Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Love Letter To Myself

Over a year ago I dished out a TON of money I didn't really have to begin with and decided I wanted to be a "certified" sexuality educator. I had convinced myself that being a part of a very racially White organization that focuses on sexuality was a good professional move for me. I knew it would be difficult and I knew I had all I needed to be recognized with those who are already members.

As with many membership organizations they wanted an application, membership fees, processing fees, and one specific session that I did not have: a SAR (Sexual Attitudes Reassessment). As I paid for my conference attendance, bought a plane ticket, mentally prepared myself to be and feel "alone" in this space where the sexuality of poor people, people with disabilities, and people of Color would be obviously omitted, I also paid to attend a SAR. I've written about my experiences here in what I call my triptych at the sex conference. You can read part one here, part two here, and part three here.

One part of the SAR that I appreciated and forgot about, was writing a letter to ourselves. I received my letter earlier this summer and it got lost under a pile of other papers. As I was cleaning my apartment for the start of the new school year I found it and put it on my wall. Here's what it said:

Dear Sexy Bitch!

You are:

-Seen & respected as an expert in the field of sexology
-You are a sexologist of Color
-You find love & intimacy in new ways that feed & nourish you
-You build communities of practice that are supportive, powerful & free of opporession
-You are content!
-You remain always a fierce Sexy Bitch!


I'll admit I had to take a moment and think about if I have accomplished this in the year. Not being able to afford the AASECT membership fees, processing fees, conference registration, and travel even though my proposal was approved (although my time requested cut in half without notice) for the 2010 conference means I did not accomplish the original goal I had last year. I thought that this was one way to fulfill my first goal.

Even though I did not fulfill this goal, and today even if I did have the money to do it (and I don't forsee having that money at any time in the near future) I don't think I'd follow through. I realized at that last conference that I'm not welcome in that space. It's not a space for me, so instead what I need to do is create a space for us to be welcomed, visible, centered, and our voices given just as much importance as pharmaceutical companies, I mean doctors and those with more "popular" followings.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Media Justice Mash-Up: Rape, Violence, Poverty & Making Media

Cross posted from my Media Justice column

As the summer comes to a close and I prepare for teaching a new group of public intellectuals in my class, I’m reminded of the amazing work by the media makers I know and love. Here I’d like to share some of the musings, theorizing, and communities building that media makers in my network have been creating. I encourage you all to spend some time with each of the pieces that resonate with you and take some time to also read the comments section of each piece as they are wonderful additions to the conversations.

My homegirl Problem Chylde has begun to share her musings with us again. I’ve missed reading her writing on her own site (she has had guest blogging spots on feministe ). This past week she’s had two amazing pieces on her own blog, the first focuses on media, community and pop culture responses to the rape of the sister of Antoine Dodson. In her article titled “think twice” she writes:

think twice before you laugh at antoine dodson. i know everything is supposed to take a backseat to short-lived fame and exposure. but how would you feel if your sister was attacked by a rapist and people did nothing about it? officials laughed at you, police took their time coming to investigate, media crews didn’t arrive until you called them, and then your time on the news gets spoofed to entertain others instead of warn them. antoine’s taking his time in the spotlight in stride, and i think he’s doing it for kelly’s sake. i hope all the people laughing and singing “hide your kids, hide your wife” are writing all of the people in kelly’s community and state to do something about catching the rapist.

I pick this piece of hers first because I’ve seen this video of Antoine Dodson shared on Twitter and mostly on my Facebook among friends and other folks who found it hilarious. I admit that I was one of those people who first heard the story via this outlet and I did chuckle. At the same time I realized that this was a story of a community that was in distress. Will we laugh as we watch the images during this 5 year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina? As Problem Chylde asks: “how loudly would you scream if you realized no one is truly safe?”

Problemchyle also wrote a piece on class, status, desire, and perception/stereotypes. Her piece called “poor people aren’t supposed to want nice things” is one I’m going to include on my class syllabus. She addresses several stereotypes about how we think about and work with working class and working poor communities, but also how we experience and our expectations of poverty. She shares:

However, if you take what little disposable income you have and buy sushi, you are doing wrong. Poor people do not want things like smartphones (you’re poor; who are you calling on a smartphone?), televisions (you’re poor; what do you need entertainment for?), nice cars (why wouldn’t you get a modest car to get around when you’re poor), or delicious food (do you know how much ramen you could have bought for the cost of that scone?). Poor people should not take any windfalls or nest eggs or scraped together pennies and expose themselves to luxuries. After all, isn’t that just a brutal reminder of how poor they are any other time? Why not just face the fact that poor is what you are, poor is what you shall be, and poor means that you cannot have nice things?

I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have heard people say to me, friends, lovers, partners, and other poor people, that they hate seeing an expensive car sitting in the parking garage in a housing project. How ironic they find it that folks living in a housing project would have an entertainment system, delicious food to eat in their refrigerator, and clothing to wear that makes them proud of their body and who they are. I’ll admit when I hear folks say things such as this I have never spoken against it. I’ve asked “why” but never challenged them in the ways I knew I could. I see this piece as a call to action, as do many of the commenter who have echoed what she says and have shared some of their own testimonies about being poor.

My other homegirl, poet, activist, Cripchick who identifies as a “powerchair-roaring, young queer disabled woman of color,” sent me a tweet saying she wrote a piece just for me this week. Her piece “j.cole & hip hop as a form of youth media” discusses what J.Cole is doing while creating his form of media: Hip-Hop music. Cripchick writes:

having just signed to roc nation, j.cole is on the up and up. he is putting fayetteville on the map. the problem with cole going so hard for the ‘ville is that a lot of folks are up in arms about what it is that he is representing. (most of the voices being heard are white people. a few black community leaders are thrown in for validation.) my friends & i watch his video and we see youth of color taking over the city. claiming this place. recognizing ritual. understanding that j.cole had to leave fayetteville & the south but unlike everyone else, he came back. others see him emphasizing “blight” and fayetteville negatively.

A Fayetville resident, Cripchick has a perspective of her hometown that we as outsiders rarely get a chance to experience, consider, or hear. She shares how she understands and knows how some folks (outsiders to Hip-Hop culture and music also) may consume his media.

i went to two high school graduations this summer and j.cole got a shout out in both valedictorian speeches. if j. cole comes on anywhere (party, mall, festival, wherever), folks jump up. (young) people (of color), like me, are proud as hell of j. cole. i assume that anti-racist progressives i know will see the video in the same way — that cole did the right thing by shooting the video here in fayetteville and including cheerleaders and marching bands from the local HBCU & high school next to it — but they’re with the city: outraged and/or disgusted that this is what is being put out about fayetteville.

Cripchick shares three things she knows for sure, and this is just three reasons why I adore her. She says she believes “hip hop is a threat to dominant culture. it is one of the most powerful forms of media and people don’t want youth of color to have that power.” There is no way I can disagree with her about this, as someone who was born in the 70s, I still feel this, even if most of what I hear today is not what I would choose to purchase, but I see the power nonetheless. She also states “our idea around tone and appropriateness is rooted in white supremacy and class hierarchy.” Couldn’t say it better myself. And finally, one of my favorite things I have learned from having Cripchick in my life is the importance of this quote here “youth of color hardly have any (institutional) power. taking away our language is taking away one of the few things we have control over.” Embracing this ideology has added so much value to my life and to the work I do and how I examine media and language. This one sentence has so much truth.

On the truth tip, my other homegirl: bfp, who is an amazing activist, writer, and seeker of justice for all communities, wrote early on regarding the Rhianna and Eminem song “Love The Way You Lie.” She unapologetically is who she is which is why I adore her. The responses by many folks who do not often read her writing (for various reasons) were not all in support of her perspective on violence, relationships, sex and love. As a result she wrote three different pieces discussing her experiences and thoughts about how others were reading and responding to her words (I encourage you to visit her site as I want to honor her request of not sharing specific quotes). Her first untitled piece spoke about how exhausted she is, how she too is a survivor of violence, and how we continue to shape only small limited spaces for narratives of survivors of violence. What about all the other survivors? Her second untitled piece focused on how a larger readership and writership in the Internets were/are responding to her words and the video. She shares how feminism has hurt her and writes and as someone who has also been hurt, and continues to be hurt, by feminisms I know intimately what she writes about. Although some of our experiences are not the same, we share this similar pain and healing process. bfp then goes on to share her “non stressed out thoughts about eminem/rihana” where she asks “when is anybody going to talk about the intervention that rihanna/eminem just made as hip/hop/r&b type artists in a world that is notorious about supporting abuse against women?”

I have yet to read something where this occurs. If you know please share. I’d love to hear this conversation occur as a form of media making around sexual assault using this piece of media and music as a platform for social change around violence. If you do not already have bfp on your current reading list I highly suggest you include her on it immediately!

Finally, two pieces of media that have been created, and that I am a part of so they have a special place in my heart and thus receive a shameless plug: The Black Girl Project and HomegirlTV. The Black Girl Project was started by my homegirl, mami, activist, filmmaker, professor and all around dope person: Aiesha Turman. I have a interview with her coming up for the Media Makers Salon. Aiesha has started this project and now created a non-profit organization of which I am on the board. Our first premiere screening of her film is in Brooklyn this Friday. It is a documentary film that “portrays Black girls as the complex beings they are; not just the two sides of the coin we perpetuated in the media: victim or victimizer.” If you are interested in having the film screened in your community and/or area please get in touch with us via The Black Girl Project website! Below are two trailers for her film.

The Black Girl Project {teaser 2: electric boogaloo} from Aiesha Turman on Vimeo.

The Black Girl Project {teaser} from Aiesha Turman on Vimeo.

Finally, my homegirl, who I’ve mentioned before, Sofia Quintero, is creating one of her many amazing projects into an interactive communal form of media. She’s been thinking of HomegirlTV for a very long time and here is the trailer! (Yes, that’s me).

Sofia’s vision is one where she hopes people will send in questions and have the Homegirls share their suggestions on how to cope, work through, overcome an array of situations and issues. If you would like an invitation to join or to submit a query send an email to poderlatina@hotmail.com . This is a project I’m very honored and excited to be a part of as this is something that I wish I could have had when I was coming into my own identity. I hope those of you who work with youth or find yourselves needing some space to be affirmed join us!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Rememory & My Testimonio - For the Latina Week of Action for Reproductive Justice

cross posted from my Media Justice column.

I have never written about my youth and adolescence and when I chose to begin having sex with my partners. Part of me knows I rarely share these stories because I will be judged and who needs that type of virtual and 3D negativity in their life? But today, I think there are important ways I can learn to heal and learn to see how I’ve evolved in sharing my testimonio.

When I was 14 years old I chose to have sex. I partnered with someone in my high school who was five years older than me. Since then, I’ve often been in intergenerational relationships with people who are 5-10 years older. You see when I was 14 I looked the way I do right now: tall, full figured, and I took that opportunity to lie about my age to some of my partners.

One of the things that is missing in sexuality education, and in many curriculums people are attempting to create and implement with youth, especially young working class and youth of Color, is a discussion of power. I knew I had a lot of power when I was 14 simply based on my appearance. My racially White and ethnically Puerto Rican parents had no idea how to raise a woman of Color, one who racially identifies as Black and whose body is not valued or protected in the same way theirs may have been in the US at that time. Nobody ever told me that I would experience a jolt in the power I have when it comes to obtaining certain things: attention, material goods, transportation, food, affection, and the like. For some people this list of things may not be impressive, but for me at 14 in the early 1990s, a bushy haired fat brown girl living in the south, it was everything to me.

I tasted power and I didn’t want to give that power up because it was the first time I had ever had something like it before. I didn’t have teachers who thought I was intelligent and chose to mentor me, I didn’t find value in my work, identity, or existence until I was almost 17 years old and began to mentor young people myself. In those 3 years I had already chose to have several partners and one pregnancy scare.

My experience is mine and I do not see myself as a victim or survivor. I do not believe I was abused or raped by adult men who I chose to be intimate with, because I knew what I was doing. My parents had The Joy Of Sex and Our Bodies, Ourselves. But here’s where texts like these don’t work: I didn’t see myself in those texts. In The Joy Of Sex, I thought the images looked too much like my racially White parents and only looked through the text a handful of times. Our Bodies, Ourselves, was far too middle-class and White. There were too many words and not enough resources for poor Brown girls living in the south. Plus, the reading level was far too high for me to even engage with all that text without having my parents become suspicious. Too much text did not work for me as an adolescent and I have learned it does not reach young people from similar backgrounds (and yes if your organization or website has too many words at a reading level over 8th grade then I’m talking about ya’ll).

So what were the birth control options for a 14 year-old bushy Brown fat girl living in the south? Here’s what some of you may not know about me or this dynamic: I went to public school, both my parents worked, but it was my mother who had a full-time job and my father who worked side hustles, I was a latch-key kid, only got $2 for lunch and walked over 10 blocks to and from high school. If I wanted to go somewhere I had to save my lunch money for bus fare. Usually for lunch I would eat tatar tots and a chocolate chip cookie and save the fifty cents so that by the end of the week I could take the bus one way and come back home from there (back then a roundtrip bus ticket was less than $1.50). If I really wanted to go somewhere earlier in the week I would just eat a chocolate chip cookie and have $1.50 saved in one day.

There were no cell phones and I did not have access to a beeper or some other form of communication, such as email because I didn’t have a computer or Internet access. There was also no Planned Parenthood near me, or any other youth clinic that I knew about in my area. I didn’t even know too much about such health centers until I got to college. Even if I did know of them, I wonder today how I would have even been able to access them without skipping school, which had some of its own consequences, but also without any money to use public transportation. There was no access to any type of information that was age appropriate and so I had to make the best decision for me at that time which was using condoms when my partners had them.

Although by 17 I had a handful of partners I was always using condoms with them because they had them. When I was 17 and knew a lot more about myself and some of my options (and before you ask me about the birth control pill, that was not an option for me), I met a partner who I chose to have unprotected sex with and use the withdrawal method. Sometimes we used condoms, but we talked about our options and that relationship really influenced the person I am today. This partner was the first one I had been with who actually asked me “do you enjoy this” and who told me that I should want and enjoy whatever we do and if I don’t then we should not be doing it together or at all. This partner taught me about consent, pleasure, and communication. I stayed with this partner for 5 years.

It was difficult to learn about access from examining my own history, which is something that I really didn’t get a chance to do in undergrad, but that I had to find time to do on my own. Who knew my testimonio would never be desired in undergrad and that I would have to find my own space to affirm my own histories? Who knew that when I got to graduate school there would be huge stereotypes of young Brown girls, young Latinas, young working class people and our sexual decision-making but no real discussion about our lived reality, no discussion with us, only about us? Who knew these would still be where a majority of the literature, research, and focus remains today?

I’ve learned that when it comes to birth control options I am not the person who needs to judge a patient or client. If their method was jumping up and down after sex, or using condoms, or herbal remedies, or using a hormonal method, I was not to judge them. I was to help them. Today, I am so disheartened by how different narratives and choices are still being judged and criticized. There is this illusion that because we live in the US, were born in the US, that we automatically have access to birth control, education, safety, and love. But the reality that I think we all know, this is not true for everyone. Access to all of those things, some may consider a “human right” while others may consider them privileges.

When a young person approaches me or comes to my office, or asks for help I have to remember where I was as a young person and what I needed. I was nothing close to what half the young people who I interact with are at today, what decisions they must make and how much information they have. I remind myself that my job is not to get a young person on birth control, but to help them make the best decision for them at that time by giving them all of their options without my personal opinion. This is difficult to do, but it is not my job to take away their self-determination, it is my job to affirm their existence because I know all too well what it feels like to be invisible and for people to not find you valuable or important members of a community.

I believe in rememory. I do think that our past is alive in the present and that impacts us in various ways. What I am working towards, especially when it comes to birth control and working with my communities, is how to communally heal so that my past is not something I choose to ignore, forget, or find guilt in. Rather, I choose to see it as an important living part of who I am, a part of my constant evolution. And this, like my birth control option, like my partner selection, and like my writing, is my choice.

I’ll be writing more about birth control for the Latina Week Of Action for Reproductive Justice at VivirLatino and RH Reality Check.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Latina Week Of Action For Reproductive Justice: My Testimonio; Condoms

cross posted from VivirLatino

For the Latina Week Of Action For Reproductive Justice I decided to talk a little bit more about condoms and condom usage and my relationship/experience with condoms. It’s not often that we even see condoms used in the media especially media focusing on us as Latin@s, CaribeƱ@s and people of Color. Although some of us think condoms are all around us, accessible, and an important part of decreasing the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases (STIs) including HIV, the reality is there’s limited dialogue and even less proper use of them that centers our community.

To contextualize this piece a bit more: while growing up I listened to a lot of Hip-Hop music and still do. I can vividly recall listening to Snoop Dogg on Dr. Dre’s song “ Nuthin But A ‘G’ Thang” where Snoop said

And before me dig out a bitch* I have ta’ find a contraceptive
You never know she could be earnin’ her man
and learnin’ her man – and at the same time burnin’ her man
Now you know I ain’t with that shit, Lieutenant
Ain’t no pussy good enough to get burnt while I’m up in it

I also recall listening to Wu-Tang Clan’s “Maria” which I’ve actually used in my classes on Latina Sexuality. When was the last time a Hip-Hop artist/musician/group/anything spoke about STIs? (song NSFW because of use of profanity and sexual imagery)*

Wherever I go I have condoms with me. Yes, sometimes it is because I want to be prepared just in case I decide I want to engage in some sort of sexual activity that may protect me from STIs and pregnancy. Other times it is because I may run into some of my students on the subway and they ask me for such items and I happily share with them my personal stash. More so it is because I think it is important to show and let other women, especially women of Color that carrying condoms is okay. And other times, and this kills me to have to admit this but it is the reality of the world we live in, I carry them in case I am assaulted or raped and may need them pre-or post assault/rape.

I wasn’t always carrying around condoms with me. I even have chosen other methods such as the IUD, which I’ve written about, and the withdrawal method. Although condoms are always in my home and where I go, there is still a level of expectation I have for my partners. You see, just because I am ready, if I am partnering with someone for a longer period of time I expect them to contribute to the condom stash as well. This shows me that my partner knows what condoms work best for them, that they are also taking responsibility for our sexual safety, and value that I have condoms, that I have to replenish the condoms, and that it is not just my responsibility to do so because of the work I do.

There are so many people I’ve met who don’t know how to properly put on condoms that it’s distressing at times. Even my potential partners, when I watch them put a condom on their body or a toy, I’m kind of surprised at the misuse of the condom. So, today for you Vivir Latino readers I’ve done some research and found some videos in Spanish that discuss condom use, including the female condom, and that discuss how to properly put them on. Please share these with the people in your life, the people you come into contact with and watch them yourself! I also encourage everyone watching to practice using condoms. To find out where to get free condoms in your area visit these locations:

Planned Parenthood en espaƱol too (type in your area code for location closest to you or call: 1.800.230.PLAN (7526) to be connected to the closest location from where you are calling from.

US Department of Health and Human Services has locations all over the US and they offer free anonymous HIV and sometimes STI testing and condoms. Find a location close to you here.

If you have online access you can also request free condoms at various locations. Many brands offer free samples of their condoms on their websites and other online locations offer free samples of select brands. Try this online store that has 2 different brands for free.

Learn How To Properly Put On A Male Condom

Just For Fun: NYC Condom Campaign With A Reggaeton Feel

Information On the Male Condom

Information On the Female Condom

*Please don’t derail this conversation because you can’t get past the use of the term “bitch” in these examples because I will be honest with you I self identify as a Bitch, often. The goal of sharing these examples is condom use and discussions of STI and sexual responsibility.

I Chose Withdrawal And I Knew What I Was Doing

cross posted from my RH Reality Check Blog

RH Reality Check is participating in The Latina Week of Action for Reproductive Justice, an effort meant to raise awareness and spur dialogue about unique perspectives of and by Latina’s on reproductive justice. As part of this week, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health is hosting a blog carnival, encouraging Latina bloggers to write posts about contraception (our theme) from their perspectives. Bianca's article today is one of those piecs. The week of action runs August 9 to 15th.

Many media outlets and educators will lead us to think that the withdrawal method is not a birth control method at all. When I was being trained as a sexuality educator there was a joke that went around. It went something like this: “Q: What do you call people who use the withdrawal method? A: Parents.” The logic was that there is no protection from STIs or from pregnancy using this method.

Although this is true, as someone who has used the withdrawal method several times, even after having that sexuality education and training, I knew what I was doing. I was not in a relationship where my power was taken away from me because we chose withdrawal, we knew we didn’t want to have children, and we also knew of our STI and HIV status.
We chose withdrawal for several reasons but the main one is this: We wanted to. Now I know several of my friends, followers, and students may be floored at finding this out about me, but it is true and I am not ashamed, if anything I’m proud.

Just because I provide someone with all of their options and support what they choose does not mean I am always already going to choose what someone else may consider the “right” option for myself. This non-judgmental approach to working with people (for me, especially with youth in my community) in the sexuality field is difficult, but it’s something that is essential to the work we do. I know the risks involved with various activities and with partners and make decisions based on (perceived) trust and respect I have with my partnter(s). Judging someone based on their choices is not going to help them or you. Understanding where they are coming from and where they wish to go and what is sustainable for them is useful and often something that many underrepresented communities and individuals rarely receive in their interactions with health care providers, educators, and the like.

So, what was the scenario that led me to make this decision? I was living in the south, just started grad school part 2 in a PhD program. No matter what anyone tells you about doctoral programs, if you don’t have some money saved you WILL be broke, unless your family is independently wealthy. I was living below the poverty line and eligible for food stamps when I was in graduate school. The man I was partnered with was, and still is, amazing. He was a federal police officer, because that’s what some of your main choices are for an over 25-year-old woman of Color living in Washington, DC wanting to date a man of Color with a similar social justice agenda. Our first date was 8 hours long and I knew he was the person I wanted to spend most of my time with (i.e. this to me meant being monogamous) when he called me that night to make sure I got home okay, ignoring all those “rules” of when to call someone you like spending time with (which I have heard is anywhere from 2-6 days!).

He got check ups regularly through his work and had his most recent STI and HIV test results to share with me as did I. My last lover before him was almost two years prior to that time and I had had regular check ups. He was the kind of partner I wish all people had the opportunity to have: generous, patient, honest, and communicated well. He was the first man who asked for my consent verbally and actually said to me: “I think we should kiss each other now, is that okay with you?” And he would joke later in the relationship when we were ready to kiss in other positions or move onto other activities and say “If you keep kissing me I’m going to assume it is okay to do XYZ, is that alright?” and I would consent or we would stop and discuss, but more so I would consent. Because I wanted to.

As I look back on this relationship I realize that I never once asked him for consent. I wonder what this means about me today, where I ask the people I’m interested in kissing, hugging, holding hands with, if they are open to that form of affection. These are difficult conversations and questions to ask. I’ve had and heard my shares of “no” to such queries and it is a sting to the ego, but at least I know what my potential partners are comfortable with and/or where I stand with them and if I should move on.

Our withdrawal conversation was similar to our kissing conversation. We had already discussed sexual health histories, had engaged in some forms of penetrative activities with condom usage, and discussed the challenges and consequences. It was at that time that I chose to talk to him about spermicide. As a police officer I assumed he would know what spermicide is because he dealt with homicides all day long, but he didn’t. It became my opportunity to share with him what I knew. He is not the first partner I’ve had (who is now over 40 years old) who I have shared with what spermicide does. I’ve had at least 3 other partners where that conversation was a part of our birth control discussion.

We sometimes used the spermicide and we enjoyed one another and we checked in and it, to this day, was one of the most enjoyable relationships I’ve had because we communicated with one another and received consent. When he got an offer for his dream job which would take him throughout the Caribbean, enforcing what I consider questionable international drug laws, I knew that was not the type of relationship I wanted and we ended our relationship. However, we have remained in touch and the last time we spoke he was very impressed and even said he was proud of me for making a name for myself in the sexuality field. That felt really good to hear.

Now I really hate it when researchers, sexologists, educators, and they often judge young people, people of Color, working class people and so many others who chose withdrawal or even spermicides alone as their birth control option. For many of us it is one of the safest and only ways possible for us to engage in sexual activity (which may not always be consensual and if you think it is please take a moment to consider the billions of ways consent is not always present for many people) and decrease pregnancy without having a hormonal or latex connection (many people have allergies to latex, as we get older our vaginal canals change as does our vaginal secretions, and a ton of other things many readers can imagine).

Yes, there is discomfort and resistance in discussing withdrawal methods with patients/youth/clients/partners. Why don’t we look at what that resistance is, where it comes from and why that discomfort is there? How have we learned from our feelings of discomfort in the past? Many of us know that if we are sitting in a class or reading a book or experiencing something that makes us uncomfortable it is a good idea to try and pinpoint what it is about that situation that leads to that discomfort. Until we can honestly figure this out for ourselves, our abilities to provide care and support to communities may not be as helpful as we hope.

I’ll be writing more about birth control for the Latina Week Of Action for Reproductive Justice also at VivirLatino and on my Media Justice column at Amplify.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Latina Week Of Action For Reproductive Justice

I am participating in the Latina Week Of Action For Reproductive Justice at three spaces which I will cross post here. They include:

1. My Media Justice column on Amplify
2. My blog at RH Reality Check
3. My 2nd blog home VivirLatino.com

This year's theme is birth control and I have a LOT to say about this topic! Please consider sharing your story and testimonio as well!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Representing Ourselves

cross posted from my media justice column

I have several friends who have taken this summer to decide that they will begin writing blogs. Many of them are amazing writers and I’m excited to share their work with you when they get themselves and their blogs together! One of the reasons I’m so excited about this is because they are creating media on their own and representing themselves. They will learn so much about their own thought process, evolve in their writing, and learn all they need to about moderating comments!

Representing ourselves in the media is a huge part of why I love the Internets and I promise, I promise, I promise a post on net neutrality is coming! Although the Internet is available, self publishing on the rise, and zines still extremely popular, there are people who do not have the opportunity to create media that represents themselves. There is still a huge lack of resources and access, millions of stories that are not told, thousands of people who want to share, and no outlet to support or give them that opportunity.

I began to think about this when I read the book Lady Q: The Rise And Fall Of A Latin Queen, written by Reymundo Sanchez and Sonia Rodriguez. The story is the testimony of Sonia, who while in the Latin Kings/Queens went by the name Lady Q. As Lady Q, Sonia became the Queen of all Kings, one of the highest ranking Latin Queens. She shared her story with Reymundo, who is the author of “My Bloody Life” and “Once A King Always A King,” where he shares his life stories and experiences as a Latin King who left the life.

Reymundo reached out to Sonia because he wanted to share a women’s perspective on leadership and gang involvement. I reviewed the book and you may read my full review here. One of my many critiques and issues of the book is that Sonia’s voice seems forced and not always centered in the text. In addition, Reymundo is extremely critical of Sonia and her choices to live her life, survive abuse, neglect, drug abuse and sexual violence. This made the text extremely problematic for me. I shared in my review:

Yet, I can’t get past the idea of a man writing a woman’s testimony. This bothers me and I have yet to find the exact language that can help contextualize this perspective but I will try.

Men writing our stories is nothing new. In fact it is so tired I knew before reading the book that I would have an issue with this aspect of the text. There is something so innately paternalistic about this that it is enraging. I’m not clear why there is a desire to write our stories for us, versus creating a space where we have the opportunity to write our own stories without having a man claim some level of that ability or accomplishment. I should rephrase: I understand why there is a desire, because there is a level of stature, a “look a the wonderful gift I gave her,” the adoration and odd respect given to such men who do this work. What level of input did she have in the creation of the actual text? Was she a part of the creation or did she just get a final draft?

First, I am concerned that Reymundo gets the first author credit and this bothers me. This is something that happens often in the publishing industry and even in academic and formal writing spaces: the author who did the “most work” gets their name first on a publication. Yet, if all Reymundo did was transcribe Sonia’s story, why does he get first author’s credit? It is her story to tell and share yet for some reason he has taken her story and claimed it as his own in a sense.

If there was ever an example of patriarchy and how men of Color have benefited from it and continue to use their male privilege in our patriarchal US society to oppress women of Color and very clearly/overtly take away our voices this is one of them. I shared:

Then there was the ending, when we hear Reymundo’s voice again in first person, providing an update on Sonia and her situation. I found this part of the book most troubling and condescending. Not only is Reymundo discussing how Sonia’s living environment has not changed and she has not decided to leave her hometown, but he also judges her choices to stay near her daughter and grandchildren. He argues that the only way to get out of the life completely is to remove oneself from the community entirely. This means relocate to another state altogether.

My concern with this discussion and perspective is that it takes away Sonia’s self-determination by judging her choices. Hasn’t Sonia been judged her entire life? Why continue this under the guise of helping her? How is this any different from the abuse and neglect she endured and survived as a child? There are ways to be firm and honest with people without belittling them and harm reductionists have been working to master such approaches for decades.

Part of me is super frustrated with the idea that Sonia may be extremely grateful to Reymundo for taking her story, judging her, and now seeking to create possible films from her story. Another part of me is glad that she has found someone who, even with constraints, has listened to her. I know all too well what it feels like to have and need someone listen to you, to witness your life and your memories. That is a gift we can give people each day.

It is this gift that I wish to give to my friends who have begun to write blogs this summer. The gift of reading and commenting on their blogs and on the writing they produce. As we write and post comments here at Amplify let’s be mindful and remember that there are so many brilliant and amazing stories that are not being told, stories and narratives that are being taken and claimed by others as theirs, and that there is still a lot of work to do to have the media represent us as individuals, but also us as collective communities of practice. What’s in our agenda to make sure others can represent themselves?

Friday, August 6, 2010

300th Post

This is my 300th post on this site. Ya'll know I've been blogging since May of 2004 over at the b-spot: hard to find but once you do you keep coming back. my first piece was on Gloria Anzaldua and her death. So we all know I've written a TON of posts that far exceeds 300, but there is something more public and more enjoyable about this space here. That I can reach people from all over, not be anonymous or just write for my friends, but can write for myself and for my community.

For my 300th post on this space I try to figure out what I want to share. In short: I'm exhausted! On a train ride home the other day I realized how stressful this summer has been. I've watched my baby sister marry the woman she loves; watch my father marry the woman he loves; watch my mother's memory deteriorate, educate 5 women on their bodies, their sexual rights, their sexual selves; attempt to communally heal after a good friend was broken on her wedding day; lost a contract to a job; called names because of the work I do in a public space; moved into a new space; forget parts of my past lovers faces; made new friends; won a prestigious award; doula-ed several abortion procedures; was broke; traveled; stayed broke; started drinking; made media; wrote letters; sent mail; and shifted my thoughts on parenting and monogamy.

I'm still exhausted!

In an attempt to quiet and still my mind and prepare for the fall semester and the upcoming events I have planned, I started reading poetry again. Poetry is very VERY difficult for me to read. It is a different type of testimonio, storytelling that does not come very easily to me. There is a level of fear I have in reading, that I won't appreciate all the author has created, that I can't engage with the text and words, that I won't "get it" and be instantly struck with feelings and thoughts of inadequacy and a lack of intelligence and brilliance that in true Leo form, I believe I have.

Poetry is intimidating.

But, it is art. And many of my closest and dearest friends are poets. And I know that art transforms. For this reason I always go back to reading poetry. It challenges me, makes me uncomfortable, and pushes me in ways I often resist or rarely get to be pushed in such ways.

I picked up Chris Abani's most recent book of poetry Sanctificum. If you don't know this about me, you will quickly learn, I adore Chris Abani. Absolutely ADORE him. I had him sign my books in Harlem several years ago, The Virgin Of Flames and Song For Night (Graceland was borrowed to a friend). He wrote in my books and called me a "beautiful soul." When I asked him if Masters Of The Board (his first novel) would ever be reprinted he looked at me and told me that I was maybe one of three people who have ever asked him about that book. In my other book he wrote "so well read."

It's rare when people notice things about me when it comes to my intelligence and then tell me that they notice. As a kid, a product of the public school system I'm rarely told or believe that I'm smart. I changed my major 3 times in undergrad and ended up creating my own major. I went to graduate school to study sex in NYC. I then went to a PhD program in women's studies that quickly kicked me out telling me my writing was not good enough to represent their program.

It is rare that I feel smart, intelligent, brilliant.

I know what it's like to be called stupid, dumb, ignorant and I don't ever say this to the youth I work with. It hurts too much and part of my healing is to allow each of the young people I work with know they are intellectuals even if the world around them does not affirm or recognize the brilliance they embody. We are all scholars. We are all theorists. We challenge and affirm one another and we can do this in a way that centers love and healing and that is revolutionary. We just are not all there yet.

So I'm reading Abani's book, first thing when I'm ready to get out of bed, but before I actually do, and last thing I do before I fall asleep. I read his poetry. Here are some of my favorite lines from his poems:

"there are stories that can kill you" elephants, part 4

"what words erase, texture resists." revenant part 6

"there is risk in this--Not in the words, but in the dreaded embodiment of light, a sacred song" sacrament part 2

"i am not afraid of love, or its consequences of light" sacrament part 3

This last quote really resonates with me so far. It reminds me of my first trip to Cuba where I asked for love and for love to guide me into love and to be able to understand and see the love that is around me and appreciate it and accept it without judgment or question. Sometimes not being afraid of love or the light it brings into your life is so much easier when I am near the ocean, where my fear is quickly put into context: here I am in a space with billions of grains of sand and vast amounts of water and I'm reminded I am but a iota of something so much larger than me and you. The ocean reminds me my problems are really nothing in comparison to the larger space I am a part of. The ocean puts me at peace.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

1 Bianca Sammich Please

sigh. i'm all hot and bothered. i figured ya'll should be too! i love me some sara ramirez.

1. foto credit: In Style
2. foto credit: this site right there.
3. foto credit: this spot right here.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Book Review: Lady Q: The Rise And Fall Of A Latin Queen

cross posted from my VivirLatino Review

***Trigger Warning***

When my homegirl Nilki asked me if I’d like to review the book Lady Q: The Rise And Fall Of A Latin Queen, I said “of course!” It’s rare when our stories are told in general, especially in book form, and specifically as testimonio. What is also a rarity is hearing from Latinas who are involved or associated with gangs in the US. Often there is this idea that we should not hear such stories because it gives “us a bad name.” Or such narratives focus on such a negative aspect of our community. My opinion is that there is positive, there is negative, there is struggle and redemption and all of those stories must be shared, heard, and valued.

I received a free copy of the book for review through the Condor Book Tour, and I must say as a disclaimer that the opinions expressed in this review are mine alone.

Before I begin this review I must state my bias: I do not see all gangs as negative aspects or parts of communities. I have worked with youth for over two decades and in that time have worked directly with youth involved or associated with various gangs. In that work I’ve learned a lot about my own social justice agenda, ways to mentor youth, and how to help young people learn about self-determination without lecturing, bullying or judging them.

Lady Q is written under the pseudonym Sonia Rodriguez and is based on the testimonio given to Reymundo Sanchez, author of My Bloody Life and Once A King, Always A King the narratives about his life as a Latin King. I have not read Reymundo Sanchez’s previous texts so this is my first introduction to his work around gang involvement and activity.

The book is depressing, filled with incest, assault, sexual violence, abuse, and neglect. I seriously thought I was rereading Oscar Lewis’ La Vida: A Puerto Rican Family In The Culture Of Poverty. If you are familiar with the vitae of Lewis, then I don’t need to tell you about how triflin’ his theories and ideologies are, yet continue to be used and applied to us. As I read Lady Q, I thought to myself: “now here is a novel of an experience that Lewis would say is proof that people of Color value poverty as a cultural artifact and production.” I know our Vivir Latino readers are intelligent, savvy readers and that I don’t have to deconstruct why Lewis’ work is problematic, so let’s just move on.

The text was written in an accessible way with limited terminology that was difficult to understand for readers at various levels. I think this is a great characteristic of the text as it is most likely that people interested in the book are youth or people who may not have had the opportunity to expand their reading abilities to a certain level. It was clear to me who the target audience was and that I was not in that scope. At the same time, as someone who works with youth, I do value such texts and appreciate how texts such as these exist for our youth who need them. I do no take it personally when a book isn’t written for me, or when code-switching is difficult for me to follow. Instead I focus on why it is that I’m having a difficult and challenging time interacting with the text.

We follow Sonia through her testimonio of adolescents, puberty, young adulthood, motherhood, and her current experiences as a grandmother. During this time we learn of how Sonia was sexually abused by several men in her family and physically and emotionally abused by her female family members to this day. We discover that Sonia never had any support or protection from anyone or anything in her family or community and it is from this space of vulnerability, rejection, depression, and desperation that Sonia chose to join the Latin Kings and become a Latin Queen. We follow her as she quickly becomes the Queen of All Kings.

As we learn more about Sonia, who while a Latin Queen went by the name Lady Q, we see her evolve into a drug abuser, drug dealer, homeless mother, domestic violence survivor, grandmother, and now author. There are several readers who may ask “what kind of mother would allow her daughter to be abused and neglected in such a way?” and I wonder why there is this huge assumption that her mother knew what to do in such instances. Why isn’t the question more of “what kind of community is created so that a young girl of Color can be abused and neglected by its members, not find support, and when she makes a decision for her own mental and spiritual health, is then seen as the criminal?”

Some critiques I have of the text is that there were times where I did not think I was hearing Sonia’s voice. I had the impression that there were aspects of her story that were forced, meaning she may not have been as comfortable or forthcoming as we are to believe from the introduction. At the same time I recognize that these are difficult testimonios to share and that I may be projecting some of my own biases onto the narrative. There were times in the story where I could clearly tell Sonia was not talking but Reymundo took it upon himself to add clarification on issues/topics/terminology. These aspects I did not mind, however I thought they could have fit more smoothly as a footnote versus changing/altering the voice of the story.

Yet, I can’t get past the idea of a man writing a woman’s testimony. This bothers me and I have yet to find the exact language that can help contextualize this perspective but I will try.

Men writing our stories is nothing new. In fact it is so tired I knew before reading the book that I would have an issue with this aspect of the text. There is something so innately paternalistic about this that it is enraging. I’m not clear why there is a desire to write our stories for us, versus creating a space where we have the opportunity to write our own stories without having a man claim some level of that ability or accomplishment. I should rephrase: I understand why there is a desire, because there is a level of stature, a “look a the wonderful gift I gave her,” the adoration and odd respect given to such men who do this work. What level of input did she have in the creation of the actual text? Was she a part of the creation or did she just get a final draft?

Then there was the ending, when we hear Reymundo’s voice again in first person, providing an update on Sonia and her situation. I found this part of the book most troubling and condescending. Not only is Reymundo discussing how Sonia’s living environment has not changed and she has not decided to leave her hometown, but he also judges her choices to stay near her daughter and grandchildren. He argues that the only way to get out of the life completely is to remove oneself from the community entirely. This means relocate to another state altogether.

My concern with this discussion and perspective is that it takes away Sonia’s self-determination by judging her choices. Hasn’t Sonia been judged her entire life? Why continue this under the guise of helping her? How is this any different from the abuse and neglect she endured and survived as a child? There are ways to be firm and honest with people without belittling them and harm reductionists have been working to master such approaches for decades.

What I know can result is a strong discussion with youth and those who have similar experiences to the ones presented in this text.

If you are interested in purchasing the book for yourself or the youth/community you work with, all commissions from sales of books brought through Condor Books (on Amazon affiliate) go to Latinitas’ Teen Reporter Intern Program.

We are offering ONE free copy of the book to the first person who responds with a valid email address and indicates their interest in receiving the free copy. This is a generous offer from Condor Books. (please leave a comment at VivirLatino for free copy)