Love and Rackets

A year ago today (June 12, 2016), an armed individual assaulted partygoers in the popular Orlando LGBTQ+ nightclub, Pulse, during Latin Night. In the worst mass shooting in US history and the deadliest single act of violence against LGBTQ+ people, the perpetrator robbed 49 human beings – the majority of them Latinx – of the joy, suffering, perfection, and imperfection of their existence. Dozens more were injured during the attack.

At the time, I was flying back home to the UK, blissfully unaware of this act of hate and brutality against the LGBTQ+ community. After I went through passport checks, I took my phone off plane mode and immediately, it displayed dozens of notifications and news alerts. Instantly stopped in my tracks by the enormity of what these revealed, I was short-winded due to the crushing nature of the flow of emotions pouring into my body: helplessness and anger and soon thereafter something else… a nagging feeling that bingeing on every last detail that emerged, though a millennial’s natural reaction, was probably not healthy.

More than “not healthy” I knew that the whole media spectacle was not a fitting tribute to the victims and their families (biological or of-choice); that footage of wounded bodies playing in a loop was possibly only contributing to the normalization of such images and the dehumanization of the injured; that consuming every last gruesome detail of the fatal chain of events was doing nothing more than feeding the hyper-crass monstrosity characteristic of too many media outlets today. But for every one of these and other arguments against my being under the media spell, counterarguments formed in my head: queer and Latinx erasure are painfully dangerous everyday realities and silencing the details would only allow non-queer/white people to remain comfortable in their own ignorance of the life-threatening situations many queer folk/POC find themselves in – even in more “progressive” cultures. Proof of this was the whitewashed coverage of the tragedy as denounced by Steven W Thrasher.

Inconsolably, I oscillated between turning my phone off and frantically turning it back on to search for the latest developments. Irremediably, every time I rested my eyes, the wounded appeared superimposed on every image; every time I tried to put them out of my mind, I could see them out of the corner of my eye. It was then that I did something I hadn’t done since my Holy Communion: I fell on my knees and I prayed, the way my grandmother showed me: Padre nuestro que estás en los cielos, santificado sea tu nombre…

I did this not because I believed in it but because there was nothing else for me to do at the time and I had hoped it would bring me a sliver of the consolation and reassurance I knew it brought my grandmother daily. Though mildly soothing at first, I still could not deal with the inner conflict caused by the presence of opposing emotions. Additionally, I became angry at myself – thinking ‘how dare you make this pain yours?!’ – and wondered if I was somehow appropriating others’ personal grief. It then struck me that actually, this was in a way personal to all of us queer people who have known numerous permutations of discrimination. The Orlando Pulse tragedy acted as a painful reminder to the community that vicious and oftentimes fatal queerphobic hate is simmering away under the surface of even the more “tolerant” of places.

So, I did the only thing I knew had always helped me process pain: I got off my knees, sat at my desk, and wrote a poem for Stanley Almodóvar, Amanda Alvear, Oscar A. Aracena-Montero, Rodolfo Ayala Ayala, Antonio Davon Brown, Darryl Burt, Simón Carrillo, Luis Daniel Conde, Cory Connell, Tevin Eugene Crosby, Anthony Laureano Disla, Deonka Drayton, Leroy Valentín Fernández, Mercedez Marisol Flores, Jean Carlo Méndez Pérez, Peter González-Cruz, Juan Ramón Guerrero, Paul Terrell Henry, Frank Hernández, Miguel Ángel Honorato, Javier Jorge-Reyes, Jason Josaphat, Eddie Justice, Christopher Andrew Leinonen, Luis Daniel Wilson León, Alejandro Barrios Martínez, Juan Chavez Martinez, Brenda Lee Márquez-McCool, Gilberto Ramón Silva Menéndez, Kimberly Morris, Akyra Murray, Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, Geraldo Ortiz, Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, Ángel Luis Candelario Padró, Joel Rayón Paniagua, Enrique L. Rios, Jean Carlos Nieves Rodríguez, Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, Christopher Sanfeliz, Yilmary Rodríguez Solivan, Edward Sotomayor Jr., Shane Tomlinson, Martin Benítez Torres, Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, Franky Jimmy De Jesús Velázquez, Juan Pablo Rivera Velázquez, Luis Sergio Vielma, and Jerald Arthur Wright.

As we commemorate the first anniversary of the Pulse attack, with queer communities in the US living under the constant threat of one of the most horrifyingly homophobic/transphobic administrations (one that is dismantling already fragile LGBTQ+ recognition and rights) a dystopian novelist could conjure up, I want to share what I wrote back in June 14, 2016: my tribute poem to the Orlando Pulse victims, a celebration in verse, with love and in hope.

Love and Rackets (poem)

If you wish to show your support, please consider an act of kindness and love, on Orlando United Day and/or a donation to the onePULSE Foundation.

This Side of Town

‘This Side of Town’ is part of a suite of poems entitled, ‘Of Joyrides, Backseat Loving, and Road Trips’. A while back, I shared a “sneak preview” of one of the poems in this set and today I am posting in full ‘This Side of Town’ – which was previously published in Heather, Vol. 1, Issue 1 (New York: May 2016).

This Side of Town (poem)

Behind the Camera for ILFL

Client: I Live For Lucy
Promotional Photography / Lyric Video
2016

From EP artwork to website design to inspiring her latest single, my collaborations with British synthpop artist, I Live For Lucy have been anything but predictable. On this occasion I am sharing the results of my work behind the camera: Earlier in the year, I did some promotional photography for ILFL and made a lyric video for her song, ‘Run’.

I had tons of fun doing the photoshoot. Here is a selection of some of my favorite shots for you to swoon over (total ‘lesbian catnip’, as Laura Prepon would say) and the lyric video for a treat for the ears.

Medusa Is My Homegirl

Medusa Is My Homegirl (tattoo)

“Why Medusa?” you ask. Why the hell not? And what do you care? Oh, yeah, sorry I forget my body is public space and getting it tattooed is like urban art to street walls – wheat paste inviting further scrutiny. But, on this occasion, I want to give an explanation beyond “it’s a woman’s right to ink”. It’s just that the answer is so goddamn long! So I tell you, “I am writing a blog post about it. I’ll send you the link.” This is the link.

We all know the myth, a monster in Greek mythology. A hideous woman with living snakes for hair, whose gaze would render men immobile, no better than a garden ornament, stone. Beyond this, details of the myth get a little fuzzy for most. In essence, Medusa was originally a gorgeous maiden who was raped by Poseidon – enraging Athena who turned her into the stuff of nightmares – and eventually killed and beheaded by Perseus, who subsequently used the Gorgon’s head as it retained its supernatural qualities, continuing to turn onlookers to stone.

As it is often the case, the symbolism of Medusa is varied: Among other things, Medusa is a muse to poets, causes castration anxiety from the viewpoint of psychoanalysts, and represents female power in feminist discourse. It is in these interpretations of the myth that I find my reasons for getting my arm inked with a “portrait” of the Gorgon.  Keep on reading>>

Road Trips and First True Loves

Road trips and first true loves… If you’ve ever taken a road trip concurrently with falling deeper in love with someone, you know how the whole experience is ‘a mixed bag of pleasures’: A bewildering test, incredibly exhilarating and astonishingly daunting in equal measure. During the whole ordeal, ambivalence propels you – with but the occasional mirror check. When you fully commit to the road and your lover, time is someway adjourned: The past and the future cease to matter; it’s all about the now; it’s about everything and nothing at the same time. Instant gratification. I spy with my little eye… Adventure!

Road trips and first true loves… It’s easy to see how we can be fooled into believing that the possibilities are endless: The prospect of the open road with its thrills and discomforts; the far-flung corners where you give yourself entirely to the permutations of love. Your physical journey through the landscape is accentuated by the exploration of minds and bodies. Then, cruelly, reality checks in. Limitations make an unannounced but somehow foreshadowed entrance: The road trip is over; your lover is tired of traveling; and you acknowledge your gut feeling, understanding your stomach churns as prophetic smoke signals the wind of your romance enabled you to sail past.

Subsequent road trips and lovers are never the same again. There’s always that nagging feeling reverberating through your marrow. So, how do you help yourself process this information? You write a poem about it, of course. I wrote ‘We Drove Along Highway 99’ eons ago, in response to my first great heartbreak. I revisited it a couple of years ago and recently shared it with I Live For Lucy, who was inspired by it and wrote her latest song, ‘Run’ as a result. I am ILFL’s #1 fangirl and so this is a great reason to put an end to my 5-month silence, by sharing both an excerpt from the poem and the song in this post.

We Drove Along Highway 99 (poem excerpt)

I LIVE FOR LUCY – RUN

I Live For Lucy is a British synthpop singer, songwriter, and producer. You can follow ILFL on SoundCloud, Twitter, and Instagram, and subscribe to her YouTube channel.

There Is T in Team

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: LGBTQ+ rights are about more than marriage. Queer people everywhere are still struggling to be allowed fundamental human and civil rights. Thousands of people are victims of hate crimes every year, with hundreds losing their lives simply for being/looking/acting queer. And there is a disturbing upward trend in anti-LGBTQH hate violence, with findings from the NCAVP revealing that 2014 saw a 19% rise in murders, a disproportionate amount of them affecting LGBTQH communities of color, transgender people, and transgender people of color:

  • 80% of all homicide victims in 2014 were people of color.
  • Over half (55%) of homicide victims were transgender women, and half (50%) of homicide victims were transgender women of color.
  • 35% of homicide victims were gay or bisexual men.

This week, India Clark became the 10th trans woman to be murdered in the US in 2015. And the picture on a global scale is equally devastating, with the TDOR 2014 update revealing 226 reported cases of murdered trans people worldwide in 2014.

With stats such as these, it is not difficult to see how trans* issues should take center stage in the LGBTQ+ movement.

On a brighter note, 2015 has shown an increase of trans* people in the show-business spotlight. And, as trans* people have become more visible, so have trans* struggles. And so should cis people wanting to act as exemplary trans* allies. It’s also high time all members of the cis gay community learned their ABC. There is T in Team. And Together we are stronger. Become a trans* ally. But do it respectfully. If unsure, read these tips, drawn from trans* folk. And, if in Brighton, consider attending Trans* Pride. The third ever Trans* Pride Brighton weekend opens tomorrow, with the March in Solidarity.

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Finding Momentum

This is too sad. The monster versus the little people. And we are all broken-hearted. Also, now, there is this whole new situation to think about and deal with when we are not even done “mourning”. A bit of a “nightmare” unravelling for most of us. Which is fine… really. We’ll be fine… really. We have had practice at this sort of thing with life being a Sisyphus myth for most folk. We roll our boulders up hills, confident that things are going to be different each time, and stare in disbelief/anger as they roll back down just before we’ve gotten to the top. But, it is in the human spirit to persevere and never give up hope. This might seem rather wasteful and a vain struggle in the quest for stability of some sort: Why attempt to reach the crest when we could just ‘roll with it’? (See what I did there?) For me, the potential to do nothing about it until I absolutely HAVE to do something about it is there. So is the potential to sulk and moan until I have no friends left.

But, motivated by the speakers at the TEDxCoventGardenWomen event I attended recently, I am going to ‘find my momentum’, I am not going to let their inspiring lives and speeches be wasted on me, I am going to allow myself to remain optimistic about this whole “ordeal” (exaggerating much?!) by reminding myself of their words and teachings: The ‘ideas that sustain motion and send waves through the way we think, work and live’.

I am going to embrace the absurdity of our lives, with the powerful liberating awareness that exists in being fully conscious that most of my efforts will, in fact, be rather otiose. I’m just going to go back down the hill and set that boulder in motion again and actually rejoice in it. After all, as Albert Camus puts it in his 1942 essay, The Myth of Sisyphus, ‘The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart.’ Or, in the words popularized by an (in)famous figure of our time: ‘Ain’t about how fast I get there / Ain’t about what’s waitin’ on the other side / It’s the climb.’

So, today I choose to celebrate the fact that we are never truly done. Who wants to be done anyways? Being done is becoming stagnant, which goes totally against what I learnt at TEDx: Embrace change; find momentum and ride its waves. Of course, it is easy to say this when the “uphill battle” is not life threatening but, in the whole scheme of things, an annoyance – blown slightly out of proportion by this post. But, hey, it is difficult not to take a reshuffle of your life as momentous, of mythological proportions even. And that is because, another quality of the human spirit is to be embarrassingly self-centered and because I am secretly crossing my fingers that this might, with hindsight, become an Oprah ‘aha moment’ for me.

I do realize I have not even mentioned why it is that I am at the bottom of the hill again… But I have company: This is a sensitive issue that affects many. Also, deep down, this post is just an excuse to talk about the TEDx women. It is almost two months since the event and I am still crushing hard on them all – which you might have already gathered given I spent the whole of May 30, 2015 live tweeting the s*** out of the event. Below are some of the ‘sparks of inspiration that [got me] going’ that day: Nuggets of wisdom I hope will keep me motivated for months to come, as I try to make my way uphill. It is easy to see how they could appear a bit random here, out of context, but I think they are still generic enough to be powerful reminders that there is a lot more going on outside ourselves: Things that are far greater and worthier and that will keep me preoccupied, making the tedious ascent less ordinary.

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When you learn something emotionally, it never leaves you – Nikandre Kopcke

As you step through fear you realise your doubts don’t come to fruition – Emily Brothers

Maybe it is not enough to be aware of people suffering – Shaunaugh Connaire

Every crisis offers an opportunity for transformation (…) It’s possible to transform the most oppressive person or system – Dr Rama Mani

The rights that you take for granted are but a generation away – Anne Laure Humbert

Even the fear of violence is a form of violence – Lina Abirafeh

Speak without shame and stand with me and bring about the change we want to see – Ram Devineni

Sexism isn’t dead. It is just that men have learnt to hide it so much better – Emma Barnett

I can’t do everything but I can’t do nothing – Marianna Fox

See me as I choose to be seen – Stacey Clare

Confidence is a muscle, and it can be exercised – Gen Ashley

Challenge the idea of the male default – Caroline Criado-Perez

If we don’t seize the opportunity to tell our stories they will be forgotten – Ella Achola

To live your life not believing in yourself is total madness – Lou Lebentz