This piece was published on Africa Speaks 4 Africa this weekend:
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KkRead Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
The Latest Love of My life
I stare at her, a warm feeling moving through my body. Her tiny fingers curled around my big ring finger. She has fallen asleep while poking various parts of my face and hand to check if I was really playing peek-a-boo or if I had truly fallen asleep. Earlier, she had refused her bedtime bottle, and I hadn’t had the heart to make her stop squirming out of my lap so I could give her the bottle.
I watch her fuss a bit making sounds only she and her creator can understand. Every attempt to make her lie down has been thwarted thus far. It is way past her bedtime and if I don’t take action it will only get worse. I pretend to huff and puff for a few seconds in the same way she does when she can’t get her adults’ attention. I pique her interest. I lie down, cover my entire body, including my head, with my comforter. I lie very still waiting to see her next move.
I feel her crawl over and slowly start pushing the comforter away from my face. Discovering my shut eyes and limp arms she proceeds to poke at first my eyes, then my nose, and finally my fingers. She settles on my ring finger and grabs it firmly. She finally lowers her body next to my pillow still holding on to my ring finger. I watch her clementine-sized hand clasp my finger for dear life. She begins to make soft chewing sounds until her breathing evens out and her body goes completely still.
Afraid to wake her, I lie for a good fifteen minutes before I move.
When I move I discover the most beautiful scene: her perfectly-shaped round head crowned with ten round balls of hair that her mother has so meticulously carved out; her tiny lips which pursed together can’t be more than a half-inch wide; her flat nose that earlier had made me question my mother about using hot water to “shape” it. (People who think all is lost because I am “so dark,” comment that “at least you have the white nose.” Hey! I want my niece to have a chance.)
I stare. She is stunning, exquisite, even as I worry about her flat nose.
I watch her and feel the glow take over my body. It’s intense. This is what they mean when they say, “it’s different when it’s your own.” The love is instant, exact, overwhelming and exciting all at once. There is nothing she needs to do to win my love. Although she is not from my womb I feel that bond between aunt and niece and I realize that it is possible to have this amazing feeling change my mind about these little presents from the gods and ancestors. (Mind you, not to have one of my own, but rather to protect her fiercely and vow to inflict harm on anyone who dares hurt her.) I’ve never felt this way before.
I tell her mom, I want her to sleep with me. She warns that she doesn’t sleep through the night. I laugh. I’m ready for this I say confidently to not betray my inner doubts. Since it’s my first time meeting her and her last night visiting at my mom’s, I know I need to seize the opportunity. I want to seal the bond even more. I, the cynic, decide to share a bed with a baby not quite a newborn, but also not quite my preferred kindergarten-aged children with whom I can carry on conversations. A baby in the in-between stage of developing her identity. But this one is different because she is mine.
I watch as she stirs every so often and mumbles in her sleep. I want to arrange her head more comfortably on the pillow but I am scared to wake her. I just pray she is comfortable and sleeping well.
She is beautiful. She is mine. I am fiercely attached to her and it’s only been six hours since meeting her.
(PS. She did wake up screaming for her mother around 2 am. I was petrified thinking it was something I’d done. Her mother came to claim her. I tried to go back to sleep, but thoughts of what had just transpired got me out to bed to write. What you have read is the product of my 2am epiphany.)
(PSS. I chose to make this my first post of the New Year because I hope to spend more time with Kuku (she is my namesake too!) as soon as I have the chance. To love her is my New Year’s Resolution. To be a better lover and protector to those I am in relationship with, but especially to those who have no way of immediately reciprocating this gesture, is my NYR.)
Afehyia Pa o! Afe si sei d3m na wo p3 nyina ay3 hƆ
Afi o Afi. Afi be n3 nƆ f33 nƆ ni ka otwi nƆ eba min
Hapy New Year. A year from today, may all your wishes have come true (loosely translated)
Basically you say Happy New Year then you say, “a year from now ________(fill in the blank with whatever you wish to personalize it)Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
I am in uncharted territory. I feel it even as I claw my way through the haze of anger, passive-aggressiveness, pain, and pettiness. These emotions live in my body. My body has held these for years. They say body memory is the most difficult to re-train. I have to say I agree.
I am in uncharted territory. I am dating a woman. I am not only dating a woman, I am dating a Black woman, my second Black woman in my fifteen years of dating life. That is not all. She is from the same country as I am and we share a common tribe.
I am in uncharted territory. I kick and scream and drag my feet and refuse to acknowledge her presence and help often. This does not feel good when she reflects back what she experiences as I do this. Then I feel shame. Then body memory kicks in and I get defensive and mean. Then pride kicks in and I shut down. I get to stepping. Then I walk.
I am in uncharted territory. She is bold. She is much younger than me. She challenges me to be my better self. She is beautiful and chocolate skinned just like me. She is curvy in the places I am not. I am jealous sometimes. I fall for her anyway. She speaks my politics. She analyzes more than any of the others I’ve known. She says she’s good for me. I know she is; I don’t acknowledge it right away.
I am in uncharted territory. I hate when she ignores me, yet I can’t stand it that I am unwilling to rise to her challenge. I know I have got to rise above my body memory. I go to sleep on the other side of the bed with a gulf between us because we are arguing about yet another issue. She likes to pick the logs out of my eye. I don’t always appreciate it. I curl up in a ball. My heart has never beat this fast and my breathing has never been this stalled. Full of emotion that won’t let go until I acknowledge them. I don’t acknowledge them. They build up. I burst. We argue about everything but the reason behind the bursting.
I am in uncharted territory. We go days without touching. Me avoiding eye contact or giving her the evil eye. Wanting so badly to say, “You have to go now; I’m going to play ball by myself. You are not invited.” Yet something about her eyes stop me. She always returns to talk to my body memory causing shock and confusion and then gratitude. Shaming me into seeing the auto response of the body memory as it gets in the way of this radical love we are creating.
I am in uncharted territory. Before her and before the one before her, they were all mostly white. I’d play the race card in a heartbeat and watch them walk away. I, triumphant that I could play by myself again would watch them walk. Yet somehow this time I don’t want to play by myself, no matter how much and how often my body memory goes into auto pilot and I have to ask for a “do-over.” No matter how much my body memory denies her existence, I keep processing and fighting my demons.
I am in uncharted territory. Although we have lots of similarities, we also have some differences. Like our tastes in music or how she knows popular culture and the lyrics to most songs. And I just can’t be bothered. Or hhow she is confident in her body. Or our levels of cleanliness; her “We can make a cleaning chart;” my “No chica, you clean as you go, so there is no chart.” My rigidity and rule making that threatens to swallow me but rules and rigidity have kept me sane all these years through the chaos that surrounded me.
I am in uncharted territory. I am no longer allowed to cop out and say it’s how I was raised. Or it’s the fault of oppression. I am called to live out my ideals beyond how I was raised. Beyond the body memory. I am called to live this radical love that I claim to want to create. Called to this new way of loving and healing, and being loved and being healed. Called to re-learning respect for my sojourner. Relaxing my rules because I don’t need them for survival any longer. Forgetting my elitist upbringing and living in true equanimity with all peoples. I am called to be authentic.
I am in uncharted territory. Some days this uncharted territory sucks big time and I freak out and create demon stories about her in my mind to make it easy to despise her. Hurt her. Ignore her. Refuse to offer her the whole truth. Yet, she rarely leaves the field with her ball.
I am in uncharted territory. I know this because the growth pains are definitely making me groan. Because I often want to buy her, or me, a one-way ticket out of this relationship. Forget being radical. Forget doing it differently this time. Forget growth.
I am in uncharted territory because I keep trying to come back, and bring my ball with me, and keep the coupon for that one-way ticket because I know I don’t really want to give it to either of us yet.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 7 so far )
“Are you queer yourself or are you an ally?”
Any other place, this question might have made me nervous and perhaps defensive. But coming from a fellow African who had been thrown in jail, tortured, and molested for being gay on the continent, I felt I didn’t have the right to be nervous or defensive. Plus it came at the end of such a pleasant evening during which I was surrounded by close to thirty queer, black men who were all very loving and supportive. It ushered me into my coming out quite smoothly.
“Yes, I am queer myself,” I had answered him.
But this morning, the question still lingers. Would I a fellow queer African still answer the question the same way if asked again. Would it depend on who was asking? Would it depend on if I was on the continent and where on the continent? Or had I reached the point of coming out no matter what, who, when, or why? Of course, I know coming out is a gradual process but it is also a continual process. You gotta keep claiming that visibility especially if you pass.
For years I have been billed as an ally, and I have just settled for that. Sometimes with some of my more precarious careers, I felt this was the best I could aspire to. It wasn’t that staying in the closet was fun. Or that I didn’t fully comprehend the benefits of being out. Or that I didn’t want to serve as a role model and help cut down on the bullying by being out and proud. It was just too risky, and even foolish on some occasions.
But on the real, how many people live and die in the closet? And I’m using the proverbial closet as a blanket for all levels of the spectrum of sexuality be it queer, trans, kinky, polyamorous, you name it. Even if you can’t name it, I am tossing it under the umbrella of the sexual desire spectrum for now. How many people never ask for what they need sexually because they are deathly afraid of scorn or rejection, have been told to remain silent, and in some cases, receive punitive action, including death? How many take their partners’ innocent lives because they live in the closet about a part of their sexuality and the side effect is a disease they knowingly or unknowingly pass on, or abuse, or…?
As a survivor of child sexual molestation, most people dismiss my queerness as a reaction to my past wounds. My best friend said, “but Mel you’ve always had issues with men!” Going on to say she didn’t comprehend the importance of my coming out. What was different now? She then proceeded to say she would pray for my soul, but that’s another story altogether. As a survivor most people immediately discount my story blaming my sexual fluidity on my history of abuse. But what if my story is just as valid as my good friend who grew up knowing that although he was in a girl’s body, he really was meant to be a boy? What if my story is just as valid as the girl child who was attracted to women’s skirts and legs from as early as age two and knew deep down it was more than fascination but couldn’t come out as a lesbian until age forty?
A month ago a friend invited me to join him and his partner to speak to a group about being gay in Africa. I didn’t feel confident about this mission. In fact, I felt like a traitor. I wasn’t queer on the continent. While I was there for those six months, family members and friends were setting me up on dates every day in sheer desperation and I stayed in the closet about the kind of person I was looking to date. How could I possibly speak on such a topic, I thought. Whatever would I say? In any case I went and ended up not formally speaking but just networking with folks to increase awareness of the issue of queerness on the continent. It turns out being immersed in a community of gay black men was just the medicine I needed. It did wonders for my spirit.
Varying shades of brown, varying presentations of gender performance, varying ways of speaking but everyone sharing the commonality of a sexual identity that was loudly and proudly proclaimed and lived out in the space. I don’t know what their individual stories were nor how they lived or performed when they were with the rest of the world but I have to say no matter all this, being in that room for three-plus hours was euphoric. We do exist! We are real despite what the rest of the world might try to do to silence or erase us. It is not that queer people in Africa are copying western cultural values and norms as the anti-gay/fundamentalist movements will have you believe, but the reality (part of it at least) is that queer folk on the continent are empowered by the strength of the movement everywhere and are finding the voice to demand their right to live a visible life. This act of transgression is what is causing folks to literally turn cartwheels. How dare they demand rights?
So is it a wonder then that I’d come out of the closet (all the way out and stop being the honorary ally) in such a space? I hear the questions. I hear the assumptions. Or perhaps it is all in my head. I get ready with my retorts feeling defensive. No this isn’t why I don’t believe in marriage. No this isn’t the reason I don’t want children. I am aware of several happily married/partnered non-hetero normative couples with kids. I just don’t know if I buy into the institution itself and what it stands for as well as how it excludes some people.
When I first came out of being a “fulltime” ally, I identified as Bi for a long time before shifting to Queer. Queer now holds the space for me to stay single, date, or not date men, women, trans and all the other representations of human in between, marry or not marry, produce or not produce…in essence, be all of my true self. Queer creates space for me to be thirty-five, a blend of African and American, oldest daughter of a mother who has yet to marry any of her three daughters off, unmarried and not looking to fulfill anyone’s dreams of the perfect life. Claiming Queer is political for me because it crosses boundaries and attempts to live at the intersections of things. It is reclaiming the use of the word in its various forms including negative ones. At this point I don’t know the ultimate partner I will end up with but in the meantime, I just need to say, I’m Queer. I’m from the Motherland. I’m Black. I am Proud! I am a Feminist. I am striving to be my truest self each day.
I know it’s risky to put this out there. I admit it’s been a while coming. This manifesto has been sitting in the closet but Whitney Houston’s death made me dust it off. Her death did something to me that words cannot explain yet. It hurt so bad that we watched her destroy herself. In society, we matter to only a select few. Those select few have the responsibility to help us reach our creator-given potential and answer our creator-given call. We failed her. Maybe not me in particular but those to whom she mattered, and who could make a difference in her life, failed her.
Why do I say all this? Addictions often begin as mini coping mechanisms when we are unable to be our truest selves. Some people create alter egos and live in virtual worlds just so they can be all of who they are. Some people write fan fiction under pseudonyms so their favorite characters can make love. Some people imbibe a whole range of substances. Some people take more wives, some take mistresses. Some molest children. I hope this doesn’t come of as a negation the universal issue/conversation around TSQIQTLBG[PKA] identity/orientation. All I’m advocating for is that people allow everyone to be their truest selves all of the time.
What would this world be like if people could be all of themselves with the people who matter the most to them? I’ve noticed that my Bipolar symptoms are generally more active when I am denying a part of myself. Not dancing when there is a beat. Not writing when my brain is on fire and my fingers itch. Not cooking that gourmet meal because I feel there is no one to serve it to (discounting myself). Remaining a silent ally when I know claiming my identity could save a student’s life. Whenever there is dissonance in my life, there are BPII symptoms manifested. In order to stay “clean” or “sober” I must remain honest and truthful about every part of who I am.
So this manifesto is for you too. I encourage you to start over today and give someone the gift of being their true selves. Or better yet, go ahead and give yourself that gift. I dare you to publish your own manifesto about how you want to be in this world!Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 13 so far )