095: Body Count: a self-summary

Content warning: This poem features discussion of depression, self-harm, as well as references to the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando and the shootings of countless black and brown bodies each year by police.

"Body Count: a self-summary," Maggie Roque

In considering the prompt of survival as it relates to suicide and self-harm, the concept of "self-care" immediately came to mind. Often times, I am prompted to assess my mental health and practice self-care in my roles as a student services professional and as a community organizer focused on racial justice.

Having struggled with depression and cutting, assessing my mental health can be a complicated task, especially when coupled with my identity as a queer woman of color.

I wrote this poem to give life to my experience, to speak to others who experience this too, and most importantly, to remind myself that survival does not mean always being healthy and never reliving past trauma. Survival, for me, is committing to believing I am worthy, in all that I am, of love, of life, of hope.

"Body Count: a self-summary"

Is it oppression or depression
knotting my mind,
filling my body to the brim
with wet sand, sluggish.
Cumbersome. Heavy. My heart
pulls and breaks
strings stretched too taut from hurting too
deeply too often.

Is it oppression or depression
cutting into me like shards of broken mirror
echoing reflections that sigh
out, “I am enough.”
A therapeutic exercise turned habit.
A phrase we crave, but rarely hear.
A mantra necessary for resilience
for enduring
for walking through this world
brown and queer and womanly.

Is it oppression or depression
fueling motivation for the ink on my skin?
Tattoos dancing with each shift of muscle
and underneath them
near them
somewhere scars. I’m covered
in sentimentality
in stories of creating space, my refusal
to be defined by it, of temporary
feelings and impermanence,
of celebrating love and life.

Is it oppression or depression
counting in my mind?
Four tattoos to reclaim a body littered
in deliberate scarring.
Four times submitting to the healing
sting of a needle, soothing the bone deep
ache of an abandoned blade.
Four sweet stories to whisper
away self-hatred
I can’t wipe clean. 41,149 deaths
by suicide in the US last year1,
but not me, not me.

Is it oppression or depression
whispering anxieties in the dark?
Telling me things will never change,
asking me why I’m fighting
wondering does it make a difference?
682 people of color killed by police this year,
more by the time these words find life.
49 killed in Pulse with names like mine
with skin like mine and loves like mine
with the desire to live life intensely,
to find community as I seek mine.
And all the while, the quiet voice
crying what if? What if?

Is it oppression or depression
dictating my worth?
Undressing me with predatory eyes
with cold hands
raising gooseflesh on my skin
chastising me for wearing my bumps and
bruises so easily, so openly
for wearing my ugly so honestly
for finding my beauty amidst brutality.
Brown skin golden in the sun
and hair shorn short and soft,
it’s just too much.
I’m meant to be seen, not heard,
but no, hold on
I’m not meant to be at all.

Is it oppression or depression
distorting my world into one where
existing is resisting?
When each breath I take is an act
of defiance, each word spoken
a step further away from comfort, from home
each heart beat a rally cry
for justice for equity for safety for space,
I won’t let hope leave me again.
She’s worth the chase.

1 - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
2 - http://killedbypolice.net/


About the art:

I read Maggie's poem several times over and over to fully grasp the meaning of this poem to herself. I asked her about any motifs, stanzas and lines that stood out to her the most.

Though this poem does speak a lot about oppression and the depression that people of color may feel when tuning into different media on a daily basis, the last stanza, specifically the last two lines 'I won't let hope leave me again. She is worth the chase.' stood out the most to me.

The questions that remained were 'how do you define hope? How do you define oppression?' In this instance, oppression is a shadow that looms behind us. It appears time after time again and lurks behind you, or even in front of you. Hope is represented by the sunrise, which symbolizes a new day-- a new perspective and new ideas and approaches to overcoming oppression. Maggie told me that her favorite color is yellow and I thought of the sun when she told me this.

I am honored to have worked on this piece. The poem that this picture will accompany is a very powerful one and I recommend everyone to read.

- Elenna Geffrard

060: Black & Queer

Content Warning: This post contains information about a survivor's experience as a black queer man, so those with similar experiences may find some of this content triggering.

“Black & Queer,” Ronnie Benion

Moving through the world as a Black Queer man is complicated. It is being pulled in too separate directions. It is often navigating spaces when you are either Black or Queer, but rarely ever both at the same time. It is struggling with your male identity because your Queer identity completely undermines the concept of Black masculinity. It is struggling to find self-love because you are constantly being told that you are unlovable. 

Coming out was a terrible and traumatic experience for me. I grew up in a Black Southern Baptist household. However, I believed that my relationship with my mother was so strong that it wouldn’t matter to her that at the time I was dating a guy. It killed me inside to keep it from her. I was still trying to figure things out so I came out to her via a letter. She flipped out. She yelled. She screamed. She called me all kinds of names. My heart shattered that night. I felt alone, less than human and like I didn’t belong anywhere. I never suspected the person I was closest to to make feel that way.

While my mother has come around, I still battle the fear of opening myself up in that way again. I am constantly negotiating what I can and cannot say about my Queer identity. I have to negotiate how I dress and how I act when I am around them. I question if my outfit is too gay or if my words are too flamboyant and stereotypical. In Queer spaces, I am constantly trying to figure out how much of my Black identity I can share. Whether it is my taste in music, or the slang I use. It’s one thing to be the Black guy twerking in the club, but it is another thing to be at a party and request something that isn’t Beyoncé or Rihanna. It is struggling with my so called friends calling hip-hop night at a local club “ghetto night” and refusing to go because “they don’t know how to dance to that type of music.” 

My existence in the world is resistance. I am a Black man. I am Queer. The media rarely every shows those identities in conjunction with each other. Black men are often showed in negative ways and Queer men are often White. Being a Queer person of color, finding representation is hard. If a Queer person of color is portrayed in a television show, it is typically as a caricature or they have a tragic story.

Shows like Queer as Folk have reached critical acclaim but most people have never even heard of Noah’s Arc, a show featuring a predominantly Black Queer cast. RuPaul’s Drag Race often has plenty of QPOC representation, but that doesn’t mean that all of it is shown in a positive light. This past season, contestant and eventual winner Bob the Drag Queen was told that she does “ratchet drag” when everything thing she had shown before was glamour and beauty.

The stories of QPOC communities need to be told and it should not be all of the tragic ones. The acknowledgement of intersections of race and sexual orientation can change the dominant narrative of what it means to be a Queer person of color. Queerness will no longer be a White thing. Person of color identity will no longer be a straight. Maybe we can fight racism in the Queer community and heterosexism in person of color communities. 

I have learned to embrace my Black Queer identity. While I am still working on me, I have discovered that sometimes you have to “Be Your Own Anchor.” I define who I am and who I choose to be. Being a Black Queer man ain’t easy, but I am happy with me. Those who can’t accept that can keep it moving.


About the art:

Since the massacre in Orlando at the Pulse nightclub has been in everyone's consciousness, this piece had particular power and meaning for me to capture Ronnie's perspective as a queer person of color. When I received his story, I was still processing what had happened and working through the impact on my home community of Orlando. I drove through the area on Sunday night, and the eerie feeling has stayed with me since. I watched the video of Anderson Cooper telling the stories of the victims, and it was extremely emotional and motivating. So I began to plan Ronnie's art.

As Ronnie said, in his own words, "The anchor for me represents staying grounded. It is inspired by the quote "Be Your Own Anchor" which reminds me that I have to keep myself grounded and can't always rely on others to do so. It is very similar to my pride at the moment. In life, my identities as a Black Gay man are often disregarded and detested. I can't rely on others to make me feel proud of myself. I have to love myself and embrace my identities. QPOC identity cannot be erased and despite its challenges, I love being QPOC. I love all that I am and I am Proud to say it. That is what the rainbow represents for me."

This quote was so powerful and inspirational, and I think it speaks to all communities affected by this tragedy. The LGBT community, the LatinX community, and my home community of Orlando...all have survived an assault on their very characters, and yet they still survive. We exist because we resist the world's insistence that we don't. We survive because we have to. 

I'm honored to be a part of this process with Ronnie, and I hope he continues to find a place to be in this world and a community of support to share in his story.

- Beth Paris