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.

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.

Together.

🦄💕

Is Taking PrEP the Right Choice for You?

Brandyn Gallagher edited this booklet in collaboration with David Evans of Project Inform, updating an older version written for MSM so the writing is trans-inclusive as of January 2016. The scientific evidence upon which this writing is based was the most up-to-date available at the time of publication.

To learn more about PrEP, advancements in HIV prevention, and options for protecting your health and wellness, please ask your physician or visit https://www.facebook.com/groups/PrEPFacts/ for direction toward more current information.

Will the AMP Study Set the Standard for Transgender Inclusion in HIV Prevention Research?

This November, the AMP Study (also known as HVTN 703/HPTN 081) will bring a fresh approach to HIV prevention research. The Phase 2B study is inspired by vaccine research, which seeks to arm the immune system to resist HIV infection — but it skips a step by directly giving HIV-negative people antibodies rather than using a vaccine to trigger the desired antibody response. However, the AMP study is notable for more than this new approach to HIV prevention. It’s also engaging transgender people and people of color at every step of the process, and is the first HIV prevention clinical efficacy trial to explicitly name transgender men as an eligible population to be included in the study.

As explained by HIV Vaccine Trials Network (HVTN)’s lead behavioral scientist, Michele Andrasik, Ph.D., the AMP Study is taking “a true community-based participatory approach.” Trans people and people of color have been involved in writing the protocol, crafting language on enrollment forms and reviewing informed consent and educational materials. Trans people have been employed to fill clinic staff openings, and professional consultants with lived trans experience have been hired to train cisgender (non-transgender) clinicians and staff.

Even as clinic staff have been learning about the concept of AMP in preparation for trial launch, they’ve also been adjusting to the idea of working with transgender people — a minority population that has been widely excluded from HIV research despite a 1993 federal law prohibiting such exclusions.

As a transgender advocate, I’ve been working with the staff of the AMP Study as a member of their community advisory board. A month before the trial’s launch, I sat down with Andrasik and the AMP Study’s community engagement project manager, Gail Broder to hear more about their experiences in this process.

“It’s been interesting, because we usually hear that studies move too slow, but we’re not hearing that,” Andrasik noted. “There’s a balance between moving forward … and ensuring that all the appropriate community stakeholders have a say.”

“Some staff want more time to learn because AMP is a new concept, and because working with trans people also seems new to them,” Broder said. “Once we start explaining, it’s really pretty simple for people to understand.”

“Are they really so ‘hard to reach’? Or have we just not figured out how to reach them?” Andrasik asked rhetorically about minority populations, while emphasizing the importance of positively engaging those populations financially whenever possible. She notes that community participation means more than merely soliciting feedback from members of minority communities — who may or may not get paid — to inform work being controlled by white cisgender people receiving a salary. Moreover, she stresses that including minorities in research is imperative for good data, and if researchers want minority participation in their research, they must begin by hiring staff and leadership from those minority groups.

That can be an intimidating shift for professionals who aspire to work as allies to transgender people, especially once they’re confronted by the rest of society and its attachment to unexamined attitudes and practices on gender and whiteness. But no one said being an ally was easy.

“We booked reservations for community stakeholders to meet at a hotel, but the reservation system required us to enter ‘Mr.’, ‘Mrs.’, or ‘Ms.’ for each attendee. We were baffled,” said Broder, sharing her growing appreciation for the difficulties trans people face while trying to do basic things she takes for granted every day. “We said: ‘We don’t know if this person is a ‘Mr.’ or a ‘Ms.’. They’re just a human being trying to attend this meeting. Just leave it blank and enter their name.’ But the hotel staff couldn’t do that. It’s a hotel room! Why does it matter whether they’re a ‘Mr.’ or a ‘Ms.’ or neither? We’re paying the same for everyone, but no one can opt out of being non-consensually gendered.”

“Ultimately we called the hotel specifically to discuss the problem with their reservation system and to explain why they need to not call people ‘Mr.’ when they show up to check in,” Broder said. “We’re trying to be as proactively educational as we can be and help all the cisgender people we work with along the way to understand that we [cisgender people] aren’t the only people who exist, and good customer service means respecting everyone.”

Broder added that “stock photo sites did not have appropriate images,” and that the HVTN chose to deliberately recruit — and monetarily compensate — trans people and people of color for photo shoots to appropriately reach the minority populations most impacted by HIV.

Despite often-heard fears expressed by the research community about the “hard to reach” transgender population, early findings reveal that HVTN’s choice to genuinely engage minorities is paying off, with the communities it needs to reach taking notice after decades of being turned away as research participants.

“Transgender people can be a part of our research studies, and they’re great participants, and we need to be including them in all of our trials because they’re part of the population relying on these data, too,” Andrasik expressed emphatically. “We’ve found, in our limited sample size in phase I studies, that transgender participants appear to have no greater chance of HIV outcome than their cisgender counterparts, and they have the same rate of showing up to clinic appointments.”

Sites have begun actively recruiting trans people not just for the AMP study, but also for many clinical trials across all levels of risk. The impact on enrollment, though anecdotal and unpublished for now, has been positive across the board.

“Did visibly including trans people in our recruitment efforts improve overall recruitment and ability to reach enrollment goals? It appears that the answer may be ‘yes’,” Andrasik stated.

“People keep saying ‘we don’t have the epidemiology data to include trans people in this study’, but then they don’t do the research needed to correct the exclusion,” Broder stated. “You just have to start including minorities. Start where you can. Don’t wait for someone else to do it. Just start.”

TRANS MEN: THE INVISIBLE BATTLE WITH HIV

View at HIV Equal

So there I was, sitting in a room full of the world’s top HIV researchers, uncomfortably under-dressed in my Mr. Friendly t-shirt but not letting that stop me from asking the question I need answered.

“Dr. Molina, in your study on intermittent PrEP dosing among men who have sex with men (MSM), did you see or anticipate any differences in efficacy between the transgender gay men in your study versus the cisgender men? What have we learned about the 2+1+1 dosing for men who engage in receptive vaginal intercourse?”

I desperately need this information, you see, because every day I log into Facebook and respond to yet another question about HIV prevention from yet another trans guy who wants to protect himself from HIV and whose doctors won’t help him. I am a moderator of the PrEP Facts: Rethinking HIV Prevention and Sex discussion group where people from all over the world – research scientists, doctors, community organizers, and lay people alike – come to learn and digest the latest information about HIV prevention and safer sex strategies. There are a lot of trans folks and a myriad of gender identities present there. Many of us use this Facebook group as our primary source for medical information concerning HIV prevention because we cannot get adequate care from our doctors.

But then I ask the doctors why they’re failing us, and they say to me that they don’t have any data. They don’t know the answer. They can’t answer these questions without studies to back them up.

So I asked Dr. Jean-Michel Molina about the trans men in his study, with the naïve and unwarranted optimism that he would tell me something useful, something I could relay to the droves of trans men seeking me out as their last glimmer of hope for sexual health. He responded by telling me about the one trans woman in the study, with no mention of trans men at all. Another researcher in the room explained to me afterward that trans men were not included in this study. Dr. Sheena McCormack would later apologize to me that her PROUD study in the UK, about which I’d been on the edge of my seat for months to see results, also failed to include trans men.

I have been a participant in a PrEP research study at the University of Washington, as have many of my trans brothers in Seattle, so I know we’re showing up to do our part for medical science. Yet, even though we’re presenting ourselves, able and willing to offer our researchers abundant data about our bodies, at best these studies have not been designed to track the information we’re providing. Or, at worst, as was the case in both the IPERGAY and PROUD studies, the criteria for entry into the studies are designed in such a way that explicitly makes trans men ineligible altogether.

I want to let you in on a little secret: Transgender gay men are not heterosexual women. We do not have sex like women do. Our behavioral risk factors are the same as the behavioral risk factors of gay men, because – big surprise – we are gay men. Sometimes we have anal sex. Sometimes we have vaginal sex. We have sex in bathhouses, perhaps with 20 or more guys in one evening. Not all of us, but some. We cruise for hookups in the twilight hours at Volunteer Park. We meet guys on Scruff, Grindr, and Craigslist for casual one-offs. Some of us use poppers, crystal, and other drugs associated with the gay party-and-play scene. We are at high risk of HIV just like cisgender MSMs are, and we’re being ignored.

This cannot continue. We already have a 41 percent or greater rate of suicide attempts. For trans folks who survive society at large, we are then faced with incompetent medical professionals who use the wrong pronouns, who refuse to listen to us and who cannot or will not give us answers about how our bodies work. We have to fight for basic healthcare, fight for HIV prevention, and then ultimately fight for HIV treatment after we’ve been cast aside until it’s too late to prevent infection. Still, no matter how hard we fight, we cannot bypass our doctors to independently investigate research about the HIV prevention strategies that are optimal for us ourselves – because no such research exists. We are an invisible, dying group of gay men being left to face the threat of HIV with no one hearing our cries, no researchers taking notice and no public health officials acknowledging our plight.

The HIV epidemic of the 80s and 90s does not have to repeat itself. We have the tools and the knowledge to prevent HIV. We just need medical professionals, researchers and advocates to step up and make it happen now. Please, help us.