Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Self vs Sex

A few weeks back I was in conversation with a handful of women about sex. All but me were straight, some married, some single, some in a relationship. The youngest one of this grouping chirped up and said she's 'saving herself for marriage.' No one really batted an eye because we all respect each other and the different lives we choose to lead, but I had to resist the urge to correct her. The language agitated me because it sent me back to a time when I said the same thing: saving myself for marriage.

Let me be clear in saying that I take no issue with a person choosing when they desire to become sexually active. If a 16 year old decides they are ready and knows how to do so safely with a safe partner, then so be it. If a 30 year old who is not yet married wants to wait to have sex with their future spouse, then so be it. If a person decides/feels that they only want to masturbate for the rest of their life and have no sexual contact with another person, then so be it. It's the diction of 'self' that worries me.

She did not say that she is saving SEX for marriage, she said SELF. This, to me, indicates that she's part of a Christian culture that puts a person's (especially women's) value in their sexuality. I believe that our sexuality, and our sexual selves, are deeply intwined within ourselves. But the Christian Church has this dangerous tendency of separating that sexuality from the rest of Self and calling it wrong, dirty, and not our own. After Church divorces sexuality from a person, it then tells the person what to do with it. Usually that looks like putting it (sexuality) in the proverbial China cabinet and only using it ('saving' it) for special occasions, i.e. wedding night, or when the husband "has needs." Sexuality becomes this foreign thing put on a pedestal as something that needs to be protected and preserved. It is compared to: a piece of gum, something you don't want multiple people to chew because it's no longer useful; crumpled up paper, you can't take out the damage/wrinkles no matter how hard you try; a used car, ( I cringe thinking how I've used this analogy) the less "milage" and past owners the better; a pair of worn shoes, eventually the sole is too worn and useless. These analogies dehumanize the sexual experience by comparing it to inanimate objects, and reduce the complicated nature of a person's humanity into just one facet of who they are, their sexuality.

As a woman who grew up in the Church, a very similar Church as the above person went to, I was indoctrinated with the philosophies that taught it was one of my most important duties to remain 'pure' before marriage. 'Purity' meant that I was to abstain from sex, masturbation, impure (sexual) thoughts, and steer clear of excessive alcohol and no drug use. And for most of my life I worked really hard to do that because, as I was taught, it would mean a happier healthier marriage to a wonderful husband in the end. But as I got older and my peers began to get married and have children, I heard recurring accounts of problems with the newlyweds' sex life. While I understand that all relationships can be prone to sexual issues, these particular conflicts were of a specific strain.  These women went from being forbidden to touch themselves (masturbating), to allowing someone else full access to their body. From not being allowed to think sexual thoughts, to having to act on something that's been off limits for their whole lives. From constantly telling themselves and others 'no', to saying 'yes' at their husband's desire. They go from 0-60 in one day! They were dealing with issues of sex hurting because they and their partner didn't know how to sexually arouse them; they were dealing with issues of shame (if your purity is based on your sexual activity, wouldn't that mean that having sex makes you impure?); they were dealing with issues of receiving and giving to their partners. These issues and more were results of constant demonization of sex and sexuality. Think about how painful and disorienting it would be to be in a photography darkroom, pupils quite dilated, to stepping outside on a sunny day. Ouch!

When I first became sexually active, I struggled with my sexual desire for people; I felt guilty for thinking of them as sexual beings because I was taught that it was demeaning to think of someone as a sexual being. I thought it was bad to think of someone's sexual side; but our sexual side, our sexuality, is a part of who we are. And who we are is nothing to be ashamed of.

Ultimately one's sexuality is up to them. How often and with who, is up to them. When shame and misinformation taint something so normal is when that sexual autonomy becomes endangered.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

sometimes being BLACK means...

internally panicking every time an unfamiliar number appears on my screen because this could be the call that iterates the news of a family or friend who was murdered by police

literally being scared of walking my dog in my neighborhood of two years

holding my breath and clinching my jaw every time police pulls up behind or next to me while driving

having to choke back the tears and anger every time I have to go to work after another Black hashtag has been created

panicking every time a police drives by me in my predominately white neighborhood

never getting rest because I never stop being Black.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Angry Black Woman Archetype

You ever have those shower thoughts in which you revisit a memory out of nowhere and re-frame and rephrase? So now the memory is awkwardly mixed with what actually happened and what you wish you had said and realized at the time...I had that moment today, in the shower.

Out of seemingly nowhere I revisited a memory from 2ish years ago when I was living in Concord with four other women and was in a really bad head space and heart space and literal space. I had been doing a lot of soul-searching and self-realization and was acting on it; my roommates didn't like it. I was transforming from the always smiling, (secretly) self-depricating, self-scapgoating, and exorbitantly self-sacrificing person that was so easy for everyone to doormat and 'love' to a woke, self-realized, self-loving, strong woman. I started speaking up for myself and asking for what I needed and addressing issues when they arose to the people who were part of the issues. In short, I stopped letting myself get shat on. My roommates didn't like it and made that clear, so I decided that cutting down on my interaction with them would be the healthiest for me. One night I was downstairs watching TV when one of my roommates comes and sits down with me. She asked me if I was angry, I replied in truth "No, I'm not angry." She seemed confused but satisfied with that answer and the conversation ended there. Subsequently, all these feelings of frustration boiled up and came out in a tweet that read something like 'I hate when people think the only emotion I'm capable of is anger.' Well this tweet lead to an aggressive Facebook message from that roommate saying that she'd appreciate it if I didn't compose passive aggressive social media posts about her. She said she asked me if I was angry, I said 'no', so why did I leave that angry tweet. In truth, that tweet wasn't angry, it was a pivotal moment.

I am a Black woman. And with that fact comes an assortment of presumptions about my character and about what makes me tick. Countless times in TV and film the Black women characters are portrayed in such a way that detracts from the well of emotions a person is capable of experiencing. It's maddening and disgusting. Yes, sometimes I'm angry, but that's just the tip of the emotional iceberg living in me. Just like most every human being, I am capable of an astounding array of emotions. But I am a Black woman, so I must be angry. I joke that I feel all the emotions all the time, and some peak more than others depending on the circumstance. But I am a Black woman, so I must be angry. Really anger is such a basic emotion that I rarely feel in response to something. But I am a Black woman, so I must be angry. When people thrust that 'Angry Black Woman' trope on me, or on any other Black woman, they are minimizing the humanity of that person. PERSON. Black women, regardless of their emotions, are PEOPLE. And that is too oft forgotten.

Black women, and Black men, are often used as a device (rather than a character) in media. They are used as comic relief, like Winston (Lamorne Morris) in New Girl; they are used to teach/improve/support the main character, like Sam Fuller (Regina King) in Miss Congeniality 2; they are used to nurture and mammy the white protagonist, like in The Help or The Secret life of Bees; they are used as an object of sex and sexually fetishized; like in Miley Cyrus' live performances; they are used as a means to absolve white guilt, like Broomhilda von Shaft (Kerry Washington) in Django Unchained; they are used as bait/marketing tools, like that annoying lady from the Popeye's Chicken commercial. They are used. They are used. We are used.

But people are people and are not meant to be used. People are not tools, they are not objects, they are not here to please others. Black women are people. Just like every person deserves the same basic human rights and the right to an autonomous existence full of emotional depth, every Black woman (person) deserves the same basic human rights and the right to an autonomous existence full of emotional depth. Black women are dynamic individuals, don't flatten us into a two-dimensional canon that catalyzes the ever-changing nature of another character. Next time ask her how she feels and...

wait for it...

LISTEN.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Importance of Dark Dorothy

In just a couple nights there will be a live performance, on NBC, of Motown’s The Wiz. If you’re not familiar with The Wiz, it’s Motown’s version of The Wizard of Oz. All different songs, same plot, all Black cast. The original came out in ’78 with Dorothy played by Diana Ross, Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow, Nipsy Russel as the Tin Man, Ted Ross as the Cowardly Lion, Richard Pryor as the The Great And Powerful Wiz, Lena Horne as Glenda the Good Witch, and a few other stars! I grew up watching this movie at my grandparents’ house huddled around the giant wooden tv with my cousins. We sang the songs, tried imitating the dance moves, and felt at home in our brown skin as we watched other brown people be exemplar. This Thursday’s production has me overjoyed and anticipatory.



Again, and as it should be, the entire cast is Black. All the main characters are played by pretty famous people including Queen Latifah, Common, Mary J. Blige, Elijah Kelley, Uzo Aduba, and Amber Riley. The main character, Dorothy, is played by someone unknown, Shanice Williams. The fact that the cast is Black already checks a lot of boxes as far as representation goes. Films with an equal amount of POCs to White people are few and far between, but big productions with exclusively POCs are almost unheard of. Something one step down from this POC representation high is the actual skin tone of Dorothy. She’s dark. And not Hollywood’s version of dark in which the person is racially ambiguous with wavy brown hair and olive skin. By Black people’s standards, Shanice Williams is on the darker end of the spectrum.



Sadly European imperialism has effected the way POC’s (which is most of the world) have thought of skin color. Everywhere in the world and within every race colorism exists. Most of the time lighter skin is considered superior to darker skin, because it’s closer to that of the white invaders who overtook indigenous cultures. With that comes different levels of privilege. People with darker skin are often considered lower class, dirty, dumber, more fit for manual labor, ugly, more primitive than their fellow lighter skinned members of their race. In Hollywood, when a POC is playing a leading protagonist role, they are often lighter in skin color, and preferably with more european facial features. Shanice Williams, while quite beautiful, does not fit Hollywood’s ‘standards of beauty’; she has darker skin, excellent kinky hair, and a wide nose. She’s clearly Black, not ‘maybe she has a white parent’ Black.

So why does her skin tone matter? Because little dark skinned Black girls deserve to see someone who looks like them. It’s not enough for them to see light skinned performers and subliminally be told that they’ll never be beautiful because their skin is too dark. They need to know that their skin tone isn’t a hinderance, but an added beautiful feature they should be proud of. Having a dark skinned Dorothy teaches, reteaches, and reprograms that dark is lovely and talented and good and capable and worthy.


So the next time I talk to a little girl who says she doesn’t like her natural hair or her dark skin or her wide nose or her dark eyes I’ll remind her of Dorothy Gale.


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

"Roles"

Same sex couples baffle people. Every type of people. Even those in the LGBTQIA community. My girlfriend’s close friend is a stud; quick lesson in lesbian lingo: a stud is a lesbian who has a lot of masculine energy, typically wears men’s clothing and is stereotypically supposed to be more dominant in their relationships with their partners. She, KiKi, is kinda obsessed with gender roles; she adheres to the strict guidelines (there are no strict guidelines) to the Stud-Lesbian Code of Conduct. She believes she should be the pursuer, the aggressor, the leader, the bread-winner, the head of the household. When KiKi first met LeAnna, she thought LeAnna was a stud. LeAnna is not a stud. For the past several months KiKi has constantly been challenged and confounded by LeAnna’s gender and sexuality expression. So LeAnna and my relationship confuses her. When we started dating, KiKi, once again, had questions; they ranged from “Coléa, you’re a girl, do you like this bag?” to very intrusive questions about LeAnna and I’s sex life.

But the truth about gender roles is that they’re not real, or at least they shouldn’t be. KiKi is trying to adhere to an antiquated system that cuckolds people into certain duties. The duties have nothing to do with who the person is, only what the person has in their pants. This isn’t fair. So when KiKi asks these questions, she’s asking them through the lens of a patriarchal heteronormative system. She’s putting herself into the role of ‘the man’ of a heteronormative relationship.

I have no problem with gender, just with the way society forces gender into a very strict binary system. When someone behaves in a manner that is outside of the box of that strict gender binary system they are often othered. It becomes: ‘that guy is weird because he enjoys doing domestic tasks and crafting’ or that ‘girl is odd because she doesn’t want to have kids and is into sports.’ This mentality is problematic because 1) it doesn’t allow for people to express themselves freely without fear of being treated differently and 2) it assumes everyone falls into one of two categories.

Gender, like temperature, is on a spectrum. As children we’re taught that something is either hot OR cold; but as we grow up we learn and experience temperatures that aren’t just hot OR cold. Sometimes something is warm or freezing or boiling or room-temperature or tepid or chilly, all of these temperatures are valid and real and changeable. Sometimes something is multiple temperatures at once, like when you heat up that frozen burrito, it is both searing and frozen. But it is still a burrito. And a person is still a person regardless of their gender identity; whether it be: agender, cis-gender, transgender, genderqueer, non-binary, genderfluid, etc, they are a still a person, a human, a life.


When someone asked me and LeAnna who was the man in the relationship, they were really asking who fulfills what gender roles. Who cooks and cleans? Who makes all the decisions? Who always drives? Who fixes stuff around the house? Who is the breadwinner? And to that we always answer: we are equally in the relationship, we do what needs to be done when it needs to be done.  I think that’s how every relationship and single-lifestyle should be. People should do what they’re good at and what they like and should ignore whether people think it odd that the dad stays at home with the kids and the mom provides the income. I believe everyone should have the freedom of a life in which we can openly express ourselves without having to be dutiful  to binary gender constructs. You should cook, ride motorcycles, cry, dance, play sports, read, create, BE because you want/need to, not because society tells you so. That’s the freedom we should all live in.

Also, here's the Genderbread Person

Also, also here's a great description of many gender identities:


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Young Love

“See that boy over there?! His name is Garrett Brooks and he’s cute and I like him.” Shari Tate confided; I anxiously nodded in agreement. It was my first full day of kindergarten and my first afternoon at after school. When Shari, a super cool first grader, picked me to be her best friend and protege she also introduced me to crushes, boys like girls like boys, and the dirty word ‘sex’, and to the male gaze. Garrett was also a big first grader with an expressive face, a whiny, scratchy voice, and round head with large ears. For the next couple years Shari and I would be best friends. We’d  join hips in the cafeteria after school and put our almost matching book bags together as we rehashed our days. She had a rectangular Beauty & The Beast book bag and I had the Little Mermaid one. We’d visit each others’ homes for playdates and when her dad died, I’d go to her dark house and play with her as her mom laid in her bedroom and cried. I was so proud to be her best friend. She chose me and I chose her and the after school staff couldn’t tell us apart.

Shari taught me the ancient art of having a crush on a boy. Scientific things like: yes, boys do have cooties, but not the ones you have a crush on. So Garrett was clean. Her jerk friend CJ was cootie free too, but we didn’t have a crush on him…because he’s white and fat and rude. She taught me that we should do things so the boys will notice us and like us back, but it’s not okay if a boy is mean to you, he doesn’t deserve our crush if he is. She taught me about making-out, which is also known as ‘sex’, and we practiced with these masks over our face at her house. I really enjoyed that. Shari taught me that being a black girl was actually pretty cool, this was contrary to what I had been conditioned to think during my preschool years. Shari taught me that’s it’s okay to be friends with your crush and to let him know you have a crush on him, but to not force the situation. He may not reciprocate the feelings, and that’s okay. She taught me to only have crushes on smart boys, dumb ones are a waste of time.


Shari taught me everything I knew about how to crush on boys, but she never once told me how it should feel on the inside. I wouldn’t learn that feeling until much later. Also, it was Shari I had the crush on.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Glimpse of fairness

Her and I are both anxious people. But when I'm around her, my anxiousness completely subsides; and when she's around me her anxiety dials down to a sensible realist level. Which is why a couple weeks ago, when I quietly asked if we could hold hands, she said 'no' and explained she felt anxious about it. I gently answered okay and we kept walking, unattached. Her hand-holding anxiety made sense, we were in Concord Mills Malls. It was once the largest outlet mall in the East, and as a former resident of Concord, I remember in great detail the guarantee of seeing at least two confederate flags per day when out and about. It turns out racism isn’t the only thing attached to that fucking flag.

It’s something we’re always mildly aware of, hand-holding and general public displays of affection. It’s also not something we talk about; it’s unspoken when we walk closely to one another, but never make contact while walking through the aisles at the store. We pass by male-female couples holdings hands, leaning on each other, stealing kisses and we walk on without looking each other in the eye. It isn’t fair.

She played for the VIP lounge for Charlotte PRIDE, and I was exceedingly proud of her, but the best part was holding her hand and clearly being a couple in public. And it being safe. She said she’s played and attended many PRIDES, but that this was the first one she’s ever been excited about actually going to, because of me. So for the weeks leading up to PRIDE we giddily gabbed about being our gay selves out in public and holding hands and showing affection and being the couple that we are without fear of strange looks or assault. How sad, how wonderful.

I’m walking towards her after she’s performed and I’ve gotten off work and she looks wonderful and doesn’t know I see her. As I wrap up the phone conversation with my daddy I bend over to kiss her on her perfect lips. In uptown, in the middle of a crowd, in broad daylight. What a rush. She takes my hand and leads me to the VIP lounge where we commence the business of getting drunk off cheap beer and wine that came with her complimentary VIP passes.

The rest of the night was an ethereal, drunken montage. Hand holding, crowds, PDAing, booze, friends, ex-friends, laughing, walking, queerness, groping. The elation peaked when watching Estelle perform. My girlfriend, who was pretty tipsy, sang along to every word and I, so very drunk, grinded on her underneath the pouring rain. It was a good time. After the performances, we called an Uber and headed home.


For just those moments, it was fair.