A Call to Men 2017 Conference: The Many Faces of Manhood, Day 2
Nearly 350 gathered in Bloomington, Minnesota at the end of September for A CALL TO MEN‘s national conference The Many Faces of Manhood. The conference explored healthy, respectful manhood in athletics, education, incarceration, fatherhood, faith communities, and around issues of gender. In addition to traditional keynotes and panels, the conference featured a series of Transformation Talks, where speakers shared personal stories of adversity, healing and growth.
“Modeling authenticity and vulnerability is critical to creating an environment where we can bring our whole selves, where we can learn and evolve,” said Tony Porter, CEO of A CALL TO MEN. “It is one of the principles of healthy, respectful manhood.”
We are pleased to be able to share many of the keynote speeches and panels via podcast. Below please find Day 2. Click here for Day 1.
Artistic Expression: Expressing What’s Inside of Me: Photography and the Art of Self-Reflection
with Scheherazade Tillet, Executive Director, A Long Walk Home
“We believe by centering the most vulnerable citizens, black girls, and transform them to be leaders, they will transform their homes, their schools, communities, and country at large. Over the past nine of doing this, we see just that. This image is a photograph that I’ve been, as a photographer, I’ve been capturing girls in leadership, and each one of these girls are leaders in a community. Its based on a really famous photograph from [inaudible 00:07:38] in 1941, about where he, as a photographer would capture blacks right information movement, and this photograph is like a standard photograph. Some people may recognize it, some people may not.”
Tillet – ATCM 2017
Oh you guys look so beautiful from here. Its true. You did see it ... oh its true.
I'm going to share some of my images and my photography that I've been doing for a very long time, and I just want to share how I got here. Tony over the summer called me, in terms of preparations for this, and he said, "where are you?" And I said, "I'm in Jamaica." He was like, "what are you doing in Jamaica?" He was like, "vacation?" And I was like, " no I'm ... kinda"
I was doing something that I absolutely love to do, which is, I was working with girls and teaching them photography. I began telling him stories about how these young girls I was working with I Jamaica quickly trusted me, the space that I created, and they were really showing their vulnerable selves through these images. And he was like, "we've got to have something like that at the conference. The theme is finding the authentic voices." So this is kind of why I'm here. Tony knows that ten in 20 I've been doing this for a while, but this is kind of how I'm here.
I also wanted to thank you guys for creating spaces where art is at the conference. Between the jazz music and dance, and spoken word, and now visual arts, I feel like art in itself is really a direct action to end violence against women and girls, so I'm just happy and honored to come and share some of that work with you.
I'd like to begin by ... everyone in this room to go on the journey of me and this movement, of violence. Its been almost 20 years to this date. It first began when my sister, my older sister, [inaudible 00:02:05] told me that she was a rape survivor. I was the first family member that she ever told, four years after the second incident of sexual assault. As a sister, I wanted to be her protector, her healer, and her friend. I'm her younger sister, for those who don't know.
When I heard this story, my body filled with silence. Each word she uttered, I only increased my sense of powerlessness. I felt emotions of guilt and rage, and I began to think, how could this happen? How did I not know? What could I have done? And I stood in this silence for a year. I was the first family member that she ever told. That summer, I lived with my sister for the first time in years. I witnessed what is one of the most courageous acts, the healing process. I used what I knew to enter her most private space in, her journey, my camera. As Gordon Parks says, the camera is my choice of weapon.
I use a camera to pay tribute to her healing. In 1998, there were very few visual models of rape survivors. I came across Eugene Richards' photography, where he captured a good friend of his dealing with breast cancer. This project along with show a pair of speaker, Aisha Simmons, was a frame that I needed to do this project. I tried to capture different components of my sister's healing process. Therapy sessions, spirituality, anti rape activism. It was then during the second week of the project, that I found that I ... while I was immersing myself in the project, I realized the weight of it all. I then turned the camera inward and examined the impact it had on me as a secondary survivor.
I realized I needed to search for myself, my authentic voice before beginning to help her heal. I had to be honest, like so many other people in this room, as partners, entering in this field, I had to be real about my own story and find my space as a secondary survivor, and as I was coming in this room this morning, someone, before even knowing my story, thanked me about speaking in another panel. He's a father, and he entered this movement because his daughter is a survivor. He said, "it took me a while but I'm now finding my voice." And I think that, really that's all we can do, and the most courageous thing we can do. Just want to honor that person who told me that story this morning.
So what is my story? My mum is a rape survivor, she was raped when I was five years old. That completely changed me and my sisters' life. We moved to Trinidad as a result, in her healing process. Now hearing about my sister's story, I feared that I'd be next. I dealt with my own triggers, the self portrait, the selfies became a space for me to flat, and do the work as Wade Davis said in our workshop yesterday, doing the emotional work. It allowed me to go to therapy and also to continuously capture my sister's story. So these self portraits became a way of my cure.
Together, me and my sister began to walk on a journey and transform these images that you see here today into national, multimedia performance [inaudible ]. [inaudible] to this day tours around the country and that's how we began our non profit, that has its 15th year anniversary, along [inaudible] column, where we use art to educate people to end bias against women and girls. Here are some of the images. Its more recent. The first photo was 1998. This is 2012. Just like healing, it's a continuous process.
We use all these lessons that we created to create our second program, girlfriends initiative institute. It's an art activist program for black girls in Chicago. We believe by centering the most vulnerable citizens, black girls, and transform them to be leaders, they will transform their homes, their schools, communities, and country at large. Over the past nine of doing this, we see just that. This image is a photograph that I've been, as a photographer, I've been capturing girls in leadership, and each one of these girls are leaders in a community. Its based on a really famous photograph from [inaudible 00:07:38] in 1941, about where he, as a photographer would capture blacks right information movement, and this photograph is like a standard photograph. Some people may recognize it, some people may not.
It's in many black homes, and used as a way to talk about blacks in Chicago, and so I [inaudible] that photograph in 2016 and put girls instead of boys, and then also looking at career identity and all of the different things that face girls. I wanted to also acknowledge them and celebrate them as leaders.
Our girlfriends curriculum goes into three different parts, girl me, girl culture, girl power. The first stage, girl me, allows them to look inward, their self awareness. This is a stage where they do many things, but one of the things that I do with them is self portraits. Self portraits gives the young girls to tell their story on their own terms. They are their own muses. The photography helps them reclaim their [inaudible 00:08:59] and to be seen. It gives them the opportunity, and object to process, which they can identify sites of their own trauma, reflect their own lives, and share experiences with each other. The self portrait teaches girls to practice seeing themselves. It enables them to value and integrate self and step that needs to take place in terms of joining a collective.
Before we even give them a camera, because I'm about to show you some, I think just rare images that we don't see of black girls. Before we give them cameras, there's a lot of work that has to be done to create the safer space. One of the things that we do is that we go on a retreat and act ... you know, say our non conference selves, and the girls do test who they are and then the different sides of who they are. So they do dance battles, karaoke. I am part of that, I do a little dance battle myself, been doing it for a couple of years with this one girl. I show them my photographs. We share stories through the arts. We allow ourselves to be vulnerable. We have ground rules. To be their authentic selves, is one of the ground rules. The girls also are part, they go into a pre counseling program.
So any girl that wants, voluntarily needs help, before going into our program, would be connected to an inter development therapist. The therapy is one of the things that stop you from being your whole selves. This is right before the cameras, before the pictures are taken. The space to create that space.
Lastly, I want to say like [inaudible] said in her talk yesterday, its filled with love. So I cannot not acknowledge the connections the adults have in that space, which is a big part of how we are able to get these images. Knowing that there is a safety net there for them. If you ask them to be their vulnerable selves, you should be able to catch them. You should be able to process their story, and I think that's like, some things as we think about this authentic self, how do we ask people to be so vulnerable and not be clinically responsible for what is being put out there.
I'm going to just show you ... I've so many. Been doing this for nine years. It was very hard to select which ones to show you guys here today. This is a young girl's self portrait, Jada, who was really struggling in terms of telling her own story. So she captured her being invisible. This is a young girl's story. You see all the words are projected on her body. This was one of her caretaker's, someone very close to her in her circle, would call her all these names, and she projected those images. We want to use the self portrait as a way of reclaiming those stories.
This is a young girl who's been in out program for many years. She drew this drawing and needed to do this drawing. We actually had all this work on the show already and she stood in the classroom and drew this, and then put this on the show. Its really talking about the larger conversations about the visibility of black girls, in terms of a larger political stand, and how their voices weren't heard. This young girl was inspired the next year from the Datavia's drawing and did a self portrait with a tripod, and put anxiety over her mouth, and really talking about the mental illness that girls face. When she shared this photograph with the girls, it became this domino impact. The room shifted. The conference self, as we said, is taken away. The girls really started, then , to share intimate stories.
I think that's what interesting about art, is that you still have something for yourself. You could just see this, or could be like, "I was just doing anxiety with my mouth," or you could tell the real story. It gives you a choice about what to say and what not to say.
This was taken this summer. Jada, a young girl who ... one of the things I also do is expose them to different women photographers, and she was inspired from Neb Golden's, one of her famous photographs about experiencing domestic violence. She took a picture of herself a month after experiencing domestic violence, and Jada, who was experiencing grief and loss from her father, who was murdered, bravely took this picture and titled it Jada two months after being the worst day of my life. And so she used the whole program, but she really used the photography as a way to document the process and reflect. She actually enlarged this for our really big for our final show, it was like 30 by 40, and she was just really proud to have this in this show.
I think this is speaking about a lot of how heavy hyper masculinity impacts girls as well. She's looking at photograph of herself, her younger self. These girls are just incredible, I just have to say that. Their honesty in their photographs just looking at the collectivity of these images together. She's holding a photograph and really talking about how the culture of hyper masculinity has impacted her for not being her whole self.
This is one of the strongest photographers, she's like, texts me every single day, but she's talking about ... we did a [inaudible 00:16:02] photograph where a man was holding ... its called black man holding watermelon, and she took that and really talking about the gender as well as these stereotypes that black girls face, and wanted to put it in the context of her community on the west side of Chicago. This image is about reclaiming citizenship. Who is left out of black lives matter, as a black girl, saying all black lives matter. Wheres she, in terms of the movement of black lives matter. I'll just let you guys view that for a second.
After the girl me, they also go to girl culture, where its an examination about the things that impact girls. This is where we show them the multimedia performance. This is when different experts come and talk to them, but as far as the photography project they are asked to photograph what does girl culture mean to them. They photograph, sometimes other girls, they photograph their mothers' story, I wanted to show you particularly these images, that she photographed the men in her life. The first one is here brother. She was so vulnerable just even sharing that because she felt like her brother's story was her story. She had so much that she could even say say. She showed it to us and was very vulnerable as she was sharing, as she showed that first photo, with the football. Her brother were in football, and the last image her cousins, and the last one is her father.
Through a black girl's eyes, how we get to see different images of masculinity.
The next thing, the last stage is girl culture. I'm sorry, the last stage is girl power. Sorry. What happens when you actually have your voice? What happens when you actually find and have dealt with your own stories and you find your authentic voice? Girl power allows girls to bring their individual selves to actually help their community at large. Their full selves. So in girl power, the images are put in exhibitions, like having referring to exhibitions because the publicness of these photographs is very important for them. There's so many images that are still left just for them that I will never show you, and that is more like diary photos for them, but these are images that actually have been shown to the public. That was part of how can my story then help others now that I have processed it?
Their photographs have been put into marches, the are teachings after school and I want to leave you guys now with this small clip from girl power, and how we have integrated their stories into our march. And its a clip of a march that took place last October, so its coming up to the year anniversary of this march. It was for a young woman named Jessica Hampton. Jessica Hampton was a woman who was killed due to domestic violence in Chicago on a red line train, in the middle of the day, as by standers watched. It actually was photographed and filmed on Facebook, and that's how her family found out about her death. It was something that ... her last words were, "please help me." Its something that we, as a community and everyone knew about, but did nothing about. Actually the first intervention was black lives matter, who did a drumming circle at the red line.
So domestic violence month came around and we wanted to acknowledge Jessica Hampton. We partnered up with black lives matter and domestic violence organizations as well as Jessica Hampton's family, and we created a march for her. I'm leaving you not as a sad note, its somewhat sad note, but what can we do with these stories? How Jessica Hampton didn't die in vain. We did take over on that red line with our young girls, with their signs, we gave out literature and then we found, which you'll see very shortly as I shorten the video so we could have time, there is a street artist that was at the red line, and our girls were like, "how can they be integrated into the movement?" And they asked them to sing a song. So those street artists, these men. This group of men, and this is what's great working with girls, because we actually have access to so many people. Girls are just so not valued, but they are the center of the community. You get access to so many spaces with young girls. These street artists now come with us.
I know some of the themes are like what meeting people where they are at, now one is dispensable. Everyone is needed in the movement. And also, use what you have. I had a camera, and I did not know that this journey would take me here today. Its 20 years later, showing you and then teaching those lessons to young girls. So I think we all have to figure out what is our entry point, what are our skills our tools to change this movement.
Thank you guys.
The Many Faces of Manhood: Men Embrace Their Authentic Selves
with Tony Porter, CEO, A CALL TO MEN
“We try to help men. We were talking yesterday about how to get men on this process, on this road to transformation. While we want men to care about all women in that process … Because we were talking yesterday about how we’re socialized to distance ourselves from the experience of women and girls and to define what it means to be man. A big part of that distancing ourselves, in order to do it most effectively, men are taught to have a lack of interest in the experience of women. It helps them to be very effective in distancing.”
Announcer: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the stage Tony Porter.
Great job, wow. I think it speaks to so many conversations we've had about working within the margins of the margins. That we can't use traditional means and ways of ending violence against all women and girls based on the feminist perspectives and views that we were all taught initially.
I'm cool with them in the respects that it got some things started, but it's not how we're going to end this thing. We've gotta be way more comprehensive. What was that word we started using yesterday? Intentional. That's right. We've gotta be intentional. So we appreciate Shaharazad for all that she does in this space.
So the other word for the day is what? Intentional and the other one? Love, and I got ... There's one more, there's a main word ... Authenticity, right? Be about being our authentic selves. We're going to have some men share some of that with you, coming up.
I just want to tell you a couple of quick things. When we talk about ending violence against all women and girls, and when we spend time with men, a lot of that time we're talking to men, we help them to understand. We talk to them from a perspective of many folks are effected by the violence, and then many folks are affected by the violence. We explain to men what that means. Men can begin to really quickly grasp that we've all been affected by the violence, because the violence is at epidemic proportions. None of us get a pass.
We try to help men. We were talking yesterday about how to get men on this process, on this road to transformation. While we want men to care about all women in that process ... Because we were talking yesterday about how we're socialized to distance ourselves from the experience of women and girls and to define what it means to be man. A big part of that distancing ourselves, in order to do it most effectively, men are taught to have a lack of interest in the experience of women. It helps them to be very effective in distancing.
So we usually, to get into the hearts of men, we usually have to go through women that they love and care about to get to that place of where they can feel women and their experiences. A lot of that is through storytelling. So, two women ... For their anonymity, I'm not going to mention who they are to me, or their names, but growing up, two women very close to me that I still love very dearly. I can remember as a teenage boy, one of them ... I grew up in New York City in the Bronx. One driving in the taxi cab, we called them gypsy cabs back then. They were the taxi cab that weren't the yellow cab that you all, when you visit New York, would ride in Manhattan. Gypsy cabs couldn't go into Manhattan, they had to stay the outskirts of the city. Well, not the outskirts, the other burrows.
So she was driving home in a gypsy cab, and the driver just pulled over somewhere, jumped in the back seat with her, held a knife to her breast and raped her. He cut her across the breast and then just kicked her out the cab. She still has that scar on the very top of her breast. Then she lived a life of alcohol and drug addiction, had children who then lived a life of dysfunction. So we talk about the generational impact, right? Today I'm glad to say that she's better, but then I can also sadly say that some of her children are still messed up. Right? The generational impact.
Another woman that I love dearly, in college, met a football player who was a rookie on a particular team. She liked him, she thought he liked her. She went back to his dorm. Rookies in pro football, they house them all in one place. They don't get to live in the community, they house them in apartments that the team owns. They just house them in the same place, so it looks like a dorm experience. Usually an average football team has about 20 rookies. This particular team was housed at a college dorm. She liked the guy, she thought he liked her. She chose to go back and have consensual sex with him. He got up to go to the bathroom, and when he returned, she thought she was having sex with him. But he swapped out with his roommate who had adjoining rooms with him. She did not know that it was another man inside of her until he was inside of her.
Back then ... I'm going back a long time ago, we did not talk a lot about what rape is. We did not talk a lot about women's rights. For her, it was just lay there and let him finish, and she did. She felt helpless, hopeless in the situation, had no ability to change the situation, or at least that's how she seen her experience at that time. She laid there, she let him finish, he would call himself having sex. He was raping her. He got up, went into his room. The other player came out of his room, told her to get dressed, drove her back home in silence, let her out, never seen him again ... And never reported it. She lived a life of alcohol and drugs and addiction. She doesn't have children, but I am happy to say she's better now.
I want to show you a picture. So, that's me, and that's my grandfather. It's the only picture I have of him and I. He passed away when I was about eight years old. He was what they call ... Well, not what they call, what he was, work-wise, was a long shoreman. A lot of jobs a lot of black men had, working loading and unloading the ships as they came in to dock. He did that off of the Long Island sound, where ships would come in the back way a long time ago.
What I remembered about him is just his big strong hands. He had hands that when he'd shake your hand, your hand would disappear in his hand. He was a real strong man. I didn't remember a lot about him, but I remember how I always loved that picture, because for whatever reason, it made me feel real close to him. Made me feel so close to him. When I started doing this work some 20 plus years ago, one day I was sitting talking to my mom about the work ... My mother, her name is Marie Nelson Porter. She passed away in 2001. We were sitting in my apartment, just her and I talking. Then just out of the blue, she said to me from the age of eight to the age of 14, your grandfather raped me on a regular basis.
I was just left stunned and shocked. I didn't know what to do with that. She was sitting across from me, and I was sitting across from her. She started crying, and I was like glued to my seat. I wanted to get up and go over and hug her, but I was stuck. I couldn't move. It like paralyzed me when she told me that. Somebody I looked up to so much, and in my mind, I was like so happy that in my immediate family, this had not happened. I was paralyzed. I could not get up and walk across the room and put my arms around my mother.
Somebody who I loved and cherished was the perpetrator. I still have that picture. I haven't gotten rid of the picture. I'm so mixed up with it, because when I look at the picture, I still like the picture. I'm still stuck with liking the man.
We're either effected or affected. None of us in this room gets a pass on that. The question is what are we going to do about it? Where are we going to be in respect to the process of change and respect to the solution. We believe that healthy manhood, we increase it, we decrease violence against women and girls. We believe that authenticity is a big part of that process. We have five men that are going to come forward. They're going to model for us what we've been talking about for the last day or so. They're going to put into practice, they're going to put into play exactly what we've been talking about. Thank you very much.
Transformation Talk: “Challenging Sports Culture”
with Wade Davis, Senior Diversity & Inclusion Consultant, YSC
“When my mother realized at 20-ish, that she was having a black little boy, she had one responsibility. Teach him how to stay alive. When I told her I was gay, it wasn’t that she was really upset about me being gay, she thought it was a death sentence, because she had given me the tools to be a black man, but she had, she didn’t have the foresight to give me to the tools to be a black gay man. Her fear, was based on the fact that she thought that I would not survive.
I tell you that story not to, so that you don’t vilify people like my mom, but you add context to that. Because when we hear stories about parents responding to their kids a certain way, you have to understand their context and similar to what Tony just shared and this wasn’t in my talk, but my mother turned 60 this year and I took her, my mother loves eating all-you-can-eat crabs. I took her to the casino, and we just had, just a huge buffet. I took a risk and asked my Momma, I said, “What was your childhood like, Mom?” She looked at me and she paused. She said, “I spent my whole childhood running.” She said she spent her childhood running from all the men in her life. From her brothers, from her family members, from the men on her block, from black men, from white men and I didn’t know what to do with that. What could I do with that.”
In full transparency, I've changed this speech five times. I was really impacted by yesterday and more full transparency, I'm an athlete, which means I have a huge ego that I've been trying to let die over the last couple of years. A lot of what I've heard during the last day has really, really impacted me and it's caused me to wrestle with a lot of things. I decided to change up my talk. I'm sticking with the theme Tony, so you won't have to beat me up. I wanted to investigate some of the things that we've talked about over the last day and some ideas around risk-taking, attempted authenticity and when you do all those things, there's a distance that's either removed or created. I'm publishing a piece in the next couple of weeks that hasn't been published yet, so I'm going to read it for you all if you promise to not tell anyone. All right, is that a deal?
And then, we're going to spend some other time talking about what's in this piece. The piece is titled, Unsportsmanlike Conduct, My Mind in the NFL. I remember standing in the Titans locker room for the first time alone, looking at lockers of all pros like Steve McNair, Eddie George, Samari Rolle. These lockers were filled with new and old cleats, basketball, street shoes, sweatpants, sweatshirts, old college T-shirts, practice and game jerseys and other football accessories. And I thought silently with great admiration for myself, wow, they bought it. They think I'm one of them.
No one could have told me that the NFL would accept an openly gay man, but that thought wasn't specific to the NFL. I didn't believe the high school football world, the college football world, hell the entire world would accept a Southern, black football player who also identified as gay. Who would have believed I existed? And who would have wanted me to exist? Part of my survival as a gay man, who had yet to disclose my sexuality to my teammates, required that I create a system within myself to be accepted as a heterosexual man and that required that I take on certain types of responsibilities, to be perceived as a heterosexual man. That required that I would periodically talk about my sexual conquests and since I didn't have those stories, at least any new stories, I cheated. I invented them.
There's an old adage in sports that says, "If you ain't cheating, you ain't trying." So I would repurpose, reformat, remix, remaster and regurgitate stories that I heard other men tell about their interactions with women and I'd make them my own. Part of my system rested on my ability to remember all the lies that I told many years ago, because all great liars understand that, no matter how good a lie is, it's always on life support.
Gradually with careful study and practice, I remembered that when talking to other liars and exaggerators, because that's what men do when we talk about women, right? I only needed excessive voice inflections, or humorous vulgarities or onerous sexual acts, or forceful body gyrations, for that lie to become a temporary truth in the eyes of my teammates. My system was working. No one questioned my sexuality. I was invited to house parties, to strip clubs, to poker and spades nights and even the most coveted invite in the NFL is, Madden tournaments.
I was one of the fellas, but I was exhausted. I had always been able to separate my on-field and in-team perceived heterosexuality from my, alone in my room homosexuality, but during my last year with the Redskins, I had a break. I had a mental break. While watching practice film with my teammates, I couldn't ignore that my body movements were slightly too stereotypically effeminate. My arms flailed, my lisp, my wrist limped, my hips swayed. I could no longer see the heterosexual man I created. I was a walking contradiction. A black man, a black gay man in football pads, or to use the language of James Baldwin, I was a walking phallic symbol.
While in the NFL, a Brett Favre pass dislocated my pinky. A Randy Moss post route almost thrashed both my hamstrings. A Champ Bailey interception nearly stopped my heart. But nothing created the conditions for me to trust my teammates enough to tell them, that I was gay. And though my system had worked to fool others, I couldn't hide a lie to myself. Ask any athlete, the mental part of the game is always more strenuous than the physical, because no one prepares you for that. They can't. When I entered the NFL, my mind had begun to collapse up on itself and the added heft started to make me feel like I could never succeed in the NFL.
Now I never disclosed my sexuality to anyone and I don't know if I had of, would that have changed my success in the NFL and I hold no animosity toward the NFL, towards my college, towards my high school, for the individual choices that I made, because I know that all these institutions exist within a racist, patriarchal society, where the systems are intentionally created and operate with great force to place men above women, whites above blacks, heterosexuals above gays, the abled above the differently-abled. The joy that I felt was based on my ability to try to love myself.
I work continuously now to destroy these systems that were never created for me, or for me to thrive in sports. So when my former teammates and I now share stories about our time in the NFL, there's always distance and that's one of the great paradoxes about lying. I lied to gain temporary admittance into the NFL, yet those lies never allowed my teammates and I to truly collide. And while I gained a label and a title, former NFL player, whenever those words are spoken about me, I'm always haunted by the lies that my former self told and the ghost of true family bonds that never were.
I want to start with that to really kind of highlight three different points. Again, attempted authenticity, risk-taking, and the distance that you create, because when you take the risk to attempt to be your authentic self, you change the distance between how you see yourself, how you love yourself, how you love others and how others will ultimately love you. When I finished my time in the NFL, I moved back to Colorado because that's where my mother and my immediate family lived and I lived there for a couple months, before April Fool's Day 2005, I decided to move to New York City, because where does any other self-respecting closeted gay man move to, besides New York City?
I could have gone to San Francisco, but I don't trust San Francisco liberals, that's a different conversation that we can dig into later, right? It's a different conversation but, when I took the risk to attempt to be more of my authentic self, I created distance between my family and I, because I needed that distance to see a different side of myself. But when I was ready to take that risk to come out to my family, to show them a different level of authenticity, you have to understand that people have different types of reactions.
When I told my mom that I was gay, she said a couple of things to me immediately. My mother said first, "That's an abomination." The second thing she said, which took me many years to understand is, she said, "You're already black." You're already black. It took me to write and to talk to my mother, like what she really meant by that and my mother proceeded to tell me that, she no longer had three daughters, she had four and that everything that I had ever done in my entire life meant nothing, and that she wished that I was dying of cancer, then to tell her, that I was gay. And that she wished that I was rotting in jail for the rest of my life, then to tell her that I was gay.
In that moment, I took that. Not because I was trying to be tough or to be a man, because I saw my mother. I saw a part of my mother die in that moment, because what I learned is that some of you in the room who are parents, you all have dreams for your kids. No matter how accepting that you might say you are, you're not dreaming of your kid being lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender, queer, you're not dreaming of that because you know how hard that world can be. My mother grew up in Shreveport, Louisiana during the 50s. My mother's oldest brother who had a different father than her, she watched, when she knew that his father was lynched. She had four other brothers who experienced racism like I will never know.
When my mother realized at 20-ish, that she was having a black little boy, she had one responsibility. Teach him how to stay alive. When I told her I was gay, it wasn't that she was really upset about me being gay, she thought it was a death sentence, because she had given me the tools to be a black man, but she had, she didn't have the foresight to give me to the tools to be a black gay man. Her fear, was based on the fact that she thought that I would not survive.
I tell you that story not to, so that you don't vilify people like my mom, but you add context to that. Because when we hear stories about parents responding to their kids a certain way, you have to understand their context and similar to what Tony just shared and this wasn't in my talk, but my mother turned 60 this year and I took her, my mother loves eating all-you-can-eat crabs. I took her to the casino, and we just had, just a huge buffet. I took a risk and asked my Momma, I said, "What was your childhood like, Mom?" She looked at me and she paused. She said, "I spent my whole childhood running." She said she spent her childhood running from all the men in her life. From her brothers, from her family members, from the men on her block, from black men, from white men and I didn't know what to do with that. What could I do with that.
And then, she told me that everyday she would get walked to school by a 70 year old man. She was in high school and that man used to give my grandmother money so they could survive. My grandmother knew that he was never going to hurt my mother, so she allowed that to happen, and to wrestle with that is like nothing you can ever imagine, because I have such ideas about who my grandmother is, but I know my grandmother's context. I know my mother's context. I implore you all to as you're doing this work, to understand people's context, because it really matters. Now my mother and my partner, whose my fiancé now, they are best friends and they talk, and they tweet, and they text and it makes me sick.
There's my father. When I told my father I was gay, he said, "I'm coming to Colorado." I mean, "I'm coming to New York to meet this guy." I was like, wow, that was easy. When we go to a restaurant to eat and my father's, he's religious now and I'll add context to that in a second, he makes us hold hands my partner's like, "What in the hell is going on?" Right? And we have a great dinner and afterwards, I was like, wow, that was really easy. We get back home and months go by and then we get a box in the mail and it's from my father. He had never sent me anything in many years, so I was like, oh lord, and it's two Bibles, in scripted with our names on it. There's a video and it's my father sitting in a chair like Mr. Rogers saying, "Turn to Leviticus 45." He proceeds to say a lot of other things to me.
My father was in the military and my father's a former addict, and my father has found God as a way to keep him clean. I deeply understand that the only way that my father can stay clean is if he stays in the church. As James Baldwin says, "The church for some people can be a hiding place." And my relationship with God is complicated. It's really complicated, but I'm religious because I'm black. There's no other way to change that. I can walk away from it as much as I want but that's who I am.
My relationship with God is complicated because I like to imagine God as a woman. It just really, it really shaped the way that I think about the world. If I can imagine a women being the most powerful being that we pray to, that we genuflect to and all these things, what would that do for how I think about how women are in this world? Imagine that. Imagine if the photos on your wall, or how you imagine God is a woman. Just sit with that. Take a risk with me around that. Talk about your authenticity around that. What would that do to you as a person? What would that do to how you imagine women? Because it's changed me. It has profoundly changed me. It's changed me so much that when folks see me now, they go, I don't recognize you. And I'm like good, because I changed the distance. When I took a risk, when I tried to be more of my authentic self, I changed the distance.
I want to close with this. I want to say to all men who are attempting to be your authentic self, there is a cost. You may lose some of the people who have been in your lives forever and it's going to hurt. The hurt of never knowing yourself or showing yourself is a slow, silent, lonely death. No matter how many people you put around you. But the love of knowing and showing yourself is healing. It's redemptive and it's eternal. I want to leave you all with this last line. Love removes the distance that keeps us apart, and that journey to erase all forms of distance has got to start with yourself. Thank you.
Transformation Talk: “Walking Two Worlds: My Journey as a Two Spirit Male” with Lenny Hayes, Owner, Tate Topa Consulting
“This mask is my story, and how it came about was I advocated here in Minneapolis for an organization to help create a space for two-spirit people to heal from our trauma, because we share a lot of similarities. We all have powerful stories, what we all share is trauma. So I advocated for a place for us to go.”
Announcer: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the stage, Lenny Hayes.
Lenny Hayes: Am I on? Okay. Wow. I'm really nervous right now. Thanks for just throwing it out there and saying, "Yes, I'm scared as shit standing up here." My name is Lenny Hayes and ... this is really difficult right now because I've never had to stand in a national platform to discuss who I am. If anyone's wondering, I'm holding my medicine that an elder Native woman said to me, she said, "Roll up a ball of sage and take it with you, and when you have to speak, hold that medicine close to you. This medicine will help you."
So, again, I'm from the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate of the north east corner of South Dakota. I've lived here in Minneapolis now for almost 20 years. I define as a two-spirit male, and if anyone's wondering what two-spirit means, two-spirit is a Native concept that should only be used by Native people who identify as either LGBTQ. But what it means is that an individual has a spirit of both a male and a female, and one of the things that I say is that my female spirit is much more dominating than my male spirit. My mannerisms are feminine, there was a time in my life where I was actually ... Had the big hair, just like the girls in the 80's, right? Big bangs? But I always make a joke, too, and say that I can also be butch, too. Meaning that I could carry wood, I could do man things, man chores. Whatever.
But what I'm going to do is I'm going to share something with you first before I go anywhere forward with what I'm going to discuss so you can get to know who I am. In 2013, I was asked to testify in front of the US Attorney General's Committee on violence against Native children, because I was aways the person to always publicly talk about abuse of Native children. So, it was a great honor to have been asked to do this, but what I did was, I wrote my speech as my six year old boy. What's really amazing about it is that my speech was published in North Dakota in Authentic Voices, and I shared my speech with an individual who I hold really dear in my heart, and his name is Marlon. He's a writer, he also identifies as a two-spirit from Idaho. What he did was he rewrote my speech into a poem, and so I want to share it with you. It's titled The Little Boy Who Sits in a Corner.
"The little boy sits in a corner with his head between his legs. He looks up with no face, messed up hair, and tattered clothes. The little boy is scared and feeling hopeless and helpless. He asks why? He wants to scream, yell, and be heard. To be listened to, to have someone witness. The ones who are to be his protectors are the ones who are hurting him. How does he tell them to stop? How can he yell for help when he's being told to keep quiet? Instead they yell at him, 'Shut up, or I will hurt you even more.' I am a boy who wants and needs to play with no worries. I am a boy who is supposed to ride a bike. I am a boy who's supposed to laugh and giggle. I am a boy who's supposed to enjoy the sun beating down on my face. I'm a boy who's supposed to play in the mud. I'm a boy who's supposed to dream. But instead, I'm a boy who is scared even to go to sleep because I'm afraid. I might wet the bed, and if I wet that bed I will be beat again and again.
The little boy is victimized almost daily with physical, mental, emotional, and sexual abuse. He's in a corder being touched and groped. How does he say stop? He closes his eyes ... and tears begin to flow. I go to a faraway place in my mind, a safe place, a happy place. A place where I don't have to feel what my body's experiencing. Many times when he's being victimized over and over he looks on from the ceiling and sees his body being taken advantage of. I say to myself, 'Poor little boy, it will soon be over.' After it's over, he's lifeless and begins to come back to his body once again. One day I saw that little boy that suffered, and still suffers. I stretched out my hand and reached out to that little boy. He looked up at me sideways at first, as if seeing a bright light that was too much to take in. He reaches back to me. I give him my healing hand, he gives me his pained heart. Together we walked, we talked, healed. Well, healing on our path towards being a whole person.
The journey of healing is not all happy excitement and joy. The path of healing was, is painful. Very painful. But with the help, I made it through. I am no longer a victim, I am a survivor. I am a survivor of physical, emotional, mental, and sexual abuse. Surviving doesn't mean that I am acknowledging it, it also means I'm choosing to grow, learn, and move forward. Surviving means I know my triggers. Surviving means helping, means asking for help when I need it. Surviving doesn't take away what has happened to me, but it does mean when I'm ready to learn to forgive my perpetrators. Most of all, surviving means joyfully acknowledging my little boy when he comes out to play. Surviving means talking to my little boy and saying, 'I am here. I see you. You will be okay, little boy, and it's my turn to take care of you.'"
No matter how much I read that, it's still very painful. So, I am a mental and chemical health therapist, and my focus is working with, and along with, the two-spirit community. I stand here today with my ancestors. I stand here today with two-spirit leaders from across the country who are trying to create change for our community. I stand here with the missing and murdered two-spirit people who have died because of some form of violence. Within a little over two years there was five individuals from my tribe who died by some form of violence, with our youngest being 15 years old. She hung herself because she was bullied. She identified as a gender fluid individual.
This mask is my story, and how it came about was I advocated here in Minneapolis for an organization to help create a space for two-spirit people to heal from our trauma, because we share a lot of similarities. We all have powerful stories, what we all share is trauma. So I advocated for a place for us to go. I wanted to help my community, and so one of the things that we asked the individuals who came to the support group was to create a mask and to really look down inside of themselves and ask that question, "How do I identify as a Native person, and how do I identify as a two-spirit person?" Very powerful stories. And because I had asked the individuals in this support group to do this, I also wanted to do it, so I dug down even deeper within myself to find my identity. All of these words that are on this mask -- this mask signifies, the black in the background, signifies all the dark places I've been -- all the words that are on that mask are labels. We live in a world of labels. Those were labels that were given to me, and those were also labels that I also chose for myself, good and bad.
I, too, experienced a lot of struggles and challenges after leaving the reservation at the age of 29. 28. I didn't find my place for healing until a very good friend of mine, when I came to the cities, said to me ... Who I loved and adored this person so much. One of the things that he said to me was, "I can't invest in our friendship anymore because I'm tired of you taking me on an emotional rollercoaster ride." That was a time that I ... That was when I made the decision to change, that I needed to go into therapy to deal with my own trauma. Very painful. My trauma was painful. There were may times that I would wake up with nightmares that were so horrific, I just don't understand how a person can survive so much pain and so much hurt and so much trauma, but I'm here.
I'm here to help my people. I'm here to help my community. I'm here to stand with other two-spirit people across the country who are doing great things. We are not bad people. Colonization changed the way we are viewed in our community today. two-spirit people were treated with the utmost respect and honor before colonization, and today we're fighting to be part of community once again, to be a part of that circle, and we're also fighting to a part of the mainstream LGBTQ community. Just that simple word, two-spirit, to be added to the LGBTQ, that's what I advocate for, because I don't identify as a gay male. I identify as a two-spirit man. I am a winkta; that is a cultural term that is used in my tribe. I grew up with that word being derogatory. I carried a lot of shame with that. I carried a lot of shame being called a queer, but I'm happy that the young people are embracing that word and taking it back today.
I do this work because I don't want another young two-spirit person to die because of some form of violence. We don't have to experience domestic violence, we don't have to experience rape, we don't have to experience that. I experienced all of that. I rely on my elders to help me through this process, and I believe that I will heal of the rest of my life. I will not be totally, fully healed, but I do this work because it's important to help my people, and I don't do it alone. So I'm asking you today to stand with us two-spirit leaders. Help us. Be inclusive to us, include us in your language.
You know, I travel across the country educating and bringing awareness about two-spirit people, I talk about sexual violence against men and boys, I talk about I'm a survivor of the foster care system, being a part of the foster care system from the age of 10 to 17. How can we better serve and take care of our Native children who are in foster care, and our two-spirit children who are in foster care? I'm here for a reason. I don't know why, only the creator knows, but I will continue to advocate for my people, for my two-spirit community, my Native LGBTQ two-spirit community. So, thank you.
The Many Faces of Manhood: Men Embracing Our Authentic Selves- Issues of Race and Culture in America
with Sumayya Coleman, Share Time Wisely Consulting Services, African American, Black Women’s Cultural Alliance; Quentin Walcott, Co-Executive Director, CONNECT NYC; Rus Funk, Co-Founder, North American Men Engage Network; Juan Ramos, Executive Director, Community Driven Solutions and Core Trainer, A CALL TO MEN; Pheng Thao, Founder & Director, ManForward MN & Men and Masculine Folder Network
“I think that idea of authenticity, or love for the people and faith in the masses really shortens that distance. And I really kind of manipulated it in a lot of ways because, I only kind of used different parts and pieces of my story. I thought I was being genuine, but I wasn’t telling the full story. I was really kind of manipulating it, I was an athlete in college, and raised by a single mom, and living in New York City, two boys in New York City, so experiencing racism and structural violence and also, being a child of mother who’s an artist. Struggling as an artist, woman of color as an artist with two boys in New York City. So I got a good chance to kind of see her life in some aspect, learn from her story, and add my story to that, me and my brothers story. But I only used different pieces of it I thought would be affective in that moment. As I got be more genuine and authentic I kind of moved away from being strategic and just being fully vulnerable, and connecting with people of color around racism and classism in a way that really propelled my work.”
Sumayya: Give us some love. Thank you. My name is [Sumayya 00:00:08] Fire-Coleman and I'm going to be your event interviewer and moderator for today and you all do look good. Yes, I agree with everybody else who's been up here. This is really intimidating. It's all good. I got my people over here who are going to give me some good energy and my people over there. Thank you.
Yeah. Beth Richie put things in perspective for us on yesterday about holding our work in love and I want to echo that and I want to say, give a shout out for Tony and Tanya and Lena that we have done our work across this country for years with that same perspective of holding the work with love. What we say is, "Nothing but love," that this work is a gift and so, what I want to say for this afternoon with this panel of my brothers is that I hold love for them. Also, that we're going to talk about being authentic today. They're bringing their authentic selves, in terms of the many faces of manhood. Men embracing their authentic selves, in terms of the issues of race and culture.
As I know my brothers, they do their work in love, in community and so, today, in their conversation, we're just wanting you to hold them in love as well.
The first question is, "What does it mean for men to do this work with vulnerability and authenticity as they try to engage one another and bystanders? What does it mean for men to do this work with vulnerability and authenticity as they try to engage one another and bystanders?" Either of you can go.
Quentin: I'll go.
Speaker 3: Thank you.
Quentin: Good afternoon, everyone. I always want to pay homage to Sumayya because, a lot of people don't know. A lot of people don't know that Sumayya was my first supervisor in this work so, she really showed me love and supported my work when a lot of people really did not and I just always kind of lift that up. I think authenticity is really the root to the work around engaging men and boys. And it's really funny that is what has become I think the most effective part of the work because, when I first started doing work in group work and running batters programs, I was taught not to connect or share my story with the people in front of me, or the person in front of me. That it's really about them and not me. It became, over time, I just felt that that was not effective and I think I did good group work, but I wasn't really reaching the communities I was working in. So I think, looking at particularly the conditions of the communities that we work in, kind of the political climate, and when I first started doing the work, I connect.
At least was right after 9/11, and the communities of color, and undocumented communities we were working with, were going underground so it was really important for me and my team and my staff to connect with communities in way that we could really build their trust. So, really, telling our own stories and really working with people that were from these communities, they weren't just kind of like, dropping in and telling people what to do. It was really like hearing their stories, connecting with them. And the first way to really do that was for me to kind of tell my story. And listening to Beth Richie yesterday really made me think about it in a different way, in a sense that the idea, and also the panel afterwards liked the idea of authenticity in a course to it. And for me, growing up as a very guarded person and private person, that was really different and unique for me. But the one thing that connected me, and I think authenticity really kind of shortens the gap between me and my choices around manhood and masculinity, and in the people I'm connecting to.
I think that idea of authenticity, or love for the people and faith in the masses really shortens that distance. And I really kind of manipulated it in a lot of ways because, I only kind of used different parts and pieces of my story. I thought I was being genuine, but I wasn't telling the full story. I was really kind of manipulating it, I was an athlete in college, and raised by a single mom, and living in New York City, two boys in New York City, so experiencing racism and structural violence and also, being a child of mother who's an artist. Struggling as an artist, woman of color as an artist with two boys in New York City. So I got a good chance to kind of see her life in some aspect, learn from her story, and add my story to that, me and my brothers story. But I only used different pieces of it I thought would be affective in that moment. As I got be more genuine and authentic I kind of moved away from being strategic and just being fully vulnerable, and connecting with people of color around racism and classism in a way that really propelled my work.
Rus: Hi y'all. I'm tired. So I also want to pay homage to Sumayya and my brothers here on the panel, I have had some long term relationships with all y'all and just so supporting on to the work. I also want to just make a quick shout out to the staff of this hotel the folks who provide the food and clean our plates for us and clean up our rooms. Thank you all for that. I think part of, part of what I struggle with and it's what I'm struggling with right now. I was raised to be a perfectionist. For my dad intentionally for my mom not so much and that notion of being, as you all know that notion of trying to be perfect interrupts my ability to be in alliance with folks. And alliance with women, alliance with black and brown folks, so I've been really struggling with that. And I continue to we've changed the mantra into my household, we've change the mantra from, "practice makes perfect" to, "practice makes progress." And I'm trying to live into that mantra.
As a parent as, a human being, as an activist and being authentically in progress helps me I think, make connections with other men. And in doing this work that I cannot try to pretend like I got this I am in the process of getting this. And I actually need your help. Whether, do you mean who batter, whether it's you, sex offenders, whether to you whoever you actually need your help to continue to do my progress of getting this. I'm not trying to look talk at you, I'm trying to create a relationship with you so that we can try and move ourselves and support each other to get together.
I think particularly until recently, relatively recently in Louisville, I did a lot of youth organizing and youth work. And you know I'm old, and it doesn't really do well for me to pretend like I am hip and 20 something, or a teenager it's been a long time since I've been a teenager. And I can't pretend I'm not going to try to pretend I don't listen your music, I don't try to listen to music, so I can like, try to have a conversation with you I listen to my music. And if you all to take a slide over and listen some really good music come on. I'm biased apparently, at least for my music. I think that what I can bring is who I got. And my experience is people respond really well to authenticity whether, it's ... Louisville is 78% white, or people with white skin and so whether it's you know, African or Latino adolescent boys from the other side of town or whether it's the congressmen in Frankfurt because, in Frankfurt ... Kentucky has or has the distinction of having the most male dominated state legislature there in the country.
Either side, they appreciate the authenticity of me just showing up with who I am and what I got. What I struggle with is part of what you said around how much of me do I bring, because I don't necessarily want you all seeing every part of me because some parts of our a little bit rough around the edges that I'm with you all that I want to show. They'll probably show up anyway there's other parts of me that with other folks that I don't want to bring out because, too scary and too vulnerable. And part of what helps me is being in a community of folks that I support in terms of them being their authentic selves, and they support me to be my authentic self. Who can challenge me on that on the edges of that comfort zone. I don't want to be in the comfort zone because that's a bubble that leads me to laziness. I need support authentically around where my at the edge like, now.
Can I just tell you right now I'm at the edge? Okay, I'm two steps past the edge of my comfort zone with y'all, but I'm here with these folks. And that's what gives me the ability to kind of step here and like, kind of be okay with that I'm two steps past my comfort zone.
Pheng: So what I think about vulnerability, sort of three things come to my mind that I've learned over the years. Is one, is that as men we must be humble. That we really have to learn that part. And learn it really well because, our ego can get in the way of this work. So what that means is like, really listening. Two part listening, listening to yourself. What's happening inside of you, challenging some of your defenses as they're coming up when women, and girls, and queer folks are talking about their life's and their experiences as it intersects with the institutions and systems. Then being able to listen to their stories, right? I think we talked a lot about that, genuinely listening to their stories, meaning I have to suspend what I believe to be true in that moment, right? That nothing else is going on up here except the fact that I need to suppress my defenses because, that's my privilege that's coming out. And the other part is, listening to their story and hearing them out, and being able to amplify those stories.
So, I think in learning to be humble it mean you have to actually know how to follow other people's leadership. And you actually also have to hold true that what others are saying is also true in light of your own experiences and your own action, right? But I wish that, I think I've moved too far to be too humble, that's what I've heard. So, I wish I was like my son, I don't know how I raised a son who's like, "I want to be a leader." All the time. I'm like, "Well, that's not gonna work." Right? So he's very different than me, so I don't know how that came about. But we can raise kids like that too. I think that's the other part, is not being afraid and I think I hear that from what Quinton and Rus was sharing. The third point that I want to make is it's like a careful dance, right? That you're not sure who's going to lead at what moments. Am I gonna step on the other person's toe, or how are we moving in this right? Sometimes it's like we're just going to stand there, and just move our upper parts, then we're not going to move our toes at all.
Or at some moments, somebody is going to move their toes and I'll just sort of follow it, or at some moments I need to make a small step an inch over here. So it's like a slow dance that we have to do when I think about vulnerability, and I think about that as lessening that fear that yesterday's conversation they talked about fear. And I think that what I've learned from working with the [inaudible 00:13:44] women in my community is to actually be fearless. And I think that that's the other part about vulnerability is that sometimes as men, that fear can get in our way. And so, learning to be fearless as well. They've got nothing to lose we have so much to gain and I think part of that is learning to do that as well so, that's what I think about when I think about vulnerability.
Speaker 6: I think for me vulnerability and authenticity have really for me, meant that I embrace this work differently because for me, it's what has led me to the place where I have found my freedom to talk about the things that I've experienced. So for me, I kind of feel like it comes natural because, that was the vehicle use for my freedom. And I kind of try to use that with all the men that I work with particularly, the young men right? But I'm still kind of trying to develop some of that authenticity, some of that vulnerability because, there's so much more that ... In particular young men that I want to share, but you know there are things that I also know that I'm responsible for modeling for them, and not giving them the wrong examples of transformation. Because sometimes you can give examples of transformation and still give the wrong example of transformation. I try to be intentional about how I share things and also because, you know in my personal experience this still a lot of things I'm working out.
And also in the world that I come from, there's still a lot of fear that I carry. In particular, with things that maybe I've done you know like, I still fear systems and a lot of ways. I definitely fear statue limitations, so I can share a thing I want to share you know at certain times because, the man is always following you know so you just got to ... Being authentic, right? I'm sorry. But that for me, just those two words are synonymous with me getting to the place where I have felt most free in my life.
Sumayya: Thank you. So, we've talked about authenticity and vulnerability, and now were gonna throw a new word out here paradox, okay. We talked earlier and I was telling the brothers about in the mid 90s, I worked in a mainstream batters intervention program and at that time, I was talking about men were able to change, all right? And so, I said mid 90s and this is 2017, and weird we're still having a controversy about what are men who use violence able to change, right? And so, we're gonna talk about the paradox of that. The paradox of men working with vulnerability and authenticity to address sexism and yet benefit from and maintain privilege power and collusion at the same time
I'm gonna start with you Pheng.
Pheng: Oh, okay. I think I found this to be a struggle over the years. I think initially at the beginning it was like, oh my god I'm doing this great work right? I found a place where I could actually really leverage my power, my privilege in my community in the Hmong community and that I could really help out the sisters and really help out the brothers too and all the other folks in the community. And I come to find that I think, every day I get reminded that. But yet you still benefit right? So even in like in man forward we still have a moment come together and have conversations about domestic violence and sexual assault or how to actually be helpful to men and boys in creating spaces where they can heal. That's also men coming together and also, doing the boys' club again right? So it's like, I think it's like this funky paradox that we walk and it's a funky struggle sometimes using funky Dr. Funk here.
Quentin: just saying.
Pheng: So it's like, it's a hard balance sometimes because, no matter what we do the weed of what we try to dismantle is always ever present right? So what does that mean in the work that we do and what does that look like? I think that that looks like the case that we I often reference, is the elderly gentleman that was in the Hmong community who he trespassed into the lands of this one white gentleman, and got beaten up right? He's in his 60s and 70s, he got beat up by this 30 year old white gentleman. And the D.A. in that county didn't charge that individual, the 30 year old at all for about a week, two weeks right? So some of the young folks got together in my community, they got together, and they organized, but later on found out that he had also the 60 year old man had also committed domestic violence within his household right? So how do we hold that? And that's a hard hold for folks right? So what happened with the young folks, was that it was a hard struggle because, folks were like, "Well what should we be fighting for here?" Because he needs justice, but what about the folks that he is also harmed?
And that if that were to come out, so this is the part about racism. If that part were to come out, what would happen to him would he get justice? But then, if he got justice they wouldn't be getting justice in the families too right? The woman and girls that he has also harmed, and so I think often times, where I come from at least in my community, it's like sometimes we privilege racism, the conversation of racism over that of sexism. And how do we, I think we need to talk about how do we hold those things and so that also means like as we continue to do the work we still benefit from the system because, the system is still in place right? So as I work with men who commit domestic violence, ad work with them I also I'm benefiting from what they are doing, and the work that I'm doing with them.
So I think it's a struggle, and it's a struggle that I think needs to be acknowledged and that we need to have more conversations about like, what do we do with that struggle? Do we just acknowledge it, do we do something different about it, do we create a different kind of a practice around it? And I don't know what the answer looks like or mean at this moment.
Mr. Ramos: I think for me, to answer your question I think for me, what's helped me kind of work with the men in doing this work in particular because, I work with men who batter young men who were also battering their girlfriends sometimes their mothers. That for me, is really about understanding that I'm serving not only them I'm serving in the women in their lives. And that brings me early on in my story and how I did this work because, the two quick stories I'll share that the ground me in this, and that I always think about, and the first one was, before A Call to Men was actually even an organization you know, Ted and Tony were going upstate, and we were having these men's conversations. And I remember being in, I think it was, we were Nyack, and I remember talking up there and kind of giving my spiel a presentation on domestic violence, men's role, and at the end of that you know, everybody in the room applauded me and whatever.
But there was one sister all the way in the back, and she goes, "I ain't applauding you because, you ain't doing nothing you ain't supposed to be doing." I remember I was feeling good for a moment and as I stepped to the side to talk to Tony, he goes, "You got to probably talk to her about it." So, I wasn't even going to ask him for help I was just looking for some cuddling or something at the moment so. But I also remember that same sister came up to me afterwards, and she broke it down to me why it was, and I'll never forget her and I was hoping to see her here because, she usually comes to the national conferences as Lavonne Mars. Someone who I respect, someone who I follow her work, someone who I ... You can't say to her she doesn't know what it is to be a woman going through an experience because, she's meant to do the ultimate experience.
And then the second one was. And I get just for the context I get in a lot of trouble when I hang out with Tony and Ted. Because, the stories always involve them somehow, but we were together up in New York City at the U.N. It was actually my first time speaking in public about the issue, and I didn't even go to speak sort of like you know, earlier we had a story how Tony just throws people into things. So, I was there just to bring the papers, carry the stuff. And he goes, "Go ahead, man. It's your turn." It was kind of like baptism of fire, but we were at the U.N. presenting to a delegation the women from Nigeria, and again I gave my spiel on working with men what I knew domestic violence to be, and I don't I say little element because at the time I feel grounded in the work also because, I was working as a hotline counselor helping women escape abuse. So I kind of was talking from both perspectives and I got a nice ovation from the crowd, and again that was a sister in the back.
And I remember she was in the most humbling way, and most loving way she said to me, "Mr. Ramos, thank you for sharing your experience with domestic violence and understanding of it. But could you tell me outside of that, how can I stay safe when I leave my home now that I know that domestic violence impacts women in our homes. But how do I stay safe in my village when I have to go get water for my family up the hill? And then feel like they could stone me if I don't listen to the things that they say to me, or react to it." and for me, that ground to me because, it said to me that domestic violence is not the only forms of violence that women are experiencing. They experience violence at the hands of men at all times. And that for them, it's a never a moment of safety, there's always a moment of preparing to try to be safe right?
And that it was my job to talk to men about what we need to do in order to stop violence against women and what role we play in that. So those two stories always ground me whenever I'm doing the work because I say to myself who's behind these men and if I love them then I have to do the work with them. Love them, but also know that I'm loving somebody behind them, or someone in their life, someone in their community. But that I can't do without that, that's why I always say I truly believe that there's opportunity to work with men and healing and accountability simultaneously because that's what it takes right? Working with men and saying We love you but also saying we're not going to excuse your behavior. And what you do.
Rus: For me I think that this is one of the opportunities to really lean into the mantra we're trying to raise Keernan with. I'm pretty clear that I am a hot mess. And I only have this partially figured out, which in part means to myself if I am aware of myself, that the best that I can do when I'm really on my game, the best I can do ain't nearly good enough. It's the best that I can do, and not let being good enough be a barrier from doing the best that I can. So it's a learning process and kind of breathing into that as a learning process, I can't be aware of all the ways that I'm practicing and supporting white and male privilege all the time. Or, if I was that aware, I couldn't do anything because, that's all I'd be paying attention to. So I can do the best that I can, part of what doing the best that I can to me means is listening when folks say "Yeah you didn't get it that time."
At that moment, your privilege was showing up more than your ally, more than your ally-ness. Whatever. And yeah, you don't get it and practice makes progress. Progress is not a very consistent, stable thing and at least in this person's life. I have moments where there's almost quantum leaps of progress. And the moment where my progress is almost glacially slow. And truth be told sometimes, my progress is none. Remember what it was like? I remember what it was like for me when I was learning how to play basketball. And learning how to dribble especially my non-dominant hand. And how sometimes, the day after I really got it and got it good. I was really bad at dribbling with my left hand because, I could get that. That's kind what progress looks like isn't it? It's faltering, it's staltering, it's stumbling, it's awkward. Someone yesterday used the word messy.
It's messy and how do we create space that allows folks to be messy as they're making progress, and take some responsibility for clean up the mess that they make while they're making progress?
Sumayya: One of the things I think of in hearing that is like, when we're being messy, and things are messy, and people are stumbling while they're making progress and so there's this thing called grace. But also to with grace, there's also this thing about accountability, right? So for you, I want to ask that question as you are stumbling through your mess, and the challenges are there for you particularly, as a white man. And dealing with the challenge of addressing racism as a white man. And how to dismantle racism, and how to dismantle sexism and, and the messiness is just there. Tell us a little bit about what that looks like for you and how do you not allow yourself to be you know, to excuse yourself in your progress, in your messiness how to how does that appear for you?
Rus: There were a lot of questions up in there.
Sumayya: Let me reframe that for you, so while you are learning, and progressing, and going through your mess you know, your messiness of how to deal with racism and sexism. How does that, what does it look like when you're kind of going through that stage of messiness, and not giving yourself an excuse to step back but to step forward, to step into that?
Rus: My initial reaction is I think you know it would be dishonest for me to claim that I don't give myself excuses. I probably do a lot more than I want to admit especially right now for you all because, you know I'm up here so that's supposed to mean something. That's my own take talking, not y'all. I think part of it is making sure I got people around me who are fairly unflinchingly willing to let me know when I'm in my mess. When I'm making excuses, and hold me accountable, and my own commitment to trying my best to be as accountable as I can be. and that that too is a process. I'm not sure if I answered that, or if I avoided it but that's what I got.
Sumayya: That's what you got.
Rus: For now.
Sumayya: Okay. Quentin I want to let you answer that questions too, and then we'll move into another question about paradox.
Quentin: I think it's kind of like what Jeff talked about earlier, when I first started doing this work and even sometimes to this day, I'm sure Ted and Tony, and the gentlemen on the panel could attest to this as well, I used to be maybe the only male in the room, and I would get, maybe not even get in a chance to speak at all, but at the end when we're kind of summing up the day, or event. Its like, "Oh, Q. You're presence in the room was just, you know." And I think that's a clear sign that I was benefiting from the field, right? That just being in a field, and being intentional about my place in the field. Although, I did many things, works with youth and families and what have you. But the idea of me working with men kind of put me, on another level compares to all the men. Particularly, black men right? And when I did get a chance to speak in those situations, I represented every male and every black male in particular. Every black and brown male, but I think about what came with that.
I think at early times it got to my head a bit. I don't have to say anything and I already got this privilege. And I worked at Connect and I was the first male hired full time. And I shot through the ranks, I'm co-executive director now. We're intentional about our leadership having a male, female, and even black, white, and 20 year age difference as well. So all those different factors, I go back to really quickly like the, a lot of people ask me what kind of brought me to the work. And I have two stories. I was a regular guy, I was a student activist, community activist, and I did this work because I was really about the underdog in a lot of levels. Kind of doing this work, I was like, "Yeah, we need to, what’s happening to women and girls is terrible." And I just thought I was a good guy, taking this work in, I was an athlete so I kind of used that part of my masculinity.
I was very effective with men from the batters more the clinical level, and also the informal level of running round tables and doing restorative justice groups, and men's groups and what have you. I think about the other piece, my second narrative around what brings me to work, and that was my mom. She never really, my mother and father got divorced when I was two, and my brother was three. And she never told us why for many years, she kind of held. For like 30 some odd years held what it was, and she recently told me a few years back that the reason why they got divorced because, of my fathers abuse. And so my father became all the men wrapped up into every single group that I've run. The type of level of violence, and my mom became the client for my legal program and the woman's programs that we have all wrapped up in one.
What I appreciate, it was a tough thing for my mom to hold that because, what she did in that she never down played, or talked badly about my father. Just kind of allowed me to do my work with fathers and men because, I had this hope that they can change. And I believe that they can change. I just think how if my mother told me the treachery she went through, that might have changed. And I probably would not have done this work at all. So that always grounds me. What my mother had to hold for 30 some odd years. Not telling me and my brother what was going on. But me kind of knowing, and that became my second narrative around why I do this work. So I hold both, being a regular guy who cared, and then also being that I was those kids that I was working with when I first started doing this work. That were exposed to violence and made poor choices in the community. I made different choices because of the men that were in my life, the periphery.
So that always kind of grounds me when I think about the advantages of being quote, unquote this good guy. And Dr. John Aponite who trained me, I know Ted knows. He told me there's fine line between you being in the group, or leading the group. That's kind of grounds me.
Sumayya: Thank you. While you're being authentic, I'm also going to be authentic in that I run leadership academy's across this country. I have the responsibility of representing survivors, representing women, I sit in this chair because of that. So I hear their voices in the back up my head saying, "Go deeper Sumayya. Go deeper." I have to be responsible to that. So I ask you for a deeper dive earlier and now I'm going to ask the other brothers on the panel for a deeper dive in that recently, I have been in conversations with men of color. And men of color know that women of color love them. There's no doubt about that, I heard some brothers say, "Yeah, we know women of color love us." so I want to go there, I want to say the next question is still about paradox, and in that paradox as men of color who experience the intersection of race, male privilege, and are victims of police brutality, and being held accountable for gender violence, how do you reconcile that you have that issue on your backs, right?
And at the same time, you have the issue of women of color as victims of sexual and domestic violence, and we are afraid to call police because of the experience that you're having. So how do you how do you deal with that? How do you walk in your privilege and your love from women of color while at the same time you see brothers abusing women of color as well? Was that too convoluted you know where I'm going with that, right?
Quentin: That's how complicated the work is.
Sumayya: Yeah and that's the paradox of it all.
Quentin: I think for me, [inaudible 00:38:29] and I talk about this a lot. It's that balance, so it a lot of pressure from sisters, and also from the brothers. In terms of, we're talking about how we engage men and boys who are struggling with racism and structural violence, and all those things. So it's a lot of weight, right? Then, even some sisters in the field although, lovingly sometimes always self sacrificing and are more concerned about what these brothers are going through first. So it's difficult, right? N we don't want to collude and I think that mean women collude in that because, were both socialized in this world to kind of see, I think somebody mentioned here like, race is the most oppressive thing in terms of hierarchy of oppression that you deal with first.
And even my work internationally, it's always around whatever conflict and then, violence against women and girls. I think just in the engagement, it's the holding both of that because, you have to kind of meet men where they are. From their experiences around violence and always kind of really using that to help them explain that women and sisters in our world are experiencing that same forms of structural violence and not getting the same attention because they are women, and because they are women of color. For me, what's really useful is meeting them where they are around that piece, it might be xenophobia, or whatever it may be. That they've been experiencing that creates a hopelessness, or helplessness with them, to get them to see that the women in their lives are experiencing that as well. And in the youth, that as well, maybe on a whole nother level because, they don't have the same amount of power or agency. So I think the strategy is to get them to understand what that is and that it's not just them alone in that.
Then, what is accountability? How do you ... Accountability in lieu of a criminal justice system that treats mean of color, or women of color, LGBTQ folks, trans folks in a whole different light because of how oppression works in whatever system that is that keeps them oppressed. I think it's a fine balance, but it's doable and it works. Again, it's about that authentic conversation, creating that safe space where they can speak, and holding in ... We talked about it a lot, holding somebody accountable, being loving and a compassionate at the same time. And you can do both without rationalizing the harm that they've done.
Mr. Ramos: I do want to say, my answers gonna be two, or three parts real quickly because, I think there are multiple things working at the same time sometimes. Especially for us as men of color, doing this work and the first one I want to touch on is really how if we're doing this work especially, Q mentioned that he and I try to do this in community. If we're doing this in community that we been given the space to do it authentically with the people that look like us. and with the women that look like us, and all too often one of things that I found that I struggle with all the time is, that we may be able to try to, even if we struggle with it to work at that, but then there are those who ... I don't know this is the right term yet, but I'm going to use it anyway, those actually he have the resources to run the movement.
Get involved and don't allow for that. You see especially, with men of color because I find that any other form of violence, or crime that a man of color commits they find ways to find the right programming, or the right conversation. Or the right intervention. But when it comes down to D.V. because, they run this movement they can't find the same level of allowing that space for us to work it out. So that's one piece that I'm struggling with a lot in this, and for the white sisters in the room please listen to that if you're running these organizations because I'm really talking to you. And another piece of that is that, in order to do this authentically in a community. I found you really have to show up, and learn and this is something that we early on we talked a lot about it, A Call to Men.
Show up and learn how to take leadership from the women around you, and that begins with listening. And I'll give you a quick example, about two years ago in my community. And this also goes to what Q says how we connect with our sisters in our community is very different because, outside of the domestic violence and violence against women, everything else that we experience connects us. and a couple of years ago my community was going and still is going through a major issue of gentrification. And I remember. I was at work one day and I get a phone call from the director of the local battered women's coalition and she said to me, "Juan, I got to run something by you." and I said. "Okay, what's up with what's going on?" and she said, "Well have you been reading the stories about you know what's happening on the G train?"
G train is a train that you know, we take in [inaudible 00:44:14], in that area Brooklyn and stuff. So I say, "Yeah, I've been hearing the stories been thinking about it a lot, don't know how to address it yet. Maybe we can brainstorm?" so she said, "Well let me just share this with you first." She says. So, the issue was that women coming home sometime between the time between the hours of six and 12 P.M., were being sexually harassed, followed, or even assaulted. So there was this group of what I call gentrifiers. That in my community wanted to do something with the best of intentions, and with the best of intentions they decided that they wanted to keep the women in our community safe just like the rest of us. What they decided to do was that whenever women came out of the train stops along the G train they had this bike club, and I don't mean motorcycle bikes, I mean like gentrifier clubs. With the regular 10 speeds and all that.
They will wait at the train station and as women came out they would ride along with them until the women either got to the supermarket, or to their destination. With the best of intentions right? So she explained this to me and then she goes, "How do you feel about that?" she asked me. I said to her, "Well based on everything that we know women are being followed, and women being sexually assaulted when they're coming home between these times, I'll be freaked out of there was a guy driving alongside me without even explaining to me why he's driving alongside me. Even if he has the best of intentions." so she says to me, she goes, "Well I'm glad you're freaked out because that's how I feel and now I just need to go and handle it." Right?
I knew what that meant for me was, if you're truly doing this work for the right reasons then I need you to talk to men like you, and make them understand why this isn't cool because even with the best of intentions, they freak us out as women. Because our experiences with them collectively, hasn't been good for us. And she said and also let them know like you and others that you're working with that they have to check in with us and let us know what's going on, or share with those why they want to do this, or just get that input, right? But that can go a whole bunch of different ways because we also have to talk about remember what I said is gentrified communities sometimes what you do with the best of intentions is also sometimes done because, you feel you have the privilege to do it, but that's another conversation.
And I think the third piece is making that room that's necessary for us to have these conversations, Sumayya, where we can struggle with it. And we know how to struggle with it because, I know you do it with love and you know that I do with the best of intentions. But that people give us that space and stop trying to interfere in that sacred space, because that's sacred to us. When they invade that space, they just open up a whole can of worms that bring up other stuff that we haven't dealt with as people of color. And then doesn't allow us to move forward together so those are the three things for you.
Pheng: I'll share briefly, I think for me it's a hard struggle. The two brothers have shared that already in some ways. On the surface level sometimes, you just have to give in. Right? I think that we should be frank about that and sometimes it's like, "Hey, I'm not gonna deal with that at this moment." Right? So I'm going to give them a couple inches. And then some days, and some moments, it's like, "No, I'm actually am not going to give them that inch. I'm going to keep at it." and what I mean by that is really engaging them in those hard conversations regardless of what the gentleman, or that person is saying, right? I think when we look at it in deep parts like, in the ice berg and when you look deeper. It's really making sure that you're actually keeping your analysis really clear and concise, your gender analysis has to be rooted in those who are most impacted, right?
Because if you lose that, you've lost everything in this and trying to maintain this balance, and as much as we talk about love, sometimes I do believe that sometimes I have to say, "I'm going to leave you where you're at, brother. And you're going to stay there, you do what you need to do. I'm going to move." and so sometimes, it's important that as we love people, we leave them where they're at. because they may not want liberation at this moment, but I'm going to keep going, and I'll fight for you as I go too. So it's important for us to do that and I know that some of the sisters at least in my community, was like, are like hey some men don't deserve liberation. Okay, I got that. So my part in the deepest pieces of it is I will betray men at any given point.
And because the strongest part is my connection to the sisters in doing this work, and I'll give you an example. We did the skull con ability circle with this other brother who's in the A.P.I. community in the Asian Pacific Islander community, it was myself, this other sister, this other A.P.I. man, and the gentleman that we're trying to hold accountable. At the end of the conversation the gentleman that was in the accountability circles with us, not the one you're trying to hold accountable, felt so bad that he had to apologize to the man who we were trying to hold accountable. And I was like, I was talking to my sister about it, and she was sharing with that she was like, "If at the end of the day he still valued brotherhood and apologized to the man we were trying to hold accountable more so than to us as the sisters, it ruined everything." Right, it ruined everything. So that means I cannot value my relationships with my brothers as much as I value that with my sisters.
And that's the paradox sometimes that we get stuck in, is that if at the end of the day we still say I love you and you hurt somebody, I still love you, and you should still come along. Even though you're F'd up in so many ways. No, I'm going to leave you because you're so F'd up that I don't think you deserve liberation ar this moment, I need to go to the next thing. I think that that, we have to sort out for me I know that that's what's true to me. And that's how I sort of reconcile that piece.
Sumayya: All of this is a struggle right? And it's a struggle for us in many ways. I think when I think about having conversations with men around domestic and sexual violence, I think of the violence that I lived with in my own home as a child and trying to make a decision between helping my mother, or helping my father. Who was showing remorse at that time. So when I think about men need their space to have their own conversations to work this stuff out to struggle, to heal, to love one another, to be with one another, to accept men where they are. To educate bystanders, the more, and more I learn from the work of A Call to Man and other brothers in the nation, I learned that we're all struggling and that we're trying to reach a place of healing.
In the last minute, just want to give you a chance to say your last dropping jewel for the audience because we are out of time. Start with you, Juan.
Mr. Ramos: I think if we're ever find true hope and healing for men in doing this work I think that we have to, as men begin to listen to the impact that we all collectively have on our sisters. Because that informs the work that we need to do, and in doing the work I think that we need to be intentional about saying, "Yes I want to do this work with you, but we need to talk about and undo some of the things that you've already done to hurt somebody in your life, or contribute toward hurting someone in your community." and I think that we need to do that work in a way where we also can't be afraid of people regressing a little bit. Because, we know that they can't overcome. I'm 42 years old and I'm still trying to overcome all the socialization that I've received as a man. And I know that I couldn't do that in the first 20 something years of my life because, it was so much.
But I thank God every day that there are men in my life who continue to say, but you still have to work at it. You still have to try to do it, and you also have to be the example for other men. But I'm just as glad that they're women in my life that say, I'm going to give you the room to do it, but when you F up, I'm going to remind you. And I'm gonna do it gently, but I will make sure you feel it. Yeah, it could be just like that. But that I embrace that and I welcome it because, the world that I want to create as a father right? I want to create a world where my daughter's going to be safe, but a world where my boys aren't perpetrators all the time. And that can mean literally, perceived. I'll leave it there.
Pheng: I think about like, we were in the conversation last week, or some time this week, or I forgot. I think about being authentic and that that is so simple right? It's not some far stretched idea that we have to create new and think about new. I think about like, in my community there are ways in which men are taught and boys are taught like, really rich, and genuine, and beautiful values of how to actually be good men. In community and so I think that we don't have to think too far out of the box. And I'm not talking about the Wham Box, but not too far out of that box about what it means to be authentic. Because, it could be really simple.
And I think it tells us in some ways, to go back. At least I know in my community to go back to some of the teachings that our grandparents have taught us, and raised us right? And how they have raised us, and to say what is the practice around that, rather than the thought around it. because I think so much of the time we think we are good, but in practice it comes out so bad and the impact is so bad. so I want us to think about what are the practices, and how do we practice being good men if that is what we are claiming to be. and if we are claiming to be authentic What does that mean and what does that look like? So I leave us with that.
Rus: One of things that, in the conversations that we had whenever it was, and today one of things that I'm kind of wrestling with is as we talk about authentic. Even the term acts like it's a goal, it's a place that we can somehow end up at. and I don't know if that's accurate. I don't think it is in terms of my process, I don't know what the verb is for athentisi- athentifi-, whatever. But there's a verb that I think we need to embrace and what it means to be authentic and that's the strive, and that it's in community, it's in collective, It's not something I do in isolation.
Quentin: Really quickly, I know we're out of time. I would just say that I think we're in this together, regardless of whatever their power balance is, it's gonna take the unusual suspects being allies, and accomplices to end this.
Sumayya: Thank you.
Rus: Thanks, Sumayya.
Quentin: Thank you, Sumayya.
Rus: You got it?
Rus: You good?
Spoken Word (pt3)
with Kyle “Guante” Tran Myhre, MC, Activist and Educator
“We don’t have spells, but we do have songs. This alchemy of suffering, this transmutation of pain into progress, this hard-won knowledge, how a voice down not have to move mountains to move people, how it’s not about the source of the fire, it’s about how brightly it burns, how the magic is not whether I pick up that pen with my mind or with my hand, the magic is what I write with it.”
Spoken word is a call and response culture, so I know this has been done, I know we’re going to do it again in a minute, can we please just make some noise for all the conversations that have happened, for everyone who has facilitated this space and brought all these people together. Vulnerability. I generally hate conferences, but this was really cool. This was so much better than a lot of conferences, I feel like, and everything else to the staff, to everyone, this is really dope.
I was going to, again, just share one quick piece. I was thinking, I have a million poems about masculinity and gender and socialization and stuff, but I wanted to do something a little different to end this, or at least to end my part of this today. It's something that I wrote, it's brand new, so I hope I can remember it, but it's not online or anything, but something I wanted to write in gratitude to everyone who does this work, because there's so much that people talked about how important the internal side of this is, the vulnerability, the critical self-reflection, but then that also has to be translated to the external, right? I know so many people in this room are doing this work and making a real difference in the world and legitimately, concretely shifting these conversations, and I believe that we will win, to use the phrase. So a piece about activism.
The pen on the other side of the kitchen table will not move, no matter how hard I concentrate, how laser-precise my focus, how dramatically I arch my fingers, it just sits there, and it should be such a simple thing, to move this tiny object with the vastness of my spirit, to simply life it up a half inch or engulf it in flames, but nothing. This was long before I learned about physics, right, that whole an object at rest stays at rest stuff, because what is inertia to magic?
I am ten years old, and the mythology that I've been fed since birth, folktales and fairytales, movies and TV shows, comic books and video games, so much of it, if you pay attention, is built around this reveal. "Guess what," the spirits say, "You are a wizard. Guess what? You are a Jedi or a mutant or the chosen one or the half-blood child of a god which is a good thing because we are at war and we need you. So focus," the spirits say.
That pen on the other side of the kitchen table will move if you are pure of heart, if you have a righteous cause, if you just try hard enough, that bully or that abuser or that authoritarian tyrant will lose because the bad guys always lose, right?
As if the struggle were so simple. As if force were not stronger than the force, as if special powers could ever defeat power, because that pen is still sitting on the other side of the kitchen table. It won't move. It never will, and I wish I could say that this is the moment when 10-year-old me figured out that magic isn't real. It would make for a better story.
But honestly, it took longer. It took study. Not just science and physics but history. It took showing up to so many marches and rallies and vigils and meetings and meetings and meetings, developing power hat was not super but was still power. It took the greatest mass movement in the history of the world and the failure of that movement. It took so many late night comforting friends, doing the work that no one will remember. It took mistakes. It took more mistakes. It took lives, it took, and took, and took, and this was my disillusionment.
Not a lightning strike, a slow flood, just figuring out on some fundamental level that things were not getting better, and that they weren't going to. Not on their own. Not easily. Not like magic. This is my disillusionment. Not the absence of hope, the absence of illusion. The unsubtle art of just getting your hands dirty because we do not have the luxury of waiting to be saved. We recognize no superpower stronger than solidarity, community, courage.
We don't have spells, but we do have songs. This alchemy of suffering, this transmutation of pain into progress, this hard-won knowledge, how a voice down not have to move mountains to move people, how it's not about the source of the fire, it's about how brightly it burns, how the magic is not whether I pick up that pen with my mind or with my hand, the magic is what I write with it.
It is not destiny that we are all here right now, but we are all here right now. There aren't any demons or monsters outside these doors, but that doesn't mean that we aren't at war. That there are not forces in this world that would make dragons cower in their caves and how it up to us, who are not special, who are not chosen but choose ourselves and choose each other, who have nothing to offer but the thread binding our storybook bodies together to keep fighting.
So no, the spirits don't talk to me. I talk to them though. I tell them, "Thank you for your silence, for forcing me to pick up that pen myself. Thank you for never appearing in the mirror, so that I might see myself the buried treasure in all this rubble, the magic still burning when all faith has fled.
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