I’ve started and stopped this piece on and off since the Lunar Eclipse.
It took the moon crossing the Sun in my natal placement for me to get the full download.
Here we go.
I don’t speak German even though I lived in Germany for the first three and a half years of my life. An Army brat, my father, mother and I were a little unit in a cozy apartment. I didn’t see my dad as much, because he was an active duty at the time, hence the reason why we were out there. While I was learning how to speak, I was taught a couple of words in German, but they didn’t really stick with me when we returned stateside, save a few key words and phases.
Where the words from that time didn’t speak, the actions of my parents did. Witnessing the commitments with time and presence that my father made while he served and defended others thought me how to discern when and how to do that myself. In his case, given his Special Ops training, discernment and awareness are skills that have saved his life. When I moved to New York City to attend school, the street of Harlem he roamed had changed dramatically, but some of those basic awareness tips remained the same.
My phone will buzz with the following thoughts, mixed with emojis, with varying iterations of the same pulse, wanting to know that I’m okay; “Where are you going?” “Are you walking with headphones in?” “Text me when you get home.”
At first, it used to bug me when he’d ask me all of those things, and I don’t remember when it happened, but one day I finally turned around and said, “you know you raised me to handle myself,” and without missing a beat, my dad said something that I’ve come to hear far too often in different contexts, but particularly in this #MeToo flashpoint - “I know. But I didn’t raise everyone else.”
In these instances, and probably a whole bevy of other ones but I didn’t acknowledge the weight of them, my father’s love language was the norm for me. Just like when I would say “I love you” and he would say “I know,” and I would have to poke him to verbally say that he loved me too, knowing that his actions and other combination of words communicated the same four words in different ways.
This indirectly taught me how to communicate my love or affection for those in my life in ways that weren’t always enough, just like how I would poke my dad to say it, I would in turn be poked. However, in light of the conversations around consent, healthy boundaries, and sexual assault and trauma, I’m realizing that I could have done a better job at ensuring that I sought out consent from all of my relations on how they wanted me to show up for them. It would have saved all involved from some unnecessary disappointment if I had stopped assuming that folks knew the type of friend I was, or how I would or could show up.
In musing about consent within all types of relationships, I’m reminding again of the ways in which we can be disposed and are in turn made disposable when there’s a misalignment on either side. I make no exceptions or exclusions in naming this, as I have been on both sides, and will probably wind up in that spot again. But in naming that potential for failure and success at every turn, I’m reminded that not everyone has the space within them for both of those possibilities. For the dark and the light. For both and. For a way of living that is expansive in practice and in application across the spectrum of emotions.
I personally struggle with this when it comes to maintaining boundaries in the face of being criticized for having them. To continue to practice community care as opposed to a singular modality of self-care in the face of this fear that no one will understand. To be confident in failing gracefully in the face of not being “woke” enough, or being labeled as “problematic” or another popular social justice term because an extreme misalignment. I struggle with the ways in which not naming my needs or the ways I can consistently show up can be turned around against me, and how that valid trauma that someone is attempting to communicate can end up just being more harmful. If we understand that hurt people hurt people, what is necessary for us to strategize how healed people heal enough to heal others? Because whether you’re on the front lines of healing justice or on the ground as a political organizer, if we get so caught up on what was, or what is, without thinking through what could be, then it’s all an elaborate performance. When can we get to a point of focusing just as much on what could be or what is possible as much as we argue about what is not working? Or the ways in which we’ve hurt each other?
Somewhere between the past being traumatic and being inspiring, but learning how to discern the overlap. In discerning that overlap, and learning when to toe that line, I’ve been able to self-examine my love languages. The ones like my dad’s that I have inherited, the ones that I have picked up from others in community, and from movement spaces and culture. But here I am on Valentine’s Day writing about love languages and different levels of being in relation with one another.
This eclipse season that started on the 31st and closes tomorrow screams let go or be dragged because if you aren’t mindful of your words, that inventory can run away from you and have you caught out here. The same ways that we are encouraging femmes to learn how to say no and have compassionate boundaries when it comes to being available to others, we have to simultaneously be comfortable with saying no to any definitions that limit us. That bind us. That harm us and do not allow for us to reach a new level of understanding that normalizes failure. That allows us to have more conversations that don’t just revolve and spin aimlessly and move nowhere.
For me, this transformative no and adamant yes practice has looked like asking myself the following:
“Is there anything else you can learn from the situation?”
“Do you have to show up for every single person every single time?”
“Will you let one disappointment stop you from moving forward?”
In thinking through my actions or lack thereof these past couple of weeks, especially the shenanigans and excuses I gave myself when experiencing writer’s block, I not only thought about how to reclaim no, but wondered wow many blessings are we actively blocking by saying yes to the wrong things? By saying yes to a situation, event, person, or anything else that we have an inkling feeling may end up going sideways, but say yes because that’s easier than saying no? How often do we say yes just to be safe? Just to avoid the tension or conflict that comes from drawing a line in the sand? How many times have we heard in the news about folks being coerced to say yes to a sexual experience they actually do not want to engage in? Why don't we apply that hard line with all the ways we are expected to perform?
If it’s not an enthusiastic yes, it’s an adamant no. I want to say that that’s all there is to it, but I’d like to think that I know better. This statement invites that possibility that folks will say no to parts or all of us. I pop up like a mirror for most folks, and I know how to sense when the person would rather not be seen by anyone, and sometimes particularly not by me. That mirror and everything that I embody be even naming these paradoxes above can be too much for folks sometimes, and they’ll say no to a form of being in relation.
Yet, in spite of all of us this, I rather continue to say no and feel abundant and well than say yes to everything and be exhausted and drained. I rather trust that for every no that I give and receive, I will be able to give and receive yeses. In saying no to ways of being that limit me and make me feel inauthentic, I’ve been able to get out my own way and fully express myself the way that I feel that I need to. Reaching this level of discernment has saved me from myself, and has given me depth perception where I would not otherwise have had.
"We slap a “self-care” sticker on anything that presents itself as even minorly self preserving. Ultimately, it does not truly heal or sustain us-- especially not in Anti-black, anti-queer, anti-working-class Trump’s America.
Ask yourself this: Why am I constantly in need of self-care? Is there a deeper concern driving you to continuously buy things to pamper yourself with?"