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Sexually Enlightened R&B Song: Burnt Out Feminists Respond

17 Oct

The notoriously shallow, fairly bro-focused site College Humour has produced a viral video entitled ‘Sexually Enlightened R&B song’ featuring a black heterosexual couple, both stereotypically attractive, in which the man serenades the woman with a standard-composition 90’s R&B tune about having a fair and equal sexual encounter with her that evening. At face value, this content should not be at all humorous, but I found myself laughing out loud, not at the ideas being shared, but at the ridiculous thought that a mainstream cultural product would ever seriously espouse such blatantly feminist values from the mouth of a man.

I liked it and laughed despite the basing of the piece upon clearly heteronormative, liberal feminist views (not the radical queer intersectional feminist approach I try to take. As I commented to my friend, hard feminist porn producer Nikki Swarm, it’s important for the singer to clarify that although his woman is experienced, she is not a ho, because it would be going too far to — gasp — humanise sex workers! and they are getting married, so clearly she can’t be a ho! I disagree with versions of feminism where some women do not receive feminist protection, where those who have made ‘bad choices’ about themselves and their bodies, including sex work, casual sex and abortions are demonised, and the line between good and bad girls is tightly upheld. Instead, I believe that everyone has the agency to make their own choices under structural systems in which the options for oppressed people (in this case, make money from sex work, be in debt and unemployed, or work shit jobs and make peanuts for hard, stressful labour) are all problematic.

Nevertheless, despite all this, the feminist principles articulated in the song were still far enough from the androcentric social norm around heteroromantic, sexual and intimate relationships to be highly unusual, and worthy of attention. The ideas it introduces, such as sexual reciprocity (‘I’ll go down on you / You’ll go down on me) and a woman having a healthy human sexuality (In my opinion / your sexual liberation / is healthy and normal / and makes you human), as simple and pedestrian as they should be, are presented as alien to the misogynistic norm, so far-fetched and impossible as to be funny. Continue reading

Sunflowers (a poem for Black Lives)

5 Aug

They are even afraid of our songs of love’
Carlos Bulosan


Van Gogh wrote that the sunflowers in his paintings communicated ‘gratitude’.

 for the son of Korryn Gaines and the Movement for Black Lives

Van Gogh painted sunflowers
close, in a vase
his yellow a hue
fresh to the cadre

a vision sliced through reality
with a brush and pallet knife

For artists, activists,
seekers of truth
in this generation
the narrative is broken
each vision is different
each invented colour is new
but we paint with it anyway

the ability
to remain willfully
is privilege

today we choose to believe
the child eyewitnesses

Like sunflowers
with our heads bowed
we form secret circles
take to the streets
they still killing us

A shut down is sensation
But what options are left
When they refuse to hear
our songs of love?

UK Stands With #BlackLivesMatter

13 Jul




The hardest letter I’ve ever written [tw: sexual abuse]

3 Jun

I wrote this letter to my aunt  and sent it by email in January of last year. I think her husband deleted it because she never replied. I may one day try sending it again but right now I am not ready. So, with the aim of continuing my healing process, I am posting it here and sharing it with you, my beloved readers. Thank you for holding space for me. – dia 

My dearest aunt,

I never imagined I would be writing you this letter. It has taken me years to simply acknowledge and accept that what I am going to tell you is true. It scares me to tell you, but in this case I must face my fears because I believe wholeheartedly that this is the right thing to do.

There is no way to put this that will make it easier to take, so I will say it as clearly as I can. Your husband sexually molested me each summer I was in the Philippines since I was 13. When I was 13, when you and he and I would fall asleep on the couch, I would wake up because he was touching my body and putting his tongue in my ear. I would run upstairs to get away from him. When I came back at age 17, he encouraged me to drink alcohol and when I was drunk he took advantage of me. After that, he would try to touch or kiss me every time we were alone, which was a lot because he was expected to look after me while everyone was at work. His behavior continued until I was 21 and I never told anyone. I blocked out these memories for a long time but they have come back to me now and I think it is important to tell you, because you deserve to know.

The thing that scares me most about telling you is that you, he, or other family members might blame me for what happened. But I know what happened to me was not my fault. I did not ask for, invite, or court his attention. I was young and vulnerable; I thought he was my friend. He was in a trusted position as a caretaker and he took advantage of that position. He was the adult in the situation and he violated the trust that all of us placed in him, yours, mine, and our whole family’s.

I told my mom a few years ago and she decided, without asking me, to tell her sisters. Although this was not my choice and I am not responsible for this, I want to apologise on their behalf that they have kept this information from you for so long. I do not think this is right but I know they thought it best not to say anything, in order to keep the peace.

Today, I am not interested in keeping the peace. I would rather tell the truth. And so here it is, for you to do with it what you will. Your husband groomed and molested me when I was a teenage girl, and he has gotten away with it for a long time. But not anymore.

I am willing and open to talking to you more about this if you would like. I would also be open to talking to your daughter – now, if you want her to know, or in the future if you would prefer that I wait till she is older. However, I do not want to talk to anyone else about it as I think it is important to work things out between just us for now.

If you want to talk, I am here. You can write me by email, or I can call you on the phone. If you don’t want to talk, and just take some time to process this hard and sad news, that is ok with me too. Let me know what you prefer.

I want to add – although I personally do not want to talk to anyone else besides you, I hope that you would feel free to talk to, and get support from, whomever you choose. This information is yours now, it is not a secret, and you can do with it what you think and feel it is right to do.

With all my love

Your adoring niece.

Surviving Heteronormativity 

17 Aug

As a queer feminist cis woman in a relationship with a straight man, I find myself struggling every day against heteronormative patriarchy. It is a toxic cloud that I am holding at bay purely by the strength of my wit and my will. Some days are harder than others. Some oppressive interactions are more subtle while some are more overt. It leaves me feeling like I am teetering upon a tightrope, wondering what will be the element that will cause me to lose my balance, and with it, the independent identity I have worked so hard to cultivate. But through it all, I am learning some important lessons about how to resist and challenge the slow erosion of my independence and suppression of my spirit that is characteristic of what happens to women in heteronormative sexist relationships, and it is these that I wish to share with you today.

Lesson 1. You are in control of yourself.

One of the founding principles of heteronormative capitalist patriarchy is its ability to make women believe that they have no other option than to remain in relationships that leave them feeling unsatisfied at best, and victimised at worst. Once linked to men’s traditional role as financial provider, women are taught that to catch and to keep a man, and eventually, to bear his children, is the epitome of womanhood and the highest expression of femininity. The result of this schooling, even in an era where many women are now the breadwinners of the family, is that we stay with men who are not right for us and put up with behaviour that is selfish, disrespectful and often abusive. The fact that so many men act in these ways, that it is tolerated, normalised, and even becomes an object for comedy, is a sure sign of the sickness that pathologises our society. 

So what can be done to challenge this? We need to learn that at any point, no matter how embedded we are in a bad relationship or an unfair partnership, how long we have been with them, how many kids we have together or what other people will think, we possess within us the ability to resist, say no and to walk away from situations that oppress us. Although it may be difficult to see an alternative or a way out, this is something we can strive for and work towards. We can speak to our partner about our needs and get out if our requests go unheard. We can ask for help in this process if we need it. We do not deserve to be treated badly and we were not meant to suffer in silence, unloved and unappreciated. We must remember that we have choices and that even though we cannot control the actions of others, we can control how we respond to them. And if that response is to remove yourself from a situation, then so be it.

Lesson 2. Retain your independent thought. 

Another holdover from centuries of unbridled capitalist patriarchy is the notion that after marriage, or in the contemporary era, coupledom, man and woman are united and they become one entity. However, what we often fail to discuss is that in a union of people who, in the eyes of society, are not equals to begin with, the thoughts, opinions and beliefs of the person who is higher on the social ladder will undoubtedly win out over those of the person who is lower. We see this manifest in many ways, such as how men often get the final word in decision making (“Let me just check with my husband/I want to do X or Y but my guy doesn’t approve”) or disciplining (“Ask your father/Wait till your father gets home”). It is also apparent in how many women act as mouthpieces for their husband or boyfriend’s opinions. 

Often the process of mind control takes place through a gradual chipping away at a woman’s independent thought. We enter relationships as individuals with our own ideas and opinions, but over time we may allow those opinions to be set aside in favour of those of the man we love, because we wish to please him. This in itself may be seen as honourable, but only in the context discussed above where your main aim is to keep your man, no matter how pushy or selfish or ungrateful he may be. In reality, it is dangerous and leads to an unhealthy self-denial, the practice of self-silencing and the disappearance of our individuality. Do not let this happen to you. 

Lesson 3. Make space for yourself.

Something that can really help us retain our independent thought, listen to our intuition, articulate and act upon what we need is maintaining our personal space. This is space in both the physical and mental sense. Find some time each day to be alone with yourself, even if it is just a few minutes in the bathroom or a short trip to the store, and be intentional with this time. Bring a small notebook and write down your thoughts, or clear your mind of everyone and everything and just focus on your breath. Repeat a positive affirmation to yourself and remember that in this moment, you are enough. 

Humans are social creatures. Loneliness is one of our greatest fears. But if you learn to be as committed to yourself as you are to your partner, then you will find it enjoyable to spend time working on yourself, developing your interests, pursuing your passions, and doing the things that make you happy.  You can share these things with others if it is appropriate, and you should make and maintain friendships outside of your relationship, both to quell co-dependency and to experience the fulfilment that comes from being yourself and doing the things you want to do, whether or not your partner does them with you. This is key to lasting intimacy and also to maintaining monogamy, if that is the intention for your relationship. The sex and relationship expert Esther Perel has said: “We need multiple connections, multiple attachments. If you start to feel that you have given up too many parts of yourself to be with your partner, then one day you will end up looking for another person in order to reconnect with those lost parts.”

Make space for yourself to think your own thoughts and to see the world from your own point of view. This doesn’t mean shutting down debate or never compromising in a fair way, but really listening to your own feelings, making up your mind for yourself and not putting up with having those thoughts and feelings dismissed or ignored. But in order to make that happen, you have to set the example by not dismissing or ignoring them yourself. You have nothing to fear from being alone. You are complete unto yourself. You were fine before they came into your life, and if one day you break up, you will be fine after they are gone. Anyone who truly loves you will learn to see and respect that, and if they do not, then you’re better off without them.