Photo Taken by Shamael Ali

I’m not a woman. I’m not a man. I am something that I’m trying to understand. The gender binary has got us fucked up. I’m beginning to find my footing now but from a young age this dance between the masculine and feminine has been a deep source of trauma, confusion, and invisibility in a world where it seemed people “saw” me before I even did. My earliest memory of imbalance was Halloween. I was 5 years old. I had grown feelings against Esmeralda for her poor timing of making out with one of the colonizers in Hunchback of Notre Dame, literally while it was bleeding in Quasimoto’s bed. Still, I respected her dance moves and amazing hair and wanted to be her for the holiday festivities. We remember feeling my Mother’s hesitance to letting me walk out into the world when I told her who I was. I was prepared with my “skirt” that we made with a blanket and my hair fashioned in the same way. I had done this routine before and many times after, more recently with brightly colored wigs and makeup LAID! I remember her changing my outfit, I think we took the hair off. I remember that day slamming our finger in the car door as I was dropped off at Kindergarten, it was our right hand….maybe we’re blending memories but I’d like to think our memory is impeccable. That night as we went trick-or-treating I remember the family we were going out with asked who I was and my mother answered for me “a gypsy”. I remember thinking she was lying and I didn’t know why…..I had told her who I was.

The next years were filled with aggressions(mostly by masculine figures) towards my identity that I’m thankful I survived. I also owe it to my Marine Corp trained grandfather for instilling a mentally tough attitude in me at a young age. They came in overt and covert waves. So many were unintentionally guilty. McDonald’s employees giving me the “boy” toy when I wanted the one with hair; my bestie letting me play with hers when we were both in the back seat of the car. I was able to play with my cousins barbies and easy bake oven without judgement, I developed a skill for cooking that allowed me to create in many ways. I remember getting punished for painting my nails with my cousins who were both safe from this scrutiny simply because of our genital difference. I didn’t understand why I was being molded into this box of MAN. This box whose walls were made up of “don’t bend your wrist” “don’t pop your hip” “put some bass in your voice” “don’t step like that” “don’t dance like that” “that’s girlie” “MEN don’t do that” “be a MAN” “MAN-up” These rules were taxing on my psyche. Mostly because I knew MEN. I knew what they did quite intimately in relation to what they did to my family. They cheated, they lied, they abandoned you, they beat you, they looked at your body like something to be consumed, they were rough, they wanted you to be rough, they didn’t feel, they didn’t hug, they were dirty, they had no fashion sense at all! But mostly it seemed they were walking around with amnesia in disgust and so distant from the feminine within themselves trying to get me to drink the Kool Aid. I’d smile, take the pills and hide them in my cheek, spit them out, and then hang with the girls.

In this world of abuses I was embraced by the feminine. My grandmother’s kitchen was where I found myself mostly. On football days I would go upstairs and watch cartoons in her bed. Once my mother and I were free of a toxically masculine household she allowed me breathing room to pursue my passions. I was able to escape in the world of art and find freedom within a world of dance. Usually surrounded by all femmes. I had no male friends. Most of them bullied me or just weren’t interested in the energy I emitted. This I was fine with. I was able to express myself quite freely only to be met with attacks on my sexuality. This was not new. The first time I was called gay was when we were 7. It was during this time that I started to grow disdain towards labels. How you had to be one thing and that defined the rest of your interactions in society. And mostly, gay was associated with negative connotations. The church we were regularly attending would invite multiple male speakers who had converted from their sinful ways and settled down into a heterosexual christian relationship only to have two kids that they “couldn’t be happier to have”. It seemed I was forced to choose, and straight was the label that seemed most safe. Which wasn’t necessarily a lie. I was attracted to girls. But as I started to explore and expand my desire I began to realize how fluid things were. This was a wild roller coaster winding around self-hate, confusion, denial, therapy, church camps, lies, sexual promiscuity, sex behind closed doors, and it seemed the ride didn’t end.

When I got to college I was able to breathe outside of the boxes people so close to me were putting me in, which looking back I realize was for my protection in the way they only knew how. To be black, male, and femme only painted more of a target on my back in their eyes, but when I spread my wings I thought “BISH if I’m gone die, I want to die having LIVED” My first experience of this was showing up to a Lady Gaga concert in nothing but boots, underwear, shirt, tie, and a trenchcoat. We looked fabulous and wanted everyone on Facebook to know. I was met with my family feeling the weight of the world on them to protect me. I deleted them as “friends”. But it was in this space of exploration of identity that I experienced the other boxes. The “you can’t ever be in a relationship with a woman you’re too femme” “you’re a bottom” “yass queen” “hey girl” “when did you come out” “I always wanted a gay friend” The assuming never stopped. From my teachers, to my friends, to my lovers. As much as I loved all the circles I existed in we never truly felt seen. I felt myself having to explain over and over again our philosophies on life outside of the boxes of assumption. I started to stray further and further from those who assumed on us and found myself actively working against the assumptions I would make, particularly on sexuality and gender normatives based on conditioning from society with the constant bombardment of pop culture imagery in the form of stereotyping. We want to talk more about assumptions but I already wrote a short musing on them. The next step after moving outside of the boxes that we all put each other in is Decolonization, in order to reverse the trauma and habits that were created while existing in these boxes or systems.

The first time I had heard the term Decolonization used in any space was in a Black Lives Matter healing circle that took place on the steps of Los Angeles City Hall. This was the 1st night of the 26 nights we spent there during a 56 day action in response to the murder of Redel Jones, the local police killings, and brutality. LAPD being the most murderous police dept. in the country leading in highest police killings for the past 3 years. It was in this circle that we were asked our preferred gender pronouns for the first time. We had them explained to us along with so many others who had question marks on their faces. He/Him. She/Her. They/Them. An option I had never truly known I had until then. An option we were never asked until now. It was in that space that gave OTHERS space that I was able to spread my wings. We were able to see that we were not alone in self identifying outside of the binary normative box and that others were there in solidarity to respect our choices by honoring and acknowledging our pronouns. It was in this space particularly, this space of love and protection, that a portal of transformational healing was opened. I began to see myself illuminated under the stars of great rebellion in the reflection of so many light warriors. Where people had no choice but to connect heart to heart when they were in such a state of vulnerability. Where people were not afraid to name what they saw. The names I heard rang clear. Black. Beautiful. Sister. Brother. Family. Friend. Healer. Witch Doctor. Third Gender. Magical Being. Around me were divine mirrors reflecting the trauma of colonialism still unfolding within myself. In each one of those mirrors hands was a hammer and some glue, and as we shattered through the glass of each other’s oppression making sweet symphonies on the city streets, we glued a beautiful mosaic in front of the steps of that building. For all to bear witness.

That being said I had a lot of homework to do. Particularly around Decolonization. Briefly Decolonization is the undoing of colonialism. But what is the “doing” of colonialism? Colonialism established dominance and power over another. Usually it has been people of color under the brunt of this force. And this force has taken many shapes and is still unfolding as we write this on our MacBook Pro in a gentrified neighborhood. There have been many ways in which this dominance was succeeded. War. Murder. Exploitation. Rape. Slavery. Othering. I think this one stood out the most because, it seemed to have allowed for these Pilgrims to operate in a reality in which they could not realistically fathom equality. For they had distorted their own perception and suppressed their brains abilities to operate at the fullest potential of its cognition. This distortion of reality was perpetrated by scientists, unfortunately the “smartest” of them, who released articles defining these “othered” races genetically less than. News began circulating reports of heathenistic, backwards tribes not wearing clothes and worshipping multiple Gods. The Church had a field day and used these tales of colonialist exploitation as a tool to incite fear into their church goers to repent and TITHE so that hopefully, if they paid enough, they’d be received into Heaven’s Gates. This gave the Church money power and people power, using Manifest Destiny to trump all over these native lands. Making it their mission to monopolize resources and destroy anything demonized under their white male christian/catholic gaze. What was demonized? A rich history of “third gender” folks having existed comfortably outside of the binary for many years. I like using Non Binary because it doesn’t just clump them all in a box right next to the binary they are oppressed by. Non Binary individuals exist in India, Thailand, Hawaii, Ancient Egpyt, Indonesia, North America, and have a long history of being “othered” by colonialists in order to be subjugated. It was a good amount of these non binary beings who were considered the spiritual leaders, healers, mistics, record keepers, shamans, and ritual guides of these many cultures. They existed outside of the “normal” roles that men and women adopted or were given and found a need in the roles of uplifting and preserving the heart of spirituality among these places. This made them the first targets for colonialists to attack. Take away their history, take away their culture, take away their Gods, make them speak our language, make them worship only images of God that look like us, then we can enslave them. It is a story we both know too well and don’t know enough of. A story we are reminded to stop fixating on. As if our oppressors know that if we look back on the history of our oppression we would find too many tools there from our ancestors that would break the very foundation of this faulty system that they made us build. We built these systems in our minds. In our families. In what we consume physically and spiritually. In our popular culture. In the American Dream, which broadcasted by Hollywood has morphed into a global phenomenon of idealizing a way of living built on a bed of oppression . Soaked with the blood of black and brown bodies. As if we would remain blind and ignore the trees bearing such strange fruit. And we do.

At some point we have to put the fork down, take the blindfolds off and look at what we’ve been eating. What has been served to us. It is in this realizing that we have many choices but I’ll name two for length sake. We can become debilitated by our disgust of what we allowed ourselves to consume. Of what people are still consuming now. Disgusted by what our bodies did with this kind of consumption and the systems that were birthed from us trying to survive on such toxic sustenance. Or we can choose to release the hold we have to toxic ground. Choose to nurture our roots finally with medicines that will uplift and flourish us as a species. The medicine of self-care. The medicine of listening to our bodies and others. The medicine of loving and protecting one another. The medicine of evolving past the menial success of living comfortably for a measly 80+ years(if we’re lucky). The medicine of uplifting the planet and learning from the organisms of love we have abused and taken advantage of for personal gain.

Too long we ignored the cry of our people. Too long we sat by and chose to remain comfortable in a system we knew was not created for us but was created by us. But we have awakened. We have remembered our identities and have chosen to use they/them pronouns in a system that still uses the language of our oppressors to communicate. We are decolonizing our mind, body, and spirit by acknowledging the ancestors that make up our very blood. May Ida, Ola, Johnny, Beulah, Roxy, Roy J, Charlie, Anna, and Charles ring loud in this space. May the unnamed, unknown souls that carried our blood across the seas ring loud in this space. May the Gods of our tribes rejoice in this remembrance. May this remembering create organisms of love that echo out in every encounter we are blessed to have in this physical form. May we learn to love and respect each being honoring the new and ancient ways of being. We call upon the medicine of the Homo Genus before us. We call upon the medicine of empathy that Homo Erectus has left behind for us to learn from, and grow from, and move with. We are moving fluidly and beautifully as the boxes around us no longer contain what we are. We are molecules dancing with each other through space and time, thankful to experience human emotion so we can carry these emotions to the stars after we are done having this experience. So that Jupiter can know what it’s like to cry. So that Mars can know what love feels like. We remember that we are a collection of experiences. In this remembrance we choose love instead of the fear based systems that are crumbling before us, as white men in their white houses grasp at the rubble. We know better. We release control. We call in BALANCE as the winds of change shift us about the multiverse. We call in GROUNDING to remain present in every environment we find ourselves in. We call in MOVEMENT to transition beautifully all those remaining comfortable in their stagnancy. We will REBEL against the boxes that were created for us to remain forgetful. To remain placid. And we will RISE in our remembrance. We are not alone. Out of one we are many. Out of many we are one. Ashe.

“Any disease of the soul must be conquered by a turning of one’s soul. This turning is done through one’s own affirmation of one’s worth-an affirmation fueled by the concern of others. A love ethic must be at the center of a politics of conversion.” -Race Matters Cornel West