The Darwin Variant, and/or Love of the Fittest

The chaos grows and grows, everything around us faltering, falling. Who do we need to be and who are we becoming?

Once I was in a room with Margaret Wheatley, one of the people whose thinking on emergence and complexity helped me understand emergent strategy. I (or someone else) asked how we bring down massive systems through small, complex organizing. She said, essentially, that systems that are top heavy will inevitably collapse from their own imbalanced weight.

How do we survive these falling systems? Especially when many of them need to fall? How do we prepare for the opportunities in collapse?

I am thinking about that in this era of Covid, climate catastrophe, natural and unnatural disasters (this week there are wildfires, floods, droughts, earthquakes, and disaster capitalism feeding off of all of it), cultural shifts, and long-term war consequences from indigenous struggles locally in the U.S. to the Taliban in Afghanistan. It’s all connected – decisions made from a competitive, supremacist, dominant mindset lead to top heavy economies and infrastructures, which inevitably collapse, leaving the survivors to contend with the detritus of empire.

Much of the crisis now feels out of our hands – even to me as a fairly connected radical movement person, most days it feels like a series of unstoppable events, to which I can offer prayer and donations, witness and attention. There are so many frontlines, each equally important to the soldiers in that particular battle. Stepping back to see it whole, there’s definitely the sense that we are trying to hold back tsunamis by plugging a million holes in a dam.

I realize that this sense of total pending and unfolding disaster is all over my Covid responses, thoughts and interactions. I am writing to face this disastrous feeling within me, to see if I can center a different perspective down in myself.

As both an antiwar and climate activist, I remember the devastation I felt when I first realized we weren’t going to be able to stop the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq. People were not going to sustain direct action, they were still going to pay their taxes towards the war, and be satisfied with resistance in the form of liberal punditry that changed nothing. This week we leave behind another nation long violated, knowing it will be eaten alive. It has taken so long to say, with humility, we lost a war we should never have been fighting.

With the climate catastrophe, I realized in my gut that we weren’t going to pivot our nation, our states, our towns to be in a just transition, not in time. Organizers inch forward proposals of survival and boundary, documentation and data, the responses much smaller and slower than the pending crises demand. We are up against capitalism, which feels so big, has so many heads. It is all so daunting. It is still the right work. But how do we make it matter? How do we meet the moment?

It could feel reasonable to give up the fight, all the fights, in light of this overwhelming comprehension of our species in its limitations. But then we are also in a period of massive cultural shift around race, anti-Blackness, rape and patriarchy. Systems designed to allow the total violence and control of those given power through a mythical supremacy are suddenly exposed down to the blueprint. Again, that labor of exposure is largely done by organizers who cleared space for the truth to be told with calls of Black Lives Matter and Me Too. We are rejecting these systems of harm in policy, action, and interpersonal encounters.

It’s all crumbling, concurrently. We are living through both the devastating fall of systems that guarantee life, and the necessary fall of systems that uphold violence.

So then Covid enters, stage right. It’s fast moving, wreaking havoc along the fault lines of existing vulnerabilities – those struggling to piece together enough inside of these multiple intersecting crises are hustling, hungry, taking risks to go to work, trying to survive eviction and exposure. Nations who let collective thinking lead are responding intelligently, and then there’s us.

Since the beginning, Covid has asked one thing of us: act collectively. First, the collective actions were maintaining the social distance of breath, hand washing, wearing masks. Then it was staying home unless you were an essential worker. And quarantining if you were sick. Then quarantining even if you were not sick. Doing work and community through virtual connections. And then, most recently, it’s been getting a vaccine that reduces the hospitalizations and deaths of those exposed to the virus. I cannot truly comprehend how many people have died as we figured out the necessary actions to take together. And now people are dying because we struggle to take collective actions.

To be fair, we are also in a period of peak socialized distrust. The divisions between us are dangerous and near total – we look to divergent news sources, have different conversations, suspect different aspects of government (from police to politicians to scientists) of wanting us surveilled, tracked, controlled or dead. Four years of a destructive and immature president did result in a wall, but not the border wall he threatened. The wall that now feels so solid in the U.S. is a cultural one that has deep roots and an ancient design, 3D printed hateful troll bricks stacked on top of colonial ruins.

Trying to be curious, to ask a question, to express a fear, to make a request, to assume a commonality – all of it quickly gets interpreted as building the division. Inside of this, on whatever side is for life moving towards life, I have been asking myself about boundaries, expectations, solidarity, and collective action. And love.

I now live by these words from my friend Prentis Hemphill, “Boundaries are the distance at which I can love you and me simultaneously.” Love. Not tolerate or survive, but love. When I speak these words, as reminder, as mantra, they give me hope that no one has to be disposable, cut off from that vast connectivity of love. It’s just a matter of distance.

I learned some time ago that not everyone was going to survive and see liberation, or right relationship with the earth, in this lifetime. Not everyone was going to be in vibrant, accountable communities in this lifetime. Not everyone was going to choose love. Not everyone was going to even be aware that they could want or need such interdependence. For so many people, it feels impossible to experience love, to give and receive that sacred extension of adoration, devotion, care, growth, belonging, loyalty and shared experience.

But with distance, perhaps even as far away as the moon, I can always see the species as lovable. I can see that everyone deserves that deep belonging which displaces greed and grasping. I can see us, young, beautiful, powerful, clumsy, tender, selfish – and generally lovable, like a rambunctious and curious child. Or sometimes lovable like the traumatized, neglected bully child who needs so much more love and attention to soften and trust and connect again.

With enough distance, I can love even those who, up close, hate me, or hate the earth, or hate anything different from them. I know “only love can conquer hate.” From far away I can see the haters of the world – those who hate nature, difference, complexity, freedom in others – in the grip of their own spiritual work, which is daunting, which devours from within. Knowing almost nothing of the mysteries of the universe, having only our own planet’s wisdom to learn from, I deduce that even the haters are processing something for the whole, though it may be something toxic, or something heading towards extinction.

With that guidance, I have been earnestly asking myself: what is the distance at which I can love those who choose individual freedom over collective care in the short-term, at the cost of a future? Those who choose to go unmasked? Those who still don’t wash their hands? Those who breathe and cough too close to me? Those who have access to and capacity for the vaccine and choose not to take it?

This year has been a brutal and necessary reminder that control and manipulation don’t work, for anyone involved. I have had to practice self-awareness of my own controlling nature, I have had to soften my grip on a fearful future narrative and return to the humility of the present. I am not in control of any choices or boundaries but my own. I cannot manipulate others into collective action, into choosing life, not even with all my best words. I can only be vulnerable, I can only live into my own values, I can only invite others to join me, and to teach me.

Collective action is still made up of individual choices, which is the beauty and bane of our species. Especially in the colonized capitalist borders of the U.S. Even in the face of policy and punishment, the American way is to choose individual thinking and action under pressure, to fight for superiority on any hill. This focus on dominance over the living rather than partnership with life is how we have racism, rape culture, climate catastrophe, economic disparity, war and disease all in rampant disaster states at the same time.

It is perpetually disgusting to contend with the reality that these disasters benefit a bloated elite. And too many of us participate in our small scale versions of their individualistic and hoarding worldview, thinking we are better than each other and the earth, deserve unlimited resources and access, and should never have to adapt to protect others.

This is humanity at our worst. How will we change?

At a certain point, even if collective action feels far away, there has to be an awareness of the pattern. We have to develop the systemic intuition to sense that the same glitch is present throughout all the systems. Thinking that your choices only impact you or those you immediately know – that you needn’t be concerned with or accountable for the results – is supremacist thinking at the root. It gets packaged as freedom and independence, but we are not individual entities. Humans, like all of nature, live within systems of relationship and resource. Our freedom is relational. Individualist supremacy is a delusional concept, perhaps safely enjoyed as fantasy but not to be applied as common practice. One way to see all of the current crises is as a single delusional wildfire consuming time and space.

What do we do though? How do we practice another way inside so much crisis?

I have a very small circle of beloveds now. Covid required me to get clear about who I absolutely had to be in contact with, who I would invest my time in arguing boundaries with, who I would risk my life to go see. Relative to the number of people I’ve met, the number of people I’ve marched with and for, the number of people on the side of justice and liberation who populate this earth…it turns out there’s a tiny handful that I can actually hold onto. And I now believe my work is to be a good member of the human flock with that small number. Yes, I can still sing out my birdsong to the whole forest. But I move in community, in relationships that are visionary and loving at the root.

I light candles every day around my hope that the distance at which I can love most people in this era isn’t that mortal boundary between life and death.

Covid keeps adapting, like a shepherd herding us as a group through the one gate that leads forward. When we think we alone can run off and stop attending to the whole, a variant emerges to gather us back groupward. The idea of being herded generates such resistance in me, “WE ARE NOT SHEEP!”, “I AM NOT A COW!” (“imspecialimspecialimspecial”)…and yet, are these not also sacred and communal creatures from whom I can learn? In this moment, perhaps theirs is the wisdom we need. Can we adapt to be herd, to be meek, to belong, to move together, to be humble together? Or maybe it’s more simple, more literal: can we be satisfied in a smaller range of physical space? Can we be satisfied inside of necessary boundaries?

It’s quite clear that one activity that keeps the majority of people safe and, coincidentally?, has a positive impact on the planet, is to stay home, stay still, travel less, reduce each personal footprint towards a collective reduction of negative impact. Perhaps variants like Delta will come every time we attempt to return to a normal that the planet cannot sustain.

I heard someone call it the Darwin variant and I can’t stop thinking about that.

The first waves of Covid deaths were our loved ones and strangers who didn’t know what it was. Then those who knew the name and symptoms but didn’t stand a chance. Then those who didn’t realize or trust just how dangerous it was. Now we are seventeen months into the official global pandemic, playing chicken. Most of those who are getting sick and dying in the U.S. now are doing so as a result of choosing not to believe in Covid, in its viral nature, or in the benefits and safety of the vaccine; or those who think they are beyond the reach of guidelines; or those most susceptible to misinformation from unverified sources; or those unable to avoid interaction with others caught up in denial or misinformation, tragically including our precious babies.

They all still expect and need care.

I feel empathy for those who don’t trust the government, even as I feel my own righteous distrust. What’s been helping me in this moment is how much I love the divine work of science. I believe that the sacred force that designed hummingbirds and eagles and the symbiosis of bees and flowers and the desalination of the ocean through vapor and rain also moves through the minds of our scientists. I feel a primal longing for more people to trust in the curiosity-based practice of science. I feel a political need for science to be decoupled from big pharma, which feels so close to how I need movements to be decoupled from big philanthropy. But currently it’s all the same tangled rope of innovation and struggle and funding to which we cling over an apocalyptic abyss. I am not trying to be dramatic here, I’m just being with what is.

Charles Darwin was a scientist whose writing explored many concepts, including one from Herbert Spencer: ‘survival of the fittest.’ The concept reverberates into moments like this. The common misinterpretation is that it means survival of the most physically fit, an ableist view. I’m sure you, like me, have seen able-bodied people argue against Covid safety protocols by saying those with strong immune systems will survive. Many of those I’ve seen take this stance have gone on learn through sickness or loss that that’s not how Covid, or any of our other current apocalyptic conditions, actually work.

I was reminded recently (in public) that Darwin’s own writing points to ‘fittest’ meaning those most adaptive and collectively oriented, those most suited to the immediate conditions. Our immediate conditions are chaotic, frightening, fast-changing and inevitable. What is grossly imbalanced is teetering and falling. What is wildly anti-planet and inhumane is exposed and falling. What is cruel and violent and unfair and ridiculous, it’s all falling.

And the persisting question for me is, what is the work of love in all this falling? Can love help us be the fittest our species has been?

I have sought to offer and experience all kinds of love throughout my life. I have learned that I can love people who will still choose to leave me, to risk their lives, and I will feel grief. I have been learning that there is the big collective massive love I feel for all that lives, and then the tangible offer of love as an energy, resource and commitment which I can only give to those with whom I am in a mutual, consensual and aligned relationship.

I find it hard to love those who hate science, and hate me…not impossible, at least in the big picture setting. But working to actively love those who hate me is immense labor, and if I am honest with myself, it’s generally not something I’m even interested in cultivating in the irreplaceable hours of my remaining life.

Because my love feels rooted not just in myself, but in myself as a fragment of the miraculous natural world, I notice the patterns of hate at the interpersonal, interspecies and global level. There is an undeniable overlap between this resistance to science and the resistance to wear a mask, socially distance and/or vaccinate, in spite of data that affirms the life saving impacts of each choice. And all of that overlaps with the resistance to do right by the earth. The resistance to move beyond capitalism to economic models that allow shared abundance. And the resistance to give up patriarchy and white sociopathy. And national supremacy.

How do I love this vast diversity of human beings, beloved and stranger, who are currently toxic to our collective survival?

I only see one way. If I define love as the willful extension towards spiritual growth that bell hooks and M. Scott Peck told me about, then when I come across all this resistance to the miraculous and collective aspects of our species, I willfully extend my energy towards the necessary and inevitable growth evidenced by that resistance.

It liberates my love to see the resistance to science and nature and interdependence as a cry for help, a sign of how important it is that we grow our capacity to act as collective beings. And, as is my practice, when I can see where that edge of growth is, I seek it in myself. Where in my own life do I still persist in actions that presuppose my importance and supremacy, rather than accept my small role in our collective existence?

I have begun to feel gratitude inside my Covid grief. It’s the result of thinking collectively, even trying to think as a cell or atom of this planetary existence, awkward as that may sound. Even as I despair at the deaths of those who didn’t have a chance to choose, and those who did not survive their risks, I have to acknowledge what else I sense here…at a certain point we have to consider that Covid might be aligned with the earth, of the universe, designed to get us to fight for ourselves, love ourselves as collective beings, love ourselves enough to set and hold boundaries that serve more than our individual wants and needs.

Can I surrender the recent-normal for the present need? Can I commit to practicing a new and limited present-normal for the sake of a species-future? Can I listen more deeply to the earth, to the patterns? Can I keep finding the space to feel for direction within the chaos?

It’s so complicated.

It is much easier for me to love those who want collective human life to continue, in right relationship to the planet. But perhaps that’s evolution moving in me, perhaps this is a sacred attention, a ‘love of the fittest?’

Even now, as I write this, I still love people who choose themselves over the collective every time. And, I’m noticing, every day they feel further and further away. Or I do.

Seeing the pattern of life unfolding inside the destruction and chaos, I keep bringing my attention to it. I despair and then seek laughter, seek the community of others who feel afraid but keep working to connect. I relinquish being right for being present. I don’t deny reality as I find my place in the present moment and try to be of the fittest in constantly changing conditions.

I don’t wait for perfection or magic, I participate in the mundane work of staying alive. I keep my distance, wash my hands, wear my mask, carry my vaccine card. I get tested at every possibility of Covid. If something gets through my mask, if a variant finds me in spite of my best effort, it won’t be for lack of trying to live. If the vaccine works for most people who get it, but somehow not for me, I accept my role in the collective story.

And in my life I keep writing, keep working to shift myself out of the center of anything. I shift my practices one at a time away from capitalist socialization that says I need to be the best at something to deserve a quality life. I redistribute attention, time, donate money…and ask for help.

I am rooting myself amongst people who are learning to think and act together, as pairs, small groups, communities. We ask each other more questions, about what we are choosing to practice and why. We know so much more about each other’s lives and patterns than ever before. We process our inevitable risk-taking with each other because we are imperfect, and we long for each other. We are raising children inside these unclear, ever-shifting boundaries, and we are moving our resources around amongst us to get through. Sometimes we find that in the light of all this new transparency, we aren’t as compatible as we thought. It’s OK. We let each other go on different paths through the adventure, and root with the people on our path.

So are these answers, these small breaths in the maelstrom?

Small circles rooted in love.
Relinquishing control and offering love.
Mundane practices as acts of love.

Humility in the face of the unknown is self-love.
Seeing and shaping the whole, not as a million overwhelming waves, but as a sea – this is collective love.
Living in generosity and gratitude, every day, is living love.
Being nature, is being love.

It certainly feels like love is the way.

Perhaps. Perhaps.

And this may or may not fit in this piece of thinking and writing, but love is asking me to mention that I am centering pleasure even now, within the small circle. We are a pleasure flock, comforting each other, cheering each other on towards our best lives even today in these conditions. Pleasure connects us to ourselves and each other, to the aliveness at the funeral, to the blessing in the crisis, to the sweet new life pushing green up through the sludge.

We who are not yet dead are responsible for living fully, without regrets, with deep reverence for the wide range of emotion in the human experience. I look for the pleasure of home, of rooting and nesting, of growing things, of moving slowly, of being honest, of writing, of cooking, of dancing, of gratitude, of love. Every single day I dose myself with pleasures small and large, knowing that as it all falls apart, so much is growing; knowing that within myself and my circle I am seeding a path towards a future in which feeling and growing pleasure and aliveness and delight, in relationship to each other and our abundant and perfect planet, is our central focus.

There. It is long, but I have shifted myself from despairing overwhelm back to visionary center. It is a gift that I can only fulfill my own small destiny, follow the instructions that are clearest to me, move with my own consecrated choreography. When I feel completely lost, I can focus each day on being kind, being generous, and being honest. I light candles for all I cannot carry, and then move into the present moment with only my love. As everything crumbles above and around us, it is still true that the most strategic move is the ever changing dance of love.

Distinguished and Singing

yesterday was a big day for me!

i released an EP, a small odd intimate music project of songs and a story written during my sabbatical over beats my friend J-Mythos created. it’s called The Sabbatical Suite and it’s on streaming services. my general approach to my music has been that i write and sing it every day, occasionally share snippets, and dream of making a massive musical project where i get to build the soundscape from the ground up. this is my small step in the direction of learning my singer self in public.

i was also honored to be the IHR Distinguished Lecturer at Arizona State University yesterday, and i wanted to share an excerpt from my talk notes here because i am interested in these questions on identity, community and belonging. the full speech is available here.

more and more i think of myself as a ‘scholar of belonging’, which is an idea that emerged in conversation with my friend and teacher Prentis Hemphill.

how do we belong to this place, this planet, this species, this family, this love, this friendship, this body, this community?

i think, especially for those of us with a lineage of displacement, forced displacement, economic displacement, from the lands that we were indigenous to – we need to rediscover belonging.

in somatics and embodiment work we learn that the most basic humans needs are safety, dignity and belonging. we try belonging in so many ways – in family, religious spaces, hobbies or shared fandom, and definitely we show up in movement expecting belonging. movements need to be spaces that get good at belonging, cultivating belonging, because we want to be an invitation, and we want to be a sanctuary, and we want to be a space that can hold and grow the future.

this thought occurred to me last night while rereading all about love by bell hooks. i’m reading it aloud with my fiancé (yes to cocreating liberated relationship!) and we’re in chapter 8, on community. as we read hooks’ exploration of why we don’t know how to really do community, i had two ahas.

one: we need to give bell hooks so many more flowers and awards and donations.

two:

right now, people are confusing identity with community, and finding no satisfaction in either place.

identity (racial, class, sexual, etc) is often, initially, externally defined, a label for distinction, a construct developed for supremacy and oppression, a practice of compartmentalizing a whole complex miraculous person into one aspect of themselves which can be marked off with a check box.

identity is often quite binary, asking us to answer yes or no about aspects of ourselves that are much more complex, dynamic and spectrum-oriented than that.

lately i have been thinking that every binary i can think of, applied to humans, is conservative – good/bad, right/wrong, boy/girl. conservative meaning, trying to control and constrict nature, deny complexity, make rigid what is fluid. we have to survive and reclaim ourselves from most identities.

now – we are a resilient species on a resilient earth, and earth species are all programmed to adapt, so many of us have ended up finding ways to experience joy and power within these identities, claiming them as suits of armor within which we fight for our freedom.

some of us feel, deeply or briefly, a sense of belonging within specific identities.

being Black, for many of us, means having unspeakable trauma at our backs, having been wrenched from our ancestral and tribal homelands, languages, songs, the earth we knew, and surviving ten, twelve generations of torture, misery, violence, rape, child loss, and dehumanization. somewhere inside of that we claimed each other across history and language and cultural distinctions. (and being honest, its still never been an unconditional love situation).

we aren’t the only peoples who were collapsed into an identity by shared experiences of trauma and external reduction.

at minimum, identity can be a crucial space from which to organize across shared experience.

but identity doesn’t equal, or promise, community.

community is a place to practice and participate in care, attention, knowing and being known, being protected, having room to make mistakes and still belong…not just allowed to be there, but be valuable…to heal. to recover. community feels responsible for each other.

community is a choice. more precisely, community is an accumulation of choices made every day, a set of growing practices.

we can have community that is drawn together based on shared identity – BOLD (Black Organizing for Leadership and Dignity) is that for me. but it only works because it allows a wide ranging space for us to be in our own Black experiences without negating each other. and because it centers around naming and healing trauma together, while actively changing material conditions, learning together through political education, and delighting in the pleasure of being together.

most of us long for community. we expect and sometimes demand it from those with whom we share identity.

but who teaches us how to…community?

bell hooks examines this at the realm of family, where there are so many assumptions and so few skills.

in school we might get lucky enough to have teachers who can help us learn community skills, but they’re being paid to teach us to score well on tests. and to compete with each other. we are being trained to be capitalists – to compete, in a system of scarcity, to be better than each other to access resources to meet our basic human needs. octavia speaks of this in lilith’s brood as our fatal human flaw, our combination of intelligence and hierarchy. so we aren’t guaranteed to learn how to be in community in schools.

the internet is confusing cause we can feel like we are generating belonging there…and we can practice community there, but it’s also a space where we can get super mixed up about what we mean by community, how we understand and navigate identity, and how we answer the need for belonging amongst strangers – even if we are somewhat intimate strangers.

then there’s our organizations…some of us call them family hoping for belonging, but, just like in family spaces, we don’t necessarily learn to navigate the things that will shake our foundations and split us apart. we break each other’s hearts trying to practice community there, and in our larger movement formations.

in our formations we are ostensibly trying to generate belonging and community through shared analysis and practice, but we often end up trying to one up each other for unnamed social power, policing each other, pointing at each other’s imperfections, shortcomings, misalignments. simultaneous to these internal struggles, we are also struggling for survival because we are pitched against each other for what we’re told are limited resources. for the most part, the philanthropy that funds movement work has not supported belonging…

when i look at movements, and at humans in general, i see how deeply we want belonging, but how we are trained to use every breath to not belong to each other.

then we land in spaces of identity, which are massive – Black, immigrant, tran, queer, disabled, woman, southern – spaces which are too broad and divergent to actually offer and sustain belonging for the individuals within.

that longing for belonging can then grow toxic: ‘i don’t feel heard, or seen. someone is going to see me, even if i have to throw a tantrum or cause harm to get attention.’

we get in a loop – ‘my identity is under attack’, or being ignored! or being coopted! or just…has it the worst!

then everyone shows up in vague but righteous solidarity, maybe we change how we speak of that identity…but do we see a change of any behaviors?

the rash of crimes and hateful acts against people who share the identity of Asian, and trans, and Black, and immigrant, and sex worker, and and and…it’s spreading. its ubiquitous now to hear about identity-based harm.

and when we most need each other, even within ‘movement’ spaces, our internal attacks on each other, our intolerance with each other’s failures, is also on the rise. our fragility in the realm of connection is the highest i’ve seen, right when our need for interdependence and being aligned with something larger than ourselves is…desperate.

deep breath, this is the water we’re swimming in.

on every level, the answer is community.

both community for those identities under attack – we have to get in or deepen how we are in community with each other. we combat regressive, conservative, narrow thinking, the racism and white supremacy and stereotypes, at the level of community – that’s where we can be accountable to each other, intervene on harmful thinking and action.

we also have to know that community is the answer for traumatized and lost people causing harm. and it’s easier to say: no – those flawed disruptive, damaged people? they don’t belong to me. to us. but this is how we end up complicit in a prison system. someone, someone has to be willing to be in community, accountability, responsibility with those who fall out of alignment with their own spiritual growth, and with the collective. someone has to stay curious about the roots of harm, and what dissatisfaction, what longing, what trauma, is at the root of the harm?

these are different communities, or different components within a community. every identity or multi-identitied grouping needs to cultivate actual community.

as we heal, as we regain our humanity, what we all need is community. with these things which currently have us split from each other, we need to remove what is toxic at the level of belief and behavior, not at the level of the individual.

we have to imagine these open, festering wounds as clean scars, markings of something we learned from, and outgrew. let capitalism, and patriarchy, and supremacy, let it all become scars on our healing, collective body.

fortunately there are communities developing resources around these things. (donate, buy their resources, reference and cite them!)

the embodiment institute

just practice

BOLD

bay area transformative justice center: pods!

M4BL

the body is not an apology

esii mediation resource

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!

Was it me that changed or you?

This week I’m running around NYC, working and experiencing the city with my sweetheart.

It feels different again. When I first came to the city I’d loved it for years already, reveled in the idea of being a New Yorker as I was coming of age. When I left it was with a sense of having given it everything I had. For years after that visits to NYC would find me trying to catch a deeper breath, befuddled by the changes, missing my New York.

This trip feels heart opening. My partner Lynnee Denise is part of a series of events that the great bell hooks is curating at the New School, which includes conversations with Laverne Cox, Cornell West, Samuel Delaney, and others. bell is riveting, very human, very dynamic, fierce and curious. So far the conversations have been hilarious and insightful and necessary. Sitting in a space with minds like these, with participants like Deborah Willis, is quite intoxicating for the part of spirit that is constantly evolving. I am reminded that there are still original points to be made in conversations around sexuality, queer theory, fabulousness, body love vs shame, healing, patriarchy, relationship, transformation and healing.

The thing that still blows my calendar out of order is the sheer number of magnificent people to connect with. On top of the usual plethora of beloveds, several dear friends happen to be visiting NYC at the same time we are. New York visits require days of open time for the spontaneous love affairs and reconnections. Or a full return. Thrilling, daunting, but possible again after almost a decade away.

I’m also working with a long-term client, the Correctional Association. I really respect their work, their hearts and spirits and dedication to growing. We’re experimenting with a fusion of traditional and emergent strategic planning and I am learning a ton.

Everything changes. I am excited to feel a little home again here.

remarks from a radical wedding

this past weekend i had the honor of officiating my first wedding. it was a queer wedding, a trans wedding, a love story. here are my notes and remarks from the wedding, crafted in collaboration with martha and nissa, the bride and groom.

We wanted to open with a perspective on love from the science fiction classic, Firefly:

‘You know what the first rule of flying is? … Love. You can learn all the math in the ‘verse, but you take a boat in the air you don’t love, she’ll shake you off just as sure as the turning of the worlds. Love keeps her in the air when she oughta fall down, tells you she’s hurting ‘fore she keens. Makes her a home.’

Welcome to the wedding of Martha and Nissa!

It is a beautiful and powerful thing to be able to witness and support these two in their brilliant love. I am honored to be here, and to affirm before all of existence that love is a transformative force which bends the world towards liberation.

Octavia Butler says God is change. I feel that here. God is also love. Love is the most sacred thing we can learn to do in this life, that we can practice every day, always getting better.

Thank you to everyone here for showing up to witness Martha and Nissa committing to practice love with each other, every day that they live. And we want to take a moment to honor all of those loved ones and ancestors who are not here in body, but in spirit.

Let love fill us all the way up.

(The groom’s brother read from) Ecclesiastes 4:9-12:

9 Two are better than one,
    because they have a good return for their labor:
10 If either of them falls down,
    one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
    and has no one to help them up.
11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
    But how can one keep warm alone?
12 Though one may be overpowered,
    two can defend themselves.

(The bride’s sister read from) bell hooks’ all about love:

The moment we choose to love, we begin to move against domination, against oppression. The moment we choose to love we begin to move towards freedom, to act in ways that liberate ourselves and others. That action is the testimony of love as the practice of freedom.

We do this by choosing to work with individuals we admire and respect; by committing to give our all to relationships; by embracing a global vision wherein we see our lives and vour fate as intimately connected to those of everyone else on the planet.

In our society, we make much of love and say little of fear. Yet we are all terribly afraid most of the time. Fear is the primary force upholding structures of domination – it promotes the desire for separation, the desire not to be known. When we are taught that safety lies in sameness, then difference of any kind will appear as a threat.

When we choose to love, we choose to move against fear, against alienation and separation. The choice to love is a choice to connect, to find ourselves in the other.

To live our lives based on the principles of a love ethic – showing care, respect knowledge, integrity, and the will to cooperate – we have to be courageous. Learning how to face our fears is one way we embrace love. Our fear may not go away, but it will not stand in the way. Those of us who have already chosen to embrace a love ethic – allowing it to govern and inform how we think and act – know that when we let our light shine, we draw to us and are drawn to other bearers of light. We are not alone.
     
I wanted to take a moment to honor what it means for community to hold love.

I believe we are all love stories unfolding, learning over the course of our lives how to truly and unconditionally love ourselves, and then be vulnerable enough to let someone else love us.

There are a lot of strong love stories between these two merging families. If we are lucky we have the support of our families, friends, and community as a support structure for our love.

There are moments when we get lost in each other and it is hard to breath, and we need friends to remind us to give our love space, air, light.

There are moments when we get lost from each other and need direction and guidance to remember and rediscover our love.

There are moments when we turn our backs on each other, overwhelmed by the beauty or trauma of life, when we need to be reminded to lean back against each other.

There are moments when we hurt each other, and need community to support us to continue to reach for each other and be honest, speak our needs and let love flourish between us.

There are moments when our love reshapes the world around us, and we need our families and communities to step forward with us, to let us know we are not alone in our joy.

Community, we ask you to join us in reading from On Marriage, from Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet. The poem is on the back of your programs, please read the sections in bold.

On Marriage by Kahlil Gibran(community reads the bolded parts –poem to be printed in program)

[…]
Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.

Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.

Now, before these two vow themselves to each other, we thought it would be great to say a word on what a vow is.

A marriage vow is a Commitment to be with each other through changes. We are each mercurial creatures – it is a sign of health that we are growing, changing, learning. When we vow to spend our lives loving each other, it is not a commitment to the person standing before us, as they are, forever and ever. It is a commitment to witness and love their changing self. To continue to learn and grow and change and allow our beloved to witness us. Forever is indeterminate. It is a way of speaking about the horizon we can see, and whatever is beyond the horizon. It is a commitment to journey with each other, whatever twists and turns the road may offer. To stay curious, present, open hearted, compassionate, aware of and beside our beloved.

Got it?

Nissa, will you share with us your vows to Martha?
Martha, will you share with us your vows to Nissa
Adrienne: Do you both promise to honor these vows during your life together?
Nissa and Martha: I do.

(yay!!!)

As family and friends, you form a community of support and love that surrounds Martha and Nissa and will continue to sustain them as they move forward in marriage. Each of you, by your presence here today, is being called upon to uphold them in loving each other, and to fulfill their responsibility to love their community. We ask you to enthusiastically stand with them in this love, with these community vows.

I will ask you some questions and if you agree to them say “i will”

Will you who are present here today, surround this couple in love, offering them the joys of your friendship?

Will you support this couple in their relationship?

At times of conflict will you offer them the strength of your wisest counsel and the comfort of your thoughtful concern?

At times of joy, will you celebrate with them, nourishing their love for one another?

Then it is time for the exchange of rings.

Martha/Nissa, will you repeat after me these vows inspired by the great Al Green?

I am so in love with you.
Whatever you want to do is alright with me.
Cause you make me feel so brand new.
And I want to spend my life with you.
Since we’ve been together
Loving you forever
Is what I need.
Let me be the one you come running to.
I’ll never be untrue.
Let’s stay together.
Whether times are good or bad or happy or sad.

Please place the rings on each other’s hands and repeat after me.

‘I give you this ring as a pledge of my love and commitment to our partnership.’

By the power of love seized by me from the state, I now pronounce you husband and wife!

You may now kiss each other!
(Kissing!!!)

Let the wild rumpus start!

(669) 221-6251 – bell hooks feminist awesomeness

three days ago, a security guard at whole foods waited for me in the parking lot after i ignored his attention in the store. he asked if i was married. i felt annoyed, as i usually do. ‘no,’ i said, ‘just not interested.’

in reflection i sought compassion in my heart – it must be so hard to get rejected all the time. asking if someone is married (taken/’you gotta man?’/owned/etc) is leading with the rejection you can handle.

if i am married, it implies that there is a possibility there in spite of the fact that i have given you no indication of mutual connection and blatantly ignored you. but alas, because i belong to someone else, we cannot act upon that possibility springing solely from your loins. eh…i kind of get it, as much as i can from the other side of whatever that line is.

but i want the people of the world who believe in this particular brand of sexual pursuit to try to get this: i am not property.

i am not property.
i am not property.

even though i am feeling healthy and great in my clothes, standing up straighter and kind of glowing from love and summer, and a man thinks from a distance that he wants me.

i am not property.

i am not even flattered.

**

two days ago i was talking with my neighbor and as i turned to walk from my house to my car a man was standing too close to me. he said he hadn’t wanted to interrupt but could he get to know me, he thinks i would like him.

i stepped far away, off the sidewalk, and said ‘not interested.’

he followed along beside me, asking for more information, asking for a number, while i ignored him. i am near my home now, as opposed to the neutral ground of a store parking lot. this makes me angry.

this sort of behavior has often driven me back to ice cream. constant navigating of unwanted attention triggers the danger i felt – and trauma i experienced – as a ‘pretty’ girl, which i have largely avoided as a big woman (though i won’t lie or play demure…a sexually empowered, happy-style wearing, confident big woman still gets a lot of attention).

i wish i had had this number on hand: (669) 221-6251. call it – it reads a feminist quote from bell hooks and then hangs up.

it’s so wonderful!

because generally i want to approach other humans as humans, and lonely humans as lonely humans. and men, particularly black men, i approach as my brothers, my family.

but there need to be tools for humans who treat me like property and/or make me feel unsafe. and i need it to not be my responsibility to risk my safety for the teachable moment. i need something in between a self-defense chop, screaming, and submissive kindness or avoidance.

i need this number. 🙂

(669) 221-6251.
(669) 221-6251.
(669) 221-6251.