Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Feeling Good

Kai's SONG OF THE WEEK: '"Feeling Good' is a song written by English singer-songwriters Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse for the 1965 musical The Roar of the Greasepaint - The Smell of the Crowd starring Cy Grant, who sang the original version of the song. The song has notably been covered by artists such as Nina Simone, Muse and Michael Bublé and Eels (see longer list below). Nina Simone's version appeared on her 1965 album I Put a Spell on You. Simone's version is also featured in the 1993 film Point of No Return, in which the protagonist uses the code name "Nina" and professes to be a longtime fan of Simone's music. The song was also featured in the promotional video of the TV series Six Feet Under (4th season), and is included in the show's volume 2 soundtrack. Simone's version is in the soundtracks of the 2006 film Last Holiday,[1] the 2010 film Repo Men, the French 2011 film Intouchables [2], the 2009 game The Saboteur (set during World War II, long before the song was written),[3] and the Chuck episode "Chuck Versus the Honeymooners."(Wiki)
*We all know that Wikipedia isn't the best way to get information, but especially in this case and with this artist, I suggest really doing some background research. For starters you can check out her own website, If you're feeling really moved, which I hope you are, check out Daphne A. Brooks' essay, "Nina Simone's Triple Play" in Callaloo (Winter 2011). 

Kai's Thoughts:  
Last bind/Last time I’ll have to fit my chest, my breasts into spaces that are much too small/Last time I’ll hunch and slouch/ Excited to learn how to stand tall/Last bind/ I went to sleep and awoke to bandages squeezing around tighter/ tighter/I almost couldn’t breathe/I almost couldn’t swallow/ But I was reminded that this would be my last bind/ not my last breath/So I rest/ Knowing that soon I’ll be free/Drains will be removed/Nipples have been reattached/Scars will remain/ Not reminding me of the pain/ But of the freedom I have gained/We who were born into bodies and made choices to change them/Rearrange them/I have scars from those who have not had to think about what they left behind on my body/But these scars/ These scars will be powerful/ Are already powerful because I claim them/They are mine/ Thank God for my last bind.
"Stars when you shine you know how I feel/ Scent of the pine you know how I feel/ Oh freedom is mine And I know how I feel"
Freedom...When my new chest was finally revealed to me all I could do was smile. I couldn't believe that it was me. I was looking at myself and seeing for the first time, on my body, liberation. It wasn't perfect, but it was beautiful still. I could see my stretch marks from before would still be carried on this new chest of mine, but even they became beautiful like streaks of sun rays beaming. For the first time heart space was open. And I felt afraid. I felt as though something might fall out or apart.  I had an urge to put that binder right back on, because though it was painful and made me stiff, it has been for so long the thing that made me feel safe, strong and secure. Might I be afraid of freedom? Were my ancestors ever afraid? Have you ever been afraid of freedom? I would imagine yes, but freedom is not something you turn your back on once you begin pursuing its lovely breeze. But we have to talk about are fears lest they permeate our subconscious and dictate our future actions/inactions.

I remember when I was five years old, that is when my body started to change. That is when my mother took me to the doctor because somethings began to sprout from my chest. His advice, "get her a training bra." 

I remember starting kindergarten. I remember my best friends were Sean, Edward, Richard, Sol, and Paul and in later years Aris and Jabari. I remember that we used to love to play Ninja Turtles. I remember hating "girly" cartoons not because of the stories, but because in coloring books everyone was always so skinny and I had difficulty staying in the lines. I remember Paul invited everyone over to watch Ninja Turtles and I asked my mom if I could go and she said no because they were all boys and I was not. I didn't question it then. I just played with them at school and left it at that, but now I remember that moment and think...
I remember in either 1st or 2nd grade, in the afternoons we'd all have free time and play. It would get hot in the afternoon and we'd all strip down to our t-shirts. I remember my mom coming to get me one day and I was in my t-shirt and she was upset. I couldn't walk around in my t-shirt like everyone else, I had parts that needed to be protected and covered up. 

Freedom. I was five when I started growing breasts. I was five when I learned that my body needed to be covered up. I wanted to play ninja turtles with the boys, but I would learn that I was a girl and girls have to be protected. Where do you draw the line between protection and policing? 

My whole life I felt like I was in the wrong body or gender--this is not my narrative, though I honor and acknowledge it as one that many trans people have. However, I have felt that whatever space I take up, neither genders are able to fully hold what I am, what I have, or what I desire. I have always desired freedom. I have never been able to color inside the lines without making new lines or boundaries. 
What is freedom? 
Freedom is the ability to move if you want to. 
Freedom is a dream passed down from generations past that we must continue to make manifest anew.
Freedom is the abolition of all prisons.
Freedom is Black love is Black wealth. 
Freedom is...

What is freedom to you?  Write back and let me know.

I'm Feeling Good:-)


Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Kai's SONG OF THE WEEK: '"1+1' is a song recorded by American recording artist Beyoncé Knowles for her fourth studio album, 4 (2011). It was released by Columbia Records in the United States on May 25, 2011, as a promotional single. Serving as the opening track on 4, it was written and produced by Knowles, The-Dream and Tricky Stewart. "1+1" was originally titled "Nothing but Love" and The-Dream had initially planned to include it on his second studio album, Love vs. Money (2009). A down-tempo contemporary R&B and soul music power ballad, "1+1" Knowles expressing her endless love to her soul mate; the lyrics make strong statements about the power of the relationship."(Wiki)
Kai's Thoughts:
Yes it’s time for Kai’s weekly jam. And yes I have to go with Beyonce’s “1+1” (Treva, I look forward to hearing your rendition when I get home;-). I love this song! I woke up this morning after having dreams about eating lots of mints in the middle of the night. The doctor told me yesterday to make sure not use toothpaste this morning, nothing with mint and I suppose that followed me into dreamland. All night, I found myself accidently popping mints into my mouth then realizing, “oh you’re not supposed to eat those!” Then, in my dreams, I sat with the dilemma of whether or not to tell my doc if I had eaten the mints. I always spit them out, so I didn’t completely ingest them. I wanted to hold on to the sweet taste though.

You all have been my sweet reminder that I am loved and I am love because we are love. How do I express my gratitude to my friends from boarding school, my sister who called me to talk about Baldwin and wish me luck, my sister who was my first roommate who was also the first person to donate to my chip-in site? How do I express gratitude to my middle school advisor, my English teacher who taught me how to read closely and not to be afraid of writing what I feel? She took the time to teach us about emotional intelligence. My high school advisor reached out to me to let know they are in support of me all the way in Wellesley. How do I express gratitude for kindred spirits who send me poems and prayers—lavender by my bedside and candles aflame on my behalf? How do I tell you thank you, a deep thank you? Thank you, to people I didn’t even know so well in elementary school who reached out to me to say, “I’m proud of you!” How do I express that kind of gratitude?

I have had some really dark days. There were times when I was sure I didn’t want take another breath—but a prayer, but faith. But love has kept me here and blessed me with you. How do I say thank you to my mother and to my aunts who fast and pray for me today even though they do not want me to do this? How do I say thank you to my grandmother who passed away? How do I say thank you for teaching me how to pray to God? Thank you for teaching me about a loving God. In your bedroom we’d kneel by the bed and we’d all have to say our prayers aloud to God—you showed me how to access God for myself. You knew you wouldn’t always be here and I wasn’t ready for you to go when you did, but I hold you and your lessons with me.

How do I say thank you to my brothers/studs/trans guys who stand with me on this journey? My people, my people, I didn’t even know I had a people. Thank God for the Brown Boi Project for helping us to find ourselves and each other. We are stronger now. We are braver now. We can be lovers of the feminine and the masculine within ourselves and in others—we have been healed and the healing continues.

How do I express my gratitude to the almost 50 people who donated to my chip-in site? You sent me off with almost 1800 dollars (That covers all of my surgical fees + rental car for the 10 days). Insurance does not cover these kinds of procedures, but my community stepped up. You are my insurance—what a powerful thing to witness and to have witnessed. I am only one person, but we—we are love. We are so big. We are so strong and you prove that.

How do I say thank you?

I haven’t been able to cry for some months now. I have played the saddest Donny Hathaway songs I know, the most moving Kirk Franklin songs—the ones that always used to make me cry, but no tears. I drove around last week really looking for those tears and for that sadness that I used to be able to tap in to. I couldn’t find it. I realized that deep down; deep deep down inside my soul, inside my heart, where there used to be sadness, there is joy. A healing has taken place. This is a joy, I haven’t felt before, it’s in my core. And I thank you all for going on this journey with me. The thing about transition is that as much as you might like to, you can’t do it alone. As you change it is inevitable that those around you will have to change. Sometimes you may have to part ways with people who refuse the challenge. Sometimes you will have to fight with those you love, but mostly you will need to be patient and kind.

You all have made love to me, have made love of me, and with me. And all I have to give you in return is, thank you. When I go under today I will be holding the sweetness of you in my mind and in my heart. I go without fear, nervousness, or worry, because I am being held. Thank you for seeing me. You have helped me to find freedom. You have shown me a radical we, a radical elsewhere. Thank you.
***(An intellectual pondering)
While androgyny is mostly understood as an individual’s identity or gender presentation, Toni Cade Bambara offers us another possibility when she writes “Perhaps we need to let go of all notions of manhood and femininity and concentrate on Blackhood. We have much alas to work against. The job of purging is staggering. It perhaps takes less heart to pick up the gun than to face the task of creating a new identity, a self, perhaps an androgynous self, via commitment to the struggle” (Bambara 103). She asks to think about a possible geographical shift of the self, a process that requires an undoing of some of what we have come to know as essential to identity formation of race and gender. Now, it is one thing to imagine a non-bifurcated self that perhaps undoes the work of the splitting up of a consciousness, but it is another thing to call for a collective androgynous self as it implies a restructuring of the self that no doubt requires a restructuring of a collective. An androgynous self requires a reorientation to subjectivity that is less about an individual as I and more about the work of the individual as They or Them, or even a radical We.
It is helpful now to move to a dictionary definition of androgyny in order to better understand what I have proposed above as a politic of androgyny:
1: having the characteristics or nature of both male and female
2: a: neither specifically feminine nor masculine <the androgynous pronoun them> 
        b : suitable to or for either sex <androgynous clothing>
3: having traditional male and female roles obscured or reversed <an androgynous marriage> (
I want to focus on the example given in 2a because it illuminates androgyny’s relationship to liminality that is less about the disorientation of in-betweeness and more about an orientation to collectivity, hence the emphasis of the pronoun them. This I as them can only be understood as a collection or collective of some sort, which perhaps could be separated but is not. The Black feminist call for an androgynous self is a call to recognize the them/we always present in the I which seemed to be forgotten when all the “women” were thought to be white and all the Blacks were thought to be men in social and political thought and praxis[1]. Black women’s very existence crushed and destroyed the logic of organizations that believed they were able to combat oppression from the stance of race, class, or gender without understanding how all of those categories work in and through one another.  Black feminists interrupted, asking Black men and white women to recognize the problem as bigger than a singular group’s call—they asked for a recognition of the them/we essential to the I.
An androgynous self is not easily recognizable within the confines of our knowledge, which insist that the human be predicated first on the recognition of either woman or man, and anything other than that becomes deviant and dehumanized. We can also only see these subjects if they are in motion towards becoming either man or woman. To occupy this liminal space without the desire to become or to be something legible to the world as either male or female is a radical stance, proving that there are other ways of being. This is at the heart of an androgynous politic, which, like The Black Woman, is situated in the margins of the margins, not asking to be let in to frameworks of either/or, but instead insisting upon an interrogation of how this binary thinking has a way of policing and oppressing rather than building strong collectives and coalitions. A Black feminist stance is an androgynous stance that refuses to choose one thing over another as it already knows that game to be a farce, which does more to distort problems than to illuminate them in their full complexity. An Androgynous politic or modality is one that is able to occupy the marginal spaces, not in hopes of someday penetrating the normal, but instead always working through and toward possibilities outside of those that have been deemed permissible by the state. There is indeed something else to be, and there is much difficulty in the practice of deciphering that something else to be on its own terms—what are the tools necessary for seeing differently something different?


Thank You. <3

[1]Gloria T. Hull, Patricia Bell Scott, and Barbara Smith. All the Women are White, All the Blacks are Men, but Some of Us Are Brave: Black women's studies. (Old Westbury, N.Y: Feminist Press, 1982.)
[2] In an attempt to create my method of critical ethnography, I asked one of my interviewees to interview me. This interview method was an attempt to explore the way that we as Native ethnographers engage with power, and how we might disrupt the hierarchical relationship between subject and researcher by actively putting oneself in the position of subject. It was also a way to use skill sharing as a way of reciprocity. My method here opens a fruitful discussion regarding ethnographic film and native ethnography. See John L. Jackson’s  "An Ethnographic Filmflam: Giving Gifts, Doing Research, and Videotaping the Native Subject/Object," to further enhance this discussion.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Hidden Charms

Kai's SONG OF THE WEEK:  "Hidden Charms" is a beautiful acoustic soul ballad given to us by Van Hunt. The song can be found on Hunt's 2004 album "Van Hunt (Acoustic)- EP". You can find more info about the artist here:  Van Hunt  . Because there isn't much info about this song I had to transcribe the lyrics myself:

Kai's Thoughts:
This song has blasting on my speakers all weekend. It's all about the journey. That's what this song reminds me. What is so beautiful to me is the lyric, "your audience is waiting." I imagine my audience as an active community, a collective of folk who walk with me, people who whisper in my ear and tell  me to keep going when I want to quit. I imagine my audience as those who send me emails just to say that they appreciate my story and my willingness to share--your encouragement keeps me going. I thank you. A supportive community is what gives me the courage to move, the courage to change, and the determination to grow. I am so appreciative of my community, the people who heal me, the people who laugh with me, the people who give me space when I need it, and the folks who are there to hug me when I need it. 

My dream for the world is that we all have the opportunity to discover our hidden charms, those passions deep within, the art, the poetry, the ideas, the dreams of freedom that so often become difficult to hold on to in the face of everyday living in capitalist America. The American dream is a nightmare that turns almost everything into a commodity. But we have dreams that are so much valuable than the dollar could ever be. How beautiful it would be if we could all just be? What if we could move freely without fear?  

My prayer for myself and for my partner and for my mother and for my father and for you is that we all find our hidden charms. Once we discover them within ourselves, we must share them. When we begin to share our talents and our gifts, we create an opening for transformation.

Transformation. Transition. The decision to transition was one that I made for myself. But my decision meant that everyone around me also had to change. Sometimes people were resistant. Sometimes people came around later. Sometimes you might lose the folks who aren't ready to make the journey with you, but don't be discouraged for there will always be those who are with you. There are ancestors that hold you up. There are people praying for you that you might not even be aware of. I thank my ancestors and those who pray for me.

I dedicate this Weekly Jam to my partner. I see more and more of your hidden charms shining through and it's a beautiful thing to witness. It is not always easy to be in partnership with someone who is medically transitioning, but you are here and have been here. Thank you. Thank you for transforming with me.  Thank you for pushing yourself and stretching yourself even when it hurts. I love you and your hidden charms--thank you for sharing them with me. But even more than that, I thank you for taking the time and the space to discover them for yourself. 

Let me know your thoughts on this song or any of the others that I have posted. Would love to hear from you, my community!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

I was Born This Way

Kai's SONG OF THE WEEK:  '"I Was Born This Way" is a disco song by Valentino, released in 1975, then by Carl Bean in 1977 (both artists for Motown), and a remake in 1995 by country singer Johnny Rodriguez. It was written by Chris Spierer and Bunny Jones. The record was first released on the Motown-distributed Gaiee Records and performed by Valentino formerly of The Dynamic Superiors. Frankie Crocker of WBLS Radio in New York first aired the song and it was an instant hit. The writers, Chris Spierer and Bunny Jones wanted to write a Gay anthem and make the plight on Gay issues known and bring it to the forefront.

The song's lyrics is about a man who proclaims that he's a homosexual and that he was "born this way". It was one of the first gay disco songs written specifically for the Gay community, before the Village People wave.

It was also sampled in 1999 by Stuart Price, using the alias Pour Homme, as "Born this Way". It was a tremendous hit in Europe.

In 2008, Magnus Carlsson, Sweden's popular gay male vocalist re-recorded 3 versions of "I Was Born This Way" in addition to Paul Oskar of Norway. Magnus Carlsson can be seen performing "I Was Born This Way" on YouTube as well as Marty Thomas of the Broadway hit show "Wicked"'(Wikipedia). Song Lyrics.

Kai's Thoughts: 

Because this groove came out on Motown, before Lady Gaga's recent hit. Because I'm happy, carefree, and Gay. Because we all deserve freedom. Because I was born Black. Because this song makes me smile. Because this song makes me dance. Because this song makes me think of funktified church. Because the bass-line makes me feel ALRIGHT! Because I'm here. Because We have been here and will be here to sing, dance, work, fight, live, love, write, laugh, cry, holler, move and...

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Hope That We Can Be Together Soon

"'Hope That We Can Be Together Soon' is a song recorded Sharon Paige and Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes. Released in 1975 from their album To Be True, it reached number one on the Hot Soul Singles chart in the summer of that year. It also reached forty-two on the Billboard Hot 100.[1] Unlike most of the group's singles from this time period, it's Melvin who handles most of the vocal duties, while Teddy Pendergrass appears for one line and the closing part of the song. Paige would later take on a more prominent role in the group after Pendergrass left the group for a solo career.

The song was originally recorded in 1970 by Dusty Springfield as "Let's Get Together Soon" and was included in her album A Brand New Me (which was also produced by Gamble and Huff)."(Wikipedia) Song Lyrics

Kai's Thoughts:

I heard this song today while driving home from LAX. The opening echoes and drums made me smile and lean back. I was in traffic, but I was cruising. It took me back to my childhood, the moments when my Dad would drive. He would always lean real far back in his seat. He suggested I get my lean on too, but I couldn't find that kind of cool calm then. Today I found it and I nodded my head. I hope that we can be together soon. This song brought back memories of the weekend afternoons when my mom would sit and write letters to my father in prison. We would write him together. Recently, I wrote a letter to my father and posted on Facebook. I started thinking about the ways I have been able to come into the understanding of myself as a writer and how that had to be influenced by these letter writing years. 

I remember my father's handwriting, so pretty, and smooth, but also bold. He wrote his words like he played his guitar--sweet and funky. My handwriting hasn't improved since 3rd grade, it was the only subject that I got a S in (S's were the equivalent of C's). Sometimes my dad drew cartoons and those always made me feel like we really had the power to connect and create our own world despite bars and distance. My father wrote those letters to us with passion. After reading the letter I recently wrote to my father, he responded by saying that my letter felt like it was one of the letters he would send from prison. He said he had to put his everything into those pages to keep from being lonely. We always hoped that we could be together soon. We had dreams of togetherness for our family. 

I remember back then, me and my mom went for a conjugal visit (we spent the weekend I think). It was the coolest thing ever for me because I actually got a chance to hug my Dad. My mom was so happy and so in love--yes, my father had/has a way with words. My mother did/does too. Those words, those cartoons,  those letters kept us connected during those visits when we couldn't touch. I remember the phone and the thick glass that separated us. This may have been the pre-technology for  Skype.  I remember another prison where there was a huge table that divided us. The inmates were all on the inside and the families sat on the outside. I remember how wide that table was. I remember wanting to jump over and run into my father's arms, but I also remember all the guards and their weapons. I remember the unease of my father then, the opposite of his gangsta lean. It was hard to build intimacy there, with all those folks around surveiling us. We could only hope to be together soon. This song makes me think of those letters between all of us, mom, dad, and me. I like to reread the letters that I have kept from time to time. I wonder if my Dad still has the letters we wrote to him. Letter writing has been added to my meditative practices along with hiking these days. Letters are a powerful way to connect to those who we might not be able to touch otherwise. I think of those loved ones locked up, but also the ancestors that have gone on. Thanks for teaching me how to find myself. Thanks for teaching me how to find freedom. Thanks for teaching me how to find you and us despite the many barriers that try to keep us apart.