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.