“Why you gotta make it about being white?”

If you have never read The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr., fix that today, please. I particularly recommend the audiobook edition. Karen Chilton knocks the narration performance all the way out of the park. Plus, there’s this one little detail white folks (like me) don’t like to admit: The book is written beyond our literacy level. Having The Prophets read to you by someone who knows how to say the words out loud will help you follow the story better. I’m just being honest.

Today the United States Supreme Court decided that, although States have no right to make their own decisions about concealed carry laws, and all people must be allowed to carry a gun openly, States absolutely have the right to make their own decisions about abortion laws, and no people must be guaranteed access to a safe and legal, life-saving medical procedure. In Thomas’s concurring opinion, he writes that the right to access contraception (which prevents abortions from being necessary), the right to have sex in the privacy of your own home without being arrested, and the right to same-gender marriage should also be reviewed by the Supreme Court to reconsider those “mistakes” as well.

I’m not sitting here with images of the Handmaid’s Tale going through my head today. Is it likely that we’ll soon be living in a Gilead society where women are property whose only value is to produce new babies for powerful men? The Supreme Court would have that become our reality if they can. But there’s something I notice about the Handmaid’s Tale memes going around that has me even more terrified: those women are all white. In that story, what has happened to the Black folks? The Indigenous folks? The women evangelical white men don’t want to be caught impregnating? Where have they been sent? There is a reason “Gilead” memes are full of white women only. One of the reasons is to keep white women afraid of a fictional future instead of fearing the repeating history of our non-fiction past.

The images running through my mind today are of a place far more real: The United States of America, 1822. People are saying reproductive rights were rolled back 50 years today, but I suspect they were in fact rolled back closer to 200 years.

Throughout the United States’ history, more often than not, raping people has been legal and common. Forcing them to produce children against their will has been legal and common. Demanding a human be born and not giving a damn about the child once it is alive has been legal and common.

“About 22 years of age; used to both house work and farming, and sold for not fault but for want of employ. She has a child about 9 months old, which will be at the purchaser’s option.”

Has your outrage about the overturn of Roe v. Wade drawn your attention away from the January 6 insurrection hearings yet? If Republicans can make us focus on “women’s rights” instead of addressing White Supremacy, they can lull us into a 1920 voting rights moment where white women believe they’ve won some kind of freedom without even noticing that the same freedom won’t be extended to Black women until 1964. If we stay focused on dismantling racism, we win liberty and justice for all.

For 400 years, Black women learned and practiced the art of bodily autonomy in shackles. They found ways to end pregnancies. They helped one another keep waking up to endure another day of monstrous labor under the whip-enforced command of white men who hated them almost as much as they desired them. Many died. White women did not speak up, clinging to what little power they were “given” by their husbands, and unwilling to part with it in favor of real liberation. No one needs a fictional story about Gilead to see where we’re headed. Our history tells the story just fine on its own.

Why do I have to make reproductive rights an issue about race? Because who gets the right to choose their own body’s fate has always been about race. From the forced sterilization of Native American women through the 1970’s, to the forced breeding of enslaved African Americans, to the difficulty of white women to find providers willing to sterilize them because they “might change their mind later”, race has always been a determinant in who gets the privilege to control their reproductive autonomy.

When choosing leaders, experience matters. This is why we need to elect as many people of color as we can in November. This is why we need the descendants of those enslaved people running our government now, to prevent us from going back there again. They know things in ways white people are only beginning to scratch the surface of recognizing. We have opportunities today, through them, to move the nation forward into a path of loving kindness.

My heart is heavy today, as I lament the truth that my own parents and grandparents care more about some exercising power over a theoretical clump of unviable fetal cells than they care about their own living, breathing, hurting, hated, crying, queer offspring. I want to offer you some words of encouragement. I want to tell you it gets better. But all I can really find the words for right now is: Please vote in November. We need you here with us.

And if you can, please volunteer with and donate to these campaigns:

Chris Jones

Monique Jones

Natalie James

Stacey Abrams

Marcus Flowers

Truth No. 2: On the 2016 Election

CW: child abuse // Every link here is a song. Enjoy.

My parents ran against one another for President in 2016. I could see as soon as my mother became the Democratic nominee that the whole country was bound to lose, no matter who won.

As a child I was told, “If anyone ever touches you in your private places, you do everything you can to stop them and then tell a trusted grown-up right away.” As a follow-up, my mother added, “I’ll make sure they go to jail. I’ll always believe you.”

When I was 12 years old, a freshly-graduated student from the Leflar School of Law at the University of Arkansas offered me my first-ever margarita, just before slipping his hand into my swimsuit at the Law Quad, an apartment complex then owned by Professor Rafael Guzman, where law students lived. My mother was a year behind him in law school, approaching her third year as I approached the 7th grade. The week her 28 year old classmate and I spent together in that swimming pool, with him holding my hand, telling me how pretty, how smart, how mature for my age I was, happened in June — or was it July? — of 2000. He was in town visiting his girlfriend before returning to Alabama to begin his career as a JAG attorney.

One afternoon in August, I came home from school on the bus at the usual time to find the apartment door locked. Thinking my mother wasn’t home, I let myself in through the screen window. I discovered not only that she was in fact home, but that I’d been locked out so as not to interrupt her private time with a married man. Annoyed that she had so little regard for my right to access my own home on time after school, I walked outside, fully clothed, and jumped into the swimming pool. Ray Schlegel was sitting there and asked if I was okay. I said no.

Maybe half an hour later, I saw a man I’d never met (at whose home I would be orally raped 6 months later) leave our apartment, #27. He turned out to be another of her classmates. Then my mother came outside to ask why I was wearing clothes in the swimming pool. Ray excused himself and left.

As a child whose father had just thrown all my belongings into trash bags and literally put me out on the curb with a portable phone to “Call someone. Anyone. Just leave here and don’t ever come back,” four months earlier in April, I was infuriated that my mother had locked me out of my own home. I was infuriated that I never felt like I had a home; not since Grandma Doris had died, anyway. My mother sat there offering platitudes and empty assurances of understanding. She Hillary Clinton’d her way through that conversation until I blew my lid and said something that I just knew would really get her to listen to me: I told her about her friend sliding his hand inside my swimsuit earlier that summer. I told her that if she’d been paying more attention to me instead of to the sleezy men she wanted to build her career around, she’d have already known about it. I told her the truth, and I expected her to make good on believing me like she’d said she would, damnit.

Oh, she believed me. Then she chided me for being a slut and for letting him do it.

“At least he noticed I exist!” I stood up and yelled. “He cared about me more than you do!”

In 2015, the Democratic Party attempted to force-feed us my mother for President. She knew about the ways Donald Trump had slipped his hand into America’s swimsuit and left us sitting like trash to be picked up along the curb of his house, but she was more concerned with playing by a rule book that would advance her career than in demanding accountability for the well-being of the American people whose safety she wanted, but didn’t deserve, to be entrusted with. She wore smugness onto the debate stage when her wardrobe manager should have dressed her in deeply rooted, mama-bear fabrics of protective outrage. Her eyes were shaded with cunning self-assuredness where her makeup artist should have presented her to us in hues of compassion, lined with poignant commitment, and integrity-based mascara. The satisfied smirk painted on her face was the worst possible lipstick a leader could ever choose. There was clearly no satisfaction in that sad situation for her to be smirking about.

Soon enough, and as I predicted, Clinton was on the defensive against email scandal allegations and all manner of distracting criticisms — ultimately for committing just one locking-her-child-out-of-their-own-home level sin: She put her desire for career and power over her desire for our genuine well-being as vulnerable, exploited communities spanning from sea to shining sea.

If she’d had a half-decent communications director, that “Black children must be brought to heel” comment Clinton couldn’t erase would have turned into “Black children must be brought to heal,” as she unveiled plans for improved mental health infrastructure, with student debt forgiveness and dedicated scholarship funding for BIPOC mental health students to get their graduate degrees and licensing credentials. But that would have required Clinton to genuinely believe their lives matter more than my mother believed my life mattered when she locked me out of my home. When the rubber met the road, Clinton showed us she’d rather carry around a bottle of hot sauce in her bag and threaten us with the only alternative — “Do you want to go live with your father? Hmm?” — than do the work of ensuring a country — a home — children can grow up in fearlessly.

When that moment came to a head with Ms. Rodham-Clinton, like it did by the poolside with my mother, half the country stood up, their clothing drenched with chlorinated water, and yelled, “At least he notices I exist! He cares about me more than you do!”

We were traumatized 12 year olds in adult bodies, clinging to the idea that at least the rapist was honest about not loving us. Somehow that honesty felt better than being lied to, and still not really being loved.

I saw the results of the 2016 election coming. Anyone in Seattle, where I was living at the time, can tell you I saw it coming. They said I was out of touch, angrily dismissed my perspective, and even called me anti-feminist for refusing to vote. They didn’t believe, but they did fear, Donald Trump could get elected. They didn’t believe Clinton was as awful as I said she was, I guess because they’d never been raised by her kind in Arkansas. I knew what being under the thumb of someone with her particular power complex felt like, and I didn’t want that outcome any more than I wanted to be under her opponent’s thumb with his power complex. I saw no “lesser of the evils” between the two. No, I didn’t want to live with Trump in power. I knew how bad that would be. But I also knew how bad life was with her, too. I grew up in Arkansas, after all.

What I wanted was the 2008 Obama who’d made us believe we could somehow suddenly live in a safe home where children wouldn’t be pawns between two power-hungry presidential parents anymore. I think we all wanted that. Maybe especially the folks who swung for Trump. We’d voted for Change, Hope, and Yes We Can. The Democratic Party wanted me to move back in with my abusive mother after 8 years of living at Uncle Barack’s house? Hell. No.

You don’t like the sound of the truth comin’ from my mouth.

“This time when he swung a bat and I found myself laying flat I wondered”…

  • Who is the trusted adult I’m supposed to tell about inappropriate behavior when the President was a rapist? When Sarah Huckabee Sanders, running for Governor of Arkansas, is allied with Proud Boys and insurrectionists? When Patrick Deakins is running for County Judge and won’t even say hello to his transgender colleague because he prides himself on being difficult to work with and apparently dislikes people like me? When I’ve been sexually assaulted by more police in Washington County than by any other group of people in my life? Who is the trusted adult responsible for ensuring I’m safe in Washington County, AR?
  • Where do I go for safety when the Democrats’ house is unorganized, dirty, unstable, and unwelcoming; while the Republicans’ house offers a pretty solid guarantee that Uncle Duggar will come in my bedroom in the middle of the night, in every sense of the verb?
  • Why do I feel like I just transitioned at 18 into being the ward of a government which has transferred unto itself my parents’ childhood right to abuse me, instead of liberating me from abuse? Is this a childhood nightmare I’m going to wake up from? When? How?
  • Should I refrain from publishing these truths publicly, to protect my mother’s feelings? I always felt sad for Eminem’s mother when he said he was ‘sorry but cleaning out his closet.’ But cleaning out that closet is also how he moved from 8 Mile to being able to provide for his child and give her a better future than he’d been handed. Is it wrong to be honest about a personal history that I see still repeating itself on a national, state, and local stage every day of my life?
  • Would I be seeing my childhood trauma patterns in every aspect of our government today if I hadn’t been raised by cops?
  • Will any of this matter if I’m murdered at the grocery store tomorrow by an angry white man with a gun?
  • When I recently told my mother I was afraid of being killed by white supremacist terrorists threatening the Pride parade, why wouldn’t she engage me in conversation about how I felt? Why did she shut down instead, and pretend my daily fears founded in reality don’t exist? Why let my feelings boil over and curdle until I end up writing about them?
  • Why didn’t my mother hug me before I left the house for the Pride parade? I left my notarized Will and Healthcare Directive sitting on her table because I expected someone might hate me enough to kill me, and she didn’t even care to give me a hug?
  • Does she care enough to vote? Or is that too much like hugging me?
  • Does she vote Republican, delusionally thinking the people she’s voting for aren’t actively trying to make me dead?
  • Or does she vote Democrat, thinking she’s doing her part to create a world I can live in, and that should be enough so she doesn’t have to do anything more?
  • Why do so many people think voting Democrat is all they have to do to make the world a better place, instead of understanding that communities require active effort and ongoing investment? How do we persuade them to do better moving forward?
  • What would happen if the 1 million voters in Arkansas who didn’t vote in the last election turned out this year? Would they vote to give me a hug, or let me die?

I’ve written a fair amount lately about my concerns regarding the Democratic Party, but this is all it boils down to. These are the questions weighing on my mind every day. These are the questions I need our leaders to relieve me from, unflinchingly and unapologetically, with real policies and quantifiable outcomes. No bullshit.

No dancing around the truth to keep my raging, former-President father from flying off the handle again because he got caught being an insufferable, racist windbag. Just swing a frying pan upside his head already, and lock him up for the crimes he’s committed.

No sweeping the truth aside because my mother, who never listened when her child screamed to be heard, doesn’t like the uncomfortable facts.

No pretending I’ve had a home in the United States of America at any point in the past seven years.

There is no lukewarm middle here. You’re hot, or you’re cold. You’re on fire with passion for our communities, for our state, for our nation, and for our planet; or you’re content to destroy everything God has created and entrusted us with, and to leave future generations with nothing at all. You believe my life matters, and you want me to feel loved beyond a shadow of doubt; or you don’t care enough to give me a hug knowing you may never see me alive again. Hot; or cold. Choose.

I look forward to seeing the Democrats step up into being the blazing, guiding star of moral and social integrity that we need against the cold, soul-crushing gravity of the Republican Party, because being lukewarm doesn’t cut it. The Democrats have a long way to go to reach that point, but I see hope on the horizon in candidates like Chris Jones, Monique Jones, Natalie James, Kelly Krout, and Josh Moody. They’re stepping up to blaze brightly, but they cannot outshine the darkness all alone.

I look forward to the day I can turn toward the people of Arkansas and not see my childhood trauma reflected back to me in their apathy. Until then, I’ll be over here dreaming I’m not living in a nightmare anymore.

“We’ve Invited the People of Color. Where Are They?”

I believe that transparency is fundamental to Democracy, and fundamental to healthy community building. I hope the organizations who’ve inspired this post will share this belief, as it forms the basis upon which I write the following in a spirit of goodwill and community healing:

Last night I attended my first-ever local Democrats meeting. I’d been asked by half a dozen people to show up and get involved.

“We need you,” they said. I’m allergic to being needed, after 5 years of living as a white man and developing a disastrous savior complex in my 20’s. Highly allergic. You don’t need me. You need to look within yourself and be honest about what you see.

“We lack organization since the old guard has phased out,” one told me. “That generation of Democrat didn’t listen, but they were organized. The newer folks care enough to listen, but we aren’t as organized.”

“Our Black caucus and Hispanic caucus have already peaced out,” a couple of them shared. “How can we be a Democratic group without a Black caucus and Hispanic caucus? They won’t even show up anymore! How can we live up to our values with just white people at the table?”

So I showed up. I listened. I learned. I ate lemon cake.

I noticed there was one visibly Native American person in the room, and everyone else was white. I was the only transgender person in the room; everyone else was cisgender. There was one Black woman on the zoom call, who also happens to be the only Black Justice of the Peace for the whole county; everyone else on zoom appeared to be white or had their cameras turned off.

I asked the leadership about this lack of diversity after the meeting concluded. The white woman in command began naming a list of BIPOC community organizers she knows, none of whom want to be involved with the county Democrats. I asked her why they don’t get involved (as if people she named hadn’t already told me themselves.)

“Well I’ve invited Irvin, but he doesn’t want to get involved until he sees us in Springdale doing the work in the community,” she answered. She looked resigned, like there was simply nothing more the Democrats could do to persuade the magical and illustrious Irvin Camacho to give a flying flip about the Democrats who want his communities’ votes so desperately for their many candidates.

“Great!” I said. I mean, really, this was wonderful news for the Democratic Party in Arkansas! Apparently Irvin’s still open to them earning his presence at their table. He hasn’t slammed the door in their face and told them to go masturbate with sandpaper. There is opportunity here! All the Democrats have to do is show up for grassroots community engagement and help out in the ways that are needed by the people they’re supposed to serve.

“So what are you doing to help get Alice Gachuzo elected to city council in Springdale right now?” I asked. I was on the edge of my seat, ready to hear about the door-knocking, the phone calling, the texting, the donation drives, the events these experienced, political-savvy people were helping Alice with for her campaign as a first-time candidate with a solid history of non-political leadership in the community.

“Oh, I know Alice!” the leader said excitedly.

“Yes, but what are you doing to help her get elected?” I asked again. “What are all the people who were in this room tonight doing to help her get elected?”

Another leader of the group spoke up. “City Council is a non-partisan race,” he said. “We don’t usually get involved in those.”

White Democrats, this is where the fork in the road requires us to choose between white colonization practices, or community, and walk the path we choose. What we “usually get involved in” and what we need to get involved in if we care to repair our communities are not the same path. Let me explain:

City Council may be a non-partisan race, but the impact of the first-ever Black woman being elected to office in Springdale, a predominantly non-white city run by wildly non-representative, white council members, is immeasurable. The impact of her representing the people of Springdale instead of the special interests of the political and financial elite, is immeasurable. Her potential impact on our communities as minoritized humans is immeasurable. I don’t even live in Springdale anymore, and I’m working to help Alice get elected because I know she will make the world a better place. That’s all the reason I need to show up and help.

The old ways of the Democratic Party were about playing by a two-party rule book of numbers and cunning out-maneuvering. The Democrats approached politics like a chess game with Republican opponents, instead of a life-or-death struggle that transcends party lines. That old style and approach gave rise to Hillary Clinton. The United States had already made very clear when we voted for Obama that we wanted Change. We wanted freedom and justice for all. We wanted hope. We wanted to stop playing old political games of oppression olympics, and start investing in our children, in our well-being, in our planet, and in our future. But then the Democratic Party in 2015, turning to its old, familiar, abusive patterns under the arrogant assumption that Donald Trump couldn’t possibly get elected, tried to force-feed us one of the most repugnant candidates it could: Hillary Clinton. The Democratic Party tried to make us accept as our leader a woman who talked about Black children as if “they must be brought to heel”, a woman who verbally eviscerated a 12 year old rape victim on the witness stand in Arkansas to advance her career as an attorney, a woman who deliberately aligned herself with the man responsible for “three strikes and you’re out” executive legislation — as well as the soaring stock prices of Corrections Corporations of America, a for-profit prison system continuing to this day to profit on the enslaved labor of primarily Black and brown bodied people. The national Democratic Party chose the white colonization practices path instead of the community path, and walked the path they chose, and got Donald Trump as a result.

When you tell God you want white colonization practices, God will give you what you ask for.
When you tell God you want anti-racism, God will give you what you ask for.
When you’re lukewarm, God will spit you out like Hillary Clinton’s hot sauce.

When Irvin tells the leader of the local Democrats he’ll show up for us when he sees us showing up for his communities, he’s offering us a way out of that predicament. The price his presence will cost us is a simple, sincere commitment to prioritizing the needs of the people, and doing what’s right, over the “usual” procedural vestiges of a crumbling Party.

That’s probably what the Black caucus’s presence will cost us. That’s probably what the Hispanic caucus’s presence will cost us. That’s what the privilege of enjoying Indigenous people at our decision-making tables will cost us. White Democrats like me must pay the price of humility and committed action to earn their presence at our table. Nothing is free.

This is like any other relationship, y’all. You can’t just offer a half-assed contribution to an unhealthy relationship and expect the best-ever partners to stick around for that relationship. You get what you give. People who know their worth will go where they are appreciated.

White Democrats have been showing up with pretty-worded apologies, and maybe occasionally a dozen roses, asking minoritized people for yet another chance to hold an abusive relationship together. Then when they get another chance, they crack open another cold one in front of the TV and sit down to relax like they’ve done a gazillion times before. Meanwhile, people of color have been asking Democrats to be full-fledged partners in their lives — doing our part for laundry day, doing the dishes, and treating the children like they’re our responsibility to show up for.

You don’t get people of color at a table built by white supremacy simply by asking them to show up. You get people of color at the table by scrapping the bullshit and building a new table they feel comfortable at. You get people of color at the table by acknowledging openly and honestly where the harms have been your own fault, and not repeating the mistakes again. They don’t want roses and chocolate. They want you to not sit back down in that old chair while asking them to bring you another beer — or get out and take your roses with you. I feel like they’ve been really clear about this.

By the end of the night, one of the leaders casually offered to me, “You can be in charge of our diversity!”

Oh, what I would have given last night to still feel even an ounce of the honor, the excitement, and the pleasure I used to feel when people invited me to be a First, Only, and Different participant in a game they had already fully constructed around and without me. But I see the F.O.D.s who’ve already told the Democratic Party what kind of community participation they need in order to feel invested in in this relationship, and I’ll be honest: I don’t want to be the next in line for the kind of relationship they got served.

In the interest of not picking on just one organization, it’s not like the Democrats are alone with the White Blinders problem. I saw a similar mess this week where a local, white-led LGB(T) organization responded to Black and Indigenous queer community organizers who’d identified a specific white supremacist threat against the Pride parade, by issuing a statement that they’d enlisted extra help from the police department, denied any known specific threats existed, and low-key urged queers of color not to arm themselves for self-defense and just trust the police to handle it — all while choosing not to engage any of the queers of color in meaningful conversation.

I didn’t have to know their organization is entirely white, to know their organization is entirely white. I didn’t have to know the only trans person on their board of directors left earlier this year, to conclude they are entirely cisgender-led. Their statements this week made the evidence abundantly clear. We can hear whose voices are missing from organizations’ decision-making tables as clearly as we can hear the voices missing from the San Francisco Gay Men’s Choir of 1992.

White supremacy is a retropsychopathology affecting us no less intensely than the unchecked retroviral epidemic of the 1980’s. What will it take for us to look within our hearts and choose the path of our loving, friendship-focused, generous, inner child rather than the policies and systems of white entitlement we’ve been trained into as adults?

Having diverse voices in your ranks is how you avoid these fiascos when unexpected or urgent situations arise. You build the relationships when times are good, so you have diverse people to collaborate with when times are hard. And you don’t get those relationships by setting the terms of the relationship and then inviting others in. You get those relationships by co-creating and sharing in the work as much as in the fruits of the labor.

White people, we can do this. Just take a deep breath, and choose what you’ll invest your energy in today.

On Democracy and Our Humanity

For the first time, I’ve gotten involved in a political campaign. Two of them. I’m learning things about the way our “democracy” is systematically structured against democracy though. Can we talk about what I’m seeing?

Observation #1: Non-profits are not allowed to support any political candidate.

Observation #2: Many cities and towns prohibit political candidates from gathering on public property.

Observation #3: People with lots of money host fundraisers and events on private property for the candidate of their choice.

Stir them all together, and what do we have? Vote-buying power for the financially wealthy. Cities and towns with uneducated voters. And a real struggle for average, non-politician, service-oriented people who care enough to take on the establishment and represent our communities appropriately in the government.

I’m working on a small, local campaign for Josh Moody for Washington County Judge. I feel strongly about Josh’s efforts because he will work to reduce incarceration of Washington County citizens, push back against $100 million in taxpayer funds being spent to build a new jail that we don’t need, and redirect existing funds toward providing mental health and housing stability services. He will nurture and heal Washington County residents. He’s committed to investing in our strengths, not our weaknesses.

My job is to schedule “Think Out Loud” community listening sessions where he goes around Washington County and listens to what you care to say. He wants to know your needs, your ambitions, your hopes, and your requests. This is what every prospective government official should be doing.

I keep running into roadblocks though. “No political campaigning on city property” and “We would love to host you, but as a non-profit organization we cannot let you use our space or be affiliated with us in any way.” This keeps Josh from getting to listen to the most marginalized people — especially people who rely on non-profit services to stay alive. This keeps him out of homeless shelters, out of churches, out of community groups, out of public libraries, and out of city parks. This system of government interference in political campaigns keeps him from having access to Washington County residents, and keeps Washington County residents from having access to him.

Meanwhile, Republican candidates seem to have plenty of for-profit business owners ready, willing, and legally allowed to host their events for community outreach. With promises of jail expansion, using covid relief funds to expand imprisonment instead of honoring Washington County residents with rent stability, and sometimes even a blatant indecency to kindly say hello to certain minoritized constituents, Republican candidates in local races are buying votes through a crony system that only allows gathering in for-profit spaces.

I’m watching a parallel tragedy unfold in my volunteer work on the Chris Jones for Governor campaign. For so many decades of Arkansas history, the Democratic Party has played by an oppressive two-party rule book; few people — particularly people of minoritized race, gender, and class — feel heard or cared about by the Democratic Party. Arkansas is not a red state. Arkansas is a non-voting state. Arkansas is a state that asks, “What’s the point?” when I plead for their vote this November in support of candidates who want to invest in our children, in our economy, and in our future.

The alternative to Chris Jones for Governor is Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who has repeatedly shown up in photos with, allied herself with, and chosen not to denounce white supremacist insurrectionists. She’s proposing tax cuts to benefit the wealthy (think Walton- and Tyson-wealthy) that will negatively affect already underfunded social services. Her father was the same terrible governor who took me out of class in high school so I could be weighed and have my BMI printed on my report card, because he believed having our parents shame us for being fat would leave a better impact on Arkansas’ youth than making healthier school lunches more affordable than a dollar menu McDonald’s burger. She responded to the Uvalde shooting by saying that very evening, “We will make sure that when a kid is in the womb, they’re as safe as they are in the classroom” — completely missing the reality that people who are not white and financially wealthy, like her, are not safe in Arkansas. Also missing the reality that Arkansans will die from ectopic pregnancies under her plans for anti-abortion laws. Or maybe she just doesn’t care if poor Arkansans die, since rich Arkansans will always have access to abortions whether it’s legal or not. She has spent her life preparing herself as a political pawn for a group of anti-Democratic, anti-American goons who want to take the government my uncle gave his life in the US Army to protect, and replace it with an authoritarian regime. This terrifies me.

Sanders’ campaign has raised over $13 million to Chris Jones’ $2 million at this point. She is buying her way into the governor’s seat, while Jones is out walking all over the state to meet with communities, truly listen, and consider the feedback and solutions that real Arkansans are now proposing to him. He is not a politician. He is a minister who sees a need for Arkansas to be represented and cared for in a spirit of faith, hope, and hard work. Chris Jones is currently doing what I was taught in high school American Government that our elected officials exist to do. He doesn’t have as much money, but he does have the power of people who know Arkansas needs relief and empowerment.

If people vote. If he can reach them. If he’s allowed to gather with them. If local anti-political ordinances don’t keep Chris Jones from being allowed hear to all voters, like they have been keeping Josh Moody from hearing all voters.

I’m sitting with the weight of this truth and trying to explain it to my inner 16 year old who once sat in Bob McKee’s American Government class at Fayetteville High School, bright-eyed and trusting about the promise of freedom and justice for all.

Can you explain any of this to my inner 16 year old? Can you say anything that will make the pain of betrayal by my own country, my own state, my own city goverment sting less? Can you do anything to change the system so it serves the people affected by it? Even just one small thing? Even just show up to vote for candidates who care about living up to the values of liberty and equality which America purports to uphold, rather than sustaining the values of division, hatred, violence, and heartlessness we’ve been suffering from for too long? Maybe putting up yard signs and talking with your neighbors? Something? Anything?

There’s a 16 year old in Arkansas who needs you to leave them a better reality than what’s been handed down to me. Please show up for them?

On Father’s Day and Juneteenth

Father’s Day has been weird for me since I was 4 years old. That it falls on Juneteenth this year gives the weirdness a uniquely ironic twist.

I don’t have to worry about what I say in a Facebook post because my father already blocked me — or did I block him, this time? We’ve done this un-loving dance so many times now, I don’t remember. What I do remember is the last message he sent me in December 2021, angry about how I allegedly believe myself to no longer be white.

What I had said was: White people need to stop enacting harms against ourselves and one another in some delusional attempt to control our progeny, to control women, and to control folks of color.

What I had said was: I will never again tolerate you showing up at my house unannounced on a day when I explicitly told you I was unavailable, expecting me to perform for your newest woman like a seal in a zoo.

What I had said to my father, not 6 months after I had been raped at work, and just days after he showed up at my house interrupting my writing workshop retreat so he could force me to meet his newest fiancee after I had told him I didn’t want to meet her, was: You are never going to violate my consent again, no matter what it takes to keep you from violating me.

What I said was: expecting me to perform so you can hold the illusions in your life together is a symptom of the entitlement you cling to as a white man, and I will no longer play a part in upholding your lies.

Apparently the man who impregnated my mother doesn’t know how to be honest about the abuses he has perpetrated and hold himself accountable to not continuing those abuses. He isn’t honest about telling me at four years old, when our new Mexican neighbors moved in, that they would have to defer to him because he was a police officer and they had moved into “our” neighborhood and could “go back where they came from if they don’t like it”. He isn’t honest about how he treated them, and he isn’t honest about the racist, dehumanizing ways he taught me to treat them from that very early age. He isn’t honest about what his being a white man truly means, especially for people who have been at his mercy. He isn’t even honest about how much I myself have been at his mercy.

Apparently my father concludes that I reject my own whiteness because, like him, I must be incapable of humbly acknowledging I’ve benefited from — and contributed to — making mistakes which have harmed people of color throughout my life. My father thinks I can’t hate what white culture has done, without hating myself. So he took what I said about no longer tolerating white male entitlement in my life, and turned it into a story about how I am the delusional one, allegedly now believing myself to be Native American or Black or I’m not sure what, because he believes I cannot simultaneously accept that I am white and also that white people have some serious growing up to do. He doesn’t believe I can accept that I have some growing up to do without violently hating myself for it. That cognitive dissonance is just too much for him to bear.

Just for the record: I am 8-generations-in-America white. I’ve read the old archived news article describing my 6th great grandfather murdering Native Americans in the conquest of this land. I may do things like learn words in Cherokee, because I believe that Indigenous language preservation is critical and I owe a debt to Native peoples which can never truly be repaid, but you will never hear me claim to be Cherokee. I may spend a lot of time with Black friends because they’re generally more humane and comfortable to be around than most white people, but you will never hear me claim to be Black. I may have been mentored extensively by Indigenous elders who’ve invested more in my well-being and knowledge than anyone else on the planet, but I have no delusions that learning what I know from them will ever make me an Indigenous person. I know who I am, and I know the responsibilities of social and spiritual repair these facts put on my shoulders.

This is not the first year that my father and I are not speaking on Father’s Day. In fact, we’ve spoken on far fewer Father’s Days than not, in my 34 years on planet Earth. But this is the first year I feel some real peace about not welcoming his entitlement, his presumptuousness, and his demands of my energy into my life. There is still a tinge of sadness that he chooses not to appreciate or respect the adult human I’ve become. But I am at peace.

This is the first year I can truly say that I have relationships with men in my life that are mutually healthy. No clinging or chasing. No prioritizing one abusive male partner over everyone else. No domestic violence in my home. These relationships are very different from the old, familiar, unhealthy, comfortable, soothing toxicity of the relationship I struggled in for 33 years with my father. These men aren’t my “saviors” and they don’t pretend to have all the answers. They listen when other people speak. When they don’t understand something, they ask questions. They are not afraid of conversation. They are not afraid of truth. They are not afraid to help me heal what my own whiteness has done to scar me, and they are not afraid to hold space with me while I open myself up and perform my own surgeries on the wounds that caused the scars.

There are so many beautiful men showing me I can and do deserve healthy models of masculinity in my life. To these men, I want to wish you a very happy and beautiful Father’s Day.

And to the Black folks who fill my life with such wonderful examples of humanity, love, and dignity, I wish you a Juneteenth filled with peace and gentleness as we continue toward a future in which your unabridged Liberation becomes a collective, full-scale reality.

What’s In a Name?

On the first day of sixth grade, my math teacher proved himself a heretic by suggesting that we arrange our seating chart in alphabetical order according to first name rather than last. For years we’d been sitting next to the same students in every class, every day. This man was a hero. Taught us what civil disobedience looks like, he did.

He sent us all to the back of the classroom to line up against the wall. When he called the letter “A”, all the students whose name began with “A” stepped forward from the line. Pointing at each student, he determined the next letter of each name and instructed them to be seated accordingly. He repeated the process for “B” and four people stepped forward. 

The first two were seated early. Two remained, a boy and a girl, each looking at one another with slightly concerned expressions. The rest of us giggled expectantly. We all knew one another’s names; it was our teacher who was learning them. His well-worn pencil pointed an indication that it was the boy’s turn to speak.

“R,” said the boy. He pointed the pencil toward the girl.

“R,” said the girl. The teacher nodded, pointing back toward the boy.

“A,” he informed our teacher, who was growing agitated rather quickly.

“A,” the girl spoke up.

“N,” the boy chuckled.

“Ah! This one has to be it. What’s the next letter of your name, dear?”

The girl shifted nervously and replied, “N. My name is –“

“Oh good grief,” the teacher interrupted. “You,” he pointed at the boy, “are going in this corner. And you,” he pointed at the girl, “are going in that one.”

“But we can –“

“I’m not wasting my time figuring it out. We have more important things to do, and there’s still the whole rest of the alphabet to get through. You’re going on opposite sides of the room. Done.”

The light went off in my conservative, Bible-thumping little noggin that day. The only thing that really separated boys and girls, the only thing my eleven year old brain could reckon, was that people were too impatient to pay attention, too frustrated to acknowledge the differences that make us individuals. The distinction between boys and girls was social expectation, nothing more. It was then that I first wished I’d had a different name. I wanted a name that would one day make an ignorant person’s blood boil, not because there was anything wrong with what I call myself, but because they would be too unwilling to see me for what I really am or to put me in the classroom seating arrangement I deserve. I wanted my name to become a tool with which I could instantly determine whether I wanted someone in my life. I wanted to name myself Brandyn.

But I already had a name. The name I had was one that reeked of Greek curses and human suffering. Silly as it may have been, I felt as though the curse of Apollo fell upon my shoulders every day. I was the helper of men, destined to be disbelieved by them. This was not a name I wanted for myself. I’m sure my mother meant well when she picked it; it certainly could have been worse. It simply didn’t fit me.

My best friend was the first person I told about this notion I had to change my name, followed by my then-step-father. He suggested that I give the name to my son when I grew up to have kids. This was the Bible Belt, after all. No girl is permitted the fantasy of a lifestyle incongruent with the obligation to marry a good man and rear his children. You can be whatever you want when you grow up, as long as you’re a good wife and mother.

So I became a Brandyn.

Don’t Try to Play Me, Boy

Arkansas has never been an ideal place for a Queer to find dates. Southerners are, however, a very “Hold my beer!” kind of people. In down-home fashion, therefore, I’m the sort of Queer who moved back to Arkansas after many years away, said “Hold my beer!”, and went looking for a date anyway.

I’m 33. I don’t feel old. Old enough to be among a tragically small minority of folks who remember Gullah Gullah Island. But not old. Isn’t this the prime of my life? I got over the hurdles of my teens, coming out as queer in Arkansas during an era when getting married would not have been legal even if I’d been 18. Then I trampled through my 20’s, thought I knew everything, somehow convinced a lot of people I knew more than I really did, and fell predictably flat on my face in a fit of cosmically intense reckoning with reality before my 30th birthday. Now I’m 33 and the one real thing I know for certain is that I don’t know much.

Also I know that key lime pie is tasty. If you disagree, I’ll eat yours for you. Then I’ll calculate the points into my Weight Watchers app, because at 33, the other thing I really know about this season of my life is that key lime pie does not magically fall off my body like it used to.

So I get this email today from a prospective suitor. I’ve gotten dozens of emails from men who do not seem to understand what “demisexual” means, even though I clearly define the word in my personals ad: I’m not interested in sex with anyone I don’t have a strong emotional connection with. They can blame me for ending a sentence with a preposition, but not for being unclear about what I’m looking for.

The email that arrived today stood out for this reason alone: He lives less than a mile from me. Way out in the country. Do you know how convenient it would be to date someone within walking distance? I want to say yes on this basis alone. I haven’t been on a date since 2015. I haven’t had sex since 2016.

Whoa. Really? Isn’t winter of 2021 happening, like, next month? Yes. Yes it is. Funny you noticed that, too.

I’ve begun to wonder if I’m asexual. Then I remember how much I really, intensely, eagerly, whole-heartedly love sucking cock. I am not asexual. There is no way I could be asexual. I just, you know, haven’t had sex. In five years.

Part of this dry spell happened because of genital surgery. In May 2016, I went under the knife for the simplest of all possible gender-affirming surgical procedures. In August 2016, I went back under the knife to remove massive wads of scar tissue that had kept me nearly immobilized in pain all summer, caused me to lose my job and health insurance, and traumatized me so sufficiently that I had a psychotic break not long thereafter. But I’ve not been psychotic in at least three years? I’ve been sober for that long, at least, and I think those occurrences happened together.

The rest of the dry spell happened because, after I’d gone through all that, I no longer had an appetite for consumptive sex. It was like I’d had 300 McDonald’s burgers a year for two years, and eating burgers in Steamworks bathhouse had made me so nauseated I just couldn’t eat another one again when it was offered to me. That was in 2018. Then I turned down another, and another. 2019 happened. The offers started getting better ⁠— but they were better than the lowest possible standard of what constitutes a date, so I still said “no, thank you.”

2020 happened. I blamed covid for my continued celibacy, but really I don’t think I’d have gotten laid even if we’d had a real President who valued 700,000 people’s lives more than his own angry insurrectionist fan base’s egos.

In 2021, I got vaccinated, quit my job as a trucker, and started looking around Arkansas for dates with thoughtful, considerate, fully vaccinated, anti-racist, pro-feminist, pro-choice, pro-science people who could perhaps satisfy my deep enjoyment of sucking cock. That’s how this guy up the road found my personals ad.

Here’s the thing though: Dude can’t even tell me what interests him. He’s 26. I remember being a 26 year old man and thinking that the whole world revolved around me because I was the coolest thing on the planet since key lime pie. But I’m not 26 anymore. I’m 33. This means I need any man’s petition for my interest to be at least as interesting to me as this key lime pie I cannot stop thinking about. This is what “demisexual” means. If he does not present himself in a way that can compete with the sense of comfort, peace, calm, and reliability a key lime pie gives me, he is not going in my mouth.

Am I being unreasonable? Have I gotten so old that even polite-but-insubstantial offers of sex make me throw down curmudgeonly missives for the darn kids to get off my lawn?

I asked him why I should take interest in him. What are his favorite books? What inspires him? What is he passionate about? What is he doing with his life, and how does he feel about it? I asked how he thought he’d respond if he were in my shoes, being propositioned by someone who has offered no substance or insight into himself as a human being worthy of my attention.

He said, “If I were you I’d think I’d need to meet him and really see for myself,” with a great big smiley face. Bless his little heart.

So I wrote him back. I kept it light-hearted. As light-hearted as “Well I think I’m 33 years old and done been fooled enough times to know when someone wants in my pants, OR is covering up a lack of substance in his own life by skirting my questions about what makes him substantial” can be, anyway. I added, “Doesn’t mean I won’t ever meet up with you. But it does mean this: Don’t try to play me, boy.”

The 26 year old who was eagerly double-messaging me earlier has not yet responded.

The 76 year old who prompted yesterday’s dissociative episode has me wondering if men in Arkansas ever actually grow up at all? A friend whose husband just left her reminds me the answer might very well be “no”. A lifetime of seeing men around here behave as overgrown, emotionally-stunted 12 year olds whose wives are expected to clean up their messes, pay for their occupational whimsies, and cater to an emotional fragility that makes thin ice look inviting to walk on, suggests to me that perhaps they just don’t ever grow up. Maybe it’s only men in other places who grow up, because their environment requires them to? Arkansas does not require maturity, conflict resolution, or collaboration skills of white men, ever.

This, I fear, might leave me hungry for a dick to suck for as long as I live here.

But at least I’m not hungry for self-respect anymore. Walking distance or not, if the dude can’t name one book he loves and tell me why that story is important to him, I can’t give him a blow job. I just cannot.

So I wait.

Service Made Visible: My Dog is a Radical Revolutionary

This is Max. Max is a Service Dog. He’s still in training, and I’m responsible for training him. He’s learning quicker than I expected. He’s been “at work” two days now. He was originally rescued in March, after his abusers decided he was a “bad dog” who wouldn’t listen or behave. He was afraid of everything. Max has come a long way in a short time.

We’ve been training together since the day Max found me and asked what was for lunch in the parking lot of a Love’s truck stop. I fell in love the moment I saw him. I didn’t know then that I needed an actual, legal service dog. I did know I was having mental health struggles and needed a friend who would love me real good while I kept working on remembering how to love myself.

I’ve had to learn a lot about pit bulls in that time, because pit bulls are not terriers. I am myself a Britney Spaniel/Australian Shepherd mix, who just happens to look like a human to the unsuspecting onlooker. I know what to do with an overly eager-to-please dog who loves to be rewarded for jumping hoops correctly. I know what to do with performance-oriented reward-seeking. Max ain’t that kind of dog.

Today, someone I love yelled at me. He said some real hurtful things. Things that have me realizing I’m not welcome in my home. Things that make me wonder why I ever thought I was. He said the hurtful words about ten minutes before I had to be at an evening workshop on Contemplative Writing hosted by the local public library. That was inconvenient timing.

As I exited the scene of explosive familial dysfunction splattered across the living room like a crime scene waiting to be secured and photographed, Max accompanied me to my office. I opened up the laptop. I clicked the Zoom link. I joined the writing workshop. It was 6:00 pm. I was on time. I’d jumped the hoop correctly. Now, for my reward!

Max put his paw on my leg like he needed to go out. I knew he didn’t need to go out, because I’d just taken him outside right before I got yelled at. I pushed his paw away and told him I was working. Another paw. Two paws. In my lap, all at once. 65 pounds of pit bull climbed onto me, as serious as a dragonfly in mating season. I was going to pay attention to him, dang it. He wanted to play. That silly computer I was looking at? Not as important as he was. This was the first time he has ever climbed onto my desk. While I was fighting him off, at that.

Shoot, I thought. Is he ever going to cut it as a service dog? Am I fooling myself? Sometimes he behaves so well. Then sometimes, he’s just such a handful. He won’t listen. He won’t stop. He does not care that I’m in a situation where my presence and attention is required in this very moment. He does not care that the people on this Zoom screen have PhDs and I need to hear what they’re teaching me. There’s no way I can train him to be a service dog, I think in frustration. This is too much, I would sigh, if I were breathing. He licks my face.

Max’s head pops through a magic virtual rainbow and onto the Zoom screen with all the other attendees. I think he’s trying to sniff them? He wants to know who these creatures are inside the computer demanding my energy right now when — don’t they see? — what Max wants here is more important than any of them. He is going to have my full attention whether any of us likes it or not.

I imagine this happening at the job I’m currently interviewing for. What if I were sitting at a meeting with the lead researchers, whose time is precious, carrying on our professional business? Then boom! There’s Max! Right in my face. Just like he’s doing now. This is unacceptable. I push him down off me repeatedly, but he’s only more insistent. God, if only I could afford a real trainer! Then I remember that a real trainer told me I have what it takes to train dogs for a living. I don’t know what that trainer was smoking when he said that, but apparently I need some of it. My dog is physically on top of me during class where I’m supposed to be paying attention. I don’t have what it takes for anything right now.

With my microphone muted, I take Max by the collar and escort him out of my office. I close the door behind me. He has to learn boundaries.

I walk back to my desk and sit down just long enough to feel the weight of my mistake sear into me like the seat I’m in is on fire. I stand back up. I open the door, pet him behind the ear, and go to Max’s backpack. I pull out an esophagus — his favoritest favorite treat in all of the treat kingdom.

“Okay, let’s go to work.” I put his service vest on him and take him back into the office. Then I apologize to my workshop crew that it took ten minutes to get present with them, after I’d just been yelled at and made to question whether I need to find a new place to live because I’m not wanted in the house I pay the mortgage on. I didn’t tell them that part.

“I’m sorry,” I typed. “My dog is trained to disrupt me when I’m dissociating. He’s making it really hard for me to pay attention to the workshop because he’s doing his job a little too well right now.”

I gave Max the esophagus. He had performed his duties admirably.

All my life, I’ve hidden dissociation. The first time I can identify having done it, I was three years old. It’s easy to sweep dissociation aside and pretend it’s not happening, just like whatever is causing it. I can tune in so attentively to one thing, one important thing, or one thing I convince myself is important, that I don’t notice the whole world burning down. Or the blood spatter of harsh words on the wall of my living room. I once gave a Trans 101 presentation to a packed audience at the 2016 Philly Trans Health Conference less than four hours after a surgeon drained my literally-exploded, three-week-old priapism into a plastic bag on the bed of his hotel room. I took the stage that day with hydrocodone rollin’ through my veins. My presentation was received with five-star reviews, a job offer, and extensive commendation. Y’all, I can dissociate like Vincent Van Gogh could paint.

Year after year, no one knew. No one knew the pain I was hiding all those times I stood center stage in the advocacy arena fighting for healthcare and social justice. No one knew I wasn’t feeling my own feelings, or that I was losing my ability to feel empathy for theirs. No one knew the slippery slope I was sliding down toward anger, frustration, rage, and despair. They just saw my career soaring. They saw the acceptance letter into the UW Masters of Public Health program. They saw measurable progress that was happening wherever I got involved. I guess they thought I was happy. I had certainly fooled myself. I thought being in a state of constant dissociation was as “happy” as I could get. I didn’t know any of the people around me were, you know, actually happy with their lives. I wasn’t trying to lie to them. I was just lying to myself so good, I couldn’t tell the truth if I’d wanted to.

Until one day, the truth caught up with me, and I lost everything. The grad school, the limelight, the gigs, the tenuous grip on reality I’d been clinging to. All of it. I lost it all. The people who’d been actually happy moved on with their lives, while I sat in a puddle of my own failure wondering where I’d gone wrong. Each time I tried to repeat the old patterns, or perform like everything was okay, the words that came out of my mouth were all wrong. I had no charisma to hide behind anymore. I’d lost that, too.

Max ain’t that kind of dog.

Now that he’s in my life, I’m incapable of hiding dissociation. He does not care if I’m in an interview on live television with Oprah. If I go all Shonda-Rhimes-before-she-loved-herself and dissociate during that interview, Max will be on top of me like a clown on a unicycle. Ain’t nobody gonna stop that dog from doing the only important thing in this world: Getting me to be present with myself, feel what I’m feeling, and not let the pressures of “work” or social expectations get in the way of that goal.

Max embodies what tens of thousands of people throughout the United States are striking for in their workplaces right now. He puts the brakes on expectations to leave our feelings at the door and show up as half-humans, like the Borg, to serve a force of assimilative destruction that cares only about its own self-promotion at the expense of any and all human lives. He’s not a bad dog. He’s a good dog guiding me through a bad situation. He’s a loyal friend who interrupts whatever is going on, to ask: But it can wait until you’re breathing real slow and deep again, and until you can name your feelings, right? We can play until you can do that. You can’t work until you do that. Come on, now. Be real.

You really can’t work if you can’t feel. Stop pretending you can. Breathe. Play. Now.

Like thousands of out-of-touch employers who dislike being exposed by their workers for treating the backbone of their organizations like worthless, disposable objects instead of real people with a full range of human emotions, I dislike that Max exposes my dissociation. I dislike that what was previously invisible, except insofar as the fruits of my labor eventually demonstrated themselves, I can no longer hide. Now my dissociation is as obvious as a 65-pound pit bull on top of my face.

I guess I’ll have to get with listening to what my heart has been demanding from the picket line.

Thanks, Max. You did good work today.

Happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day, National Coming Out Day, and Shiny New Certificate Day.

Both Indigenous Peoples’ Day and National Coming Out Day are dear to my heart.

At 14, I first “came out” in Arkansas where my self-extraction from the closet of Evanglical authoritarianism was not welcome. I called myself a lesbian, because I knew I wasn’t straight. Then I kept dating boys in high school who usually figured out they were gay around the time we broke up. I did not know how to be a gay man in my own body yet, but I spent more than a decade, years of hormone therapy, and a few surgeries trying to figure it out.

By 29, I’d learned being a gay man was not all it was cracked up to be. The gay part, yes. The man part? With cisnormative assumptions about how I was allowed to feel, and be, and express my rage and sadness about the harms of colonization and patriarchy? I couldn’t do it.

At 30, I retransitioned. Shedding the old, tired suit of manhood, I embraced the gown of Queerness. Changed hormone regimens again, which started a third puberty. I shifted to they/them pronouns, which I’d tried to do with the first transition but had been socially and medically pressured to “just choose one” cisnormative gender from the binary system despite my ineffective protests. I’d thought I was settling for “the lesser of two evils”. Now I understand what happens when I allow any evil to dwell in my heart. Never again.

I have since grown to understand that the binary system of gender exists to maintain white men’s illusory power over people of color and over non-men.

I wish a blessed Indigenous Peoples’ Day and — God willing — Indigenous Peoples’ Century to all the brilliant Two-Spirit folks whose names for your own gender, whose names in your own mother tongue, whose names for the world you love, deserve to be spoken fearlessly. As Dr. Mikaila Brown suggested during last week’s symposium at Cornell, may we forever more bring ourselves to meet you at the level of your power, and not reduce you to the level of your pain. You are what makes this world worth living in and living for.

With deep, profound gratitude, I am happy to build upon these life experiences with a new, shiny Executive Leadership Certificate from Cornell University in #Diversity and #Inclusion, received yesterday. This certificate confers not only an accomplishment, but a sacred duty to honor those who’ve made this moment possible. I intend to serve you well, dear loves.

Redneck Solidarity

Redneck Solidarity: Black lives matter!

1999: I was 11 years old, and the Dixie Chicks‘ opening act was Ricky Skaggs. I already owned his album ‘Soldier of the Cross’, but apparently the rest of my generation didn’t know him so well. The Chicks came out on stage while everyone was bustling about for t-shirts and snacks, and commanded our attention. As they introduced their own opening act performers, Natalie explained:

We asked Ricky to share the stage with us for this tour because the music industry has for so long stripped us of our historic roots in the name of profit. We are Bluegrass artists who happen to have a hit-selling Country album. To appreciate our music, you have to understand where we come from. We want our younger generation of fans to learn where you come from, too, and what role this music and its history have played in shaping who you are and the media you’re buying.

They gave us ten minutes to find our seats and asked us to give Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder the same courteous attention we intended to give The Chicks.

The following year, their careers were effectively destroyed over speaking out against George Bush, and they sealed that coffin further by denouncing the Iraq war.

Tonight though, they took the stage with Queen Bey in perhaps the boldest statement of their careers: Redneck Solidarity with Black Feminist empowerment.

Daddy Lessons couldn’t have been more perfect an anthem for that solidarity.  It is the story of every poor Southern girl clawing her way toward Liberation from within the gun-totin’ Patriarchy. Ain’t make no difference her skin color — though let’s not get twisted thinkin’ everyone’s experience is the same across race. May be all women need empowerment. May also be white women and trans folks have more opportunities to share liberation with women and trans folks of color. May be that’s what Redneck solidarity really means.

My Daddy said shoot.

Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition,

Because Earl had to die. 

At a point in our country’s history, before the Plantation Owners frightened us into hating one another’s voices of freedom and silencing one another’s songs of liberation, we sang them together.

When I read that white country music fans were rebuking the CMA awards show because it was “Diluting its country brand by allowing a pop star to take the stage…”, my first thought was “WHERE WERE THESE PEOPLE WHEN I WAS CRYING ABOUT KIDD ROCK STEALING AIRTIME ON MY COUNTRY MUSIC CHANNEL???”

For real though, where where they? What was their complaint about Beyonce rooted in, if they were content to let Kidd Rock take over not only their stage for one night but also their Country music radio stations without complaint? What is the difference between Kidd Rock and Beyonce? We’re Southern, not stupid. Let’s stop pretending we don’t see this.

Upon learning Beyonce’s performance allegedly diluted “the value” of Country music, then I understood:

The Evangelical whiners are not upset about compromising the integrity of Country music. They are upset about compromising the country music brand. Their White Supremacy exists to reinforce Capitalism. White Supremacy and the Country music industry are so engrained, people have forgotten where the insidious business ends and our Southern heritage and roots begin.

Real Country came from making the best we could with both poor immigrants from Europe and their trafficked, enslaved neighbors from Africa singing together by the fire on Sunday evenings. Real Country is not about making money for multi-millionaires, especially by throwing a brilliant Black woman under the CMA bus. Real Country music “ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s Farm no more” and never gives up on the power of love to shoot straight from the hip without missing, especially to when aimed take down the Patriarchy. Real Country music honors women.

Real Country music is the Dixie Chicks and Beyoncé singin’ about their daddies teachin’ ’em to shoot in self-defense.