Sunday, November 27, 2011

Mr. Fix It

I have a problem. I like to fix shit. Actually, let me rephrase that...I like to fix problems...including things that aren't mine to fix, situations that don't need my interference, or folks that are able to manage themselves and their process without my personal divine intervention.

I get it. I know where it comes from. Growing up in a home of intense trauma and abuse, fixing situations and people is an act of survival. If you can make everything better, quickly, even those things are not directly related to you or anything that you have learn young that those same situations that may have nothing to do with you at all, could have direct, intense, and damaging consequences to you none the less. As a child, it often meant physical or emotional abuse. And, so, you learn to manage other people, direct or redirect their emotions away from danger zones, and involve yourself in moments and situations that are not yours to hold, handle, or resolve.

The problem is that those behaviors, which once served a direct survival purpose, translate as an adult, into an intense desire to step into places and spaces that aren't yours to hold..YET...and here is the kicker, at least where I am involved, I then internalize shit that actually has NOTHING to do with me.

For example...there is someone that is very important to me. This amazing human being is doing some intensive healing work, some of which touches on us because it involves a previous relationship. Now....let me be has NOTHING to do with me. It isn't ABOUT me. When things sort of occupy space between us that has been triggered by previous experiences with other folks...this beautiful human being generally tells me order that it remains really clear that it isn't about me and therefore not for me to internalize, over think, or own. And when there have been times in those triggered moments when their behavior has resulted in some hurt because it was handled in not the best way...I have been given the grace and space to say so and it has been acknowledged in a way that has allowed me to let it go.

So, you'd think having a clear realization that the shit ain't about me would let me go on about the business of living and dealing with my own caca'd think that wouldn't you? Wouldn't you?

Well....surprise surprise I still end up wanting to reach out and in and try to lift away truth...I have no real power to change and no right to try and take on or cut out. Folks gonna heal when they decide they want to heal. Folks are going to hold on to things until they are ready to let them go whether or not it is good or healthy. Folks are going to release and change their emotional well being when they decide that they are tired of spending all their time hurting and instead would rather do the work to let it go. And, here's the kicker, folks gonna reclaim their power from others including the power to let others hold their hurt sure is Hell not ok for me (or you or you or you) to try and take away the power that someone you know and love that is hurting is doing the hard work to reclaim for themselves.

To love someone is to commit oneself to ones own and another's spiritual growth (bell hooks' words). To love someone means sitting with your own discomfort, being present with yourself and your own work (because when we DO our own work and focus on our own work we are loving that other as best we can...because we are starting by loving ourselves (in his words) fiercely. And if we can sit with our own shit and discomfort, if we can keep our hands and feet and "fix it" tendencies to ourselves, it means that when the person we love that is hurting/struggling/working comes to us, on their own terms, we can be really present for them instead of being present in our own interests and based in our own selfishness or self-protective behaviors.

This consequently means that we also don't get to project our own work and struggles on others with the expectation that they are going to fix them for us. Asking for strategic advice in order to help us do our own work or reflecting with someone for clarity is one thing....offloading my/your/our shit onto someone else and then walking away from the work afterwards is so not cool and it is so not going to result in anything but pissing off the person that is now carrying your stuff as well as his or her own.

No bueno.

It's about damn time I took my own advice. So I am going to try and practice this a little bit better, particular with the people that are closest to me. This might mean a whole lot of things that I may not like to do, look at, admit, see or confess. But if it's about the work, and I am about the work, then I better work it.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Queer Argument for a Minimum Liveable Wage: QEJ Testimony to the NY City Council

(The following testimony was written by Brandon Lacy Campos and Amber Hollibaugh and presented during a hearing on a bill to establish a minimum liveable wage in New York City).

LIVING WAGE Hearings in NY City Council
Queers for Economic Justice Statement
October 22nd, 2011

In a time of economic crisis such as the one now happening in the United States, the need for a living wage just to be able to survive, is critical. This Living Wage bill begins to frame crucial and basic economic standards which would generate a salary that allows people to not remain in poverty even as they work to maintain a living.

Too often invisible in this mix of vulnerable workers needing a living wage are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender workers. In the popular media framing about LGBTQ communities, we are too often presented as very affluent, with high disposal incomes and as a community largely unimpacted by the current recession. Yet the reality is that a majority of LGBT people are workers who are LGBT and immigrant, LGBT and HIV+, LGBT and older, LGBT and homeless, LGBT and working class. Also missing in the way we are presented is the reality that as workers, we have our own biological and chosen families to try and support. That is simply left outside of the discourse altogether, so that the need to care for our children, our parents, our partners, our extended chosen or biological family members remains hidden. And while there has been heartbreaking analysis of the enormous economic setbacks suffered by Black and Latino communities from this recession, which agrees that Blacks and Latinos have seen their communal assets and joblessness revert to almost to pre-Civil Rights era levels, the devastating impact on queer and trans communities who are often a part of these communities of color, has largely gone unnoticed and undocumented and as such, there have been few remedies proposed to alleviate the economic burden on this group of overly impacted workers and their families.

In a 2010 report documenting adult LGBT homelessness by The Center for American Progress, it states, “Besides disporportunate rates of homelessness as youth, a root cause of lower incomes and poverty among adult gay and transgender Americans is the high rate of workplace discrimination they face. This discrimination includes unequal pay, barriers to health insurance, unfair hiring and promotion practices, and verbal and sexual harrassment that create hostile and unsafe working enviroments. Studies show that 16 percent to 68 percent of gay and transgender individuals experience this type of discrimination at some point in their lives”. This forces LGBT workers to take any job that is available, regardless of its pay or protections. To be very clear, LGBTQ families are uniformly less well off than their straight counterparts and LGBTQ individuals are more likely to work in non-unionized and unprotected classes of labor due to the extensive stigma and discrimination that remains regarding sexual orientation and gender identity. A similar study as quoted above by the Williams Institute in 2009, clearly outlines not only the economic reality of queer families but the impact of poverty on LGBTQ communities. According to the Williams Institute report, it states “the misleading myth of affluence steers policymakers, community organizations, service providers, and the media away from fully understanding poverty among LGBT people or even imagining that poor LGBT people exist.” Add to this reality that LGBTQ workers are often found working in jobs that are “tip” labor, entry level retail, home care workers, as sex workers, or involved in other street economies, all of which are unprotected as a class of workers who are either explicitly excluded from the right to organize or are effectively excluded by the nature of the work, and you are left with an inherently unstable economic base that is absolutely beholden to minor shifts in the economy and which have been eviscerated by the current economic climate.

Finally, New York City is home to a large consumer economy rooted in LGBTQ and marginalized communities. A network of bars, cafés, restaurants, clothing stores, personal services, boutiques, salons and sex work businesses services the city’s middle and upper class gays. These businesses employ thousands of working class queer and trans people, and many are people of color and immigrants. They are almost invariably nonunionized, with few labor protections. As many of these staff face racism, poverty, homophobia and transphobia, employees are often forced to stay at low-wage, low-security workplaces with poor conditions and abusive treatment. Similarly, many working class queer people of color are employed in the city’s HIV service sector. These low- and moderate-income queer people at gay businesses and service nonprofits have been particular vulnerable through the financial crisis, the rising anti-immigrant hysteria and the constriction of New York’s consumer businesses and nonprofit sector. These working poor LGBTQ people are often without strong employment alternatives, or access to adequate social safety net services. They are instead left vulnerable to homelessness, HIV and AIDS, and violence.

Without the structural support of worker collectives, such as unions who support and advocate for LGBTQ workers rights, LGBTQ workers cannot rely on legal remedies to mangae fairly any resulting labor disputes. The means to advocate as a worker remains effectively out of reach and impossible for many LGBTQ workers. The result is that many LGBTQ low wage workers cannot afford challenging unfair labor practices, low wages or hostile work environments for fear of losing their jobs altogether.

We punish people in this country for being poor and we punish homosexuality and gender non-conformity. When both are combined, it does more than double the effect: it twists and deepens it, gives it sharper edges, and heightens an LGBT workers’ inability to duck and cover or slide through to a safer place. It often forces LGBT workers to live more permanently outside a stable economic reality than either condition dictates.

One notable exception has been a recent program created by the Office of the Mayor of Washington, DC that recognizes that poverty and unemployment rates have reached such devastating levels in the transgender community that direct government intervention has become necessary. The Mayor created the first ever job training and placement program for transgender individuals. Unemployment and poverty rates in NYC are no better than those in DC, and when adjusting for race, they are worse.

A liveable minimum wage is the first step towards truly undermining unfair labor practices that rely on a combination of fear and underpayment to maintain a pliable underclass of workers that neither have the resources nor space to address or redress workplace human rights violations, including intimidation and firing for organizing for better work environments including a just wage.

By enacting a minimum liveable wage for all New Yorkers, the New York City Council would be providing significant support to LGBTQ individuals and families, create fairer work environments, and alleviate the effects of the recession on a hard hit population. In an atmosphere that is actively hostile to collective bargaining and the recognition of the human right to organize labor unions, this is a positive, pro-active, and just step towards supporting the queer and trans community.

Monday, November 21, 2011

When Things Feel Easy, You are Doing Right

(This blog is dedicated to JT Mikulka, Amber Hollibaugh, Jay Toole, Reina Gossett, Carlos Blanco, Doyin Ola, and Felix Gardon...thanks for doing the work with me and helping me do my own)

Let me tell you a little bit about something I know a whole lot about: A HARD HEAD MAKES MORE A SOFT BEHIND

To translate that from Country Negro into High Whitey: if you keep doing the things that you know are going to get you in trouble, you end up getting your ass kicked. That phrase was one that was used quite often by my Mom and step-Dad when I was growing up. My Mom is blonde as one of those little evil children from the Village of the Damned, but she speaks fluent Negro and several dialects of Country and Ghetto, so she easily adopted this saying early in my life.

What this has meant for me as an adult is that when I am doing something that I am not supposed to be doing, or even less actively fucking up but still doing what I WANT to be doing instead of what I really SHOULD be doing, things get unnecessarily hard, complicated and eventually painful. When I go on ahead and do the things that I might not, perhaps, like to be doing in that moment but are the things that I was meant to be doing or should be doing or agreed to do or are in my best mental, physical, spiritual and everything in it seems to run as smoothly as a river running downhill.

Lately...I have been doing my damndest to do what I believe is right as opposed to what I believe is in my best interest or...even better...what would benefit me as opposed to those around me, WHILE, at the same time, taking the time, space, place, and interest in myself enough to make hard choices, hard decisions that have ultimately played out to be the absolutely right choices to have made (even with some less than healthy detours).

Delayed gratification has become a source of ULTIMATE satisfaction in my life lately. Some of you know of what I speak.

Lately, I have learned that by being present, firm, steadfast, honest, vulnerable, scared, hopeful, and showing up as best I can and being transparent about the outer limits of what that means has lead me to some amazing insight and brought me into some truly humble and uplifting spaces. It has also deepened my relationships with old community and new community...and there have been such moments of unexpected care and joy, silliness and happiness, depth and celebration that I truly am feeling blessed right now today.

This doesn't mean shit has been easy. In the last six weeks, I have gone through a hard and damaging break up. I have made dumb choices. I have had to check my own instincts and desires around folks in my life that I care about. I have had to ask hard questions and sit with uncomfortable answers. I have had to let others around me have their own process without trying to control it or myself, and I have had to hear the word no, not now, and not yet in times and places when I have wanted to kick my feet and scream like a wee little bizatch.

Temper tantrums were so much easier when I didn't weigh 185 pounds and stand at six feet tall.

In the end, this business of growing up is not just about acting right (or acting as right as you can as best you can) but it is about welcoming blessings into life and accepting them as yours. I am blessed...I am way blessed...and when I can get up the gumption to get the Hell out of my own way...those blessings flow and surge like the River Nile flooding its banks and bringing life giving sediment to the surrounding landscape. Flood on Mama landscape is ready.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Oh What a Night: Healing, Faith, and Love

My Mama used to say to me, on days when I was especially high energy and bouncy, "Who put a quarter in you?"

Friday, if you'd walked into my office, you'd have thought that someone took an entire roll of quarters and had started plugging any staff they could find until their pupils came up dollar signs. The energy in our office was out of control.

At one point, during staff meeting, my colleague JT and I were being sassy with each other (ahhhhh sweet repository of intense tension), when Doyin and Reina push back from the table where Doyin starts to rock and Reina starts summoning up a safe zone to envelope him. We all fall out laughing, and in unison, Doyin and Reina spin around in their wheely chairs and pull back up to the table. They are basically those two crotchety old Muppets that are always talking smack during the Muppet Show.

Things calmed down a bit while we all shoved Cuban food into our faces like a bunch of wild hogs at a slop trough.

And then more volunteers descended on the space, including the indomitable Yejin Lee from the Anti-Violence Project, to begin prepping meals for QEJ's vigil in honor of our member, Yvonne McNeil, who was murdered by the police in early October. All that manic energy translated into packing sixty lunches in a time that would have made the winner of the NY City Marathon blush and clap. It was organized chaos with a PB&J heart.

With the office mostly empty, JT, Amber, and I were sitting waiting to catch any last minute folks that straggled in before leaving for the site of the vigil. At one point, we were all sitting near each other, and we had a Lefty Confessional and Rite of Absolution with Amber, and then we all headed across the island to a small park near New Providence Shelter.

The vigil was powerful. It was silent, and it was comprised largely of folks that work in the queer community and around issues of violence. At the last minute, residents of five different shelters decided not to attend the vigil. It was not unexpected. It's one thing to want to honor one of your own that has fallen to violence from the system, and it is another to face the reality of that violence and understand that it could have been anyone, including yourself. Therefore but by the Grace of God go all of us.

So, those of us that have the privilege to live outside of the shelter system, along with a few residents of New Providence, showed up to honor the memory of Yvonne McNeil. As Amber Hollibaugh, my colleague and friend, said, "Not a single one of us, including our homeless, will go unremembered." There are times when we show up because others simply can't. That's revolutionary and love.

The Audre Lorde Project showed up in force to act as our allies and our security for the vigil as did folks from the Sylvia River Law Project. And it was lovely to have lawyerly support from Streetwise and Safe! I can't say enough how much it meant to me and the rest of us at QEJ to see how our people show up for each other in a time of need. That, too, is revolutionary.

That night, I hung out with JT and his sister, and it was wonderful to sort of let some of the sadness go and enjoy time out and about in the world celebrating life in the face of violence. In fact, I think when we celebrate the ways in which we continue to grow despite the reality of living in a police state, we are doing the work of defiance and healing. And we can't heal matter what the wound. In fact, the systems that be would have us believe that isolation is the way to heal are in fact trying to keep us hurting...isolation is simply another way to keep us wounded and bleeding...slowly. I will gather my loves around me. That's good medicine.

This weekend has been about celebration, healing, getting back to self, cooking, reading, playing, loving, and being brave in the face of hurt and hope. Actually, I believe being brave in the face of hope is infinitely harder than just about any other act of believe that your hurt can be less than your healing and that the love that is offered and present is greater than your loss, is terrifying. But leaps of faith have always been the greatest and most frightening acts we have undertaken. And the greatest human achievements have always come from those that have opened their eyes wide and jumped. I believe I will be caught...I have been every time I have ever had the courage to leap.

Friday, November 11, 2011

This Pozitive Life

Last night, I read my poem H-I-ME for the second time in public. The last time was a year ago, the day that I wrote it, and after completely breaking down and sobbing my way through that performance, I set it aside. Over the last year, I have either chosen to face or been force to face some of the realities of living with HIV. I have made good choices and bad choices, and I have had to sit with some very hard moments. Last night, when I read the poem, I didn't break down. Let's be real, by the end of the poem by entire body was shaking, I felt exposed and vulnerable, and I wanted to bolt from the room. Instead, I had to pull up a chair and face a half an hour of questions and comments from the audience during a facilitated panel.

And the panel moderator, my friend Collete Carter, Co-Director of the Audre Lorde Project, ain't no joke.

I felt myself, sitting underneath the lights, sweating, trying to make my body as absolutely small as possible. There were folks in the room that knew me intimately and had lived with me through some of my hardest moments. There were folks in the room that I didn't know at all, and there was a person in the room that I have just begun to know--and let me say that with this particular person....there are rarely any frivolous I sat there...feeling stripped down, trying my best to continue to answer the questions posed with honesty, while all the while wanting to run hard and fast.

The problem is that you can't run from yourself.

HIV is a part of my life. It is a part of my reality. I am in great health. I am a non-progressor. I have a T-Cell count of a "normie," (1000+) my viral load is never above 3,000 (you have to be at least at 100,000 replications before medication is recommended). I am likely to die an incontinent mean ass old man pinching the asses of orderlies that aren't even born yet. Yet, the stigma, shame, and all around shit show that this world puts on people living with HIV, combined with all the messages we (I) lay on ourselves makes living with this disease about as fun as putting your penis in a blender and hitting puree.

In general, I am ok with my status. When I am not feeling ok with it...I write about it. But sometimes, life throws you a moment, that straight up knocks the wind right out of you.

Last night, after the show, I was hanging out with someone important to me. As we were talking as we are wont to do, after I made a comment about an unrelated subject, he stopped the conversation and said, "I think I am angry with you."

It was so out of the blue, that I kind of giggled and asked why. When his face changed, I knew something was coming that I probably wasn't going to enjoy. I knew it was would be honest. I knew it would be challenging. I knew it would be truthful. And I was fairly certain I was going to hate whatever he said next.

Call my ass Miss Cleo, because I was right. Call me now!

He said to me, "I think I am angry with you because you are HIV positive."

I could feel my pupils dilating as he was speaking. It was direct. It was real. And I had no idea what to do with it.

And then the coup de grace came. "And I am mad at you for hurting yourself like that."

Entre the tears.

Nothing he said was designed to hurt. There was more to the conversation but that isn't for this blog. And what he said did hurt. It was the truth. And it hurt like Hell. I did hurt myself. I have never blamed anyone else for my HIV status, but nor had I really looked at my myself and said...hey did this to yourself. I did. I have all kinds of reasons why I went searching for love and validation in the form of a dick. I was looking for something that was missing or taken from me growing up. Instead, what I found, like so many others find, is this fucking disease. And I realized that not only did I hurt myself, but once I tested positive there was a sense of satisfaction. It was confirmation of everything that I believe(d) about myself. I was unlovable. I was untouchable. I was unworthy of love. And having HIV was very simply the confirmation of all the things that I knew to be true about myself.

I LOVE to be right. And my positive diagnosis was the ultimate confirmation of just how right I was about myself. And until my friend told me last night that he was angry with me, I had never been forced to actually look at it in this way. Nor have I ever articulated it.

Damn. Just damn. damn. damn. damn. damn.

Last night when Collette asked us the question what is the truth about ourselves that hurts. When it got to me, I said out loud that my truth that hurts is that I have believed and still sometimes believe that I am unworthy of the amazing love and devotion and care that I have been blessed to have in my life. To fight that, I actively seek out that love and give it back when I can. I actively look for people to be in my life, like my friend last night, who will tell me the truths that may not feel great but are the things that I need to hear.

I am so grateful to have these people in my love me when it is be my truth tellers...and to let me have the pain without getting lost in it.

I am worthy of love. HIV doesn't determine who I am or how I move through the world, and I will continue to take these truths in, let them hurt until the hurt goes away, and then keep on living. Too many people have invested too much into my life and my well being for me to do any less.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Minneapolis to NYC: Thank You, Love You, Peace

Minnesota has my heart, but my heart has another lover, New York. To my heart I give home, to my lover I come. Home is forever, while my love waits ephemeral, though home be distant and lover close, it is home that has what the lover has but on loan. -BLC, NYC, 11.7.11

The beginning of last week was a shit show extraordinaire. I was in full flight from dealing with some heavy emotional stuff that had gone down over the previous two weeks. To sum it up, I officially ended a relationship with someone for whom I still care but it is not possible for us to be together. In the meantime there are other highly emotional (mostly good yet still complicated) situations going on (I am being WAY cryptic here...which is all for the best)...and all of that combined to make me flee and hide out in some rather unhealthy ways last weekend.

Luckily thanks to the support of an acquaintance, I was provided with the time, space, and solitude to pull myself, my thoughts, and my courage together. It was the best gift that I have gotten in a very long time.

Last Monday and Tuesday were rough. My emotions were on an internal Great America theme park adventure, the people around me were super loving, and I finally, with the love of community, pulled myself together. In fact, despite the ending of my relationship and the accompanying heartache that entailed, my life is good. I am employed. I have a home. I have a Mimzy. I have a powerful family of choice and of blood, and frankly I have a book that is doing really well. Since October 1, I have been in Atlanta to celebrate the wedding of Paulina and Ashe, in Albany to co-keynote the national queer people of color health conference, at Davidson College in North Carolina to do a reading and give a series of lectures in partnership with the amazing photographer Sophia Wallace, and I just returned home from Minneapolis where I not only got to spend time with my Betty and Sarah and family, but I got to hold my godson as he was baptized, share in the wedding vow renewal of Rodrigo Sanchez-Chavarria and Nubia Esparza, and I had a jam packed Minneapolis book launch party at the fantastic Cafe SouthSide!

To stand in front of an audience, with my godson present, my amazing step-mom Melanie, my nephew Jason Jr., the Scooby Gang, my high school art teacher Mrs. Mary Simon-Casati, high school friends, Facebook folks that I had yet to meet but am so glad I did, and with the powerful presence of other writers and performers particularly Harry Waters, Jr., Kevin Kaoz Moore, Kyle "Guante" Myhre, Teresa Ortiz and the aforementioned Rodrigo Sanchez-Chavarria, was to stand in front of a room full of blessings. And anytime I can look up and see the loving, gentle, and powerful face of Susan Raffo, co-director of Minnesota's LGBTQ foundation PFUND, it is a good and blessed day.

I am so thankful for the gift of community. I am grateful for those that show up again and again to share their love and to let me reflect back to them the light and love that they give to me. To be mirrors for each and to reflect back the light that each of us was given brighten the way for those around us, is what I believe we were all put on this planet to do.

Today, I landed back in New York, and as sad as I was to leave behind my friends and family back in Minneapolis, I was jumping up and down to get home to my people here. First it was a reunion with Mimzy...and I spent a good 15 minutes wrapping her up and holding her and burying my face in her fur while she tried desperately to lick all of the sweat she could from my head. It's her job. Don't judge. And then it was a quick shower and to the QEJ office where I was greeted with a shout and love by my co-conspirator and beloved Amber Hollibaugh, the elfin soft show of Naomi, the giggles of Gykyira and of course the sun-shaming smile of JT Mikulka.

There was sadness today. I don't want to downplay or undervalue the sadness that existed today as well. That isn't a story I want to share here, now. But I learned a long time ago that it is not an oxymoron or a conflict to hold great joy and great sadness in your belly at the same time. In fact, on a day to day basis, those two seemingly conflicting emotions often show up, together, to remind us that the sweet tastes sweet because we know bitter as well.

To all my friends and family, I wish you nothing but the greatest blessings. Thank you for being in the world and being a light that helps me see where I am going when I am most likely to bang around in the dark, bruising myself, and crashing into the folks that showed up to help me. Love to you all.