly believe we have to stop looking at just those issues that will directly affect our own lives and take in the broader scope of human injustice. In doing that, we can then see which solutions are beneficial to all versus which solutions only benefit us directly- and furthermore, recognize when those solutions come at the expense of another community. If white people are not willing to listen when POC say that something is harmful or damaging, then we are fueling and supporting racism. If men are not willing to listen when women say something is harmful or damaging, then we are fueling and supporting sexism. And so forth.

we-can-do-itSo do I think the women’s march was bad? Absolutely not. I felt empowered to be there with the people I was with, and I was glad I went. But I am also a white person in a sea of white faces, and I was surrounded by white privilege that didn’t directly impact me. If I let that slide, then I am part of the problem fueling racism, and I’m not interested in being a part of a group of people willing to actively ignore problematic aspects of their resistance.

There is space in my resistance for your struggle. I am against this government, against this president, and against the people who feel emboldened by his assent to power. But I am also for my communities, for my friends, for ending dehumanization and isolation. Each struggle impacts another, and we can put in the work and intention to make sure that our movements do not come at the cost of other’s freedoms. That is the kind of resistance I want to work toward.

Robin: 

I went to the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. on January 21. I wanted my body to be counted among those who choose to resist the rising intolerance of difference and the drumbeat of injustice being encouraged and led by the new President and his minions.

revrobin2-023From the moment at 7 am when I drove into the Metro parking lot at Greenbelt station and realized it was already more than half full and that cars were arriving steadily, I began to feel the power that comes from joining my body, my soul, with others who have an ever-widening understanding of who we, as a people, a nation, are called to be (my sign below on the left, from the back page of the Washington Post of Friday).

I had wanted to beat the rush, and here I was right in the middle of it. And I was glad. The train was full when we started (Greenbelt is the end of the Green Line) and it got fuller at each of the twelve stops until Gallery Place/Chinatown where I was getting off to meet a group—especially at College Park/University of Maryland. There is something wonderfully energizing about the arrival of 20 or 30 collegians into an already crowded space—noisy, laughing, so clearly enjoying each other—that I needed right then.

As I walked about 15 minutes towards the Hyatt Regency on New Jersey Avenue where I was meeting my group from Temple Shalom, I began seeing other marches, carrying signs, many smiling and saying “Good Morning” in response to my greeting.  Two women at different moments asked to take my picture (they liked the combination of purple clergy shirt and collar and dangly purple earrings with my white beard).

we-the-peopleThe signs kept coming—more versions of the one that first caught my eye on the train, “Pussy Grabs Back”—so many creative expressions of resistance, often coupled with humor and word play. Even the edgy, angry signs seemed to carry a certain joi de vivre, such that my body and my soul began to feel much lighter than the day before.  There is life here, I thought, especially in contrast to the bleakness of the President’s divisive speech the day before (much of the media called his tone “dark” but dark is beautiful; it was bleak, no grace, no joy, no hope except if we let him do what he wants).

That is when I began to realize one of the main things that divides me, and many others, from him.

All of us that day, or at least me and most of us, carry some real and deep fear about what the next four years will be. We march because we choose to stand up and push back against those determined to undo many of the gains for justice and inclusion that have been made. And we want to make more.

The President also is afraid, very afraid. In fact, I think fear drives everything he says and does, even though he works hard to disguise his fear. The fact that he puts his name in very large letters on everything he erects (yes, erects) is, I believe, a response to his fear that he will be forgotten, disregarded, abandoned. His response to this base level fear of erasure is to make himself as big as possible. But it is all about him, even when he claims it is about other folks who feel left out or behind (many of whom have valid complaints).

trump-towerThe difference at the march is that we were there for things we care about, our own needs of course, but also because we know our needs are linked to the needs of others. So, we want to gather together to create a new world, a more just and generous world.

He wants people to gather together to honor him—hence his claim the media lied about the size of the crowd at the inauguration.

Was the march a perfect vehicle for women and allies and advocates to express our determination to resist being sucked into his fear-based vortex? Certainly not.  It was not well-organized. The inexperience of march organizers showed (and in their defense, they did not have much time to build the necessary structure).

The pink pussy hats were pretty and the sea of pink could be captivating, but of course not all “pussies” are pink, and not all women have them either. I did not see and hear enough about transwomen, for example, although I was grateful to Angela Davis for mentioning them, and especially transwomen of color, several times. And she mentioned the need for solidarity with Palestinians, too. As so often, she told deep, often difficult, truths very clearly. I also was glad to be surrounded by, and participate in, chants of Black Lives Matter.

cant-build-a-wall-hands-too-smallI was uncomfortable with many of the references to the President’s allegedly small dick. On the one hand, the size of his organ is of little or no consequence and of no interest to me. On the other hand, I do not appreciate men being criticized or ostracized because of penis-size prejudice.  And I continue to wonder if at least some of his need for big buildings and large crowds is due to some body issues, including perhaps having a smaller-than- he-wants penis. I certainly know something about taking on shame about having a small one myself.

There were other troubling moments. What to do about abortion opponents? I am clearly pro-choice because I believe women have the basic human right to control their own bodies. That makes it hard for me to engage in dialogue with people who claim abortion is murder.  That language really does not allow for much room for conversation (for more than hour, I was stuck in a spot at the march where the most visible sign in the distance was one that made the murder claim—very surreal). Yet, I am inclined to try to listen to women who say this, because they have some standing in the debate as those who, unlike me and all male-bodied persons, can actually bring a fetus to maturation and delivery. The decision to deny co-sponsorship to an anti-abortion group needs more discussion before the next march.

abortion-sign-clashAnd that is one more piece of good news. Already people are talking about an annual Women’s March. We can keep doing this to help us stay energized and focused on creating the change we want and need, and opposing the change the President and other fearful people claim is necessary (the return to “good ole days” when women and many others knew their place, behind and under the control of white straight men with money and power).

Of course, much can be improved with the march—better organization, more intentional and complete inclusion, even more local marches, etc.

What’s really at stake here are bodies, the well-being of bodies, especially those more regularly marginalized and abused. I realize I carry a lot of privilege, my white male body is part of the group many of whose leaders continue to insist on the right to dominate all others. The fact that I am gay and older does not deny me the privilege that comes with my gender and my color, though in some moments those identities can reduce that privilege.

civil-disobedienceSo, what the Women’s March reminded me of is pretty basic: I need to put my body on the line more than I have been doing in the past few years. It’s time to put my body on the line with others whose bodies are already there.

Thus, I intend to show up for Black Lives Matter, abortion rights, trans siblings, immigrants, all of us affected by climate change and especially to push back against the denial of science, hungry children and families, homeless people, sex workers, Palestinians whose homes are destroyed and whose land is occupied too often by others, and certainly victims of abuse of many kinds, among others.

I hope you’ll join me. That’s how marching works. And wins.

 

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

Did you participate in a local march or action? Did you feel included or did you feel “othered” by those around you? What are your thoughts on protest in the coming weeks, months, and years? 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.

discoverpittsfield.com
discoverpittsfield.com

Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please join us THURSDAY, February 16th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online from 3-4:00 EST/19:00 UTC. To access the call, please click here. Please note that some members of the call (including Robin and Malachi) choose to enable video during the call. Video is not necessary; we encourage participants to participate as they feel comfortable. A sidebar chat option is available to those who choose not to enable their audio/video components.  If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.

Workshop description:

Coming soon!

Recordings of the workshop presentations by Malachi and Robin are being made available periodically.

The Content of Our Character

We are a nation that has made the gold-star standard of beauty one that is based on racist ideals.

Robin:

revrobin2-023Nowhere is the power of white supremacy more evident than in the industry that thrives by producing, marketing, and selling products to bleach dark human skin. An article in The New York Times about the practice in West Africa, and the action of the government of Ghana in creating a ban on these products alerted me to the practice there (see “What Is the Color of Beauty?”), but the author was quick to point out that this is not limited to West Africa.

Indeed, a look online yielded many products that claim to remove blemishes and dark spots, although I found almost none offered by major retailers and companies in this country that encouraged their use to reduce the darkness of overall skin tone. At the same time, some of them did use the term “freshening” which, in the African context, is sometimes used in preference to “bleaching.” There are products which claim to whiten black skin without saying so in so many words.

This is in line with historic validation, through advertising for example, of white skin as preferable to darker, most especially African or black, skin. In other ways, too, the bodies of people who are seen as more African are devalued, for example big lips among men and women and big hips among women are often viewed negatively.

white-model-candice-swanepoel
http://fashion.zarzarmodels.com/

The underlying ideology—that dark skin is less beautiful than light, or white, skin—is very troubling. It surely is a product of European colonialism, not only in Africa and Asia and Latin America, but also in North America, especially the United States—and here made even more powerful through our history of enslavement of Africans and Native peoples.

This shows up not only in these “skincare” products but also within communities of color, where “colorism”—favoring lighter shades of skin over darker—can create hierarchies of value and even privilege (see, for example, “Skin Tone Prejudice Troubles African-American Heritage”). I am reminded of earlier years—during the 1960’s with the rise of “Black is Beautiful” and later—when there was great energy expended by many individuals to stop straightening their hair in order to let it grow in its natural, gloriously Afro styles, a welcome development away from white cultural domination.

What causes us—and not just Africans and African Americans or other darker-skinned people—to treat our bodies, or the bodies of others, as sites to be manipulated in order to conform to socially constructed standards of beauty? Why do we let others determine our relations with our own bodies?

Is this not abuse?

hydroquinone-campaign-for-safe-cosmetics-safecosmetics-org
safecosmetics.org

I ask the question, aware that it is a term that can be overused.  However, I don’t think it too strong to say about various social mechanisms the help create in us negative feelings about God’s great, some would say God’s greatest, gift to us, our human bodies—especially when these feelings lead us to do things to our bodies, or condone things being done to others (female genital mutilation, for example), that not only demean us but also do us harm. For example, a chemical used in many of the skin bleaching products, Hydroquinone, can decrease the production, and increase the degradation, of melanin pigments in the skin, thus increasing the skin’s exposure to UVA and UVB rays and raising the risk of skin cancer.

I write as an older person, an elder, who is beginning to notice how there are some places on my body I don’t like so well. Regular readers here will know that I struggle with genital size issues, but in this instance I am referring to wrinkles and loose skin on my thighs. For the first time in my life, I bought capsules online that promised to change my body, in this case, to tighten my skin. After using for a few weeks, I observed no change. And I realized that this was my version of having a skin “tuck.” Ouch. I threw out the remaining pills.

I admit to sometimes feeling judgmental about women who have breast implants or tucks to remove wrinkles, yet here I was taking pills that promised that I would look better, that is, I would not look like me any longer. Elder abuse takes many forms, including horrific violence, and I am not claiming that my feelings of embodied negativity constitute such abuse. But I am claiming that the social validation of youthful, slender, tight- and light-skinned, well-muscled (but not too much muscle) bodies often leads to serious emotional and even physical harm for those whose bodies do not measure up. For example, in my case, cannot wrinkles be beautiful, at least as signs of experience and even wisdom?

ghana-women-abantu-for-developmen-ghana-wedo-org
wedo.org Ghana women, Abantu, for development

But back to the people, women and men, in West Africa. They are paying a huge price for centuries of white colonial domination. “We” white people not only took their bodies for slavery in the “New World,” looted their minerals, and continue to hunt their diminishing mammals and other native creatures for sport, we also stole their embodied dignity—and that theft continues today in the form of social values that violate their natural, God-given beauty, and support and encourage them to engage in self-violation.

This is of course a justice issue—the health authority in Ghana is clearly trying to right an injustice and save lives—but also it is a moral and theological issue. We remember Dr. King saying, “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”  How well we do this tells us about our character. And it is not limited to Africa.

For many years, whenever  I say or sing the Lord’s Prayer, and I come to the part of asking forgiveness for my debts/sins/trespasses, I bring to consciousness images of slaves raped and beaten and killed, Native peoples slaughtered and forced to live in closed-in enclaves, women beaten and denied good jobs, children dying of malnutrition and starvation, etc. Now, I will also call to mind the faces of African women and men whose complexions are altered in obedience to ugly social rules and values.

I know I am not causing this, actively. I know my parents did not do this, or even my grandparents. But what I do know is that I continue to benefit from social values that raise white over black, especially when it comes to skin colors and body typologies, and every moment that I am not engaged in opposing, undoing, white supremacy and white privilege, is a moment when I am not involved in the resistance to them. When I am not in resistance, I am complicit.

tony-perkins-of-the-family-research-council
Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council encourages anti-homosexual laws in Africa

And here’s a real and very painful irony. In parts of Africa there are campaigns to rid the populace of what some claim is the scourge of homosexuality. Those campaigns are often encouraged, supported, funded, by white Christians from the United States. The claim is often made that this form of sexual being and living is not native to Africa but was imported in colonial times.

African friends and colleagues of mine, both homosexual and heterosexual, tell me that African life has always included a variety of sexualities. It is one of the sexual gifts God has made, and still makes, available in every corner of the earth.

So, instead of promoting the murder of gay men and lesbians, those U.S. Christians could be doing a real service by helping to overcome a genuine foreign import: the devaluing of black skin.

We must all can learn to celebrate our bodies, all bodies, ourselves. Until we do, God and God’s creation are mocked.

13494904_10100653721109769_3022759221022255872_nMalachi: 

This week, after recovering from a wonderful Thanksgiving, Rev. Robin shared an article, “What Color is Beauty?”  with me, related to the practice of skin-bleaching in West Africa, particularly in Ghana. The practice, although now technically illegal, lightens the skin tone of people- particularly women- by attacking the molecules that produce melanin in the skin.

This practice was recently banned, but the article discusses the inherent tension between the formal laws and the informal social custom which, in this case, amounts to an inherent belief that lighter skin tones are more beautiful. At several points in the article, the preferences of men are stated- and in almost all cases, men state that they are more attracted to women with lighter skin tones.

It’s a disturbing article and a powerful exposé of racial identity and bias in West Africa- a geographic area that is categorically perceived as a “black” area. As a white American, it’s difficult for me to wrestle with the ideas of racial beauty preferences toward whiteness (or lightness) in West Africa- and I have to ground myself in the reminder that this is not an “over there” problem. We face much the same racial dichotomy in the United States.

In this article, the author discusses many ways in which America’s beauty

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https://s3.amazonaws.com/user-media.venngage.com/331455-34f0e389fb2968a09af0ea2c798d564b.jpg

standards are inherently racist. Among them, the author notes that a Google search of “beautiful skin” gives fairly monochromatic results. I decided to do my own search and found that, yes, those results are all eerily… whitewashed. (Check out beautiful skin and flawless skin google searches. And yes, while it is possible to put a “dark” “tan” or “African American” filter on the google searches, it doesn’t change the fact that the default results are predominantly of white women.)

We see, over and over again, how black women are expected to adhere to the beauty standards of white women. Moreover, white appropriation of historically non-white traditions, actions, and aesthetics are often the route through which those things become mainstream (see: locs (dreadlocks), twerking, yoga, cosmetic surgery for butt implants and enhanced lips, etc.) Something isn’t considered fashionable, trendy, or beautiful until it is done on a white body, even if it’s something that originated in POC communities.

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Khoudia Diop (Instagram @melaniin.goddess)

Juxtaposed with these pervasive white supremacist ideals of beauty, I also see models like Khoudia Diop, who is one of the darkest-skinned models. The Senegalese model is part of The Colored Girl campaign, aimed at encouraging women to embrace their skin color and affirming the idea that darkness is beautiful. But although she has grown to love and embrace her skin tone, she also discusses being made fun of extensively in New York City for the darkness of her skin, and faced some familial and social pressure to use lightening creams, even in the United States.

We are a nation that has made the gold-star standard of beauty one that is based on racist ideals. From body shape to facial construction to hair texture, we are all encouraged to aspire to whiteness. Unearthing these stereotypes to then battle these ideas is difficult. They are so pervasive, such an inherent part of our culture that it can be difficult to be a white person and see how they manifest.

Yet I think of something like pronounced lips, and recall that it is seen in a negative way on black women, but in a positive way on white women

Colored Girl Campaign (photo credit @malaniin.goddess on Instagram)
Colored Girl Campaign (photo credit @malaniin.goddess on Instagram)

(Angelina Jolie, for example). I also can’t help but notice that these features are often sexualized (e.g. “She’s got blowjob lips”). The same is true with the tendency of black women to have a more pronounced butt, something that is incredibly sexualized.

So there is an interesting tension in our own culture between our ideals of beauty and our ideas of sex appeal. On one hand, “whiteness” is clearly the standard to which all people are expected to aspire (this used to be called “civilizing” people, because non-whiteness = savage from a colonialist perspective. This has not gone away; it has simply been called something else.) Yet on the other hand, we dehumanize, objectify, and sexualize the aspect of women’s bodies that don’t necessarily adhere to white standards.

It reminds me, in many ways, of the experiences that trans women have talked about in trying to date straight men. One friend put it very directly: “They will fuck me all night and tell me I’m the most beautiful person they’ve ever seen,” she said, “and then they leave the room and refuse to hold my hand in the daylight.”

We are told what we should be attracted to: thin, white, cisgendered. Any deviation from that attraction and it becomes a taboo, and we dehumanize and fetishize people to meet our own desires. The craigslist ads alone show this: “white man for black woman; casual sex only” “masculine white man for black woman; cannot host” “married man wants friends with benefits- black girls only” and “White 4 Black” (these are all lines from a local craigslist today). The gist of these ads are, “I’m a white guy looking for casual sex with a black woman, but I can’t have you around my home).

So not only do we set whiteness as the beauty standard, but when we are attracted to people who don’t fit that, we try to hide, minimize, or deny that attraction. Not only is this dehumanizing, but we are then perpetuating the same racist myths and stereotypes that hold up white beauty as superior in the first place.

The racism in the United States is pervasive and deeply rooted in systematic ways. The only way we can begin to combat these ideas is to first recognize that they are there. It’s easy to feel outrage, shock, and horror at women across the world bleaching their skin and risking skin cancer through damaging melanin in the blistering heat of West Africa, but we must also remember and feel that outrage that young women in the United States are often also pressured to lighten their skin so they can be beautiful. We must see it to fight it. We must fight it to end it. And we absolutely must end this dangerous, damaging belief that the value of a person is intrinsically tied to the color of their skin.

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

What do you think influences your sense of your own body, your relationship with your body? And what influences how you see and evaluate the bodies of others? What bodies are most sexy for you? Is your own body sexy for you? 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.

discoverpittsfield.com
discoverpittsfield.com

Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please join us THURSDAY, December 15th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online from 3-4:00 EST/19:00 UTC. To access the call, please click here. Please note that some members of the call (including Robin and Malachi) choose to enable video during the call. Video is not necessary; we encourage participants to participate as they feel comfortable. A sidebar chat option is available to those who choose not to enable their audio/video components.  If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.

Workshop description:

Sacred, Not Secret, Part 2: Beyond the Norm

We invite you to join us on Thursday, Dec 15th for the second part of the series, “Sacred, Not Secret” where Malachi Grennell and Rev. Dr. Robin H. Gorsline continue to discuss alternative expressions of sexuality and intimacy from a Christian perspective. On December 15, they will begin to explore non-normative relationship structures, focusing on non-monogamous relationships. This one-hour workshop will examine different aspects of non-monogamy, as well as discuss ways that we can be more open and inclusive to non-monogamous families in our churches and communities–because do not doubt that you know and interact with such families, in church and elsewhere.

 

As Metropolitan Community Church strives to move forward and maintain relevance with shifting social mores, the MCC Office of Formation and Leadership Development offers Sex, Bodies, Spirit online on the third Thursday of every month at 3 p.m. Eastern Time. This workshop is approved as a continuing education course for MCC clergy (.5 credit for each session) and focuses on equipping and empowering leaders to bring these conversations to their communities. Although a primary focus is on clergy education, everyone is welcome to attend and participate.

 

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.