It’s is late and we have many house guests this holiday season that should be @ home with their families, except that those families have disowned them for daring to cross gender or sexuality lines that are not nearly as rigid as we are taught to think. As I made my way through all of the packed rooms in our house tonight, having finally put the last cups in the dishwasher and the last dog toy safely back in the doggie basket, I found myself thinking about Christmas with the boys two years ago. So here is the post from back then, oddly so like this Christmas:
Today is the first day of Kwanzaa. The principle: Umoja (Unity). The promise: to strive for strength of family, community, race, and nation. As this day dawns, I find myself looking back on the unity marginalized youth have to forge in this season and what it means.
A thought piece on youth and the young ones who shared our home and/or holidays.
I was obsessed with David Bowie as a Kid (oh yes, we have talked about this) & while some find this rare video “strange,” I loved it. In it’s own way it was the first real queering of Christmas at casa pbw.
One of the reasons this video is special, besides DB, is that it was playing when my grade school friend came out on my couch. He had taken refuge in my house while my parents were at work, something he did regularly to escape the drunkness of his adopted mother and the abusiveness of his adopted father. I would bring him home at great risk in the strict Catholic-Southern Baptist house of my childhood because I recognized the signs of brokenness and fear long before I even knew what had happened to him. He would come because of the hope his mother would be passed out by the time he got back and she would think he’d been there the whole time.
On this particular day, a few days before Christmas, MTV was playing “old christmas songs.” As we drooled over DB, my bestfriend told me both about the beatings and his desires. I wanted to never send him home again; as long as DB sang his peaceful song, I knew I wouldn’t have to.
Like many of my early childhood friends, S didn’t make it out. He ran away. lived downtown for a while. then disappeared.
Two events this Christmas made me think of him and be grateful that at least in our house it is safe:
- A meal with former mentees in my neighborhood
- Christmas dinner and a movie with the youth of myspace drooling fame
Uncounted Service to the Uni
The first, as you may recall from a previous post, was a gathering of people of color primarily from the Spanish speaking and Anglophone Caribbean but including all poc and some radical white folks. My mentee and his new bf, whom I met in passing back in November, another mentee and her gf, who moved here because it is “the gay mecca” (mmmhmmm, sure it is), and a bunch of their new friends recreated a meal I had come to love back in my days of teaching at Middle of Nowhere College. We sat, as one big family, sharing our favorite meals, cooked family style in their kitchen, and telling stories of then and now.
It was amazing to see them all grown up building lives and connections forged in undergrad and born out socio-political activism and power on the margins. They made me proud to have been a part of their educations. And though I made them stop telling me how important my role as mentor had been to them, I will carry their stories with me for those days when academe is kicking my butt.
The other meal was less “work related,” at least for me. As I have said before, my housemates invited some queer youth into the house against their agency policy because they had nowhere else to go. I believe in boundaries but I also believe that you don’t leave anyone behind. Mostly they have sat around goofing and planning campaigns, oh and stalking people on myspace with the main computer (yeah I said it) and then going off to work their case plans. Since they haven’t moved in and besides the myspace thing, they have been so great and fun, it wasn’t that big a deal.
I wasn’t really sure they would be here for Christmas. I honestly thought they might have been better off going to the former mentees’ holiday party where they could be around queers their own age, but they didn’t come around that day. Yet, on Christmas, there they all were, bright eyed, and ready to help out in the kitchen or with the youngest ones in our midst.
We did not have enough room to accommodate everyone around the dining room table this year and many of us have family food issues that makes formal dining painful anyway. So we moved buffet style from kitchen to tv room to watch Latter Days.
Before the movie started we went around the room and said one good thing about the person beside us, & thanked all of our cooks & wanna be cooks. Finally we were ready to let the queering of Christmas sink in with the best, cheesy, pseudo-holiday movie ever.
The wee ones did their best to pretend they were completely unmoved by having a home for the holidays but you could see happy in their eyes.
A funny thing happened on the way to dessert. The movie caught on “the slap heard around the queer world” scene and we had to turn on the lights to fix it. Two of the boys who had instigated the whole myspace dramarama were huddled together, wet faced, weeping, on the couch. Like the little girl curled up on the couch with my bestfriend watching DB, I suddenly stopped being Dr. Black Woman and became social service me.
What ensued was a conversation that never ceases to break my heart no matter how old. We all know how the story goes. We all know why these boys & girls & bois had no place to go. The film in all its cheesy goodness had reminded them what they had survived and some what they might have to face. As we talked, old and new, coupled and single, straight and gay, I remembered again how hard it is to be so young (and yes, why places like myspace are not the root of all evil).
It’s been a while for me, having had the whole semester away from PU where queers and angels fear to tread. My lesbian class was so full of internalized homophobes with their hate on that it was hard to remember how important it was to be there for the gogo boot and wings wearing sweeties in the front of the class – made brave because they knew I was taking names and kicking homophobic arse – and the grad students whose queerness was proud and yet often masked in their pedagogy. For me these moments at PU were always shaped by a culture in which violence was acceptable and where homophobic graffiti almost never got washed off the buildings or the walls. I never quite knew how much all that hate affected me until I was on a campus recently where every other person mentioned their partners and their kids without blinking; they do not know how lucky they are. Every time they did it, I stopped and stared, my silence a slow crying pain that finally broke out at dinner when I couldn’t not mourn all of the secrets and darkness my students at PU endure without sorrow any longer.
Having these kids in my midst all raw and desperate for life, reminded me that their catty-cuteness was a mask placed on so tight lest it slip and reveal the wounds they held too deep inside. Sadly having to be Foxy Brown on a rampage at work had made me almost forget how to recognize their angst or maybe I was still shut down from the things I saw and heard over the past month. In a war, the casualty can sometimes be your own heart.
J got the movie working, long before he let us know. When the trauma was sifted and the time was right he said triumphantly “the good part is coming.” A hush fell over the room, the lights went back off, and in moments we were witnessing that amazingly over the top moment in the restaurant. One of the kids beside me, laid his head on my shoulder and smiled. Much later, a femme in training, who speaks through various eye rolls and giggles, whispered “thank you” before ret
reating back to her dissafection.
Christmas can be about a lot of things. One of them, for me, has always been healing.
From the time I was little until now, I have never been able to see a broken person flailing to breathe and not share a piece of precious clean air with them. Every school yard altercation, every cliquish moment, every temper flare, I have ever been implicated in my life, boils down to me refusing to be silent in the rift between those society deems it is ok to target and those who have the privilege to look away. It is true that many times I have stood up for my own, but many more I have stood up for someone else’s identity. One thing we learned early in my house was: When one is oppressed, we are all oppressed. One one is broken, we are all bleeding.
One of the things the first queer woc I met at PU said to me was “I will have your back, but do not leave me twisting in the wind b/c I am so sick of that.” I thought she was kindred until I felt the lash of the dessert wind against my exposed chest and she was nowhere to be found. More recently I stood up for someone who tore me down days later to save his image of himself & his lover.
I think often people look away, stay silent, forget basic human kindness because they know that human beings wielding power from the margins or the centers will beat you down until there is nothing left to break. Worse some of them are trying to beat themselves through you. It is a cycle we share with the oppressors, taught to us by them, and enforced by them when we do not accept the ghetto and die there (Baldwin). Afterall, for us all to be free we must all be liberated both oppressed and oppressor (Mandela).
Yet the lesson this Christmas was all it takes is a warm meal, an open heart, and ears to listen. All it takes is eyes that see and words, spoken and unspoken, that say “I know”, “You are worthy”, “You are loved.” There is a powerful difference between the politics of staring and the politics of caring.
If everybody had walked in Umoja this past holiday, how would today have looked different?
As you celebrate your own holidays this season, take some time out to wish those marginalized folks around you (not just the queer fam but also the elderly, the guy who lost his job, or the mother with the mounting health care bills, whoever) a happy holiday and maybe offer to take them out to coffee or brunch, so they don’t have to be alone.