My middle-school basketball team dominated the Seattle Catholic Youth Organization league but that was due to the AAU players on my team: Megan, petite with Chris Paul’s smarts and speed; and June, a Russell Westbrook-esque scorer.
The Thursday before The Avengers premiered, I put on my Captain America USO Girl costume and headed down to Madame Tussauds in New York’s Times Square. I had very little idea what I was going to be doing there and only went initially because a call for Marvel cosplayers (people who dress up as various characters) had been put out for a photo-op by the museum. They were about to open their Avengers exhibit. Admittedly, I was nervous, as cosplaying without the guarantee of a friendly face in your corner can be nerve-wracking. Fandom doesn’t always have its head screwed on straight when it comes to the touching, ogling, and respect of female cosplayers.
The crowd wasn’t exactly what I was expecting–and I mean that in the best way possible.
Before the R got into the Tumblr game, I followed rosasparks on my personal one, just totally vibing her nuggets on living, mothering, community-loving, and wisdom-giving that she brought to my dashboard when I logged on. When she followed me back, I felt all swoony and fangirly.
Before I had my Tumblr, Ms. Owner/Editrix adored rosasparks’ commentary on Jezebel while Ms. O/E worked as a scribe over there.
So, when I suggested rosasparks to be our Crush Of The Week, Ms. O/E fangirled a bit, too. When I told rosasparks about how much we loved her here at the R, she squeed herself. We at the R had to know more about our loved-up, so here’s an interview with her, continued over at the R’s Tumblr.
I discovered you on Tumblr, and Latoya adored your whipsmart comments when she worked at Jezebel. What/who informs your politics? And what keeps you at Tumblr vs., say, maintaining a blog at WordPress or Blogspot?
My ma is a progressive and has always been very politically active. I was born in Oakland, in the early 70s, and the Bay Area was alive and bubbling with activity and my ma was inspired by and busy in all of it. My first memories, no joke, are of watching political debates and speeches on TV with her and listening to her talk about the importance of being civic-minded and paying attention to issues and what politicians are saying, and not saying, and being engaged in your community.
I was an African American studies major, in college, which included studying a ton of world politics and history. And throughout my adult life, I’ve always been working, volunteering or taking great, personal interest in government and transparency and equality and policy. Now that I have a daughter, I stay involved because I’d like for her to live and participate in a society that is inclusive and cares about all of its citizens. All of this stems from my ma and what she instilled in me. Also, I adore bell hooks. I take everything she says as gospel.
I was a commenter on Jezebel, for a long time, and when I decided I didn’t want to comment there anymore, several commenters I was close with had headed to Tumblr and said I should go there, too. I followed them, no pun intended, and I’ve never left. I love the community of Tumblr. It’s a simple format to manage and a lot of fun. It inspires me and I’ve met and encountered so many amazing people and hear so many different stories. I’ve forged true friendships, all from something as silly as cat gifs and liveblogs of TV shows, to real substantive discussions about feminism, mental illness, equality, LGBTQQ issues, parenting, the fuckery of the GOP; you name it and it’s probably been discussed–ad nauseum, in fact. Some days, you just want to post the gif of the jockey beating a dead horse.
I stay at Tumblr because I’m lazy, I guess, but really because I don’t feel like I have the ‘voice’ to have a stand-alone blog. Nor do I feel egotistical enough to say, ‘Oooh haaaay, I’m so important, go read my personal blog!’ That just sounds bizarre. I like interacting with people in the moment and I think Tumblr allows for that more than being some private island of blogitutde. Besides, I’d miss all the gifs and the ridiculous memes and everyone I follow.
By Guest Contributor Aja Worthy-Davis, cross-posted from Elixher
“Such a Black man.”
It has become a catchphrase around my house. Guaranteed to elicit an amused (and possibly annoyed) eyeroll from my partner. An inside joke that might seem odd to someone who didn’t know us–a Black heterosexually-presenting couple. Those who do know us know there’s more to the story.
I’m a queer Black femme prone to dating middle-aged divorced hippie White guys due in equal parts to my upbringing, my personality, and my personal baggage. He’s a Black man who has dated more than his share of middle-aged divorced hippie White lesbians. And (I guess this is the kicker) when we met in our staunchly Catholic high school over a decade ago, he was a girl. He was also my laid-back butch best friend I couldn’t stop thinking about when I kissed my boyfriend. We skipped after-school activities and hung out in the Village holding hands. We giddily queered-up our Drama Club performances to culturally-sheltered teenagers who wouldn’t recognize queer if the Gay Pride Parade marched in front of them. We identified with Willow and Tara, which I think says it all. Watching Pariahwas like watching our relationship played back at us, only we were Annie On My Mindchaste.
Skip eleven years later, my Black butch Dawson Leeryis now a man. A boxers-wearing, heavy-things-carrying, messy, shaving, will-you-buy-me-a-wave-brush-Honey Black man. When he made the physical transition, it was not all that surprising to me—he was never really comfortable in a woman’s body. And he had long been identifying as “genderqueer” in LGBTQ spaces. This seemed like the logical next step, and I was happy for him.
But that’s easy to say because we weren’t in a monogamous domestic partnership (complete with the gentrified-Brooklyn condo and standard lesbian cats) back then. Even three years ago, it seemed like our story had forever to unfold. But once we were on the same wavelength, things moved quickly. My personal life sped up to where I thought it would slowly lead, and my mind was so wrapped-up in the practical questions (Where will we live? When will we go to graduate school? Who will do the cooking?), that it totally bypassed the more personal introspective question about how it would change my personal and relationship identity to be perceived as straight and be with a Black man.
The advertisements for the new HBO series Girls presented us with main character Hannah referring to herself (while on drugs) as “The Voice of a Generation.” Salon calls the show a “generational event,” and other reviewers rave over the series’ realism and call it “spot on,” and the characters’ feature by Emily Nassbaum in New York Magazine refers to it as “FUBU: For Us, By Us.”
But which “us” are you talking about? And how is this a realistic? I asked myself, as I struggled to figure out exactly what I had in common with these four white girls.
There is a trigger warning for violence and general issues of safety here. Please protect yourself.
An important part of this journey, for me, has been learning more about myself–paying more attention to the way I do things and the why behind the choices I’ve made. In the past six or seven months, I’ve learned some really nasty things about myself … not nasty because they’re so bad, but nasty because I’m pretty sure it says something about me.
Ask me if I care, though.
When I was 18, I moved out of my mother’s house. Left her house for the dorms, and left the dorms and moved into a house with a couple other people. It wasn’t in the safest environment, but it didn’t matter–I was pulling so many double shifts at work that I barely noticed. I, eventually, would go back home around age 21 to have my daughter.
At this point, it gets tricky. Once I was stable, I moved her to a gated community in Miami. Complete with security–code entrance, security patrolling the neighborhood, and even its own emergency response system, I felt safe there. I felt like it wasn’t a big deal to be out with my daughter after dark, walking around the neighborhood.
Eventually, I would move her (and our new puppy, Sushi) closer toward the beach, where it was less secluded, but because it was Miami Beach, cops patrolled the area every ten to fifteen minutes. I felt, again, safe. The island was no wider than maybe four or five street blocks, and I knew what those street blocks looked like. They were clean, loiterer free, frequent police visibility… safe. If I wanted to walk take my dog for a brief potty walk in a short dress, I could do that without being audibly harassed.
I fell in love with the pithy brilliance of Robert Jones, Jr. (pictured below) the 21st-century way: online.
I guess that’s what happens when you grab the mic with the moniker Son of Baldwin.
Like his spiritual dad, novelist/essayist/critic/poet/activist James Baldwin, Jones brings the love, the pain, the rage, and the joy of being Black of 21st-century USA through his specific lens of a queer Black man born and reared in New York City. But Jones doesn’t regurgiate Baldwin like hip platitudes: it’s as if Jones sprung, Athena-like, from Baldwin’s head and reshaped Baldwin then-prescient ideas about the contours and everyday workings of racism, sexism, homophobia, and classism (among other -isms and -phobias) for this era.
I’m not the only one who feels all like this about the guy: when I told both Latoya and Arturo, they were all like, “We love Son of Baldwin! Good choice!!” (And, according to the stats on Son of Baldwin’s Facebook page and Twitter, about 6,400 of us thinks he’s pretty choice.)
So, with my questions quivering in my virtual hand–and trying really hard to control my squee–I approached this week’s Crush.
Tell me about your background: where you were born, what neighborhood did you grow up in, what were your family and neighbors like, schooling, etc.
I was born in Manhattan, but raised in Brooklyn, NY–where I have spent the majority of my life (outside of an excursion to Charlotte, NC, from 1998–2002). I come from a family that is Southern Baptist on my father’s side (by way of Savannah, GA) and Nation of Islam on my mother side (by way of New York City).
I grew up mostly in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn in the Marlboro Housing Projects, so, as you would imagine, I know oppression QUITE intimately. I was first called a nigger, in 1977, when I was six years old. I was hanging out with friends, four or five blocks away, when Yusef Hawkins was murdered in my neighborhood in 1989.
It’s weird to think about it now, but I was chased home from school every day by white boys who hated that I went to “their schools.” And once I reached home, I was taunted and abused by black boys (and girls) who perceived me as “soft.” So I was forced to be “hard” simply as a reaction to the amount of cruelty I was experiencing. I have a few fond memories of childhood, but most of them are tainted by some form of terrorism. Nevertheless, during the most ferocious of those years, I discovered reading as a means of escape and that quickly led to writing. I think I wrote my first short story when I was 12.
I’m a bit of a late bloomer in regard to my college education. I didn’t commit to obtaining my undergraduate and graduate degrees until I was in my 30s. I received both my B.F.A. in creative writing and M.F.A. in fiction from Brooklyn College. For the latter, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Cunningham was my mentor.
Why do you love James Baldwin so much?
I am consistently floored by James Baldwin’s intelligence, honesty, and prescience. I can’t help but admire and want to emulate that painfully rare kind of brilliance. I discovered Baldwin later than most—during my first semester of undergrad. I fell in love with him immediately after reading his last essay, “Here Be Dragons.” Then I hunted for the rest of his work. It’s remarkable that Baldwin’s work continues to reveal things to me, some things I find joyous and some things I find disturbing. No matter what, though: It’s always enlightening. I wish I had the opportunity to have met him before he died.