Tuesday, January 17, 2012

"Just Because You’re a Dyke…." Doesn't Mean You Don't Deserve Freedom

It is a funny thing being human.  I say this because we experience things as individuals and as groups.  I experience things as a couple, as an African American, as an American, and as a human.  For instance, all of us will experience death and all have experienced birth, but how we experience death and life is unique.  Our individual journeys can feel so unique that each of us has felt like the outsider, like the other.  Human eroticism is another example of how we are individuals and how we also share experiences with the group or community.  I am an African American, heterosexual man.  Like other heterosexual men, I enjoy sex with women, and I am attracted to and pursue intimate erotic relationships only with women.  On the other hand, I had watched lovers of mine suck others' cocks and lick women’s pearls for my own sexual satisfactions.  I have let women play with my anus, and I admitted to myself and the world that I have a fetish for the female anus.  Moreover, I have dedicated my life to the field of study of human eroticism.  Now every heterosexual man will claim such.  African American lesbians are one group that experiences the world as a community of women who love women and as individual humans.  I am blessed enough to have had the opportunity to rap individually with five beautiful African American lesbians for research.  Here I will share with you part of the stories of three: Disco, Princess, and Doc.  Their communal story is one of liberation and self-definition.  There individual stories vary in tragedy and comedy.  They, their individual stories, are fingerprints

Pushed Out: The Story of Disco
Disco is the only woman of the three that I have known for some time.  When I met her, she already was living openly as a lesbian, and we liked each other straight away.  We always said that we would hit the strip clubs together.  That was probably the first time that I was turned on by the idea of watching a woman admire the beauty of and lust after another woman.  I never shared that, and we have yet to make it to a strip club together. 

As Disco story told me her story, I loved the energy in her voice.  She sounded proud of her story.  It starts with tragedy but ends with acceptance from loved ones and a refusal to hide ever again.  Appropriately, Disco was the first African American lesbian that I approached.  She also was the first to open my eyes to the individuality in the lesbian experience, for Disco doesn’t have a coming out story. 
           She has a “pushed out” story: “My coming out story wasn’t really my choice. I was kinda pushed out.  I was dating somebody that was really… ah… a little bit crazy.  And it came to point in our relationship that nobody really knew that I was dating a woman at the time.”

Disco gives.  When I first met her, I was introduced to her by an ex-girlfriend of hers.  I got the chance to spend time them.  Disco seemed to be a loving, easy-going partner who took commitment seriously and who enjoy spending time with and creating family.  The beginning of her coming out story does not begin in a easy-going loving fashion.  It started in confusion   In coming out, Disco finds out that love and giving is not always enough.  During her coming out period, Disco told her lover that she could no longer give her love and support.  This realization was the beginning of a journey, mentally and physically, a journey marked by violence.

            Disco states, “I was going through it, and my best friend lived at Atlanta at the time.  She sent me a ticket to go see her.  And the night before I told my ex that… alright, “you know I’m going to Atlanta….  We talked about this….  I am just letting you know that when I come back that we don’t have a relationship.”  And she was so mad that night that she actually tried to stab me.  Like she had the knife to my neck and everything.”

Though Disco got through that part of the path without any physical harm, she was changed.  You see, Disco’s lover made some calls.  She “outted” disco to friends and family.  The outting did not provide verification for Disco, but it did bring freedom.  She felt secure, but she did not know how here family would react, which is not unusual in African American coming out stories.  Traditionally, many African Americans are communal folk; in others words, the extended family historically has been very important to African Americans in America and prior to slavery on the continent of Africa. 

Disco shares, “I really didn’t care what anybody else thought because I knew I had, you know, the good job, I was raising my daughter by myself, and I was happy with my life.  My thing was my family and what my family can do for me.  My mom, my mother has her reservations…, but she knows that am her daughter.  You know that is more important than any reservation she might have, so she is going to love me regardless….  Everybody has their reservations, but I am still their sister, or their aunt, or their cousin, or whatever.  My whole family excepts it because I am me.  I never had a problem with my family at all….     I have been having these feelings since… since… probably since I was 12 years old.  The strong feeling that I should be with a woman, but because of what society said, I’m gonna do what everybody expects me to do”

That was the last moment Disco spent in the closet.  Coming out was a moment of liberation, freedom, and joy.  Subsequently, she now demands that if you love her, you must love being who you are, a lesbian and an individual.

Big Things in Little Packages: The Story of Princess
Princess’ personality can fill any room regardless of it’s dimensions.  On the other hand, her physical stature does not match her spirit.  Princess’s story is not a traditional fairytale in which a prince comes to save the day.  Sometimes our heroes and shereos must be us.

            Like Disco, Princess did not control when she came out.  While Princess and her girlfriend talked for forty minutes or so, an accidental pocket call to her mother pushed Princess out.  Her father knew already.  It was his phone that outted Princess as he and Princess drove her girlfriend home.  Although Princess’ father knew, neither of them came to rescue her from the dragon in this tale.

Princess shares part of her story after the phone call: “I felt like a fucking rock had landed in my stomach.  I was so scared and nervous, and then I thought about it.  I said what a minute.  This happened crazy, but at least I didn’t have to tell her verbally.  At least she heard it for herself.  She heard it in rare form, and I didn’t have to beat around the bush.  Plenty of friends of mine have been through very tough times communicating with their parents about being lesbian or gay. They tried writing letters, and you know, getting into physical altercations.  I am very… very blessed with not having to deal with those physical altercations between my mother and I but between my farther and I, we did get into, cause you know, he tried to….  He wanted to equate his masculine…. Him being a man and me liking women [to him was] me wanting to be masculine; you know, because he said we did the same thing with women….  My father would beat me and say, “Just because you’re a dyke doesn’t mean that you can take me on because you do what I do with women, doesn’t mean you can handle me.”  He slapped, choked me, beat me and all that.  I would never break….  It was very difficult… for having to, I guess,  defend, defend my  choices from violence.  ….I myself am 4’10”.  My father is 5’11”.  I am 4’10”, and I had to defend myself against my father, the fellow that I love, you know?”

            Fredrick Douglass never broke during slavery.  In his own Narrative, never breaking was a moment of freedom for him.  Princess never said that to me that what it meant to “not break,” but as she told me her story and as I listened again later, I imagined the battle meant more than just stopping the violence.  The battle was recognition of her ability to self-define.

            Princess did not mention Douglass or freedom, but she does tell us that she demands her personhood, her humanity, even if the demand comes from a little package: “Not that you have to accept, you know, my lifestyle.., and I don’t even call it a lifestyle.  It is a conditioning term.  Um… but I choose to be happy I’ll say.  You don’t have to respect the way I choose to be happy, but at least, respect me as a person.  What happens in my home is my business.  And my bedroom is not of anyone’s concern to damn or to judge because that is a sin….  (Sigh)”

A Journey into Womanhood and Blackness: The Story of Doc
Doc’s story is an academic’s story, filled with theory and reflection.  In some ways, coming out almost seemed calculated, not a choice, but calculated nonetheless.  In my eyes, it is a beautiful story of gaining knowledge: “I think my coming out story has many different beginnings and endings and restarting and ending again.  I came out when I was 19 years old in terms of officially announcing to the world or announcing to my mother, but as I trace my life trajectory up until now, I realize that when I was in elementary school, I had a little a special little girlfriend that I put into a place who was more than just like all my other little friends.”

Doc’s coming out story has many parts, for she includes such things as realizing she was making non-sexual but erotic friendships with girls since she was in elementary school.  She includes learning the language of womanhood and lesbian theory was coming out too.  Defining her Africanness was also coming out.  Lastly, gauging her experiences for correctness was also coming out:

“…I was coming into my African American identity, my female self.  I was coming into my lesbian self.  And so going to  ________ was that door through what I was able to study, read, and learn; friendships I was able to develop….  And there were a couple of other people who I met along the way there who I was able to have whatever experiences I needed to have to conform that this [being a lesbian] was a good fit for me.  So once I knew, what I knew, based on some friendships developing, some introspection happening, just exploring safe zones; I said, ‘okay, that part is good, I really need to be invested in the African American students here….’”

Learning about being a lesbian and woman in an academic fashion gave Doc strength.  She refuses to be defined by the word lesbian and is interested in the word ‘queer” because it comes with less limitations.  Moreover, she is an advocate for the LGBTQ communities.  Doc places her coming out story into a larger context of general oppression.  Studying gives her language with which to argue for human freedoms and against oppression.

In the movie, Inventing the Abbotts, a character states, “Life is not a cafeteria.”  In other words, in life, we do not stand in line, picking all the things we want off of glass shelves, leaving behind what might be distasteful to others or what might be difficult.  We do not to pick things that taste good to our individual taste.  Life is messier than that.  These women reminded me of that.  They also reminded me that we all have coming out stories.  There is much in each of us that when revealed to ourselves and the world, changes us forever.  There are parts of eroticism that we all have hidden.  Disco, Princess, and Doc taught me that erotic freedom is worth fighting for.

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