Realized that there was a broken link on the Vanzant-spiritual abuse post from December. Have corrected that and embedded the video. —KM
At the 2013 Essence Magazine Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon this February, Gabrielle Union received the Fierce and Fearless Award. Her acceptance speech is remarkable. (It starts at about 1:03 of 11:32.)
“We live in a town that rewards pretending and I have been pretending to be fierce and fearless for a very long time. I was a victim masquerading as a survivor. I stayed when I should have run. I was quiet when I should have spoken up, and I turned a blind eye to injustice instead of having the courage to stand up for what’s right…
“Being fearless is simply doing the work. It’s doing the work that it takes to recognize you no longer want to function in dysfunction and misery and that you would actually like to be happy and not just say you’re happy.” —Gabrielle Union
This AFI clip of Dustin Huffman discussing his process with the character Dorothy Michaels in Tootsie has made the rounds today. He began with the question, “How would you be different if you’d been born a woman?” and asked his make-up team to help make him “beautiful.”
“I said [to my wife] ‘I have to make this picture.’ And she said ‘Why?’ I said ‘Because I think I’m an interesting woman when I look at myself onscreen. And I know that if I met myself at a party, I would never talk to that character because she doesn’t fulfill, physically, the demands that we’re brought up to think that women have to have in order for us to ask them out… There’s too many interesting women I have not had the experience to know in this life because I’ve have been brainwashed.’ [Tootsie] was never a comedy for me.” —Dustin Hoffman
Hoffman’s comments about wanting to “pass” as a woman and avoid double-takes when walking down the street made me uncomfortable, but I’m glad he had the insights he did. What if we lived in a world where our social categories didn’t make anyone vulnerable to street harassment, and where “beauty” wasn’t so restrictive that it made “interesting” people invisible?
“When we make art, it comes from who we are.” -Teagan Widmer
Is our current collective path sustainable? Or is it not? If we did nothing different for the next 1,000 years, what would happen to us?
It is not inevitable that we should fail. —Terence McKenna
McKenna also asks: “Is there cause for optimism?” What do you think?
Know any worthy undergraduate or graduate technical communication students focusing on technical editing? The Society for Technical Communication‘s editing special interest group invites applications this month for two US$1,400 scholarships.
The deadline is July 7. Criteria and other information are available on the SIG website.
May was an active month on this side of the screen: two major projects meant much less posting here and more offline doing. As always, you can reach and keep up with me on Twitter where I share links and thoughts on leadership, spiritual and relational wisdom, culture, social justice, and politics.
This coming week, look out for a 3-article series here on sexuality and my denomination of origin, the Seventh-day Adventist church. If you enjoy discussions of history, Christianity, sexuality, and culture, check back through the week and share your stories with me.
For now — some of the content I’ve been sharing this week:
Sistas in STEM: Ebony magazine’s 3-page interview/response article with four young Black American women scientists. Their responses highlight the importance of mentorship, strong social networks, and encouragement from teachers.
The Danger of Worldviews: Toranse at Somatic Strength weighs intention, impact, and what can happen when people with power universalize their perspectives. FYI: Toranse’s site carries a general trigger warning for its frank discussion of sexual, social, and religious abuse. (ht: Son of Baldwin)
“The best way to dehumanize someone while claiming you’re not is to believe you are just the same. You erase their experiences and perspective, their struggles and obstacles, their unique way of having to deal with those things in a world that also erases them…
You are not acknowledging someone’s personhood when you ignore the very things that make their lives different than yours.” —Toranse
Okayafrica interviews “God Loves Uganda” director Roger Ross Williams on his documentary, his experiences with leading Uganda evangelists and citizens, and his thoughts on contemporary imperialism, religiously motivated anti-LGBT sentiment, and a government struggling with oil politics.
Why Tumblr is Perfect for the Trans Community: Buzzfeed’s Thomas Page McBee describes ways that young trans people have used social media to self-define, self-describe, and build peer networks. McBee focuses especially on Yahoo’s micro-blogging platform, Tumblr, which hosts sites like NY-based bklyn boihood and London’s The Test Shot, as well as individual users from all over the world.
As rumored, Yahoo! bought Tumblr this week for $1.1bn; users met this news with a little anxiety. Forbes and WSJ think the site will be fine; Australia’s The Age has a few thoughts about Tumblr’s inventor, David Karp.
On the IMF’s latest agreement with Jamaica: During my first year in the island the JA$-US$ exchange rate was 35:1. Today it is 99:1, the unemployment average is more than 14%, land taxes press the middle and working classes, and legislation related to international financing requirements will dominate the country’s parliamentary agenda. The IMF caught my eye when it described Jamaica’s recent economic progress as “pleasing“; also check out the Center for Economic Progress and Research on these developments.
More to come this week. See you in a few days.
I come into the ally/narrative conversation shaped not just by my direct experiences but also by the body of narratives that catalyzed the British and American anti-slavery movements.
Who May Speak for a Slave?
Narratives shaped the 18th-19thC conversation about slavery as a legal institution and cultural practice. Some of those narratives were written by former slaves and free people like Olaudah Equiano and Frederick Douglass. These storytellers recorded their experiences, published them, and toured their respective countries to speak about them. Other narratives were written by slaveholders/plantation owners to describe plantation life from their point of view and to justify the slave economy in the face of nascent criticism. Still other narratives were written by abolitionists like William Wilberforce and Harriet Beecher Stowe.
Not surprisingly, while Britain and the United States wrestled with slavery, the narratives with the most popular credit belonged to White abolitionists, slaveholders, and a certain kind of former slave: a Black gentleman or gentlewoman with refined social manners, self-taught or classically educated as far as he or she could be, and publicly pious. These were the narratives given platform space and amplified.
I’ve seen a similar dynamic in every social movement since abolition: not all stories are equal; social norm-compliance buys airtime and social credit; allies can be contradictory and not all endorsements are consistent. Given this inconsistency, I’ve learned not to conflate “anti-slavery” and “pro-Black” or “anti-discrimination” and “pro-equality.” Objecting to legal discrimination or social cruelty is not the same as fully supporting a population, especially once that population expects to be judged on its own terms and not by the measure of other groups. So those who work against social and legal discrimination may still hold onto overt and subtle prejudices about the people we work with: being a community’s ally in one sense does not necessarily mean being its ally in all senses.
Harriet Beecher Stowe’s _Uncle Tom’s Cabin_ (1851-2) exemplifies this. Its author, a White woman, was an abolitionist and teacher. Building on the stories of former slaves, Beecher Stowe depicted “kind” and “cruel” slaveholders, and also featured Black slaves as major, sympathetic characters.  By the 1860s, her story was galvanizing abolitionists and helping to turn public sentiment against the worst of the slave economy.
At the same time, the book relied on an abridged and patronizing view of Black people, and its benevolently racist stereotypes still surface in US media and public sphere conversation 150+ years later: the noble-faithful Uncle Tom, the loyal, religious, and ever insightful maid and wetnurse, the wild child. Beecher Stowe didn’t invent these tropes; she merely built her story around them. I do not question that she was an anti-slavery ally, considered slavery immoral, and had good intentions for her art.
A story can have a positive impact in the short and long term while also collapsing audiences’ view of reality and their view of the subjects represented in that story. In the same way, it is possible for a story to open up an audience’s view of trans* or gender variant or LGB people while also using conceptual shortcuts and assumptions that don’t serve the wider community well.  This doesn’t mean that only some stories should be told. I think it means that more stories should be told overall, more thoughtfully, more assertively in some cases, and more humbly in others. Stories are powerful and some of them can cast a long, long shadow. That scares me sometimes, but it also helps me to be conscious about my impact on people and communities I care about and not focus only on my hopes and intentions on their or our behalf.
The Stories I Tell
As part of its community outreach program and at the invitation of local college professors, PFLAG-Lubbock has organized panels of members to talk with counselors and teachers-in-training about identity, diversity, family dynamics, being an ally, and ways to increase understanding of gender and sexual minorities. I joined my first panel about three years ago. It was the first time in a long, long time that anyone had asked me to tell my story, to share from my experience what the world looked like from where I stood, to speak as myself. Whenever I spoke, it felt good that I was never offering classes a “single story” about my communities because those panels were always set up to support a broad range of perspectives and experiences. There were times when panelists disagreed and yet we didn’t gloss over those differences: there are already too many spaces where disagreement is misconstrued as disloyalty. “Diversity” spaces don’t need to mimic that.
I still tell my own story more informally from time to time, and I also speak about my perception of others and their stories, but whenever I do either of these things, I do so knowing that a story changes in the telling no matter who it’s about. In the years I told stories in Texas and in print, I noticed how much my narratives changed as I did. I drew from a consistent file of characters and events, but my interpretations evolved, and I also began recounting some experiences less while talking about what I’d learned from them more. If stories that I know are sound can vary this much, how much more might there be a fidelity gap between the stories others tell about themselves and the way I’d render their narratives? Because of our psychological and experiential distance, I can’t tell The Story of You as well as you can, and you can’t tell The Story of Me as well as I can.
One of my life lessons is this: When I see and experience this world, I do so as me. I never do so as another soul, never as they’d see or experience this life, and never as they’d wish I’d see it. So whenever I speak outside my experiences, I necessarily project in some way; I’m perceiving, translating, re-framing, and then re-publishing. I’m in constant conversation with others, too, and we’re all shaping our stories together, Yet the only original story I can tell is my own.
I find it keeps me honest to recognize that this is what it means for me to tell stories about my life and about others’ lives; this is what it means to build knowledge and understanding with others. It also seems to help my peers and audiences to acknowledge that this is what we’re doing, because in coming to grips with this, we’re challenged not to seek a fixed and universal truth from the stories we tell to each other. For the Christian fundamentalists I know, that’s a tough sell, but then some of them also struggle with the premise that our particular experiences are not inferior to an idealized and universalized experience: universalized experiences, after all, are only a slice of the world used to colonize the rest.
When I do speak up on my own behalf or with others, my stories about myself and my perceptions aren’t less important than others’ stories and perceptions. Stories I’d tell about myself are not less important than those others will tell about me. But they are different. They can’t be substituted without loss. And the wider world often treats my stories as less important. It also treats the differences I naturally add to the mainstream as annoyances or something “more difficult” that we’ll all “get to later.” That approach has real relational consequences and we live those consequences every day. I think the whole is diminished because of this approach. So I speak up about that when possible.
I don’t believe any of this means we all need to stop telling stories or building knowledge together. I believe it means we need to tell more stories, not fewer. And all of us, the storytellers used to being sources of The Story, need to recognize that our special standing is a dysfunction that we can and should dismantle in all the ways we can.
 Today is the birthday of an ally who stood with me as I learned to speak as myself and for myself. I still hope to offer others the kind of wholeness she offered me. CKR: b. April 1954 – d. April 2010. C., thank you so much.
 The “kind” and “cruel” slaveholder distinction only makes sense on one side of the table—not my side!
You can’t really wish to write someone else’s book. Reading at its best is like friendship: part of the pleasure is that the friend is not you, thinks different things, has different tastes, surprises you, does what you cannot. —Anne Norton
My mother, a March-born soul, loves the natural world.
I’ve sent her these cardinals in honor of her birthday and hope she enjoys them.
Each year I give myself a birthday present. In previous years, my self-gifts have included a bass guitar and amp, an adjustable set of dumbbells, and high quality bed and bathroom linens.
This year, after 8 years of grad school, 4+ years of major life changes, and nearly a year of preparation to move across country, I looked in the mirror and asked myself “What does this body most want?”
This Year’s Present: Physical Conditioning
Over the last two months, my local church has been hosting health screenings and info sessions: blood donations for the Red Cross, heart fitness, and blood pressure tests in the lobby. But it was a BP screening that got my attention with the highest diastolic reading I’ve ever had in my life. I was so shocked that we came home and I retested it. Our home reading was lower than the reading in the church lobby—but still, it was far too high for my comfort. I was unnerved.
Throughout my life, my BP has been obnoxiously low: my British doctor once took a reading and asked me if I were dead. I have always been active in some way, whether as intensely as sport 4-5 days a week (a decade ago) or as moderately as walking most days to and from campus with some light weights at home (last year).
As we age, however, our bodies change and so do our routines. I carry around about 25 more pounds than I did when I first moved to the United States. I no longer play team sports, but I’ve done light resistance training on and off over the last few years, with great results each time. But the bottom line this time: my BP was ridiculous (for me), I hadn’t trained consistently since moving, and what my body most wanted for its birthday was more muscle tone!
21 Days of Cardio
So I made a commitment to myself to do some cardio/aerobic exercise every single day for the following 21 days. I’d planned to increase my activity level this year and love exercise when I’m in the middle of it, but I’d struggled most with getting into it and staying consistent. The recommended standard of 3-4 days per week hadn’t worked for me: I spent too much energy trying to adapt to a shifting daily schedule. So rather than try to remember whether “today is cardio day,” I decided to make every day cardio day.
I kept the entry barriers low: no new clothes, no gym subscription, and only 20 minutes per session. My favorite person has a recumbent bike; I decided to use that. And there were no other rules, though informally I decided that once I started pedaling, I would not stop until my daily time was up. That was doable. So 20 minutes on the bike non-stop every day.
How did I do? See for yourself.
|Day 1||4.51||156||Rolling, Level 6|
|Day 2||5.03||143||Rolling, Level 4|
|Day 3||5.00||122||Interval, Level 4|
|Day 4||5.18||130||Rolling, Level 4|
|Day 5||5.23||132||Rolling, Level 4|
|Day 6||5.02||122||Rolling, Level 4|
|Day 7||4.85||115||Interval, Level 4|
|Day 8||5.08||125||Rolling, Level 4|
|Day 9||5.20||131||Rolling, Level 4|
|Day 10||5.20||131||Rolling, Level 4|
|Day 11||5.08||126||Interval, Level 4|
|Day 12||5.32||137||Rolling, Level 4|
|Day 13||5.23||132||Rolling, Level 4|
|Day 14||5.20||131||Rolling, Level 4|
|Day 15||5.10||127||Interval, Level 4|
|Day 16||5.19||130||Rolling, Level 4|
|Day 17||5.28||135||Rolling, Level 4|
|Day 18||5.22||132||Rolling, Level 4|
|Day 19||5.09||126||Interval, Level 4|
|Day 20||5.28||135||Rolling, Level 4|
|Day 21||5.13||128||Rolling, Level 4|
You’ll notice I rode a rolling circuit at Level 6 on my first day (the bike apparently goes up to Level 16, which is insane). I finished my 20 minutes that day, but it was hell! For the rest of the experiment, I stayed at Level 4, and switched from rolling circuits to intervals every fourth day so I didn’t get too comfortable.
And my blood pressure? It dropped 20 points in the first 4 days and was at 113/63 by Day 18. I have more energy through the day, feel more toned, and my thighs are lovely… I’m cool with that. It was my last session today, but I think I’ll be seeing the bike again tomorrow morning for a new round of 21. Happy birthday to me!
How about you? Have you run any short-term experiments with your own lifestyle? Did you finish the testing period? And did you keep the change afterwards?
Edit: The original post’s total miles and calories calculation did not include Day 11. This post has been updated to reflect the correct totals.