Sunday, October 31, 2004

Art & Politics

For those of you not paying attention, and there can't be that many of you, or at least I hope not, Tuesday, November 2 is Election Day. Whether you are Black or White, male or female, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Atheist, or something I've missed (no offense intended), you have an obligation to vote. Your vote is your voice. Period. There are no mixed messages in that. Politicians don't care how loud you yell, they're only interested in your vote. They don't care if you lay down in the street or can chug a can of beer in 10 seconds, your vote is your voice. So, vote.

I had the pleasure of experiencing an evening with Sweet Honey in The Rock last night. Their music, their ministry is phenomenal, but more than that, they remind us how important it is to not stick to the separatist notion of "being in the world but not of it" but to blend being in and of the world. Who we are internally must blend with who we are externally. You can't vote or create your values based on what looks like or acts just like you, but you must act in a way that benefits all for we are all connected. It's not just some groovy, hippie, soy-based meat substitute-laden concept, but real. You may not think that a hip hop fan from Brooklyn and a White heterosexual husband from Virginia would share commonalities, but as Ysaye Maria Barnwell reminded the audience from the stage, "the price of toilet paper affects us all."

Art is usually the first thing to be sacrificed in the great "cleaning up" of society, and it always starts in government. After all, in a country that would prefer to buy bootleg movies and music for five bucks, rather than pay $15 so that the artist actually gets paid (the subject of another post), the government has to help out those of us who answer the creative call. And those of us who are creative are compelled by that thing deep in the pit of our bellies to bring up the truth. Truth is sometimes beautiful, and sometimes it's ugly. The government is generally more comfortable with things they can readily identify as beautiful, but what they really mean is comfortable. When the check writers don't quite understand what they're writing the check for, they are less willing to write it.

Art speaks the language of the people. It touches those places in us that push past and jump over dividing things like religion, language, class. It is the one thing that unites us instead of dividing us. When you get rid of that thing that unites us, it makes it easier to divide us. When you reshape art so that it is homogoenous; pretty, non-threatening, you create a new language that you can use to your advantage to create a race of homogeneous, pretty, non-threatening creatures to fulfill the agenda of people who look like, think like, and act like you. From Michaelangelo's arguably erotic ode to male beauty in David, to Rubens' plump nudes that would be classified today as having a BMI in the obese range; from the Sunday afternoon screeds in Picadilly Square to the modern-day blog; from Gil Scott Heron, Nuyorican Poets' Cafe to even the escapist "money, cars, and hoes; all a brotha knows," art has given voice to those who forgot they knew how to speak.

Every time an artist is censored or dissed publicly by some politico, that needs to be a wake-up call. Despite what you may feel about the content of the material; I don't necessarily think elephant dung is a desirable medium, nor do I advocate the murder of a police officer, I am frightened. We need to wake up and pay attention -- when the government tells us what we should say by cutting off funding, or by pressuring the removal of material from a store's shelves; a private venue driven by personal choice -- there is a problem. What always follows the removal of art deemed offensive is exactly what is happening now: attacks on civil liberties, diverting of funds for education for all in favor of private education that most often has the same homogenized, pretty, monolinear, Christian-focused bent; removal of funds for medical crises that affect the marginalized of society. Cut education funding and divert it to the prison and military industries. Art makes kids smarter. Smart kids grow up to be smart adults. Smart adults see through smokescreens of lies. Taxes are the dollars each of us pays to get what we want, and the government doles out the cash. Voters put the dolers in charge of the cash. Connect the dots, and you'll figure out that you have to get your lazy, slacker ass up and vote.

Parenting Gone Right

Tuesday, October 19, 2004 was a notable day. It was the day when my dear goddaughter officially gained 2 mommies. In a world where humans are so disposable (we send our loved ones off to fight a war for no particulat reason, we prefer to spend money building prisons instead of schools, we'd rather tell people not to have sex until they marry than to tell them to use a condom when having sex, let's lock up drug addicts and sentence people to prison with longer sentences for crimes involving crack vs. powder cocaine, blah blah blah), it is both beautiful and tragic to witness the formalization of a family.

It is tragic that conservative talking heads want to deny lesbian and gay couples the protection of their family structure claiming that children are best raised by a mother and a father, while same-sex couples make a greater effort to become parents. Unlike the happy accidents that result in a child entering a heterosexual union, queer couples have to make an effort to have kids. You have to make room in your home, in your bank account. Most of all, you have to make room in your heart, something few parents do.

Please don't get me wrong -- happy accidents (and if you'll check the dictionary, you'll find that an accident is an unplanned occurrence, nothing more and nothing less) are the reason why most of us are here, and thank God for it. However, it does take something exceptional to make possible the bringing into the world a human being with the intention of making the world a better place, instilling what you hope are good values, and making an opportunity for complete selflessness.

I love you, Zoia, and know your mommies will sometimes make mistakes, as all parents do, will find you completely exasperating at times, which all parents do, but will love you through every good and bad moment, every skinned knee and every unnecessarily long teenage phone call; every question and answer, and every moment they affirm that if they could turn back time, they wouldn't change a thing.

Monday, October 11, 2004

National Coming Out Day

Today, October 11, is National Coming Out Day. I always assume that I'm pretty much "out", but just in case anyone hasn't added everything together, here goes.

I identify as a Black woman, a butch-identified lesbian Christian musician. I am a writer, a poet, a spouse, a teacher, a singer, and a composer. None of these things are listed in any particular order, except that first and foremost, I am a child of God. All that I am, perfect and imperfect, all things beautiful and ugly, was created by God and shape who I am.

I chose to be in a relationship with the woman I call my wife. Although I was attracted to her female body, the truth is that if she were a man, I would still marry her because who she is comes from within.

I love women. I love the way the look, smell, walk, talk, and behave. I love their strength in spite of their reported weakness.

I love being Black. I don't always like some of the things Black people do, but you don't always like your family, and my people are family. I love our hues, our shapes, our culture. I love that Black people are all the things other assume they are, and none of those things.

I am an artist. Words, music, flow through me, and I struggle with letting them out, but I remain open to receiving them from the universe and hope they will come out and bring something positive to the world.

I am not ultra-feminine. I am a woman, and have no desire to be a man. I like having curves, but I like having muscles. I walk with confidence. I dress in a manner that says I am powerful. My lines are clean, crisp. I like smelling pink while wearing pinstripes.

I am a lesbian and I am a Christian. I am not, and will never be, a slave to man's limited dogma. I aspire to be a pure Christian, an adherent to the one thing that Christ taught and that is to love God, and love humanity. In loving humanity, I aspire to be compassionate, empathetic, generous, and reverent; respecting all, even when we don't agree. I am not ashamed of who I love or how I love. I have found no evidence that I am an abomination or am living contrary to what God wants from or for me. I have done my best to follow my heart and listen to God's voice and I believe that my life is blessed and will continue to be blessed.

I encourage you to live fully in who you are. Live full and live well. Be honest about who you are for if you believe you have something to be ashamed of, it will show. Others will treat you poorly and you'll continue to live poorly. Aim to love yourself and love others. Come out and stay out.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus...

I recently read a re-post from one of my favorite columnists, Rex Wockner. The entire article can be viewed by clicking here, but I'll boil it down for you. Rex believes that our (whoever "our" is) enemy is not terrorists, but religion. So, as I do identify as a Christian, even if I am by and large a Christian agnostic, I think he's off base. Here is my letter to him.

Dear Rex--

I've read your columns on Planet Out, and followed you to because I've always admired your ability to cut to the chase and embrace the possibility that the modern gay or lesbian experience is far from a homogeneous one. I appreciate your calling politicians on their stuff. But I'm not sure why you feel religion is such a problem.

We all pretty much have the same reaction when we observe religious fanatics, be they Muslim, or Christian. We probably agree that too much of anything is a problem. And I'm sure we agree that it is dangerous to give up the gift of free will. However, the truly enlightened person of faith can embrace free will and can surrender to faith.

The problem is not the essence of religion, that which makes us better citizens, lovers, friends, parents, but religion once organized. It's the organization that creates problems, not the belief in a force that we can attribute the occasional unexplanaible to.

Yes, religion is the opiate of the masses, but if you have a headache, you take something for the pain. You have the choice to ride it out, and hope that it isn't a symptom of something else, and you can hope that the discomfort doesn't make other undesirable things happen; for example, migraines are often accompanied by nausea, migraine sufferers may lose time from work because of the pain, the sensitivity to light and sound. Is it better to feel the pain and risk being so debilitated to the point of dysfunction? Or is it better to take something for the pain that may help maintain function and possibly eliminate the pain altogether? What religion is supposed to do is give tools to people, tools that may help them face life's tough questions, and perhaps answer them or accept the answer.

"All available evidence suggests we are random beings in a universe with no overriding meaning." That's fine, but I think it's unfair to suggest that everyone who believes in Christ's teachings is stupid. Some of us are, but is it really so stupid to "love your neighbor as you love yourself"? I thought that if we behave in a manner that affirms, admires, respects, and considers others, which is what religion is supposed to teach us to do, that we wouldn't be in such a bad state? Religion teaches us to love an ephemeral, amoebic, invisible being. Scripture suggests that if we can love something we can't see, we should be able to love what we can see -- the people all around us. Religion teaches us that it's okay to be prosperous, but more important to share what we have; feed the hungry, give to charity, forgive unpayable debts to smaller nations. Religion teaches us that there are no ethnic distinctions, no class distinctions, no religious distinctions.

I don't need to sell Christianity to anyone. I am scared to death, even pissed off at so-called Christians who divide along political lines, purposely distorting Christ's teachings to suit them or make them feel comfortable. They've ruined a perfectly good experience. Yes, there are things in the Bible that blow chunks. Yes, there are things in the Bible that are used to subjugate women, encourage racism, and demonize lesbians and gays. There are also things in the Bible that suggest men refrain from cutting their hair or shaving, prohibits the mixing meat and milk, animal husbandry, and wearing cotton and wool. Bible thumpers have made Christians look like jackasses because they read things out of context and use them for their own crappy agendas. I know these clowns exist, and believe me, if I could purge them from Christianity I would. This divisiveness isn't new, and it won't go away anytime soon, but I remain hopeful that the pure essence of Christianity, the actual teachings of Christ that maybe cover less than a dozen pages, will eventually prevail and adherents to just those teachings will stand up and stand out.

"You don't need God or religion to make life make sense (not that they accomplish that goal anyway). You just need to face facts (here we are, we don't know why, it's pretty cool to be here) and get on with enjoying the experience. It doesn't have to mean anything. It doesn't mean anything. It just is." I agree. But religion doesn't take away from life. Nobody needs anything other than food, water, and shelter. We need companionship, but not on the same level. Religion doesn't necessarily make anything mean anything. Sometimes it helps make the experience better. Taking time to be still and acknowledge what may be a great nothingness around us is a tool for coping in a sometimes unmanageable world; an opiate in a painful world.

You don't have to agree, Rex, but take it easy on the Christians with a clue. Don't lump all of us in with the heroin addicts. The fundamentalist junkies are a far cry from those of us who need an occasional Tylenol.