Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Subway Harassment: A Triptych

A few yrs ago on a BK-bound subway, an older black woman offered me the seat next to her. I declined, she strongly insisted, so I sat down. She said was riding this train a few years ago and she didn't offer a seat to a man...so he slashed her face. She showed me the thin razor mark across her chin. By sitting down I was assuaging her fear but also serving as a shield from someone else who might be more threatening. I felt sick.

A few months later a deranged man was on the subway car yelling in people's faces. He started picking on a black woman who was just trying to read her book. I stood up and began walking across the car. I waited for other people to join in or voice disapproval at the harassment. No one said a word, so I continued walking. I was angry that everyone was silent, angry at all the people pretending to check their phones, angry at the last few months of creeps and old black women with slashed faces. I started to feel like I might literally kill this guy. I have only felt this a few times in my life. The last time I had this strange rage was in college. I broke a guy's leg...who also happened to be harassing women (it was during a snow football game). I saw this guy on the subway car and I could see myself punching through his heart, snapping his spine, wrapping his body around a pole. I caught myself. I just grabbed the guy from behind, threw him to the ground, and put my foot on top of him. He yelped that he was just playing. I waited until the next stop when the woman ran off the cart. I left afterward and realized I couldn't entertain my rage-filled fantasies any more. It was too toxic and dangerous. I meditated.

A few months later on a frigid blizzard night, I was heading back from rehearsal. An old guy entered into the subway car and started to leer and make sexual noises at a woman. She was dressed in sweat pants, rubber boots, hoodie...so clearly she was asking for it. He moved closer and closer to her. I didn't want to have to toss an old dude...so I started laughing. At him. Then she started laughing at him. He froze. A man and a woman teaming up to laugh at his leering was...emasculating. Our laughter said 'yes, yes. We are cutting your dick off with our giggles, snickering, and pointing.' I took out my phone and started snapping pictures of him. 'We are laughing as we cut your dick off and I am recording it.' He shriveled, edged away, and ran out of the subway car. We both stopped laughing and went back to our corners. I felt tired. I kept the picture to remember that maybe there are other ways.

Monday, October 16, 2017

I Believe You

I was naive.

A few years ago I wrote an essay about sexual harassment in the arts, using personal examples and stories from friends. I didn't use real names, only aliases. I didn't have any identifying info about the theatre companies, but the stories still had teeth to them b/c they were raw and from the front lines. I took the story around to a few publications. I still have the rejection emails giving me all the reasons why they were scared of lawsuits. But I was assured that if I wanted to write about race-based issues again, the editors would be more than willing to listen. Around that time I was invited to New World Trade Center for a big meeting: The New Yorker. They wanted me to pitch stories, and I guess they thought I would bring them some raw #blacklivesmatter stuff or personal black trauma. If I cared for my career I would have fed them the 'race stuff' and -just to be clear- the 'race stuff' is still important to me. But I was still thinking about misogyny and sexual harassment, so I pitched them a story about rape and systemic sexual harassment within AA meetings. The editor was nervous but agreed to give it a go. I interviewed women who were raped and harassed, spoke with professors and psychologists, brought up specific cases where women -at the most vulnerable in seeking recovery- were stalked by predators, raped, and murdered while in the throes of their addiction. I even had a dramatic twist at the end of the story. I emailed it into the New Yorker and...radio silence. After a month, the editor said she couldn't print it. Legal stuff, needs more research, good luck in life, etc. I thought I failed. Surely if I did more research, focused, got more interviews then this story would get out there.

I interviewed more women, cited examples from documentaries, connected with more therapists, kept a bibliography of the real names and contact info for the fact checkers, wrote out timelines of abuse from various women testifying so that the stories didn't have any holes in them. One publication said this story could be an investigative piece. I got complete strangers to trust me with their story, to open themselves up. I assured them that there voices would be heard, that this might help change things. After months of editing and fact checking, the first publication backed away: legal issues, no way to verify, etc. I was paid a 'kill fee' to spike the article. I went to other publications. I have the initial emails of interests, concern for getting the story out, and then...silence. I was in a panic. I made a promise to so many women. I was letting them down. My literary skills, my research, my passion, my objective reports, interviews with psychologists, none of it was not enough. My experience with the 'wall of silence' happened during my last semester at Juilliard, so it was about 5 months. Some women experience this wall of silence their entire life and it is personal. I sat with that, meditated, and my righteous anger subsided.

Some people wonder why women don't speak out?

I hear you and I see you. I will do better. 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

National Coming Out Day (Oct 11th)

I came out when I was 18. I told my parents and two sort-of close friends. At the time I was a freshman in college. In high school I was captain of the football, wrestling, and debate team. I was an honors student, all-state wrestler and football player, tournament-winning tennis player, NFL citizen's scholar, freelance writer for three local South Florida newspapers, reporter for two online blogs, and the MVP athlete of the year for my school. I was also miserable. I had very simple goals: avoid close friends, keep my head down, power through life, and stay away from any conversation about love or sex. I thought I could do it.

I went away to college and the first person I met asked me 'so...are you going to have sex?' I felt myself turning bright red. 'No, I'm here to study.' When I got to my dorm I threw my bags down and ran up and down the hall with another freshman. Then we went downstairs to check out the lounge. When I turned on the dorm computer, the first image on the screen was of a naked porn actress lathered up in grease. I turned off the monitor, stood up, and continued walking around. When I introduced myself to students, the conversation would quickly turn to how much sex we were going to have. The first suite mate I met was a devout Republican who kept inviting me into his room to talk about his girlfriend in Canada (seriously, no joke), offer me drinks, and ask me about my future sex life (yes he was a closet case). I dodged the issue with jokes, asking about his fictional girlfriend, and talking about how excited I was to study-study-study. After about two days of this non-stop sex talk, I went to a campus LGBT meeting, came out, showed up, and the red boiling tension in my chest subsided. I didn't have the stereotypical gay affectations so some times I felt like every year, month, week in college was a Coming Out Groundhog's Day. But I was grateful for the growth, friendship, and love. I guess that was one of the biggest parts of my college experience: learning to be honest. I am still learning.

I am uncomfortable with talking about my private life in any explicit way. It's a defense mechanism. It protects me from the shame of other people....or so I thought. What my silence really does is re-enforce my own internalized homophobia. I can convince myself that I have come out again and again and again, so I deserve a break. I can rest of my past laurels.

I wrote "The Gospel According to F#ggots" as a way of getting out of my comfort zone. I made the lead character in "Obama-ology" a gay Black man. When I was challenged on the necessity of him being both black and gay, I knew the subtext of the inquiry: I was cutting into the commercial viability of the work that a lot of people really liked. Would I be willing to make this one change for the sake of people's comfort? My answer was 'no.'  I agreed to be the director of new play development for a LGBT theatre company as way to help other LGBT writers develop their voice.

I am still learning and still coming out. Thank you for your patience.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Trump Plague: Hysterical White Blindness

Hysterical White Blindness: not acknowledging someone else's humanity out of a sense of laziness, hatred, and/or unexamined comfort. HWB is highly contagious and is not cured with bed rest. It will often lie dormant for many years and flare up in family gatherings, holidays, protests, alone in a voting booth, or in the presence of 'the woke.'

If untreated, HWB will result in the following symptoms: Fox News Cognitive Dissociation, 'My Black Friend' Token Schizophrenia, Nostalgic Brain Fog, Map Blindness, Reverse Racism Dyslexia, "Blue Lives Matter" Diarrhea, 'I once made out with a darkie' Sexual Aphasia, Head-in-Ass Herpes (also known as 'Trumpese'), Poverty Alzheimers, Frat Boy Tourettes, Restless Troll Syndrome, and White Fragility Bitch-Assness. The following statement is from a patient by the name of Mike Ditka. Ditka was a football coach in the NFL who worked right next to and with black people for decades. But after retiring he was infected with HWB, and now it is terminal. The disease has spread from his eyes, through his spine, and has metastasized in his ass.

"There has been no oppression in the last 100 years that I know of. Now maybe I'm not watching it as carefully as other people."

"I don't know what social injustices have been," Ditka said. "Muhammad Ali rose to the top. Jesse Owens is one of the classiest individuals that ever lived. I mean, you can say, 'Are you (saying) everything is based on color?' I don't see it that way. I think that you have to be color blind in this country. You've got to look at a person for what he is and what he stands for and how he produces, not by the color of his skin. That has never had anything to do with anything."

"I mean, I don't see all this, the social injustice that some of these people see. I don't. I know my dad worked in a steel mill and he brought home a paycheck and we ate dinner every night together. We didn't have anything, but we didn't need anything because we had a family. That was a good time in America. I would like to see us get back to that."

Monday, October 9, 2017

Being Black in White People's Imagination

Today is the one-year anniversary of those fateful presidential debates. Looking back, it's amazing how black people are seen as a political and socio-economic problem. To both candidate and white conservatives as well as liberals, "Black issues" are crime, death, and poverty. On the national stage, when blackness is brought up it is if someone is shot, someone is dying, someone is committing a crime, someone needs something. Hell is black, and heaven is a gentrified suburb with high walls. If you have anything critical to say about the dehumanization of 20 million Americans, the knee-jerk alt-right response is simple: "why aren't you saying anything about Chicago? Aren't black people dying in Chicago? Fix Chicago!" They don't really care about Chicago any more than they care about 'blue lives' or 'all lives matter.' They know that Chicago can never be "fixed" (whatever that means) by just the black residents, because the crime is being committed out of a sense of disempowerment, anger, and hopelessness. The people demonized are the ones who have no control over their economic system, police force, or education. And no one on the left ever screams back 'well Fix Flint," or "Reparations for Black Wall Street" or "remember when we created 90% of American music, poetry, culture, civil rights movements, modern medicine and surgery, and the struggle for justice and fulfilling the promise of the nation's founding documents," or "remember that we fought in every single war for freedom, even though we were denied our own, and that most of the country as well as the nation's capital was not only built by black hands, but designed by black architects and engineers, and you're welcome."

Some times I look at myself through their eyes. I see a black man who lives in the rough and tough inner city of West Hollywood and Williamsburg. I have worked on the violent streets of the Paramount Studio and CBS TV. I have 4 imaginary kids by 3 non-existent baby mamas. I have cop-killing superpowers every time I walk through white people's imagination.

Obama's Third Term

In many ways the Trump administration is giving Obama a third time in people's hearts and minds.
Another republican friend joked 'man, can we get four more years of Obama?' Hahaha. It's funny right? Now they feel regret for what they've done but -at the same time- will never admit it, apologize, or even commit to doing better in the future. It's just a backhanded 'oops, my bad, sorry about that rabid Tea Party, racist, sexist anti-fact hysteria that we fomented into the pustulating orange yeast of armageddon.' It's like if your partner cheats on you, steals your blender, goes off to live with their new piece, and then comes back a few years later laughing 'boy, did I mess up, huh? Hey, can I keep some of my stuff at your place?' It takes the compassionate strength of a hundred cat videos to resist the urge to punch them in the dick. Oh, now you want four more years?

Friday, October 6, 2017

Dance of the Lion

Last night at 3 Jewels we went through two meditations that used the senses as pathways out of our immediate desires. The first meditation was for a sense object that was or is pleasant, so a student put on "Harvest Moon." I sat there itchy, tired, aware of the AC droning on, in a room full of students, in the middle of NYC with a subway rumbling underneath...and then we just very slowly melted these senses down into the song. I was walking down the aisles of an empty grocery store listening to "Harvest Moon" and then my mind was following the guitar chord changes so closely that everything else faded away: the AC noise, the subway rumbling, my jeans bunched up behind my knees, and NYC dissolved, and we were just in the music. My mind 'noticed and examined' where it was traveling as it went inside the song. There was no past or future expectations, just the drowsy sliding chords. My attention toggled between the words and the sound, and then space in between the sound, and then just the silence in the music. I held my mind in that infinite expanse. Then we came back out of meditation with a dedication to someone we loved.

Next we picked an 'unpleasant object.' The AC. Going back in, we drifted toward the droning sound and then noticed that it wasn't actually one long noise but a small oscillating frequency. My mind went closer and closer to the sound until it sounded like a symphony of noises...and then I dropped down the small frequency of my heart beating, which was hard to hear at first, but slowly started arising out of the den of noises. And then we went into the body being supported by this heart beat. The beat continued and we were asked: what did we do to get this body. Just imagine what could I have done. I saw myself saving a drowning baby, I lifted them up and it was coughing and yelling. And then I washing a baby in a bath. Maybe the child was Baby Buddha or a Christian saint or just a really good person. I was taking care of this baby, washing them, preventing them from drowning...again and again. And I couldn't hear the AC or feel the sweat behind my knees, The baby grew up and I shrunk with age into a tiny speck, getting smaller and smaller, and then I was gone.

I came back out of 'unpleasant' meditation and dedicated that toward a loved one. We were told these two meditations are the gateways out of the desire realm and into the form realm, which then hopefully leads to the formless realm, and then even higher. Thank you Venerable Lobsang Chunzom for teaching, Lord Maitreya and Master Asanga for writing this down centuries ago, and 3 Jewels for hosting the "Dance of the Lion" teachings.