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Healing Work: A Poetic Memoir
Scream quietly now or the neighbors will hear you….
Wrap your bleeding fingers
Over your tear struck eyes
Huddle your knees to your chest
And muffle your cries
Watch the shadows on the wall
Hear the curses in the ether
Tell the social worker
You can’t recall
Play make up with your mommy
To cover the bruises
Help her fix dinner
And the table;
To invoke his rage
Or ignite his temper
When he raises his fist
Press your lips
Do not whimper
In a moment mommy says this all will be through
So scream quietly now..Or the neighbors will hear you…
As a little boy I watched daily as the men in my life terrorized women through acts of control, aggression, and violence. These same men also worked hard to beat out of me any expression they deemed “feminine” and “weak.” Because of this I grew up with an awareness early on that something was wrong with the men in my world. It was an understanding so simple and yet so precise: These men were in pain. A lot of pain. What was this pain? Had you asked me then I would not have known.
Later in my life, I came to see that this pain connected to how we as men are socialized. It is a pain created by self destructive beliefs about manhood that many of us accept without question. I learned how we are taught to disconnect from our emotions, and that the only acceptable feeling to express is anger. I learned how men are taught that our sense of self-worth is tied to external material and not internal immanent value. I saw that the culture gives us a code of what “real manhood” is and that it is this unquestioned code, with all of its repression and ethics of aggression that is causing a great deal of our pain.
I wonder what would happen if black men
Starting speaking to each other?
I wonder what would happen
if the time we spent
Or perpetuating rigid gender roles
Was spent staring eye to eye?
See I believe even the most masculinist brotha
Would break in
As I grew older and came out as a gay man, my relationship to violence against women took on a very different perspective. My first community of gay men, for instance was one heavily involved in feminist activism. We saw ourselves as feminist/womanist/pro-feminist revolutionaries. Yet and still, we did not see or look into how society still privileged us because of our maleness. Because of the way our gay identity “warped” our perceived masculinity, we were very rarely, if ever, called out on the abusive behaviors we inflicted upon women. Our “diva worship” and idolization of normative feminine performance, which is directly connected to the degradation of women by devaluing women as objects of visual pleasure, went unnoticed. Our domination and silencing of lesbian and queer women at conferences, in the media, in classrooms and in community was not spoken of. We marched through feminist spaces, enjoying the notoriety we got for being men who say the exact same things women have been silenced about for eons. We rationalized our interruptions of women, and stifled their concerns of sexism by crying homophobia. Even though our locations were different, at the end of the day, it became very apparent to me that gay men and straight men’s sexism stems from the same root, even if the tree looks different.
Women are best
In high heel shoes
To dress and style
Swing your hips like this
Make the straight boys smile
What are you wearing?
Come, my accessory
To the mall
Creating safety for women means much more than stopping physical violence. Because Physical violence is only the manifestation of a breadth of ideologies about women’s worth, “place” and being. These ideologies contribute to creating climates where rape, misogyny and physical violence can occur. Thus as men regardless of sexual orientation we are all implicated, and we all have work to do.
Apart of this work is holding the mirror up to each other and looking at ourselves. It is what I like to call “healing work.” Healing work is ending and addressing violence and domination with the goal of creating a world where every being can express themselves without danger. It means we look within, and move outward, understanding these realities are intricately apart of each other. This “healing work” is the work we must do now in order to end violence against women, girls, boys all human beings and ourselves. It is the work that always, no matter who or where we are begins with us.
Yolo Akili is a Poet, Iyengar Yoga Teacher, and Instructor/ Trainer at Men Stopping Violence. He is apart of the co-founders of Sweet Tea: Southern Queer Men's Collective, an organization dedicated to addressing issues of sexism in Queer Male Communities, and the author of the poetry Chapbook, "Poems In the Key of Green". He can be reached via his website, yolothepoet.com