relinquishing the patriarchy

dear men.

this is mostly a note to straight, cis men; but also includes trans men, queer men, and all who participate in masculinity – if you see yourself in these words, this is a love note to you.

patriarchy (the system of society/government in which men hold the power and women are excluded from it) is collapsing, and it’s time for you, too, to give it up, to get yourself out.

it won’t be easy.

i don’t believe total revolution or liberation happens in one generation, but i know from my own life and many lives i have witnessed and accompanied, that it is absolutely possible in your lifetime, in a generation, to personally relinquish an unjust ideology, to begin to practice a more evolved way of being.

when enough of us relinquish injustices that only pretend to benefit us, we tip society towards justice.

in my life i have been homophobic, transphobic, classist, ableist and, yes, patriarchal. and i have been able to turn and face each of those parts of myself, to consider that what i know to be right might, in fact, be wrong. is wrong. i’m wrong.

but! right, or more precisely, right relationship, is available to me.

what i have learned is that:
– in the US, ‘normal’ is still understood as a white, us citizen, who has degrees, is (or is married to) a cis male, straight and able bodied.
– there are no people i should fear or disregard or think are lesser because they were born outside of some false concept of ‘normal’.
– the only people i’ve every truly needed to fear are those who believe they are superior to me/others. and the only part of me that is truly monstrous is the part that has been trained to convince me that i am superior to anyone else. superior because of proximity to that false norm – i am american born, light skinned, college educated, cis, briefly able-bodied, etc.
– the pain i have caused others in my life has been born of these false superiorities, which made me believe i deserved more of the goodness of existence for doing less physical, mental or emotional work.

now i am trying every day to do my share. to carry my portion of miracle and suffering, to labor fairly. to examine my privileges and to dismantle the largest unjust systems in this world with my choices and behaviors.

in order to do this work, i’ve had to learn to listen to things i didn’t want to hear, and couldn’t believe.

now i am listening to so many women in my life navigate the fall of patriarchy. they are exhausted, scared, lonely and rushed.

so many of these women have confided in me, ‘i wish sexuality was a choice! if i could choose to be with a woman i would in a heartbeat.’ i do not want to imply here that women are above patriarchy or other disease, or in any way minimize the complexities of queer love. but the frequency with which i have heard this from straight women speaks to a particular desperation, heartbreak, and confusion about how to be met in intimate relationship in this lifetime.*

there are women who are straight, or…mostly straight. and i am watching them battle their way out of patriarchy, only to resign themselves to either painful compromise or dignified solitude.

so i want to offer here a brief primer for men who want intimacy, informed by emergent strategy and pleasure activism, and by life. this is for men who don’t want to be alone. who want to be part of communities. who don’t want to be a burden to humanity. who want to be trustworthy! who don’t want to be assholes and fuckbois and distant dads, but can’t see how they are perpetuating patriarchy.

this is for men who want to know love in their lives.

if a woman tells you she is tired, that the dynamic of labor between you is imbalanced, it means you have been carried without realizing or honoring it. in naming this, she is reaching for interdependence with you.

we are in a set of transition generations, most of us with mothers who were taught to keep their labor out of sight. this means many men grew up in households where the full time work of managing home was intentionally invisible.

this is especially true if you had a father – you would come home from school, see your father come home from working out in the world, see your mother make a meal and serve it with a smile on. then she would clean dishes while your father watched TV and you did homework.

maybe you did one chore, like cleaning your own room, or taking out garbage you’d helped create. you may have learned to do these chores as if they were a rare favor to your mother, rather than a reasonable expectation for a human that makes messes and produces waste as a part of life.

if you grew up with a single mother, you may have been brought into more of this work, helping out your mom. but a good number of you got the benefit of a mother who was trying to cover the ground of both mother and father, guilty in some way for not being able to keep a family together. she may have coddled you even more to make up for what society was telling her was her failure.

what you most likely didn’t see, or saw but didn’t register as crucial labor, was how the laundry, cleaning, fixing, gardening, grocery and clothes and all other shopping, mailing, mending, financial management and planning took place. and how hard and necessary that work is.

i have seen a number of relationships where a man takes on one or two of these areas of crucial labor and thinks things are balanced.

i have seen a number of situations in which men think the work of caring for the children they cocreated is ‘babysitting’ or ‘providing childcare’, briefly inhabiting a role that primarily belongs to a woman coparent.

i’ve also seen how often, when men are left even briefly with labor that women regularly do, they are quickly overwhelmed. the results range from neglect (the home is dirty, the kid is sitting in a poopy diaper, the sick wife is hungry, etc) to full out adult male tantrums (to paraphrase: ‘you didn’t even thank me for doing the things you do every day!!’).

which brings me to my next point: if a woman tells you you are scaring her, you are. and you have been – it usually takes us a while to gather the words of our fear. she is saying this because something in your behavior has become physically or emotionally unsafe. domestic violence isn’t always a bruised eye – there are so many ways to terrorize an intimate. sometimes the fear is the only signal to a woman that she’s in a dangerous situation – there are some fears we can’t trick ourselves out of, even if we love y’all.

i have witnessed men (who i thought “knew better”) in states of road rage, alcohol-induced rage, property destruction, gaslighting/manipulation intended to make their female partners feel crazy, and physical intimidation. if this is what they do in front of a witness – i know it’s worse when they have no concern of being seen.

i have seen men endangering their children in these moments. i have heard stories of men grabbing, hitting, pushing against a wall, and giving silent treatment for days to their woman partners and their children.

men, you must learn to be responsible for your own feelings and actions. and it’s difficult for a number of reasons – most of which add up to codependence training. most men expect to be mothered by women they get involved with.

here are some of the reasons why men’s default relational approach is codependency:

– you aren’t encouraged to feel your feelings. in fact, the opposite is the case. you are told it isn’t manly to cry, to need comfort, to feel longing. you are ridiculed for emotions that aren’t weaponized, for gentleness, for what is categorized as feminine behavior.

– you aren’t encouraged to have friends. activity bros are different – you may have guys you go play ball with, or drink with. you may even have men you complain to, perhaps even clichéd complaints about the demands women are making of you to gr/show up. but at a certain age all humans need mirrors, witnesses, people they can trust to hear their lives, to cut through any victim narrative and help them pivot away from behaviors that harm themselves and others. that’s literally what friends are for. women are actively doing this for each other right now, witnessing each other, reaching for our own lives, holding each other’s hands as we walk towards our power. y’all need to get in right relationship!

– you aren’t encouraged to get professional help. again, many of you think it’s only “crazy” people or women who seek professional help, so you either refuse to see the therapists or healers who could support your growing up, or you wait until it’s so late that you’ve already built a mountain of harm on top of the person who has been carrying your emotional load in addition to her own. you end up unhinged, unstable, not rooted in reality – in many ways acting out the definition of what people call crazy. in my mediations, facilitation and friendships, i’ve learned that roughly everyone has the potential to be “crazy”. the difference in how much negative impact our crazy has on ourselves and others is directly related to who has adequate support structures and rigorous practices when the storms of adulthood come, and who doesn’t. therapy, friends, meditation, repeat.

– not enough of the people who offer professional help recognize patriarchy as a type of insanity. i will say it as clearly as i can – believing that masculinity is a factor of mental, physical, emotional, economic or other superiority that results in doing less labor and having more power is disease. therapists and healers can be of best service when they recognize this and stop normalizing patriarchal expectations. especially with men who carry other socially acceptable diseases, such as white supremacy, or extreme wealth.*

if a woman tells you she needs boundaries, step back immediately, and listen to her. respect the lines she draws between you. if she needs space from you, don’t antagonize her…consider offering her space. and silence.

this can be very hard for men, who are trained to pursue and capture women – seeing women as human, not prey, can be a lifelong journey for men unlearning patriarchy, unlearning woman-as-belonging or woman-as-prize.

it’s also hard for men whose default relationship position is, as mentioned, codependency. i have been shocked at the number of processes i have witnessed and/or supported where men, in absence of friends or professional support, expect the women they’ve worn down and disrespected and sometimes abused to also be their primary support through breakdowns, breakups, new adventures, and figuring out how to adult.

in a word, she can’t help you with that. she’s tired, she’s scared, and she needs her own space to heal.

it is time for fractal accountability – each unit of masculinity has to heal, to become part of a healed identity. you MUST:

– recognize that you are a part of a seductive and dying system of holding imbalanced privilege.

– opt out, even when everything in your system is screaming “double down!”, control her!

– be willing to understand that patriarchy is a million small choices everyday to shirk responsibility, to assume power you haven’t earned, to be mothered by your partners…you MUST learn to see those choices and add more options into your life.

the good news is, there are practices that work. here are steps i guarantee will help you to relinquish patriarchy.

1. recognize that as a man, you are a part of patriarchy. even if you have made some effort to break out of it, the system/insanity of patriarchy is still there for you to fall back into under pressure or duress.

2. be particularly vigilant about your masculinity growing toxic in your 30-50s age range. those are the years for many of us where the weight of adulting gets real and feels too heavy, and the dreams we had for our lives may not be coming true – hence the pattern of midlife crises. this is when men can become strangers to the women who trust them. yes, change is constant, and we all deserve space to change. none of us deserve a pass to change in ways that make us more harmful to those with less systemic power than we have, especially not those who have carried us.

3. don’t get into language supremacy, or read-the-most-feminists supremacy. don’t think that you are better than other men because you know the language of patriarchy, feminism and other isms. it’s the overcharged competitive nature, the desire to be better than, the inappropriate topping itself that is toxic.

4. in practice, release any belief that your mind will liberate you from patriarchy. the change required now is not something you can learn or do with your mind alone. it is something you must practice with your body, emotions, soul. only consistent practice will rewire your mind and liberate your life.

5. practice trusting the women in your life to see what you cannot see. seek, wrestle with, trust, and apply their feedback.

6. practice shared labor. ask to take on tasks and change the dynamic of labor because you want to and/or you should, not as if you are relieving her of a burden or helping her out. don’t ask her how to do these things. she doesn’t just magically know; she has long worked at learning/creating all of this.*

7. practice sitting in groups with other men (a group of two is a fine and valiant beginning) and speaking of feelings. do not offer solutions or try to cheer each other up. invite the feelings as they are – sadness, heartbreak, abandonment, fear, trauma from the process of masculinization. be there for each other. build friendships of radical honesty.

8. practice taking action together. go to marches to protect women’s rights, volunteer to hold the line at abortion clinics, intervene on observed acts of misogyny and patriarchy in private and public!*

9. practice finding something other than women to blame for your feelings. consider that your own behavior might be responsible for the hardships you are currently experiencing.

10. practice listening to the truth: ask the women in your life how they have survived you. this is not to say that all women are innocent, or never abusive/ controlling/ unfair/ harmful. it is to say that women have most often engaged in those strategies in order to navigate staying safe and sane inside of patriarchy. ask her how she carried that emotional, economic, child-rearing, home management, and/or fear burden.

11. practice equality in the workplace – if you are offered a raise, ask who else is getting one. share your salary information with women colleagues so they can know if they are underpaid. if you advocate for a raise, advocate for women’s raises too. if you’re in a position to make those decisions about hiring/pay, never ask how much someone was paid in their last job. pay them relative to those around them.*

12. make a list of things you believe you are owed by the world. if there’s anything you think you are owed that others are not, get curious about that. begin to release that way of thinking. you deserve dignity, belonging and safety. you also deserve love, community, respect. you deserve pleasure and joy. not at the expense of half the world, but alongside us.*

13. seek professional help. require that your therapists and/or healers identify as feminists. this doesn’t mean that they are women. this simply means that they believe in the equality of men and women. not the sameness, but the equality – no sex is superior or inferior.

14. read. i recommend:
– The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love. bell hooks.
– Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics. bell hooks.
– The Combahee River Collective Statement
– Men Explain Things to Me. Rebecca Solnit.
– Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. Brene Brown

men, do those things even if you think you’re already doing it and think you already know all this and think you are already all right. ALL of us have much to learn and to listen.*

the fall of patriarchy is inevitable. it is #metoo, it is #timesup. it is your turn, specifically, to lead by transforming yourself into the kind of man who always feels safe to women and children. those are the men who will be allowed into the future.

this is your invitation.

* shaped by goddesses/woes
image: Maceo Paisley

and here’s a link to more resources to help you in the work!

my mom though

it’s a couple of days after mother’s day, but right now is when i feel flooded with gratitude to my mom.

she is kind, and fiercely loyal.
she is infinitely generous, and leads with love.
she is patient and shines light on the best in the people she loves.

i am forty, and i am happy.
i know what it feels like to be loved unconditionally.

she shows up.
she is curious.
she believes me, believes us her daughters, believes everyone she meets who needs some mothering.
she prays for everyone we’ve ever loved.

we are friends. comrades.

every day. i love my mama.

don’t call it a comeback: white throated rail!

“The Aldabra white-throated rail, a flightless bird that lives on its namesake atoll in the Indian Ocean, doesn’t look like anything special at first glance. But the small bird has big bragging rights, because it has effectively evolved into existence twice after first going extinct some 136,000 years ago.”
Vice magazine

why does this story make me tear up and exhale? why does it activate all the science fictional hope in me? what is this flutter of earth adoration?

perhaps extinction all along has been a way of the earth tucking into herself the precious secrets which we refuse to handle with care.

perhaps she is saying, “if you want a simple life, if your tendency is towards the rudimentary, than i will pull into my body all of the most complex beautiful things. you butcher down and extract from me my magnificent wooden breathy life, and then cover me in boxes, flat concrete, boxes full of rows and boredom and lost hours. so i let my dream (and the bones) of the dodo bird hold safely near my heart – i don’t make permanence. that’s the only unnatural thing, you know, that which attempts to defy change.”

when i hear the news of your revolution, white throated rail, i wonder if you’ve only came to tell us that it is possible – not to not fly, to be defined as flightless (can you imagine making such an epic return and then every story about you includes the thing you don’t do?) – but to remind us that we are the only species who limits our creative wonders.

i think so many humans are terrified/hopeful/terrified to consider that she who made everything will remember how to make the world again, after us, after this foolish phase of us. or maybe we, too, will go and come again, more humble from the evolution years in the dirt?

i feel for the white-throated rail in my bones, the tasmanian tiger in my lungs, my black rhino skin, my mammoth heart. what i mean is: i wonder if i too carry the essence of forgotten miracles!

Lizzo, Goddess

i remember when someone sent me the @fatyonce account on instagram, how fantastical and amusing and nourishing it was to me just to see that dreamed up intersection of confidence and flesh. last night i got to see something even better – a real life thick diva in a stunning sexy little outfit, with thick dancers, singing and seducing like the love child of Aretha and Mae West.

Lizzo is a phenomenon. she has come to heal us and all we have to do is unleash the love in our hearts.

i saw her in Chicago with my sister and the incomparable PG (who i have to shout out for the persistence of organizing me to make it to this show, making sure i didn’t forget to buy a ticket, or lose track of time, or need a ride – dreamy woe). we pulled up and the line to get in was wrapped around three blocks. and it was almost all white people, which i’ll admit was a surprise! like…y’all know my friend? who sings about my body and my heartbreak and my life? intriguing!

got inside and the only seats left were in the rafters. it didn’t matter, i’d have climbed a mountain. and Lizzo is big enough to fill the world. she came out and started with “Cuz I Love You” and the vocals were massive. the energy was expansive. and it just built and built until we were frenzied and free.

what most excited me about the concert, though, was the preaching and healing Lizzo does between hits. she sits down and gets vulnerable. she let’s us know her songs are carved from her heartbreak, her longing, her lessons. she tells us there’s nothing wrong with us. that we are all survivors. we all know about Jerome! we all deserve to be proud of ourselves, of all our small and big transformations. to love ourselves enough to allow our full emotional range, including bad days, including tears.

Lizzo stands on the stage like i once watched Nina Simone do, stands and accepts the worship she knows she deserves. she invites us to heal her with loving, and then she has us gather the love from the room and place it in our hearts and promises to be with us when we need someone to remind us that we are 100% that Bitch.

i’m a believer. i want this holy word for all of you. pay her, support her, glorify her.

and i’m casting spells for her health, for her deep sleep, for her to be thoroughly met by all of her lovers, for her to have time to bask in the divinity she’s claimed for herself.

surviving trolls

in the past few months, i have had a chance to talk with a number of people who have had scary/awful/overwhelming interactions with mass trolling online. kind of an informal patterning, something my heart is wanting to understand.

(this curiosity might be because each book i release gains me more exposure and i see that what generally accompanies exposure is a white walker world war z speedy zombie phenomenon of trolls and haters. it also might be because i am always thinking about how we heal at a collective level, how we bring our attention to our wholeness, including, but not obsessed with, our fractures.)

sometimes the trolling was intimate – someone close to the person, who went public with a private beef, gathering negative public attention to attempt a victory, or punishment. often in the name of some vigilante justice.

in other instances, it was trolling from a distance – someone challenged by the work or ideas of a stranger, or an aspect of identity. and then that stranger deciding to attack the person in as many degrading ways as possible: sharing private communications, building a case about the contradictions, hypocrisy, or something else that often reduces the person to a cliche.

this post isn’t about the conditions that create the dregs of society that are trolls. this is about the people who survive the onslaught of that negative attention – the character assassinations, the insults and dismissals, the vitriol.

here are the top three strategies i’ve heard:

1. as a preventative measure and general life hack: have real people in your life who you trust and admire. deepen your relationships with those people. let them know the kind of person you are trying to be, and spend most of your time supporting each other’s becoming. get a good therapist/coach in this mix, and don’t perform for them. when pressure or struggle comes, let these people see you struggle, learn, and grow. call them your woes. goddesses. squad. circle. where appropriate, let these be spaces of mutual support.

2. with those close friends’ and professionals supporting and reality checking you, check on the patterns and do your work. is there any meaningful critique in the hate? or is there a pattern in the kind of trolls you attract – racists? exes? coworkers? if the pattern is something that allows you to predict your next struggle, then harness the energy to make adjustments, introduce new boundaries, new standards, new practices for how you share with dignity and intelligence. adapt for your safety and wellbeing (not from ego or fear).

3. turn away from the internet. it’s not the world. it’s not your work. supernovas don’t study telescopes. go shine, do the work that lets you shine. so far the internet has not been a place for redemption, for deepening understanding during interpersonal/organizational conflict, or for…shit, listening. this might be the most important of the lessons, the strategies that have worked for people: if they can’t and won’t hear you in your humanity, you can’t be responsible for listening to their hateration. there is a world out there, full of a lot of other real people. and meditation and mediation, and friends who won’t always be here, and actual work that can’t fit into pithy tweets, (even if they are tirades), and excellent music (lizzo, kelsey lu), and countries you’ve never heard of, and creatures you’ve never run from. or towards. or with. shift your attention to life and beauty and the work to be done.

i will keep listening.

Building Accountable Communities (speech on strategies for ending and recovering from harm)

Harm is an external wound to your wholeness. More than a bump, an accident.

Harm is what convinces us that in this abundant world, we only deserve to survive. Convinces us that material and emotional scarcity is our lot.

My work is very much about returning people to the truth of miraculous abundance. I’m bleeding as I write this – a reminder that miracles are messy, that I am alive and not in charge. Life is a bloody, magical, messy, beautiful gift.

I play with scale – instead of impossibly wide, go satisfyingly deep. Instead of focusing on the whole, getting stagnant in your insignificance, get close in, get dirty. Operate at your OWN scale. and MAYBE grow. If everyone was practicing transformative justice in their own lives, we’d have enough.

The natural world gives us some clues: abundance is healthy. It’s normal to have plenty. But! And! Plenty is relative!

Each species is programmed for the precise amount of sunlight it needs, and how to swallow light. How do we balance between the rich fertility and terror of darkness, the abundant life and dangerous fire of light?

Balance.

Divergence and balance.

And emergence. The complex systems and patterns we long for – the justice and accountability that allows for our whole humanity – it all comes from, is built from, relatively simple interactions.

Calling Black liberation workers into support. Sitting at a kitchen table. Drinking tea. That’s where I invite people into accountability. Not to be friends, not to share joy, not even to be comrades necessarily – but accountable. Accountable to something larger than ourselves.

And nature says: enjoy this. We’ve been given bodies so brilliant that some of us have even reclaimed the pleasure of the whip! in just a few generations. We long to feel satisfied and content. Belonging and dignity.

We are born into another’s hands, we are a species meant to hold and be held. We live on an orgasmic planet, fecund and perfect.

But! can we see ourselves home again after all this harm?

My work is to remind us to imagine, to remind us that we are responsible for shaping the future. And to point us down and all around at our teacher-parent-planet. And to remind us not to sleep through the sensational experience of being alive, the heaven here on earth, the blessing of having a body – an individual and collective body – that can recover, can learn, can remember to love.

Visionary fiction.
Emergent strategy.
Pleasure activism.

Transformative breakups.
Kitchen table mediation.
Boundaries are better than disposal.

Abundant justice.
Liberation.

That is all the miracle I know.