Thinking Constellationally: An Intersectional, Integrative Analysis of the Orlando Massacre

I am tired.  I am still tired.  Tired alongside so many of my siblings, of my kin.  In my last post, I talked about my hopefulness for change, for the future, for our safety feeling like it was tissue paper rather than iron clad.  Now, I want to make some flowers out of that paper – vibrant colorful flowers we can begin to plant to grow some new hope and doing it in such a way that I/we become the lovers, the leaders we need to make our communities a little more just and a little more caring.  As Grace Lee Boggs (2012) said, “we are the leaders we’ve been looking for.”

Early Sunday evening represents a confluence of so many issues that continue to plague our collective human conscience.  I know many of them are constantly on my mind: terrorism and who is labeled as a terrorist; the continued erasure of the continued violence upon people of color, especially transgender women of color; the centrality of Whiteness in LGBTQ+ concerns and caring; the role of love as a verb to heal ourselves and each other; how we continue to center conversations about safety on individual victims and perpetrators rather than addressing the systems.

Early Sunday evening represents a starry night sky, full of individual stars that seem disconnected and separate.  To honor the 49 lives we lost that night, to honor the (critically) injured, to truly make a sustained effort and outcome for change, we’ve got to see the constellation that early Sunday evening represents.

In March, I was grateful to speak at the TEDxMSU conference, discussing what I and others have called “constellational thinking.”  Constellational thinking is how we begin to make connections between the social, environmental, and economic justice issues of our time as grounded in a socio-historical, interconnected context.  For instance, we cannot possibly address issues of climate change without seriously addressing issues of war.  The U.S. Department of Defense remains one of the world’s top emitters of carbon.  Constellational thinking forces us to make the connections where they seemingly do not exist.  We must use constellational thinking to address the confluence of issues that arises from the Orlando massacre.

We’ve got to be thinking constellationally about how terrorism, and the definition of a terrorist, is often unequally applied to different groups of people.  The label of terrorism seems to easily fall on those who are brown, who are read as Middle-Eastern, and those who veil.  As Terrell Jermaine Starr (2016) suggested, “Muslims who commit mass acts of violence are easily and immediately deemed terrorists.  White people who do the same thing are not.”  Once again, a word we see as race-neutral becomes racially coded, a way to brand “the other” who is harming “us.”  The dominant discourse around what happened in Orlando and Charleston, respectively is as follows: Omar Mateen was labeled an “Islamic terrorist” early on.  Dylann Roof was a “troubled kid” who probably was “mentally unstable.”  The ways in which terror and hate have been limited to certain people is similar to what Mogul, Ritchie, and Whitlock (2011) described as cultural criminalization, where crusades to crack down and “get tough on crime” have an established target.  In this case, the target of the crusade has been Islam and Muslims collectively.  Yet, we continue to not discuss how a majority of mass shootings in the United States continue to be perpetuated by non-Muslim, White men.  We don’t discuss how a hyper-, hegemonic masculinity remains at the center of much of the violence in our culture.  We also continue to not discuss how Mateen worked for G4S, “a global ‘security’ firm, also known as a privately contracted army that has ‘a force three times the size of the British military.’”  His working for G4S in many ways reinforced his socialization around hypermasculinity in their ways of easily dehumanizing people in the name of “security.”  While I discuss safety and security implications for queer/trans folk below, it is important to point out here how his working for G4S is yet another overlapping ideology that must be interrogated and addressed.  How can we, as Dr. Z Nicolazzo suggested, condemn Mateen as bad when the ideologies and systems that informed his worldview are U.S. American born-and-bred?  Once again, the dominant discourse around violence, who perpetuates violence, and how they are labeled is as follows: If a person of color, particularly a black or brown person, is caught committing acts of violence, they are labeled a terrorist.  If a White man/person is caught committing acts of violence, they must be mentally ill.  And there will be no discussion of gender at all in the process.  Let’s be clear.  This was an act of terror and hate.  AND, we need to apply the labels of terrorism and hate equitably across incident, to name these incidents for what they are.

The ways in which these murderers, these terrorists, have been labeled has not been the only way Whiteness has shown up in the story of the Orlando massacre.  There are a large number of reports that refuse to name this act of hate, this act of terror, as something that targeted LGBTQ+ folks.  Even those who do acknowledge and name this as a violent act against a group of people, they are mainly naming this as an attack against LGBTQ+ people.  Whether intentional or unintentional, there continues to be a pervasive, present erasure of how most of the victims were Latinx, Afro-Latinx, and Black folks who were attending Latin night at Pulse.  While some may think this is semantics, that we still lost 49 lives no matter what and so it’s not important what their “lifestyle was” or “how they identify,” I am here to tell you that it does matter.  It matters because violence and discussions surrounding violence are often rooted in binary ways.  Straight versus queer.  White versus color.  Individual versus individual.  We must name that this act of violence took away 49 queer/trans people of color.  That queer/trans people of color continue to be disproportional victims of violence in our society by a long shot.

Even queer folks continue to erase the race/ethnicity of those involved in this massacre, which is endemic of the larger movement for “equality.”  Indeed, to promote a gay rights agenda rather than a queer liberation framework, mainstream well-funded organizations continue to use strategies that normalize LGBTQ+ folks.  Indeed, one of the main reasons marriage equality became a reality in this country is because “love is love,” same-sex/gender love had to be seen the same as heterosexual/straight love.  Not only have these campaigns around normalcy been focused on normalizing queer folks in terms of how much we are alike to cis-heterosexual folks, it has also meant being seen as White.  As Farrow (2004) noted, “in order to be mainstream in America, one has to be seen as white.”  Certainly, many of the original issues of the queer liberation movement – prison reform, poverty, ending violence against women/femme folks, support for working families – have disappeared overtime to appeal to donors and an agenda focused on getting others to accept us.  How can we have meaningful discussions about the violence enacted upon queer people of color, particularly transgender women of color, if our movement continues to center White gay cisgender men?  How can we name this as an act of racialized heterosexist violence if our most well-funded, most visible organizations do not explicitly name racial justice as a goal of the movement?  Until we begin to center our most marginalized in our advocacy work, people of color will continue to be perpetrators of violence, never victims. Again, constellational thinking helps us to make the connections between which groups of people are easily named as terrorists and perpetrators of violence while simultaneously erasing those same people as the folks who often receive the most violence.  As numerous reports have found, transgender women of color continue to be eradicated at astronomical rates.

More news has come forth in the past days that we have lost yet another one of our sisters – Goddess Diamond.  She represents the 14th trans person killed in the US this year, the same number of recorded murders in all of 2013 in the US.  Once again, the outrage for this widespread violence is largely absent.  Despite the ever-increasing mainstream visibility of transgender persons like Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, Kate Bornstein, and Chelsea Manning among others; despite the limited #LoveWins rhetoric of organizations like the Human Rights Campaign; despite four Black actors winning the top four Tony Awards this year, violence continues to be enacted on LGBTQ(POC) at incredibly high levels, particularly transgender women of color.  This cannot be stated enough.  We must have sustained outrage at all forms of violence.  This is hard to do because helplessness and hopelessness creep in to our minds and hearts in times of grief, when everything seems insurmountable.  But we must maintain hope, and by extension sustain action dedicated to dismantling the systems that keep violence in place and reject the idea that legal inclusion alone will save our lives.

Visibility has never meant acceptance; never meant the absence of violence.  Legal inclusion has never mean the absence of violence in the lives of marginalized peoples.  Despite beliefs that passage of hate crime legislation has made us safer, it continues to not.  Hate crime legislation has several fallacies and drawbacks, many of which should be taken up and read by a wider audience (see: Against Equality and Queer (In)justice).  Of some of the main arguments against hate crime legislation, two mainly rise to the surface for the purpose of this analysis.  First, as Mogul, Ritchie, and Whitlock (2011) pointed out, hate crime laws “fail to address the larger social forces influencing individual acts of violence, and instead focus on harsher punishment of individuals rather than prevention, there is no proactive ‘protection’ in hate crime laws, despite the claims of supporters.”  We must break up our abusive relationship with the idea that violence on people of color, LGBTQ+ folks, persons with disabilities is violence perpetuated by strangers upon strangers when violence; as Aponte (2008) noted, these folks “aren’t disproportionately victimized simply because some individuals hate them: that hatred is backed up, reinforced, and executed by an entire system of institutionalized power that allow us and in fact encourages such acts of violence.”  And as Spade (2014) expanded, “[i]f we deal with the complexity of how common violence is, and let go of a system built on a fantasy of monstrous strangers, we might actually begin to focus on how to prevent violence and heal from it.”  The Audre Lorde Project (2016), in naming what is happening in Orlando, further explained:

The fact that only the race of the perpetrator and not the victims is being discussed is telling. Besides erasing the lived reality of Muslim LGBTSTGNC [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Two Spirit, and Gender Non Conforming] people, Black Muslims, and LGBTSTGNC people of color more generally, this promotes the xenophobic stereotype that Muslim people and immigrants are more ‘homophobic,’ and become ‘radicalized’ elsewhere. The culprit becomes the figure of the ‘Islamic terrorist,’ and the heroes become the politicians, the police, and the military. We reject this deliberately racist framing. Individual perpetrators are part of a much larger system of militarization and colonization. We recognize that terrorism is not imported, it is home grown in a culture that is deeply anti-Black, anti-immigrant, and anti-queer.

Indeed, as activists focused on ending sexual violence will tell you, violence comes not from strangers, but often people we know and that our solutions and discussions should be victim-centered rather than perpetrator-centered.  These systems of institutionalized powers and forces that promote violence against minoritized folks continue to see us abject and disposable, as folks undeserving of life.  Rather than focusing on being outraged at these systems via individuals who commit mass shootings, we must address these systems, these ideologies that continue to enable people to end our lives based in “historical patterns of dominance and subordination” (Mogul, Ritchie, & Whitlock, 2011).  We must interrogate the White supremacist capitalist cisheteropatriarchal culture we live in, understand how it allows for much of this violence, figure out how we are complicit in it, and then dismantle it.  That’s not easy. That sounds very academic and distant.  Yet it is what we are called to do.  We can continue to look to activists based in the Black Lives Matter movement and those based in sexual assault prevention as examples of how to address individual, institutional, and systemic forms of violence and think of safety as a community measure rather than an individual measure where one is only safe if they take certain actions (i.e. wear modest clothing, not wear hoodies down the street at night).  (SN: it should also be noted there are crossover activists in both movements and that one does not choose between one or the other).

Before we continue, let’s see the interconnected stars so far: the ways in which cultural criminalization are employed see people of color as perpetrators of mass violence/terrorists and white folks as troubled folks who need more mental health attention, which is connected to one of the reasons in which the races and ethnicities of the Orlando victims continues to be erased solely for an LGBTQ+ narrative rather than an LGBTQ+ people of color narrative.  Well-meaning, mainstream narratives of LGBTQ+ folks as “normal” people mean they must be white and act in ways that are respectable to a cishetero gaze.  The erasure of the victims’ races/ethnicities contributes to the continued systemic erasure of the violence perpetuated against queer/trans folks of color, especially transgender women of color.  In addition, these horrific violent events are not random; they are enforced by a hypermasculine system that decides which bodies are worthy of life and which bodies are not.  When we see these events enforced by particular systems and ideologies, we can begin to understand that safety is not individual taking every precaution they can take to keep themselves safe but rather a community that must take action to keep one another safe.

Let’s continue.

In the wake of the Orlando shootings, calls have already been made for a larger police presence at Pride events which will have the largest effect on those minoritized by their racial, nation, and gender identities.  For instance, NY Governor Andrew Cuomo wants folks at New York City’s Pride to have “the safest” Pride parade ever.  As Walker (2016) pointed out, safe generally means “more police, more security, and more rigorous screening for entry into events.”  In age of ever-increasing visible police brutality, a larger police presence at an event like Pride will continue to have a chilling effect on folks who are undocumented, who are of color, who are trans/gender nonconforming.  While some will point to the L.A. County Sheriff Department’s discovery of an Indiana man with weapons on the way to LA Pride as a positive example of police presence at Pride, police are now reporting despite weapons possession, they cannot conclusively say what the man’s intentions were.  When we recall the Compton Cafeteria & Stonewall riots led by trans women of color, the riots were about pushing back against the police raids, pushing back against systemic queer/transphobia that they sought to enforce; and that is still the fight to be had today, the pushing back against these systems.  As the Audre Lorde Project (2016) stated,

Our allies are pledging to keep us safe as we assemble for Pride this month. But we ask: safety for whom? They call for increased policing, but never for affordable housing. Hate crimes legislation has been shown to fuel mass incarceration and disproportionately criminalize Black and People of Color survivors of violence. The Christopher Street Pier, a sacred space for LGBTSTGNC youth and poor people of color, is barricaded shut by NYPD during Pride. Calls for gun control never seem to include demands for demilitarization of the police.

We must develop community-based alternatives to policing and militarization.  As Mogul, Ritchie, & Whitlock (2011) contend, “[d]eveloping alternative, concrete, and successful responses to violence against queers is nothing less than a Herculean task, requiring substantial transformation of our relationships and communities.”  Though for many of us this world is hard to imagine – one that is absent of the policing we currently have – there are organizations committed to addressing this task such as Community United Against Violence (CUAV), the Audre Lorde Project’s Safe Neighborhood Campaign, and Creative Interventions.  These approaches are locally created and still not perfect yet they are beginning to address the Herculean task.

Just because we have “won rights” and “history is on our side” does not mean that systems read history, that they follow social change that has targeted and promoted the inclusion of certain individuals into legal systems.  Indeed, as Spade (2015) pointed out:

We must stop believing that what the law says about itself is true and that what the law says about us is what matters.  Our goal cannot be to get the law to say ‘good’ instead of ‘bad’ things about people who are marginalized, criminalized, impoverished, exploited, and exiled.  Law reform and an investment in winning ‘rights’ has proved to legitimize and shore up the very arrangements that produce the harm we seek to eradicate.

And this harm we seek to eradicate is focused on ideologies that advocate for our eradication, for our physical erasure from the material world.  Violence does not need to be based in maliciousness; it can be absent of feeling, it can even have good intentions but horrible impact.  These ideologies start early and are pervasive throughout our culture, being reinforced in multiple areas of life.  As Quinlan (2016) pointed out, in the United States, queer/transphobic hate begins at an early age.  In schools, by silencing queer/trans teachers, by pushing back against inclusive sex education (if there is even a sex education curriculum to begin with), by accusing queer/trans student organizations of promoting “gay agendas,” by protesting inclusive, all-gender restrooms, by enforcing dress codes that promote cis-binary understandings of gender, by having exclusionary dance/prom practices, the communication to students about queer/trans peoples’ lives and concerns is that these issues “are not worth their consideration and at worst, are offensive.”  I would extend this list to unchecked microaggressions against marginalized communities, uninterrupted joking that (un)intentionally demeans and degrades minoritized folks, and even intra-community racism, body policing, and genderism.  As Mire (2016) stated, Omar Mateen, like many others, was a U.S.-born citizen who became a product of “a culture that places a premium on being ‘out’ if you’re gay but does not work hard enough to ensure that the world is safe for those same people.”  What Mire goes on to explain is that coming out is not “a cure-all for the travails of a queer life,” which include suicide, poverty, homelessness, and health-panic policies.  As Dr. D-L Stewart phrased it, “ideological bullets lead to material bullets.”  By promoting a #LoveIsLove and #LoveWins rhetoric that is predicated on people being “out and proud,” without interrogating and addressing the larger systems and ideologies that continue to enact violence on queer/trans people, while seeking inclusion in definitions of marriage, military service, and hate crime legislation, we continue to not tackle what continues to kill us and our marginalized kin on a daily basis, we continue to allow hate to win and love to lose. 

And what continues to hurt so much, what continues to elicit such deep pain in our queer/trans hearts, is that this hit our home.  As I have stated elsewhere,

This hit too close to home.  And a complicated, interconnected home.  Orlando is where both my blood and non-blood family call home.  Queer nightclubs and bars have continued to be home for me and my communities, a place where we can unapologetically be ourselves.  A place where we, especially my QTPOC kin, have organized, have liberated one another, have celebrated.  Today, our home, the safe place where we go to not be questioned, was defiled and disgraced and made to feel so unsafe [again].

An image has gone around Facebook, asking folks to identify the first queer/trans nightclub/bar folks have gone to in their lives.  This image has resonated with so many of us.  Because for so many of us, not all of us, those first bars or clubs were the spaces we could escape from the hurt, from the systems and people that do not want us.  For some of us, that feeling of empowerment, of being ourselves, of having a sense of self-worth “followed us home” and stayed with us outside of the four walls and the thumpa thumpa.  Even those who have seen queer/trans clubs as safe spaces (i.e. straight, femme, cisgender women) realize that “safety is an illusion of [their] relative privilege. Not even gay public space is safe space to be gay.”  This pain continues to be deep, as Nichols (2016) has already so eloquently stated, our community “will be mourning for a long, long time” and that we are “reminded that this world is not designed for our survival, and that these systems of power have the potential to form a human being that into someone who hates us.”

And what extends my pain just a bit more, what makes this incident really just…cut so deep that it feels like it will never fully heal…is for those who have been fed the rhetoric to be themselves, to live out and proud, cannot even practice that nor find an escape in these clubs and bars like so many of us have.  Though these incidents, these shootings of queer/trans spaces like in New Orleans, this shooting is in the #LoveWins era, where we see study after study find interpersonal acceptance of queer/trans people, where this mass murder was highly visible in mainstream media.  If our identities and “love” should go mainstream and open as many encourage, then we must be met by systemic change that allows us to live in public and in private. However, the era of love as a noun must come to an end; the era of love as a verb must be rebirthed as it began in the 1960’s.

What this thinking leads me to conclude is that we must have a multifaceted approach that seeks to end the marginalization and violence against all of us – a constant constellational praxis.  This approach must be intersectional, emphasizing that we do not gain rights one group at a time but rather liberation for all of us all at once.  This approach must be integrative, utilizing multiple frames and lenses of analysis, not a detached framework that can only examine one thing, one issue at a time.  Whatever this approach is, we must be prepared to name the systems and ideologies that seek to commit violence against many of us very explicitly.  Despite popular opinion, for instance, avoiding discussions around race has yet to make racism go away.  We might as well practice the inverse – let’s have direct conversations in how policies and systems continue to perpetuate/dismantle the White supremacist capitalist cisheteropatriarchal culture we live in.  In addition, this approach will require an understanding of love and hope as verbs rather than nouns – things that we must actively do.  This must be a sustained love, a sustained hopefulness.  As Freire (1970) stated in Pedagogy of Hope,

The idea that hope alone will transform the world, and action undertaken in that kind of naiveté, is an excellent route to hopelessness, pessimism, and fatalism.  But the attempt to do without hope, in the struggle to improve the world, as if that struggle could be reduced to calculated acts alone, or a purely scientific approach, is a frivolous illusion.

In addition, as we seek an approach that leaves no one behind, we have to continue to love on each other as we have in the past seven days.  We have to sustain our mourning, to remember who and what we trying to change the system for and with, so that we will not lose one more of our human kin.  Finally, we must center our efforts for change on those most marginalized.  While not a new concept, individuals and organizations continue to take a checklist approach to the work.  We must center these folks not only in our fundraiser sound bytes or on our organizations’ windows; we must also center them in our budgets and our agendas and meetings with legislators, activists, and organizers.

I was talking with one of my best friends on Sunday.  He was offering me support and ended a text with this: “Just hoping that MLK was right about the arc of the universe…”  I thought about that quote.  For those who do not know it, Martin Luther King, Jr. once said: “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”  I thought about it for a minute and responded and we came to a new understanding of that quote, one that I am going to hold with me for the rest of my life – the arc of the moral universe does bend towards justice because the collective actions of communities and peoples are the force that bends the arc toward justice.

Now, more than ever, we need people to push harder and bend the arc in ways that benefit all of us, not just some of us.  That bend the arc in ways that integrate all of our needs, rather than the checklist approach.  That bend the arc in a way that loves on all of us collectively, rather than for our own individual benefit.  That bend the arc in a way where we are committed to reflective action, rather than seeing dialogue and action as separate entities.

And as we bend the arc, we must do it together.  We must do it being in connection with one another.  As Grace Lee Boggs wrote “…movements are born of critical connections rather than critical mass” (p. 17).  We must not wait for a charismatic leader to save us or a demagogue to damn us.  We are the leaders we have been looking for – we must now actualize ourselves and each other in a way that sees love as a verb, that connects us to each other in genuine ways, and that forces us to examine how we are each part of the problem.  Then, and only then, do we recognize that we must each become part of the solution and begin to bend the moral universe collectively in the era of #LoveAsAVerb.


Love has failed. Love is the answer.

When I am in pain, I find writing as a solace. As a cathartic process.  So today, I write.  I write to find the strength to keep going.  To keep protecting hopefulness.  Don’t expect coherence right now.  How can there be coherence for something so incoherent, so maddening, so heartbreaking? 

This hit too close to home.  And a complicated, interconnected home.  Orlando is where both my blood and non-blood family call home.  Queer nightclubs and bars have continued to be home for me and my communities, a place where we can unapologetically be ourselves.  A place where we, especially my QTPOC kin, have organized, have liberated one another, have celebrated.  Today, our home, the safe place where we go to not be questioned, was defiled and disgraced and made to feel so unsafe.

I am thinking and feeling and hurting.  I am thinking about those fifty people, my siblings, who were out to celebrate and express themselves as they wanted, especially on Latin night at Pulse.  I am hurting at the thought that those fifty will be identified, family members will be notified, and that for some or many or all or none, their families will learn more about them this way.  I am feeling so many things at once: at a loss for the right words, feeling empty, feeling like the day will never come where I get to take a break from being vigilant.

The current love rhetoric has failed us.  Love continues to not win, y’all.  I am continuously told to love myself.  I am told that love will win.  I am told that love always wins.

Loving myself is hard in a world that continues to feed me messages that I am unlovable, that my kin are undesirable and disgusting.  That we do not deserve to live.  Love is not winning where we are seeing larger waves of physical and administrative violence since #LoveWon last June.

I truly believe in the love that Grace Lee Boggs, Cornel West, bell hooks, Martin Luther King, Jr. and others have discussed as the means to change our world.  Love cannot be limited to statuses that are about thoughts and prayers.  Those cannot be the only way we express love.  Love is also purposeful (in)action.

Love is saying to someone, “yo, that shit your saying isn’t cool” or “have you thought about what you said just now.”  Love is going to pee with someone so they don’t fear for their safety while they relieve themselves.  Love is looking at our Muslim siblings and saying I love you, especially our queer Muslim kin.  Love is going to a poll, calling a politician or twenty.  Love is holding someone close, getting over the shit of feeling vulnerable, and just telling them they matter to you and that you give such a hard damn about their existence in your life.  Love is taking care of each other, bringing each other water, and saying please drink it cause we need you here.  Love is unpugging and saying no, today I am not gonna engage because I need to do that for me.  Love is not combating hate with more hate, combating harmful ideologies with more harmful ideologies.  Love is bell hooks + Hal David + Burt Bacharach: a mix of care, recognition, affection, respect, commitment, trust, and honest communication “no, not just for some, oh, but just for everyone.”  Love is saying “hey interconnected systems of rhetoric and violence, you are shit and you are not welcome here” and doing something to unwelcome that shit.  Love is saying “we live in a world where this is possible, continues to happen, is not unthinkable, and continues to happen to different numbers and kinds of people every damn day” and then saying “I’m gonna actively challenge my complicity in that shit if I wasn’t before.” Love is a call, a text, a note saying I love you and I am glad we exist together.  Love is finding each other, surviving together, and supporting one another.

Love is complex and I am truly hopeful that love is the answer.  I just don’t think it’s the way I/we have been doing it.

There are days where I protect hopefulness like an iron wall.  Today, though, my hopefulness feels like tissue paper.  That’s where I am at.

Congruence in a Crooked Room

This post is separated into two parts which come together in the third.  So please, bear with me.

The Crooked Room.

In Chapter One of Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry‘s book Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America entitled “Crooked Room,” MHP discusses cognitive psychology research on field dependence.  More specifically, she discusses studies about how individuals rely on information provided by the outer world (aka the field/frame of a situation) to locate the upright in a space.  She explained:

In one study, subjects were placed in a crooked chair in a crooked room and then asked to align themselves vertically.  Some perceived themselves as straight only in relation to their surroundings.  To the researchers’ surprise, some people could be titled by as much as 35 degrees and report that they were perfectly straight, simply because they were aligned with images that were equally tilted.  But not everyone did this: some managed to get themselves more or less upright regardless of how crooked the surrounding images were (Harris-Perry, 2011, p. 29).

Harris-Perry uses this research as a metaphor in how black women confront stereotypes – they are often standing in a crooked room, trying to figure out which way is up.  She goes on to say:

Bombarded with warped images of their humanity, some black women tilt and bend themselves to fit the distortion…To understand why black women’s public actions and political strategies seem tilted in ways that accommodate the degrading stereotypes about them, it is important to appreciate the structural constraints that influence their behavior. It can be hard to stand up straight in a crooked room [emphasis added] (Harris-Perry, 2011, p. 29).

Harris-Perry uses this metaphor throughout her book (which I highly recommend) in conjunction with scholarship around recognition, emphasizing that while “[c]itizens want and need more than a fair distribution of resources,” people will also go to great lengths and make sacrifices in order to achieve “meaningful recognition of their humanity and uniqueness” (Harris-Perry, 2011, p. 36).  Surely, as others have pointed out, we all want to combat shame, live as our authentic selves, and be recognized for that authenticity.  And for those of us who are marginalized, minoritized4, and stigmatized, we are always trying to stand up in a room that was not made for us.  As we attempt to combat the pain and shame of inaccurate recognition of our selves, we lack opportunities for “accurate, affirming recognition” of ourselves while contending with “hypervisibility imposed by our lower social status” (Harris-Perry, p. 39).  While MHP is making this explicit point about black women, I think this is related to what I continue to see happen with trans folks and access to binary gender segregated facilities (i.e., locker rooms and bathrooms).


I am a (recovering) leadership educator.  I love engaging students, peers, colleagues, friends, and family in conversations and discussions about how we leverage leadership to create more just, caring, and thriving communities.  As a leadership educator, the area where I continue to have the most powerful conversations with people and myself, is around the idea of values, integrity, and congruence.

Congruence refers to thinking, feeling, and heaving with consistency, genuineness, authenticity, and honesty towards others.  Congruent persons are those whose actions are consistent with their most deeply held beliefs and convictions (Higher Education Research Institute, 1996).

When talking about the Congruence in leadership education, it often is couched in a discussion of the Seven C’s of the Social Change Model of Leadership.  I believe that what we crave most from our leaders and one another in the 21st century is congruence.  For many years, particularly in the U.S. political realm, folks have felt cheated by and lied to by politicians who say they will do one thing or value a certain thing and do something opposite to that through their behaviors or actions. Often, the folks who are believed to be incongruent, and the system that maintains them in elected office, is referred to as “The Establishment.”  Folks like Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush are often considered establishment candidates – they’ve played the game of politics and played it well.1

I truly believe the crisis of congruence is why folks are deeply committed to presidential candidates like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.  Say what you want about their politics (I have plenty to say about Trump’s racist, xenophobic, misogynistic politics).  Folks very much like them because they are perceived to be consistent, genuine, authentic, and honest towards others.2   People who stand in their values, who stand in their truth in both times of comfort or challenge are the folks that many of us (or maybe its just me) really idolize and look up to – folks who don’t just profess their beliefs but also practice them.3  Clearly, congruence is socially desirable, and for a leading theory about leadership development, part of what we encourage and want to develop with and alongside of students.

Congruence in the Crooked Room.

This week, I was asked to facilitate a class session of a student leadership class two friends and colleagues teach.  They asked me to come discuss social constructionism, gender, critical theory, and congruence.  I also made sure we discussed how social constructs have lived realities that impact folks’ lives on a daily basis.  We covered how gender shows up in and is reinforced by the use of the English language.  We reviewed the Gender Unicorn and the social construction of gender, assigned sex, and different attractions.  We did gender box activities and talked about the two binary genders we always talk about with that activity.  We were making great strides and were having good conversation.  The final thing to cover was congruence.

I was going to have us discuss the problematic and hypocritical stance I see many folks fall back to when discussing diversity, inclusion, and engagement: “I’m just gonna treat people like a person.”  I think this approach often denies peoples’ lived experiences and the environments and systems they inhabit.  And we often don’t want to treat people like people, especially when they are marginalized by society.  We see their social position as a result of their individual shortcomings though their position is often due to systems out of our control.  We don’t want to treat trans folks as people when they seek to pee in facilities which they find comfortable.  We don’t want to walk on the same side of the street as Black and Brown men who make us feel unsafe.  I wanted to address how we remain congruent with knowledge of the social constructs that have taken root in the form of internalized dominance and oppression.  We continue to find exceptions for treating people as people, all of which appear to be perfectly logical explanations but are actually dripping with oppression.

But, of course, I took a different route.  I led with a question: Who gets to be congruent?  At first, there were puzzled looks.  The look read something like: “Well, Alex, everyone gets to be congruent.  We all get consistent, genuine, authentic, and honest.”  That’s when I shared stories and was reminded of when I broke down during MSU LeaderShape 2015 to our group over that same question, asking who gets to be congruent and live with integrity.  I talked about living as my authentic genderqueer self and receiving constant push back about it from folks who I thought were here for me and my liberation.  I talked about comments family have made to me about how my gender expression and identity are “killing” them.  I talked about the conundrum of folks who say they are here to unconditionally love and support me actually have conditions.

What I was talking about, which I thought about on further reflection, was struggling to stand upright in the crooked room; to be congruent.  I continue to struggle to be congruent to the world as I have been awaken to it when it is so much easier to be aligned with the crooked room.  Continuing to try to stand upright in the crooked room is exhausting, trying to be consistent, genuine, authentic, and honest is harmful in a world that really doesn’t want me to be congruent unless its on the world’s terms.  My congruence is not a priority in a world where affirming, accurate representations of genderqueer people are not valued or wanted.  My congruence is not a priority in a world that doesn’t want really want to dismantle the imperalist white supremacist capitalist cisheteropatriarchy as it currently operates.  My congruence is not valued in a world that would rather I stay aligned to the crooked room.

So today I ask the question as I did to those students today: Who truly gets to be congruent?

1) There is a blog post for another day about the unique form of sexism I think plays a role for Hilary that is also effecting her in the election – being a former First Lady. But that’s neither the scope nor purpose of this post.

2) Let me be clear. I am not here for a imperalist white supremacist capitalist cisheteropatriarchy or folks who promote it. I don’t care how consistent, genuine, authentic, and honest oppression is; it’s fucked up and is harmful to so many folks I care about.

3) To be clear, I value and look up to folks who are firm in their convictions AND who are willing to take the perspectives of others and think of how new ways and modes of thinking may or may not fit in their current meaning-making structure.

4) As a continuing number of scholars are emphasizing (e.g., Harper, 2012; Patton, 2016; Stewart, 2013), “minoritized” emphasizes and signifies how people are minoritized in particular social situations and environments that privilege and over-represent Whiteness. No one is born into minority status; they are rendered that way by contexts and systems.

White folks, we can’t sit in our sadness.

This past week was many things, but the only thing that was new was me moving to a new apartment.  Otherwise, it was yet another week where violence was a theme, particularly White supremacist, cis-patriarchal violence & terror.  From the terrorism in Charleston (which took Cynthia, Susie, Ethel, Rev. DePayne, Rev. Clementa, Tywanza, Rev. Daniel, Rev. Sharonda, & Myra) to the murder of Mercedes Williamson (the 9th trans woman murdered this year in the U.S.), I was overcome with many thoughts and feelings on Thursday and Friday while trying to move.  Social media, in particular, was a huge help in staying informed and engaged while on the move.  And I as I sit here processing via writing about these intertwined violent acts, I think about how reactions and inactions have remained the same, particularly from me and my fellow White folks.

I, like others, use White supremacy and racism alongside one another intentionally.  Many believe that White supremacy and racism are just individual, interpersonal beliefs and acts.  Many believe that White supremacy and racism are just reserved to those that center that ideology with every intention (the Ku Klux Klan comes to mind for most).  But White supremacy and racism are so much more than that.  Elizabeth “Betita” Martinez offered this:

The most common mistake people make when taking about racism (White Supremacy) is to think of it as a problem of personal prejudices and individual acts of discrimination.  They do not see that it is a system, a web of interlocking, reinforcing institutions: political, economic, social, cultural, legal, military, educational, all of our institutions.  As a system, racism affects every aspect of life in a country.  By not understanding that racism is systemic, we guarantee it will continue.  For example, racist police behavior is often reduced to “a few bad apples” who need to be removed, instead of seeing that it can be found in police departments everywhere.  It reflects and sustains the existing power relations throughout society.  This mistake has real consequences: by refusing to see police brutality as part of a system, and that the system must be changed, we guarantee such brutality will continue.

Then put the words of Robin DiAngelo alongside those of Martinez’s:

The two most effective beliefs that prevent us (whites) from seeing racism as a system are: (1) that racists are bad people and (2) that racism is conscious dislike; if we are well-intended and do not consciously dislike people of color, we cannot be racist.  This is why it is so common for white people to cite their friends and family members as evidence of their lack of racism. However, when you understand racism as a system of structured relations into which we are all socialized, you understand that intentions are irrelevant. And when you understand how socialization works, you understand that much of racial bias is unconscious. Negative messages about people of color circulate all around us. While having friends of color is better than not having them, it doesn’t change the overall system or prevent racism from surfacing in our relationships. The societal default is white superiority and we are fed a steady diet of it 24/7. To not actively seek to interrupt racism is to internalize and accept it.

It is important to frame this because many have and will continue to excuse the violence this week as being reserved to a few people rather than also being part of a greater system.  Yes, the terrorist was a White man who had the intention of starting a race war individually.  But he and his philosophy were produced by a system we must interrogate, deconstruct, and reconstruct.  As Rev. Dr. William Barber stated, as shared by Melissa Harris-Perry this morning:

The perpetrator has been caught but the killer is still at large.

Arguments about mental illness, not getting enough love growing up, and attacks on Christianity immediately popped up.  Yet, most mainstream media washed race right out of equation, even though HE FREAKING SAID HIS REASONS WERE BASED IN RACISM & WHITE SUPREMACY.  And reactions from many on my feed, and in text messages, were “this is unthinkable.”  Bullshit.  As Charles Pierce pointed out,

What happened in a church in Charleston, South Carolina on Wednesday night is a lot of things, but one thing it’s not is “unthinkable.” Somebody thought long and hard about it. Somebody thought to load the weapon. Somebody thought to pick the church. Somebody thought to sit, quietly, through some of Wednesday night bible study. Somebody thought to stand up and open fire, killing nine people, including the pastor. Somebody reportedly thought to leave one woman alive so she could tell his story to the world. Somebody thought enough to flee. What happened in that church was a lot of things, but unthinkable is not one of them.

Many on my SoMe feeds and TLs had responses that were similar to Jon Stewart, something along the lines of “I honestly have nothing, other than just sadness.” For my fellow White folks though, WE CAN’T JUST SIT IN OUR SADNESS.  We have to get up and commit to conversation and action.  As I was reminded earlier this week when being called in on my own complacency in White supremacy, I/we as White folks have to do better.  Period.  How?  Here are some points.  As Drew Franklin & Robert Stephens discussed, there is no magic list that is going to end racism or white supremacy.  But more on that in point 3.

1) Disrupt and decenter White supremacy and racism by not making it about you.  Last July, a good friend recommended (via blog) an article I should read – Audrey Thompson’s (2003), Tiffany, Friend to People of Color.  In the article, Thompson discussed we, as White folks, needing to be seen as “good Whites,” and how “it can be devastating to realize that people of color…can make judgments about you and just assume that you are racist without giving you the change to prove otherwise.”  I also think of Mamta Motwani Accapadi’s (2007) article, When White Women Cry: How White Women’s Tears Oppress Women of Color.  Accapadi made the point that when White people (focusing on student affairs professionals) display guilt or feelings of being attacked, it becomes about attending to their/our feelings rather than about the issue that was brought up or the system to address.  I often think of both of these articles when getting called in on my racism and white supremacy.  Rather than being sad or jumping to make it about me, I sit in it, take the feedback, and (potentially )process with other White folks rather than continuing to delve into it with the person(s) I’ve impacted.  Instead of acting out of my sense of guilt, I need to act out of my sense of responsibility.  For those of us who strive to be good people, this can be hard, but it is necessary.  The alleviation of my White guilt continues to center whiteness in antiracism, rather than the wide array of violence people of Color are constantly subjected to.  I’m still not perfect at this by any means but it is one strategy I use.  It also helps me avoid complacency and feelings that I know exactly what it means to be anti-racist.  As Thompson stated,

…when we start to congratulating ourselves on how far along we are [as anti-racists], it is easy to stop thinking of ourselves on a journey and start thinking of ourselves as having arrived.

Disrupting White supremacy is also disrupting colorblindness as it relates to race.  Even in some of my most loved inner circles this past week, folks were making excuses that terrorist as it relates to his mental status and loving environment and saying NOTHING about race.  Or saying ish like we live “in the most progressive nation in the world.”  Seriously?  Just miss me with that.  We must hold each other and media accountable.  As someone shared with me in a training last year, “it’s not all about race but race is always a factor.”

Next to the inner personal work, I think about de-centering whiteness in social media as well.  While it was a great tool for me to stay engaged during my move, it can also be exhaustive, particularly as an outrage machine.  At the top of the week, there was so much discussion about Rachel Dolezal – and there is still a shit ton of coverage happening about her today.  As others have pointed out, this is because of her whiteness.  Meanwhile, have you heard about Dominican Republic these past few weeks?  Where is the in-depth, constant reporting about the background of Mother Emanuel, Islan Nettles, and other places and people that have been constantly the subject of violence by whiteness?  How can we start flooding social media with more images of the victims of the massacre rather than of its perpetrator?  How are we talking about histories, philosophies, and pedagogies that do not center whiteness?  How are we rewarding people of Color for talking about whiteness and anti-racism the same way we do to White folks (while also minimizing that reward for White folks)?  Guante offers some recommendations on how to decenter White peoples feelings.

2) Talk to and stay engaged with other White folks around anti-racism.  Janet Helms (1992) work around racial identity development comes up for me here.  We, as White folks are in different places and ways of thinking about our racial identity (spanning from “I don’t have a race” to “White people are the best” to “I am committed to anti-racism”).  Just like we need to engage different learners in terms of their learning style, meeting them between “where they are” and “where we are,” we need to do that same work around White supremacy and anti-racism, committing the time and energy to work with our fellow White folks.  People of Color should not and can not be the only ones talking about race and educating other White folks.  We live in an age with multiple forms of media to help people learn – videos, books, Skype, blogs, etc.  That’s the beauty of the Google age – people can look this stuff up.

But often the processing is harder to do alone (at least for me it is).  That’s where engaging with other White folks comes in. Jamie Utt offers some great suggestions on investing in other White people to end racism.  Seriously, read it!

As Guante and others have suggested, I think I/we (especially as an intercultural educator) can sometimes really downplay the power of caucus groups (where folks who share identities can come together to discuss aspects of privilege, oppression, and domination amongst themselves) rather than always having a cross-cultural dialogue.  As I learned with my time as a facilitator from the National Coalition Building Institute, caucus groups have great potential to let us do the self-work and the us-work.  These groups should be structured with varied perspectives and with no end goal of racial enlightenment in mind.  Rather, they should be founded on constant work and examination, on how we process incidents, and how do we challenge one another.  I think these types of caucus groups combined with programs like Intergroup Dialogue have real power to sustain dialogue rather than reactionary sound bytes on the backs and bodies of Black and Brown people.  It is really easy, too.  Just put out a call on your social media.  Ask if there is interest for other White folks to come together to discuss race, racism, and White supremacy.  I always encourage shared facilitation and agenda setting.  At the very least, I am saying in this post, I am glad to engage you as a fellow White person in discussions around these topics.  [SN: I would also recommend Robin DiAngelo’s two guidelines for engaging fellow White folks at the end of the article and actively avoid the eleven mentioned in the middle.]

And so importantly, continue to engage other White folks on social media!  I think back to November when so many of my fellow White folks were de-friending folks over their racism in reaction to Ferguson.  I think about the President of the University of Oklahoma who expelled members of SAE for the racist video that emerged.  I’m here to tell you these are NOT solving the problems of racism; this is sending the message “I don’t want to deal with your racism here so take it somewhere else.”  I’m not saying do not practice self-care and ALWAYS engage in these conversations.  What I am trying to convey is that this work is not easy and that’s the point – our Whiteness has shielded us from tough conversations about race for a while so it’s going to be tough at first and moving forward.  But the conversation and ensuing action (because we must be committed to sustainability of both) are too important to pass on the racism to someone else, that someone else often being a person or persons of Color.

3) The system will push back in a violent way.  No conversation or awareness will save you from that.  This point of course disrupts and troubles the two points above.  I referenced it above but Drew Franklin & Robert Stephens’s piece about ending racism really troubled me and I needed to sit in it for a bit before I absorbed all that they were saying.  Pushing back against your privilege isn’t just unpacking your knapsack – it is opening yourself up to violence in a very physical way.  As they point out:

Roof didn’t have a problem with talking about race…Conversation and awareness are not the answers. What we have here is a crisis of power, a lack of real political organization.

What then struck me the most was this:

At the point of physical confrontation, there’s nothing abstract about it. All people, especially so-called allies, need to understand that when you really struggle against power systems, you expose yourself to deadly harm. Your enemies–the pigs, flanked by the Cliven Bundy’s and the Dylan Roofs of the world–have guns. And they have demonstrated their willingness to use them. With that in mind, I think it borders on recklessness to tell white people there are a few simple things they can do to change the situation. If you follow that advice, you’ll either be completely ineffectual, or you’ll get fucked up. Either way, you’ve failed. Struggling for abolition requires that you first accept the inevitability of violent reaction, and then prepare yourself for it. As things stand, very few of us are in any position to deal with that reality.

As I write this, I sit in privilege debating if I am ready to deal with that reality in terms of my race (though I face that reality in other identities, particularly queer and trans identities).  I am unsettled and need to push past that to do better.  To catch and bring the “killer” that William Barber was speaking of.  And as Malik Nashad Sharpe stated so powerfully:

A baby is born every eight seconds in the US. Every passing moment of inexcusable fragility, every single instance where White supremacy is maintained, and every minute that your silence speaks so loudly, another Dylan Roof is born again, and again, and again.

Lavender Reception Keynote 2015 – “The World Needs People Who L-I-V”

So, this year, I was honored to be selected by some of Michigan State University’s queer-identified graduating students to deliver the Lavender Reception Keynote address.  Truly, I was humbled and grateful for the opportunity.  However, I apparently did not share that news much prior to actually giving the keynote.  So, I asked someone to record it for me.  The transcript of the talk is below; talk starts at 00:35.  I should also note when I speak with passion and want to deliver a powerful message, I often speak extemporaneous.  So, this talk had an outline and some quotes, but nothing completely written down.

Before I begin, we must recognize the efforts of one Ms. DaShayla Bradford for organizing and making this event possible.

(Alex disappears and there is laughter)

I’m back.  Change in the presentation, just like a jack in the box.

I am honored and humbled to be here before you today, privileged to be chosen by students in this very room to give this keynote.  Generally when I stand in front of a room, I am defending queerness.  I am defending the idea of being LGBTQ+.  I don’t have to do that today.  Today I get to speak from my spirit, from my mind, and my heart about this community.  As a community over the past year, we have faced incredible odds and incredible triumphs.  The goal for liberation, not just rights, but liberation is ongoing.  We are not stopping any time soon so you better tell somebody.

So I thought about today – what can I do?  I can give a really inspirational keynote address.  I could make jokes and hope that you laugh.  I could even make a Buzzfeed with appropriate gifs about how you should all feel today in a bulleted list (laughs) – I will tell you the Buzzfeed list was drafted. When I debated what I would share today, I wanted to share what our world needs most out of you, our students, our graduates.  I wanted to share today how to live – L – I – V.  How to love.  How to lead with integrity.  And how to be vulnerable.  And to say this was inspired today by three very important women in my life because I do not stand here a proud genderqueer, gender-neutral pronoun using educator without them.

So #1.  Let’s talk about some radical love.  Let’s talk about love that transcends romance and desire.  Let’s talk about love of filling each other up, of nurturing one another’s spirit and soul.  Because we often focus on one but not all.  Psychologist Erich Fromm* once said love “is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing another’s spirit or our own spirit.”  The woman who inspired this part of my talk is bell hooks.  Because bell hooks talks about love, but she talks about how to truly love we must learn to mix various ingredients together – care, affection, recognition, respect, commitment, and trust as well as communication.  That all of those are ingredients of radical love, something our world is in dire need of.  Something that we as a community know all oh too well what it is like to not have that love present and what it means to do.  Mother RuPaul once said, “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else?” (Amens) But bell hooks has one little caveat to that – “do not expect to receive the love from someone else you do not give yourself.”  Do not expect to find love outside of yourself first because you must find it within yourself before you can move forward.** I mean, y’all can snap, that’s fine.  And it was Cornel West who once said, “justice is what loves look like in public.”***  And so we need to start loving our brothers, sisters, our kin more and more each day.  So that’s number one.

Number 2 was inspired by Janet Mock.  Janet Mock challenges us to lead and love and live with integrity.  Integrity is not just about staying consistent with our values in times of comfort but also times of challenge.  She talks about how we have to believe in ourselves and trusting ourselves at all times.  We can talk about for some of us, it has been very hard to live lives of integrity.  How it has been difficult for me to express myself in my fierce gender way.  We can talk about how there are challenges of integrity so we must create worlds that inspire integrity and allow everyone to have integrity.  If we want to isolate the problems and develop transformational strategies for our lives, we have to hold our aspirational values up against what I call our practiced values – how we actually live, behave, and think.  Because oftentimes we espouse something but something completely different becomes enacted.  But the true leaders, the truly remarkable people of this world, live, believe, and think in their values all the time.

Finally, we’ve come to vulnerability and dare to be vulnerable.  I will not lie and not say that Brené Brown, a shame researcher, has not influenced my life profoundly because Brené talks about – and I say Brené as if I know her (laughs) – but Dr. Brown talks about how vulnerability is not weakness, it is uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.  Once again, something we are all too familiar with.  And look, vulnerability is not fear, grief, or disappointment – it is what we all want to see in each other but we are scared to see in ourselves.  Vulnerability is what was displayed up here on this stage before I got up here.  Vulnerability is telling your boss that you really miss home, that it’s been the hardest six months of your life to do a job.  Vulnerability is how we create connection and trust and create our most authentic relationships.  In a world where we are ever more connected but not in connection with each other, vulnerability is the key.  Vulnerability is the birthplace of love and connection and owning our story and loving ourselves is the bravest thing we will ever do and the greatest challenge to the question “am I enough”?  I will not lie and tell you that I stand up here an expert, that I stand up here confident in everything I have ever done, most see that, most impose that on me, but there are times where I question if I am enough.  There are times that I question if I am enough to be an Assistant Director of an LBGT Resource Center for a fabulous community.  There are times where I wonder – Did I stay late enough?  Did I do enough?  Was I enough?  That is not weakness; that is courage.  That is me being in a space with you and saying “I am here with you.  You are not alone,” as Michael Jackson once said.

So graduates, I challenge you to LIV when you leave here.  Students and community members that will stay here, I challenge you to LIV here.  Because it is what our world needs, you are what our world needs.  Never forget that.  Radically love.  Live with integrity.  And dare to be vulnerable.  Congratulations to this year’s Spartan class.  Thank you.

* – The quote was actually by M. Scott Peck (a psychiatrist), not Erich Fromm.
** – Dr. Z Nicolazzo, I think, has an excellent rebuttal to this part of my talk.  Check it out here.
*** – Dr. Dafina-Lazarus Stewart has an incredible post about West’s words about love in private.  Check it out here.

The Quest for Community? Or what I desire in stability gets messy with my fluidity.

So, I am finding some of my better writing shows its head when I am uncomfortable, when I am not clear on my thoughts, and when I force myself to convey my ideas to others.  So, know all of that is happening in this process, as I am (un)sure it happens with others’ writing.  And as always, there may not be an end point this post, just more of a stream of consciousness.

Back in October, Dafina-Lazarus Stewart tweeted about community.*  Ze was more specifically talking about being a part of a certain community and feeling like rejection from that community may be imminent because of other identities one many possess.  This resonated with me, so naturally we struck up a short Twitter conversation (is there short hand for this? TwitChat? Who knows).

As a part of that conversation, I talked about a part of communities where I was a member and found safety because of some of my minoritized identities, specifically my queer identity but feared being more open about other part of my identities in an already small community would put me back in a place of isolation.  AND, I talked about liking the community I was already in.  The specific tweet read: “AND I like that community that I’m already in…which is troublesome if I think they’ll reject me, right?”

So that has stuck in my mind.  Couple that with this post I shared two weeks ago about my gender identity and pronouns, and coming back from #ACPA15 and I have so many thoughts and feels about “community.”

I am wondering what community looks like for me and others.  In thinking through it, I am not sure I have had a SOLID, singular community my entire life.  Not even the “LGBT” community (that oh-so-debated monolithic community which has apparently been a single, solitary community of solidarity – please re-read that last line with sarcasm) which I am often told (and say) has been my community.  But even that seems empty to me, at times.  As I begin to live more openly and congruently with my gender identity, I see that “community” less and less inclusive as it can be exclusive.  AND I still like and identify with the LGBT community – again, how troublesome does that become that I feel both a part of and apart from that community?  While still unpacking that, I am just internally troubled.

Now, put that to the side, because I am going to come back to it.  This morning, I finished bell hooks’s All About Love: New Visions.  I have been working on the book for the past three weeks; it’s been my before bed reading and I have loved EVERY WORD.  hooks was calling me in, out, and over for pizza because I was LIVING for what she had written down (I’ve been Instragram-ing a quote from that book every time I’ve read a new section).  However, last night, as I was on the last three chapters, I came across something that struck me harder than anything else I had read:

Many of us are not ready to accept and embrace our true selves, particularly when living with integrity alienates us from our familiar worlds. – bell hooks, All About Love: New Visions, p. 187

…sorry, still need to take a minute to breathe after typing that.  Let’s have real(er), live talk for a hot minute (or two).  In such raw honesty and vulnerability, hooks put into words something that has been so personally difficult for me.  As many know, I am a leadership educator at heart.  And living with integrity is one of my core personal/professional/life enacted values.  The Alex you get in the classroom is the same Alex you get in meetings is the same Alex you get at ACPA15, etc.  However, embracing my gender and all its fierce components has been an area in which I have not been living with integrity, because I have felt it would alienate me from those I JUST worked on creating community with – my other queer-identified kin, my best friends, my Master’s cohort, my undergraduate HC framily, my (extended) family, etc.

Really, this discomfort also comes from a place of HUGE insecurity in making relationships with man-identified folks, because I have the biggest challenges connecting with men often (having previously identified as one and not feeling bro-enough or not having access to committed friendships with other men – which can be its own post, especially around the idea of bro spaces).  Like, the amount of unpacking and thinking I’ve done around that is just exhausting.

Bringing it all together, though – I think of community as home, and can’t help but think of Maya Angelou saying:

The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.

I want community to be home.  And as my identities continue to be fluid in terms of my sexual and gender identities, I am not sure my quest for a singular, monolithic community is the end goal for me.  It may be finding multiple communities, with none being primary (which is scary), but all being that safe place where I can go as Alex C. Lange and not be questioned.  I think I do want that singular, all-inclusive community but not sure that’s an option for me just yet.  I think different communities in which I am apart have given me life and soul in different parts of my life but don’t yet feel I’ve found that one place to be and occupy, often because some of the communities can reify racism, heterogenderism, sexism, ableism, transmisogyny, etc. Another point about multiple communities could be (thinking out through type right now) another sense of insecurity for me, wanting to have a “back up” in case I am cast out from another (as I have been before).

I think communities like the T*Circle and a smaller circle within my Master’s cohort have come closest to being these all-encompassing communities but I do not inhabit those on a daily basis (and have to become better about that).  So all of this to say, for me, multiple communities may be the answer for now.  Maybe there will be one solid community I identify with one day but for now, that’s where I am at.

* Generally, I would show/quote the direct source material.  However, the tweets are no longer available.  You can follow Dr. Dafina-Lazarus Stewart on Twitter at @DrDLStewart (and you totally should)!

An Open Letter to ACPA Leadership and the 2015 Convention Planning Team


We are at a critical moment in history for ACPA’s leadership to demonstrate trans* equity and inclusion within this organization. There are a preponderance of recent events that draw attention to why having Laverne Cox as the closing speaker was such an important marker for ACPA and for the trans* folks within higher education who are part of this organization. Although ACPA could not foresee Laverne’s cancellation, the association did have control over the decision for who would be the new closing speaker for this year’s convention.

The murder rate of trans* people, particularly trans* women of color, merits serious dialogue and action that centers our community’s experiences and narratives. Within the first seven weeks of 2015, there have been seven trans* women murdered, six of whom were trans* women of color.

  • Kristina Gomez Reinwald, 46, Miami, Florida, was allegedly stabbed on February 20;
  • Bri Golec, 22, Akron, Ohio, was…

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