At Home in Aloneness…

As I looked out the window to the ground being pounded by droplets of a downpour I thought to myself, “I can’t believe I’m here.” The world around me is moving swiftly. People’s relationships are evolving or shriveling up and dying and here I sit, in the same place I’ve always been, and it’s sort of unbelievable to me. As I watched the concrete grow slicker with each drop I tried to feel something different, but my heart wouldn’t budge. I conjured thoughts about people in love with one another, about sitting on a couch with someone doing the proverbial “Netflix and chill,” about having someone to share the end of my busy days with. I tried to conjure some sense of disappointment about not having that yet, about not having a prospect, about not even having the person who I know is a complete waste of my time but I persist because I figure it’s better than being alone. Amazingly I felt no sense of disappointment, no wistfulness for all I’m supposedly  missing at this moment in life. For the first time in a while, possibly in my young adult life, I’m romantically alone with nothing on the horizon, and I’m not scared of it.

For the first time in my life that I can fully sense, I am at peace with being alone. I’m 36 and single and I actually feel satisfied. Not in that cliché, “I can do bad all by myself,” way but in a rewarding, “There is richness, possibility, and hope in this space of aloneness.” This aloneness is not pejorative or stigmatizing for me. I don’t seek to be uprooted from it by busying myself with ways to not lean into this feeling. I’m not compelled to jump on a dating app to busy myself with “in the meantime” men. I am content. This takes me by surprise because for so long I’ve been compelled to mourn my singleness for every year that passes by and I remain so. But I’m 36 and single and I’m compelled to lean into this. I’m no longer willing to create a narrative for my singleness save for the one that tells the story of a woman who has chosen this for herself not as a lot I’ve settled on by circumstance but as a choice.

Just a few weeks ago a man asked me why I’m single given my beauty and intelligence and, initially, I regurgitated the script telling him, “Talk to your brethren.” But a moment later I said to him, “I’m sorry I take that back, it’s not on them, it’s on me. I haven’t found what I’m looking for and I lead a rich and fulfilling life that someone must be compelling enough to be a part of.” I’ve reached that sweet spot that Warshan Shire put words to when she wrote,

My alone feels so good, I’ll only have you if you’re sweeter than my solitude.

As I’m bombarded with engagement announcements, budding relationships, breakups stories, and dating app disasters, I stand still in this world where everyone is searching for someone while I am  finding myself and satisfaction in me. I have hit my own sweet spot, a place where I am building a sense of contentment not as a placeholder until someone else comes but as my home, my strong tower. I am cherishing what I have in this life in walking in a purpose, in my wonderful family and friends who are like family, and in a faith life that I am only beginning to discover the extraordinary riches of apart from anything I might gain from it. It is with slight incredulity that I occupy this space because I am not supposed to be here. The world wants me to mourn my singleness, the barrenness of my womb, the emptiness of my bed, the space between my fingers, the holes unfulfilled…But I am truly, finally, at peace with where I am in that perceived lack because I’ve found my fulfillment.

My aloneness, that presence, fullness, aliveness, joy of being, overflowing love is home. In this place I am complete. Nobody is needed, I am enough.[1]

 

[1] Inspired by the definition of aloneness by Pragito Dove, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/pragito-dove/loneliness-v-aloneness-wh_b_8032702.html

 

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Lost in Trans-Relation: A Reflection on a Bathroom Encounter

She and I are in a seminar together and during introductions she, who I originally thought was he because of my perception of her presentation, stated her pronouns as “she/her.” I accept this and made the note to self that anytime I speak of her, if I’m not using her name, I will use her preferred pronouns.

Before this, it had been three years since first I encountered the concept of preferred gender pronouns. It was during a week-long sexuality institute at San Francisco State University that I discovered there was such a practice and that someone who I perceived as either male or female would go by another pronoun. I remember hearing someone who I perceived as a woman saying their pronoun is “him/his/he.” I remember the moment when I heard someone say that they prefer to be called “it” and I was incredulous because I couldn’t understand why someone would choose to eliminate their human being-ness to be called “it.” Nevertheless I decided that all I needed to do was accept and embrace the pronoun someone chooses for themselves. That was three years ago and, since then, I haven’t held close space with many people, that I know of, who are explicit about preferred pronouns, until now. But this isn’t just a story about preferred pronouns…

Pronouns and all introductions aside we take a break before jumping into a discussion of the readings. I run to the women’s restroom where a line of my classmates is already forming and we pass the time by talking about how we like the seminar thus far. As we are talking she walks into the restroom and I’m certain I do a double take. If not a double take with my head, an internal double take. “What is she doing here?” I thought to myself. I was conflicted. She stated her pronoun yet, what I perceive to be a male-gendered presentation wouldn’t let me be comfortable with her in the women’s restroom. Nevertheless, she joins our discussion and I ease up, but still I wonder what she’ll do when she walks into the stall. When it is my turn to use the toilet I linger wondering if I will see her toes facing the toilet or facing the door. Alas, I also had my phone with me so, in no time, I forgot to watch her and I end up reading an e-mail instead. I finish up in the restroom and go to send a text to two close friends that says, “Can I just say, the first time a trans person comes in the bathroom with you is jarring as hell.” I don’t send the text, instead I sit with the thought for the rest of the seminar. Why was I uncomfortable with her in the restroom when she claims she and not he?

The second portion of our seminar presses my thinking on this further as we discuss authenticity and blackness as presented in an article by Michelle M. Wright entitled, “Can I call you Black? The limits of authentic heteronormativity in African Diasporic discourse.” Wright focuses on the assumptions of a normative and authentic blackness that exists in the dominant discourse in African Diasporic studies. This skewed focus results in marginalizing anyone who falls outside of those categories. Wright analyses the aftermath of the discovery that Olaudah Equiano’s was born in North Carolina and not Nigeria and how that shifted people’s perspective of his authenticity and place in the annals of history. She talks about Black Brits and how their authenticity is tested by Black Africans and how these views of authenticity are deeply rooted in the practices of a Eurocentrism and patriarchy. Of this she says,

“…the origin of blackness as an identity does not begin in Africa (and why should it? Why would millions of people with distinct histories, cultures, languages, and the like invent a generic term to categorize them all?) rather in prejudiced writings of European Enlightenment figures going through yet another era of deep historical amnesia that produced Africans as an undiscovered primitive rather than a continent whose coastal nations were central to the story of Mediterranean civilizations in antiquity” (Wright, 9).

Our professor welcomes a discussion on authenticity and blackness but encourages us to also think about the purpose of a demand for authenticity in relation to other identities integral to the study of women, gender, and sexuality. I didn’t recognize this as an immediate opportunity but realized it when I came home that day and am still reflecting on it now as I write. The discomfort I experienced in the restroom was caused by a few things one of which was my particular claim to an authentic womanhood that I didn’t believe my classmate possessed because of what I perceived about her. Another part of my discomfort is a reckoning with the so-called Other. (I use “Other” with great discomfort. I dislike the language but I’m using it here because I believe it goes toward my point.)

What is an authentic woman? This is the question that must follow my own claim to authentic womanhood over and against hers. I can’t answer that question right now, but I acknowledge it as part of the problem with my issue of her. The more I think about her and my reaction to her, which is unbeknownst to her, I wonder how it would make her feel. I’m troubled by the fact that it would make her feel anything less than welcomed and affirmed when she must hold close space with me. I dare say that my inability to accept and affirm her ought to make me the one who is not an authentic woman–if we want to define the authentic woman as one who unconditionally embraces all. I’ve been socialized to believe the only women that truly exist in the world are those who are born as such and only recently am I learning what it means to take someone at their word. Her word ought to count and, to an extent, it does count theoretically, but practically speaking I have catching up to do. I’m challenged by what it means to lend theoretical support but to falter practically.

I’m so certain that, rationally speaking, I’m here for her using the women’s bathroom, but my reaction to her actually using suggests otherwise and that is troubling me. In general I support the rights of trans people to use the restroom that they identify with but I recognize my ability to say that has been mostly abstraction, something I can say because I’m not faced with the so-called Other. And now here I am, having to step away from the abstract into the real and make my theory of advocacy into, not only, a practice of advocacy but, more importantly, of care and embrace. This seems like the missing step in the academic’s project of advocacy. We know how to theorize from above but we don’t travel below to work it. I know how to theorize and speak well for the marginalized and oppressed of this world, but I’m still working out how to be well with them. So here I am. I’m wrestling with this and find irony that I’m wrestling with this in context of a Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies seminar. That is the last piece of this narrative puzzle.

I met her in a Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies seminar where the core question of the class is, “What is Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies?” That introduction I mentioned earlier included answering the question, “Why Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies?” My answer to this question in the seminar was all about the practice of engaging women, gender, and sexuality studies as a field of inquiry useful for bridging what I perceive as gaps in theology and ethics. But given the chance to answer this question again, I would say that Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies is as much a personal project of inquiry as it is an intellectual project. I need Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies to interrogate myself and deconstruct years, if not decades, of closed theory about what constitutes woman, womanness, gender, and sexuality because my life is steeped in dominant views of normativity and authenticity about those categories. I need it as someone who has both a personal and professional commitment to the Christian tradition who wants to truly welcome all. I need it because I don’t just want to speak about welcoming and affirming all, I want to be about the business of it; a business undergirded by the discipline/field’s knowledge, nurturing understanding, and, most importantly, cultivating relationships, starting with my relationship with her.

Why I #SayHerName for Korryn Gaines

korryn-gaines-e1470164217813We’ve been grappling with the case of ‪#‎KorrynGaines‬ for five days and it has been fascinating to watch people’s perspectives. I’m grieved that she isn’t here to tell her story while everyone tells it for her based on a couple of videos. How quickly it seems like people forget that “There but for the grace of God, go I.” And this is not to suggest that the grace of God wasn’t with Korryn but to suggest that we all may be just a moment away from encounters and decisions such as she made. 

‪#‎sayhername‬ because I’m grieved that it came to this and grieved that she was ready to die at the hands of a system that was never working in her favor as a double minority being black and a woman. Has anyone really asked themselves why she was so ready to die?

I #sayhername because it doesn’t add up, so-called mental illness or not, shotgun or not, her life didn’t have to end that way and we know this because of people who still live to tell their stories. Lest you forget the scores of so-called mentally ill white men who shot dozens of people and are now living in jail cells and getting hit in the face.

I #sayhername because we are still battling against the powers and principalities of a system that clearly stands in opposition to black bodies, and certainly black women’s bodies. It’s interesting that people forget the history of the black woman in America whose genesis in this country was her body in captivity used for reproduction and then abused in front of her children, family, and friends. The body remembers its history and some point that body must respond in contradiction. You don’t have to work with all muscle memory.

I #sayhername because I get it. The Korryn Gaines we’ve seen broadcast all over our timelines wasn’t created in a vacuum nor was she created from exposure to asbestos, but in her mother’s womb and then raised, possibly being exposed to the hardness of life and learned to build a wall 20 feet tall and possibly abused by those in power and she got tired as some–or all if you’re honest–black women are wont to do except all of us don’t fight back.

I #sayhername because it’s important to remember that we are fighting for the value of black bodies, black people, to be regarded differently which also means law enforcement’s best option is not to kill us in order to disarm us.

I #sayhername because I am my sister’s keeper and that ain’t conditional because I wouldn’t want my sister to look at me and wage the judgement I’ve seen waged against her and decide she ain’t worth keeping, especially when I don’t know the whole story.

I #sayhername because I don’t want to have to say her name. I desire for her to live and tell her story to shut all of us up but without my saying her name, that won’t happen.

The Clock That’s Ticking…

Like many women my age there’s a clock ticking in me, but unlike those women my clock is ticking for a different reason. This clock has nothing to do with bearing children before my eggs dry up or before I turn 40 and everything to do with bringing some things to bear before my parents leave this place called earth. Many would think this a bit morbid or macabre but this is my truth and it is my reality.

For as long as I could remember I was always that kid who had older parents. While I knew people who, at 15, had parents who were just hitting their 40s, my parents were 40 when I was born in 1980–you do the math. Once I became a young adult and moved further from home, first to college and then to NY, I became increasingly concerned about the lifespan of my parents. It would hit me the hardest when I made my annual trip home for the holidays and the feeling peaked on my birthday. Every year my parents take me out to dinner for my birthday. We get all dressed up and go out to eat and drink the night away. But over the years that night has started to feel somber for me because I wonder if that year will be the last year I celebrate with my parents. I remember one year on my birthday I actually told my mom about my boding fears to which she tearfully looked me in my eyes and told me that her aunt and mother lived to see their 90s so rest assured she and my dad will be around for at least 20 more years. She assuaged my fears for a while until the next year.

This year my family celebrated the 80th birthday of my father to much fanfare. Yet it was also the same weekend that we laid one of the great matriarchs of the family to rest at the age of 90. While I did my best to remain present at my aunt’s celebration of life and my dad’s birthday–I come from a Jamaican family so it’s not odd for a funeral and several parties to take place on the same weekend, I was haunted by the fact that, according to my mom’s calculations, I may only have my dad for another 10 years. All of this scares me because I am the youngest child in a family full of older people. Sure I have cousins who are my age and some aunts and uncles who are younger than my parents, but I am closest to my parents. They are all I have known in the way of consistent, unconditional love. I have a brother and a sister who are both in their 50s and, in many ways, I feel they will have had a lifetime with my parents that I may not get to have. In 20 years when I am their age, I will not have my parents to call on or go to and that scares me. I am the youngest and I have youngest tendencies. I call my parents fairly regularly, go home for the holidays, and even vacation with my parents on occasion. Last year was the first time I didn’t go home for Christmas because I visited my then boyfriend while he was studying abroad in Germany and that was a hard decision to make. As much as I wanted to spend the holidays with him, I thought frequently about what kind of holiday my parents would have. Without me coming home the house would be quiet, no elaborate meals would be cooked, and no Christmas tree would be put up. I worried a lot about missing Christmas with them. It felt so bad that on Christmas Day, when I did talk to my parents while my boyfriend and I were having dinner at a restaurant in Paris, I felt the pang of melancholy for being away from them.

And now here I am at 33, months away from being 34, single with no romantic prospects which also means that children aren’t in the immediate future. But my womb is not what pangs me right now, that biological clock is not ringing in my ears, it is my parents’s clock that is ever ringing for me. Many may consider me obsessed with death, I’m not. I’m more obsessed with my parents being alive to see me accomplish some things that I’m afraid are far off for me. Major life events and milestones such as getting a PhD, owning a home, getting married, having children. Truth be told I’m more interested in my parents seeing the latter three because those are different accomplishments than I’ve made thus far. My parents have seen me graduate from high school, college, and a master’s degree program; they’ve known about my professional success; they’ve heard about my world travels; but they’ve not known me to have the security of a home I owned, the long-term love of a significant other, or the pitter patter of little feet be they a baby’s or a puppy’s. That’s what I want my parents to see while they are still here. And, to be honest, referring back to them being all I have known in the way of consistent, unconditional love, my fear is being left alone and without that consistency.

Shortly before I wrote this post I watched a video of a Nigerian couple’s wedding reception and though the video’s focal point was of their well choreographed bridal party, somehow I looked straight through them to the table of elders behind them. Looking at the table of elders smile upon the newly married couple, I remembered how much I want my parents to see my day. I want my parents to smile upon me and my husband, to dance and laugh the night away with us, to wish us well with words of wisdom from their nearly 50 years of marriage, to be there for the birth of our first child, etc, etc. These are the things that are really important to me as I look at what’s next in my life. I want my parents to see this as much as I want it for myself because it provides the assurance that their baby is taken care of and loved by one singular person. This is not to discount the number of loving family and friends that I have, but I know there is a type of assurance and relief that a parent experiences when their child gets married–son or daughter.

I remember sharing this truth with a friend who affirmed that there are few greater feelings than giving your parents the gift of marriage because it symbolically communicates that the child they loved and cared for is now being loved and cared for. She would then explain to me how devastating it was when she got a divorce because that symbol of love and care was gone and now her parents have to worry again. I was present at that friend’s home dedication ceremony and I clearly remember the look on her father’s face as she spoke about her new home and the journey it took her to get there. He was glowing with pride and when he embraced her it was with a sense of relief, as if to communicate, “My daughter is finally at home.” I teared up thinking about my own father embracing me with pride in that way.

I’m aware of the type of responses this could garner, ranging from “don’t obsess over when they’ll go, live in the present with them now” to “all of those things will come in due time.” I do live in the present with my parents, I appreciate everyday that they are still here–and I’m thankful that for their age they are in extremely good health, and believe that one day all of those things will come–most of the time. But every now and then I must face my fears and today I decided to write them down in hopes that it will be cathartic and allow me, if only for a moment, to let go of my fears, lay down my burdens, and just live.