The Press Republican

Wiley Wandering

« July 2007 | Main | September 2007 »

August 25, 2007

Ways of Seeing Sensuality

In some of my classes we often and adamantly discuss various aspects of romance, sex, love & marriage. Of course, this is a family show, so we won’t delve into any of the possible tawdry talk that one could imagine will occur when discussing one or two of these topics. Though in class we do go quite a few places in our examination of the various facets of intimate relationships. Ultimately though, we used a verse of a poem as a point of departure for a conversation about “hooking up,” a topic that Steve Bartlett ( the Press Republican’s education reporter) framed in an article. Perhaps that story served as the catalyst for the discussion in the class, or perhaps I am situating the poem as the catalyst to divert attention from the fact that I am having some pretty hot, no, let me tell it like it is, extremely hot conversations in my classes at times. {Don't hate the player, hate the game!}

Anyway, I gave the students a poem titled “When We Make Love,” and the reactions from the men and women were quite intriguing. When I challenged them to respond to the poem after reading a very progressive article on the influence that music and rap lyrics have on society--especially women, or on men’s perspective on women--it was fascinating to hear them talk about the shift in their perception. The main reason was their initial interpretation of the underlying reasons why we engage in sex, love making, or that other thing--that we all know, often do, but want to call one of the other two things I named earlier--(lsex or love making in case you forgot), when in reality, it isn’t. Yes, that thing! You would be surprised how sexually titillating a philosophical conversation about romance, sex, love, or marriage can be, even when put in a context that includes Simone de Beauvoir and John Paul Sartre's perspectives. You would be surprised how provocative and creative some of the student's papers can be. It is almost at the point where if I want to experience a sexy evening all I have to do is set the mood with music and lights, and then pull out a classic student paper from this course and all my aphrodisiacs are in place. "Holla!" Or a series of film clips from "Bound," "In The Cut," and "Monster's Ball." Feel me on this, if you were to watch those clips and read the articles that provide an accompanying narrative to your interpretation of how the two women in "Bound" stylishly seduce one another while cunningly "jacking" the mob, you would be buzzing as if you had just had two Pomegranite Smirnoffs while listening to Coltrane's "In A Sentimenal Mood" as background music. If you allowed yourself to intellectually engage how extremely sexy, brazenly sensual, traditionally modest Meg Ryan actually is in "In The Cut," it would be very difficult to not get pulled into a physical engagement as well. She takes sitting on someone's lap to a completely different level! And yes, if you were to examine the depths of the necessity for Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton to relieve one another's pain in Monster's Ball you might make a mental note that you may want to keep that in mind the next time you are hurting a bit. My students know what I mean, and if you watch any of those films, I mean really watch them, you will start to have a glimpse of what I am talking about. Wow, it is getting a bit hot in here, don't you think? Anyway, I’m rambling, probably boring you about my Romance, Sex, Love, & Marriage class’ conversations, so I’ll cut to the chase.

The most controversial verse in the poem "When We Make Love" reads like this:

I love the conversation after
As much as holding you tight
I would just as soon converse all day
As make love to you tonight
But that instant that we unite as one
Does hold the upper hand
Because when I am not a part of you
I exist without a plan.

Now someone tell me, what are the things you could anticipate from the verse above that the other gender would say celebrates some stage of romantic interaction? (Be prepared for some mind blowing revelations on this subject, at least that is what I got from the eighteen to twenty-three year aged crowd in my class).

I’m curious though, what are your thoughts about the possible reactions of students to this poem, in terms of the gender dynamic? Are there things you could anticipate from the verse above that the other gender would say denigrates or berates some stage of romantic interaction? Are there some things mentioned in the poem that tells you the sexuality of the poet? Is the author a man, woman, or transgendered person, heterosexual or homosexual. Why do you think that? What does it say about our "ways of seeing" when we do or don't see certain things that other's do or don't see? Well, what do you have to say?

August 18, 2007

Dating Outside Of Your Race

Have I dated outside my race? Well, if I say yes believe me some black women might say, I knew he had dated a white woman, or I knew he would date a white woman. Either proposition could be quite frustrating for black women who sometime process a black man crossing the color line as if he is seeking a woman that society might view more favorably. Don’t dismiss this too quickly. Black men also have their anxieties about black women dating outside the race. Spike Lee possibly captured the woman's take on this phenomenon best in the conversation he featured called the “war council” in his 1993 film "Jungle Fever." Rumor has it he just gave the women in that film's conversation a topic, "interracial dating and loss of black men to white women," and then let the camera capture one of the most authentic conversations ever captured on film. And like many people if not most who may not be the product of an interracial union, opinions on interracial dating are often fraught with stereotypical notions. Well, maybe I have dated outside my race, far outside of it, traveling in many directions and acquiring insight into different cultures and values along the way. Oh yes, and incurring the slings and arrows of opinionated people from both sides of the racial divide. Maybe I have, maybe I haven't. You will find out later if you just keep reading. So, keep reading!

I remember the first time I crossed the color line to “examine diversity.” I was sixteen in Tulsa, Oklahoma and my 15 year old cousin was somewhat dating one of two sisters (really hanging out is more appropriate to what was actually occurring) who were both eager to hang out with two young black men. I had never even imagined what a head rush it would be to be under a spotlight like the one that interracial dating puts you under. Regardless of your strong will and character, knowing people are looking at you out of the curiosity of witnessing two different skinned people appearing to have some type of intimate relationship underway is quite intriguing. Knowing that people hate you for you daring to do something that they have been taught is not right is incredible. Even admiring two people that enjoy one another can be quite invasive and when they are attempting to enjoy one another amidst society’s stares and whispers, someone admiringly witnessing their relationship can still be problematic because of the couple’s cultivated paranoia.

Different raced people enter into relationships knowing what is in front of them, or do they? The layers of scrutiny associated with this type of dating run deep, and the scars associated with attempting to merge two vary divergent races, cultures, and often religions, even at the least complicated level of simply dating, definitely make you wonder why anyone would do it? It gives another level of appreciation to the thought that many gays offer in the nature/nurture debate over sexual orientation, “why would anyone choose to be gay and deliberately put their life at risk in a dysfunctional American society.”

Hanging out with the two white sisters and my cousin had its most intriguing moment when my great-grandmother discovered our relationship when these two young women drove from South Tulsa all the way over to the North side to “hang with us.” My great-grandmother was gracious when we introduced her to them, but afterwards when they left, something was alarmingly different about her disposition, mostly captured in the fact that she wasn’t speaking to us. Of course, I pressed her for conversation and was blown away with her response. “Can you visit their homes?” she angrily asked. Wow! Her question was mind blowing because both the sisters and my cousin and I knew we couldn’t. Their father was adamant about the fact he didn’t want them dating blacks. When I answered her “No, we can’t,” she responded, “Then I don’t want them over here either.”

To provide you some context, my cousin and I were living with our great-grandmother Mama Horn, a woman who was one of the pillars of the community in the fact that she also carried the designation of being the first black policewoman in the state of Oklahoma. My great-grandmother was also a survivor of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot, a consequence of Tulsa’s Black Wall Street (which you history buffs should “google” if you want to see one of America’s blackest eyes). Lastly, my great-grandmother was truly grand in every way, seldom if ever losing her temper. My response to her last statement was to just turn and walk away and attempt to process where her anger came from. It was over a period of years when I came to realize that her anger may have been wrapped up in her being bi-racial, and not as if her grandmother had a choice. Did someone say legalized, societal, systematic rape?

My great-grandmother was born in 1897, so her grandmother (my great, great, great-grandmother) was a slave and many if not most women during slavery were not given the choice of who they were going to create children with. Until recently our history books, television shows and movies seldom depicted this reality, and if so, whitewashed it. Even in the classic television movie series Roots, rape was sugarcoated as “abuse.” So, maybe her reaction was in response to a memory of that. Maybe her response was to the fact that her two great-grandsons were oblivious of the pain associated with dating outside the race. Just as American history has often been painted in a way to virtuously portray the victors, my relatives probably kept away many of the atrocities associated with our oral and actual history so that we wouldn’t have to see our lesser than reality, though it may have given us a better understanding of our current day lesser than reality. Maybe her pain was from the fact that we felt we had to import two young white women into our community, perhaps somehow suggesting a lesser than status of the young women that lived in the neighborhood. Maybe her anger came from imagining the life we would have if we were stupid enough to think that we could date outside the race and not pay for it, in some form or fashion.

I often wonder how angry Mama Horn would have been if one of my two sisters had “hung out” with young white men? Would the anger have been more or less? Since many scholars argue that white men are positioned in America society with more opportunities for success, would Mama Horn have somehow acquiesced to that interracial reality, and instead left it up to the young white man’s energies to fight his lesser-than-status from within his own community. How far have we come with this interracial dating? At local parks I see all these beautiful children running about, playing with one another, many without a thought about their differences. How many parents are comfortable with them playing, but want friendship to be just that, friendship. The tritest defense supporting the taboo of interracial dating is that the worlds not ready for it. Yeah, right! People aren’t ready for it because they are overtly concerned with what their friends might say. It makes me think of a line from a Dave Chappelle skit, “Oh, this racism is killing us!” I often wonder myself as a parent how I might respond if one day one of my children approached me and introduced me to their interracial love interest. Hopefully, with less anger, I can later ask my child if they can visit their love interest’s home. If not, then unlike my great-grandmother, I will observe a moment of silence on behalf of the limited vision of those parents, but won’t deny them my support because of scars inflicted from a misguided, dysfunctional society.

1. How many of you actually think that your choices, what you find attractive, or not attractive, isn’t tied to some knee high sermon or soliloquy you heard from your parents, uncles, aunts, friends, films, or books that forever framed for you a person that might have been your soul mate if the conversation ever had a chance to flow freely.

2. How many of you instead settled for a person that your family and friends approved of, as if they had to live with the person daily, and missed out on other worlds you could have visited.

3. How many of you are now poised to pass that tradition onto your children under the guise of wanting the best for them, when it may be more of wanting the best for yourself in terms of fewer questions to answer, and minimal anxiety about meeting, and dare I say it, getting to know the “others’ family.

4. Oh, and how many of you have even truly considered if it is even possible to date outside your race when really there is only one true race, the human race. Everything else is hype!!!

August 14, 2007

Getting In, and Challenging to Change the Game

One of the easiest and most consistent things I have done, that unfortunately most of us do, is root for the team, play arm chair quarterback, casually observe, or accept the role of a bystander. We don’t think that is what we do, but it is. Somehow we convince ourselves that we are too busy to take a stand, or not significant enough in what we may bring to the game to make a difference when we very well could be the difference.

Many of us aren’t sophisticated enough to actually always know how we offend others, but when someone points out the various ways that we do, if we have been comfortable doing it for any length of time, we listen to their critique, but don’t “really listen” to the point where we own what they are saying as applicable to us, and seriously undertake the effort to change. When someone told me that using the term gypped was referring to some of the transactional manners of Gypsies, I immediately stopped using the term. However, when I correct young men about their use of the term girl in the context of a story they tell about grown women, they tell me I am getting too politically correct. I agree, while too much political correctness threatens to make everyone fake, there are some things we need to overcompensate towards to find the real. When we casually continue to frame our women as girls, what are the psychological or sub textual overtones or implications from this act? Might we subconsciously be situating our women as lesser beings, in some ways making it easier not to see them as equals? Is this a gendered concern? When men tell stories about grown men, do they refer to those men as boys? Unless it is in the context of “my boys” the answer is no! Conversely, when women tell stories about grown men, do they refer to them as boys? Well, before you answer that, let’s just recognize that both men and women succumb to this dysfunctional behavior at times, so no one should have their chest or breast out too far. The larger point is, upon recognizing it, how many of us are ready to get in the game, and challenge for change?

I remember what someone once said to a date of mine at a dinner party in Los Angeles. We were the only two black people at the party, and my date was in a casual conversation with a woman when the woman casually tells my date that at times her husband treats her like a “nigger.” Now my motivation to change the game isn’t altruistic, as if any action is or could be. But my motivation to change the game could be rational as opposed to appetitive, though they both would be personal. If I attempt to change the game I am not only doing something that benefits me, spreading the seeds of social justice about so that others can reap what I sow, as well as myself since I would ultimately be living in a better world without all the hateful drama that overburdens us. But also perhaps I could be modeling actions that others might want to emulate. When I am around a guy or guys, and one of the guys starts in on some tirade wherein casually telling a story or making a point, he continues to casually berate women, though he doesn’t necessarily mean to do it, I can enter the game by asking him why were the women in his story being constantly referred to as “bitches” or “girls?” When I have done this, some of the people in the mix get irritated because I derailed the story teller. Others think, “Oh, here he goes.” But I believe more and more people enjoy the fact that someone is challenging the story teller to be even more creative and less stereotypical in telling her/his story.

Everyone doesn’t necessarily know that referring to women as girls, wearing attire that might make others uncomfortable or criticizing other’s attire because it isn’t what we would wear, flaunting our size, economic status, or educational accomplishments, all contribute to a dysfunction that tears away at any sense of team or team building. When most of us are introduced to the thought that these things are painful to others, many of us try to change. But how many of us are prepared to not only change ourselves, but strap on the equipment and get in the game. If the game is life, and we can’t help but play it, shouldn’t we be playing a game that we can win? Hate, and anything that contributes to it, is a loser’s game. That is why the game plan for it is always developed in the shadows or whispered, but seldom shouted. If people who hate, or perhaps hate is too strong a word, how about dislike, or don’t care for others, have a difficult time describing why they feel that way, perhaps the reason is something that should really be considered. If everyone who hates actually took the time to critically engage why they feel so negative about this or that, perhaps they would discover how ridiculous it is too carry around all that negative energy. Half the people we hate aren’t thinking twice about us, so we spend all this energy thinking about them, and they are living life to the fullest, oblivious of their haters.

Are you a player in this game called life, or a benchwarmer, who when given the opportunity to play, or make a play, you don’t take advantage of it. I guess some people are just happy to be on the bench, close to the game.

Did I just describe you or someone you know? How so? How could you or them change? What’s preventing you or them from changing? How would your life be if everyone who has given up some aspect of their privilege to make you more comfortable had not done that? What type of world would we live in if everyone had your attitude about giving up a bit of their privilege to make others more comfortable?

August 11, 2007

Weight Matters

It would be really nice if someone could break down the American fixation or preoccupation on weight. I am currently in Los Angeles on vacation and just finished lunch today with one of my favorite people in the world, a previous "love of my life's" mother who I try to spend some time with every summer I return to L.A. I know, we stereotypically aren't supposed to love our mother in laws, and definitely aren't responsible to maintain a relationship with the mothers of lovers from our past, but you would have to meet this woman to fully understand how loving her is an undeniable occurance. Anyway, consider that backdrop for my larger point (no pun intended). When I meet my psuedo mother she greets me with a warm loving hug, and then says "You've gained some weight? It looks good on you." I didn't even hear the second statement complimenting me on how good I look, because this woman that I adore commented on my weight.

Now some of you may be surprised to hear me going on and on about my weight because traditionally or stereotypically men don't often discuss their weight, more so, not publically. Well, this man does, with the obvious question possibly being, why was I rattled by her acknowlegement of my weight gain (a mere 12 lbs over the weight she last saw me at... so don't crowd me too much about not being on top of my game). Another might be why was it immediately a negative, instead of a positive? Another could be, was she trying to be the focus of a blog (okay, so maybe that question wouldn't be so obvious to you)?

Any way, to be honest about it I must ask myself why my weight is so tied to my self esteem? Granted, when I buy clothes and start to be uncomfortable in them because they no longer fit, it makes sense that I might become somewhat preoccupied. After all, it means that I may need to purchase larger clothing, and soon, or I won't be comfortable physically, and will probably be uncomfortable spiritually and psychologically because of the way I imagine others witnessing my discomfort. Where does anxiety/paranoia orinate? In some societies it is a completely different dynamic, and girth has worth. This all brings me back to my sagging esteem, which transcends fitness and other's perception of that fitness. My diminishing esteem also makes me consider whether or not my weight gain is a factor of my inactivity, overwork which has me lazy after a long day, poor diet, social stresses, drop in self esteem due to others extraneous factors, seasonal realities (try living in the North Country and not be into winter sports). The bottom line is this, even after psuedo mom specifally reminded me of her having previously said, on numerous occassions, that I was too small and needed to gain weight, when I knew I had accomplished her ideal, it was still somewhat inconsequential in comparison to my ideal, that I don't want anyone noticing any weight gain, but any comment about a weight loss, is somehow received as cool. Weight matters are issues hard to resolve. Weight matters because so many of us have bought into some type of notion, albeit reinforced everywhere you look, that our weight makes a statement about us (albeit nobody can truly definitively articulate what that statement is). Weight matters because we convince ourself it does, and then reinforce that fact with judgments, while we fire up a cigarette, order a second drink, then a third, excessivly speed in our car as if the experts who set the speed limit were inept in not recognizing your skill, put on extra salt everytime we eat food -- without even tasting it, put on extra sugar in the same fashion, etc. etc. Somebody please tell me, considering all of this, why does weight matter, or why at times does it matter more than other weighty concerns?

August 3, 2007

Running for Attention

At 19 I was jogging around a high profile park in Fox Hills, California, a small upwardly mobile suburb of Los Angeles. It was a very hot sunny day and I decided to run shirtless to both feel more of what little breeze might be available as well as perhaps court some attention from the preponderance of beautiful women that also could be found jogging around the park on any given day.

As I finished my run I had to reconcile myself to the fact that none of the beautiful women that I saw that day appeared to have noticed me, or definitely didn’t make it obvious to me. Catching my breath as I was walking back to my apartment I noticed a car pulling close to the curb and slowing down. Since this was occurring in L.A. I really paid close attention to the car because I had no interest in being a statistic or victim of a drive by shooting. After just a few seconds the car pulled off and I continued heading home. Within just a couple of minutes that very same car returned, slowing down again as it pulled close to the curb. This time though, the window dropped and a young man in somewhat of a hushed voice said to me “Would you like a ride?” For a split second I was prepared to say simply “no thanks” and keep walking. Then it donned on me that I was dripping in sweat and half naked. Why would anyone offer me a ride? At that point, I became angry and lashed out at the driver of the car with venom I didn’t know I had in me. You will have to use some of your imagination to get inside of the profanity laced tirade I leveled at him as a result of his proposition. I said “No, #$%^&, I don’t want a #$%^&*ride. Take your #$%^&* [mule] away from here before I kick your #$%^& [mule].”

As he pulled off, totally caught off guard by my extreme reaction to his simple invitation I was so physically angry I could feel the tension in my body. I felt it so much that it made me ask myself the question that began my epiphany. Why was I so upset? First, why did I believe that he was flirting with me? Secondly, I was looking for attention that day, and had gotten it. So, assuming he might have found me attractive, was that a good enough reason for me to threaten him with bodily harm? If it had been one of the beautiful women offering me a ride that were running around the park just moments before I would have jumped in that car with no hesitation. So who was I kidding? I had just taken my first psychology course and experienced my first introduction to Sigmund Freud. What would Freud have said about me, in some larger context? There was no way I could distance myself from my homophobia in that moment when I look back on the experience.

In less than five minutes I experienced pride, confusion, anger, introspection, shame, and pride all over again. Without getting too detailed, the final sense of pride I felt was in realizing that a compliment is a compliment and no one, and I truly mean no one, deserves to be treated rudely simply because they said something to you that you may have preferred not to hear, but that was genuinely meant as a compliment.

My response to him is something that I wished I could take back, but on another level, I value it as the first step to my becoming more enlightened about the differences in the ways we treat one another and some of the intriguing ways we respond to one another. For example, would a woman jogging around a park, looking for attention from men, have reacted that way to another woman’s proposition to her for a ride? I know I am speaking in generalities, but would the average woman get as hostile in her response? Why are men’s egos so threatened when their masculinity is challenged or questioned? What do you think your reaction would have been to a similar situation? What are your thoughts?